Gustave Flaubert.

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

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And, when Deslauriers had gone up to his own apartments, the shopman did
not part with Frederick. He even urged his friend to buy the portrait.
In fact, Pellerin, abandoning the hope of being able to intimidate him,
had got round them so that they might use their influence to obtain the
thing for him.

Deslauriers spoke about it again, and pressed him on the point, urging
that the artist's claims were reasonable.

"I am sure that for a sum of, perhaps, five hundred francs - - "

"Oh, give it to him! Wait! here it is!" said Frederick.

The picture was brought the same evening. It appeared to him a still
more atrocious daub than when he had seen it first. The half-tints and
the shades were darkened under the excessive retouchings, and they
seemed obscured when brought into relation with the lights, which,
having remained very brilliant here and there, destroyed the harmony of
the entire picture.

Frederick revenged himself for having had to pay for it by bitterly
disparaging it. Deslauriers believed in Frederick's statement on the
point, and expressed approval of his conduct, for he had always been
ambitious of constituting a phalanx of which he would be the leader.
Certain men take delight in making their friends do things which are
disagreeable to them.

Meanwhile, Frederick did not renew his visits to the Dambreuses. He
lacked the capital for the investment. He would have to enter into
endless explanations on the subject; he hesitated about making up his
mind. Perhaps he was in the right. Nothing was certain now, the
coal-mining speculation any more than other things. He would have to
give up society of that sort. The end of the matter was that
Deslauriers was dissuaded from having anything further to do with the
undertaking.

From sheer force of hatred he had grown virtuous, and again he preferred
Frederick in a position of mediocrity. In this way he remained his
friend's equal and in more intimate relationship with him.

Mademoiselle Roque's commission had been very badly executed. Her father
wrote to him, supplying him with the most precise directions, and
concluded his letter with this piece of foolery: "At the risk of giving
you _nigger on the brain_!"

Frederick could not do otherwise than call upon the Arnouxs', once more.
He went to the warehouse, where he could see nobody. The firm being in a
tottering condition, the clerks imitated the carelessness of their
master.

He brushed against the shelves laden with earthenware, which filled up
the entire space in the centre of the establishment; then, when he
reached the lower end, facing the counter, he walked with a more noisy
tread in order to make himself heard.

The portières parted, and Madame Arnoux appeared.

"What! you here! you!"

"Yes," she faltered, with some agitation. "I was looking for - - "

He saw her handkerchief near the desk, and guessed that she had come
down to her husband's warehouse to have an account given to her as to
the business, to clear up some matter that caused her anxiety.

"But perhaps there is something you want?" said she.

"A mere nothing, madame."

"These shop-assistants are intolerable! they are always out of the way."

They ought not to be blamed. On the contrary, he congratulated himself
on the circumstance.

She gazed at him in an ironical fashion.

"Well, and this marriage?"

"What marriage?"

"Your own!"

"Mine? I'll never marry as long as I live!"

She made a gesture as if to contradict his words.

"Though, indeed, such things must be, after all? We take refuge in the
commonplace, despairing of ever realising the beautiful existence of
which we have dreamed."

"All your dreams, however, are not so - candid!"

"What do you mean?"

"When you drive to races with women!"

He cursed the Maréchale. Then something recurred to his memory.

"But it was you begged of me yourself to see her at one time in the
interest of Arnoux."

She replied with a shake of her head:

"And you take advantage of it to amuse yourself?"

"Good God! let us forget all these foolish things!"

"'Tis right, since you are going to be married."

And she stifled a sigh, while she bit her lips.

Then he exclaimed:

"But I tell you again I am not! Can you believe that I, with my
intellectual requirements, my habits, am going to bury myself in the
provinces in order to play cards, look after masons, and walk about in
wooden shoes? What object, pray, could I have for taking such a step?
You've been told that she was rich, haven't you? Ah! what do I care
about money? Could I, after yearning long for that which is most lovely,
tender, enchanting, a sort of Paradise under a human form, and having
found this sweet ideal at last when this vision hides every other from
my view - - "

And taking her head between his two hands, he began to kiss her on the
eyelids, repeating:

"No! no! no! never will I marry! never! never!"

She submitted to these caresses, her mingled amazement and delight
having bereft her of the power of motion.

The door of the storeroom above the staircase fell back, and she
remained with outstretched arms, as if to bid him keep silence. Steps
drew near. Then some one said from behind the door:

"Is Madame there?"

"Come in!"

Madame Arnoux had her elbow on the counter, and was twisting about a pen
between her fingers quietly when the book-keeper threw aside the
portière.

Frederick started up, as if on the point of leaving.

"Madame, I have the honour to salute you. The set will be ready - will it
not? I may count on this?"

She made no reply. But by thus silently becoming his accomplice in the
deception, she made his face flush with the crimson glow of adultery.

On the following day he paid her another visit. She received him; and,
in order to follow up the advantage he had gained, Frederick
immediately, without any preamble, attempted to offer some justification
for the accidental meeting in the Champ de Mars. It was the merest
chance that led to his being in that woman's company. While admitting
that she was pretty - which really was not the case - how could she for
even a moment absorb his thoughts, seeing that he loved another woman?

"You know it well - I told you it was so!"

Madame Arnoux hung down her head.

"I am sorry you said such a thing."

"Why?"

"The most ordinary proprieties now demand that I should see you no
more!"

He protested that his love was of an innocent character. The past ought
to be a guaranty as to his future conduct. He had of his own accord made
it a point of honour with himself not to disturb her existence, not to
deafen her with his complaints.

"But yesterday my heart overflowed."

"We ought not to let our thoughts dwell on that moment, my friend!"

And yet, where would be the harm in two wretched beings mingling their
griefs?

"For, indeed, you are not happy any more than I am! Oh! I know you. You
have no one who responds to your craving for affection, for devotion. I
will do anything you wish! I will not offend you! I swear to you that I
will not!"

And he let himself fall on his knees, in spite of himself, giving way
beneath the weight of the feelings that oppressed his heart.

"Rise!" she said; "I desire you to do so!"

And she declared in an imperious tone that if he did not comply with her
wish, she would never see him again.

"Ha! I defy you to do it!" returned Frederick. "What is there for me to
do in the world? Other men strive for riches, celebrity, power! But I
have no profession; you are my exclusive occupation, my whole wealth,
the object, the centre of my existence and of my thoughts. I can no more
live without you than without the air of heaven! Do you not feel the
aspiration of my soul ascending towards yours, and that they must
intermingle, and that I am dying on your account?"

Madame Arnoux began to tremble in every limb.

"Oh! leave me, I beg of you?"

The look of utter confusion in her face made him pause. Then he advanced
a step. But she drew back, with her two hands clasped.

"Leave me in the name of Heaven, for mercy's sake!"

And Frederick loved her so much that he went away.

Soon afterwards, he was filled with rage against himself, declared in
his own mind that he was an idiot, and, after the lapse of twenty-four
hours, returned.

Madame was not there. He remained at the head of the stairs, stupefied
with anger and indignation. Arnoux appeared, and informed Frederick that
his wife had, that very morning, gone out to take up her residence at a
little country-house of which he had become tenant at Auteuil, as he had
given up possession of the house at Saint-Cloud.

"This is another of her whims. No matter, as she is settled at last; and
myself, too, for that matter, so much the better. Let us dine together
this evening, will you?"

Frederick pleaded as an excuse some urgent business; then he hurried
away of his own accord to Auteuil.

Madame Arnoux allowed an exclamation of joy to escape her lips. Then all
his bitterness vanished.

He did not say one word about his love. In order to inspire her with
confidence in him, he even exaggerated his reserve; and on his asking
whether he might call again, she replied: "Why, of course!" putting out
her hand, which she withdrew the next moment.

From that time forth, Frederick increased his visits. He promised extra
fares to the cabman who drove him. But often he grew impatient at the
slow pace of the horse, and, alighting on the ground, he would make a
dash after an omnibus, and climb to the top of it out of breath. Then
with what disdain he surveyed the faces of those around him, who were
not going to see her!

He could distinguish her house at a distance, with an enormous
honeysuckle covering, on one side, the planks of the roof. It was a kind
of Swiss châlet, painted red, with a balcony outside. In the garden
there were three old chestnut-trees, and on a rising ground in the
centre might be seen a parasol made of thatch, held up by the trunk of a
tree. Under the slatework lining the walls, a big vine-tree, badly
fastened, hung from one place to another after the fashion of a rotten
cable. The gate-bell, which it was rather hard to pull, was slow in
ringing, and a long time always elapsed before it was answered. On each
occasion he experienced a pang of suspense, a fear born of irresolution.

Then his ears would be greeted with the pattering of the servant-maid's
slippers over the gravel, or else Madame Arnoux herself would make her
appearance. One day he came up behind her just as she was stooping down
in the act of gathering violets.

Her daughter's capricious disposition had made it necessary to send the
girl to a convent. Her little son was at school every afternoon. Arnoux
was now in the habit of taking prolonged luncheons at the Palais-Royal
with Regimbart and their friend Compain. They gave themselves no bother
about anything that occurred, no matter how disagreeable it might be.

It was clearly understood between Frederick and her that they should not
belong to each other. By this convention they were preserved from
danger, and they found it easier to pour out their hearts to each other.

She told him all about her early life at Chartres, which she spent with
her mother, her devotion when she had reached her twelfth year, then her
passion for music, when she used to sing till nightfall in her little
room, from which the ramparts could be seen.

He related to her how melancholy broodings had haunted him at college,
and how a woman's face shone brightly in the cloudland of his
imagination, so that, when he first laid eyes upon her, he felt that her
features were quite familiar to him.

These conversations, as a rule, covered only the years during which they
had been acquainted with each other. He recalled to her recollection
insignificant details - the colour of her dress at a certain period, a
woman whom they had met on a certain day, what she had said on another
occasion; and she replied, quite astonished:

"Yes, I remember!"

Their tastes, their judgments, were the same. Often one of them, when
listening to the other, exclaimed:

"That's the way with me."

And the other replied:

"And with me, too!"

Then there were endless complaints about Providence:

"Why was it not the will of Heaven? If we had only met - - !"

"Ah! if I had been younger!" she sighed.

"No, but if I had been a little older."

And they pictured to themselves a life entirely given up to love,
sufficiently rich to fill up the vastest solitudes, surpassing all other
joys, defying all forms of wretchedness, in which the hours would glide
away in a continual outpouring of their own emotions, and which would be
as bright and glorious as the palpitating splendour of the stars.

They were nearly always standing at the top of the stairs exposed to the
free air of heaven. The tops of trees yellowed by the autumn raised
their crests in front of them at unequal heights up to the edge of the
pale sky; or else they walked on to the end of the avenue into a
summer-house whose only furniture was a couch of grey canvas. Black
specks stained the glass; the walls exhaled a mouldy smell; and they
remained there chatting freely about all sorts of topics - anything that
happened to arise - in a spirit of hilarity. Sometimes the rays of the
sun, passing through the Venetian blind, extended from the ceiling down
to the flagstones like the strings of a lyre. Particles of dust whirled
amid these luminous bars. She amused herself by dividing them with her
hand. Frederick gently caught hold of her; and he gazed on the twinings
of her veins, the grain of her skin, and the form of her fingers. Each
of those fingers of hers was for him more than a thing - almost a
person.

She gave him her gloves, and, the week after, her handkerchief. She
called him "Frederick;" he called her "Marie," adoring this name, which,
as he said, was expressly made to be uttered with a sigh of ecstasy, and
which seemed to contain clouds of incense and scattered heaps of roses.

They soon came to an understanding as to the days on which he would call
to see her; and, leaving the house as if by mere chance, she walked
along the road to meet him.

She made no effort whatever to excite his love, lost in that
listlessness which is characteristic of intense happiness. During the
whole season she wore a brown silk dressing-gown with velvet borders of
the same colour, a large garment, which united the indolence of her
attitudes and her grave physiognomy. Besides, she had just reached the
autumnal period of womanhood, in which reflection is combined with
tenderness, in which the beginning of maturity colours the face with a
more intense flame, when strength of feeling mingles with experience of
life, and when, having completely expanded, the entire being overflows
with a richness in harmony with its beauty. Never had she possessed more
sweetness, more leniency. Secure in the thought that she would not err,
she abandoned herself to a sentiment which seemed to her won by her
sorrows. And, moreover, it was so innocent and fresh! What an abyss lay
between the coarseness of Arnoux and the adoration of Frederick!

He trembled at the thought that by an imprudent word he might lose all
that he had gained, saying to himself that an opportunity might be found
again, but that a foolish step could never be repaired. He wished that
she should give herself rather than that he should take her. The
assurance of being loved by her delighted him like a foretaste of
possession, and then the charm of her person troubled his heart more
than his senses. It was an indefinable feeling of bliss, a sort of
intoxication that made him lose sight of the possibility of having his
happiness completed. Apart from her, he was consumed with longing.

Ere long the conversations were interrupted by long spells of silence.
Sometimes a species of sexual shame made them blush in each other's
presence. All the precautions they took to hide their love only unveiled
it; the stronger it grew, the more constrained they became in manner.
The effect of this dissimulation was to intensify their sensibility.
They experienced a sensation of delight at the odour of moist leaves;
they could not endure the east wind; they got irritated without any
apparent cause, and had melancholy forebodings. The sound of a footstep,
the creaking of the wainscoting, filled them with as much terror as if
they had been guilty. They felt as if they were being pushed towards the
edge of a chasm. They were surrounded by a tempestuous atmosphere; and
when complaints escaped Frederick's lips, she made accusations against
herself.

"Yes, I am doing wrong. I am acting as if I were a coquette! Don't come
any more!"

Then he would repeat the same oaths, to which on each occasion she
listened with renewed pleasure.

His return to Paris, and the fuss occasioned by New Year's Day,
interrupted their meetings to some extent. When he returned, he had an
air of greater self-confidence. Every moment she went out to give
orders, and in spite of his entreaties she received every visitor that
called during the evening.

After this, they engaged in conversations about Léotade, M. Guizot, the
Pope, the insurrection at Palermo, and the banquet of the Twelfth
Arrondissement, which had caused some disquietude. Frederick eased his
mind by railing against Power, for he longed, like Deslauriers, to turn
the whole world upside down, so soured had he now become. Madame Arnoux,
on her side, had become sad.

Her husband, indulging in displays of wild folly, was flirting with one
of the girls in his pottery works, the one who was known as "the girl
from Bordeaux." Madame Arnoux was herself informed about it by
Frederick. He wanted to make use of it as an argument, "inasmuch as she
was the victim of deception."

"Oh! I'm not much concerned about it," she said.

This admission on her part seemed to him to strengthen the intimacy
between them. Would Arnoux be seized with mistrust with regard to them?

"No! not now!"

She told him that, one evening, he had left them talking together, and
had afterwards come back again and listened behind the door, and as they
both were chatting at the time of matters that were of no consequence,
he had lived since then in a state of complete security.

"With good reason, too - is that not so?" said Frederick bitterly.

"Yes, no doubt!"

It would have been better for him not to have given so risky an answer.

One day she was not at home at the hour when he usually called. To him
there seemed to be a sort of treason in this.

He was next displeased at seeing the flowers which he used to bring her
always placed in a glass of water.

"Where, then, would you like me to put them?"

"Oh! not there! However, they are not so cold there as they would be
near your heart!"

Not long afterwards he reproached her for having been at the Italian
opera the night before without having given him a previous intimation of
her intention to go there. Others had seen, admired, fallen in love with
her, perhaps; Frederick was fastening on those suspicions of his merely
in order to pick a quarrel with her, to torment her; for he was
beginning to hate her, and the very least he might expect was that she
should share in his sufferings!

One afternoon, towards the middle of February, he surprised her in a
state of great mental excitement. Eugène had been complaining about his
sore throat. The doctor had told her, however, that it was a trifling
ailment - a bad cold, an attack of influenza. Frederick was astonished at
the child's stupefied look. Nevertheless, he reassured the mother, and
brought forward the cases of several children of the same age who had
been attacked with similar ailments, and had been speedily cured.

"Really?"

"Why, yes, assuredly!"

"Oh! how good you are!"

And she caught his hand. He clasped hers tightly in his.

"Oh! let it go!"

"What does it signify, when it is to one who sympathises with you that
you offer it? You place every confidence in me when I speak of these
things, but you distrust me when I talk to you about my love!"

"I don't doubt you on that point, my poor friend!"

"Why this distrust, as if I were a wretch capable of abusing - - "

"Oh! no! - - "

"If I had only a proof! - - "

"What proof?"

"The proof that a person might give to the first comer - what you have
granted to myself!"

And he recalled to her recollection how, on one occasion, they had gone
out together, on a winter's twilight, when there was a fog. This seemed
now a long time ago. What, then, was to prevent her from showing herself
on his arm before the whole world without any fear on her part, and
without any mental reservation on his, not having anyone around them who
could importune them?

"Be it so!" she said, with a promptness of decision that at first
astonished Frederick.

But he replied, in a lively fashion:

"Would you like me to wait at the corner of the Rue Tronchet and the Rue
de la Ferme?"

"Good heavens, my friend!" faltered Madame Arnoux.

Without giving her time to reflect, he added:

"Next Tuesday, I suppose?"

"Tuesday?"

"Yes, between two and three o'clock."

"I will be there!"

And she turned aside her face with a movement of shame. Frederick
placed his lips on the nape of her neck.

"Oh! this is not right," she said. "You will make me repent."

He turned away, dreading the fickleness which is customary with women.
Then, on the threshold, he murmured softly, as if it were a thing that
was thoroughly understood:

"On Tuesday!"

She lowered her beautiful eyes in a cautious and resigned fashion.

Frederick had a plan arranged in his mind.

He hoped that, owing to the rain or the sun, he might get her to stop
under some doorway, and that, once there, she would go into some house.
The difficulty was to find one that would suit.

He made a search, and about the middle of the Rue Tronchet he read, at a
distance on a signboard, "Furnished apartments."

The waiter, divining his object, showed him immediately above the
ground-floor a room and a closet with two exits. Frederick took it for a
month, and paid in advance. Then he went into three shops to buy the
rarest perfumery. He got a piece of imitation guipure, which was to
replace the horrible red cotton foot-coverlets; he selected a pair of
blue satin slippers, only the fear of appearing coarse checked the
amount of his purchases. He came back with them; and with more devotion
than those who are erecting processional altars, he altered the position
of the furniture, arranged the curtains himself, put heather in the
fireplace, and covered the chest of drawers with violets. He would have
liked to pave the entire apartment with gold. "To-morrow is the time,"
said he to himself. "Yes, to-morrow! I am not dreaming!" and he felt his
heart throbbing violently under the delirious excitement begotten by his
anticipations. Then, when everything was ready, he carried off the key
in his pocket, as if the happiness which slept there might have flown
away along with it.

A letter from his mother was awaiting him when he reached his abode:

"Why such a long absence? Your conduct is beginning to look ridiculous.
I understand your hesitating more or less at first with regard to this
union. However, think well upon it."

And she put the matter before him with the utmost clearness: an income
of forty-five thousand francs. However, "people were talking about it;"
and M. Roque was waiting for a definite answer. As for the young girl,
her position was truly most embarrassing.

"She is deeply attached to you."

Frederick threw aside the letter even before he had finished reading it,
and opened another epistle which came from Deslauriers.

"Dear Old Boy, - The _pear_ is ripe. In accordance with your promise, we
may count on you. We meet to-morrow at daybreak, in the Place du
Panthéon. Drop into the Café Soufflot. It is necessary for me to have a
chat with you before the manifestation takes place."

"Oh! I know them, with their manifestations! A thousand thanks! I have a
more agreeable appointment."

And on the following morning, at eleven o'clock, Frederick had left the
house. He wanted to give one last glance at the preparations. Then, who
could tell but that, by some chance or other, she might be at the place
of meeting before him? As he emerged from the Rue Tronchet, he heard a
great clamour behind the Madeleine. He pressed forward, and saw at the
far end of the square, to the left, a number of men in blouses and
well-dressed people.


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Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSentimental Education; Or, The History of a Young Man. Volume 2 → online text (page 6 of 21)