Gustave Flaubert.

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

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to Frederick as a justification of his own conduct. He took away the
bill with him, and never again referred to the scandal at Madame
Arnoux's house. But from that time forth he saw clearly all the defects
in the Maréchale's character.

She possessed incurable bad taste, incomprehensible laziness, the
ignorance of a savage, so much so that she regarded Doctor Derogis as a
person of great celebrity, and she felt proud of entertaining himself
and his wife, because they were "married people." She lectured with a
pedantic air on the affairs of daily life to Mademoiselle Irma, a poor
little creature endowed with a little voice, who had as a protector a
gentleman "very well off," an ex-clerk in the Custom-house, who had a
rare talent for card tricks. Rosanette used to call him "My big Loulou."
Frederick could no longer endure the repetition of her stupid words,
such as "Some custard," "To Chaillot," "One could never know," etc.; and
she persisted in wiping off the dust in the morning from her trinkets
with a pair of old white gloves. He was above all disgusted by her
treatment of her servant, whose wages were constantly in arrear, and who
even lent her money. On the days when they settled their accounts, they
used to wrangle like two fish-women; and then, on becoming reconciled,
used to embrace each other. It was a relief to him when Madame
Dambreuse's evening parties began again.

There, at any rate, he found something to amuse him. She was well versed
in the intrigues of society, the changes of ambassadors, the personal
character of dressmakers; and, if commonplaces escaped her lips, they
did so in such a becoming fashion, that her language might be regarded
as the expression of respect for propriety or of polite irony. It was
worth while to watch the way in which, in the midst of twenty persons
chatting around her, she would, without overlooking any of them, bring
about the answers she desired and avoid those that were dangerous.
Things of a very simple nature, when related by her, assumed the aspect
of confidences. Her slightest smile gave rise to dreams; in short, her
charm, like the exquisite scent which she usually carried about with
her, was complex and indefinable.

While he was with her, Frederick experienced on each occasion the
pleasure of a new discovery, and, nevertheless, he always found her
equally serene the next time they met, like the reflection of limpid
waters.

But why was there such coldness in her manner towards her niece? At
times she even darted strange looks at her.

As soon as the question of marriage was started, she had urged as an
objection to it, when discussing the matter with M. Dambreuse, the state
of "the dear child's" health, and had at once taken her off to the baths
of Balaruc. On her return fresh pretexts were raised by her - that the
young man was not in a good position, that this ardent passion did not
appear to be a very serious attachment, and that no risk would be run by
waiting. Martinon had replied, when the suggestion was made to him, that
he would wait. His conduct was sublime. He lectured Frederick. He did
more. He enlightened him as to the best means of pleasing Madame
Dambreuse, even giving him to understand that he had ascertained from
the niece the sentiments of her aunt.

As for M. Dambreuse, far from exhibiting jealousy, he treated his young
friend with the utmost attention, consulted him about different things,
and even showed anxiety about his future, so that one day, when they
were talking about Père Roque, he whispered with a sly air:

"You have done well."

And Cécile, Miss John, the servants and the porter, every one of them
exercised a fascination over him in this house. He came there every
evening, quitting Rosanette for that purpose. Her approaching maternity
rendered her graver in manner, and even a little melancholy, as if she
were tortured by anxieties. To every question put to her she replied:

"You are mistaken; I am quite well."

She had, as a matter of fact, signed five notes in her previous
transactions, and not having the courage to tell Frederick after the
first had been paid, she had gone back to the abode of Arnoux, who had
promised her, in writing, the third part of his profits in the lighting
of the towns of Languedoc by gas (a marvellous undertaking!), while
requesting her not to make use of this letter at the meeting of
shareholders. The meeting was put off from week to week.

Meanwhile the Maréchale wanted money. She would have died sooner than
ask Frederick for any. She did not wish to get it from him; it would
have spoiled their love. He contributed a great deal to the household
expenses; but a little carriage, which he hired by the month, and other
sacrifices, which were indispensable since he had begun to visit the
Dambreuses, prevented him from doing more for his mistress. On two or
three occasions, when he came back to the house at a different hour from
his usual time, he fancied he could see men's backs disappearing behind
the door, and she often went out without wishing to state where she was
going. Frederick did not attempt to enquire minutely into these matters.
One of these days he would make up his mind as to his future course of
action. He dreamed of another life which would be more amusing and more
noble. It was the fact that he had such an ideal before his mind that
rendered him indulgent towards the Dambreuse mansion.

It was an establishment in the neighbourhood of the Rue de Poitiers.
There he met the great M. A., the illustrious B., the profound C., the
eloquent Z., the immense Y., the old terrors of the Left Centre, the
paladins of the Right, the burgraves of the golden mean; the eternal
good old men of the comedy. He was astonished at their abominable style
of talking, their meannesses, their rancours, their dishonesty - all
these personages, after voting for the Constitution, now striving to
destroy it; and they got into a state of great agitation, and launched
forth manifestoes, pamphlets, and biographies. Hussonnet's biography of
Fumichon was a masterpiece. Nonancourt devoted himself to the work of
propagandism in the country districts; M. de Grémonville worked up the
clergy; and Martinon brought together the young men of the wealthy
class. Each exerted himself according to his resources, including Cisy
himself. With his thoughts now all day long absorbed in matters of grave
moment, he kept making excursions here and there in a cab in the
interests of the party.

M. Dambreuse, like a barometer, constantly gave expression to its latest
variation. Lamartine could not be alluded to without eliciting from this
gentleman the quotation of a famous phrase of the man of the people:
"Enough of poetry!" Cavaignac was, from this time forth, nothing better
in his eyes than a traitor. The President, whom he had admired for a
period of three months, was beginning to fall off in his esteem (as he
did not appear to exhibit the "necessary energy"); and, as he always
wanted a savior, his gratitude, since the affair of the Conservatoire,
belonged to Changarnier: "Thank God for Changarnier.... Let us place our
reliance on Changarnier.... Oh, there's nothing to fear as long as
Changarnier - - "

M. Thiers was praised, above all, for his volume against Socialism, in
which he showed that he was quite as much of a thinker as a writer.
There was an immense laugh at Pierre Leroux, who had quoted passages
from the philosophers in the Chamber. Jokes were made about the
phalansterian tail. The "Market of Ideas" came in for a meed of
applause, and its authors were compared to Aristophanes. Frederick
patronised the work as well as the rest.

Political verbiage and good living had an enervating effect on his
morality. Mediocre in capacity as these persons appeared to him, he felt
proud of knowing them, and internally longed for the respectability that
attached to a wealthy citizen. A mistress like Madame Dambreuse would
give him a position.

He set about taking the necessary steps for achieving that object.

He made it his business to cross her path, did not fail to go and greet
her with a bow in her box at the theatre, and, being aware of the hours
when she went to church, he would plant himself behind a pillar in a
melancholy attitude. There was a continual interchange of little notes
between them with regard to curiosities to which they drew each other's
attention, preparations for a concert, or the borrowing of books or
reviews. In addition to his visit each night, he sometimes made a call
just as the day was closing; and he experienced a progressive succession
of pleasures in passing through the large front entrance, through the
courtyard, through the anteroom, and through the two reception-rooms.
Finally, he reached her boudoir, which was as quiet as a tomb, as warm
as an alcove, and in which one jostled against the upholstered edging of
furniture in the midst of objects of every sort placed here and
there - chiffoniers, screens, bowls, and trays made of lacquer, or shell,
or ivory, or malachite, expensive trifles, to which fresh additions were
frequently made. Amongst single specimens of these rarities might be
noticed three Etretat rollers which were used as paper-presses, and a
Frisian cap hung from a Chinese folding-screen. Nevertheless, there was
a harmony between all these things, and one was even impressed by the
noble aspect of the entire place, which was, no doubt, due to the
loftiness of the ceiling, the richness of the portières, and the long
silk fringes that floated over the gold legs of the stools.

She nearly always sat on a little sofa, close to the flower-stand, which
garnished the recess of the window. Frederick, seating himself on the
edge of a large wheeled ottoman, addressed to her compliments of the
most appropriate kind that he could conceive; and she looked at him,
with her head a little on one side, and a smile playing round her mouth.

He read for her pieces of poetry, into which he threw his whole soul in
order to move her and excite her admiration. She would now and then
interrupt him with a disparaging remark or a practical observation; and
their conversation relapsed incessantly into the eternal question of
Love. They discussed with each other what were the circumstances that
produced it, whether women felt it more than men, and what was the
difference between them on that point. Frederick tried to express his
opinion, and, at the same time, to avoid anything like coarseness or
insipidity. This became at length a species of contest between them,
sometimes agreeable and at other times tedious.

Whilst at her side, he did not experience that ravishment of his entire
being which drew him towards Madame Arnoux, nor the feeling of
voluptuous delight with which Rosanette had, at first, inspired him. But
he felt a passion for her as a thing that was abnormal and difficult of
attainment, because she was of aristocratic rank, because she was
wealthy, because she was a devotee - imagining that she had a delicacy of
sentiment as rare as the lace she wore, together with amulets on her
skin, and modest instincts even in her depravity.

He made a certain use of his old passion for Madame Arnoux, uttering in
his new flame's hearing all those amorous sentiments which the other had
caused him to feel in downright earnest, and pretending that it was
Madame Dambreuse herself who had occasioned them. She received these
avowals like one accustomed to such things, and, without giving him a
formal repulse, did not yield in the slightest degree; and he came no
nearer to seducing her than Martinon did to getting married. In order to
bring matters to an end with her niece's suitor, she accused him of
having money for his object, and even begged of her husband to put the
matter to the test. M. Dambreuse then declared to the young man that
Cécile, being the orphan child of poor parents, had neither expectations
nor a dowry.

Martinon, not believing that this was true, or feeling that he had gone
too far to draw back, or through one of those outbursts of idiotic
infatuation which may be described as acts of genius, replied that his
patrimony, amounting to fifteen thousand francs a year, would be
sufficient for them. The banker was touched by this unexpected display
of disinterestedness. He promised the young man a tax-collectorship,
undertaking to obtain the post for him; and in the month of May, 1850,
Martinon married Mademoiselle Cécile. There was no ball to celebrate the
event. The young people started the same evening for Italy. Frederick
came next day to pay a visit to Madame Dambreuse. She appeared to him
paler than usual. She sharply contradicted him about two or three
matters of no importance. However, she went on to observe, all men were
egoists.

There were, however, some devoted men, though he might happen himself to
be the only one.

"Pooh, pooh! you're just like the rest of them!"

Her eyelids were red; she had been weeping.

Then, forcing a smile:

"Pardon me; I am in the wrong. Sad thoughts have taken possession of my
mind."

He could not understand what she meant to convey by the last words.

"No matter! she is not so hard to overcome as I imagined," he thought.

She rang for a glass of water, drank a mouthful of it, sent it away
again, and then began to complain of the wretched way in which her
servants attended on her. In order to amuse her, he offered to become
her servant himself, pretending that he knew how to hand round plates,
dust furniture, and announce visitors - in fact, to do the duties of a
_valet-de-chambre_, or, rather, of a running-footman, although the
latter was now out of fashion. He would have liked to cling on behind
her carriage with a hat adorned with cock's feathers.

"And how I would follow you with majestic stride, carrying your pug on
my arm!"

"You are facetious," said Madame Dambreuse.

Was it not a piece of folly, he returned, to take everything seriously?
There were enough of miseries in the world without creating fresh ones.
Nothing was worth the cost of a single pang. Madame Dambreuse raised her
eyelids with a sort of vague approval.

This agreement in their views of life impelled Frederick to take a
bolder course. His former miscalculations now gave him insight. He went
on:

"Our grandsires lived better. Why not obey the impulse that urges us
onward?" After all, love was not a thing of such importance in itself.

"But what you have just said is immoral!"

She had resumed her seat on the little sofa. He sat down at the side of
it, near her feet.

"Don't you see that I am lying! For in order to please women, one must
exhibit the thoughtlessness of a buffoon or all the wild passion of
tragedy! They only laugh at us when we simply tell them that we love
them! For my part, I consider those hyperbolical phrases which tickle
their fancy a profanation of true love, so that it is no longer possible
to give expression to it, especially when addressing women who possess
more than ordinary intelligence."

She gazed at him from under her drooping eyelids. He lowered his voice,
while he bent his head closer to her face.

"Yes! you frighten me! Perhaps I am offending you? Forgive me! I did not
intend to say all that I have said! 'Tis not my fault! You are so
beautiful!"

Madame Dambreuse closed her eyes, and he was astonished at his easy
victory. The tall trees in the clouds streaked the sky with long strips
of red, and on every side there seemed to be a suspension of vital
movements. Then he recalled to mind, in a confused sort of way, evenings
just the same as this, filled with the same unbroken silence. Where was
it that he had known them?

He sank upon his knees, seized her hand, and swore that he would love
her for ever. Then, as he was leaving her, she beckoned to him to come
back, and said to him in a low tone:

"Come by-and-by and dine with us! We'll be all alone!"

It seemed to Frederick, as he descended the stairs, that he had become a
different man, that he was surrounded by the balmy temperature of
hot-houses, and that he was beyond all question entering into the higher
sphere of patrician adulteries and lofty intrigues. In order to occupy
the first rank there all he required was a woman of this stamp. Greedy,
no doubt, of power and of success, and married to a man of inferior
calibre, for whom she had done prodigious services, she longed for some
one of ability in order to be his guide. Nothing was impossible now. He
felt himself capable of riding two hundred leagues on horseback, of
travelling for several nights in succession without fatigue. His heart
overflowed with pride.

Just in front of him, on the footpath, a man wrapped in a seedy overcoat
was walking, with downcast eyes, and with such an air of dejection that
Frederick, as he passed, turned aside to have a better look at him. The
other raised his head. It was Deslauriers. He hesitated. Frederick fell
upon his neck.

"Ah! my poor old friend! What! 'tis you!"

And he dragged Deslauriers into his house, at the same time asking his
friend a heap of questions.

Ledru-Rollin's ex-commissioner commenced by describing the tortures to
which he had been subjected. As he preached fraternity to the
Conservatives, and respect for the laws to the Socialists, the former
tried to shoot him, and the latter brought cords to hang him with. After
June he had been brutally dismissed. He found himself involved in a
charge of conspiracy - that which was connected with the seizure of arms
at Troyes. He had subsequently been released for want of evidence to
sustain the charge. Then the acting committee had sent him to London,
where his ears had been boxed in the very middle of a banquet at which
he and his colleagues were being entertained. On his return to Paris - -

"Why did you not call here, then, to see me?"

"You were always out! Your porter had mysterious airs - I did not know
what to think; and, in the next place, I had no desire to reappear
before you in the character of a defeated man."

He had knocked at the portals of Democracy, offering to serve it with
his pen, with his tongue, with all his energies. He had been everywhere
repelled. They had mistrusted him; and he had sold his watch, his
bookcase, and even his linen.

"It would be much better to be breaking one's back on the pontoons of
Belle Isle with Sénécal!"

Frederick, who had been fastening his cravat, did not appear to be much
affected by this news.

"Ha! so he is transported, this good Sénécal?"

Deslauriers replied, while he surveyed the walls with an envious air:

"Not everybody has your luck!"

"Excuse me," said Frederick, without noticing the allusion to his own
circumstances, "but I am dining in the city. We must get you something
to eat; order whatever you like. Take even my bed!"

This cordial reception dissipated Deslauriers' bitterness.

"Your bed? But that might inconvenience you!"

"Oh, no! I have others!"

"Oh, all right!" returned the advocate, with a laugh. "Pray, where are
you dining?"

"At Madame Dambreuse's."

"Can it be that you are - perhaps - - ?"

"You are too inquisitive," said Frederick, with a smile, which confirmed
this hypothesis.

Then, after a glance at the clock, he resumed his seat.

"That's how it is! and we mustn't despair, my ex-defender of the
people!"

"Oh, pardon me; let others bother themselves about the people
henceforth!"

The advocate detested the working-men, because he had suffered so much
on their account in his province, a coal-mining district. Every pit had
appointed a provisional government, from which he received orders.

"Besides, their conduct has been everywhere charming - at Lyons, at
Lille, at Havre, at Paris! For, in imitation of the manufacturers, who
would fain exclude the products of the foreigner, these gentlemen call
on us to banish the English, German, Belgian, and Savoyard workmen. As
for their intelligence, what was the use of that precious trades' union
of theirs which they established under the Restoration? In 1830 they
joined the National Guard, without having the common sense to get the
upper hand of it. Is it not the fact that, since the morning when 1848
dawned, the various trade-bodies had not reappeared with their banners?
They have even demanded popular representatives for themselves, who are
not to open their lips except on their own behalf. All this is the same
as if the deputies who represent beetroot were to concern themselves
about nothing save beetroot. Ah! I've had enough of these dodgers who in
turn prostrate themselves before the scaffold of Robespierre, the boots
of the Emperor, and the umbrella of Louis Philippe - a rabble who always
yield allegiance to the person that flings bread into their mouths. They
are always crying out against the venality of Talleyrand and Mirabeau;
but the messenger down below there would sell his country for fifty
centimes if they'd only promise to fix a tariff of three francs on his
walk. Ah! what a wretched state of affairs! We ought to set the four
corners of Europe on fire!"

Frederick said in reply:

"The spark is what you lack! You were simply a lot of shopboys, and even
the best of you were nothing better than penniless students. As for the
workmen, they may well complain; for, if you except a million taken out
of the civil list, and of which you made a grant to them with the
meanest expressions of flattery, you have done nothing for them, save to
talk in stilted phrases! The workman's certificate remains in the hands
of the employer, and the person who is paid wages remains (even in the
eye of the law), the inferior of his master, because his word is not
believed. In short, the Republic seems to me a worn-out institution.
Who knows? Perhaps Progress can be realised only through an aristocracy
or through a single man? The initiative always comes from the top, and
whatever may be the people's pretensions, they are lower than those
placed over them!"

"That may be true," said Deslauriers.

According to Frederick, the vast majority of citizens aimed only at a
life of peace (he had been improved by his visits to the Dambreuses),
and the chances were all on the side of the Conservatives. That party,
however, was lacking in new men.

"If you came forward, I am sure - - "

He did not finish the sentence. Deslauriers saw what Frederick meant,
and passed his two hands over his head; then, all of a sudden:

"But what about yourself? Is there anything to prevent you from doing
it? Why would you not be a deputy?"

In consequence of a double election there was in the Aube a vacancy for
a candidate. M. Dambreuse, who had been re-elected as a member of the
Legislative Assembly, belonged to a different arrondissement.

"Do you wish me to interest myself on your behalf?" He was acquainted
with many publicans, schoolmasters, doctors, notaries' clerks and their
masters. "Besides, you can make the peasants believe anything you like!"

Frederick felt his ambition rekindling.

Deslauriers added:

"You would find no trouble in getting a situation for me in Paris."

"Oh! it would not be hard to manage it through Monsieur Dambreuse."

"As we happened to have been talking just now about coal-mines," the
advocate went on, "what has become of his big company? This is the sort
of employment that would suit me, and I could make myself useful to them
while preserving my own independence."

Frederick promised that he would introduce him to the banker before
three days had passed.

The dinner, which he enjoyed alone with Madame Dambreuse, was a
delightful affair. She sat facing him with a smile on her countenance at
the opposite side of the table, whereon was placed a basket of flowers,
while a lamp suspended above their heads shed its light on the scene;
and, as the window was open, they could see the stars. They talked very
little, distrusting themselves, no doubt; but, the moment the servants
had turned their backs, they sent across a kiss to one another from the
tips of their lips. He told her about his idea of becoming a candidate.
She approved of the project, promising even to get M. Dambreuse to use
every effort on his behalf.

As the evening advanced, some of her friends presented themselves for
the purpose of congratulating her, and, at the same time, expressing
sympathy with her; she must be so much pained at the loss of her niece.
Besides, it was all very well for newly-married people to go on a trip;
by-and-by would come incumbrances, children. But really, Italy did not
realise one's expectations. They had not as yet passed the age of


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Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSentimental Education; Or, The History of a Young Man. Volume 2 → online text (page 15 of 21)