Gustave Flaubert.

Sentimental Education; Or, The History of a Young Man. Volume 2 online

. (page 13 of 21)
Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSentimental Education; Or, The History of a Young Man. Volume 2 → online text (page 13 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


made the remark that she had felt uneasy at his excessively prolonged
absence. She was afraid that he had met with some misfortune - that he
had been wounded.

This manifestation of filial love softened Père Roque. He was astonished
that she should have set out on a journey without Catherine.

"I sent her out on a message," was Louise's reply.

And she made enquiries about his health, about one thing or another;
then, with an air of indifference, she asked him whether he had chanced
to come across Frederick:

"No; I didn't see him!"

It was on his account alone that she had come up from the country.

Some one was walking at that moment in the lobby.

"Oh! excuse me - - "

And she disappeared.

Catherine had not found Frederick. He had been several days away, and
his intimate friend, M. Deslauriers, was now living in the provinces.

Louise once more presented herself, shaking all over, without being able
to utter a word. She leaned against the furniture.

"What's the matter with you? Tell me - what's the matter with you?"
exclaimed her father.

She indicated by a wave of her hand that it was nothing, and with a
great effort of will she regained her composure.

The keeper of the restaurant at the opposite side of the street brought
them soup. But Père Roque had passed through too exciting an ordeal to
be able to control his emotions. "He is not likely to die;" and at
dessert he had a sort of fainting fit. A doctor was at once sent for,
and he prescribed a potion. Then, when M. Roque was in bed, he asked to
be as well wrapped up as possible in order to bring on perspiration. He
gasped; he moaned.

"Thanks, my good Catherine! Kiss your poor father, my chicken! Ah! those
revolutions!"

And, when his daughter scolded him for having made himself ill by
tormenting his mind on her account, he replied:

"Yes! you are right! But I couldn't help it! I am too sensitive!"




CHAPTER XV.

"HOW HAPPY COULD I BE WITH EITHER."


Madame Dambreuse, in her boudoir, between her niece and Miss John, was
listening to M. Roque as he described the severe military duties he had
been forced to perform.

She was biting her lips, and appeared to be in pain.

"Oh! 'tis nothing! it will pass away!"

And, with a gracious air:

"We are going to have an acquaintance of yours at dinner with
us, - Monsieur Moreau."

Louise gave a start.

"Oh! we'll only have a few intimate friends there - amongst others,
Alfred de Cisy."

And she spoke in terms of high praise about his manners, his personal
appearance, and especially his moral character.

Madame Dambreuse was nearer to a correct estimate of the state of
affairs than she imagined; the Vicomte was contemplating marriage. He
said so to Martinon, adding that Mademoiselle Cécile was certain to like
him, and that her parents would accept him.

To warrant him in going so far as to confide to another his intentions
on the point, he ought to have satisfactory information with regard to
her dowry. Now Martinon had a suspicion that Cécile was M. Dambreuse's
natural daughter; and it is probable that it would have been a very
strong step on his part to ask for her hand at any risk. Such audacity,
of course, was not unaccompanied by danger; and for this reason Martinon
had, up to the present, acted in a way that could not compromise him.
Besides, he did not see how he could well get rid of the aunt. Cisy's
confidence induced him to make up his mind; and he had formally made his
proposal to the banker, who, seeing no obstacle to it, had just informed
Madame Dambreuse about the matter.

Cisy presently made his appearance. She arose and said:

"You have forgotten us. Cécile, shake hands!"

At the same moment Frederick entered the room.

"Ha! at last we have found you again!" exclaimed Père Roque. "I called
with Cécile on you three times this week!"

Frederick had carefully avoided them. He pleaded by way of excuse that
he spent all his days beside a wounded comrade.

For a long time, however, a heap of misfortunes had happened to him, and
he tried to invent stories to explain his conduct. Luckily the guests
arrived in the midst of his explanation. First of all M. Paul de
Grémonville, the diplomatist whom he met at the ball; then Fumichon,
that manufacturer whose conservative zeal had scandalised him one
evening. After them came the old Duchesse de Montreuil Nantua.

But two loud voices in the anteroom reached his ears. They were that of
M. de Nonancourt, an old beau with the air of a mummy preserved in cold
cream, and that of Madame de Larsillois, the wife of a prefect of Louis
Philippe. She was terribly frightened, for she had just heard an organ
playing a polka which was a signal amongst the insurgents. Many of the
wealthy class of citizens had similar apprehensions; they thought that
men in the catacombs were going to blow up the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
Some noises escaped from cellars, and things that excited suspicion were
passed up to windows.

Everyone in the meantime made an effort to calm Madame de Larsillois.
Order was re-established. There was no longer anything to fear.

"Cavaignac has saved us!"

As if the horrors of the insurrection had not been sufficiently
numerous, they exaggerated them. There had been twenty-three thousand
convicts on the side of the Socialists - no less!

They had no doubt whatever that food had been poisoned, that Gardes
Mobiles had been sawn between two planks, and that there had been
inscriptions on flags inciting the people to pillage and incendiarism.

"Aye, and something more!" added the ex-prefect.

"Oh, dear!" said Madame Dambreuse, whose modesty was shocked, while she
indicated the three young girls with a glance.

M. Dambreuse came forth from his study accompanied by Martinon. She
turned her head round and responded to a bow from Pellerin, who was
advancing towards her. The artist gazed in a restless fashion towards
the walls. The banker took him aside, and conveyed to him that it was
desirable for the present to conceal his revolutionary picture.

"No doubt," said Pellerin, the rebuff which he received at the Club of
Intellect having modified his opinions.

M. Dambreuse let it slip out very politely that he would give him orders
for other works.

"But excuse me. Ah! my dear friend, what a pleasure!"

Arnoux and Madame Arnoux stood before Frederick.

He had a sort of vertigo. Rosanette had been irritating him all the
afternoon with her display of admiration for soldiers, and the old
passion was re-awakened.

The steward came to announce that dinner was on the table. With a look
she directed the Vicomte to take Cécile's arm, while she said in a low
tone to Martinon, "You wretch!" And then they passed into the
dining-room.

Under the green leaves of a pineapple, in the middle of the table-cloth,
a dorado stood, with its snout reaching towards a quarter of roebuck and
its tail just grazing a bushy dish of crayfish. Figs, huge cherries,
pears, and grapes (the first fruits of Parisian cultivation) rose like
pyramids in baskets of old Saxe. Here and there a bunch of flowers
mingled with the shining silver plate. The white silk blinds, drawn down
in front of the windows, filled the apartment with a mellow light. It
was cooled by two fountains, in which there were pieces of ice; and tall
men-servants, in short breeches, waited on them. All these luxuries
seemed more precious after the emotion of the past few days. They felt a
fresh delight at possessing things which they had been afraid of
losing; and Nonancourt expressed the general sentiment when he said:

"Ah! let us hope that these Republican gentlemen will allow us to dine!"

"In spite of their fraternity!" Père Roque added, with an attempt at
wit.

These two personages were placed respectively at the right and at the
left of Madame Dambreuse, her husband being exactly opposite her,
between Madame Larsillois, at whose side was the diplomatist and the old
Duchesse, whom Fumichon elbowed. Then came the painter, the dealer in
faïence, and Mademoiselle Louise; and, thanks to Martinon, who had
carried her chair to enable her to take a seat near Louise, Frederick
found himself beside Madame Arnoux.

She wore a black barège gown, a gold hoop on her wrist, and, as on the
first day that he dined at her house, something red in her hair, a
branch of fuchsia twisted round her chignon. He could not help saying:

"'Tis a long time since we saw each other."

"Ah!" she returned coldly.

He went on, in a mild tone, which mitigated the impertinence of his
question:

"Have you thought of me now and then?"

"Why should I think of you?"

Frederick was hurt by these words.

"You are right, perhaps, after all."

But very soon, regretting what he had said, he swore that he had not
lived a single day without being ravaged by the remembrance of her.

"I don't believe a single word of it, Monsieur."

"However, you know that I love you!"

Madame Arnoux made no reply.

"You know that I love you!"

She still kept silent.

"Well, then, go be hanged!" said Frederick to himself.

And, as he raised his eyes, he perceived Mademoiselle Roque at the other
side of Madame Arnoux.

She thought it gave her a coquettish look to dress entirely in green, a
colour which contrasted horribly with her red hair. The buckle of her
belt was large and her collar cramped her neck. This lack of elegance
had, no doubt, contributed to the coldness which Frederick at first
displayed towards her. She watched him from where she sat, some distance
away from him, with curious glances; and Arnoux, close to her side, in
vain lavished his gallantries - he could not get her to utter three
words, so that, finally abandoning all hope of making himself agreeable
to her, he listened to the conversation. She now began rolling about a
slice of Luxembourg pineapple in her pea-soup.

Louis Blanc, according to Fumichon, owned a large house in the Rue
Saint-Dominique, which he refused to let to the workmen.

"For my part, I think it rather a funny thing," said Nonancourt, "to see
Ledru-Rollin hunting over the Crown lands."

"He owes twenty thousand francs to a goldsmith!" Cisy interposed, "and
'tis maintained - - "

Madame Darnbreuse stopped him.

"Ah! how nasty it is to be getting hot about politics! and for such a
young man, too! fie, fie! Pay attention rather to your fair neighbour!"

After this, those who were of a grave turn of mind attacked the
newspapers. Arnoux took it on himself to defend them. Frederick mixed
himself up in the discussion, describing them as commercial
establishments just like any other house of business. Those who wrote
for them were, as a rule, imbeciles or humbugs; he gave his listeners to
understand that he was acquainted with journalists, and combated with
sarcasms his friend's generous sentiments.

Madame Arnoux did not notice that this was said through a feeling of
spite against her.

Meanwhile, the Vicomte was torturing his brain in the effort to make a
conquest of Mademoiselle Cécile. He commenced by finding fault with the
shape of the decanters and the graving of the knives, in order to show
his artistic tastes. Then he talked about his stable, his tailor and his
shirtmaker. Finally, he took up the subject of religion, and seized the
opportunity of conveying to her that he fulfilled all his duties.

Martinon set to work in a better fashion. With his eyes fixed on her
continually, he praised, in a monotonous fashion, her birdlike profile,
her dull fair hair, and her hands, which were unusually short. The
plain-looking young girl was delighted at this shower of flatteries.

It was impossible to hear anything, as all present were talking at the
tops of their voices. M. Roque wanted "an iron hand" to govern France.
Nonancourt even regretted that the political scaffold was abolished.
They ought to have all these scoundrels put to death together.

"Now that I think of it, are we speaking of Dussardier?" said M.
Dambreuse, turning towards Frederick.

The worthy shopman was now a hero, like Sallesse, the brothers Jeanson,
the wife of Pequillet, etc.

Frederick, without waiting to be asked, related his friend's history; it
threw around him a kind of halo.

Then they came quite naturally to refer to different traits of courage.

According to the diplomatist, it was not hard to face death, witness the
case of men who fight duels.

"We might take the Vicomte's testimony on that point," said Martinon.

The Vicomte's face got very flushed.

The guests stared at him, and Louise, more astonished than the rest,
murmured:

"What is it, pray?"

"He _sank_ before Frederick," returned Arnoux, in a very low tone.

"Do you know anything, Mademoiselle?" said Nonancourt presently, and he
repeated her answer to Madame Dambreuse, who, bending forward a little,
began to fix her gaze on Frederick.

Martinon did not wait for Cécile's questions. He informed her that this
affair had reference to a woman of improper character. The young girl
drew back slightly in her chair, as if to escape from contact with such
a libertine.

The conversation was renewed. The great wines of Bordeaux were sent
round, and the guests became animated. Pellerin had a dislike to the
Revolution, because he attributed to it the complete loss of the Spanish
Museum.

This is what grieved him most as a painter.

As he made the latter remark, M. Roque asked:

"Are you not yourself the painter of a very notable picture?"

"Perhaps! What is it?"

"It represents a lady in a costume - faith! - a little light, with a
purse, and a peacock behind."

Frederick, in his turn, reddened. Pellerin pretended that he had not
heard the words.

"Nevertheless, it is certainly by you! For your name is written at the
bottom of it, and there is a line on it stating that it is Monsieur
Moreau's property."

One day, when Père Roque and his daughter were waiting at his residence
to see him, they saw the Maréchale's portrait. The old gentleman had
even taken it for "a Gothic painting."

"No," said Pellerin rudely, "'tis a woman's portrait."

Martinon added:

"And a living woman's, too, and no mistake! Isn't that so, Cisy?"

"Oh! I know nothing about it."

"I thought you were acquainted with her. But, since it causes you pain,
I must beg a thousand pardons!"

Cisy lowered his eyes, proving by his embarrassment that he must have
played a pitiable part in connection with this portrait. As for
Frederick, the model could only be his mistress. It was one of those
convictions which are immediately formed, and the faces of the assembly
revealed it with the utmost clearness.

"How he lied to me!" said Madame Arnoux to herself.

"It is for her, then, that he left me," thought Louise.

Frederick had an idea that these two stories might compromise him; and
when they were in the garden, Mademoiselle Cécile's wooer burst out
laughing in his face.

"Oh, not at all! 'twill do you good! Go ahead!"

What did he mean? Besides, what was the cause of this good nature, so
contrary to his usual conduct? Without giving any explanation, he
proceeded towards the lower end, where the ladies were seated. The men
were standing round them, and, in their midst, Pellerin was giving vent
to his ideas. The form of government most favourable for the arts was an
enlightened monarchy. He was disgusted with modern times, "if it were
only on account of the National Guard" - he regretted the Middle Ages and
the days of Louis XIV. M. Roque congratulated him on his opinions,
confessing that they overcame all his prejudices against artists. But
almost without a moment's delay he went off when the voice of Fumichon
attracted his attention.

Arnoux tried to prove that there were two Socialisms - a good and a bad.
The manufacturer saw no difference whatever between them, his head
becoming dizzy with rage at the utterance of the word "property."

"'Tis a law written on the face of Nature! Children cling to their toys.
All peoples, all animals are of my opinion. The lion even, if he were
able to speak, would declare himself a proprietor! Thus I myself,
messieurs, began with a capital of fifteen thousand francs. Would you be
surprised to hear that for thirty years I used to get up at four o'clock
every morning? I've had as much pain as five hundred devils in making my
fortune! And people will come and tell me I'm not the master, that my
money is not my money; in short, that property is theft!"

"But Proudhon - - "

"Let me alone with your Proudhon! if he were here I think I'd strangle
him!"

He would have strangled him. After the intoxicating drink he had
swallowed Fumichon did not know what he was talking about any longer,
and his apoplectic face was on the point of bursting like a bombshell.

"Good morrow, Arnoux," said Hussonnet, who was walking briskly over the
grass.

He brought M. Dambreuse the first leaf of a pamphlet, bearing the title
of "The Hydra," the Bohemian defending the interests of a reactionary
club, and in that capacity he was introduced by the banker to his
guests.

Hussonnet amused them by relating how the dealers in tallow hired three
hundred and ninety-two street boys to bawl out every evening "Lamps,"[H]
and then turning into ridicule the principles of '89, the emancipation
of the negroes, and the orators of the Left; and he even went so far as
to do "Prudhomme on a Barricade," perhaps under the influence of a kind
of jealousy of these rich people who had enjoyed a good dinner. The
caricature did not please them overmuch. Their faces grew long.

This, however, was not a time for joking, so Nonancourt observed, as he
recalled the death of Monseigneur Affre and that of General de Bréa.
These events were being constantly alluded to, and arguments were
constructed out of them. M. Roque described the archbishop's end as
"everything that one could call sublime." Fumichon gave the palm to the
military personage, and instead of simply expressing regret for these
two murders, they held disputes with a view to determining which ought
to excite the greatest indignation. A second comparison was next
instituted, namely, between Lamoricière and Cavaignac, M. Dambreuse
glorifying Cavaignac, and Nonancourt, Lamoricière.


[H] The word also means "grease-pots." - TRANSLATOR.


Not one of the persons present, with the exception of Arnoux, had ever
seen either of them engaged in the exercise of his profession. None the
less, everyone formulated an irrevocable judgment with reference to
their operations.

Frederick, however, declined to give an opinion on the matter,
confessing that he had not served as a soldier. The diplomatist and M.
Dambreuse gave him an approving nod of the head. In fact, to have fought
against the insurrection was to have defended the Republic. The result,
although favourable, consolidated it; and now they had got rid of the
vanquished, they wanted to be conquerors.

As soon as they had got out into the garden, Madame Dambreuse, taking
Cisy aside, chided him for his awkwardness. When she caught sight of
Martinon, she sent him away, and then tried to learn from her future
nephew the cause of his witticisms at the Vicomte's expense.

"There's nothing of the kind."

"And all this, as it were, for the glory of M. Moreau. What is the
object of it?"

"There's no object. Frederick is a charming fellow. I am very fond of
him."

"And so am I, too. Let him come here. Go and look for him!"

After two or three commonplace phrases, she began by lightly disparaging
her guests, and in this way she placed him on a higher level than the
others. He did not fail to run down the rest of the ladies more or less,
which was an ingenious way of paying her compliments. But she left his
side from time to time, as it was a reception-night, and ladies were
every moment arriving; then she returned to her seat, and the entirely
accidental arrangement of the chairs enabled them to avoid being
overheard.

She showed herself playful and yet grave, melancholy and yet quite
rational. Her daily occupations interested her very little - there was an
order of sentiments of a less transitory kind. She complained of the
poets, who misrepresent the facts of life, then she raised her eyes
towards heaven, asking of him what was the name of a star.

Two or three Chinese lanterns had been suspended from the trees; the
wind shook them, and lines of coloured light quivered on her white
dress. She sat, after her usual fashion, a little back in her armchair,
with a footstool in front of her. The tip of a black satin shoe could be
seen; and at intervals Madame Dambreuse allowed a louder word than
usual, and sometimes even a laugh, to escape her.

These coquetries did not affect Martinon, who was occupied with Cécile;
but they were bound to make an impression on M. Roque's daughter, who
was chatting with Madame Arnoux. She was the only member of her own sex
present whose manners did not appear disdainful. Louise came and sat
beside her; then, yielding to the desire to give vent to her emotions:

"Does he not talk well - Frederick Moreau, I mean?"

"Do you know him?"

"Oh! intimately! We are neighbours; and he used to amuse himself with me
when I was quite a little girl."

Madame Arnoux cast at her a sidelong glance, which meant:

"I suppose you are not in love with him?"

The young girl's face replied with an untroubled look:

"Yes."

"You see him often, then?"

"Oh, no! only when he comes to his mother's house. 'Tis ten months now
since he came. He promised, however, to be more particular."

"The promises of men are not to be too much relied on, my child."

"But he has not deceived me!"

"As he did others!"

Louise shivered: "Can it be by any chance that he promised something to
her;" and her features became distracted with distrust and hate.

Madame Arnoux was almost afraid of her; she would have gladly withdrawn
what she had said. Then both became silent.

As Frederick was sitting opposite them on a folding-stool, they kept
staring at him, the one with propriety out of the corner of her eye, the
other boldly, with parted lips, so that Madame Dambreuse said to him:

"Come, now, turn round, and let her have a good look at you!"

"Whom do you mean?"

"Why, Monsieur Roque's daughter!"

And she rallied him on having won the heart of this young girl from the
provinces. He denied that this was so, and tried to make a laugh of it.

"Is it credible, I ask you? Such an ugly creature!"

However, he experienced an intense feeling of gratified vanity. He
recalled to mind the reunion from which he had returned one night, some
time before, his heart filled with bitter humiliation, and he drew a
deep breath, for it seemed to him that he was now in the environment
that really suited him, as if all these things, including the Dambreuse
mansion, belonged to himself. The ladies formed a semicircle around him
while they listened to what he was saying, and in order to create an
effect, he declared that he was in favor of the re-establishment of
divorce, which he maintained should be easily procurable, so as to
enable people to quit one another and come back to one another without
any limit as often as they liked. They uttered loud protests; a few of
them began to talk in whispers. Little exclamations every now and then
burst forth from the place where the wall was overshadowed with
aristolochia. One would imagine that it was a mirthful cackling of hens;
and he developed his theory with that self-complacency which is
generated by the consciousness of success. A man-servant brought into
the arbour a tray laden with ices. The gentlemen drew close together and
began to chat about the recent arrests.

Thereupon Frederick revenged himself on the Vicomte by making him
believe that he might be prosecuted as a Legitimist. The other urged by
way of reply that he had not stirred outside his own room. His adversary
enumerated in a heap the possible mischances. MM. Dambreuse and
Grémonville found the discussion very amusing. Then they paid Frederick
compliments, while expressing regret at the same time that he did not
employ his abilities in the defence of order. They grasped his hand
with the utmost warmth; he might for the future count on them. At last,
just as everyone was leaving, the Vicomte made a low bow to Cécile:

"Mademoiselle, I have the honour of wishing you a very good evening."

She replied coldly:

"Good evening." But she gave Martinon a parting smile.

Pére Roque, in order to continue the conversation between himself and
Arnoux, offered to see him home, "as well as Madame" - they were going


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSentimental Education; Or, The History of a Young Man. Volume 2 → online text (page 13 of 21)