The next day was a dreary one for Emma. Everything seemed to her enveloped
in a black atmosphere floating confusedly over the exterior of things, and sorrow
was engulfed within her soul with soft shrieks such as the winter wind makes in
ruined castles. It was that reverie which we give to things that will not return, the
lassitude that seizes you after everything was done; that pain, in fine, that the
interruption of every wonted movement, the sudden cessation of any prolonged
vibration, brings on.
As on the return from Vaubyessard, when the quadrilles were running in her
head, she was full of a gloomy melancholy, of a numb despair. Leon reappeared,
taller, handsomer, more charming, more vague. Though separated from her, he
had not left her; he was there, and the walls of the house seemed to hold his
She could not detach her eyes from the carpet where he had walked, from those
empty chairs where he had sat. The river still flowed on, and slowly drove its
ripples along the slippery banks.
They had often walked there to the murmur of the waves over the moss-covered
pebbles. How bright the sun had been! What happy afternoons they had seen
alone in the shade at the end of the garden! He read aloud, bareheaded, sitting
on a footstool of dry sticks; the fresh wind of the meadow set trembling the
leaves of the book and the nasturtiums of the arbour. Ah! he was gone, the only
charm of her life, the only possible hope of joy. Why had she not seized this
happiness when it came to her? Why not have kept hold of it with both hands,
with both knees, when it was about to flee from her? And she cursed herself for
not having loved Leon. She thirsted for his lips. The wish took possession of her
to run after and rejoin him, throw herself into his arms and say to him, "It is I; I am
yours." But Emma recoiled beforehand at the difficulties of the enterprise, and
her desires, increased by regret, became only the more acute.
Henceforth the memory of Leon was the centre of her boredom; it burnt there
more brightly than the fire travellers have left on the snow of a Russian steppe.
She sprang towards him, she pressed against him, she stirred carefully the dying
embers, sought all around her anything that could revive it; and the most distant
reminiscences, like the most immediate occasions, what she experienced as well
as what she imagined, her voluptuous desires that were unsatisfied, her projects
of happiness that crackled in the wind like dead boughs, her sterile virtue, her
lost hopes, the domestic tete-a-tete—she gathered it all up, took everything, and
made it all serve as fuel for her melancholy.
The flames, however, subsided, either because the supply had exhausted itself,
or because it had been piled up too much. Love, little by little, was quelled by
absence; regret stifled beneath habit; and this incendiary light that had
empurpled her pale sky was overspread and faded by degrees. In the
supineness of her conscience she even took her repugnance towards her