Gustave Flaubert.

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

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perfectly certain, could not be obtained without purchasing a certain
number of shares. He recognised the folly of his project, and said to
himself:

"Oh! no, that would be a wrong step."

Then he ransacked his brains to think of the best way in which he could
set about recovering the fifteen thousand francs. Such a sum was a mere
trifle to Frederick. But, if he had it, what a lever it would be in his
hands! And the ex-law-clerk was indignant at the other being so well
off.

"He makes a pitiful use of it. He is a selfish fellow. Ah! what do I
care for his fifteen thousand francs!"

Why had he lent the money? For the sake of Madame Arnoux's bright eyes.
She was his mistress! Deslauriers had no doubt about it. "There was
another way in which money was useful!"

And he was assailed by malignant thoughts.

Then he allowed his thoughts to dwell even on Frederick's personal
appearance. It had always exercised over him an almost feminine charm;
and he soon came to admire it for a success which he realised that he
was himself incapable of achieving.

"Nevertheless, was not the will the main element in every enterprise?
and, since by its means we may triumph over everything - - "

"Ha! that would be funny!"

But he felt ashamed of such treachery, and the next moment:

"Pooh! I am afraid?"

Madame Arnoux - from having heard her spoken about so often - had come to
be depicted in his imagination as something extraordinary. The
persistency of this passion had irritated him like a problem. Her
austerity, which seemed a little theatrical, now annoyed him. Besides,
the woman of the world - or, rather, his own conception of her - dazzled
the advocate as a symbol and the epitome of a thousand pleasures. Poor
though he was, he hankered after luxury in its more glittering form.

"After all, even though he should get angry, so much the worse! He has
behaved too badly to me to call for any anxiety about him on my part! I
have no assurance that she is his mistress! He has denied it. So then I
am free to act as I please!"

He could no longer abandon the desire of taking this step. He wished to
make a trial of his own strength, so that one day, all of a sudden, he
polished his boots himself, bought white gloves, and set forth on his
way, substituting himself for Frederick, and almost imagining that he
was the other by a singular intellectual evolution, in which there was,
at the same time, vengeance and sympathy, imitation and audacity.

He announced himself as "Doctor Deslauriers."

Madame Arnoux was surprised, as she had not sent for any physician.

"Ha! a thousand apologies! - 'tis a doctor of law! I have come in
Monsieur Moreau's interest."

This name appeared to produce a disquieting effect on her mind.

"So much the better!" thought the ex-law-clerk.

"Since she has a liking for him, she will like me, too!" buoying up his
courage with the accepted idea that it is easier to supplant a lover
than a husband.

He referred to the fact that he had the pleasure of meeting her on one
occasion at the law-courts; he even mentioned the date. This remarkable
power of memory astonished Madame Arnoux. He went on in a tone of mild
affectation:

"You have already found your affairs a little embarrassing?"

She made no reply.

"Then it must be true."

He began to chat about one thing or another, about her house, about the
works; then, noticing some medallions at the sides of the mirror:

"Ha! family portraits, no doubt?"

He remarked that of an old lady, Madame Arnoux's mother.

"She has the appearance of an excellent woman, a southern type."

And, on being met with the objection that she was from Chartres:

"Chartres! pretty town!"

He praised its cathedral and public buildings, and coming back to the
portrait, traced resemblances between it and Madame Arnoux, and cast
flatteries at her indirectly. She did not appear to be offended at this.
He took confidence, and said that he had known Arnoux a long time.

"He is a fine fellow, but one who compromises himself. Take this
mortgage, for example - one can't imagine such a reckless act - - "

"Yes, I know," said she, shrugging her shoulders.

This involuntary evidence of contempt induced Deslauriers to continue.
"That kaolin business of his was near turning out very badly, a thing
you may not be aware of, and even his reputation - - "

A contraction of the brows made him pause.

Then, falling back on generalities, he expressed his pity for the "poor
women whose husbands frittered away their means."

"But in this case, monsieur, the means belong to him. As for me, I have
nothing!"

No matter, one never knows. A woman of experience might be useful. He
made offers of devotion, exalted his own merits; and he looked into her
face through his shining spectacles.

She was seized with a vague torpor; but suddenly said:

"Let us look into the matter, I beg of you."

He exhibited the bundle of papers.

"This is Frederick's letter of attorney. With such a document in the
hands of a process-server, who would make out an order, nothing could be
easier; in twenty-four hours - - " (She remained impassive; he changed
his manoeuvre.)

"As for me, however, I don't understand what impels him to demand this
sum, for, in fact, he doesn't want it."

"How is that? Monsieur Moreau has shown himself so kind."

"Oh! granted!"

And Deslauriers began by eulogising him, then in a mild fashion
disparaged him, giving it out that he was a forgetful individual, and
over-fond of money.

"I thought he was your friend, monsieur?"

"That does not prevent me from seeing his defects. Thus, he showed very
little recognition of - how shall I put it? - the sympathy - - "

Madame Arnoux was turning over the leaves of a large manuscript book.

She interrupted him in order to get him to explain a certain word.

He bent over her shoulder, and his face came so close to hers that he
grazed her cheek. She blushed. This heightened colour inflamed
Deslauriers, he hungrily kissed her head.

"What are you doing, Monsieur?" And, standing up against the wall, she
compelled him to remain perfectly quiet under the glance of her large
blue eyes glowing with anger.

"Listen to me! I love you!"

She broke into a laugh, a shrill, discouraging laugh. Deslauriers felt
himself suffocating with anger. He restrained his feelings, and, with
the look of a vanquished person imploring mercy:

"Ha! you are wrong! As for me, I would not go like him."

"Of whom, pray, are you talking?"

"Of Frederick."

"Ah! Monsieur Moreau troubles me little. I told you that!"

"Oh! forgive me! forgive me!" Then, drawling his words, in a sarcastic
tone:

"I even imagined that you were sufficiently interested in him personally
to learn with pleasure - - "

She became quite pale. The ex-law-clerk added:

"He is going to be married."

"He!"

"In a month at latest, to Mademoiselle Roque, the daughter of M.
Dambreuse's agent. He has even gone down to Nogent for no other purpose
but that."

She placed her hand over her heart, as if at the shock of a great blow;
but immediately she rang the bell. Deslauriers did not wait to be
ordered to leave. When she turned round he had disappeared.

Madame Arnoux was gasping a little with the strain of her emotions. She
drew near the window to get a breath of air.

On the other side of the street, on the footpath, a packer in his
shirt-sleeves was nailing down a trunk. Hackney-coaches passed. She
closed the window-blinds and then came and sat down. As the high houses
in the vicinity intercepted the sun's rays, the light of day stole
coldly into the apartment. Her children had gone out; there was not a
stir around her. It seemed as if she were utterly deserted.

"He is going to be married! Is it possible?"

And she was seized with a fit of nervous trembling.

"Why is this? Does it mean that I love him?"

Then all of a sudden:

"Why, yes; I love him - I love him!"

It seemed to her as if she were sinking into endless depths. The clock
struck three. She listened to the vibrations of the sounds as they died
away. And she remained on the edge of the armchair, with her eyeballs
fixed and an unchanging smile on her face.

The same afternoon, at the same moment, Frederick and Mademoiselle
Louise were walking in the garden belonging to M. Roque at the end of
the island.

Old Catherine was watching them, some distance away. They were walking
side by side and Frederick said:

"You remember when I brought you into the country?"

"How good you were to me!" she replied. "You assisted me in making
sand-pies, in filling my watering-pot, and in rocking me in the swing!"

"All your dolls, who had the names of queens and marchionesses - what has
become of them?"

"Really, I don't know!"

"And your pug Moricaud?"

"He's drowned, poor darling!"

"And the _Don Quixote_ of which we coloured the engravings together?"

"I have it still!"

He recalled to her mind the day of her first communion, and how pretty
she had been at vespers, with her white veil and her large wax-taper,
whilst the girls were all taking their places in a row around the choir,
and the bell was tinkling.

These memories, no doubt, had little charm for Mademoiselle Roque. She
had not a word to say; and, a minute later:

"Naughty fellow! never to have written a line to me, even once!"

Frederick urged by way of excuse his numerous occupations.

"What, then, are you doing?"

He was embarrassed by the question; then he told her that he was
studying politics.

"Ha!"

And without questioning him further:

"That gives you occupation; while as for me - - !"

Then she spoke to him about the barrenness of her existence, as there
was nobody she could go to see, and nothing to amuse her or distract her
thoughts. She wished to go on horseback.

"The vicar maintains that this is improper for a young lady! How stupid
these proprieties are! Long ago they allowed me to do whatever I
pleased; now, they won't let me do anything!"

"Your father, however, is fond of you!"

"Yes; but - - "

She heaved a sigh, which meant: "That is not enough to make me happy."

Then there was silence. They heard only the noise made by their boots in
the sand, together with the murmur of falling water; for the Seine,
above Nogent, is cut into two arms. That which turns the mills
discharges in this place the superabundance of its waves in order to
unite further down with the natural course of the stream; and a person
coming from the bridge could see at the right, on the other bank of the
river, a grassy slope on which a white house looked down. At the left,
in the meadow, a row of poplar-trees extended, and the horizon in front
was bounded by a curve of the river. It was flat, like a mirror. Large
insects hovered over the noiseless water. Tufts of reeds and rushes
bordered it unevenly; all kinds of plants which happened to spring up
there bloomed out in buttercups, caused yellow clusters to hang down,
raised trees in distaff-shape with amaranth-blossoms, and made green
rockets spring up at random. In an inlet of the river white water-lilies
displayed themselves; and a row of ancient willows, in which wolf-traps
were hidden, formed, on that side of the island, the sole protection of
the garden.

In the interior, on this side, four walls with a slate coping enclosed
the kitchen-garden, in which the square patches, recently dug up, looked
like brown plates. The bell-glasses of the melons shone in a row on the
narrow hotbed. The artichokes, the kidney-beans, the spinach, the
carrots and the tomatoes succeeded each other till one reached a
background where asparagus grew in such a fashion that it resembled a
little wood of feathers.

All this piece of land had been under the Directory what is called "a
folly." The trees had, since then, grown enormously. Clematis
obstructed the hornbeams, the walks were covered with moss, brambles
abounded on every side. Fragments of statues let their plaster crumble
in the grass. The feet of anyone walking through the place got entangled
in iron-wire work. There now remained of the pavilion only two
apartments on the ground floor, with some blue paper hanging in shreds.
Before the façade extended an arbour in the Italian style, in which a
vine-tree was supported on columns of brick by a rail-work of sticks.

Soon they arrived at this spot; and, as the light fell through the
irregular gaps on the green herbage, Frederick, turning his head on one
side to speak to Louise, noticed the shadow of the leaves on her face.

She had in her red hair, stuck in her chignon, a needle, terminated by a
glass bell in imitation of emerald, and, in spite of her mourning, she
wore (so artless was her bad taste) straw slippers trimmed with pink
satin - a vulgar curiosity probably bought at some fair.

He remarked this, and ironically congratulated her.

"Don't be laughing at me!" she replied.

Then surveying him altogether, from his grey felt hat to his silk
stockings:

"What an exquisite you are!"

After this, she asked him to mention some works which she could read. He
gave her the names of several; and she said:

"Oh! how learned you are!"

While yet very small, she had been smitten with one of those childish
passions which have, at the same time, the purity of a religion and the
violence of a natural instinct. He had been her comrade, her brother,
her master, had diverted her mind, made her heart beat more quickly,
and, without any desire for such a result, had poured out into the very
depths of her being a latent and continuous intoxication. Then he had
parted with her at the moment of a tragic crisis in her existence, when
her mother had only just died, and these two separations had been
mingled together. Absence had idealised him in her memory. He had come
back with a sort of halo round his head; and she gave herself up
ingenuously to the feelings of bliss she experienced at seeing him once
more.

For the first time in his life Frederick felt himself beloved; and this
new pleasure, which did not transcend the ordinary run of agreeable
sensations, made his breast swell with so much emotion that he spread
out his two arms while he flung back his head.

A large cloud passed across the sky.

"It is going towards Paris," said Louise. "You'd like to follow
it - wouldn't you?"

"I! Why?"

"Who knows?"

And surveying him with a sharp look:

"Perhaps you have there" (she searched her mind for the appropriate
phrase) "something to engage your affections."

"Oh! I have nothing to engage my affections there."

"Are you perfectly certain?"

"Why, yes, Mademoiselle, perfectly certain!"

In less than a year there had taken place in the young girl an
extraordinary transformation, which astonished Frederick. After a
minute's silence he added:

"We ought to 'thee' and 'thou' each other, as we used to do long
ago - shall we do so?"

"No."

"Why?"

"Because - - "

He persisted. She answered, with downcast face:

"I dare not!"

They had reached the end of the garden, which was close to the
shell-bank. Frederick, in a spirit of boyish fun, began to send pebbles
skimming over the water. She bade him sit down. He obeyed; then, looking
at the waterfall:

"'Tis like Niagara!" He began talking about distant countries and long
voyages. The idea of making some herself exercised a fascination over
her mind. She would not have been afraid either of tempests or of lions.

Seated close beside each other, they collected in front of them handfuls
of sand, then, while they were chatting, they let it slip through their
fingers, and the hot wind, which rose from the plains, carried to them
in puffs odours of lavender, together with the smell of tar escaping
from a boat behind the lock. The sun's rays fell on the cascade. The
greenish blocks of stone in the little wall over which the water slipped
looked as if they were covered with a silver gauze that was perpetually
rolling itself out. A long strip of foam gushed forth at the foot with a
harmonious murmur. Then it bubbled up, forming whirlpools and a thousand
opposing currents, which ended by intermingling in a single limpid
stream of water.

Louise said in a musing tone that she envied the existence of fishes:

"It must be so delightful to tumble about down there at your ease, and
to feel yourself caressed on every side."

[Illustration]

[Illustration: Can I live without you?]

She shivered with sensuously enticing movements; but a voice exclaimed:

"Where are you?"

"Your maid is calling you," said Frederick.

"All right! all right!" Louise did not disturb herself.

"She will be angry," he suggested.

"It is all the same to me! and besides - - " Mademoiselle Roque gave him
to understand by a gesture that the girl was entirely subject to her
will.

She arose, however, and then complained of a headache. And, as they were
passing in front of a large cart-shed containing some faggots:

"Suppose we sat down there, _under shelter_?"

He pretended not to understand this dialectic expression, and even
teased her about her accent. Gradually the corners of her mouth were
compressed, she bit her lips; she stepped aside in order to sulk.

Frederick came over to her, swore he did not mean to annoy her, and that
he was very fond of her.

"Is that true?" she exclaimed, looking at him with a smile which lighted
up her entire face, smeared over a little with patches of bran.

He could not resist the sentiment of gallantry which was aroused in him
by her fresh youthfulness, and he replied:

"Why should I tell you a lie? Have you any doubt about it, eh?" and, as
he spoke, he passed his left hand round her waist.

A cry, soft as the cooing of a dove, leaped up from her throat. Her head
fell back, she was going to faint, when he held her up. And his virtuous
scruples were futile. At the sight of this maiden offering herself to
him he was seized with fear. He assisted her to take a few steps
slowly. He had ceased to address her in soothing words, and no longer
caring to talk of anything save the most trifling subjects, he spoke to
her about some of the principal figures in the society of Nogent.

Suddenly she repelled him, and in a bitter tone:

"You would not have the courage to run away with me!"

He remained motionless, with a look of utter amazement in his face. She
burst into sobs, and hiding her face in his breast:

"Can I live without you?"

He tried to calm her emotion. She laid her two hands on his shoulders in
order to get a better view of his face, and fixing her green eyes on his
with an almost fierce tearfulness:

"Will you be my husband?"

"But," Frederick began, casting about in his inner consciousness for a
reply. "Of course, I ask for nothing better."

At that moment M. Roque's cap appeared behind a lilac-tree.

He brought his young friend on a trip through the district in order to
show off his property; and when Frederick returned, after two days'
absence, he found three letters awaiting him at his mother's house.

The first was a note from M. Dambreuse, containing an invitation to
dinner for the previous Tuesday. What was the occasion of this
politeness? So, then, they had forgiven his prank.

The second was from Rosanette. She thanked him for having risked his
life on her behalf. Frederick did not at first understand what she
meant; finally, after a considerable amount of circumlocution, while
appealing to his friendship, relying on his delicacy, as she put it, and
going on her knees to him on account of the pressing necessity of the
case, as she wanted bread, she asked him for a loan of five hundred
francs. He at once made up his mind to supply her with the amount.

The third letter, which was from Deslauriers, spoke of the letter of
attorney, and was long and obscure. The advocate had not yet taken any
definite action. He urged his friend not to disturb himself: "'Tis
useless for you to come back!" even laying singular stress on this
point.

Frederick got lost in conjectures of every sort; and he felt anxious to
return to Paris. This assumption of a right to control his conduct
excited in him a feeling of revolt.

Moreover, he began to experience that nostalgia of the boulevard; and
then, his mother was pressing him so much, M. Roque kept revolving about
him so constantly, and Mademoiselle Louise was so much attached to him,
that it was no longer possible for him to avoid speedily declaring his
intentions.

He wanted to think, and he would be better able to form a right estimate
of things at a distance.

In order to assign a motive for his journey, Frederick invented a story;
and he left home, telling everyone, and himself believing, that he would
soon return.




CHAPTER XIII.

ROSANETTE AS A LOVELY TURK.


His return to Paris gave him no pleasure. It was an evening at the close
of August. The boulevards seemed empty. The passers-by succeeded each
other with scowling faces. Here and there a boiler of asphalt was
smoking; several houses had their blinds entirely drawn. He made his way
to his own residence in the city. He found the hangings covered with
dust; and, while dining all alone, Frederick was seized with a strange
feeling of forlornness; then his thoughts reverted to Mademoiselle
Roque. The idea of being married no longer appeared to him preposterous.
They might travel; they might go to Italy, to the East. And he saw her
standing on a hillock, or gazing at a landscape, or else leaning on his
arm in a Florentine gallery while she stood to look at the pictures.
What a pleasure it would be to him merely to watch this good little
creature expanding under the splendours of Art and Nature! When she had
got free from the commonplace atmosphere in which she had lived, she
would, in a little while, become a charming companion. M. Roque's
wealth, moreover, tempted him. And yet he shrank from taking this step,
regarding it as a weakness, a degradation.

But he was firmly resolved (whatever he might do) on changing his mode
of life - that is to say, to lose his heart no more in fruitless
passions; and he even hesitated about executing the commission with
which he had been intrusted by Louise. This was to buy for her at
Jacques Arnoux's establishment two large-sized statues of many colours
representing negroes, like those which were at the Prefecture at Troyes.
She knew the manufacturer's number, and would not have any other.
Frederick was afraid that, if he went back to their house, he might once
again fall a victim to his old passion.

These reflections occupied his mind during the entire evening; and he
was just about to go to bed when a woman presented herself.

"'Tis I," said Mademoiselle Vatnaz, with a laugh. "I have come in behalf
of Rosanette."

So, then, they were reconciled?

"Good heavens, yes! I am not ill-natured, as you are well aware. And
besides, the poor girl - it would take too long to tell you all about
it."

In short, the Maréchale wanted to see him; she was waiting for an
answer, her letter having travelled from Paris to Nogent. Mademoiselle
Vatnaz did not know what was in it.

Then Frederick asked her how the Maréchale was going on.

He was informed that she was now _with_ a very rich man, a Russian,
Prince Tzernoukoff, who had seen her at the races in the Champ de Mars
last summer.

"He has three carriages, a saddle-horse, livery servants, a groom got up
in the English fashion, a country-house, a box at the Italian opera, and
a heap of other things. There you are, my dear friend!"

And the Vatnaz, as if she had profited by this change of fortune,
appeared gayer and happier. She took off her gloves and examined the
furniture and the objects of virtù in the room. She mentioned their
exact prices like a second-hand dealer. He ought to have consulted her
in order to get them cheaper. Then she congratulated him on his good
taste:

"Ha! this is pretty, exceedingly nice! There's nobody like you for these
ideas."

The next moment, as her eyes fell on a door close to the pillar of the
alcove:

"That's the way you let your friends out, eh?"

And, in a familiar fashion, she laid her finger on his chin. He trembled
at the contact of her long hands, at the same time thin and soft. Round
her wrists she wore an edging of lace, and on the body of her green
dress lace embroidery, like a hussar. Her bonnet of black tulle, with
borders hanging down, concealed her forehead a little. Her eyes shone
underneath; an odour of patchouli escaped from her head-bands. The
carcel-lamp placed on a round table, shining down on her like the
footlights of a theatre, made her jaw protrude.


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Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSentimental Education; Or, The History of a Young Man. Volume 2 → online text (page 4 of 21)