"It is past."
He looked at her in amazement.
The grating being open, she got up on the threshold of the little gateway.
There was a water-channel at the opposite side. She gathered up all the folds of her petticoat and stood on the brink hesitatingly.
"Do you want my assistance?"
"Ha! you are too dangerous!" And as she jumped down, he could see her white stocking.
Bouvard blamed himself for having wasted an opportunity. Bah! he should have one again—and then not all women are alike. With some of them you must be blunt, while audacity destroys you with others. In short, he was satisfied with himself—and he did not confide his hope to Pecuchet; this was through fear of the remarks that would be passed, and not at all through delicacy.
From that time forth they used to recite in the presence of Melie and Gorju, all the time regretting that they had not a private theatre.
The little servant-girl was amused without understanding a bit of it, wondering at the language, charmed at the roll of the verses. Gorju applauded the philosophic passages in the tragedies, and everything in the people's favour in the melodramas, so that, delighted at his good taste, they thought of giving him lessons, with a view to making an actor of him subsequently. This prospect dazzled the workman.
Their performances by this time became the subject of general gossip. Vaucorbeil spoke to them about the matter in a sly fashion. Most people regarded their acting with contempt.
They only prided themselves the more upon it. They crowned themselves artists. Pecuchet wore moustaches, and Bouvard thought he could not do anything better, with his round face and his bald patch, than to give himself a head a la Beranger. Finally, they determined to write a play.
The subject was the difficulty. They searched for it while they were at breakfast, and drank coffee, a stimulant indispensable for the brain, then two or three little glasses. They would next take a nap on their beds, after which they would make their way down to the fruit garden and take a turn there; and at length they would leave the house to find inspiration outside, and, after walking side by side, they would come back quite worn out.
Or else they would shut themselves up together. Bouvard would sweep the table, lay down paper in front of him, dip his pen, and remain with his eyes on the ceiling; whilst Pecuchet, in the armchair, would be plunged in meditation, with his legs stretched out and his head down.
Sometimes they felt a shivering sensation, and, as it were, the passing breath of an idea, but at the very moment when they were seizing it, it had vanished.
But methods exist for discovering subjects. You take a title at random, and a fact trickles out of it. You develop a proverb; you combine a number of adventures so as to form only one. None of these devices came to anything. In vain they ran through collections of anecdotes, several volumes of celebrated trials, and a heap of historical works.
And they dreamed of being acted at the Odeon, had their thoughts fixed on theatrical performances, and sighed for Paris.
"I was born to be an author instead of being buried in the country!" said Bouvard.
"And I likewise," chimed in Pecuchet.
Then came an illumination to their minds. If they had so much trouble about it, the reason was their ignorance of the rules.
They studied them in the Pratique du Theatre, by D'Aubignac, and in some works not quite so old-fashioned.
Important questions are discussed in them: Whether comedy can be written in verse; whether tragedy does not go outside its limits by taking its subject from modern history; whether the heroes ought to be virtuous; what kinds of villains it allows; up to what point horrors are permissible in it; that the details should verge towards a single end; that the interest should increase; that the conclusion should harmonise with the opening—these were unquestionable propositions.
"Invent resorts that can take hold of me,"
says Boileau. By what means were they to "invent resorts?"
"So that in all your speeches passion's dart May penetrate, and warm, and move the heart."
How were they to "warm the heart?"
Rules, therefore, were not sufficient; there was need, in addition, for genius. And genius is not sufficient either. Corneille, according to the French Academy, understands nothing about the stage; Geoffroy disparaged Voltaire; Souligny scoffed at Racine; La Harpe blushed at Shakespeare's name.
Becoming disgusted with the old criticism, they wished to make acquaintance with the new, and sent for the notices of plays in the newspapers.
What assurance! What obstinacy! What dishonesty! Outrages on masterpieces; respect shown for platitudes; the gross ignorance of those who pass for scholars, and the stupidity of others whom they describe as witty.
Perhaps it is to the public that one must appeal.
But works that have been applauded sometimes displeased them, and amongst plays that were hissed there were some that they admired.
Thus the opinions of persons of taste are unreliable, while the judgment of the multitude is incomprehensible.
Bouvard submitted the problem to Barberou. Pecuchet, on his side, wrote to Dumouchel.
The ex-commercial traveller was astonished at the effeminacy engendered by provincial life. His old Bouvard was turning into a blockhead; in short, "he was no longer in it at all."
"The theatre is an article of consumption like any other. It is advertised in the newspapers. We go to the theatre to be amused. The good thing is the thing that amuses."
"But, idiot," exclaimed Pecuchet, "what amuses you is not what amuses me; and the others, as well as yourself, will be weary of it by and by. If plays are written expressly to be acted, how is it that the best of them can be always read?"
And he awaited Dumouchel's reply. According to the professor, the immediate fate of a play proved nothing. The Misanthrope and Athalie are dying out. Zaire is no longer understood. Who speaks to-day of Ducange or of Picard? And he recalled all the great contemporary successes from Fanchon la Vielleuse to Gaspardo le Pecheur, and deplored the decline of our stage. The cause of it is the contempt for literature, or rather for style; and, with the aid of certain authors mentioned by Dumouchel, they learned the secret of the various styles; how we get the majestic, the temperate, the ingenuous, the touches that are noble and the expressions that are low. "Dogs" may be heightened by "devouring"; "to vomit" is to be used only figuratively; "fever" is applied to the passions; "valiance" is beautiful in verse.
"Suppose we made verses?" said Pecuchet.
"Yes, later. Let us occupy ourselves with prose first."
A strict recommendation is given to choose a classic in order to mould yourself upon it; but all of them have their dangers, and not only have they sinned in point of style, but still more in point of phraseology.
This assertion disconcerted Bouvard and Pecuchet, and they set about studying grammar.
Has the French language, in its idiomatic structure definite articles and indefinite, as in Latin? Some think that it has, others that it has not. They did not venture to decide.
The subject is always in agreement with the verb, save on the occasions when the subject is not in agreement with it.
There was formerly no distinction between the verbal adjective and the present participle; but the Academy lays down one not very easy to grasp.
They were much pleased to learn that the pronoun leur is used for persons, but also for things, while ou and en are used for things and sometimes for persons.
Ought we to say Cette femme a l'air bon or l'air bonne?—une buche de bois sec, or de bois seche?—ne pas laisser de, or que de?—une troupe de voleurs survint, or survinrent?
Other difficulties: Autour and a l'entour of which Racine and Boileau did not see the difference; imposer, or en imposer, synonyms with Massillon and Voltaire; croasser and coasser, confounded by La Fontaine, who knew, however, how to distinguish a crow from a frog.
The grammarians, it is true, are at variance. Some see a beauty where others discover a fault. They admit principles of which they reject the consequences, announce consequences of which they repudiate the principles, lean on tradition, throw over the masters, and adopt whimsical refinements.
Menage, instead of lentilles and cassonade, approves of nentilles and castonade; Bonhours, jerarchie and not hierarchie and M. Chapsal speaks of les oeils de la soupe.
Pecuchet was amazed above all at Jenin. What! z'annetons would be better than hannetons, z'aricots than haricots! and, under Louis XIV., the pronunciation was Roume and Monsieur de Lioune, instead of Rome and Monsieur de Lionne!
Littre gave them the finishing stroke by declaring that there never had been, and never could be positive orthography. They concluded that syntax is a whim and grammar an illusion.
At this period, moreover, a new school of rhetoric declared that we should write as we speak, and that all would be well so long as we felt and observed.
As they had felt and believed that they had observed, they considered themselves qualified to write. A play is troublesome on account of the narrowness of its framework, but the novel has more freedom. In order to write one they searched among their personal recollections.
Pecuchet recalled to mind one of the head-clerks in his own office, a very nasty customer, and he felt a longing to take revenge on him by means of a book.
Bouvard had, at the smoking saloon, made the acquaintance of an old writing-master, who was a miserable drunkard. Nothing could be so ludicrous as this character.
At the end of the week, they imagined that they could fuse these two subjects into one. They left off there, and passed on to the following: a woman who causes the unhappiness of a family; a wife, her husband, and her lover; a woman who would be virtuous through a defect in her conformation; an ambitious man; a bad priest. They tried to bind together with these vague conceptions things supplied by their memory, and then made abridgments or additions.
Pecuchet was for sentiment and ideality, Bouvard for imagery and colouring; and they began to understand each other no longer, each wondering that the other should be so shallow.
The science which is known as aesthetics would perhaps settle their differences. A friend of Dumouchel, a professor of philosophy, sent them a list of works on the subject. They worked separately and communicated their ideas to one another.
In the first place, what is the Beautiful?
For Schelling, it is the infinite expressing itself through the finite; for Reid, an occult quality; for Jouffroy, an indecomposable fact; for De Maistre, that which is pleasing to virtue; for P. Andre, that which agrees with reason.
And there are many kinds of beauty: a beauty in the sciences—geometry is beautiful; a beauty in morals—it cannot be denied that the death of Socrates was beautiful; a beauty in the animal kingdom—the beauty of the dog consists in his sense of smell. A pig could not be beautiful, having regard to his dirty habits; no more could a serpent, for it awakens in us ideas of vileness. The flowers, the butterflies, the birds may be beautiful. Finally, the first condition of beauty is unity in variety: there is the principle.
"Yet," said Bouvard, "two squint eyes are more varied than two straight eyes, and produce an effect which is not so good—as a rule."
They entered upon the question of the Sublime.
Certain objects are sublime in themselves: the noise of a torrent, profound darkness, a tree flung down by the storm. A character is beautiful when it triumphs, and sublime when it struggles.
"I understand," said Bouvard; "the Beautiful is the beautiful, and the Sublime the very beautiful."
But how were they to be distinguished?
"By means of tact," answered Pecuchet.
"And tact—where does that come from?"
"What is taste?"
It is defined as a special discernment, a rapid judgment, the power of distinguishing certain relationships.
"In short, taste is taste; but all that does not tell the way to have it."
It is necessary to observe the proprieties. But the proprieties vary; and, let a work be ever so beautiful, it will not be always irreproachable. There is, however, a beauty which is indestructible, and of whose laws we are ignorant, for its genesis is mysterious.
Since an idea cannot be interpreted in every form, we ought to recognise limits amongst the arts, and in each of the arts many forms; but combinations arise in which the style of one will enter into another without the ill result of deviating from the end—of not being true.
The too rigid application of truth is hurtful to beauty, and preoccupation with beauty impedes truth. However, without an ideal there is no truth; this is why types are of a more continuous reality than portraits. Art, besides, only aims at verisimilitude; but verisimilitude depends on the observer, and is a relative and transitory thing.
So they got lost in discussions. Bouvard believed less and less in aesthetics.
"If it is not a humbug, its correctness will be demonstrated by examples. Now listen."
And he read a note which had called for much research on his part:
"'Bouhours accuses Tacitus of not having the simplicity which history demands. M. Droz, a professor, blames Shakespeare for his mixture of the serious and the comic. Nisard, another professor, thinks that Andre Chenier is, as a poet, beneath the seventeenth century. Blair, an Englishman, finds fault with the picture of the harpies in Virgil. Marmontel groans over the liberties taken by Homer. Lamotte does not admit the immortality of his heroes. Vida is indignant at his similes. In short, all the makers of rhetorics, poetics, and aesthetics, appear to me idiots."
"You are exaggerating," said Pecuchet.
He was disturbed by doubts; for, if (as Longinus observes) ordinary minds are incapable of faults, the faults must be associated with the masters, and we are bound to admire them. This is going too far. However, the masters are the masters. He would have liked to make the doctrines harmonise with the works, the critics with the poets, to grasp the essence of the Beautiful; and these questions exercised him so much that his bile was stirred up. He got a jaundice from it.
It was at its crisis when Marianne, Madame Bordin's cook, came with a request from her mistress for an interview with Bouvard.
The widow had not made her appearance since the dramatic performance. Was this an advance? But why should she employ Marianne as an intermediary? And all night Bouvard's imagination wandered.
Next day, about two o'clock, he was walking in the corridor, and glancing out through the window from time to time. The door-bell rang. It was the notary.
He crossed the threshold, ascended the staircase, and seated himself in the armchair, and, after a preliminary exchange of courtesies, said that, tired of waiting for Madame Bordin, he had started before her. She wished to buy the Ecalles from him.
Bouvard experienced a kind of chilling sensation, and he hurried towards Pecuchet's room.
Pecuchet did not know what reply to make. He was in an anxious frame of mind, as M. Vaucorbeil was to be there presently.
At length Madame Bordin arrived. The delay was explained by the manifest attention she had given to her toilette, which consisted of a cashmere frock, a hat, and fine kid gloves—a costume befitting a serious occasion.
After much frivolous preliminary talk she asked whether a thousand crown-pieces would not be sufficient.
"One acre! A thousand crown-pieces! Never!"
She half closed her eyes. "Oh! for me!"
And all three remained silent.
M. de Faverges entered. He had a morocco case under his arm, like a solicitor; and, depositing it on the table, said:
"These are pamphlets! They deal with reform—a burning question; but here is a thing which no doubt belongs to you."
And he handed Bouvard the second volume of the Memoires du Diable.
Melie, just now, had been reading it in the kitchen; and, as one ought to watch over the morals of persons of that class, he thought he was doing the right thing in confiscating the book.
Bouvard had lent it to his servant-maid. They chatted about novels. Madame Bordin liked them when they were not dismal.
"Writers," said M. de Faverges, "paint life in colours that are too flattering."
"It is necessary to paint," urged Bouvard.
"Then nothing can be done save to follow the example."
"It is not a question of example."
"At least, you will admit that they might fall into the hands of a young daughter. I have one."
"And a charming one!" said the notary, with the expression of countenance he wore on the days of marriage contracts.
"Well, for her sake, or rather for that of the persons that surround her, I prohibit them in my house, for the people, my dear sir——"
"What have the people done?" said Vaucorbeil, appearing suddenly at the door.
Pecuchet, who had recognised his voice, came to mingle with the company.
"I maintain," returned the count, "that it is necessary to prevent them from reading certain books."
Vaucorbeil observed: "Then you are not in favour of education?"
"Yes, certainly. Allow me——"
"When every day," said Marescot, "an attack is made on the government."
"Where's the harm?"
And the nobleman and the physician proceeded to disparage Louis Philippe, recalling the Pritchard case, and the September laws against the liberty of the press:
"And that of the stage," added Pecuchet.
Marescot could stand this no longer.
"It goes too far, this stage of yours!"
"That I grant you," said the count—"plays that glorify suicide."
"Suicide is a fine thing! Witness Cato," protested Pecuchet.
Without replying to the argument, M. de Faverges stigmatised those works in which the holiest things are scoffed at: the family, property, marriage.
"Well, and Moliere?" said Bouvard.
Marescot, a man of literary taste, retorted that Moliere would not pass muster any longer, and was, furthermore, a little overrated.
"Finally," said the count, "Victor Hugo has been pitiless—yes, pitiless—towards Marie Antoinette, by dragging over the hurdle the type of the Queen in the character of Mary Tudor."
"What!" exclaimed Bouvard, "I, an author, I have no right——"
"No, sir, you have no right to show us crime without putting beside it a corrective—without presenting to us a lesson."
Vaucorbeil thought also that art ought to have an object—to aim at the improvement of the masses. "Let us chant science, our discoveries, patriotism," and he broke into admiration of Casimir Delavigne.
Madame Bordin praised the Marquis de Foudras.
The notary replied: "But the language—are you thinking of that?"
"The language? How?"
"He refers to the style," said Pecuchet. "Do you consider his works well written?"
"No doubt, exceedingly interesting."
He shrugged his shoulders, and she blushed at the impertinence.
Madame Bordin had several times attempted to come back to her own business transaction. It was too late to conclude it. She went off on Marescot's arm.
The count distributed his pamphlets, requesting them to hand them round to other people.
Vaucorbeil was leaving, when Pecuchet stopped him.
"You are forgetting me, doctor."
His yellow physiognomy was pitiable, with his moustaches and his black hair, which was hanging down under a silk handkerchief badly fastened.
"Purge yourself," said the doctor. And, giving him two little slaps as if to a child: "Too much nerves, too much artist!"
They summed up what they had just heard. The morality of art is contained for every person in that which flatters that person's interests. No one has any love for literature.
After this they turned over the count's pamphlets.
They found in all of a demand for universal suffrage.
"It seems to me," said Pecuchet, "that we shall soon have some squabbling."
For he saw everything in dark colours, perhaps on account of his jaundice.
REVOLT OF THE PEOPLE.
On the morning of the 25th of February, 1848, the news was brought to Chavignolles, by a person who had come from Falaise, that Paris was covered with barricades, and the next day the proclamation of the Republic was posted up outside the mayor's office.
This great event astonished the inhabitants.
But when they learned that the Court of Cassation, the Court of Appeal, the Court of Exchequer, the Chamber of Notaries, the order of advocates, the Council of State, the University, the generals, and M. de la Roche-Jacquelein himself had given promise of their adherence to the provisional government, their breasts began to expand; and, as trees of liberty were planted at Paris, the municipal council decided that they ought to have them at Chavignolles.
Bouvard made an offer of one, his patriotism exulting in the triumph of the people; as for Pecuchet, the fall of royalty confirmed his anticipations so exactly that he must needs be satisfied.
Gorju, obeying them with zeal, removed one of the poplar trees that skirted the meadow above La Butte, and transported it to "the Cows' Pass," at the entrance of the village, the place appointed for the purpose.
Before the hour for the ceremony, all three awaited the procession. They heard a drum beating, and then beheld a silver cross. After this appeared two torches borne by the chanters, then the cure, with stole, surplice, cope, and biretta. Four altar-boys escorted him, a fifth carried the holy-water basin, and in the rear came the sacristan. He got up on the raised edge of the hole in which stood the poplar tree, adorned with tri-coloured ribbons. On the opposite side could be seen the mayor and his two deputies, Beljambe and Marescot; then the principal personages of the district, M. de Faverges, Vaucorbeil, Coulon, the justice of the peace, an old fogy with a sleepy face. Heurtaux wore a foraging-cap, and Alexandre Petit, the new schoolmaster, had put on his frock-coat, a threadbare green garment—his Sunday coat. The firemen, whom Girbal commanded, sword in hand, stood in single file. On the other side shone the white plates of some old shakos of the time of Lafayette—five or six, no more—the National Guard having fallen into desuetude at Chavignolles. Peasants and their wives, workmen from neighbouring factories, and village brats, crowded together in the background; and Placquevent, the keeper, five feet eight inches in height, kept them in check with a look as he walked to and fro with folded arms.
The cure's speech was like that of other priests in similar circumstances. After thundering against kings, he glorified the Republic. "Do we not say 'the republic of letters,' 'the Christian republic'? What more innocent than the one, more beautiful than the other? Jesus Christ formulated our sublime device: the tree of the people was the tree of the Cross. In order that religion may give her fruits, she has need of charity." And, in the name of charity, the ecclesiastic implored his brethren not to commit any disorder; to return home peaceably.
Then he sprinkled the tree while he invoked the blessing of God. "May it grow, and may it recall to us our enfranchisement from all servitude, and that fraternity more bountiful than the shade of its branches. Amen."
Some voices repeated "Amen"; and, after an interval of drum-beating, the clergy, chanting a Te Deum, returned along the road to the church.
Their intervention had produced an excellent effect. The simple saw in it a promise of happiness, the patriotic a mark of deference, a sort of homage rendered to their principles.
Bouvard and Pecuchet thought they should have been thanked for their present, or at least that an allusion should have been made to it; and they unbosomed themselves on the subject to Faverges and the doctor.
What mattered wretched considerations of that sort? Vaucorbeil was delighted with the Revolution; so was the count. He execrated the Orleans family. They would never see them any more! Good-bye to them! All for the people henceforth! And followed by Hurel, his factotum, he went to meet the cure.
Foureau was walking with his head down, between the notary and the innkeeper, irritated by the ceremony, as he was apprehensive of a riot; and instinctively he turned round towards Placquevent, who, together with the captain, gave vent to loud regrets at Girbal's unsatisfactoriness and the sorry appearance of his men.
Some workmen passed along the road singing the "Marseillaise," with Gorju among them brandishing a stick; Petit was escorting them, with fire in his eyes.
"I don't like that!" said Marescot. "They are making a great outcry, and getting too excited."
"Oh, bless my soul!" replied Coulon; "young people must amuse themselves."
Foureau heaved a sigh. "Queer amusement! and then the guillotine at the end of it!" He had visions of the scaffold, and was anticipating horrors.
Chavignolles felt the rebound of the agitation in Paris. The villagers subscribed to the newspapers. Every morning people crowded to the post-office, and the postmistress would not have been able to get herself free from them had it not been for the captain, who sometimes assisted her. Then would follow a chat on the green.
The first violent discussion was on the subject of Poland.
Heurtaux and Bouvard called for its liberation.
M. de Faverges took a different view.
"What right have we to go there? That would be to let loose Europe against us. No imprudence!"
And everybody approving of this, the two Poles held their tongues.
On another occasion, Vaucorbeil spoke in favour of Ledru-Rollin's circulars.
Foureau retorted with a reference to the forty-five centimes.
"But the government," said Pecuchet, "has suppressed slavery."
"What does slavery matter to me?"
"Well, what about the abolition of the death-penalty in political cases?"
"Faith," replied Foureau, "they would like to abolish everything. However, who knows? the tenants are already showing themselves very exacting."
"So much the better! The proprietors," according to Pecuchet, "had been too much favoured. He that owns an estate——"
Foureau and Marescot interrupted him, exclaiming that he was a communist.
And all kept talking at the same time. When Pecuchet proposed to establish a club, Foureau had the hardihood to reply that they would never see such a thing at Chavignolles.
After this, Gorju demanded guns for the National Guard, the general opinion having fixed on him as instructor. The only guns in the place were those of the firemen. Girbal had possession of them. Foureau did not care to deliver them up.
Gorju looked at him.
"You will find, however, that I know how to use them."
For he added to his other occupations that of poaching, and the innkeeper often bought from him a hare or a rabbit.
"Faith! take them!" said Foureau.
The same evening they began drilling. It was under the lawn, in front of the church. Gorju, in a blue smock-frock, with a neckcloth around his loins, went through the movements in an automatic fashion. When he gave the orders, his voice was gruff.
"Draw in your bellies!"
And immediately, Bouvard, keeping back his breath, drew in his stomach, and stretched out his buttocks.
"Good God! you're not told to make an arch."
Pecuchet confused the ranks and the files, half-turns to the right and half-turns to the left; but the most pitiable sight was the schoolmaster: weak and of a slim figure, with a ring of fair beard around his neck, he staggered under the weight of his gun, the bayonet of which incommoded his neighbours.
They wore trousers of every colour, dirty shoulder-belts, old regimentals that were too short, leaving their shirts visible over their flanks; and each of them pretended that he had not the means of doing otherwise. A subscription was started to clothe the poorest of them. Foureau was niggardly, while women made themselves conspicuous. Madame Bordin gave five francs, in spite of her hatred of the Republic. M. de Faverges equipped a dozen men, and was not missing at the drill. Then he took up his quarters at the grocer's, and gave those who came in first a drink.
The powerful then began fawning on the lower class. Everyone went after the working-men. People intrigued for the favour of being associated with them. They became nobles.
Those of the canton were, for the most part, weavers; others worked in the cotton mills or at a paper factory lately established.
Gorju fascinated them by his bluster, taught them the shoe trick, and brought those whom he treated as chums to Madame Castillon's house for a drink.
But the peasants were more numerous, and on market days M. de Faverges would walk about the green, make inquiries as to their wants, and try to convert them to his own ideas. They listened without answering, like Pere Gouy, ready to accept any government so long as it reduced the taxes.
By dint of babbling, Gorju was making a name for himself. Perhaps they might send him into the Assembly!
M. de Faverges also was thinking of it, while seeking not to compromise himself.
The Conservatives oscillated between Foureau and Marescot, but, as the notary stuck to his office, Foureau was chosen—a boor, an idiot. The doctor waxed indignant. Rejected in the competition, he regretted Paris, and the consciousness of his wasted life gave him a morose air. A more distinguished career was about to open for him—what a revenge! He drew up a profession of faith, and went to read it to MM. Bouvard and Pecuchet.
They congratulated him upon it. Their opinions were identical with his. However, they wrote better, had a knowledge of history, and could cut as good a figure as he in the Chamber. Why not? But which of them ought to offer himself? And they entered upon a contest of delicacy.
Pecuchet preferred that it should be his friend rather than himself.
"No, it suits you better! you have a better deportment!"
"Perhaps so," returned Bouvard, "but you have a better tuft of hair!" And, without solving the difficulty, they arranged their plans of conduct.
This vertigo of deputyship had seized on others. The captain dreamed of it under his foraging-cap while puffing at his pipe, and the schoolmaster too in his school, and the cure also between two prayers, so that he sometimes surprised himself with his eyes towards heaven, in the act of saying, "Grant, O my God, that I may be a deputy!"
The doctor having received some encouragement, repaired to the house of Heurtaux, and explained to him what his chances were. The captain did not stand on ceremony about it. Vaucorbeil was known, undoubtedly, but little liked by his professional brethren, especially in the case of chemists. Everyone would bark at him; the people did not want a gentleman; his best patients would leave him. And, when he weighed these arguments, the physician regretted his weakness.
As soon as he had gone, Heurtaux went to see Placquevent. Between old soldiers there should be mutual courtesy, but the rural guard, devoted though he was to Foureau, flatly refused to help him.
The cure demonstrated to M. de Faverges that the hour had not come. It was necessary to give the Republic time to get used up.
Bouvard and Pecuchet represented to Gorju that he would never be strong enough to overcome the coalition of the peasants and the village shop-keepers, filled him with uncertainty, and deprived him of all confidence.
Petit, through pride, had allowed his ambition to be seen. Beljambe warned him that, if he failed, his dismissal was certain.
Finally, the cure got orders from the bishop to keep quiet.
Then, only Foureau remained.
Bouvard and Pecuchet opposed him, bringing up against him his unfriendly attitude about the guns, his opposition to the club, his reactionary views, his avarice; and even persuaded Gouy that he wished to bring back the old regime. Vague as was the meaning of this word to the peasant's mind, he execrated it with a hatred that had accumulated in the souls of his forefathers throughout ten centuries; and he turned all his relatives, and those of his wife, brothers-in-law, cousins, grand-nephews (a horde of them), against Foureau.
Gorju, Vaucorbeil, and Petit kept working for the overthrow of the mayor; and, the ground being thus cleared, Bouvard and Pecuchet, without any doubt, were likely to succeed.
They drew lots to know which would present himself. The drawing decided nothing, and they went to consult the doctor on the subject.
He had news for them: Flacardoux, editor of Le Calvados, had announced his candidature. The two friends had a keen sense of having been deceived. Each felt the other's disappointment more than his own. But politics had an exciting influence on them. When the election-day arrived they went to inspect the urns. Flacardoux had carried it!
M. de Faverges had fallen back on the National Guard, without obtaining the epaulet of commander. The people of Chavignolles contrived to get Beljambe nominated.
This favouritism on the part of the public, so whimsical and unforeseen, dismayed Heurtaux. He had neglected his duties, confining himself to inspecting the military operations now and then, and giving utterance to a few remarks. No matter! He considered it a monstrous thing that an innkeeper should be preferred to one who had been formerly a captain in the Imperial service, and he said, after the invasion of the Chamber on the 15th of May: "If the military grades give themselves away like that in the capital, I shall be no longer astonished at what may happen."
The reaction began.
People believed in Louis Blanc's pineapple soup, in Flocon's bed of gold, and Ledru-Rollin's royal orgies; and as the province pretends to know everything that happens in Paris, the inhabitants of Chavignolles had no doubt about these inventions, and gave credence to the most absurd reports.
M. de Faverges one evening came to look for the cure, in order to tell him that the Count de Chambord had arrived in Normandy.
Joinville, according to Foureau, had made preparations with his sailors to put down "these socialists of yours." Heurtaux declared that Louis Napoleon would shortly be consul.
The factories had stopped. Poor people wandered in large groups about the country.
One Sunday (it was in the early days of June) a gendarme suddenly started in the direction of Falaise. The workmen of Acqueville, Liffard, Pierre-Pont, and Saint-Remy were marching on Chavignolles. The sheds were shut up. The municipal council assembled and passed a resolution, to prevent catastrophes, that no resistance should be offered. The gendarmes were kept in, and orders were given to them not to show themselves. Soon was heard, as it were, the rumbling of a storm. Then the song of the Girondists shook the windows, and men, arm in arm, passed along the road from Caen, dusty, sweating, in rags. They filled up the entire space in front of the council chamber, and a great hurly-burly arose.
Gorju and two of his comrades entered the chamber. One of them was lean and wretched-looking, with a knitted waistcoat, the ribbons of which were hanging down; the other, black as coal—a machinist, no doubt—with hair like a brush, thick eyebrows, and old list shoes. Gorju, like a hussar, wore his waistcoat slung over his shoulder.
All three remained standing, and the councillors, seated round the table, which was covered with a blue cloth, gazed at their faces, pale from privation.
"Citizens!" said Gorju, "we want work."
The mayor trembled. He could not find his voice.
Marescot replied from the place where he sat that the council would consider the matter directly; and when the comrades had gone out they discussed several suggestions.
The first was to have stones drawn.
In order to utilise the stones, Girbal proposed a road from Angleville to Tournebu.
That from Bayeux had positively rendered the same service.
They could clear out the pond! This was not sufficient as a public work. Or rather, dig a second pond! But in what place?
Langlois' advice was to construct an embankment along the Mortins as a protection against an inundation. It would be better, Beljambe thought, to clear away the heather.
It was impossible to arrive at any conclusion. To appease the crowd, Coulon went down over the peristyle and announced that they were preparing charity workshops.
"Charity! Thanks!" cried Gorju. "Down with the aristocrats! We want the right to work!"
It was the question of the time. He made use of it as a source of popularity. He was applauded.
In turning round he elbowed Bouvard, whom Pecuchet had dragged to the spot, and they entered into conversation. Nothing could keep them back; the municipal building was surrounded; the council could not escape.
"Where shall you get money?" said Bouvard.
"In the rich people's houses. Besides, the government will give orders for public works."
"And if works are not wanted?"
"They will have them made in advance."
"But wages will fall," urged Pecuchet. "When work happens to be lacking, it is because there are too many products; and you demand to have them increased!"
Gorju bit his moustache. "However, with the organisation of labour——"
"Then the government will be the master!"
Some of those around murmured:
"No, no! no more masters!"
Gorju got angry. "No matter! Workers should be supplied with capital, or rather credit should be established."
"In what way?"
"Ah! I don't know; but credit ought to be established."
"We've had enough of that," said the machinist. "They are only plaguing us, these farce-actors!"
And he climbed up the steps, declaring that he would break open the door.
There he was met by Placquevent, with his right knee bent and his fists clenched:
"Advance one inch further!"
The machinist recoiled. The shouting of the mob reached the chamber. All arose with the desire to run away. The help from Falaise had not arrived. They bewailed the count's absence. Marescot kept twisting a pen; Pere Coulon groaned; Heurtaux lashed himself into a fury to make them send for the gendarmes.
"Command them to come!" said Foureau.
"I have no authority."
The noise, however, redoubled. The whole green was covered with people, and they were all staring at the first story of the building when, at the window in the middle, under the clock, Pecuchet made his appearance.
He had ingeniously gone up by the back-stairs, and, wishing to be like Lamartine, he began a harangue to the populace:
But his cap, his nose, his frock-coat, his entire personality lacked distinction.
The man in the knitted waistcoat asked him:
"Are you a workman?"
"A master, then?"
"Nor that either."
"Well, take yourself off, then."
"Why?" returned Pecuchet, haughtily.
And the next moment he disappeared, in the machinist's clutch, into the recess of the window.
Gorju came to his assistance. "Let him alone! He's a decent fellow." They clenched.
The door flew open, and Marescot, on the threshold, announced the decision of the council. Hurel had suggested his doing so.
The road from Tournebu would have a branch road in the direction of Angleville and leading towards the chateau of Faverges.
It was a sacrifice which the commune took upon itself in the interest of the working-men.
When Bouvard and Pecuchet re-entered their house, women's voices fell upon their ears. The servants and Madame Bordin were breaking into exclamations, the widow's screams being the loudest; and at sight of them she cried:
"Ha! this is very fortunate! I have been waiting for you for the last three hours! My poor garden has not a single tulip left! Filth everywhere on the grass! No way of getting rid of him!"
"Who is it?"
He had come with a cartload of manure, and had scattered it pell-mell over the grass.
"He is now digging it up. Hurry on and make him stop."
"I am going with you," said Bouvard.
At the bottom of the steps outside, a horse in the shafts of a dung-cart was gnawing at a bunch of oleanders. The wheels, in grazing the flower borders, had bruised the box trees, broken a rhododendron, knocked down the dahlias; and clods of black muck, like molehills, embossed the green sward. Gouy was vigorously digging it up.
One day Madame Bordin had carelessly said to him that she would like to have it turned up. He set about the job, and, in spite of her orders to desist, went on with it. This was the way that he interpreted the right to work, Gorju's talk having turned his brain.
He went away only after violent threats from Bouvard.
Madame Bordin, by way of compensation, did not pay for the manual labour, and kept the manure. She was wise: the doctor's wife, and even the notary's, though of higher social position, respected her for it.
The charity workshops lasted a week. No trouble occurred. Gorju left the neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, the National Guard was always on foot: on Sunday, a review; military promenades, occasionally; and, every night, patrols. They disturbed the village. They rang the bells of houses for fun; they made their way into the bedrooms where married couples were snoring on the same bolster; then they uttered broad jokes, and the husband, rising, would go and get them a glass each. Afterwards, they would return to the guard-house to play a hundred of dominoes, would consume a quantity of cider there, and eat cheese, while the sentinel, worn out, would keep opening the door every other minute. There was a prevailing absence of discipline, owing to Beljambe's laxity.
When the days of June came, everyone was in favour of "flying to the relief of Paris"; but Foureau could not leave the mayoral premises, Marescot his office, the doctor his patients, or Girbal his firemen. M. de Faverges was at Cherbourg. Beljambe kept his bed. The captain grumbled: "They did not want me; so much the worse!"—and Bouvard had the wisdom to put restraint on Pecuchet.
The patrols throughout the country were extended farther. They were panic-stricken by the shadow of a haystack, or by the forms of branches. On one occasion the entire National Guard turned and ran. In the moonlight they had observed, under an apple tree, a man with a gun, taking aim at them. At another time, on a dark night, the patrol halting under the beech trees, heard some one close at hand.
"Who is there?"
They allowed the person to pursue his course, following him at a distance, for he might have a pistol or a tomahawk; but when they were in the village, within reach of help, the dozen men of the company rushed together upon him, exclaiming:
"Your papers!" They pulled him about and overwhelmed him with insults. The men at the guard-house had gone out. They dragged him there; and by the light of the candle that was burning on top of the stove they at last recognised Gorju.
A wretched greatcoat of lasting was flapping over his shoulders. His toes could be seen through the holes in his boots. Scratches and bruises stained his face with blood. He was fearfully emaciated, and rolled his eyes about like a wolf.
Foureau, coming up speedily, questioned him as to how he chanced to be under the beech trees, what his object was in coming back to Chavignolles, and also as to the employment of his time for the past six weeks.
"That is no business of yours. I have my liberty."
Placquevent searched him to find out whether he had cartridges about him.
They were about to imprison him provisionally.
"No use," replied the mayor; "we know your opinions."
"Ha! be careful; I give you warning. Be careful."
Bouvard persisted no further.
Gorju then turned towards Pecuchet: "And you, master, have you not a word to say for me?"
Pecuchet hung down his head, as if he had a suspicion against his innocence.
The poor wretch smiled bitterly.
"I protected you, all the same."
At daybreak, two gendarmes took him to Falaise.
He was not tried before a court-martial, but was sentenced by the civil tribunal to three months' imprisonment for the misdemeanour of language tending towards the destruction of society. From Falaise he wrote to his former employers to send him soon a certificate of good life and morals, and as their signature required to be legalised by the mayor or the deputy, they preferred to ask Marescot to do this little service for them.
They were introduced into a dining-room, decorated with dishes of fine old earthenware; a Boule clock occupied the narrowest shelf. On the mahogany table, without a cloth, were two napkins, a teapot and finger-glasses. Madame Marescot crossed the room in a dressing-gown of blue cashmere. She was a Parisian who was bored with the country. Then the notary came in, with his cap in one hand, a newspaper in the other; and at once, in the most polite fashion, he affixed his seal, although their protege was a dangerous man.
"Really," said Bouvard, "for a few words——"
"But words lead to crimes, my dear sir, give me leave to say."
"And yet," said Pecuchet, "what line of demarcation can you lay down between innocent and guilty phrases? The thing that just now is prohibited may be subsequently applauded." And he censured the harshness with which the insurgents had been treated.
Marescot naturally rested his case on the necessity of protecting society, the public safety—the supreme law.
"Pardon me!" said Pecuchet, "the right of a single individual is as much entitled to respect as those of all, and you have nothing to oppose to him but force if he turns your axiom upon yourself."
Instead of replying, Marescot lifted his brows disdainfully. Provided that he continued to draw up legal documents, and to live among his plates, in his comfortable little home, injustices of every kind might present themselves without affecting him. Business called him away. He excused himself.
His theory of public safety excited their indignation. The Conservatives now talked like Robespierre.
Another matter for astonishment: Cavaignac was flagging; the Garde Mobile was exposing itself to suspicion. Ledru-Rollin had ruined himself even in Vaucorbeil's estimation. The debates on the Constitution interested nobody, and on the 10th of December all the inhabitants of Chavignolles voted for Bonaparte. The six millions of votes made Pecuchet grow cold with regard to the people, and Bouvard and he proceeded to study the question of universal suffrage.
As it belongs to everybody, it cannot possess intelligence. One ambitious man will always be the leader; the others will follow him like a flock of sheep, the electors not being compelled even to know how to read. This was the reason, in Bouvard's opinion, that there were so many frauds at presidential elections.
"None," replied Bouvard; "I believe rather in the gullibility of the people. Think of all who buy the patent health-restorer, the Dupuytren pomatum, the Chatelaine's water, etc. Those boobies constitute the majority of the electorate, and we submit to their will. Why cannot an income of three thousand francs be made out of rabbits? Because the overcrowding of them is a cause of death. In the same way, through the mere fact of its being a multitude, the germs of stupidity contained in it are developed, and thence result consequences that are incalculable."
"Your scepticism frightens me," said Pecuchet.
At a later period, in the spring, they met M. de Faverges, who apprised them of the expedition to Rome. We should not attack the Italians, but we should require guaranties. Otherwise our influence would be destroyed. Nothing would be more legitimate than this intervention.
Bouvard opened his eyes wide. "On the subject of Poland, you expressed a contrary opinion."
"It is no longer the same thing." It was now a question of the Pope.
And M. de Faverges, when he said, "We wish," "We shall do," "We calculate clearly," represented a group.
Bouvard and Pecuchet were disgusted with the minority quite as much as with the majority. The common people, in short, were just the same as the aristocracy.
The right of intervention appeared dubious to them. They sought for its principles in Calvo, Martens, Vattel; and Bouvard's conclusion was this:
"There may be intervention to restore a prince to the throne, to emancipate a people, or, for the sake of precaution, in view of a public danger. In other cases it is an outrage on the rights of others, an abuse of force, a piece of hypocritical violence."
"And yet," said Pecuchet, "peoples have a solidarity as well as men."
"Perhaps so." And Bouvard sank into a reverie.
The expedition to Rome soon began.
At home, through hatred of revolutionary ideas, the leaders of the Parisian middle class got two printing-offices sacked. The great party of order was formed.
It had for its chiefs in the arrondissement the count, Foureau, Marescot, and the cure. Every day, about four o'clock, they walked from one end of the green to the other, and talked over the events of the day. The principal business was the distribution of pamphlets. The titles did not lack attractiveness: "God will be pleased with it"; "The sharing"; "Let us get out of the mess"; "Where are we going?" The finest things among them were the dialogues in the style of villagers, with oaths and bad French, to elevate the mental faculties of the peasants. By a new law, the hawking of pamphlets would be in the hands of the prefects; and they had just crammed Proudhon into St. Pelagie—gigantic triumph!
The trees of liberty were generally torn down. Chavignolles obeyed orders. Bouvard saw with his own eyes the fragments of his poplar on a wheelbarrow. They helped to warm the gendarmes, and the stump was offered to the cure, who had blessed it. What a mockery!
The schoolmaster did not hide his way of thinking.
Bouvard and Pecuchet congratulated him on it one day as they were passing in front of his door. Next day he presented himself at their residence.
At the end of the week they returned his visit.
The day was declining. The brats had just gone home, and the schoolmaster, in half-sleeves, was sweeping the yard. His wife, with a neckerchief tied round her head, was suckling a baby. A little girl was hiding herself behind her petticoat; a hideous-looking child was playing on the ground at her feet. The water from the washing she had been doing in the kitchen was flowing to the lower end of the house.
"You see," said the schoolmaster, "how the government treats us."
And forthwith he began finding fault with capital as an infamous thing. It was necessary to democratise it, to enfranchise matter.
"I ask for nothing better," said Pecuchet.
At least, they ought to have recognised the right to assistance.
"One more right!" said Bouvard.
No matter! The provisional government had acted in a flabby fashion by not ordaining fraternity.
"Then try to establish it."
As there was no longer daylight, Petit rudely ordered his wife to carry a candle to his study.
The lithograph portraits of the orators of the Left were fastened with pins to the plaster walls. A bookshelf stood above a deal writing-desk. There were a chair, stool, and an old soap-box for persons to sit down upon. He made a show of laughing. But want had laid its traces on his cheeks, and his narrow temples indicated the stubbornness of a ram, an intractable pride. He never would yield.
"Besides, see what sustains me!"
It was a pile of newspapers on a shelf, and in feverish phrases he explained the articles of his faith: disarmament of troops, abolition of the magistracy, equality of salaries, a levelling process by which the golden age was to be brought about under the form of the Republic, with a dictator at its head—a fellow that would carry this out for us briskly!
Then he reached for a bottle of aniseed cordial and three glasses, in order to propose the toast of the hero, the immortal victim, the great Maximilian.
On the threshold appeared the black cassock of the priest. Having saluted those present in an animated fashion, he addressed the schoolmaster, speaking almost in a whisper:
"Our business about St. Joseph, what stage is it at?"
"They have given nothing," replied the schoolmaster.
"That is your fault!"
"I have done what I could."
Bouvard and Pecuchet discreetly rose. Petit made them sit down again, and addressing the cure:
"Is that all?"
The Abbe Jeufroy hesitated. Then, with a smile which tempered his reprimand:
"It is supposed that you are rather negligent about sacred history."
"Oh, sacred history!" interrupted Bouvard.
"What fault have you to find with it, sir?"
"I—none. Only there are perhaps more useful things to be learned than the anecdote of Jonas and the story of the kings of Israel."
"You are free to do as you please," replied the priest drily.
And without regard for the strangers, or on account of their presence:
"The catechism hour is too short."
Petit shrugged his shoulders.
"Mind! You will lose your boarders!"
The ten francs a month for these pupils formed the best part of his remuneration. But the cassock exasperated him.
"So much the worse; take your revenge!"
"A man of my character does not revenge himself," said the priest, without being moved. "Only I would remind you that the law of the fifteenth of March assigns us to the superintendence of primary education."
"Ah! I know that well," cried the schoolmaster. "It is given even to colonels of gendarmes. Why not to the rural guard? That would complete the thing!"
And he sank upon the stool, biting his fingers, repressing his rage, stifled by the feeling of his own powerlessness.
The priest touched him lightly on the shoulder.
"I did not intend to annoy you, my friend. Keep yourself quiet. Be a little reasonable. Here is Easter close at hand; I hope you will show an example by going to communion along with the others."
"That is too much! I—I submit to such absurdities!"
At this blasphemy the cure turned pale, his eyeballs gleamed, his jaw quivered.
"Silence, unhappy man! silence! And it is his wife who looks after the church linen!"
"Well, what then? What has she done to you?"
"She always stays away from mass. Like yourself, for that matter!"
"Oh! a schoolmaster is not sent away for a thing of that kind!"
"He can be removed."
The priest said no more.
He was at the end of the room, in the shadow.
Petit was thinking, with his head resting on his chest.
They would arrive at the other end of France, their last sou eaten up by the journey, and they would again find down there, under different names, the same cure, the same superintendent, the same prefect—all, even to the minister, were like links in a chain dragging him down. He had already had one warning—others would follow. After that?—and in a kind of hallucination he saw himself walking along a high-road, a bag on his back, those whom he loved by his side, and his hand held out towards a post-chaise.
At that moment his wife was seized with a fit of coughing in the kitchen, the new-born infant began to squeal, and the boy was crying.
"Poor children!" said the priest in a softened voice.
The father thereupon broke into sobs:
"Yes, yes! whatever you require!"
"I count upon it," replied the cure.
And, having made the customary bow:
"Well, good evening to you, gentlemen."
The schoolmaster remained with his face in his hands.
He pushed away Bouvard. "No! let me alone. I feel as if I'd like to die. I am an unfortunate man."
The two friends, when they reached their own house, congratulated themselves on their independence. The power of the clergy terrified them.
It was now employed for the purpose of strengthening public order. The Republic was about to disappear.
Three millions of electors found themselves excluded from universal suffrage. The security required from newspapers was raised; the press censorship was re-established. It was even suggested that it should be put in force against the fiction columns. Classical philosophy was considered dangerous. The commercial classes preached the dogma of material interests; and the populace seemed satisfied.
The country-people came back to their old masters.
M. de Faverges, who had estates in Eure, was declared a member of the Legislative Assembly, and his re-election for the general council of Calvados was certain beforehand.
He thought proper to invite the leading personages in the district to a luncheon.
The vestibule in which three servants were waiting to take their overcoats, the billiard-room and the pair of drawing-rooms, the plants in china vases, the bronzes on the mantel-shelves, the gold wands on the panelled walls, the heavy curtains, the wide armchairs—this display of luxury struck them at once as a mark of courtesy towards them; and, when they entered the dining-room, at the sight of the table laden with meats in silver dishes, together with the row of glasses before each plate, the side-dishes here and there, and a salmon in the middle, every face brightened up.
The party numbered seventeen, including two sturdy agriculturists, the sub-prefect of Bayeux and one person from Cherbourg. M. de Faverges begged his guests to excuse the countess, who was absent owing to a headache; and, after some commendations of the pears and grapes, which filled four baskets at the corners, he asked about the great news—the project of a descent on England by Changarnier.
Heurtaux desired it as a soldier, the cure through hatred of the Protestants, and Foureau in the interests of commerce.
"You are giving expression," said Pecuchet, "to the sentiments of the Middle Ages."
"The Middle Ages had their good side," returned Marescot. "For instance, our cathedrals."
"However, sir, the abuses——"
"No matter—the Revolution would not have come."
"Ha! the Revolution—there's the misfortune," said the ecclesiastic with a sigh.
"But everyone contributed towards it, and (excuse me, Monsieur le Comte) the nobles themselves by their alliance with the philosophers."
"What is it you want? Louis XVIII. legalised spoliation. Since that time the parliamentary system is sapping the foundations."
A joint of roast beef made its appearance, and for some minutes nothing was heard save the sounds made by forks and moving jaws, and by the servants crossing the floor with the two words on their lips, which they repeated continually:
The conversation was resumed by the gentleman from Cherbourg:
"How were they to stop on the slope of an abyss?"
"Amongst the Athenians," said Marescot—"amongst the Athenians, towards whom we bear certain resemblances, Solon checkmated the democrats by raising the electoral census."
"It would be better," said Hurel, "to suppress the Chamber: every disorder comes from Paris."
"Let us decentralise," said the notary.
"On a large scale," added the count.
In Foureau's opinion, the communal authorities should have absolute control, even to the extent of prohibiting travellers from using their roads, if they thought fit.
And whilst the dishes followed one another—fowl with gravy, lobsters, mushrooms, salads, roast larks—many topics were handled: the best system of taxation, the advantages of the large system of land cultivation, the abolition of the death penalty. The sub-prefect did not forget to cite that charming witticism of a clever man: "Let Messieurs the Assassins begin!"
Bouvard was astonished at the contrast between the surroundings and the remarks that reached his ears; for one would think that the language used should always harmonise with the environment, and that lofty ceilings should be made for great thoughts. Nevertheless, he was flushed at dessert, and saw the fruit-dishes as if through a fog. Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Malaga were amongst the wines sent round. M. de Faverges, who knew the people he had to deal with, made the champagne flow. The guests, touching glasses, drank to his success at the election; and more than three hours elapsed before they passed out into the smoking-room, where coffee was served.
A caricature from Charivari was trailing on the floor between some copies of the Univers. It represented a citizen the skirts of whose frock-coat allowed a tail to be seen with an eye at the end of it. Marescot explained it amid much laughter.
They swallowed their liqueurs, and the ashes of their cigars fell on the paddings of the furniture.
The abbe, desirous to convince Girbal, began an attack on Voltaire. Coulon fell asleep. M. de Faverges avowed his devotion to Chambord.
"The bees furnish an argument for monarchy."
"But the ants for the Republic." However, the doctor adhered to it no longer.
"You are right," said the sub-prefect; "the form of government matters little."
"With liberty," suggested Pecuchet.
"An honest man has no need of it," replied Foureau. "I make no speeches, for my part. I am not a journalist. And I tell you that France requires to be governed with a rod of iron."
All called for a deliverer. As they were going out, Bouvard and Pecuchet heard M. de Faverges saying to the Abbe Jeufroy:
"We must re-establish obedience. Authority perishes if it be made the subject of discussion. The Divine Right—there is nothing but that!"
"Exactly, Monsieur le Comte."
The pale rays of an October sun were lengthening out behind the woods. A moist wind was blowing, and as they walked over the dead leaves they breathed like men who had just been set free.
All that they had not found the opportunity of saying escaped from them in exclamations:
"How is it possible to imagine such obstinacy!"
"In the first place, what is the meaning of the Divine Right?"
Dumouchel's friend, that professor who had supplied them with instruction on the subject of aesthetics, replied to their inquiries in a learned letter.
"The theory of Divine Right was formulated in the reign of Charles II. by the Englishman Filmer. Here it is:
"'The Creator gave the first man dominion over the world. It was transmitted to his descendants, and the power of the king emanates from God.'
"'He is His image,' writes Bossuet. 'The paternal empire accustoms us to the domination of one alone. Kings have been made after the model of parents.'
"Locke refuted this doctrine: 'The paternal power is distinguished from the monarchic, every subject having the same right over his children that the monarch has over his own. Royalty exists only through the popular choice; and even the election was recalled at the ceremony of coronation, in which two bishops, pointing towards the king, asked both nobles and peasants whether they accepted him as such.'
"Therefore, authority comes from the people.
"'They have the right to do what they like,' says Helvetius; to 'change their constitution,' says Vattel; to 'revolt against injustice,' according to the contention of Glafey, Hotman, Mably, and others; and St. Thomas Aquinas authorises them to 'deliver themselves from a tyrant.' 'They are even,' says Jurieu, 'dispensed from being right.'"
Astonished at the axiom, they took up Rousseau's Contrat Social. Pecuchet went through to the end. Then closing his eyes, and throwing back his head, he made an analysis of it.
"A convention is assumed whereby the individual gives up his liberty.
"The people at the same time undertook to protect him against the inequalities of nature, and made him owner of the things he had in his possession."
"Where is the proof of the contract?"
"Nowhere! And the community does not offer any guaranty. The citizens occupy themselves exclusively with politics. But as callings are necessary, Rousseau is in favour of slavery. 'The sciences have destroyed the human race. The theatre is corrupting, money fatal, and the state ought to impose a religion under the penalty of death.'"
"What!" said they, "here is the pontiff of democracy."
All the champions of reform had copied him; and they procured the Examen du Socialisme, by Morant.
The first chapter explained the doctrine of Saint-Simon.
At the top the Father, at the same time Pope and Emperor. Abolition of inheritance; all property movable and immovable forming a social fund, which should be worked on a hierarchical basis. The manufacturers are to govern the public fortune. But there is nothing to be afraid of; they will have as a leader the "one who loves the most."
One thing is lacking: woman. On the advent of woman depends the salvation of the world.
"I do not understand."
And they turned to Fourierism:
"'All misfortunes come from constraint. Let the attraction be free, and harmony will be established.
"'In our souls are shut up a dozen leading passions: five egoistical, four animistic, and three distributive. The first class have reference to individuals, the second to groups, the last to groups of groups, or series, of which the whole forms a phalanx, a society of eighteen hundred persons dwelling in a palace. Every morning carriages convey the workers into the country, and bring them back in the evening. Standards are carried, festivities are held, cakes are eaten. Every woman, if she desires it, can have three men—the husband, the lover, and the procreator. For celibates, the Bayadere system is established——'"
"That fits me!" said Bouvard. And he lost himself in dreams of the harmonious world.
"'By the restoration of climatures, the earth will become more beautiful; by the crossing of races, human life will become longer. The clouds will be guided as the thunderbolt is now: it will rain at night in the cities so that they will be clean. Ships will cross the polar seas, thawed beneath the Aurora Borealis. For everything is produced by the conjunction of two fluids, male and female, gushing out from the poles, and the northern lights are a symptom of the blending of the planets—a prolific emission.'"
"This is beyond me!" said Pecuchet.
After Saint-Simon and Fourier the problem resolves itself into questions of wages.
Louis Blanc, in the interests of the working class, wishes to abolish external commerce; Lafarelle to tax machinery; another to take off the drink duties, to restore trade wardenships, or to distribute soups.
Proudhon conceives the idea of a uniform tariff, and claims for the state the monopoly of sugar.
"These socialists," said Bouvard, "always call for tyranny."
"You are absurd!"
"Well, I am shocked at you!"
They sent for the works of which they had only summaries. Bouvard noted a number of passages, and, pointing them out, said:
"Read for yourself. They offer as examples to us the Essenes, the Moravian Brethren, the Jesuits of Paraguay, and even the government of prisons."
"'Amongst the Icarians breakfast was over in twenty minutes; women were delivered at the hospitals. As for books, it was forbidden to print them without the authorisation of the Republic.'"
"But Cabet is an idiot."
"Here, now, we have from Saint-Simon: 'The publicists should submit their works to a committee of manufacturers.'
"And from Pierre Leroux: 'The law will compel the citizens to listen to an orator.'
"And from Auguste Comte: 'The priests will educate the youth, will exercise supervision over literary works, and will reserve to themselves the power of regulating procreation.'"
These quotations troubled Pecuchet. In the evening, at dinner, he replied:
"I admit that there are absurdities in the works of the inventors of Utopias; nevertheless they deserve our sympathy. The hideousness of the world tormented them, and, in order to make it beautiful, they endured everything. Recall to mind More decapitated, Campanella put seven times to the torture, Buonarotti with a chain round his neck, Saint-Simon dying of want; many others. They might have lived in peace; but no! they marched on their way with their heads towards the sky, like heroes."
"Do you believe," said Bouvard, "that the world will change, thanks to the theories of some particular gentleman?"
"What does it matter?" said Pecuchet; "it is time to cease stagnating in selfishness. Let us look out for the best system."
"Then you expect to find it?"
And, in the fit of laughter with which Bouvard was seized, his shoulders and stomach kept shaking in harmony. Redder than the jams before them, with his napkin under his armpits, he kept repeating, "Ha! ha! ha!" in an irritating fashion.
Pecuchet left the room, slamming the door after him.
Germaine went all over the house to call him, and he was found at the end of his own apartment in an easy chair, without fire or candle, his cap drawn over his eyes. He was not unwell, but had given himself up to his own broodings.
When the quarrel was over they recognised that a foundation was needed for their studies—political economy.
They inquired into supply and demand, capital and rent, importation and prohibition.
One night Pecuchet was awakened by the creaking of a boot in the corridor. The evening before, according to custom, he had himself drawn all the bolts; and he called out to Bouvard, who was fast asleep.
They remained motionless under the coverlets. The noise was not repeated.
The servants, on being questioned, said they had heard nothing.
But, while walking through the garden, they remarked in the middle of a flower-bed, near the gateway, the imprint of a boot-sole, and two of the sticks used as supports for the trees were broken. Evidently some one had climbed over.
It was necessary to give notice of it to the rural guard.
As he was not at the municipal building, Pecuchet thought of going to the grocer's shop.
Who should they see in the back shop, beside Placquevent, in the midst of the topers, but Gorju—Gorju, rigged out like a well-to-do citizen, entertaining the company!
This meeting was taken as a matter of course.
So on they lapsed into a discussion about progress.
Bouvard had no doubt it existed in the domain of science. But in that of literature it was not so manifest; and if comfort increases, the poetic side of life disappears.
Pecuchet, in order to bring home conviction on the point, took a piece of paper: "I trace across here an undulating line. Those who happen to travel over it, whenever it sinks, can no longer see the horizon. It rises again nevertheless, and, in spite of its windings, they reach the top. This is an image of progress."
Madame Bordin entered at this point.
It was the 3rd of December, 1851. She had the newspaper in her hand.
They read very quickly, side by side, the news of the appeal to the people, the dissolution of the Chamber, and the imprisonment of the deputies.
Pecuchet turned pale. Bouvard gazed at the widow.
"What! have you nothing to say?"
"What do you wish me to do here?" (They had forgotten to offer her a seat.) "I came here simply out of courtesy towards you, and you are scarcely civil to-day."
And out she went, disgusted at their want of politeness.
The astonishing news had struck them dumb. Then they went about the village venting their indignation.
Marescot, whom they found surrounded by a pile of deeds, took a different view. The babbling of the Chamber was at an end, thank Heaven! Henceforth they would have a business policy.
Beljambe knew nothing about the occurrences, and, furthermore, he laughed at them.
In the market-place they stopped Vaucorbeil.
The physician had got over all that. "You are very foolish to bother yourselves."
Foureau passed them by, remarking with a sly air, "The democrats are swamped."
And the captain, with Girbal's arm in his, exclaimed from a distance, "Long live the Emperor!"
But Petit would be sure to understand them, and Bouvard having tapped at a window-pane, the schoolmaster quitted his class.
He thought it a good joke to have Thiers in prison. This would avenge the people.
"Ha! ha! my gentlemen deputies, your turn now!"
The volley of musketry on the boulevards met with the approval of the people of Chavignolles. No mercy for the vanquished, no pity for the victims! Once you revolt, you are a scoundrel!
"Let us be grateful to Providence," said the cure, "and under Providence to Louis Bonaparte. He gathers around him the most distinguished men. The Count de Faverges will be made a senator."
Next day they had a visit from Placquevent.
"These gentlemen" had talked a great deal. He required a promise from them to hold their tongues.
"Do you wish to know my opinion?" said Pecuchet. "Since the middle class is ferocious and the working-men jealous-minded, whilst the people, after all, accept every tyrant, so long as they are allowed to keep their snouts in the mess, Napoleon has done right. Let him gag them, the rabble, and exterminate them—this will never be too much for their hatred of right, their cowardice, their incapacity, and their blindness."
Bouvard mused: "Hey! progress! what humbug!" He added: "And politics, a nice heap of dirt!"
"It is not a science," returned Pecuchet. "The military art is better: you can tell what will happen—we ought to turn our hands to it."
"Oh, thanks," was Bouvard's answer. "I am disgusted with everything. Better for us to sell our barrack, and go in the name of God's thunder amongst the savages."
"Just as you like."
Melie was drawing water out in the yard.
The wooden pump had a long lever. In order to make it work, she bent her back, so that her blue stockings could be seen as high as the calf of her legs. Then, with a rapid movement, she raised her right arm, while she turned her head a little to one side; and Pecuchet, as he gazed at her, felt quite a new sensation, a charm, a thrill of intense delight.
"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.
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.
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?"
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.
They fixed the following Thursday for the formality of signing the marriage contract.
Nobody should know anything about it up to the last moment.
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!"
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.