Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert

Chapter Two

On reaching the inn, Madame Bovary was surprised not to see the diligence. Hivert, who had waited for her fifty-three minutes, had at last started.

Yet nothing forced her to go; but she had given her word that she would return that same evening. Moreover, Charles expected her, and in her heart she felt already that cowardly docility that is for some women at once the chastisement and atonement of adultery.

She packed her box quickly, paid her bill, took a cab in the yard, hurrying on the driver, urging him on, every moment inquiring about the time and the miles traversed. He succeeded in catching up the “Hirondelle” as it neared the first houses of Quincampoix.

Hardly was she seated in her corner than she closed her eyes, and opened them at the foot of the hill, when from afar she recognised Felicite, who was on the lookout in front of the farrier’s shop. Hivert pulled in his horses and, the servant, climbing up to the window, said mysteriously —

“Madame, you must go at once to Monsieur Homais. It’s for something important.”

The village was silent as usual. At the corner of the streets were small pink heaps that smoked in the air, for this was the time for jam-making, and everyone at Yonville prepared his supply on the same day. But in front of the chemist’s shop one might admire a far larger heap, and that surpassed the others with the superiority that a laboratory must have over ordinary stores, a general need over individual fancy.

She went in. The large arm-chair was upset, and even the “Fanal de Rouen” lay on the ground, outspread between two pestles. She pushed open the lobby door, and in the middle of the kitchen, amid brown jars full of picked currants, of powdered sugar and lump sugar, of the scales on the table, and of the pans on the fire, she saw all the Homais, small and large, with aprons reaching to their chins, and with forks in their hands. Justin was standing up with bowed head, and the chemist was screaming —

“Who told you to go and fetch it in the Capharnaum.”

“What is it? What is the matter?”

“What is it?” replied the druggist. “We are making preserves; they are simmering; but they were about to boil over, because there is too much juice, and I ordered another pan. Then he, from indolence, from laziness, went and took, hanging on its nail in my laboratory, the key of the Capharnaum.”

It was thus the druggist called a small room under the leads, full of the utensils and the goods of his trade. He often spent long hours there alone, labelling, decanting, and doing up again; and he looked upon it not as a simple store, but as a veritable sanctuary, whence there afterwards issued, elaborated by his hands, all sorts of pills, boluses, infusions, lotions, and potions, that would bear far and wide his celebrity. No one in the world set foot there, and he respected it so, that he swept it himself. Finally, if the pharmacy, open to all comers, was the spot where he displayed his pride, the Capharnaum was the refuge where, egoistically concentrating himself, Homais delighted in the exercise of his predilections, so that Justin’s thoughtlessness seemed to him a monstrous piece of irreverence, and, redder than the currants, he repeated —

“Yes, from the Capharnaum! The key that locks up the acids and caustic alkalies! To go and get a spare pan! a pan with a lid! and that I shall perhaps never use! Everything is of importance in the delicate operations of our art! But, devil take it! one must make distinctions, and not employ for almost domestic purposes that which is meant for pharmaceutical! It is as if one were to carve a fowl with a scalpel; as if a magistrate —”

“Now be calm,” said Madame Homais.

And Athalie, pulling at his coat, cried “Papa! papa!”

“No, let me alone,” went on the druggist “let me alone, hang it! My word! One might as well set up for a grocer. That’s it! go it! respect nothing! break, smash, let loose the leeches, burn the mallow-paste, pickle the gherkins in the window jars, tear up the bandages!”

“I thought you had —“said Emma.

“Presently! Do you know to what you exposed yourself? Didn’t you see anything in the corner, on the left, on the third shelf? Speak, answer, articulate something.”

“I— don’t — know,” stammered the young fellow.

“Ah! you don’t know! Well, then, I do know! You saw a bottle of blue glass, sealed with yellow wax, that contains a white powder, on which I have even written ‘Dangerous!’ And do you know what is in it? Arsenic! And you go and touch it! You take a pan that was next to it!”

“Next to it!” cried Madame Hoinais, clasping her hands. “Arsenic! You might have poisoned us all.”

And the children began howling as if they already had frightful pains in their entrails.

“Or poison a patient!” continued the druggist. “Do you want to see me in the prisoner’s dock with criminals, in a court of justice? To see me dragged to the scaffold? Don’t you know what care I take in managing things, although I am so thoroughly used to it? Often I am horrified myself when I think of my responsibility; for the Government persecutes us, and the absurd legislation that rules us is a veritable Damocles’ sword over our heads.”

Emma no longer dreamed of asking what they wanted her for, and the druggist went on in breathless phrases —

“That is your return for all the kindness we have shown you! That is how you recompense me for the really paternal care that I lavish on you! For without me where would you be? What would you be doing? Who provides you with food, education, clothes, and all the means of figuring one day with honour in the ranks of society? But you must pull hard at the oar if you’re to do that, and get, as, people say, callosities upon your hands. Fabricando fit faber, age quod agis.18

He was so exasperated he quoted Latin. He would have quoted Chinese or Greenlandish had he known those two languages, for he was in one of those crises in which the whole soul shows indistinctly what it contains, like the ocean, which, in the storm, opens itself from the seaweeds on its shores down to the sands of its abysses.

And he went on —

“I am beginning to repent terribly of having taken you up! I should certainly have done better to have left you to rot in your poverty and the dirt in which you were born. Oh, you’ll never be fit for anything but to herd animals with horns! You have no aptitude for science! You hardly know how to stick on a label! And there you are, dwelling with me snug as a parson, living in clover, taking your ease!”

But Emma, turning to Madame Homais, “I was told to come here —”

“Oh, dear me!” interrupted the good woman, with a sad air, “how am I to tell you? It is a misfortune!”

She could not finish, the druggist was thundering —“Empty it! Clean it! Take it back! Be quick!”

And seizing Justin by the collar of his blouse, he shook a book out of his pocket. The lad stooped, but Homais was the quicker, and, having picked up the volume, contemplated it with staring eyes and open mouth.

“CONJUGAL— LOVE!” he said, slowly separating the two words. “Ah! very good! very good! very pretty! And illustrations! Oh, this is too much!”

Madame Homais came forward.

“No, do not touch it!”

The children wanted to look at the pictures.

“Leave the room,” he said imperiously; and they went out.

First he walked up and down with the open volume in his hand, rolling his eyes, choking, tumid, apoplectic. Then he came straight to his pupil, and, planting himself in front of him with crossed arms —

“Have you every vice, then, little wretch? Take care! you are on a downward path. Did not you reflect that this infamous book might fall in the hands of my children, kindle a spark in their minds, tarnish the purity of Athalie, corrupt Napoleon. He is already formed like a man. Are you quite sure, anyhow, that they have not read it? Can you certify to me —”

“But really, sir,” said Emma, “you wished to tell me —”

“Ah, yes! madame. Your father-in-law is dead.”

In fact, Monsieur Bovary senior had expired the evening before suddenly from an attack of apoplexy as he got up from table, and by way of greater precaution, on account of Emma’s sensibility, Charles had begged Homais to break the horrible news to her gradually. Homais had thought over his speech; he had rounded, polished it, made it rhythmical; it was a masterpiece of prudence and transitions, of subtle turns and delicacy; but anger had got the better of rhetoric.

Emma, giving up all chance of hearing any details, left the pharmacy; for Monsieur Homais had taken up the thread of his vituperations. However, he was growing calmer, and was now grumbling in a paternal tone whilst he fanned himself with his skull-cap.

“It is not that I entirely disapprove of the work. Its author was a doctor! There are certain scientific points in it that it is not ill a man should know, and I would even venture to say that a man must know. But later — later! At any rate, not till you are man yourself and your temperament is formed.”

When Emma knocked at the door. Charles, who was waiting for her, came forward with open arms and said to her with tears in his voice —

“Ah! my dear!”

And he bent over her gently to kiss her. But at the contact of his lips the memory of the other seized her, and she passed her hand over her face shuddering.

But she made answer, “Yes, I know, I know!”

He showed her the letter in which his mother told the event without any sentimental hypocrisy. She only regretted her husband had not received the consolations of religion, as he had died at Daudeville, in the street, at the door of a cafe after a patriotic dinner with some ex-officers.

Emma gave him back the letter; then at dinner, for appearance’s sake, she affected a certain repugnance. But as he urged her to try, she resolutely began eating, while Charles opposite her sat motionless in a dejected attitude.

Now and then he raised his head and gave her a long look full of distress. Once he sighed, “I should have liked to see him again!”

She was silent. At last, understanding that she must say something, “How old was your father?” she asked.

“Fifty-eight.”

“Ah!”

And that was all.

A quarter of an hour after he added, “My poor mother! what will become of her now?”

She made a gesture that signified she did not know. Seeing her so taciturn, Charles imagined her much affected, and forced himself to say nothing, not to reawaken this sorrow which moved him. And, shaking off his own —

“Did you enjoy yourself yesterday?” he asked.

“Yes.”

When the cloth was removed, Bovary did not rise, nor did Emma; and as she looked at him, the monotony of the spectacle drove little by little all pity from her heart. He seemed to her paltry, weak, a cipher — in a word, a poor thing in every way. How to get rid of him? What an interminable evening! Something stupefying like the fumes of opium seized her.

They heard in the passage the sharp noise of a wooden leg on the boards. It was Hippolyte bringing back Emma’s luggage. In order to put it down he described painfully a quarter of a circle with his stump.

“He doesn’t even remember any more about it,” she thought, looking at the poor devil, whose coarse red hair was wet with perspiration.

Bovary was searching at the bottom of his purse for a centime, and without appearing to understand all there was of humiliation for him in the mere presence of this man, who stood there like a personified reproach to his incurable incapacity.

“Hallo! you’ve a pretty bouquet,” he said, noticing Leon’s violets on the chimney.

“Yes,” she replied indifferently; “it’s a bouquet I bought just now from a beggar.”

Charles picked up the flowers, and freshening his eyes, red with tears, against them, smelt them delicately.

She took them quickly from his hand and put them in a glass of water.

The next day Madame Bovary senior arrived. She and her son wept much. Emma, on the pretext of giving orders, disappeared. The following day they had a talk over the mourning. They went and sat down with their workboxes by the waterside under the arbour.

Charles was thinking of his father, and was surprised to feel so much affection for this man, whom till then he had thought he cared little about. Madame Bovary senior was thinking of her husband. The worst days of the past seemed enviable to her. All was forgotten beneath the instinctive regret of such a long habit, and from time to time whilst she sewed, a big tear rolled along her nose and hung suspended there a moment. Emma was thinking that it was scarcely forty-eight hours since they had been together, far from the world, all in a frenzy of joy, and not having eyes enough to gaze upon each other. She tried to recall the slightest details of that past day. But the presence of her husband and mother-in-law worried her. She would have liked to hear nothing, to see nothing, so as not to disturb the meditation on her love, that, do what she would, became lost in external sensations.

She was unpicking the lining of a dress, and the strips were scattered around her. Madame Bovary senior was plying her scissor without looking up, and Charles, in his list slippers and his old brown surtout that he used as a dressing-gown, sat with both hands in his pockets, and did not speak either; near them Berthe, in a little white pinafore, was raking sand in the walks with her spade. Suddenly she saw Monsieur Lheureux, the linendraper, come in through the gate.

He came to offer his services “under the sad circumstances.” Emma answered that she thought she could do without. The shopkeeper was not to be beaten.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, “but I should like to have a private talk with you.” Then in a low voice, “It’s about that affair — you know.”

Charles crimsoned to his ears. “Oh, yes! certainly.” And in his confusion, turning to his wife, “Couldn’t you, my darling?”

She seemed to understand him, for she rose; and Charles said to his mother, “It is nothing particular. No doubt, some household trifle.” He did not want her to know the story of the bill, fearing her reproaches.

As soon as they were alone, Monsieur Lheureux in sufficiently clear terms began to congratulate Emma on the inheritance, then to talk of indifferent matters, of the espaliers, of the harvest, and of his own health, which was always so-so, always having ups and downs. In fact, he had to work devilish hard, although he didn’t make enough, in spite of all people said, to find butter for his bread.

Emma let him talk on. She had bored herself so prodigiously the last two days.

“And so you’re quite well again?” he went on. “Ma foi! I saw your husband in a sad state. He’s a good fellow, though we did have a little misunderstanding.”

She asked what misunderstanding, for Charles had said nothing of the dispute about the goods supplied to her.

“Why, you know well enough,” cried Lheureux. “It was about your little fancies — the travelling trunks.”

He had drawn his hat over his eyes, and, with his hands behind his back, smiling and whistling, he looked straight at her in an unbearable manner. Did he suspect anything?

She was lost in all kinds of apprehensions. At last, however, he went on —

“We made it up, all the same, and I’ve come again to propose another arrangement.”

This was to renew the bill Bovary had signed. The doctor, of course, would do as he pleased; he was not to trouble himself, especially just now, when he would have a lot of worry. “And he would do better to give it over to someone else — to you, for example. With a power of attorney it could be easily managed, and then we (you and I) would have our little business transactions together.”

She did not understand. He was silent. Then, passing to his trade, Lheureux declared that madame must require something. He would send her a black barege, twelve yards, just enough to make a gown.

“The one you’ve on is good enough for the house, but you want another for calls. I saw that the very moment that I came in. I’ve the eye of an American!”

He did not send the stuff; he brought it. Then he came again to measure it; he came again on other pretexts, always trying to make himself agreeable, useful, “enfeoffing himself,” as Homais would have said, and always dropping some hint to Emma about the power of attorney. He never mentioned the bill; she did not think of it. Charles, at the beginning of her convalescence, had certainly said something about it to her, but so many emotions had passed through her head that she no longer remembered it. Besides, she took care not to talk of any money questions. Madame Bovary seemed surprised at this, and attributed the change in her ways to the religious sentiments she had contracted during her illness.

But as soon as she was gone, Emma greatly astounded Bovary by her practical good sense. It would be necessary to make inquiries, to look into mortgages, and see if there were any occasion for a sale by auction or a liquidation. She quoted technical terms casually, pronounced the grand words of order, the future, foresight, and constantly exaggerated the difficulties of settling his father’s affairs so much, that at last one day she showed him the rough draft of a power of attorney to manage and administer his business, arrange all loans, sign and endorse all bills, pay all sums, etc. She had profited by Lheureux’s lessons. Charles naively asked her where this paper came from.

“Monsieur Guillaumin”; and with the utmost coolness she added, “I don’t trust him overmuch. Notaries have such a bad reputation. Perhaps we ought to consult — we only know — no one.”

“Unless Leon —” replied Charles, who was reflecting. But it was difficult to explain matters by letter. Then she offered to make the journey, but he thanked her. She insisted. It was quite a contest of mutual consideration. At last she cried with affected waywardness —

“No, I will go!”

“How good you are!” he said, kissing her forehead.

The next morning she set out in the “Hirondelle” to go to Rouen to consult Monsieur Leon, and she stayed there three days.

18 The worker lives by working, do what he will.

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