On the Place she met Lestivoudois on his way back, for, in order not to shorten his day’s labour, he preferred interrupting his work, then beginning it again, so that he rang the Angelus to suit his own convenience. Besides, the ringing over a little earlier warned the lads of catechism hour.
Already a few who had arrived were playing marbles on the stones of the cemetery. Others, astride the wall, swung their legs, kicking with their clogs the large nettles growing between the little enclosure and the newest graves. This was the only green spot. All the rest was but stones, always covered with a fine powder, despite the vestry-broom.
The children in list shoes ran about there as if it were an enclosure made for them. The shouts of their voices could be heard through the humming of the bell. This grew less and less with the swinging of the great rope that, hanging from the top of the belfry, dragged its end on the ground. Swallows flitted to and fro uttering little cries, cut the air with the edge of their wings, and swiftly returned to their yellow nests under the tiles of the coping. At the end of the church a lamp was burning, the wick of a night-light in a glass hung up. Its light from a distance looked like a white stain trembling in the oil. A long ray of the sun fell across the nave and seemed to darken the lower sides and the corners.
“Where is the cure?” asked Madame Bovary of one of the lads, who was amusing himself by shaking a swivel in a hole too large for it.
“He is just coming,” he answered.
And in fact the door of the presbytery grated; Abbe Bournisien appeared; the children, pell-mell, fled into the church.
“These young scamps!” murmured the priest, “always the same!”
Then, picking up a catechism all in rags that he had struck with is foot, “They respect nothing!” But as soon as he caught sight of Madame Bovary, “Excuse me,” he said; “I did not recognise you.”
He thrust the catechism into his pocket, and stopped short, balancing the heavy vestry key between his two fingers.
The light of the setting sun that fell full upon his face paled the lasting of his cassock, shiny at the elbows, unravelled at the hem. Grease and tobacco stains followed along his broad chest the lines of the buttons, and grew more numerous the farther they were from his neckcloth, in which the massive folds of his red chin rested; this was dotted with yellow spots, that disappeared beneath the coarse hair of his greyish beard. He had just dined and was breathing noisily.
“How are you?” he added.
“Not well,” replied Emma; “I am ill.”
“Well, and so am I,” answered the priest. “These first warm days weaken one most remarkably, don’t they? But, after all, we are born to suffer, as St. Paul says. But what does Monsieur Bovary think of it?”
“He!” she said with a gesture of contempt.
“What!” replied the good fellow, quite astonished, “doesn’t he prescribe something for you?”