Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert

Chapter Six

One evening when the window was open, and she, sitting by it, had been watching Lestiboudois, the beadle, trimming the box, she suddenly heard the Angelus ringing.

It was the beginning of April, when the primroses are in bloom, and a warm wind blows over the flower-beds newly turned, and the gardens, like women, seem to be getting ready for the summer fetes. Through the bars of the arbour and away beyond, the river seen in the fields, meandering through the grass in wandering curves. The evening vapours rose between the leafless poplars, touching their outlines with a violet tint, paler and more transparent than a subtle gauze caught athwart their branches. In the distance cattle moved about; neither their steps nor their lowing could be heard; and the bell, still ringing through the air, kept up its peaceful lamentation.

With this repeated tinkling the thoughts of the young woman lost themselves in old memories of her youth and school-days. She remembered the great candlesticks that rose above the vases full of flowers on the altar, and the tabernacle with its small columns. She would have liked to be once more lost in the long line of white veils, marked off here and there by the stuff black hoods of the good sisters bending over their prie-Dieu. At mass on Sundays, when she looked up, she saw the gentle face of the Virgin amid the blue smoke of the rising incense. Then she was moved; she felt herself weak and quite deserted, like the down of a bird whirled by the tempest, and it was unconsciously that she went towards the church, included to no matter what devotions, so that her soul was absorbed and all existence lost in it.

On the Place she met Lestivoudois on his way back, for, in order not to shorten his day’s labour, he preferred interrupting his work, then beginning it again, so that he rang the Angelus to suit his own convenience. Besides, the ringing over a little earlier warned the lads of catechism hour.

Already a few who had arrived were playing marbles on the stones of the cemetery. Others, astride the wall, swung their legs, kicking with their clogs the large nettles growing between the little enclosure and the newest graves. This was the only green spot. All the rest was but stones, always covered with a fine powder, despite the vestry-broom.

The children in list shoes ran about there as if it were an enclosure made for them. The shouts of their voices could be heard through the humming of the bell. This grew less and less with the swinging of the great rope that, hanging from the top of the belfry, dragged its end on the ground. Swallows flitted to and fro uttering little cries, cut the air with the edge of their wings, and swiftly returned to their yellow nests under the tiles of the coping. At the end of the church a lamp was burning, the wick of a night-light in a glass hung up. Its light from a distance looked like a white stain trembling in the oil. A long ray of the sun fell across the nave and seemed to darken the lower sides and the corners.

“Where is the cure?” asked Madame Bovary of one of the lads, who was amusing himself by shaking a swivel in a hole too large for it.

“He is just coming,” he answered.

And in fact the door of the presbytery grated; Abbe Bournisien appeared; the children, pell-mell, fled into the church.

“These young scamps!” murmured the priest, “always the same!”

Then, picking up a catechism all in rags that he had struck with is foot, “They respect nothing!” But as soon as he caught sight of Madame Bovary, “Excuse me,” he said; “I did not recognise you.”

He thrust the catechism into his pocket, and stopped short, balancing the heavy vestry key between his two fingers.

The light of the setting sun that fell full upon his face paled the lasting of his cassock, shiny at the elbows, unravelled at the hem. Grease and tobacco stains followed along his broad chest the lines of the buttons, and grew more numerous the farther they were from his neckcloth, in which the massive folds of his red chin rested; this was dotted with yellow spots, that disappeared beneath the coarse hair of his greyish beard. He had just dined and was breathing noisily.

“How are you?” he added.

“Not well,” replied Emma; “I am ill.”

“Well, and so am I,” answered the priest. “These first warm days weaken one most remarkably, don’t they? But, after all, we are born to suffer, as St. Paul says. But what does Monsieur Bovary think of it?”

“He!” she said with a gesture of contempt.

“What!” replied the good fellow, quite astonished, doesn’t he prescribe something for you?”

“Ah!” said Emma, “it is no earthly remedy I need.”

But the cure from time to time looked into the church, where the kneeling boys were shouldering one another, and tumbling over like packs of cards.

“I should like to know —” she went on.

“You look out, Riboudet,” cried the priest in an angry voice; “I’ll warm your ears, you imp!” Then turning to Emma, “He’s Boudet the carpenter’s son; his parents are well off, and let him do just as he pleases. Yet he could learn quickly if he would, for he is very sharp. And so sometimes for a joke I call him Riboudet (like the road one takes to go to Maromme) and I even say ‘Mon Riboudet.’ Ha! Ha! ‘Mont Riboudet.’ The other day I repeated that just to Monsignor, and he laughed at it; he condescended to laugh at it. And how is Monsieur Bovary?”

She seemed not to hear him. And he went on —

“Always very busy, no doubt; for he and I are certainly the busiest people in the parish. But he is doctor of the body,” he added with a thick laugh, “and I of the soul.”

She fixed her pleading eyes upon the priest. “Yes,” she said, “you solace all sorrows.”

“Ah! don’t talk to me of it, Madame Bovary. This morning I had to go to Bas-Diauville for a cow that was ill; they thought it was under a spell. All their cows, I don’t know how it is — But pardon me! Longuemarre and Boudet! Bless me! Will you leave off?”

And with a bound he ran into the church.

The boys were just then clustering round the large desk, climbing over the precentor’s footstool, opening the missal; and others on tiptoe were just about to venture into the confessional. But the priest suddenly distributed a shower of cuffs among them. Seizing them by the collars of their coats, he lifted them from the ground, and deposited them on their knees on the stones of the choir, firmly, as if he meant planting them there.

“Yes,” said he, when he returned to Emma, unfolding his large cotton handkerchief, one corner of which he put between his teeth, “farmers are much to be pitied.”

“Others, too,” she replied.

“Assuredly. Town-labourers, for example.”

“It is not they —”

“Pardon! I’ve there known poor mothers of families, virtuous women, I assure you, real saints, who wanted even bread.”

“But those,” replied Emma, and the corners of her mouth twitched as she spoke, “those, Monsieur le Cure, who have bread and have no —”

“Fire in the winter,” said the priest.

“Oh, what does that matter?”

“What! What does it matter? It seems to me that when one has firing and food — for, after all —”

“My God! my God!” she sighed.

“It is indigestion, no doubt? You must get home, Madame Bovary; drink a little tea, that will strengthen you, or else a glass of fresh water with a little moist sugar.”

“Why?” And she looked like one awaking from a dream.

“Well, you see, you were putting your hand to your forehead. I thought you felt faint.” Then, bethinking himself, “But you were asking me something? What was it? I really don’t remember.”

“I? Nothing! nothing!” repeated Emma.

And the glance she cast round her slowly fell upon the old man in the cassock. They looked at one another face to face without speaking.

“Then, Madame Bovary,” he said at last, “excuse me, but duty first, you know; I must look after my good-for-nothings. The first communion will soon be upon us, and I fear we shall be behind after all. So after Ascension Day I keep them recta11 an extra hour every Wednesday. Poor children! One cannot lead them too soon into the path of the Lord, as, moreover, he has himself recommended us to do by the mouth of his Divine Son. Good health to you, madame; my respects to your husband.”

And he went into the church making a genuflexion as soon as he reached the door.

Emma saw him disappear between the double row of forms, walking with a heavy tread, his head a little bent over his shoulder, and with his two hands half-open behind him.

Then she turned on her heel all of one piece, like a statue on a pivot, and went homewards. But the loud voice of the priest, the clear voices of the boys still reached her ears, and went on behind her.

“Are you a Christian?”

“Yes, I am a Christian.”

“What is a Christian?”

“He who, being baptized-baptized-baptized —”

She went up the steps of the staircase holding on to the banisters, and when she was in her room threw herself into an arm-chair.

The whitish light of the window-panes fell with soft undulations.

The furniture in its place seemed to have become more immobile, and to lose itself in the shadow as in an ocean of darkness. The fire was out, the clock went on ticking, and Emma vaguely marvelled at this calm of all things while within herself was such tumult. But little Berthe was there, between the window and the work-table, tottering on her knitted shoes, and trying to come to her mother to catch hold of the ends of her apron-strings.

“Leave me alone,” said the latter, putting her from her with her hand.

The little girl soon came up closer against her knees, and leaning on them with her arms, she looked up with her large blue eyes, while a small thread of pure saliva dribbled from her lips on to the silk apron.

“Leave me alone,” repeated the young woman quite irritably.

Her face frightened the child, who began to scream.

“Will you leave me alone?” she said, pushing her with her elbow.

Berthe fell at the foot of the drawers against the brass handle, cutting her cheek, which began to bleed, against it. Madame Bovary sprang to lift her up, broke the bell-rope, called for the servant with all her might, and she was just going to curse herself when Charles appeared. It was the dinner-hour; he had come home.

“Look, dear!” said Emma, in a calm voice, “the little one fell down while she was playing, and has hurt herself.”

Charles reassured her; the case was not a serious one, and he went for some sticking plaster.

Madame Bovary did not go downstairs to the dining-room; she wished to remain alone to look after the child. Then watching her sleep, the little anxiety she felt gradually wore off, and she seemed very stupid to herself, and very good to have been so worried just now at so little. Berthe, in fact, no longer sobbed.

Her breathing now imperceptibly raised the cotton covering. Big tears lay in the corner of the half-closed eyelids, through whose lashes one could see two pale sunken pupils; the plaster stuck on her cheek drew the skin obliquely.

“It is very strange,” thought Emma, “how ugly this child is!”

When at eleven o’clock Charles came back from the chemist’s shop, whither he had gone after dinner to return the remainder of the sticking-plaster, he found his wife standing by the cradle.

“I assure you it’s nothing.” he said, kissing her on the forehead. “Don’t worry, my poor darling; you will make yourself ill.”

He had stayed a long time at the chemist’s. Although he had not seemed much moved, Homais, nevertheless, had exerted himself to buoy him up, to “keep up his spirits.” Then they had talked of the various dangers that threaten childhood, of the carelessness of servants. Madame Homais knew something of it, having still upon her chest the marks left by a basin full of soup that a cook had formerly dropped on her pinafore, and her good parents took no end of trouble for her. The knives were not sharpened, nor the floors waxed; there were iron gratings to the windows and strong bars across the fireplace; the little Homais, in spite of their spirit, could not stir without someone watching them; at the slightest cold their father stuffed them with pectorals; and until they were turned four they all, without pity, had to wear wadded head-protectors. This, it is true, was a fancy of Madame Homais’; her husband was inwardly afflicted at it. Fearing the possible consequences of such compression to the intellectual organs. He even went so far as to say to her, “Do you want to make Caribs or Botocudos of them?”

Charles, however, had several times tried to interrupt the conversation. “I should like to speak to you,” he had whispered in the clerk’s ear, who went upstairs in front of him.

“Can he suspect anything?” Leon asked himself. His heart beat, and he racked his brain with surmises.

At last, Charles, having shut the door, asked him to see himself what would be the price at Rouen of a fine daguerreotypes. It was a sentimental surprise he intended for his wife, a delicate attention — his portrait in a frock-coat. But he wanted first to know “how much it would be.” The inquiries would not put Monsieur Leon out, since he went to town almost every week.

Why? Monsieur Homais suspected some “young man’s affair” at the bottom of it, an intrigue. But he was mistaken. Leon was after no love-making. He was sadder than ever, as Madame Lefrancois saw from the amount of food he left on his plate. To find out more about it she questioned the tax-collector. Binet answered roughly that he “wasn’t paid by the police.”

All the same, his companion seemed very strange to him, for Leon often threw himself back in his chair, and stretching out his arms. Complained vaguely of life.

“It’s because you don’t take enough recreation,” said the collector.

“What recreation?”

“If I were you I’d have a lathe.”

“But I don’t know how to turn,” answered the clerk.

“Ah! that’s true,” said the other, rubbing his chin with an air of mingled contempt and satisfaction.

Leon was weary of loving without any result; moreover he was beginning to feel that depression caused by the repetition of the same kind of life, when no interest inspires and no hope sustains it. He was so bored with Yonville and its inhabitants, that the sight of certain persons, of certain houses, irritated him beyond endurance; and the chemist, good fellow though he was, was becoming absolutely unbearable to him. Yet the prospect of a new condition of life frightened as much as it seduced him.

This apprehension soon changed into impatience, and then Paris from afar sounded its fanfare of masked balls with the laugh of grisettes. As he was to finish reading there, why not set out at once? What prevented him? And he began making home-preparations; he arranged his occupations beforehand. He furnished in his head an apartment. He would lead an artist’s life there! He would take lessons on the guitar! He would have a dressing-gown, a Basque cap, blue velvet slippers! He even already was admiring two crossed foils over his chimney-piece, with a death’s head on the guitar above them.

The difficulty was the consent of his mother; nothing, however, seemed more reasonable. Even his employer advised him to go to some other chambers where he could advance more rapidly. Taking a middle course, then, Leon looked for some place as second clerk at Rouen; found none, and at last wrote his mother a long letter full of details, in which he set forth the reasons for going to live at Paris immediately. She consented.

He did not hurry. Every day for a month Hivert carried boxes, valises, parcels for him from Yonville to Rouen and from Rouen to Yonville; and when Leon had packed up his wardrobe, had his three arm-chairs restuffed, bought a stock of neckties, in a word, had made more preparations than for a voyage around the world, he put it off from week to week, until he received a second letter from his mother urging him to leave, since he wanted to pass his examination before the vacation.

When the moment for the farewells had come, Madame Homais wept, Justin sobbed; Homais, as a man of nerve, concealed his emotion; he wished to carry his friend’s overcoat himself as far as the gate of the notary, who was taking Leon to Rouen in his carriage.

The latter had just time to bid farewell to Monsieur Bovary.

When he reached the head of the stairs, he stopped, he was so out of breath. As he came in, Madame Bovary arose hurriedly.

“It is I again!” said Leon.

“I was sure of it!”

She bit her lips, and a rush of blood flowing under her skin made her red from the roots of her hair to the top of her collar. She remained standing, leaning with her shoulder against the wainscot.

“The doctor is not here?” he went on.

“He is out.” She repeated, “He is out.”

Then there was silence. They looked at one another and their thoughts, confounded in the same agony, clung close together like two throbbing breasts.

“I should like to kiss Berthe,” said Leon.

Emma went down a few steps and called Felicite.

He threw one long look around him that took in the walls, the decorations, the fireplace, as if to penetrate everything, carry away everything. But she returned, and the servant brought Berthe, who was swinging a windmill roof downwards at the end of a string. Leon kissed her several times on the neck.

“Good-bye, poor child! good-bye, dear little one! good-bye!” And he gave her back to her mother.

“Take her away,” she said.

They remained alone — Madame Bovary, her back turned, her face pressed against a window-pane; Leon held his cap in his hand, knocking it softly against his thigh.

“It is going to rain,” said Emma.

“I have a cloak,” he answered.

“Ah!”

She turned around, her chin lowered, her forehead bent forward.

The light fell on it as on a piece of marble, to the curve of the eyebrows, without one’s being able to guess what Emma was seeing on the horizon or what she was thinking within herself.

“Well, good-bye,” he sighed.

She raised her head with a quick movement.

“Yes, good-bye — go!”

They advanced towards each other; he held out his hand; she hesitated.

“In the English fashion, then,” she said, giving her own hand wholly to him, and forcing a laugh.

Leon felt it between his fingers, and the very essence of all his being seemed to pass down into that moist palm. Then he opened his hand; their eyes met again, and he disappeared.

When he reached the market-place, he stopped and hid behind a pillar to look for the last time at this white house with the four green blinds. He thought he saw a shadow behind the window in the room; but the curtain, sliding along the pole as though no one were touching it, slowly opened its long oblique folds that spread out with a single movement, and thus hung straight and motionless as a plaster wall. Leon set off running.

From afar he saw his employer’s gig in the road, and by it a man in a coarse apron holding the horse. Homais and Monsieur Guillaumin were talking. They were waiting for him.

“Embrace me,” said the druggist with tears in his eyes. “Here is your coat, my good friend. Mind the cold; take care of yourself; look after yourself.”

“Come, Leon, jump in,” said the notary.

Homais bend over the splash-board, and in a voice broken by sobs uttered these three sad words —

“A pleasant journey!”

“Good-night,” said Monsieur Guillaumin. “Give him his head.” They set out, and Homais went back.

Madame Bovary had opened her window overlooking the garden and watched the clouds. They gathered around the sunset on the side of Rouen and then swiftly rolled back their black columns, behind which the great rays of the sun looked out like the golden arrows of a suspended trophy, while the rest of the empty heavens was white as porcelain. But a gust of wind bowed the poplars, and suddenly the rain fell; it pattered against the green leaves.

Then the sun reappeared, the hens clucked, sparrows shook their wings in the damp thickets, and the pools of water on the gravel as they flowed away carried off the pink flowers of an acacia.

“Ah! how far off he must be already!” she thought.

Monsieur Homais, as usual, came at half-past six during dinner.

“Well,” said he, “so we’ve sent off our young friend!”

“So it seems,” replied the doctor. Then turning on his chair; “Any news at home?”

“Nothing much. Only my wife was a little moved this afternoon. You know women — a nothing upsets them, especially my wife. And we should be wrong to object to that, since their nervous organization is much more malleable than ours.”

“Poor Leon!” said Charles. “How will he live at Paris? Will he get used to it?”

Madame Bovary sighed.

“Get along!” said the chemist, smacking his lips. “The outings at restaurants, the masked balls, the champagne — all that’ll be jolly enough, I assure you.”

“I don’t think he’ll go wrong,” objected Bovary.

“Nor do I,” said Monsieur Homais quickly; “although he’ll have to do like the rest for fear of passing for a Jesuit. And you don’t know what a life those dogs lead in the Latin quarter with actresses. Besides, students are thought a great deal of in Paris. Provided they have a few accomplishments, they are received in the best society; there are even ladies of the Faubourg Saint-Germain who fall in love with them, which subsequently furnishes them opportunities for making very good matches.”

“But,” said the doctor, “I fear for him that down there —”

“You are right,” interrupted the chemist; “that is the reverse of the medal. And one is constantly obliged to keep one’s hand in one’s pocket there. Thus, we will suppose you are in a public garden. An individual presents himself, well dressed, even wearing an order, and whom one would take for a diplomatist. He approaches you, he insinuates himself; offers you a pinch of snuff, or picks up your hat. Then you become more intimate; he takes you to a cafe, invites you to his country-house, introduces you, between two drinks, to all sorts of people; and three-fourths of the time it’s only to plunder your watch or lead you into some pernicious step.

“That is true,” said Charles; “but I was thinking especially of illnesses — of typhoid fever, for example, that attacks students from the provinces.”

Emma shuddered.

“Because of the change of regimen,” continued the chemist, “and of the perturbation that results therefrom in the whole system. And then the water at Paris, don’t you know! The dishes at restaurants, all the spiced food, end by heating the blood, and are not worth, whatever people may say of them, a good soup. For my own part, I have always preferred plain living; it is more healthy. So when I was studying pharmacy at Rouen, I boarded in a boarding house; I dined with the professors.”

And thus he went on, expounding his opinions generally and his personal likings, until Justin came to fetch him for a mulled egg that was wanted.

“Not a moment’s peace!” he cried; “always at it! I can’t go out for a minute! Like a plough-horse, I have always to be moiling and toiling. What drudgery!” Then, when he was at the door, “By the way, do you know the news?”

“What news?”

“That it is very likely,” Homais went on, raising his eyebrows and assuming one of his most serious expression, “that the agricultural meeting of the Seine-Inferieure will be held this year at Yonville-l’Abbaye. The rumour, at all events, is going the round. This morning the paper alluded to it. It would be of the utmost importance for our district. But we’ll talk it over later on. I can see, thank you; Justin has the lantern.”

11On the straight and narrow path.

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