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Chapter 8

DEATH AND A PROPOSAL


Duroy moved his effects to the apartments in Rue de Constantinople.
Two or three times a week, Mme. de-Marelle paid him visits. Duroy,
to counterbalance them, dined at her house every Thursday, and
delighted her husband by talking agriculture to him.

It was almost the end of February. Duroy was free from care. One
night, when he returned home, he found a letter under his door. He
examined the postmark; it was from Cannes. Having opened it, he
read:

"Cannes, Villa Jolie."

"Dear sir and friend: You told me, did you not, that I could
count upon you at any time? Very well. I have a favor to ask
of you; it is to come and help me--not to leave me alone during
Charles's last moments. He may not live through the week,
although he is not confined to his bed, but the doctor has
warned me. I have not the strength nor the courage to see that
agony day and night, and I think with terror of the approaching
end I can only ask such a thing of you, for my husband has no
relatives. You were his comrade; he helped you to your
position; come, I beg of you; I have no one else to ask."

"Your friend,"

"Madeleine Forestier."

Georges murmured: "Certainly I will go. Poor Charles!"

The manager, to whom he communicated the contents of that letter,
grumblingly gave his consent. He repeated: "But return speedily, you
are indispensable to us."

Georges Duroy left for Cannes the next day by the seven o'clock
express, after having warned Mme. de Marelle by telegram. He arrived
the following day at four o'clock in the afternoon. A
commissionnaire conducted him to Villa Jolie. The house was small
and low, and of the Italian style of architecture.

A servant opened the door and cried: "Oh, sir, Madame is awaiting
you patiently."

Duroy asked: "How is your master?"

"Not very well, sir. He will not be here long."

The floor of the drawing-room which the young man entered was
covered with a Persian rug; the large windows looked upon the
village and the sea.

Duroy murmured: "How cozy it is here! Where the deuce do they get
the money from?"

The rustling of a gown caused him to turn. Mme. Forestier extended
both her hands, saying:

"How kind of you to come."

She was a trifle paler and thinner, but still as bright as ever, and
perhaps prettier for being more delicate. She whispered: "It is
terrible--he knows he cannot be saved and he tyrannizes over me. I
have told him of your arrival. But where is your trunk?"

Duroy replied: "I left it at the station, not knowing which hotel
you would advise me to stop at, in order to be near you."

She hesitated, then said: "You must stop here, at the villa. Your
chamber is ready. He might die any moment, and if it should come in
the night, I would be alone. I will send for your luggage."

He bowed. "As you will."

"Now, let us go upstairs," said she; he followed her. She opened a
door on the first floor, and Duroy saw a form near a window, seated
in an easy-chair, and wrapped in coverlets. He divined that it was
his friend, though he scarcely recognized him. Forestier raised his
hand slowly and with difficulty, saying:

"You are here; you have come to see me die. I am much obliged."

Duroy forced a smile. "To see you die? That would not be a very
pleasant sight, and I would not choose that occasion on which to
visit Cannes. I came here to rest."

"Sit down," said Forestier, and he bowed his head as if deep in
hopeless meditation. Seeing that he did not speak, his wife
approached the window and pointing to the horizon, said, "Look at
that? Is it not beautiful?"

In spite of himself Duroy felt the grandeur of the closing day and
exclaimed: "Yes, indeed, it is magnificent"

Forestier raised his head and said to his wife: "Give me more air."

She replied: "You must be careful; it is late, the sun is setting;
you will catch more cold and that would be a serious thing in your
condition."

He made a feeble gesture of anger with his right hand, and said: "I
tell you I am suffocating! What difference does it make if I die a
day sooner or later, since I must die?"

She opened the window wide. The air was soft and balmy. Forestier
inhaled it in feverish gasps. He grasped the arms of his chair and
said in a low voice: "Shut the window. I would rather die in a
cellar."

His wife slowly closed the window, then leaned her brow against the
pane and looked out. Duroy, ill at ease, wished to converse with the
invalid to reassure him, but he could think of no words of comfort.
He stammered: "Have you not been better since you are here?"

His friend shrugged his shoulders impatiently: "You will see very
soon." And he bowed his head again.

Duroy continued: "At home it is still wintry. It snows, hails,
rains, and is so dark that they have to light the lamps at three
o'clock in the afternoon."

Forestier asked: "Is there anything new at the office?"

"Nothing. They have taken little Lacrin of the 'Voltaire' to fill
your place, but he is incapable. It is time you came back."

The invalid muttered: "I? I will soon be writing under six feet of
sod." A long silence ensued.

Mme. Forestier did not stir; she stood with her back to the room,
her face toward the window. At length Forestier broke the silence in
a gasping voice, heartrending to listen to: "How many more sunsets
shall I see--eight--ten--fifteen--twenty--or perhaps thirty--no
more. You have more time, you two--as for me--all is at an end. And
everything will go on when I am gone as if I were here." He paused a
few moments, then continued: "Everything that I see reminds me that
I shall not see them long. It is horrible. I shall no longer see the
smallest objects--the glasses--the dishes--the beds on which we
rest--the carriages. It is fine to drive in the evening. How I loved
all that."

Again Norbert de Varenne's words occurred to Duroy. The room grew
dark. Forestier asked irritably:

"Are we to have no lamp to-night? That is what is called caring for
an invalid!"

The form outlined against the window disappeared and an electric
bell was heard to ring. A servant soon entered and placed a lamp
upon the mantel-piece. Mme. Forestier asked her husband: "Do you
wish to retire, or will you go downstairs to dinner?"

"I will go down to dinner."

The meal seemed to Duroy interminable, for there was no
conversation, only the ticking of a clock broke the silence. When
they had finished, Duroy, pleading fatigue, retired to his room and
tried in vain to invent some pretext for returning home as quickly
as possible. He consoled himself by saying: "Perhaps it will not be
for long."

The next morning Georges rose early and strolled down to the beach.
When he returned the servant said to him: "Monsieur has asked for
you two or three times. Will you go upstairs?"

He ascended the stairs. Forestier appeared to be in a chair; his
wife, reclining upon a couch, was reading. The invalid raised his
head. Duroy asked:

"Well, how are you? You look better this morning."

Forestier murmured: "Yes, I am better and stronger. Lunch as hastily
as you can with Madeleine, because we are going to take a drive."

When Mme. Forestier was alone with Duroy, she said to him: "You see,
to-day he thinks he is better! He is making plans for to-morrow. We
are now going to Gulf Juan to buy pottery for our rooms in Paris. He
is determined to go, but he cannot stand the jolting on the road."

The carriage arrived, Forestier descended the stairs, step by step,
supported by his servant. When he saw the closed landau, he wanted
it uncovered. His wife opposed him: "It is sheer madness! You will
take cold."

He persisted: "No, I am going to be better, I know it."

They first drove along a shady road and then took the road by the
sea. Forestier explained the different points of interest. Finally
they arrived at a pavilion over which were these words: "Gulf Juan
Art Pottery," and the carriage drew up at the door. Forestier wanted
to buy a vase to put on his bookcase. As he could not leave the
carriage, they brought the pieces to him one by one. It took him a
long time to choose, consulting his wife and Duroy: "You know it is
for my study. From my easy-chair I can see it constantly. I prefer
the ancient form--the Greek."

At length he made his choice. "I shall return to Paris in a few
days," said he.

On their way home along the gulf a cool breeze suddenly sprang up,
and the invalid began to cough. At first it was nothing, only a
slight attack, but it grew worse and turned to a sort of hiccough--a
rattle; Forestier choked, and every time he tried to breathe he
coughed violently. Nothing quieted him. He had to be carried from
the landau to his room. The heat of the bed did not stop the attack,
which lasted until midnight. The first words the sick man uttered
were to ask for a barber, for he insisted on being shaved every
morning. He rose to be shaved, but was obliged to go to bed at once,
and began to breathe so painfully that Mme. Forestier in affright
woke Duroy and asked him to fetch the doctor. He returned almost
immediately with Dr. Gavant who prescribed for the sick man. When
the journalist asked him his opinion, he said: "It is the final
stage. He will be dead to-morrow morning. Prepare that poor, young
wife and send for a priest. I can do nothing more. However, I am
entirely at your disposal" Duroy went to Mme. Forestier. "He is
going to die. The doctor advises me to send for a priest. What will
you do?"

She hesitated a moment and then said slowly:

"I will go and tell him that the cure wishes to see him. Will you be
kind enough to procure one who will require nothing but the
confession, and who will not make much fuss?"

The young man brought with him a kind, old priest who accommodated
himself to circumstances. When he had entered the death chamber,
Mme. Forestier went out and seated herself with Duroy in an
adjoining room.

"That has upset him," said she. "When I mentioned the priest to him,
his face assumed a scared expression. He knew that the end was near.
I shall never forget his face."

At that moment they heard the priest saying to him: "Why no, you are
not so low as that. You are ill, but not in danger. The proof of
that is that I came as a friend, a neighbor." They could not hear
his reply. The priest continued: "No, I shall not administer the
sacrament. We will speak of that when you are better. If you will
only confess, I ask no more. I am a pastor; I take advantage of
every occasion to gather in my sheep."

A long silence followed. Then suddenly the priest said, in the tone
of one officiating at the altar:

"The mercy of God is infinite; repeat the 'Confiteor,' my son.
Perhaps you have forgotten it; I will help you. Repeat with me:
'Confiteor Deo omnipotenti; Beata Mariae semper virgini.'" He paused
from time to time to permit the dying man to catch up to him.

Then he said: "Now, confess." The sick man murmured something. The
priest repeated: "You have committed sins: of what kind, my son?"

The young woman rose and said simply: "Let us go into the garden. We
must not listen to his secrets."

They seated themselves upon a bench before the door, beneath a
blossoming rosebush. After several moments of silence Duroy asked:
"Will it be some time before you return to Paris?"

"No," she replied; "when all is over, I will go back."

"In about ten days?"

"Yes, at most."

He continued; "Charles has no relatives then?"

"None, save cousins. His father and mother died when he was very
young."

In the course of a few minutes, the servant came to tell them that
the priest had finished, and together they ascended the stairs.
Forestier seemed to have grown thinner since the preceding day. The
priest was holding his hand.

"Au revoir, my son. I will come again to-morrow morning"; and he
left. When he was gone, the dying man, who was panting, tried to
raise his two hands toward his wife and gasped:

"Save me--save me, my darling. I do not want to die--oh, save me--go
for the doctor. I will take anything. I do not want to die." He
wept; the tears coursed down his pallid cheeks. Then his hands
commenced to wander hither and thither continually, slowly, and
regularly, as if gathering something on the coverlet. His wife, who
was also weeping, sobbed:

"No, it is nothing. It is only an attack; you will be better to-
morrow; you tired yourself with that drive."

Forestier drew his breath quickly and so faintly that one could
scarcely hear him. He repeated:

"I do not want to die! Oh, my God--my God--what has happened to me?
I cannot see. Oh, my God!" His staring eyes saw something invisible
to the others; his hands plucked continually at the counterpane.
Suddenly he shuddered and gasped: "The cemetery--me--my God!" He did
not speak again. He lay there motionless and ghastly. The hours
dragged on; the clock of a neighboring convent chimed noon.

Duroy left the room to obtain some food. He returned an hour later;
Mme. Forestier would eat nothing. The invalid had not stirred. The
young woman was seated in an easy-chair at the foot of the bed.
Duroy likewise seated himself, and they watched in silence. A nurse,
sent by the doctor, had arrived and was dozing by the window.

Duroy himself was almost asleep when he felt a presentiment that
something was about to happen. He opened his eyes just in time to
see Forestier close his. He coughed slightly, and two streams of
blood issued from the corners of his mouth and flowed upon his night
robe; his hands ceased their perpetual motion; he had breathed his
last. His wife, perceiving it, uttered a cry and fell upon her knees
by the bedside. Georges, in surprise and affright, mechanically made
the sign of the cross.

The nurse, awakening, approached the bed and said: "It has come."
Duroy, recovering his self-possession, murmured with a sigh of
relief: "It was not as hard as I feared it would be."

That night Mme. Forestier and Duroy watched in the chamber of death.
They were alone beside him who was no more. They did not speak,
Georges's eyes seemed attracted to that emaciated face which the
flickering light made more hollow. That was his friend, Charles
Forestier, who the day before had spoken to him. For several years
he had lived, eaten, laughed, loved, and hoped as did everyone--and
now all was ended for him forever.

Life lasted a few months or years, and then fled! One was born,
grew, was happy, and died. Adieu! man or woman, you will never
return to earth! He thought of the insects which live several hours,
of the feasts which live several days, of the men who live several
years, of the worlds which last several centuries. What was the
difference between one and the other? A few more dawns, that was
all.

Duroy turned away his eyes in order not to see the corpse. Mme.
Forestier's head was bowed; her fair hair enhanced the beauty of her
sorrowful face. The young man's heart grew hopeful. Why should he
lament when he had so many years still before him? He glanced at the
handsome widow. How had she ever consented to marry that man? Then
he pondered upon all the hidden secrets of their lives. He
remembered that he had been told of a Count de Vaudrec who had
dowered and given her in marriage. What would she do now? Whom would
she marry? Had she projects, plans? He would have liked to know. Why
that anxiety as to what she would do?

Georges questioned himself, and found that it was caused by a desire
to win her for himself. Why should he not succeed? He was positive
that she liked him; she would have confidence in him, for she knew
that he was intelligent, resolute, tenacious. Had she not sent for
him? Was not that a kind of avowal? He was impatient to question
her, to find out her intentions. He would soon have to leave that
villa, for he could not remain alone with the young widow; therefore
he must find out her plans before returning to Paris, in order that
she might not yield to another's entreaties. He broke the oppressive
silence by saying:

"You must be fatigued."

"Yes, but above all I am grieved."

Their voices sounded strange in that room. They glanced
involuntarily at the corpse as if they expected to see it move.
Duroy continued:

"It is a heavy blow for you, and will make a complete change in your
life."

She sighed deeply, but did not reply. He added:

"It is very sad for a young woman like you to be left alone." He
paused; she still did not reply, and he stammered: "At any rate, you
will remember the compact between us; you can command me as you
will. I am yours."

She held out her hand to him and said mournfully and gently:
"Thanks, you are very kind. If I can do anything for you, I say too:
'Count on me.'"

He took her proffered hand, gazed at it, and was seized with an
ardent desire to kiss it. Slowly he raised it to his lips and then
relinquished it. As her delicate fingers lay upon her knee the young
widow said gravely:

"Yes, I shall be all alone, but I shall force myself to be brave."

He did not know how to tell her that he would be delighted to wed
her. Certainly it was no time to speak to her on such a subject;
however, he thought he might be able to express himself by means of
some phrase which would have a hidden meaning and would infer what
he wished to say. But that rigid corpse lay between them. The
atmosphere became oppressive, almost suffocating. Duroy asked: "Can
we not open the window a little? The air seems to be impure."

"Certainly," she replied; "I have noticed it too."

He opened the window, letting in the cool night air. He turned:
"Come and look out, it is delightful."

She glided softly to his side. He whispered: "Listen to me. Do not
be angry that I broach the subject at such a time, but the day after
to-morrow I shall leave here and when you return to Paris it might
be too late. You know that I am only a poor devil, who has his
position to make, but I have the will and some intelligence, and I
am advancing. A man who has attained his ambition knows what to
count on; a man who has his way to make does not know what may come-
-it may be better or worse. I told you one day that my most
cherished dream was to have a wife like you."

"I repeat it to you to-day. Do not reply, but let me continue. This
is no proposal--the time and place would render it odious. I only
wish to tell you that by a word you can make me happy, and that you
can make of me as you will, either a friend or a husband--for my
heart and my body are yours. I do not want you to answer me now. I
do not wish to speak any more on the subject here. When we meet in
Paris, you can tell me your decision."

He uttered these words without glancing at her, and she seemed not
to have heard them, for she stood by his side motionless, staring
vaguely and fixedly at the landscape before her, bathed in
moonlight.

At length she murmured: "It is rather chilly," and turned toward the
bed. Duroy followed her. They did not speak but continued their
watch. Toward midnight Georges fell asleep. At daybreak the nurse
entered and he started up. Both he and Mme. Forestier retired to
their rooms to obtain some rest. At eleven o'clock they rose and
lunched together; while through the open window was wafted the
sweet, perfumed air of spring. After lunch, Mme. Forestier proposed
that they take a turn in the garden; as they walked slowly along,
she suddenly said, without turning her head toward him, in a low,
grave voice:

"Listen to me, my dear friend; I have already reflected upon what
you proposed to me, and I cannot allow you to depart without a word
of reply. I will, however, say neither yes nor no. We will wait, we
will see; we will become better acquainted. You must think it well
over too. Do not yield to an impulse. I mention this to you before
even poor Charles is buried, because it is necessary, after what you
have said to me, that you should know me as I am, in order not to
cherish the hope you expressed to me any longer, if you are not a
man who can understand and bear with me."

"Now listen carefully: Marriage, to me, is not a chain but an
association. I must be free, entirely unfettered, in all my actions-
-my coming and my going; I can tolerate neither control, jealousy,
nor criticism as to my conduct. I pledge my word, however, never to
compromise the name of the man I marry, nor to render him ridiculous
in the eyes of the world. But that man must promise to look upon me
as an equal, an ally, and not as an inferior, or as an obedient,
submissive wife. My ideas, I know, are not like those of other
people, but I shall never change them. Do not answer me, it would be
useless. We shall meet again and talk it all over later. Now take a
walk; I shall return to him. Good-bye until to-night."

He kissed her hand and left her without having uttered a word. That
night they met at dinner; directly after the meal they sought their
rooms, worn out with fatigue.

Charles Forestier was buried the next day in the cemetery at Cannes
without any pomp, and Georges returned to Paris by the express which
left at one-thirty. Mme. Forestier accompanied him to the station.
They walked up and down the platform awaiting the hour of departure
and conversing on indifferent subjects.

The train arrived, the journalist took his seat; a porter cried:
"Marseilles, Lyons, Paris! All aboard!" The locomotive whistled and
the train moved slowly out of the station.

The young man leaned out of the carriage, and looked at the youthful
widow standing on the platform gazing after him. Just as she was
disappearing from his sight, he threw her a kiss, which she returned
with a more discreet wave of her hand.


Guy de Maupassant

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