Madame Bovary in the Rouen Cathedral Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, from Chapter 25



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Madame Bovary in the Rouen Cathedral
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, from Chapter 25:
'Well....'
And she stopped. And then, as if on second thoughts, she said,
'Oh, no. Not here!'
'Wherever you like.'
'Will you....?'
She seemed to be thinking. Then suddenly she flashed,
'Tomorrow, at eleven, in the Cathedral.'
'I shall be there,' he cried, seizing both her hands, which she dragged from his grasp.
They were both standing up, he slightly behind her, Emma lowering her head. He bent over and imprinted a long and passionate kiss on the nape of her neck.
'You are mad! Ah, you are mad!' she went on, with little deep laughs, as kiss after kiss rained down upon her.
Then, thrusting his head over her shoulder, he seemed to be seeking her eyes' consent. And they fell upon him, full of chilling majesty.
Leon went three steps back, towards the door. He stood still on the threshold and whispered tremblingly,
'Tomorrow!'
She made answer with a nod, and vanished like a bird into the adjoining room.
That night Emma wrote an interminable letter, excusing herself from keeping the appointment. It was all over now, and, for their own sakes, it were better for them not to meet. But when the letter was sealed up she was in a quandary, as she did not know Leon's address.
'I will give it to him myself,' she said; 'he is sure to come.' Next day, with his window wide open, Leon was singing on his balcony and polishing his patent shoes himself. He put on a pair of white breeches, some very smart socks and a green coat, and he emptied all the scent he had upon his handkerchief. Then, having had his hair frizzed, he unfrizzed it, in order to give it an appearance of greater natural elegance.
'It's too early yet,' thought he, glancing at the hairdresser's cuckoo-clock, and seeing it was only nine.
He turned over the leaves of an old fashion-paper, went out, smoked a cigar, strolled along past three turnings, decided it was time he started, and began leisurely to make his way in the direction of Notre-Dame.
It was a beautiful summer morning. The sun was sparkling on the plate in the silversmiths' shops, and the light, as it fell slantwise on the Cathedral, lit up little shimmering sprays of light along the edges of the grey stones. A flock of birds was wheeling in the cloudless sky, round about the fretted turrets. There was a great hubbub in the market-place, that was fragrant with the flowers that were ranged along the pavement- roses, jasmine, carnations, narcissi and jonquils irregularly interspaced with fresh greenery, valerian and groundsel. The fountain in the centre was gurgling pleasantly, and seated under their spreading umbrellas, amid cantelupes piled up in pyramids, bare-headed market-women were busily wrapping paper round bunches of violets.
The young man bought a bunch. It was the first time he had ever bought flowers for a woman, and, as he inhaled their perfume, his bosom swelled with pride, as though the homage which he destined for another were reflected on himself.
However, he was afraid of being observed, so he made his way resolutely into the church.
The beadle was stationed on the threshold, in the centre of the left porch, underneath the 'Marianne dansante', his plumed hat on his head, his rapier at his thigh, his cane in his hand, more stately than a cardinal and glittering like a piece of altar-plate.
He stepped forward to meet Leon, and smiling the sort of benign and wheedling smile which ecclesiastics put on when asking questions of little children, he said,
'Monsieur is doubtless a stranger. Would Monsieur care to see over the church?'
'No,' said Leon.
He began by strolling about just inside the entrance. Then he went out and looked across the market-place. There was no Emma in sight. Re-entering the Cathedral, he went up into the choir. The nave was mirrored in the surface of the brimming holy-water stoups, with the beginnings of the arches and some portions of the windows. But the reflection of the stained glass, though broken at the marble's rim, was continued farther on, upon the flagstones, like a many-coloured carpet. The brilliant daylight from without was projected throughout the whole length of the Cathedral in three enormous rays, through the three open doors. From time to time a sacristan would glide across the transepts, making the sideways genuflexion of a devotee in a hurry. The crystal lustres hung motionless from the ceiling. Within the choir a silver lamp was burning, and from the side chapels and the darker portions of the church there stole from time to time a sound like the exhalation of a sigh, accompanied by the noise of a grille shut to, that echoed on and on beneath the vaulted roof.
Leon, with measured tread, paced gravely up and down the aisles. Never had life seemed so good. A little while and she would come, delicious, trembling, glancing behind her to see who might be looking, with her flowered dress, her gold lorgnon, her dainty shoes, and all the manifold refinements so new to his experience, the ineffable charm of virtue on the brink of surrender. The fane encompassed her about like some stately bower, the vaulted roof leaned down to catch, amid the shadows, the whispered avowal of her love, the painted windows shone with glory to shed a light upon her countenance, and the censers would burn that she might float like an angel amid the perfumed cloud.
Meantime she did not come. He planted himself on a chair, and his eyes lighted on a window of blue-stained glass portraying fishermen carrying baskets. He looked at it long and attentively. He counted the fishes' scales, the button-holes in the doublets, while, all the time, his thoughts were wandering in quest of Emma.
The beadle stood some distance off, inwardly furious with this person, who had the impertinence to admire the Cathedral all by himself. There seemed to be something unnatural, something monstrous about such conduct: it seemed as if the man were robbing him; it almost amounted to sacrilege.
Suddenly there was a flurry of silk upon the stones, the brim of a hat, a black veil.... It was she! Leon rose and hastened to meet her.
Emma was pale, and she was walking quickly.
'Read this!' she said, holding out a paper. 'Oh no! never mind!'
And she quickly tore away her hand, and entered the Lady Chapel, where she knelt down beside a chair and began to pray.
Leon felt annoyed at this capricious display of piety; then he experienced a certain charm at beholding her, in the very moment of love's tryst, lost in her devotions like some Andalusian marquise. And finally he grew rapidly impatient, for she seemed as though she would never finish.
Emma prayed, or rather forced herself to pray, hoping that some unlooked-for power of resolution would descend on her from above; and in order to enlist heaven's aid she feasted her eyes on the splendours of the tabernacle, breathed in the perfume of the white violets that filled the great vases, and inclined her ear to the silence of the church, which did but accentuate the tumult of her breast.
She rose, and they were about to depart when the beadle came rapidly towards them, saying,
'Madame is doubtless a stranger here. Would Madame care to see over the church?'
'No, no,' cried the clerk.
'Why not?' said she.
For she was fain to seek support for her tottering virtue from the Virgin, the statues, the tombs and anything that might present itself. And so, to begin at the beginning, the beadle took them back to the entrance, overlooking the market, and there, pointing with his staff to a large circular space paved with black stones, without carving or inscription, he said majestically,
'That is the circumference of the lovely bell of Amboise. It weighed fifteen tons. It hasn't its fellow in the whole of Europe. The craftsman who cast it died of joy....'
'Let's go now,' said Leon.
The worthy man put himself again in motion. Back in the Lady Chapel once more, he extended his arms with a sort of comprehensive gesture of demonstration, and, prouder than a country landowner showing off his wall fruit, he proceeded,
'This simple stone marks the resting-place of Pierre de Breze, Lord of la Varenne and Brissac, Grand Marshal of Poitou, and Governor of Normandy, who was killed in the Battle of Montlhery on the 16th July, 1465.'
Leon bit his lips, in a fury of impatience.
'And on the right, this figure, encased in steel and mounted on a prancing steed, is his grandson, Louis de Breze, Lord of Breval and Montchauvet, Count of Maulevrier, Baron of Mauny, Chamberlain to the King, Knight of the Order, and likewise, Governor of Normandy, who died on the 23rd July, 1531, that day being a Sunday, as recorded on the inscription; and underneath, this man, about to descend into the grave, is an exact portrait of the same person. You will agree that it would be impossible to find a more perfect representation of the final end.'
Madame Bovary put up her lorgnon. Leon stood and looked at her, not attempting to utter a word, all the courage taken out of him by this double obstacle of volubility and indifference.
The everlasting guide went on,
'Next to him here- this kneeling figure of a woman weeping- is his wife, Diane de Poitiers, Countess of Breze, Duchess of Valentinois, born 1499, died 1566; and on the left the figure holding the child is the Blessed Virgin. Now just turn round this way. These are the Amboise tombs. They were both Cardinal-Archbishops of Rouen. That one, who held office under King Louis XII, did a great deal for the Cathedral. In his will he left thirty thousand gold crowns to the poor.'
And still on the move, talking all the time, he pushed them into a chapel all lumbered up with railings. He shifted one or two of them and brought to light a sort of block which might undoubtedly have been a rudely carved statue.
'This statue,' he said, with a prolonged groan, 'once adorned the tomb of Richard Coeur de Lion, King of England and Duke of Normandy. It was the Calvinists, sir, that made it like this. Out of pure vandalism they took and buried it in the ground under the Bishop's episcopal throne. Look, here is the private doorway to the Bishop's house. Now let us pass on to the windows of La Gargouille.'
But Leon quickly produced a piece of silver and grasped Emma by the arm. The beadle looked completely dumbfounded, quite unable to understand this premature munificence when there were still so many things to show the stranger. So he started shouting after him.
'Hi! Monsieur. The steeple! the steeple!'
'No, thanks!' said Leon.
'Oh, but Monsieur, what a pity! It's four hundred and forty feet high- only nine feet less than the Great Egyptian Pyramid. It's all made of cast iron, it...'
Leon was for making off with all speed. It seemed to him that his love, which, for two hours had been immobilized in the church like the stones of which it was built, was now in danger of going up like smoke through this sort of truncated pipe, oblong cage, or fretted chimney that sticks up like a comic nose on the Cathedral as though an ingenious tinker had been indulging in some extravagant fancy.
'Where are we going now?' said she.
He did not answer, but continued to walk at a rapid pace, and Madame Bovary was already dipping her finger in the holy-water stoup when they heard someone panting along behind them, his gasps punctuated at regular intervals by the tap-tap of a stick. Leon turned round.
'Monsieur!'
'What?'
There was the beadle, lugging along a score of big paper-bound volumes piled up against his belly. They were works dealing with the Cathedral.
'Imbecile!' growled Leon, as he flung out of the building.
A street arab was playing about on the pavement.
'Go and get me a fiacre!'
The youngster sped away like a ball down the Rue des Quatre Vents, and they stood looking at one another for a minute or so, rather out of countenance.
'Leon, really... I don't know whether I ought.' She was coquetting a little. 'It's not the proper thing to do. You know it isn't!'
'Why not?' answered the clerk. 'It's done in Paris, right enough.'
That was an irresistible argument, it convinced her.
However, no fiacre hove in sight. Leon was terribly afraid she would go back to the church. At last the vehicle appeared.
'At any rate go out through the North Door,' shouted the beadle, who was standing at the top of the steps. 'You'll see 'The Resurrection, The Last Judgement, Paradise, King David' and 'The Reprobates in Hell-fire'.'
'Where to, sir?' said the cabby.
'Where you like,' said Leon, pushing Emma inside. And the lumbering machine set off.
It descended the Rue Grand Pont, crossed the Place des Arts, the Quai Napoleon, the Pont Neuf and pulled up sharp alongside the statue of Pierre Corneille.
'Go on,' said a voice from inside.
The conveyance again got in motion, and following the down-hill road after leaving the Carrefour la Fayette, it drove at full gallop into the station yard.
'No, no, straight on!' shouted the voice again.
The fiacre came out through the big gates and, having got on to the Broadway, was jogging along soberly amid the big elm-trees. The coachy mopped his forehead, stuck his leather hat between his legs and, steering his vehicle clear of the network of alleys, kept down near the green by the waterside.
Along by the river the vehicle went, along the towing-path, with its pavement of hard cobbles, down towards Oyssel, past the islands.
All of a sudden it turned aside through Quatremares, Sotteville, the Grande Chaussee, the Rue d'Elbeuf and halted for the third time outside the Jardin des Plantes.
'Go on, will you?' shouted the voice more furiously.
Forthwith getting under way again, it went along by Saint Sever, the Quai des Curandiers, the Quai aux Mentes, back again over the bridge, across the Place du Champ de Mars, behind the workhouse grounds, where aged men in black coats were walking in the sun along a terrace green with ivy. It climbed the Boulevard Bouvreuil, proceeded along the Boulevard Cauchoise and all up Mont Riboudet as far as the Cote de Deville.
Then it turned round and came back again, driving aimlessly anywhere and everywhere. It was seen at Saint Pol, at Lescure, at Mont Gargan, at la Rouge-Marc, at the Place du Gaillardbois; in the Rue Maladrerie, the Rue Dinanderie, outside Saint Romain's, Saint Vivien's, Saint Maclou's, Saint Nicaise's, in front of the Customs House, at the Vieille Tour, the Trois Pipes and the Monumental Cemetery. From time to time the driver would cast despairing glances at the taverns as he drove past. He could not for the life of him understand what mania for locomotion possessed these individuals that they inexorably refused to stop. He made as if to pull up once or twice, and, immediately, exclamations of wrath broke out behind him. Whereupon he slashed his sweating jades harder than ever, heedless how his old caravan lurched and swayed, running into this, just shaving that, not caring what happened, demoralized, and nearly crying with thirst, fatigue and utter weariness of spirit.
And on the quays, amid the lorries and the barrels, along the streets, at every corner, the citizens stared in amazement at what amounted to a portent in a country town, to wit, a vehicle with drawn blinds, which kept continually coming into view, sealed up like a tomb and rocking like a ship at sea.
Once, in the middle of the day, in the open country, when the sun was beating its fiercest against the old plated carriage-lamps, a little white hand peeped out beneath the blinds of yellow canvas and flung away a lot of scraps of paper, which floated in the wind and settled farther on, like white butterflies, on a field of red clover in full bloom.
Finally, about six, the carriage pulled up in a side street in the Beauvoisine quarter and a woman got out. She walked with her veil down, glancing neither to the right nor to the left.

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