Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert

Chapter Two

Emma got out first, then Felicite, Monsieur Lheureux, and a nurse, and they had to wake up Charles in his corner, where he had slept soundly since night set in.

Homais introduced himself; he offered his homages to madame and his respects to monsieur; said he was charmed to have been able to render them some slight service, and added with a cordial air that he had ventured to invite himself, his wife being away.

When Madame Bovary was in the kitchen she went up to the chimney.

With the tips of her fingers she caught her dress at the knee, and having thus pulled it up to her ankle, held out her foot in its black boot to the fire above the revolving leg of mutton. The flame lit up the whole of her, penetrating with a crude light the woof of her gowns, the fine pores of her fair skin, and even her eyelids, which she blinked now and again. A great red glow passed over her with the blowing of the wind through the half-open door.

On the other side of the chimney a young man with fair hair watched her silently.

As he was a good deal bored at Yonville, where he was a clerk at the notary’s, Monsieur Guillaumin, Monsieur Leon Dupuis (it was he who was the second habitue of the “Lion d’Or”) frequently put back his dinner-hour in hope that some traveler might come to the inn, with whom he could chat in the evening. On the days when his work was done early, he had, for want of something else to do, to come punctually, and endure from soup to cheese a tete-a-tete with Binet. It was therefore with delight that he accepted the landlady’s suggestion that he should dine in company with the newcomers, and they passed into the large parlour where Madame Lefrancois, for the purpose of showing off, had had the table laid for four.

Homais asked to be allowed to keep on his skull-cap, for fear of coryza; then, turning to his neighbour —

“Madame is no doubt a little fatigued; one gets jolted so abominably in our ‘Hirondelle.’”

“That is true,” replied Emma; “but moving about always amuses me. I like change of place.”

“It is so tedious,” sighed the clerk, “to be always riveted to the same places.”

“If you were like me,” said Charles, “constantly obliged to be in the saddle”—

“But,” Leon went on, addressing himself to Madame Bovary, “nothing, it seems to me, is more pleasant — when one can,” he added.

“Moreover,” said the druggist, “the practice of medicine is not very hard work in our part of the world, for the state of our roads allows us the use of gigs, and generally, as the farmers are prosperous, they pay pretty well. We have, medically speaking, besides the ordinary cases of enteritis, bronchitis, bilious affections, etc., now and then a few intermittent fevers at harvest-time; but on the whole, little of a serious nature, nothing special to note, unless it be a great deal of scrofula, due, no doubt, to the deplorable hygienic conditions of our peasant dwellings. Ah! you will find many prejudices to combat, Monsieur Bovary, much obstinacy of routine, with which all the efforts of your science will daily come into collision; for people still have recourse to novenas, to relics, to the priest, rather than come straight to the doctor of the chemist. The climate, however, is not, truth to tell, bad, and we even have a few nonagenarians in our parish. The thermometer (I have made some observations) falls in winter to 4 degrees Centigrade at the outside, which gives us 24 degrees Reaumur as the maximum, or otherwise 54 degrees Fahrenheit (English scale), not more. And, as a matter of fact, we are sheltered from the north winds by the forest of Argueil on the one side, from the west winds by the St. Jean range on the other; and this heat, moreover, which, on account of the aqueous vapours given off by the river and the considerable number of cattle in the fields, which, as you know, exhale much ammonia, that is to say, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen (no, nitrogen and hydrogen alone), and which sucking up into itself the humus from the ground, mixing together all those different emanations, unites them into a stack, so to say, and combining with the electricity diffused through the atmosphere, when there is any, might in the long run, as in tropical countries, engender insalubrious miasmata — this heat, I say, finds itself perfectly tempered on the side whence it comes, or rather whence it should come — that is to say, the southern side — by the south-eastern winds, which, having cooled themselves passing over the Seine, reach us sometimes all at once like breezes from Russia.”

“At any rate, you have some walks in the neighbourhood?” continued Madame Bovary, speaking to the young man.

“Oh, very few,” he answered. “There is a place they call La Pature, on the top of the hill, on the edge of the forest. Sometimes, on Sundays, I go and stay there with a book, watching the sunset.”

“I think there is nothing so admirable as sunsets,” she resumed; “but especially by the side of the sea.”

“Oh, I adore the sea!” said Monsieur Leon.

“And then, does it not seem to you,” continued Madame Bovary, “that the mind travels more freely on this limitless expanse, the contemplation of which elevates the soul, gives ideas of the infinite, the ideal?”

“It is the same with mountainous landscapes,” continued Leon. “A cousin of mine who travelled in Switzerland last year told me that one could not picture to oneself the poetry of the lakes, the charm of the waterfalls, the gigantic effect of the glaciers. One sees pines of incredible size across torrents, cottages suspended over precipices, and, a thousand feet below one, whole valleys when the clouds open. Such spectacles must stir to enthusiasm, incline to prayer, to ecstasy; and I no longer marvel at that celebrated musician who, the better to inspire his imagination, was in the habit of playing the piano before some imposing site.”

“You play?” she asked.

“No, but I am very fond of music,” he replied.

“Ah! don’t you listen to him, Madame Bovary,” interrupted Homais, bending over his plate. “That’s sheer modesty. Why, my dear fellow, the other day in your room you were singing ‘L’Ange Gardien’ ravishingly. I heard you from the laboratory. You gave it like an actor.”

Leon, in fact, lodged at the chemist’s where he had a small room on the second floor, overlooking the Place. He blushed at the compliment of his landlord, who had already turned to the doctor, and was enumerating to him, one after the other, all the principal inhabitants of Yonville. He was telling anecdotes, giving information; the fortune of the notary was not known exactly, and “there was the Tuvache household,” who made a good deal of show.

Emma continued, “And what music do you prefer?”

“Oh, German music; that which makes you dream.”

“Have you been to the opera?”

“Not yet; but I shall go next year, when I am living at Paris to finish reading for the bar.”

“As I had the honour of putting it to your husband,” said the chemist, “with regard to this poor Yanoda who has run away, you will find yourself, thanks to his extravagance, in the possession of one of the most comfortable houses of Yonville. Its greatest convenience for a doctor is a door giving on the Walk, where one can go in and out unseen. Moreover, it contains everything that is agreeable in a household — a laundry, kitchen with offices, sitting-room, fruit-room, and so on. He was a gay dog, who didn’t care what he spent. At the end of the garden, by the side of the water, he had an arbour built just for the purpose of drinking beer in summer; and if madame is fond of gardening she will be able —”

“My wife doesn’t care about it,” said Charles; “although she has been advised to take exercise, she prefers always sitting in her room reading.”

“Like me,” replied Leon. “And indeed, what is better than to sit by one’s fireside in the evening with a book, while the wind beats against the window and the lamp is burning?”

“What, indeed?” she said, fixing her large black eyes wide open upon him.

“One thinks of nothing,” he continued; “the hours slip by. Motionless we traverse countries we fancy we see, and your thought, blinding with the fiction, playing with the details, follows the outline of the adventures. It mingles with the characters, and it seems as if it were yourself palpitating beneath their costumes.”

“That is true! That is true?” she said.

“Has it ever happened to you,” Leon went on, “to come across some vague idea of one’s own in a book, some dim image that comes back to you from afar, and as the completest expression of your own slightest sentiment?”

“I have experienced it,” she replied.

“That is why,” he said, “I especially love the poets. I think verse more tender than prose, and that it moves far more easily to tears.”

“Still in the long run it is tiring,” continued Emma. Now I, on the contrary, adore stories that rush breathlessly along, that frighten one. I detest commonplace heroes and moderate sentiments, such as there are in nature.”

“In fact,” observed the clerk, “these works, not touching the heart, miss, it seems to me, the true end of art. It is so sweet, amid all the disenchantments of life, to be able to dwell in thought upon noble characters, pure affections, and pictures of happiness. For myself, living here far from the world, this is my one distraction; but Yonville affords so few resources.”

“Like Tostes, no doubt,” replied Emma; “and so I always subscribed to a lending library.”

“If madame will do me the honour of making use of it”, said the chemist, who had just caught the last words, “I have at her disposal a library composed of the best authors, Voltaire, Rousseau, Delille, Walter Scott, the ‘Echo des Feuilletons’; and in addition I receive various periodicals, among them the ‘Fanal de Rouen’ daily, having the advantage to be its correspondent for the districts of Buchy, Forges, Neufchatel, Yonville, and vicinity.”

For two hours and a half they had been at table; for the servant Artemis, carelessly dragging her old list slippers over the flags, brought one plate after the other, forgot everything, and constantly left the door of the billiard-room half open, so that it beat against the wall with its hooks.

Unconsciously, Leon, while talking, had placed his foot on one of the bars of the chair on which Madame Bovary was sitting. She wore a small blue silk necktie, that kept up like a ruff a gauffered cambric collar, and with the movements of her head the lower part of her face gently sunk into the linen or came out from it. Thus side by side, while Charles and the chemist chatted, they entered into one of those vague conversations where the hazard of all that is said brings you back to the fixed centre of a common sympathy. The Paris theatres, titles of novels, new quadrilles, and the world they did not know; Tostes, where she had lived, and Yonville, where they were; they examined all, talked of everything till to the end of dinner.

When coffee was served Felicite went away to get ready the room in the new house, and the guests soon raised the siege. Madame Lefrancois was asleep near the cinders, while the stable-boy, lantern in hand, was waiting to show Monsieur and Madame Bovary the way home. Bits of straw stuck in his red hair, and he limped with his left leg. When he had taken in his other hand the cure’s umbrella, they started.

The town was asleep; the pillars of the market threw great shadows; the earth was all grey as on a summer’s night. But as the doctor’s house was only some fifty paces from the inn, they had to say good-night almost immediately, and the company dispersed.

As soon as she entered the passage, Emma felt the cold of the plaster fall about her shoulders like damp linen. The walls were new and the wooden stairs creaked. In their bedroom, on the first floor, a whitish light passed through the curtainless windows.

She could catch glimpses of tree tops, and beyond, the fields, half-drowned in the fog that lay reeking in the moonlight along the course of the river. In the middle of the room, pell-mell, were scattered drawers, bottles, curtain-rods, gilt poles, with mattresses on the chairs and basins on the ground — the two men who had brought the furniture had left everything about carelessly.

This was the fourth time that she had slept in a strange place.

The first was the day of her going to the convent; the second, of her arrival at Tostes; the third, at Vaubyessard; and this was the fourth. And each one had marked, as it were, the inauguration of a new phase in her life. She did not believe that things could present themselves in the same way in different places, and since the portion of her life lived had been bad, no doubt that which remained to be lived would be better.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:53