She hurried off to tell Madame Caron, and the two ladies went up to the attic, and, hidden by some linen spread across props, stationed themselves comfortably for overlooking the whole of Binet's room.
He was alone in his garret, busy imitating in wood one of those indescribable bits of ivory, composed of crescents, of spheres hollowed out one within the other, the whole as straight as an obelisk, and of no use whatever; and he was beginning on the last piece — he was nearing his goal. In the twilight of the workshop the white dust was flying from his tools like a shower of sparks under the hoofs of a galloping horse; the two wheels were turning, droning; Binet smiled, his chin lowered, his nostrils distended, and, in a word, seemed lost in one of those complete happinesses that, no doubt, belong only to commonplace occupations, which amuse the mind with facile difficulties, and satisfy by a realisation of that beyond which such minds have not a dream.
"Ah! there she is!" exclaimed Madame Tuvache.
But it was impossible because of the lathe to hear what she was saying.
At last these ladies thought they made out the word "francs," and Madame Tuvache whispered in a low voice —
"She is begging him to give her time for paying her taxes."
"Apparently!" replied the other.
They saw her walking up and down, examining the napkin-rings, the candlesticks, the banister rails against the walls, while Binet stroked his beard with satisfaction.
"Do you think she wants to order something of him?" said Madame Tuvache.
"Why, he doesn't sell anything," objected her neighbour.
The tax-collector seemed to be listening with wide-open eyes, as if he did not understand. She went on in a tender, suppliant manner. She came nearer to him, her breast heaving; they no longer spoke.
"Is she making him advances?" said Madame Tuvache. Binet was scarlet to his very ears. She took hold of his hands.
"Oh, it's too much!"
And no doubt she was suggesting something abominable to him; for the tax-collector — yet he was brave, had fought at Bautzen and at Lutzen, had been through the French campaign, and had even been recommended for the cross — suddenly, as at the sight of a serpent, recoiled as far as he could from her, crying —
"Madame! what do you mean?"
"Women like that ought to be whipped," said Madame Tuvache.
"But where is she?" continued Madame Caron, for she had disappeared whilst they spoke; then catching sight of her going up the Grande Rue, and turning to the right as if making for the cemetery, they were lost in conjectures.
"Nurse Rollet," she said on reaching the nurse's, "I am choking; unlace me!" She fell on the bed sobbing. Nurse Rollet covered her with a petticoat and remained standing by her side. Then, as she did not answer, the good woman withdrew, took her wheel and began spinning flax.
"Oh, leave off!" she murmured, fancying she heard Binet's lathe.
"What's bothering her?" said the nurse to herself. "Why has she come here?"
She had rushed thither; impelled by a kind of horror that drove her from her home.
Lying on her back, motionless, and with staring eyes, she saw things but vaguely, although she tried to with idiotic persistence. She looked at the scales on the walls, two brands smoking end to end, and a long spider crawling over her head in a rent in the beam. At last she began to collect her thoughts. She remembered — one day — Leon — Oh! how long ago that was — the sun was shining on the river, and the clematis were perfuming the air. Then, carried away as by a rushing torrent, she soon began to recall the day before.
"What time is it?" she asked.
Mere Rollet went out, raised the fingers of her right hand to that side of the sky that was brightest, and came back slowly, saying —
"Ahl thanks, thanks!"
For he would come; he would have found some money. But he would, perhaps, go down yonder, not guessing she was here, and she told the nurse to run to her house to fetch him.
"But, my dear lady, I'm going, I'm going!"
She wondered now that she had not thought of him from the first. Yesterday he had given his word; he would not break it. And she already saw herself at Lheureux's spreading out her three bank-notes on his bureau. Then she would have to invent some story to explain matters to Bovary. What should it be?
The nurse, however, was a long while gone. But, as there was no clock in the cot, Emma feared she was perhaps exaggerating the length of time. She began walking round the garden, step by step; she went into the path by the hedge, and returned quickly, hoping that the woman would have come back by another road. At last, weary of waiting, assailed by fears that she thrust from her, no longer conscious whether she had been here a century or a moment, she sat down in a corner, closed her eyes, and stopped her ears. The gate grated; she sprang up. Before she had spoken Mere Rollet said to her —
"There is no one at your house!"
"Oh, no one! And the doctor is crying. He is calling for you; they're looking for you."
Emma answered nothing. She gasped as she turned her eyes about her, while the peasant woman, frightened at her face, drew back instinctively, thinking her mad. Suddenly she struck her brow and uttered a cry; for the thought of Rodolphe, like a flash of lightning in a dark night, had passed into her soul. He was so good, so delicate, so generous! And besides, should he hesitate to do her this service, she would know well enough how to constrain him to it by re-waking, in a single moment, their lost love. So she set out towards La Huchette, not seeing that she was hastening to offer herself to that which but a while ago had so angered her, not in the least conscious of her prostitution.