Gustave Flaubert.

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

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it. Louise locked herself up; it was even rumoured that she had gone
mad.

Meanwhile, Frederick was unable to hide his dejection. Madame Dambreuse,
in order to divert his mind, no doubt, from gloomy thoughts, redoubled
her attentions. Every afternoon they went out for a drive in her
carriage; and, on one occasion, as they were passing along the Place de
la Bourse, she took the idea into her head to pay a visit to the public
auction-rooms for the sake of amusement.

It was the 1st of December, the very day on which the sale of Madame
Arnoux's furniture was to take place. He remembered the date, and
manifested his repugnance, declaring that this place was intolerable on
account of the crush and the noise. She only wanted to get a peep at it.
The brougham drew up. He had no alternative but to accompany her.

In the open space could be seen washhand-stands without basins, the
wooden portions of armchairs, old hampers, pieces of porcelain, empty
bottles, mattresses; and men in blouses or in dirty frock-coats, all
grey with dust, and mean-looking faces, some with canvas sacks over
their shoulders, were chatting in separate groups or hailing each other
in a disorderly fashion.

Frederick urged that it was inconvenient to go on any further.

"Pooh!"

And they ascended the stairs. In the first room, at the right,
gentlemen, with catalogues in their hands, were examining pictures; in
another, a collection of Chinese weapons were being sold. Madame
Dambreuse wanted to go down again. She looked at the numbers over the
doors, and she led him to the end of the corridor towards an apartment
which was blocked up with people.

He immediately recognised the two whatnots belonging to the office of
_L'Art Industriel_, her work-table, all her furniture. Heaped up at the
end of the room according to their respective heights, they formed a
long slope from the floor to the windows, and at the other sides of the
apartment, the carpets and the curtains hung down straight along the
walls. There were underneath steps occupied by old men who had fallen
asleep. At the left rose a sort of counter at which the auctioneer, in a
white cravat, was lightly swinging a little hammer. By his side a young
man was writing, and below him stood a sturdy fellow, between a
commercial traveller and a vendor of countermarks, crying out:
"Furniture for sale." Three attendants placed the articles on a table,
at the sides of which sat in a row second-hand dealers and old-clothes'
women. The general public at the auction kept walking in a circle behind
them.

When Frederick came in, the petticoats, the neckerchiefs, and even the
chemises were being passed on from hand to hand, and then given back.
Sometimes they were flung some distance, and suddenly strips of
whiteness went flying through the air. After that her gowns were sold,
and then one of her hats, the broken feather of which was hanging down,
then her furs, and then three pairs of boots; and the disposal by sale
of these relics, wherein he could trace in a confused sort of way the
very outlines of her form, appeared to him an atrocity, as if he had
seen carrion crows mangling her corpse. The atmosphere of the room,
heavy with so many breaths, made him feel sick. Madame Dambreuse offered
him her smelling-bottle. She said that she found all this highly
amusing.

The bedroom furniture was now exhibited. Maître Berthelmot named a
price. The crier immediately repeated it in a louder voice, and the
three auctioneer's assistants quietly waited for the stroke of the
hammer, and then carried off the article sold to an adjoining apartment.
In this way disappeared, one after the other, the large blue carpet
spangled with camellias, which her dainty feet used to touch so lightly
as she advanced to meet him, the little upholstered easy-chair, in which
he used to sit facing her when they were alone together, the two screens
belonging to the mantelpiece, the ivory of which had been rendered
smoother by the touch of her hands, and a velvet pincushion, which was
still bristling with pins. It was as if portions of his heart had been
carried away with these things; and the monotony of the same voices and
the same gestures benumbed him with fatigue, and caused within him a
mournful torpor, a sensation like that of death itself.

There was a rustle of silk close to his ear. Rosanette touched him.

It was through Frederick himself that she had learned about this
auction. When her first feelings of vexation was over, the idea of
deriving profit from it occurred to her mind. She had come to see it in
a white satin vest with pearl buttons, a furbelowed gown, tight-fitting
gloves on her hands, and a look of triumph on her face.

He grew pale with anger. She stared at the woman who was by his side.

Madame Dambreuse had recognised her, and for a minute they examined each
other from head to foot minutely, in order to discover the defect, the
blemish - the one perhaps envying the other's youth, and the other filled
with spite at the extreme good form, the aristocratic simplicity of her
rival.

At last Madame Dambreuse turned her head round with a smile of
inexpressible insolence.

The crier had opened a piano - her piano! While he remained standing
before it he ran the fingers of his right hand over the keys, and put up
the instrument at twelve hundred francs; then he brought down the
figures to one thousand, then to eight hundred, and finally to seven
hundred.

Madame Dambreuse, in a playful tone, laughed at the appearance of some
socket that was out of gear.

The next thing placed before the second-hand dealers was a little chest
with medallions and silver corners and clasps, the same one which he had
seen at the first dinner in the Rue de Choiseul, which had subsequently
been in Rosanette's house, and again transferred back to Madame Arnoux's
residence. Often, during their conversations his eyes wandered towards
it. He was bound to it by the dearest memories, and his soul was melting
with tender emotions about it, when suddenly Madame Dambreuse said:

"Look here! I am going to buy that!"

"But it is not a very rare article," he returned.

She considered it, on the contrary, very pretty, and the appraiser
commended its delicacy.

"A gem of the Renaissance! Eight hundred francs, messieurs! Almost
entirely of silver! With a little whiting it can be made to shine
brilliantly."

And, as she was pushing forward through the crush of people:

"What an odd idea!" said Frederick.

"You are annoyed at this!"

"No! But what can be done with a fancy article of that sort?"

"Who knows? Love-letters might be kept in it, perhaps!"

She gave him a look which made the allusion very clear.

"A reason the more for not robbing the dead of their secrets."

"I did not imagine she was dead." And then in a loud voice she went on
to bid:

"Eight hundred and eighty francs!"

"What you're doing is not right," murmured Frederick.

She began to laugh.

"But this is the first favour, dear, that I am asking from you."

"Come, now! doesn't it strike you that at this rate you won't be a very
considerate husband?"

Some one had just at that moment made a higher bid.

"Nine hundred francs!"

"Nine hundred francs!" repeated Maître Berthelmot.

"Nine hundred and ten - fifteen - twenty - thirty!" squeaked the
auctioneer's crier, with jerky shakes of his head as he cast a sweeping
glance at those assembled around him.

"Show me that I am going to have a wife who is amenable to reason," said
Frederick.

And he gently drew her towards the door.

The auctioneer proceeded:

"Come, come, messieurs; nine hundred and thirty. Is there any bidder at
nine hundred and thirty?"

Madame Dambreuse, just as she had reached the door, stopped, and raising
her voice to a high pitch:

"One thousand francs!"

There was a thrill of astonishment, and then a dead silence.

"A thousand francs, messieurs, a thousand francs! Is nobody advancing on
this bid? Is that clear? Very well, then - one thousand francs!
going! - gone!"

And down came the ivory hammer. She passed in her card, and the little
chest was handed over to her. She thrust it into her muff.

Frederick felt a great chill penetrating his heart.

Madame Dambreuse had not let go her hold of his arm; and she had not the
courage to look up at his face in the street, where her carriage was
awaiting her.

She flung herself into it, like a thief flying away after a robbery, and
then turned towards Frederick. He had his hat in his hand.

"Are you not going to come in?"

"No, Madame!"

And, bowing to her frigidly, he shut the carriage-door, and then made a
sign to the coachman to drive away.

The first feeling that he experienced was one of joy at having regained
his independence. He was filled with pride at the thought that he had
avenged Madame Arnoux by sacrificing a fortune to her; then, he was
amazed at his own act, and he felt doubled up with extreme physical
exhaustion.

Next morning his man-servant brought him the news.

The city had been declared to be in a state of siege; the Assembly had
been dissolved; and a number of the representatives of the people had
been imprisoned at Mazas. Public affairs had assumed to his mind an
utterly unimportant aspect, so deeply preoccupied was he by his private
troubles.

He wrote to several tradesmen countermanding various orders which he had
given for the purchase of articles in connection with his projected
marriage, which now appeared to him in the light of a rather mean
speculation; and he execrated Madame Dambreuse, because, owing to her,
he had been very near perpetrating a vile action. He had forgotten the
Maréchale, and did not even bother himself about Madame Arnoux - absorbed
only in one thought - lost amid the wreck of his dreams, sick at heart,
full of grief and disappointment, and in his hatred of the artificial
atmosphere wherein he had suffered so much, he longed for the freshness
of green fields, the repose of provincial life, a sleeping existence
spent beneath his natal roof in the midst of ingenuous hearts. At last,
when Wednesday evening arrived, he made his way out into the open air.

On the boulevard numerous groups had taken up their stand. From time to
time a patrol came and dispersed them; they gathered together again in
regular order behind it. They talked freely and in loud tones, made
chaffing remarks about the soldiers, without anything further happening.

"What! are they not going to fight?" said Frederick to a workman.

"They're not such fools as to get themselves killed for the well-off
people! Let them take care of themselves!"

And a gentleman muttered, as he glanced across at the inhabitants of the
faubourgs:

"Socialist rascals! If it were only possible, this time, to exterminate
them!"

Frederick could not, for the life of him, understand the necessity of so
much rancour and vituperative language. His feeling of disgust against
Paris was intensified by these occurrences, and two days later he set
out for Nogent by the first train.

The houses soon became lost to view; the country stretched out before
his gaze. Alone in his carriage, with his feet on the seat in front of
him, he pondered over the events of the last few days, and then on his
entire past. The recollection of Louise came back to his mind.

"She, indeed, loved me truly! I was wrong not to snatch at this chance
of happiness. Pooh! let us not think any more about it!"

Then, five minutes afterwards: "Who knows, after all? Why not, later?"

His reverie, like his eyes, wandered afar towards vague horizons.

"She was artless, a peasant girl, almost a savage; but so good!"

In proportion as he drew nearer to Nogent, her image drew closer to him.
As they were passing through the meadows of Sourdun, he saw her once
more in imagination under the poplar-trees, as in the old days, cutting
rushes on the edges of the pools. And now they had reached their
destination; he stepped out of the train.

Then he leaned with his elbows on the bridge, to gaze again at the isle
and the garden where they had walked together one sunshiny day, and the
dizzy sensation caused by travelling, together with the weakness
engendered by his recent emotions, arousing in his breast a sort of
exaltation, he said to himself:

"She has gone out, perhaps; suppose I were to go and meet her!"

The bell of Saint-Laurent was ringing, and in the square in front of the
church there was a crowd of poor people around an open carriage, the
only one in the district - the one which was always hired for weddings.
And all of a sudden, under the church-gate, accompanied by a number of
well-dressed persons in white cravats, a newly-married couple appeared.

He thought he must be labouring under some hallucination. But no! It
was, indeed, Louise! covered with a white veil which flowed from her red
hair down to her heels; and with her was no other than Deslauriers,
attired in a blue coat embroidered with silver - the costume of a
prefect.

How was this?

Frederick concealed himself at the corner of a house to let the
procession pass.

Shamefaced, vanquished, crushed, he retraced his steps to the
railway-station, and returned to Paris.

The cabman who drove him assured him that the barricades were erected
from the Château d'Eau to the Gymnase, and turned down the Faubourg
Saint-Martin. At the corner of the Rue de Provence, Frederick stepped
out in order to reach the boulevards.

It was five o'clock. A thin shower was falling. A number of citizens
blocked up the footpath close to the Opera House. The houses opposite
were closed. No one at any of the windows. All along the boulevard,
dragoons were galloping behind a row of wagons, leaning with drawn
swords over their horses; and the plumes of their helmets, and their
large white cloaks, rising up behind them, could be seen under the glare
of the gas-lamps, which shook in the wind in the midst of a haze. The
crowd gazed at them mute with fear.

In the intervals between the cavalry-charges, squads of policemen
arrived on the scene to keep back the people in the streets.

But on the steps of Tortoni, a man - Dussardier - who could be
distinguished at a distance by his great height, remained standing as
motionless as a caryatide.

One of the police-officers, marching at the head of his men, with his
three-cornered hat drawn over his eyes, threatened him with his sword.

The other thereupon took one step forward, and shouted:

"Long live the Republic!"

The next moment he fell on his back with his arms crossed.

A yell of horror arose from the crowd. The police-officer, with a look
of command, made a circle around him; and Frederick, gazing at him in
open-mouthed astonishment, recognised Sénécal.

[Illustration]

[Illustration: When a woman suddenly came in.]




CHAPTER XIX.

A BITTER-SWEET REUNION.


He travelled.

He realised the melancholy associated with packet-boats, the chill one
feels on waking up under tents, the dizzy effect of landscapes and
ruins, and the bitterness of ruptured sympathies.

He returned home.

He mingled in society, and he conceived attachments to other women. But
the constant recollection of his first love made these appear insipid;
and besides the vehemence of desire, the bloom of the sensation had
vanished. In like manner, his intellectual ambitions had grown weaker.
Years passed; and he was forced to support the burthen of a life in
which his mind was unoccupied and his heart devoid of energy.

Towards the end of March, 1867, just as it was getting dark, one
evening, he was sitting all alone in his study, when a woman suddenly
came in.

"Madame Arnoux!"

"Frederick!"

She caught hold of his hands, and drew him gently towards the window,
and, as she gazed into his face, she kept repeating:

"'Tis he! Yes, indeed - 'tis he!"

In the growing shadows of the twilight, he could see only her eyes under
the black lace veil that hid her face.

When she had laid down on the edge of the mantelpiece a little
pocket-book bound in garnet velvet, she seated herself in front of him,
and they both remained silent, unable to utter a word, smiling at one
another.

At last he asked her a number of questions about herself and her
husband.

They had gone to live in a remote part of Brittany for the sake of
economy, so as to be able to pay their debts. Arnoux, now almost a
chronic invalid, seemed to have become quite an old man. Her daughter
had been married and was living at Bordeaux, and her son was in garrison
at Mostaganem.

Then she raised her head to look at him again:

"But I see you once more! I am happy!"

He did not fail to let her know that, as soon as he heard of their
misfortune, he had hastened to their house.

"I was fully aware of it!"

"How?"

She had seen him in the street outside the house, and had hidden
herself.

"Why did you do that?"

Then, in a trembling voice, and with long pauses between her words:

"I was afraid! Yes - afraid of you and of myself!"

This disclosure gave him, as it were, a shock of voluptuous joy. His
heart began to throb wildly. She went on:

"Excuse me for not having come sooner." And, pointing towards the little
pocket-book covered with golden palm-branches:

"I embroidered it on your account expressly. It contains the amount for
which the Belleville property was given as security."

Frederick thanked her for letting him have the money, while chiding her
at the same time for having given herself any trouble about it.

"No! 'tis not for this I came! I was determined to pay you this
visit - then I would go back there again."

And she spoke about the place where they had taken up their abode.

It was a low-built house of only one story; and there was a garden
attached to it full of huge box-trees, and a double avenue of
chestnut-trees, reaching up to the top of the hill, from which there was
a view of the sea.

"I go there and sit down on a bench, which I have called 'Frederick's
bench.'"

Then she proceeded to fix her gaze on the furniture, the objects of
virtù, the pictures, with eager intentness, so that she might be able to
carry away the impressions of them in her memory. The Maréchale's
portrait was half-hidden behind a curtain. But the gilding and the white
spaces of the picture, which showed their outlines through the midst of
the surrounding darkness, attracted her attention.

"It seems to me I knew that woman?"

"Impossible!" said Frederick. "It is an old Italian painting."

She confessed that she would like to take a walk through the streets on
his arm.

They went out.

The light from the shop-windows fell, every now and then, on her pale
profile; then once more she was wrapped in shadow, and in the midst of
the carriages, the crowd, and the din, they walked on without paying any
heed to what was happening around them, without hearing anything, like
those who make their way across the fields over beds of dead leaves.

They talked about the days which they had formerly spent in each other's
society, the dinners at the time when _L'Art Industriel_ flourished,
Arnoux's fads, his habit of drawing up the ends of his collar and of
squeezing cosmetic over his moustache, and other matters of a more
intimate and serious character. What delight he experienced on the first
occasion when he heard her singing! How lovely she looked on her
feast-day at Saint-Cloud! He recalled to her memory the little garden at
Auteuil, evenings at the theatre, a chance meeting on the boulevard, and
some of her old servants, including the negress.

She was astonished at his vivid recollection of these things.

"Sometimes your words come back to me like a distant echo, like the
sound of a bell carried on by the wind, and when I read passages about
love in books, it seems to me that it is about you I am reading."

"All that people have found fault with as exaggerated in fiction you
have made me feel," said Frederick. "I can understand Werther, who felt
no disgust at his Charlotte for eating bread and butter."

"Poor, dear friend!"

She heaved a sigh; and, after a prolonged silence:

"No matter; we shall have loved each other truly!"

"And still without having ever belonged to each other!"

"This perhaps is all the better," she replied.

"No, no! What happiness we might have enjoyed!"

"Oh, I am sure of it with a love like yours!"

And it must have been very strong to endure after such a long
separation.

Frederick wished to know from her how she first discovered that he loved
her.

"It was when you kissed my wrist one evening between the glove and the
cuff. I said to myself, 'Ah! yes, he loves me - he loves me;'
nevertheless, I was afraid of being assured of it. So charming was your
reserve, that I felt myself the object, as it were, of an involuntary
and continuous homage."

He regretted nothing now. He was compensated for all he had suffered in
the past.

When they came back to the house, Madame Arnoux took off her bonnet. The
lamp, placed on a bracket, threw its light on her white hair. Frederick
felt as if some one had given him a blow in the middle of the chest.

In order to conceal from her his sense of disillusion, he flung himself
on the floor at her feet, and seizing her hands, began to whisper in her
ear words of tenderness:

"Your person, your slightest movements, seemed to me to have a more than
human importance in the world. My heart was like dust under your feet.
You produced on me the effect of moonlight on a summer's night, when
around us we find nothing but perfumes, soft shadows, gleams of
whiteness, infinity; and all the delights of the flesh and of the spirit
were for me embodied in your name, which I kept repeating to myself
while I tried to kiss it with my lips. I thought of nothing further. It
was Madame Arnoux such as you were with your two children, tender,
grave, dazzlingly beautiful, and yet so good! This image effaced every
other. Did I not think of it alone? for I had always in the very depths
of my soul the music of your voice and the brightness of your eyes!"

She accepted with transports of joy these tributes of adoration to the
woman whom she could no longer claim to be. Frederick, becoming
intoxicated with his own words, came to believe himself in the reality
of what he said. Madame Arnoux, with her back turned to the light of the
lamp, stooped towards him. He felt the caress of her breath on his
forehead, and the undefined touch of her entire body through the
garments that kept them apart. Their hands were clasped; the tip of her
boot peeped out from beneath her gown, and he said to her, as if ready
to faint:

"The sight of your foot makes me lose my self-possession."

An impulse of modesty made her rise. Then, without any further movement,
she said, with the strange intonation of a somnambulist:

"At my age! - he - Frederick! Ah! no woman has ever been loved as I have
been. No! Where is the use in being young? What do I care about them,
indeed? I despise them - all those women who come here!"

"Oh! very few women come to this place," he returned, in a complaisant
fashion.

Her face brightened up, and then she asked him whether he meant to be
married.

He swore that he never would.

"Are you perfectly sure? Why should you not?"

"'Tis on your account!" said Frederick, clasping her in his arms.

She remained thus pressed to his heart, with her head thrown back, her
lips parted, and her eyes raised. Suddenly she pushed him away from her
with a look of despair, and when he implored of her to say something to
him in reply, she bent forward and whispered:

"I would have liked to make you happy!"

Frederick had a suspicion that Madame Arnoux had come to offer herself
to him, and once more he was seized with a desire to possess
her - stronger, fiercer, more desperate than he had ever experienced
before. And yet he felt, the next moment, an unaccountable repugnance to
the thought of such a thing, and, as it were, a dread of incurring the
guilt of incest. Another fear, too, had a different effect on him - lest
disgust might afterwards take possession of him. Besides, how
embarrassing it would be! - and, abandoning the idea, partly through
prudence, and partly through a resolve not to degrade his ideal, he
turned on his heel and proceeded to roll a cigarette between his
fingers.

She watched him with admiration.

"How dainty you are! There is no one like you! There is no one like
you!"

It struck eleven.

"Already!" she exclaimed; "at a quarter-past I must go."

She sat down again, but she kept looking at the clock, and he walked up


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Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSentimental Education; Or, The History of a Young Man. Volume 2 → online text (page 20 of 21)