And now the days began to be sad. They studied no longer, fearing lest the_ight be disillusioned. The inhabitants of Chavignolles avoided them. Th_ewspapers they tolerated gave them no information; and so their solitude wa_nbroken, their time completely unoccupied.
Sometimes they would open a book, and then shut it again—what was the use o_t? On other days they would be seized with the idea of cleaning up th_arden: at the end of a quarter of an hour they would be fatigued; or the_ould set out to have a look at the farm, and come back disenchanted; or the_ried to interest themselves in household affairs, with the result of makin_ermaine break out into lamentations. They gave it up.
Bouvard wanted to draw up a catalogue for the museum, and declared thei_urios stupid.
Pécuchet borrowed Langlois' duck-gun to shoot larks with; the weapon burst a_he first shot, and was near killing him.
Then they lived in the midst of that rural solitude so depressing when th_rey sky covers in its monotony a heart without hope. The step of a man i_ooden shoes is heard as he steals along by the wall, or perchance it is th_ain dripping from the roof to the ground. From time to time a dead leaf jus_razes one of the windows, then whirls about and flies away. The indistinc_choes of some funeral bell are borne to the ear by the wind. From a corner o_he 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 th_orizon was ever the same—fields in front, the church to the right, a scree_f poplars to the left, their tops swaying incessantly in the hazy atmospher_ith a melancholy air.
Habits which they formerly tolerated now gave them annoyance. Pécuchet becam_uite 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 h_as talking. They started disputes about the dishes, or about the quality o_he butter; and while they were chatting face to face each was thinking o_ifferent things.
A certain occurrence had upset Pécuchet's mind.
Two days after the riot at Chavignolles, while he was airing his politica_rievance, he had reached a road covered with tufted elms, and heard behin_is back a voice exclaiming, "Stop!"
It was Madame Castillon. She was rushing across from the opposite side withou_erceiving him.
A man who was walking along in front of her turned round. It was Gorju; an_hey met some six feet away from Pécuchet, the row of trees separating the_rom him.
"Is it true," said she, "you are going to fight?"
Pécuchet slipped behind the ditch to listen.
"Well, yes," replied Gorju; "I am going to fight. What has that to do wit_ou?"
"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 cheek_s 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 _orpor in the air—not a bird's cry, not an insect's hum. Gorju cut himself _witch and scraped off the bark.
Madame Castillon did not raise her head again. She, poor woman, was thinkin_f her vain sacrifices for him, the debts she had paid for him, her futur_iabilities, and her lost reputation. Instead of complaining, she recalled fo_im the first days of their love, when she used to go every night to meet hi_n 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. _ove your eyes, your voice, your walk, your smell," and in a lower tone sh_dded: "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 i_doration.
"My dear heart! my dear love! my soul! my life! Come! speak! What is it yo_ant? Is it money? We'll get it. I was in the wrong. I annoyed you. Forgiv_e; and order clothes from the tailor, drink champagne—enjoy yourself. I wil_llow 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 he_rom falling; and she kept murmuring, "Dear heart! dear love! how handsome yo_re! My God! how handsome you are!"
Pécuchet, 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. _lorious bit of devilment is getting ready, and I'm in the swim; so just giv_e 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, m_ove, I would swear before the Blessed Virgin to marry you as soon as he i_ead."
"Ah! he'll never die—that husband of yours."
Gorju had turned on his heel. She caught hold of him again, and clinging t_is shoulders:
"Let me go with you. I will be your servant. You want some one. But don't g_way! don't leave me! Death rather! Kill me!"
She crawled towards him on her knees, trying to seize his hands in order t_iss them. Her cap fell off, then her comb, and her hair got dishevelled. I_as turning white around her ears, and, as she looked up at him, sobbin_itterly, with red eyes and swollen lips, he got quite exasperated, and pushe_er back.
"Be off, old woman! Good evening."
When she had got up, she tore off the gold cross that hung round her neck, an_linging 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 sh_tood motionless, petrified with despair; no longer a being, but a thing i_uins.
What he had just chanced upon was for Pécuchet like the discovery of a ne_orld—a world in which there were dazzling splendours, wild blossomings, oceans, tempests, treasures, and abysses of infinite depth. There wa_omething 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 informatio_bout him at the guard-house.
Pécuchet was mortified by the slim waist, the regular curls, and the smoot_eard of Madame Castillon's lover, as well as by the air of a conquering her_hich the fellow assumed, while his own hair was pasted to his skull like _oaked wig, his torso wrapped in a greatcoat resembled a bolster, two of hi_ront teeth were out, and his physiognomy had a harsh expression. He though_hat Heaven had dealt unkindly with him, and felt that he was one of th_isinherited; moreover, his friend no longer cared for him.
Bouvard deserted him every evening. Since his wife was dead, there was nothin_o prevent him from taking another, who, by this time, might be coddling hi_p 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 th_dea 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 th_ccasion 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 o_ttention on his part, she had called three Sundays in succession. He paid he_ return visit, and repeated it, making up his mind to woo and win her.
Since the day when Pécuchet had watched the little servant-maid drawing water, he had frequently talked to her, and whether she was sweeping the corridor o_preading out the linen, or taking up the saucepans, he could never grow tire_f looking at her—surprised himself at his emotions, as in the days o_dolescence. He had fevers and languors on account of her, and he was stung b_he picture left in his memory of Madame Castillon straining Gorju to he_reast.
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 _ofa; others let their handkerchiefs fall on the ground. The best of the_lainly make an appointment with you." And Bouvard launched forth int_escriptions which inflamed Pécuchet's imagination, like engravings o_oluptuous scenes.
"The first rule is not to believe what they say. I have known those who, unde_he appearance of saints, were regular Messalinas. Above all, you must b_old."
But boldness cannot be had to order.
From day to day Pécuchet put off his determination, and besides he wa_ntimidated by the presence of Germaine.
Hoping that she would ask to have her wages paid, he exacted additional wor_rom her, took notice every time she got tipsy, referred in a loud voice t_er want of cleanliness, her quarrelsomeness, and did it all so effectivel_hat she had to go.
Then Pécuchet 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!
Mélie 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-close_er eyes while adjusting it in the slit of the needle. At first he asked he_hat 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.
Then, drawing closer to her, he surveyed her piquant nose, her small mouth, her charmingly-rounded figure. He paid her some compliments, and exhorted he_o 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 h_ouched with his lips the wanton hairs at the back of her neck, and he fel_haken even to the marrow of his bones. Another time he kissed her on th_hin, and had to restrain himself from putting his teeth in her flesh, s_avoury was it. She returned his kiss. The apartment whirled round; he n_onger saw anything.
He made her a present of a pair of lady's boots, and often treated her to _lass of aniseed cordial.
To save her trouble he rose early, chopped up the wood, lighted the fire, an_as so attentive as to clean Bouvard's shoes.
Mélie did not faint or let her handkerchief fall, and Pécuchet did not kno_hat to do, his passion increasing through the fear of satisfying it.
Bouvard was assiduously paying his addresses to Madame Bordin. She used t_eceive him rather cramped in her gown of shot silk, which creaked like _orse's harness, all the while fingering her long gold chain to keep hersel_n countenance.
Their conversations turned on the people of Chavignolles or on "the dea_eparted," 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 th_nterests by which he was bound to Pécuchet.
He admired the appearance of her house, and when he came to dinner there wa_truck by the neatness with which it was served and the excellent fare place_n the table. A succession of dishes of the most savoury description, whic_ntermingled at regular intervals with a bottle of old Pomard, brought them t_he 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 h_at 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 picture_o himself those ample curves, so marvellously smooth and fine.
Any evening when he felt dissatisfied with Mélie's cooking, it gave hi_leasure to enter Madame Bordin's drawing-room. It was there he should hav_ived.
The globe of the lamp, covered with a red shade, shed a tranquil light. Sh_as 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 wa_esting; no doubt he was trying to have a laugh at her expense—it was no_air. This declaration stunned her.
Bouvard returned that she did not require anyone's consent. "What's to hinde_ou? Is it the trousseau? Our linen has the same mark, a B—we'll unite ou_apital letters!"
The idea caught her fancy. But a more important matter prevented her fro_rriving 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, wh_arried a lantern.
The two friends kept their love affairs hidden from each other.
Pécuchet counted on always cloaking his intrigue with the servant-maid. I_ouvard 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 rarel_ndulged in such speculations, full as he was of his passion, without thinkin_f the consequences.
Bouvard conceived the idea of converting the museum into the bridal chamber, unless Pécuchet objected, in which case he might take up his residence at hi_ife's house.
One afternoon in the following week—it was in her garden; the buds were jus_pening, and between the clouds there were great blue spaces—she stopped t_ather some violets, and said as she offered them to him:
"Salute Madame Bouvard!"
"What! Is it 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 _avour.
They fixed the following Thursday for the formality of signing the marriag_ontract.
Nobody should know anything about it up to the last moment.
And off he went, looking up towards the sky, nimble as a roebuck.
Pécuchet on the morning of the same day said in his own mind that he would di_f he did not obtain the favours of his little maid, and he followed her int_he cellar, hoping the darkness would give him courage.
She tried to go away several times, but he detained her in order to count th_ottles, to choose laths, or to look into the bottoms of casks—and thi_ccupied a considerable time.
She stood facing him under the light that penetrated through an air-hole, wit_er eyes cast down, and the corner of her mouth slightly raised.
"Do you love me?" said Pécuchet 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 fac_nder 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 Mélie attended them with her usual impassiveness.
Pécuchet turned away his eyes to avoid hers; and Bouvard, his gaze resting o_he walls, pondered meanwhile on his projected improvements.
Eight days after he came back in a towering rage.
"The damned traitress!"
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 coul_ot dispose of, having partly retained it, like the farm, with the money o_nother person.
"Exactly," said Pécuchet.
"I had had the folly to promise her any favour she asked—and this was what sh_as after! I attribute her obstinacy to this; for if she loved me she woul_ave given way to me."
The widow, on the contrary, had attacked him in insulting language, an_eferred disparagingly to his physique, his big paunch.
"My paunch! Just imagine for a moment!"
Meanwhile Pécuchet had risen several times, and seemed to be in pain.
Bouvard asked him what was the matter, and thereupon Pécuchet, having firs_aken the precaution to shut the door, explained in a hesitating manner tha_e was affected with a certain disease.
"Oh, my poor fellow! And who is the cause of this?"
Pécuchet became redder than before, and said in a still lower tone:
"It can be only Mélie."
Bouvard remained stupefied.
The first thing to do was to send the young woman away.
She protested with an air of candour.
Pécuchet's case was, however, serious; but he was ashamed to consult _hysician.
Bouvard thought of applying to Barberou.
They gave him particulars about the matter, in order that he might communicat_ith a doctor who would deal with the case by correspondence.
Barberou set to work with zeal, believing it was Bouvard's own case, an_alling him an old dotard, even though he congratulated him about it.
"At my age!" said Pécuchet. "Is it not a melancholy thing? But why did she d_his?"
"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 _ossip with Germaine. So many manœuvres for a little bit of land!
"She is avaricious! That's the explanation."
So they ruminated over their disappointments by the fireside in the breakfas_arlour, Pécuchet 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 wel_s to brutishness." "Hell under a petticoat," "paradise in a kiss," "th_urtle's warbling," "the serpent's windings," "the cat's claws," "the sea'_reachery," "the moon's changeableness." They repeated all the commonplace_hat have been uttered about the sex.
It was the desire for women that had suspended their friendship. A feeling o_emorse took possession of them. "No more women. Is not that so? Let us liv_ithout them!" And they embraced each other tenderly.
There should be a reaction; and Bouvard, when Pécuchet was better, considere_hat a course of hydropathic treatment would be beneficial.
Germaine, who had come back since the other servant's departure, carried th_athing-tub each morning into the corridor.
The two worthies, naked as savages, poured over themselves big buckets o_ater; they then rushed back to their rooms. They were seen through the garde_ence, and people were scandalised.