No sooner was Rodolphe at home than he sat down quickly at his bureau under
the stag's head that hung as a trophy on the wall. But when he had the pen
between his fingers, he could think of nothing, so that, resting on his elbows, he
began to reflect. Emma seemed to him to have receded into a far-off past, as if
the resolution he had taken had suddenly placed a distance between them.
To get back something of her, he fetched from the cupboard at the bedside an
old Rheims biscuit-box, in which he usually kept his letters from women, and
from it came an odour of dry dust and withered roses. First he saw a
handkerchief with pale little spots. It was a handkerchief of hers. Once when they
were walking her nose had bled; he had forgotten it. Near it, chipped at all the
corners, was a miniature given him by Emma: her toilette seemed to him
pretentious, and her languishing look in the worst possible taste. Then, from
looking at this image and recalling the memory of its original, Emma's features
little by little grew confused in his remembrance, as if the living and the painted
face, rubbing one against the other, had effaced each other. Finally, he read
some of her letters; they were full of explanations relating to their journey, short,
technical, and urgent, like business notes. He wanted to see the long ones again,
those of old times. In order to find them at the bottom of the box, Rodolphe
disturbed all the others, and mechanically began rummaging amidst this mass of
papers and things, finding pell-mell bouquets, garters, a black mask, pins, and
hair—hair! dark and fair, some even, catching in the hinges of the box, broke
when it was opened.
Thus dallying with his souvenirs, he examined the writing and the style of the
letters, as varied as their orthography. They were tender or jovial, facetious,
melancholy; there were some that asked for love, others that asked for money. A
word recalled faces to him, certain gestures, the sound of a voice; sometimes,
however, he remembered nothing at all.
In fact, these women, rushing at once into his thoughts, cramped each other and
lessened, as reduced to a uniform level of love that equalised them all. So taking
handfuls of the mixed-up letters, he amused himself for some moments with
letting them fall in cascades from his right into his left hand. At last, bored and
weary, Rodolphe took back the box to the cupboard, saying to himself, "What a
lot of rubbish!" Which summed up his opinion; for pleasures, like schoolboys in a
school courtyard, had so trampled upon his heart that no green thing grew there,
and that which passed through it, more heedless than children, did not even, like
them, leave a name carved upon the wall.
"Come," said he, "let's begin."
"Courage, Emma! courage! I would not bring misery into your life."
"After all, that's true," thought Rodolphe. "I am acting in her interest; I am