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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBouvard And Pecuchet: A Tragi-comic Novel Of Bourgeois Life - Chapter 7. "Unlucky In Love"
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Bouvard And Pecuchet: A Tragi-comic Novel Of Bourgeois Life - Chapter 7. 'Unlucky In Love' Post by :clov78 Category :Long Stories Author :Gustave Flaubert Date :May 2012 Read :2498

Click below to download : Bouvard And Pecuchet: A Tragi-comic Novel Of Bourgeois Life - Chapter 7. "Unlucky In Love" (Format : PDF)

Bouvard And Pecuchet: A Tragi-comic Novel Of Bourgeois Life - Chapter 7. "Unlucky In Love"

CHAPTER VII. "UNLUCKY IN LOVE"

And now the days began to be sad. They studied no longer, fearing lest they might be disillusioned. The inhabitants of Chavignolles avoided them. The newspapers they tolerated gave them no information; and so their solitude was unbroken, their time completely unoccupied.

Sometimes they would open a book, and then shut it again--what was the use of it? On other days they would be seized with the idea of cleaning up the garden: at the end of a quarter of an hour they would be fatigued; or they would set out to have a look at the farm, and come back disenchanted; or they tried to interest themselves in household affairs, with the result of making Germaine break out into lamentations. They gave it up.

Bouvard wanted to draw up a catalogue for the museum, and declared their curios stupid.

Pecuchet borrowed Langlois' duck-gun to shoot larks with; the weapon burst at the first shot, and was near killing him.

Then they lived in the midst of that rural solitude so depressing when the grey sky covers in its monotony a heart without hope. The step of a man in wooden shoes is heard as he steals along by the wall, or perchance it is the rain dripping from the roof to the ground. From time to time a dead leaf just grazes one of the windows, then whirls about and flies away. The indistinct echoes of some funeral bell are borne to the ear by the wind. From a corner of the stable comes the lowing of a cow. They yawned in each other's faces, consulted the almanac, looked at the clock, waited for meal-time; and the horizon was ever the same--fields in front, the church to the right, a screen of poplars to the left, their tops swaying incessantly in the hazy atmosphere with a melancholy air.

Habits which they formerly tolerated now gave them annoyance. Pecuchet became quite a bore from his mania for putting his handkerchief on the tablecloth. Bouvard never gave up his pipe, and would keep twisting himself about while he was talking. They started disputes about the dishes, or about the quality of the butter; and while they were chatting face to face each was thinking of different things.

A certain occurrence had upset Pecuchet's mind.

Two days after the riot at Chavignolles, while he was airing his political grievance, he had reached a road covered with tufted elms, and heard behind his back a voice exclaiming, "Stop!"

It was Madame Castillon. She was rushing across from the opposite side without perceiving him.

A man who was walking along in front of her turned round. It was Gorju; and they met some six feet away from Pecuchet, the row of trees separating them from him.

"Is it true," said she, "you are going to fight?"

Pecuchet slipped behind the ditch to listen.

"Well, yes," replied Gorju; "I am going to fight. What has that to do with you?"

"He asks _me such a question!" cried she, flinging her arms about him. "But, if you are killed, my love! Oh! remain!"

And her blue eyes appealed to him, still more than her words.

"Let me alone. I have to go."

There was an angry sneer on her face.

"The other has permitted it, eh?"

"Don't speak of her."

He raised his fist.

"No, dear; no. I don't say anything." And big tears trickled down her cheeks as far as the frilling of her collarette.

It was midday. The sun shone down upon the fields covered with yellow grain. Far in the distance carriage-wheels softly slipped along the road. There was a torpor in the air--not a bird's cry, not an insect's hum. Gorju cut himself a switch and scraped off the bark.

Madame Castillon did not raise her head again. She, poor woman, was thinking of her vain sacrifices for him, the debts she had paid for him, her future liabilities, and her lost reputation. Instead of complaining, she recalled for him the first days of their love, when she used to go every night to meet him in the barn, so that her husband on one occasion, fancying it was a thief, fired a pistol-shot through the window. The bullet was in the wall still. "From the moment I first knew you, you seemed to me as handsome as a prince. I love your eyes, your voice, your walk, your smell," and in a lower tone she added: "and as for your person, I am fairly crazy about it."

He listened with a smile of gratified vanity.

She clasped him with both hands round the waist, her head bent as if in adoration.

"My dear heart! my dear love! my soul! my life! Come! speak! What is it you want? Is it money? We'll get it. I was in the wrong. I annoyed you. Forgive me; and order clothes from the tailor, drink champagne--enjoy yourself. I will allow everything--everything."

She murmured with a supreme effort, "Even her--as long as you come back to me."

He just touched her lips with his, drawing one arm around her to prevent her from falling; and she kept murmuring, "Dear heart! dear love! how handsome you are! My God! how handsome you are!"

Pecuchet, without moving an inch, his chin just touching the top of the ditch, stared at them in breathless astonishment.

"Come, no swooning," said Gorju. "You'll only have me missing the coach. A glorious bit of devilment is getting ready, and I'm in the swim; so just give me ten sous to stand the conductor a drink."

She took five francs out of her purse. "You will soon give them back to me. Have a little patience. He has been a good while paralysed. Think of that! And, if you liked, we could go to the chapel of Croix-Janval, and there, my love, I would swear before the Blessed Virgin to marry you as soon as he is dead."

"Ah! he'll never die--that husband of yours."

Gorju had turned on his heel. She caught hold of him again, and clinging to his shoulders:

"Let me go with you. I will be your servant. You want some one. But don't go away! don't leave me! Death rather! Kill me!"

She crawled towards him on her knees, trying to seize his hands in order to kiss them. Her cap fell off, then her comb, and her hair got dishevelled. It was turning white around her ears, and, as she looked up at him, sobbing bitterly, with red eyes and swollen lips, he got quite exasperated, and pushed her back.

"Be off, old woman! Good evening."

When she had got up, she tore off the gold cross that hung round her neck, and flinging it at him, cried:

"There, you ruffian!"

Gorju went off, lashing the leaves of the trees with his switch.

Madame Castillon ceased weeping. With fallen jaw and tear-dimmed eyes she stood motionless, petrified with despair; no longer a being, but a thing in ruins.

What he had just chanced upon was for Pecuchet like the discovery of a new world--a world in which there were dazzling splendours, wild blossomings, oceans, tempests, treasures, and abysses of infinite depth. There was something about it that excited terror; but what of that? He dreamed of love, desired to feel it as she felt it, to inspire it as he inspired it.

However, he execrated Gorju, and could hardly keep from giving information about him at the guard-house.

Pecuchet was mortified by the slim waist, the regular curls, and the smooth beard of Madame Castillon's lover, as well as by the air of a conquering hero which the fellow assumed, while his own hair was pasted to his skull like a soaked wig, his torso wrapped in a greatcoat resembled a bolster, two of his front teeth were out, and his physiognomy had a harsh expression. He thought that Heaven had dealt unkindly with him, and felt that he was one of the disinherited; moreover, his friend no longer cared for him.

Bouvard deserted him every evening. Since his wife was dead, there was nothing to prevent him from taking another, who, by this time, might be coddling him up and looking after his house. And now he was getting too old to think of it.

But Bouvard examined himself in the glass. His cheeks had kept their colour; his hair curled just the same as of yore; not a tooth was loose; and, at the idea that he had still the power to please, he felt a return of youthfulness. Madame Bordin rose in his memory. She had made advances to him, first on the occasion of the burning of the stacks, next at the dinner which they gave, then in the museum at the recital, and lastly, without resenting any want of attention on his part, she had called three Sundays in succession. He paid her a return visit, and repeated it, making up his mind to woo and win her.

Since the day when Pecuchet had watched the little servant-maid drawing water, he had frequently talked to her, and whether she was sweeping the corridor or spreading out the linen, or taking up the saucepans, he could never grow tired of looking at her--surprised himself at his emotions, as in the days of adolescence. He had fevers and languors on account of her, and he was stung by the picture left in his memory of Madame Castillon straining Gorju to her breast.

(Illustration: HE WAS ABOUT TO CLASP HER IN HIS ARMS)

He questioned Bouvard as to the way libertines set about seducing women.

"They make them presents; they bring them to restaurants for supper."

"Very good. But after that?"

"Some of them pretend to faint, in order that you may carry them over to a sofa; others let their handkerchiefs fall on the ground. The best of them plainly make an appointment with you." And Bouvard launched forth into descriptions which inflamed Pecuchet's imagination, like engravings of voluptuous scenes.

"The first rule is not to believe what they say. I have known those who, under the appearance of saints, were regular Messalinas. Above all, you must be bold."

But boldness cannot be had to order.

From day to day Pecuchet put off his determination, and besides he was intimidated by the presence of Germaine.

Hoping that she would ask to have her wages paid, he exacted additional work from her, took notice every time she got tipsy, referred in a loud voice to her want of cleanliness, her quarrelsomeness, and did it all so effectively that she had to go.

Then Pecuchet was free! With what impatience he waited for Bouvard to go out! What a throbbing of the heart he felt as soon as the door closed!

Melie was working at a round table near the window by the light of a candle; from time to time she broke the threads with her teeth, then she half-closed her eyes while adjusting it in the slit of the needle. At first he asked her what kind of men she liked. Was it, for instance, Bouvard's style?

"Oh, no." She preferred thin men.

He ventured to ask her if she ever had had any lovers.

"Never."

Then, drawing closer to her, he surveyed her piquant nose, her small mouth, her charmingly-rounded figure. He paid her some compliments, and exhorted her to prudence.

In bending over her he got a glimpse, under her corsage, of her white skin, from which emanated a warm odour that made his cheeks tingle. One evening he touched with his lips the wanton hairs at the back of her neck, and he felt shaken even to the marrow of his bones. Another time he kissed her on the chin, and had to restrain himself from putting his teeth in her flesh, so savoury was it. She returned his kiss. The apartment whirled round; he no longer saw anything.

He made her a present of a pair of lady's boots, and often treated her to a glass of aniseed cordial.

To save her trouble he rose early, chopped up the wood, lighted the fire, and was so attentive as to clean Bouvard's shoes.

Melie did not faint or let her handkerchief fall, and Pecuchet did not know what to do, his passion increasing through the fear of satisfying it.

Bouvard was assiduously paying his addresses to Madame Bordin. She used to receive him rather cramped in her gown of shot silk, which creaked like a horse's harness, all the while fingering her long gold chain to keep herself in countenance.

Their conversations turned on the people of Chavignolles or on "the dear departed," who had been an usher at Livarot.

Then she inquired about Bouvard's past, curious to know something of his "youthful freaks," the way in which he had fallen heir to his fortune, and the interests by which he was bound to Pecuchet.

He admired the appearance of her house, and when he came to dinner there was struck by the neatness with which it was served and the excellent fare placed on the table. A succession of dishes of the most savoury description, which intermingled at regular intervals with a bottle of old Pomard, brought them to the dessert, at which they remained a long time sipping their coffee; and, with dilating nostrils, Madame Bordin dipped into her saucer her thick lip, lightly shaded with a black down.

One day she appeared in a low dress. Her shoulders fascinated Bouvard. As he sat in a little chair before her, he began to pass his hands along her arms. The widow seemed offended. He did not repeat this attention, but he pictured to himself those ample curves, so marvellously smooth and fine.

Any evening when he felt dissatisfied with Melie's cooking, it gave him pleasure to enter Madame Bordin's drawing-room. It was there he should have lived.

The globe of the lamp, covered with a red shade, shed a tranquil light. She was seated close to the fire, and his foot touched the hem of her skirt.

After a few opening words the conversation flagged.

However, she kept gazing at him, with half-closed lids, in a languid fashion, but unbending withal.

Bouvard could not stand it any longer, and, sinking on his knees to the floor, he stammered:

"I love you! Marry me!"

Madame Bordin drew a strong breath; then, with an ingenuous air, said he was jesting; no doubt he was trying to have a laugh at her expense--it was not fair. This declaration stunned her.

Bouvard returned that she did not require anyone's consent. "What's to hinder you? Is it the trousseau? Our linen has the same mark, a B--we'll unite our capital letters!"

The idea caught her fancy. But a more important matter prevented her from arriving at a decision before the end of the month. And Bouvard groaned.

She had the politeness to accompany him to the gate, escorted by Marianne, who carried a lantern.

The two friends kept their love affairs hidden from each other.

Pecuchet counted on always cloaking his intrigue with the servant-maid. If Bouvard made any opposition to it, he could carry her off to other places, even though it were to Algeria, where living is not so dear. But he rarely indulged in such speculations, full as he was of his passion, without thinking of the consequences.

Bouvard conceived the idea of converting the museum into the bridal chamber, unless Pecuchet objected, in which case he might take up his residence at his wife's house.

One afternoon in the following week--it was in her garden; the buds were just opening, and between the clouds there were great blue spaces--she stopped to gather some violets, and said as she offered them to him:

"Salute Madame Bouvard!"

"What! Is it true?"

"Perfectly true."

He was about to clasp her in his arms. She kept him back. "What a man!" Then, growing serious, she warned him that she would shortly be asking him for a favour.

"'Tis granted."

They fixed the following Thursday for the formality of signing the marriage contract.

Nobody should know anything about it up to the last moment.

"Agreed."

And off he went, looking up towards the sky, nimble as a roebuck.

Pecuchet on the morning of the same day said in his own mind that he would die if he did not obtain the favours of his little maid, and he followed her into the cellar, hoping the darkness would give him courage.

She tried to go away several times, but he detained her in order to count the bottles, to choose laths, or to look into the bottoms of casks--and this occupied a considerable time.

She stood facing him under the light that penetrated through an air-hole, with her eyes cast down, and the corner of her mouth slightly raised.

"Do you love me?" said Pecuchet abruptly.

"Yes, I do love you."

"Well, then prove it to me."

And throwing his left arm around her, he embraced her with ardour.

"You're going to do me some harm."

"No, my little angel. Don't be afraid."

"If Monsieur Bouvard----"

"I'll tell him nothing. Make your mind easy."

There was a heap of faggots behind them. She sank upon them, and hid her face under one arm;--and another man would have understood that she was no novice.

Bouvard arrived soon for dinner.

The meal passed in silence, each of them being afraid of betraying himself, while Melie attended them with her usual impassiveness.

Pecuchet turned away his eyes to avoid hers; and Bouvard, his gaze resting on the walls, pondered meanwhile on his projected improvements.

Eight days after he came back in a towering rage.

"The damned traitress!"

"Who, pray?"

"Madame Bordin."

And he related how he had been so infatuated as to offer to make her his wife, but all had come to an end a quarter of an hour since at Marescot's office. She wished to have for her marriage portion the Ecalles meadow, which he could not dispose of, having partly retained it, like the farm, with the money of another person.

"Exactly," said Pecuchet.

"I had had the folly to promise her any favour she asked--and this was what she was after! I attribute her obstinacy to this; for if she loved me she would have given way to me."

The widow, on the contrary, had attacked him in insulting language, and referred disparagingly to his physique, his big paunch.

"My paunch! Just imagine for a moment!"

Meanwhile Pecuchet had risen several times, and seemed to be in pain.

Bouvard asked him what was the matter, and thereupon Pecuchet, having first taken the precaution to shut the door, explained in a hesitating manner that he was affected with a certain disease.

"What! You?"

"I--myself."

"Oh, my poor fellow! And who is the cause of this?"

Pecuchet became redder than before, and said in a still lower tone:

"It can be only Melie."

Bouvard remained stupefied.

The first thing to do was to send the young woman away.

She protested with an air of candour.

Pecuchet's case was, however, serious; but he was ashamed to consult a physician.

Bouvard thought of applying to Barberou.

They gave him particulars about the matter, in order that he might communicate with a doctor who would deal with the case by correspondence.

Barberou set to work with zeal, believing it was Bouvard's own case, and calling him an old dotard, even though he congratulated him about it.

"At my age!" said Pecuchet. "Is it not a melancholy thing? But why did she do this?"

"You pleased her."

"She ought to have given me warning."

"Does passion reason?" And Bouvard renewed his complaints about Madame Bordin.

Often had he surprised her before the Ecalles, in Marescot's company, having a gossip with Germaine. So many manoeuvres for a little bit of land!

"She is avaricious! That's the explanation."

So they ruminated over their disappointments by the fireside in the breakfast parlour, Pecuchet swallowing his medicines and Bouvard puffing at his pipe; and they began a discussion about women.

"Strange want!--or is it a want?" "They drive men to crime--to heroism as well as to brutishness." "Hell under a petticoat," "paradise in a kiss," "the turtle's warbling," "the serpent's windings," "the cat's claws," "the sea's treachery," "the moon's changeableness." They repeated all the commonplaces that have been uttered about the sex.

It was the desire for women that had suspended their friendship. A feeling of remorse took possession of them. "No more women. Is not that so? Let us live without them!" And they embraced each other tenderly.

There should be a reaction; and Bouvard, when Pecuchet was better, considered that a course of hydropathic treatment would be beneficial.

Germaine, who had come back since the other servant's departure, carried the bathing-tub each morning into the corridor.

The two worthies, naked as savages, poured over themselves big buckets of water; they then rushed back to their rooms. They were seen through the garden fence, and people were scandalised.

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