Madame bovary by Gustave Flaubert

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"If--" said Leon, not daring to go on.
"Have you any business to attend to?" she asked.
And on the clerk's answer, she begged him to accompany her. That same

evening this was known in Yonville, and Madame Tuvache, the mayor's

wife, declared in the presence of her servant that "Madame Bovary was

compromising herself."

To get to the nurse's it was necessary to turn to the left on leaving

the street, as if making for the cemetery, and to follow between little

houses and yards a small path bordered with privet hedges. They were

in bloom, and so were the speedwells, eglantines, thistles, and the

sweetbriar that sprang up from the thickets. Through openings in

the hedges one could see into the huts, some pigs on a dung-heap, or

tethered cows rubbing their horns against the trunk of trees. The two,

side by side walked slowly, she leaning upon him, and he restraining

his pace, which he regulated by hers; in front of them a swarm of midges

fluttered, buzzing in the warm air.

They recognized the house by an old walnut-tree which shaded it.
Low and covered with brown tiles, there hung outside it, beneath the

dormer-window of the garret, a string of onions. Faggots upright

against a thorn fence surrounded a bed of lettuce, a few square feet of

lavender, and sweet peas strung on sticks. Dirty water was running here

and there on the grass, and all round were several indefinite rags,

knitted stockings, a red calico jacket, and a large sheet of coarse

linen spread over the hedge. At the noise of the gate the nurse appeared

with a baby she was suckling on one arm. With her other hand she was

pulling along a poor puny little fellow, his face covered with scrofula,

the son of a Rouen hosier, whom his parents, too taken up with their

business, left in the country.
"Go in," she said; "your little one is there asleep."
The room on the ground-floor, the only one in the dwelling, had at its

farther end, against the wall, a large bed without curtains, while a

kneading-trough took up the side by the window, one pane of which

was mended with a piece of blue paper. In the corner behind the door,

shining hob-nailed shoes stood in a row under the slab of the washstand,

near a bottle of oil with a feather stuck in its mouth; a Matthieu

Laensberg lay on the dusty mantelpiece amid gunflints, candle-ends, and

bits of amadou.

Finally, the last luxury in the apartment was a "Fame" blowing her

trumpets, a picture cut out, no doubt, from some perfumer's prospectus

and nailed to the wall with six wooden shoe-pegs.
Emma's child was asleep in a wicker-cradle. She took it up in the

wrapping that enveloped it and began singing softly as she rocked

herself to and fro.
Leon walked up and down the room; it seemed strange to him to see this

beautiful woman in her nankeen dress in the midst of all this poverty.

Madam Bovary reddened; he turned away, thinking perhaps there had been

an impertinent look in his eyes. Then she put back the little girl, who

had just been sick over her collar.
The nurse at once came to dry her, protesting that it wouldn't show.
"She gives me other doses," she said: "I am always a-washing of her. If

you would have the goodness to order Camus, the grocer, to let me have

a little soap, it would really be more convenient for you, as I needn't

trouble you then."

"Very well! very well!" said Emma. "Good morning, Madame Rollet," and

she went out, wiping her shoes at the door.

The good woman accompanied her to the end of the garden, talking all the

time of the trouble she had getting up of nights.

"I'm that worn out sometimes as I drop asleep on my chair. I'm sure you

might at least give me just a pound of ground coffee; that'd last me a

month, and I'd take it of a morning with some milk."
After having submitted to her thanks, Madam Bovary left. She had gone a

little way down the path when, at the sound of wooden shoes, she turned

round. It was the nurse.
"What is it?"
Then the peasant woman, taking her aside behind an elm tree, began

talking to her of her husband, who with his trade and six francs a year

that the captain--
"Oh, be quick!" said Emma.
"Well," the nurse went on, heaving sighs between each word, "I'm afraid

he'll be put out seeing me have coffee alone, you know men--"

"But you are to have some," Emma repeated; "I will give you some. You

bother me!"

"Oh, dear! my poor, dear lady! you see in consequence of his wounds he

has terrible cramps in the chest. He even says that cider weakens him."

"Do make haste, Mere Rollet!"
"Well," the latter continued, making a curtsey, "if it weren't asking

too much," and she curtsied once more, "if you would"--and her eyes

begged--"a jar of brandy," she said at last, "and I'd rub your little

one's feet with it; they're as tender as one's tongue."

Once rid of the nurse, Emma again took Monsieur Leon's arm. She walked

fast for some time, then more slowly, and looking straight in front of

her, her eyes rested on the shoulder of the young man, whose frock-coat

had a black-velvety collar. His brown hair fell over it, straight and

carefully arranged. She noticed his nails which were longer than one

wore them at Yonville. It was one of the clerk's chief occupations to

trim them, and for this purpose he kept a special knife in his writing

They returned to Yonville by the water-side. In the warm season the

bank, wider than at other times, showed to their foot the garden walls

whence a few steps led to the river. It flowed noiselessly, swift,

and cold to the eye; long, thin grasses huddled together in it as the

current drove them, and spread themselves upon the limpid water like

streaming hair; sometimes at the tip of the reeds or on the leaf of a

water-lily an insect with fine legs crawled or rested. The sun pierced

with a ray the small blue bubbles of the waves that, breaking, followed

each other; branchless old willows mirrored their grey backs in

the water; beyond, all around, the meadows seemed empty. It was the

dinner-hour at the farms, and the young woman and her companion heard

nothing as they walked but the fall of their steps on the earth of the

path, the words they spoke, and the sound of Emma's dress rustling round

The walls of the gardens with pieces of bottle on their coping were

hot as the glass windows of a conservatory. Wallflowers had sprung up

between the bricks, and with the tip of her open sunshade Madame Bovary,

as she passed, made some of their faded flowers crumble into a yellow

dust, or a spray of overhanging honeysuckle and clematis caught in its

fringe and dangled for a moment over the silk.

They were talking of a troupe of Spanish dancers who were expected

shortly at the Rouen theatre.

"Are you going?" she asked.
"If I can," he answered.
Had they nothing else to say to one another? Yet their eyes were full

of more serious speech, and while they forced themselves to find trivial

phrases, they felt the same languor stealing over them both. It was the

whisper of the soul, deep, continuous, dominating that of their voices.

Surprised with wonder at this strange sweetness, they did not think of

speaking of the sensation or of seeking its cause. Coming joys, like

tropical shores, throw over the immensity before them their inborn

softness, an odorous wind, and we are lulled by this intoxication

without a thought of the horizon that we do not even know.
In one place the ground had been trodden down by the cattle; they had to

step on large green stones put here and there in the mud.

She often stopped a moment to look where to place her foot, and

tottering on a stone that shook, her arms outspread, her form bent

forward with a look of indecision, she would laugh, afraid of falling

into the puddles of water.

When they arrived in front of her garden, Madame Bovary opened the

little gate, ran up the steps and disappeared.

Leon returned to his office. His chief was away; he just glanced at the

briefs, then cut himself a pen, and at last took up his hat and went

He went to La Pature at the top of the Argueil hills at the beginning of

the forest; he threw himself upon the ground under the pines and watched

the sky through his fingers.
"How bored I am!" he said to himself, "how bored I am!"
He thought he was to be pitied for living in this village, with Homais

for a friend and Monsieru Guillaumin for master. The latter, entirely

absorbed by his business, wearing gold-rimmed spectacles and red

whiskers over a white cravat, understood nothing of mental refinements,

although he affected a stiff English manner, which in the beginning had

impressed the clerk.

As to the chemist's spouse, she was the best wife in Normandy, gentle

as a sheep, loving her children, her father, her mother, her cousins,

weeping for other's woes, letting everything go in her household, and

detesting corsets; but so slow of movement, such a bore to listen to, so

common in appearance, and of such restricted conversation, that although

she was thirty, he only twenty, although they slept in rooms next each

other and he spoke to her daily, he never thought that she might be a

woman for another, or that she possessed anything else of her sex than

the gown.
And what else was there? Binet, a few shopkeepers, two or three

publicans, the cure, and finally, Monsieur Tuvache, the mayor, with his

two sons, rich, crabbed, obtuse persons, who farmed their own lands

and had feasts among themselves, bigoted to boot, and quite unbearable

But from the general background of all these human faces Emma's stood

out isolated and yet farthest off; for between her and him he seemed to

see a vague abyss.
In the beginning he had called on her several times along with the

druggist. Charles had not appeared particularly anxious to see him

again, and Leon did not know what to do between his fear of being

indiscreet and the desire for an intimacy that seemed almost impossible.

Chapter Four

When the first cold days set in Emma left her bedroom for the

sitting-room, a long apartment with a low ceiling, in which there was

on the mantelpiece a large bunch of coral spread out against the

looking-glass. Seated in her arm chair near the window, she could see

the villagers pass along the pavement.
Twice a day Leon went from his office to the Lion d'Or. Emma could hear

him coming from afar; she leant forward listening, and the young man

glided past the curtain, always dressed in the same way, and without

turning his head. But in the twilight, when, her chin resting on her

left hand, she let the embroidery she had begun fall on her knees, she

often shuddered at the apparition of this shadow suddenly gliding past.

She would get up and order the table to be laid.
Monsieur Homais called at dinner-time. Skull-cap in hand, he came in on

tiptoe, in order to disturb no one, always repeating the same phrase,

"Good evening, everybody." Then, when he had taken his seat at the table

between the pair, he asked the doctor about his patients, and the latter

consulted his as to the probability of their payment. Next they talked

of "what was in the paper."

Homais by this hour knew it almost by heart, and he repeated it from end

to end, with the reflections of the penny-a-liners, and all the stories

of individual catastrophes that had occurred in France or abroad. But

the subject becoming exhausted, he was not slow in throwing out some

remarks on the dishes before him.
Sometimes even, half-rising, he delicately pointed out to madame the

tenderest morsel, or turning to the servant, gave her some advice on the

manipulation of stews and the hygiene of seasoning.
He talked aroma, osmazome, juices, and gelatine in a bewildering manner.

Moreover, Homais, with his head fuller of recipes than his shop of jars,

excelled in making all kinds of preserves, vinegars, and sweet liqueurs;

he knew also all the latest inventions in economic stoves, together with

the art of preserving cheese and of curing sick wines.
At eight o'clock Justin came to fetch him to shut up the shop.
Then Monsieur Homais gave him a sly look, especially if Felicite was

there, for he half noticed that his apprentice was fond of the doctor's

"The young dog," he said, "is beginning to have ideas, and the devil

take me if I don't believe he's in love with your servant!"

But a more serious fault with which he reproached Justin was his

constantly listening to conversation. On Sunday, for example, one could

not get him out of the drawing-room, whither Madame Homais had called

him to fetch the children, who were falling asleep in the arm-chairs,

and dragging down with their backs calico chair-covers that were too

Not many people came to these soirees at the chemist's, his

scandal-mongering and political opinions having successfully alienated

various respectable persons from him. The clerk never failed to be

there. As soon as he heard the bell he ran to meet Madame Bovary, took

her shawl, and put away under the shop-counter the thick list shoes that

she wore over her boots when there was snow.
First they played some hands at trente-et-un; next Monsieur Homais

played ecarte with Emma; Leon behind her gave her advice.

Standing up with his hands on the back of her chair he saw the teeth of

her comb that bit into her chignon. With every movement that she made

to throw her cards the right side of her dress was drawn up. From her

turned-up hair a dark colour fell over her back, and growing gradually

paler, lost itself little by little in the shade. Then her dress fell

on both sides of her chair, puffing out full of folds, and reached the

ground. When Leon occasionally felt the sole of his boot resting on it,

he drew back as if he had trodden upon some one.

When the game of cards was over, the druggist and the Doctor played

dominoes, and Emma, changing her place, leant her elbow on the table,

turning over the leaves of "L'Illustration". She had brought her ladies'

journal with her. Leon sat down near her; they looked at the engravings

together, and waited for one another at the bottom of the pages. She

often begged him to read her the verses; Leon declaimed them in a

languid voice, to which he carefully gave a dying fall in the love

passages. But the noise of the dominoes annoyed him. Monsieur Homais

was strong at the game; he could beat Charles and give him a double-six.

Then the three hundred finished, they both stretched themselves out in

front of the fire, and were soon asleep. The fire was dying out in the

cinders; the teapot was empty, Leon was still reading.

Emma listened to him, mechanically turning around the lampshade, on the

gauze of which were painted clowns in carriages, and tight-rope dances

with their balancing-poles. Leon stopped, pointing with a gesture to his

sleeping audience; then they talked in low tones, and their conversation

seemed the more sweet to them because it was unheard.
Thus a kind of bond was established between them, a constant commerce

of books and of romances. Monsieur Bovary, little given to jealousy, did

not trouble himself about it.
On his birthday he received a beautiful phrenological head, all marked

with figures to the thorax and painted blue. This was an attention of

the clerk's. He showed him many others, even to doing errands for him

at Rouen; and the book of a novelist having made the mania for cactuses

fashionable, Leon bought some for Madame Bovary, bringing them back on

his knees in the "Hirondelle," pricking his fingers on their hard hairs.

She had a board with a balustrade fixed against her window to hold the

pots. The clerk, too, had his small hanging garden; they saw each other

tending their flowers at their windows.
Of the windows of the village there was one yet more often occupied; for

on Sundays from morning to night, and every morning when the weather was

bright, one could see at the dormer-window of the garret the profile of

Monsieur Binet bending over his lathe, whose monotonous humming could be

heard at the Lion d'Or.
One evening on coming home Leon found in his room a rug in velvet and

wool with leaves on a pale ground. He called Madame Homais, Monsieur

Homais, Justin, the children, the cook; he spoke of it to his chief;

every one wanted to see this rug. Why did the doctor's wife give the

clerk presents? It looked queer. They decided that she must be his

He made this seem likely, so ceaselessly did he talk of her charms and

of her wit; so much so, that Binet once roughly answered him--
"What does it matter to me since I'm not in her set?"
He tortured himself to find out how he could make his declaration to

her, and always halting between the fear of displeasing her and the

shame of being such a coward, he wept with discouragement and desire.

Then he took energetic resolutions, wrote letters that he tore up, put

it off to times that he again deferred.
Often he set out with the determination to dare all; but this resolution

soon deserted him in Emma's presence, and when Charles, dropping in,

invited him to jump into his chaise to go with him to see some patient

in the neighbourhood, he at once accepted, bowed to madame, and went

out. Her husband, was he not something belonging to her? As to Emma,

she did not ask herself whether she loved. Love, she thought, must come

suddenly, with great outbursts and lightnings--a hurricane of the skies,

which falls upon life, revolutionises it, roots up the will like a leaf,

and sweeps the whole heart into the abyss. She did not know that on

the terrace of houses it makes lakes when the pipes are choked, and she

would thus have remained in her security when she suddenly discovered a

rent in the wall of it.

Chapter Five

It was a Sunday in February, an afternoon when the snow was falling.
They had all, Monsieur and Madame Bovary, Homais, and Monsieur Leon,

gone to see a yarn-mill that was being built in the valley a mile and a

half from Yonville. The druggist had taken Napoleon and Athalie to give

them some exercise, and Justin accompanied them, carrying the umbrellas

on his shoulder.
Nothing, however, could be less curious than this curiosity. A great

piece of waste ground, on which pell-mell, amid a mass of sand and

stones, were a few break-wheels, already rusty, surrounded by a

quadrangular building pierced by a number of little windows. The

building was unfinished; the sky could be seen through the joists of the

roofing. Attached to the stop-plank of the gable a bunch of straw mixed

with corn-ears fluttered its tricoloured ribbons in the wind.
Homais was talking. He explained to the company the future importance

of this establishment, computed the strength of the floorings, the

thickness of the walls, and regretted extremely not having a yard-stick

such as Monsieur Binet possessed for his own special use.

Emma, who had taken his arm, bent lightly against his shoulder, and

she looked at the sun's disc shedding afar through the mist his pale

splendour. She turned. Charles was there. His cap was drawn down over

his eyebrows, and his two thick lips were trembling, which added a look

of stupidity to his face; his very back, his calm back, was irritating

to behold, and she saw written upon his coat all the platitude of the

While she was considering him thus, tasting in her irritation a sort of

depraved pleasure, Leon made a step forward. The cold that made him pale

seemed to add a more gentle languor to his face; between his cravat and

his neck the somewhat loose collar of his shirt showed the skin; the

lobe of his ear looked out from beneath a lock of hair, and his large

blue eyes, raised to the clouds, seemed to Emma more limpid and more

beautiful than those mountain-lakes where the heavens are mirrored.
"Wretched boy!" suddenly cried the chemist.
And he ran to his son, who had just precipitated himself into a heap of

lime in order to whiten his boots. At the reproaches with which he was

being overwhelmed Napoleon began to roar, while Justin dried his shoes

with a wisp of straw. But a knife was wanted; Charles offered his.

"Ah!" she said to herself, "he carried a knife in his pocket like a


The hoar-frost was falling, and they turned back to Yonville.
In the evening Madame Bovary did not go to her neighbour's, and when

Charles had left and she felt herself alone, the comparison re-began

with the clearness of a sensation almost actual, and with that

lengthening of perspective which memory gives to things. Looking from

her bed at the clean fire that was burning, she still saw, as she had

down there, Leon standing up with one hand behind his cane, and with

the other holding Athalie, who was quietly sucking a piece of ice. She

thought him charming; she could not tear herself away from him; she

recalled his other attitudes on other days, the words he had spoken, the

sound of his voice, his whole person; and she repeated, pouting out her

lips as if for a kiss--
"Yes, charming! charming! Is he not in love?" she asked herself; "but

with whom? With me?"

All the proofs arose before her at once; her heart leapt. The flame of

the fire threw a joyous light upon the ceiling; she turned on her back,

stretching out her arms.
Then began the eternal lamentation: "Oh, if Heaven had out willed it!

And why not? What prevented it?"

When Charles came home at midnight, she seemed to have just awakened,

and as he made a noise undressing, she complained of a headache, then

asked carelessly what had happened that evening.
"Monsieur Leon," he said, "went to his room early."
She could not help smiling, and she fell asleep, her soul filled with a

new delight.

The next day, at dusk, she received a visit from Monsieur Lherueux, the

draper. He was a man of ability, was this shopkeeper. Born a Gascon but

bred a Norman, he grafted upon his southern volubility the cunning of

the Cauchois. His fat, flabby, beardless face seemed dyed by a

decoction of liquorice, and his white hair made even more vivid the

keen brilliance of his small black eyes. No one knew what he had been

formerly; a pedlar said some, a banker at Routot according to others.

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