Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert

Chapter Seven

She was stoical the next day when Maitre Hareng, the bailiff, with two assistants, presented himself at her house to draw up the inventory for the distraint.

They began with Bovary’s consulting-room, and did not write down the phrenological head, which was considered an “instrument of his profession”; but in the kitchen they counted the plates; the saucepans, the chairs, the candlesticks, and in the bedroom all the nick-nacks on the whatnot. They examined her dresses, the linen, the dressing-room; and her whole existence to its most intimate details, was, like a corpse on whom a post-mortem is made, outspread before the eyes of these three men.

Maitre Hareng, buttoned up in his thin black coat, wearing a white choker and very tight foot-straps, repeated from time to time —“Allow me, madame. You allow me?” Often he uttered exclamations. “Charming! very pretty.” Then he began writing again, dipping his pen into the horn inkstand in his left hand.

When they had done with the rooms they went up to the attic. She kept a desk there in which Rodolphe’s letters were locked. It had to be opened.

“Ah! a correspondence,” said Maitre Hareng, with a discreet smile. “But allow me, for I must make sure the box contains nothing else.” And he tipped up the papers lightly, as if to shake out napoleons. Then she grew angered to see this coarse hand, with fingers red and pulpy like slugs, touching these pages against which her heart had beaten.

They went at last. Felicite came back. Emma had sent her out to watch for Bovary in order to keep him off, and they hurriedly installed the man in possession under the roof, where he swore he would remain.

During the evening Charles seemed to her careworn. Emma watched him with a look of anguish, fancying she saw an accusation in every line of his face. Then, when her eyes wandered over the chimney-piece ornamented with Chinese screens, over the large curtains, the armchairs, all those things, in a word, that had, softened the bitterness of her life, remorse seized her or rather an immense regret, that, far from crushing, irritated her passion. Charles placidly poked the fire, both his feet on the fire-dogs.

Once the man, no doubt bored in his hiding-place, made a slight noise.

“Is anyone walking upstairs?” said Charles.

“No,” she replied; “it is a window that has been left open, and is rattling in the wind.”

The next day, Sunday, she went to Rouen to call on all the brokers whose names she knew. They were at their country-places or on journeys. She was not discouraged; and those whom she did manage to see she asked for money, declaring she must have some, and that she would pay it back. Some laughed in her face; all refused.

At two o’clock she hurried to Leon, and knocked at the door. No one answered. At length he appeared.

“What brings you here?”

“Do I disturb you?”

“No; but —” And he admitted that his landlord didn’t like his having “women” there.

“I must speak to you,” she went on.

Then he took down the key, but she stopped him.

“No, no! Down there, in our home!”

And they went to their room at the Hotel de Boulogne.

On arriving she drank off a large glass of water. She was very pale. She said to him —

“Leon, you will do me a service?”

And, shaking him by both hands that she grasped tightly, she added

“Listen, I want eight thousand francs.”

“But you are mad!”

“Not yet.”

And thereupon, telling him the story of the distraint, she explained her distress to him; for Charles knew nothing of it; her mother-in-law detested her; old Rouault could do nothing; but he, Leon, he would set about finding this indispensable sum.

“How on earth can I?”

“What a coward you are!” she cried.

Then he said stupidly, “You are exaggerating the difficulty. Perhaps, with a thousand crowns or so the fellow could be stopped.”

All the greater reason to try and do something; it was impossible that they could not find three thousand francs. Besides, Leon, could be security instead of her.

“Go, try, try! I will love you so!”

He went out, and came back at the end of an hour, saying, with solemn face —

“I have been to three people with no success.”

Then they remained sitting face to face at the two chimney corners, motionless, in silence. Emma shrugged her shoulders as she stamped her feet. He heard her murmuring —

“If I were in your place I should soon get some.”

“But where?”

“At your office.” And she looked at him.

An infernal boldness looked out from her burning eyes, and their lids drew close together with a lascivious and encouraging look, so that the young man felt himself growing weak beneath the mute will of this woman who was urging him to a crime. Then he was afraid, and to avoid any explanation he smote his forehead, crying —

“Morel is to come back to-night; he will not refuse me, I hope” (this was one of his friends, the son of a very rich merchant); “and I will bring it you to-morrow,” he added.

Emma did not seem to welcome this hope with all the joy he had expected. Did she suspect the lie? He went on, blushing —

“However, if you don’t see me by three o’clock do not wait for me, my darling. I must be off now; forgive me! Goodbye!”

He pressed her hand, but it felt quite lifeless. Emma had no strength left for any sentiment.

Four o’clock struck, and she rose to return to Yonville, mechanically obeying the force of old habits.

The weather was fine. It was one of those March days, clear and sharp, when the sun shines in a perfectly white sky. The Rouen folk, in Sunday-clothes, were walking about with happy looks. She reached the Place du Parvis. People were coming out after vespers; the crowd flowed out through the three doors like a stream through the three arches of a bridge, and in the middle one, more motionless than a rock, stood the beadle.

Then she remembered the day when, all anxious and full of hope, she had entered beneath this large nave, that had opened out before her, less profound than her love; and she walked on weeping beneath her veil, giddy, staggering, almost fainting.

“Take care!” cried a voice issuing from the gate of a courtyard that was thrown open.

She stopped to let pass a black horse, pawing the ground between the shafts of a tilbury, driven by a gentleman in sable furs. Who was it? She knew him. The carriage darted by and disappeared.

Why, it was he — the Viscount. She turned away; the street was empty. She was so overwhelmed, so sad, that she had to lean against a wall to keep herself from falling.

Then she thought she had been mistaken. Anyhow, she did not know. All within her and around her was abandoning her. She felt lost, sinking at random into indefinable abysses, and it was almost with joy that, on reaching the “Croix-Rouge,” she saw the good Homais, who was watching a large box full of pharmaceutical stores being hoisted on to the “Hirondelle.” In his hand he held tied in a silk handkerchief six cheminots for his wife.

Madame Homais was very fond of these small, heavy turban-shaped loaves, that are eaten in Lent with salt butter; a last vestige of Gothic food that goes back, perhaps, to the time of the Crusades, and with which the robust Normans gorged themselves of yore, fancying they saw on the table, in the light of the yellow torches, between tankards of hippocras and huge boars’ heads, the heads of Saracens to be devoured. The druggist’s wife crunched them up as they had done — heroically, despite her wretched teeth. And so whenever Homais journeyed to town, he never failed to bring her home some that he bought at the great baker’s in the Rue Massacre.

“Charmed to see you,” he said, offering Emma a hand to help her into the “Hirondelle.” Then he hung up his cheminots to the cords of the netting, and remained bare-headed in an attitude pensive and Napoleonic.

But when the blind man appeared as usual at the foot of the hill he exclaimed —

“I can’t understand why the authorities tolerate such culpable industries. Such unfortunates should be locked up and forced to work. Progress, my word! creeps at a snail’s pace. We are floundering about in mere barbarism.”

The blind man held out his hat, that flapped about at the door, as if it were a bag in the lining that had come unnailed.

“This,” said the chemist, “is a scrofulous affection.”

And though he knew the poor devil, he pretended to see him for the first time, murmured something about “cornea,” “opaque cornea,” “sclerotic,” “facies,” then asked him in a paternal tone —

“My friend, have you long had this terrible infirmity? Instead of getting drunk at the public, you’d do better to die yourself.”

He advised him to take good wine, good beer, and good joints. The blind man went on with his song; he seemed, moreover, almost idiotic. At last Monsieur Homais opened his purse —

“Now there’s a sou; give me back two lairds, and don’t forget my advice: you’ll be the better for it.”

Hivert openly cast some doubt on the efficacy of it. But the druggist said that he would cure himself with an antiphlogistic pomade of his own composition, and he gave his address —“Monsieur Homais, near the market, pretty well known.”

“Now,” said Hivert, “for all this trouble you’ll give us your performance.”

The blind man sank down on his haunches, with his head thrown back, whilst he rolled his greenish eyes, lolled out his tongue, and rubbed his stomach with both hands as he uttered a kind of hollow yell like a famished dog. Emma, filled with disgust, threw him over her shoulder a five-franc piece. It was all her fortune. It seemed to her very fine thus to throw it away.

The coach had gone on again when suddenly Monsieur Homais leant out through the window, crying —

“No farinaceous or milk food, wear wool next the skin, and expose the diseased parts to the smoke of juniper berries.”

The sight of the well-known objects that defiled before her eyes gradually diverted Emma from her present trouble. An intolerable fatigue overwhelmed her, and she reached her home stupefied, discouraged, almost asleep.

“Come what may come!” she said to herself. “And then, who knows? Why, at any moment could not some extraordinary event occur? Lheureux even might die!”

At nine o’clock in the morning she was awakened by the sound of voices in the Place. There was a crowd round the market reading a large bill fixed to one of the posts, and she saw Justin, who was climbing on to a stone and tearing down the bill. But at this moment the rural guard seized him by the collar. Monsieur Homais came out of his shop, and Mere Lefrangois, in the midst of the crowd, seemed to be perorating.

“Madame! madame!” cried Felicite, running in, “it’s abominable!”

And the poor girl, deeply moved, handed her a yellow paper that she had just torn off the door. Emma read with a glance that all her furniture was for sale.

Then they looked at one another silently. The servant and mistress had no secret one from the other. At last Felicite sighed —

“If I were you, madame, I should go to Monsieur Guillaumin.”

“Do you think —”

And this question meant to say —

“You who know the house through the servant, has the master spoken sometimes of me?”

“Yes, you’d do well to go there.”

She dressed, put on her black gown, and her hood with jet beads, and that she might not be seen (there was still a crowd on the Place), she took the path by the river, outside the village.

She reached the notary’s gate quite breathless. The sky was sombre, and a little snow was falling. At the sound of the bell, Theodore in a red waistcoat appeared on the steps; he came to open the door almost familiarly, as to an acquaintance, and showed her into the dining-room.

A large porcelain stove crackled beneath a cactus that filled up the niche in the wall, and in black wood frames against the oak-stained paper hung Steuben’s “Esmeralda” and Schopin’s “Potiphar.” The ready-laid table, the two silver chafing-dishes, the crystal door-knobs, the parquet and the furniture, all shone with a scrupulous, English cleanliness; the windows were ornamented at each corner with stained glass.

“Now this,” thought Emma, “is the dining-room I ought to have.”

The notary came in pressing his palm-leaf dressing-gown to his breast with his left arm, while with the other hand he raised and quickly put on again his brown velvet cap, pretentiously cocked on the right side, whence looked out the ends of three fair curls drawn from the back of the head, following the line of his bald skull.

After he had offered her a seat he sat down to breakfast, apologising profusely for his rudeness.

“I have come,” she said, “to beg you, sir —”

“What, madame? I am listening.”

And she began explaining her position to him. Monsieur Guillaumin knew it, being secretly associated with the linendraper, from whom he always got capital for the loans on mortgages that he was asked to make.

So he knew (and better than she herself) the long story of the bills, small at first, bearing different names as endorsers, made out at long dates, and constantly renewed up to the day, when, gathering together all the protested bills, the shopkeeper had bidden his friend Vincart take in his own name all the necessary proceedings, not wishing to pass for a tiger with his fellow-citizens.

She mingled her story with recriminations against Lheureux, to which the notary replied from time to time with some insignificant word. Eating his cutlet and drinking his tea, he buried his chin in his sky-blue cravat, into which were thrust two diamond pins, held together by a small gold chain; and he smiled a singular smile, in a sugary, ambiguous fashion. But noticing that her feet were damp, he said —

“Do get closer to the stove; put your feet up against the porcelain.”

She was afraid of dirtying it. The notary replied in a gallant tone —

“Beautiful things spoil nothing.”

Then she tried to move him, and, growing moved herself, she began telling him about the poorness of her home, her worries, her wants. He could understand that; an elegant woman! and, without leaving off eating, he had turned completely round towards her, so that his knee brushed against her boot, whose sole curled round as it smoked against the stove.

But when she asked for a thousand sous, he closed his lips, and declared he was very sorry he had not had the management of her fortune before, for there were hundreds of ways very convenient, even for a lady, of turning her money to account. They might, either in the turf-peats of Grumesnil or building-ground at Havre, almost without risk, have ventured on some excellent speculations; and he let her consume herself with rage at the thought of the fabulous sums that she would certainly have made.

“How was it,” he went on, “that you didn’t come to me?”

“I hardly know,” she said.

“Why, hey? Did I frighten you so much? It is I, on the contrary, who ought to complain. We hardly know one another; yet I am very devoted to you. You do not doubt that, I hope?”

He held out his hand, took hers, covered it with a greedy kiss, then held it on his knee; and he played delicately with her fingers whilst he murmured a thousand blandishments. His insipid voice murmured like a running brook; a light shone in his eyes through the glimmering of his spectacles, and his hand was advancing up Emma’s sleeve to press her arm. She felt against her cheek his panting breath. This man oppressed her horribly.

She sprang up and said to him —

“Sir, I am waiting.”

“For what?” said the notary, who suddenly became very pale.

“This money.”

“But —” Then, yielding to the outburst of too powerful a desire, “Well, yes!”

He dragged himself towards her on his knees, regardless of his dressing-gown.

“For pity’s sake, stay. I love you!”

He seized her by her waist. Madame Bovary’s face flushed purple. She recoiled with a terrible look, crying —

“You are taking a shameless advantage of my distress, sir! I am to be pitied — not to be sold.”

And she went out.

The notary remained quite stupefied, his eyes fixed on his fine embroidered slippers. They were a love gift, and the sight of them at last consoled him. Besides, he reflected that such an adventure might have carried him too far.

“What a wretch! what a scoundrel! what an infamy!” she said to herself, as she fled with nervous steps beneath the aspens of the path. The disappointment of her failure increased the indignation of her outraged modesty; it seemed to her that Providence pursued her implacably, and, strengthening herself in her pride, she had never felt so much esteem for herself nor so much contempt for others. A spirit of warfare transformed her. She would have liked to strike all men, to spit in their faces, to crush them, and she walked rapidly straight on, pale, quivering, maddened, searching the empty horizon with tear-dimmed eyes, and as it were rejoicing in the hate that was choking her.

When she saw her house a numbness came over her. She could not go on; and yet she must. Besides, whither could she flee?

Felicite was waiting for her at the door. “Well?”

“No!” said Emma.

And for a quarter of an hour the two of them went over the various persons in Yonville who might perhaps be inclined to help her. But each time that Felicite named someone Emma replied —

“Impossible! they will not!”

“And the master’ll soon be in.”

“I know that well enough. Leave me alone.”

She had tried everything; there was nothing more to be done now; and when Charles came in she would have to say to him —

“Go away! This carpet on which you are walking is no longer ours. In your own house you do not possess a chair, a pin, a straw, and it is I, poor man, who have ruined you.”

Then there would be a great sob; next he would weep abundantly, and at last, the surprise past, he would forgive her.

“Yes,” she murmured, grinding her teeth, “he will forgive me, he who would give a million if I would forgive him for having known me! Never! never!”

This thought of Bovary’s superiority to her exasperated her. Then, whether she confessed or did not confess, presently, immediately, to-morrow, he would know the catastrophe all the same; so she must wait for this horrible scene, and bear the weight of his magnanimity. The desire to return to Lheureux’s seized her — what would be the use? To write to her father — it was too late; and perhaps, she began to repent now that she had not yielded to that other, when she heard the trot of a horse in the alley. It was he; he was opening the gate; he was whiter than the plaster wall. Rushing to the stairs, she ran out quickly to the square; and the wife of the mayor, who was talking to Lestiboudois in front of the church, saw her go in to the tax-collector’s.

She hurried off to tell Madame Caron, and the two ladies went up to the attic, and, hidden by some linen spread across props, stationed themselves comfortably for overlooking the whole of Binet’s room.

He was alone in his garret, busy imitating in wood one of those indescribable bits of ivory, composed of crescents, of spheres hollowed out one within the other, the whole as straight as an obelisk, and of no use whatever; and he was beginning on the last piece — he was nearing his goal. In the twilight of the workshop the white dust was flying from his tools like a shower of sparks under the hoofs of a galloping horse; the two wheels were turning, droning; Binet smiled, his chin lowered, his nostrils distended, and, in a word, seemed lost in one of those complete happinesses that, no doubt, belong only to commonplace occupations, which amuse the mind with facile difficulties, and satisfy by a realisation of that beyond which such minds have not a dream.

“Ah! there she is!” exclaimed Madame Tuvache.

But it was impossible because of the lathe to hear what she was saying.

At last these ladies thought they made out the word “francs,” and Madame Tuvache whispered in a low voice —

“She is begging him to give her time for paying her taxes.”

“Apparently!” replied the other.

They saw her walking up and down, examining the napkin-rings, the candlesticks, the banister rails against the walls, while Binet stroked his beard with satisfaction.

“Do you think she wants to order something of him?” said Madame Tuvache.

“Why, he doesn’t sell anything,” objected her neighbour.

The tax-collector seemed to be listening with wide-open eyes, as if he did not understand. She went on in a tender, suppliant manner. She came nearer to him, her breast heaving; they no longer spoke.

“Is she making him advances?” said Madame Tuvache. Binet was scarlet to his very ears. She took hold of his hands.

“Oh, it’s too much!”

And no doubt she was suggesting something abominable to him; for the tax-collector — yet he was brave, had fought at Bautzen and at Lutzen, had been through the French campaign, and had even been recommended for the cross — suddenly, as at the sight of a serpent, recoiled as far as he could from her, crying —

“Madame! what do you mean?”

“Women like that ought to be whipped,” said Madame Tuvache.

“But where is she?” continued Madame Caron, for she had disappeared whilst they spoke; then catching sight of her going up the Grande Rue, and turning to the right as if making for the cemetery, they were lost in conjectures.

“Nurse Rollet,” she said on reaching the nurse’s, “I am choking; unlace me!” She fell on the bed sobbing. Nurse Rollet covered her with a petticoat and remained standing by her side. Then, as she did not answer, the good woman withdrew, took her wheel and began spinning flax.

“Oh, leave off!” she murmured, fancying she heard Binet’s lathe.

“What’s bothering her?” said the nurse to herself. “Why has she come here?”

She had rushed thither; impelled by a kind of horror that drove her from her home.

Lying on her back, motionless, and with staring eyes, she saw things but vaguely, although she tried to with idiotic persistence. She looked at the scales on the walls, two brands smoking end to end, and a long spider crawling over her head in a rent in the beam. At last she began to collect her thoughts. She remembered — one day — Leon — Oh! how long ago that was — the sun was shining on the river, and the clematis were perfuming the air. Then, carried away as by a rushing torrent, she soon began to recall the day before.

“What time is it?” she asked.

Mere Rollet went out, raised the fingers of her right hand to that side of the sky that was brightest, and came back slowly, saying —

“Nearly three.”

“Ahl thanks, thanks!”

For he would come; he would have found some money. But he would, perhaps, go down yonder, not guessing she was here, and she told the nurse to run to her house to fetch him.

“Be quick!”

“But, my dear lady, I’m going, I’m going!”

She wondered now that she had not thought of him from the first. Yesterday he had given his word; he would not break it. And she already saw herself at Lheureux’s spreading out her three bank-notes on his bureau. Then she would have to invent some story to explain matters to Bovary. What should it be?

The nurse, however, was a long while gone. But, as there was no clock in the cot, Emma feared she was perhaps exaggerating the length of time. She began walking round the garden, step by step; she went into the path by the hedge, and returned quickly, hoping that the woman would have come back by another road. At last, weary of waiting, assailed by fears that she thrust from her, no longer conscious whether she had been here a century or a moment, she sat down in a corner, closed her eyes, and stopped her ears. The gate grated; she sprang up. Before she had spoken Mere Rollet said to her —

“There is no one at your house!”

“What?”

“Oh, no one! And the doctor is crying. He is calling for you; they’re looking for you.”

Emma answered nothing. She gasped as she turned her eyes about her, while the peasant woman, frightened at her face, drew back instinctively, thinking her mad. Suddenly she struck her brow and uttered a cry; for the thought of Rodolphe, like a flash of lightning in a dark night, had passed into her soul. He was so good, so delicate, so generous! And besides, should he hesitate to do her this service, she would know well enough how to constrain him to it by re-waking, in a single moment, their lost love. So she set out towards La Huchette, not seeing that she was hastening to offer herself to that which but a while ago had so angered her, not in the least conscious of her prostitution.

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