Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert

Chapter Nine

There is always after the death of anyone a kind of stupefaction; so difficult is it to grasp this advent of nothingness and to resign ourselves to believe in it. But still, when he saw that she did not move, Charles threw himself upon her, crying —

“Farewell! farewell!”

Homais and Canivet dragged him from the room.

“Restrain yourself!”

“Yes.” said he, struggling, “I’ll be quiet. I’ll not do anything. But leave me alone. I want to see her. She is my wife!”

And he wept.

“Cry,” said the chemist; “let nature take her course; that will solace you.”

Weaker than a child, Charles let himself be led downstairs into the sitting-room, and Monsieur Homais soon went home. On the Place he was accosted by the blind man, who, having dragged himself as far as Yonville, in the hope of getting the antiphlogistic pomade, was asking every passer-by where the druggist lived.

“There now! as if I hadn’t got other fish to fry. Well, so much the worse; you must come later on.”

And he entered the shop hurriedly.

He had to write two letters, to prepare a soothing potion for Bovary, to invent some lie that would conceal the poisoning, and work it up into an article for the “Fanal,” without counting the people who were waiting to get the news from him; and when the Yonvillers had all heard his story of the arsenic that she had mistaken for sugar in making a vanilla cream. Homais once more returned to Bovary’s.

He found him alone (Monsieur Canivet had left), sitting in an arm-chair near the window, staring with an idiotic look at the flags of the floor.

“Now,” said the chemist, “you ought yourself to fix the hour for the ceremony.”

“Why? What ceremony?” Then, in a stammering, frightened voice, “Oh, no! not that. No! I want to see her here.”

Homais, to keep himself in countenance, took up a water-bottle on the whatnot to water the geraniums.

“Ah! thanks,” said Charles; “you are good.”

But he did not finish, choking beneath the crowd of memories that this action of the druggist recalled to him.

Then to distract him, Homais thought fit to talk a little horticulture: plants wanted humidity. Charles bowed his head in sign of approbation.

“Besides, the fine days will soon be here again.”

“Ah!” said Bovary.

The druggist, at his wit’s end, began softly to draw aside the small window-curtain.

“Hallo! there’s Monsieur Tuvache passing.”

Charles repeated like a machine —-

“Monsieur Tuvache passing!”

Homais did not dare to speak to him again about the funeral arrangements; it was the priest who succeeded in reconciling him to them.

He shut himself up in his consulting-room, took a pen, and after sobbing for some time, wrote —

“I wish her to be buried in her wedding-dress, with white shoes, and a wreath. Her hair is to be spread out over her shoulders. Three coffins, one of oak, one of mahogany, one of lead. Let no one say anything to me. I shall have strength. Over all there is to be placed a large piece of green velvet. This is my wish; see that it is done.”

The two men were much surprised at Bovary’s romantic ideas. The chemist at once went to him and said —

“This velvet seems to me a superfetation. Besides, the expense —”

“What’s that to you?” cried Charles. “Leave me! You did not love her. Go!”

The priest took him by the arm for a turn in the garden. He discoursed on the vanity of earthly things. God was very great, was very good: one must submit to his decrees without a murmur; nay, must even thank him.

Charles burst out into blasphemies: “I hate your God!”

“The spirit of rebellion is still upon you,” sighed the ecclesiastic.

Bovary was far away. He was walking with great strides along by the wall, near the espalier, and he ground his teeth; he raised to heaven looks of malediction, but not so much as a leaf stirred.

A fine rain was falling: Charles, whose chest was bare, at last began to shiver; he went in and sat down in the kitchen.

At six o’clock a noise like a clatter of old iron was heard on the Place; it was the “Hirondelle” coming in, and he remained with his forehead against the windowpane, watching all the passengers get out, one after the other. Felicite put down a mattress for him in the drawing-room. He threw himself upon it and fell asleep.

Although a philosopher, Monsieur Homais respected the dead. So bearing no grudge to poor Charles, he came back again in the evening to sit up with the body; bringing with him three volumes and a pocket-book for taking notes.

Monsieur Bournisien was there, and two large candles were burning at the head of the bed, that had been taken out of the alcove. The druggist, on whom the silence weighed, was not long before he began formulating some regrets about this “unfortunate young woman.” and the priest replied that there was nothing to do now but pray for her.

“Yet,” Homais went on, “one of two things; either she died in a state of grace (as the Church has it), and then she has no need of our prayers; or else she departed impertinent (that is, I believe, the ecclesiastical expression), and then —”

Bournisien interrupted him, replying testily that it was none the less necessary to pray.

“But,” objected the chemist, “since God knows all our needs, what can be the good of prayer?”

“What!” cried the ecclesiastic, “prayer! Why, aren’t you a Christian?”

“Excuse me,” said Homais; “I admire Christianity. To begin with, it enfranchised the slaves, introduced into the world a morality —”

“That isn’t the question. All the texts-”

“Oh! oh! As to texts, look at history; it, is known that all the texts have been falsified by the Jesuits.”

Charles came in, and advancing towards the bed, slowly drew the curtains.

Emma’s head was turned towards her right shoulder, the corner of her mouth, which was open, seemed like a black hole at the lower part of her face; her two thumbs were bent into the palms of her hands; a kind of white dust besprinkled her lashes, and her eyes were beginning to disappear in that viscous pallor that looks like a thin web, as if spiders had spun it over. The sheet sunk in from her breast to her knees, and then rose at the tips of her toes, and it seemed to Charles that infinite masses, an enormous load, were weighing upon her.

The church clock struck two. They could hear the loud murmur of the river flowing in the darkness at the foot of the terrace. Monsieur Bournisien from time to time blew his nose noisily, and Homais’ pen was scratching over the paper.

“Come, my good friend,” he said, “withdraw; this spectacle is tearing you to pieces.”

Charles once gone, the chemist and the cure recommenced their discussions.

“Read Voltaire,” said the one, “read D’Holbach, read the ‘Encyclopaedia’!”

“Read the ‘Letters of some Portuguese Jews,’” said the other; “read ‘The Meaning of Christianity,’ by Nicolas, formerly a magistrate.”

They grew warm, they grew red, they both talked at once without listening to each other. Bournisien was scandalized at such audacity; Homais marvelled at such stupidity; and they were on the point of insulting one another when Charles suddenly reappeared. A fascination drew him. He was continually coming upstairs.

He stood opposite her, the better to see her, and he lost himself in a contemplation so deep that it was no longer painful.

He recalled stories of catalepsy, the marvels of magnetism, and he said to himself that by willing it with all his force he might perhaps succeed in reviving her. Once he even bent towards he, and cried in a low voice, “Emma! Emma!” His strong breathing made the flames of the candles tremble against the wall.

At daybreak Madame Bovary senior arrived. Charles as he embraced her burst into another flood of tears. She tried, as the chemist had done, to make some remarks to him on the expenses of the funeral. He became so angry that she was silent, and he even commissioned her to go to town at once and buy what was necessary.

Charles remained alone the whole afternoon; they had taken Berthe to Madame Homais’; Felicite was in the room upstairs with Madame Lefrancois.

In the evening he had some visitors. He rose, pressed their hands, unable to speak. Then they sat down near one another, and formed a large semicircle in front of the fire. With lowered faces, and swinging one leg crossed over the other knee, they uttered deep sighs at intervals; each one was inordinately bored, and yet none would be the first to go.

Homais, when he returned at nine o’clock (for the last two days only Homais seemed to have been on the Place), was laden with a stock of camphor, of benzine, and aromatic herbs. He also carried a large jar full of chlorine water, to keep off all miasmata. Just then the servant, Madame Lefrancois, and Madame Bovary senior were busy about Emma, finishing dressing her, and they were drawing down the long stiff veil that covered her to her satin shoes.

Felicite was sobbing —“Ah! my poor mistress! my poor mistress!”

“Look at her,” said the landlady, sighing; “how pretty she still is! Now, couldn’t you swear she was going to get up in a minute?”

Then they bent over her to put on her wreath. They had to raise the head a little, and a rush of black liquid issued, as if she were vomiting, from her mouth.

“Oh, goodness! The dress; take care!” cried Madame Lefrancois. “Now, just come and help,” she said to the chemist. “Perhaps you’re afraid?”

“I afraid?” replied he, shrugging his shoulders. “I dare say! I’ve seen all sorts of things at the hospital when I was studying pharmacy. We used to make punch in the dissecting room! Nothingness does not terrify a philosopher; and, as I often say, I even intend to leave my body to the hospitals, in order, later on, to serve science.”

The cure on his arrival inquired how Monsieur Bovary was, and, on the reply of the druggist, went on —“The blow, you see, is still too recent.”

Then Homais congratulated him on not being exposed, like other people, to the loss of a beloved companion; whence there followed a discussion on the celibacy of priests.

“For,” said the chemist, “it is unnatural that a man should do without women! There have been crimes —”

“But, good heaven!” cried the ecclesiastic, “how do you expect an individual who is married to keep the secrets of the confessional, for example?”

Homais fell foul of the confessional. Bournisien defended it; he enlarged on the acts of restitution that it brought about. He cited various anecdotes about thieves who had suddenly become honest. Military men on approaching the tribunal of penitence had felt the scales fall from their eyes. At Fribourg there was a minister —

His companion was asleep. Then he felt somewhat stifled by the over-heavy atmosphere of the room; he opened the window; this awoke the chemist.

“Come, take a pinch of snuff,” he said to him. “Take it; it’ll relieve you.”

A continual barking was heard in the distance. “Do you hear that dog howling?” said the chemist.

“They smell the dead,” replied the priest. “It’s like bees; they leave their hives on the decease of any person.”

Homais made no remark upon these prejudices, for he had again dropped asleep. Monsieur Bournisien, stronger than he, went on moving his lips gently for some time, then insensibly his chin sank down, he let fall his big black boot, and began to snore.

They sat opposite one another, with protruding stomachs, puffed-up faces, and frowning looks, after so much disagreement uniting at last in the same human weakness, and they moved no more than the corpse by their side, that seemed to be sleeping.

Charles coming in did not wake them. It was the last time; he came to bid her farewell.

The aromatic herbs were still smoking, and spirals of bluish vapour blended at the window-sash with the fog that was coming in. There were few stars, and the night was warm. The wax of the candles fell in great drops upon the sheets of the bed. Charles watched them burn, tiring his eyes against the glare of their yellow flame.

The watering on the satin gown shimmered white as moonlight. Emma was lost beneath it; and it seemed to him that, spreading beyond her own self, she blended confusedly with everything around her — the silence, the night, the passing wind, the damp odours rising from the ground.

Then suddenly he saw her in the garden at Tostes, on a bench against the thorn hedge, or else at Rouen in the streets, on the threshold of their house, in the yard at Bertaux. He again heard the laughter of the happy boys beneath the apple-trees: the room was filled with the perfume of her hair; and her dress rustled in his arms with a noise like electricity. The dress was still the same.

For a long while he thus recalled all his lost joys, her attitudes, her movements, the sound of her voice. Upon one fit of despair followed another, and even others, inexhaustible as the waves of an overflowing sea.

A terrible curiosity seized him. Slowly, with the tips of his fingers, palpitating, he lifted her veil. But he uttered a cry of horror that awoke the other two.

They dragged him down into the sitting-room. Then Felicite came up to say that he wanted some of her hair.

“Cut some off,” replied the druggist.

And as she did not dare to, he himself stepped forward, scissors in hand. He trembled so that he pierced the skin of the temple in several places. At last, stiffening himself against emotion, Homais gave two or three great cuts at random that left white patches amongst that beautiful black hair.

The chemist and the cure plunged anew into their occupations, not without sleeping from time to time, of which they accused each other reciprocally at each fresh awakening. Then Monsieur Bournisien sprinkled the room with holy water and Homais threw a little chlorine water on the floor.

Felicite had taken care to put on the chest of drawers, for each of them, a bottle of brandy, some cheese, and a large roll. And the druggist, who could not hold out any longer, about four in the morning sighed —

“My word! I should like to take some sustenance.”

The priest did not need any persuading; he went out to go and say mass, came back, and then they ate and hobnobbed, giggling a little without knowing why, stimulated by that vague gaiety that comes upon us after times of sadness, and at the last glass the priest said to the druggist, as he clapped him on the shoulder —

“We shall end by understanding one another.”

In the passage downstairs they met the undertaker’s men, who were coming in. Then Charles for two hours had to suffer the torture of hearing the hammer resound against the wood. Next day they lowered her into her oak coffin, that was fitted into the other two; but as the bier was too large, they had to fill up the gaps with the wool of a mattress. At last, when the three lids had been planed down, nailed, soldered, it was placed outside in front of the door; the house was thrown open, and the people of Yonville began to flock round.

Old Rouault arrived, and fainted on the Place when he saw the black cloth!

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