MONSIEUR LÉON, during his time as a law student, had managed to go a good deal to La Chaumière,* and had even succeeded in cutting rather a dash among the grisettes,* who decided that he looked very 'distinguished'. He was in every way a model student, wearing his hair neither too long nor too short, and being careful not to spend the whole of his quarter's allowance on the first of the month. He kept on good terms with his teachers. From excesses he had always held aloof, as much from timidity as fastidiousness.
Often, when reading in his room, or sitting beneath the lime-trees in the Luxembourg Gardens, he would let his copy of the Code* fall to the ground, and give himself up to memories of Emma. But, little by little, his feeling for her grew less, smothered under an accumulated load of other desires. Not that it ever vanished altogether, for he still had hopes, and could indulge his imagination with the vaguest of vague promises which shone in his future like a golden apple glowing amidst the foliage of some fantastic tree.
When, after three years of absence, he saw her again, the old passion awoke once more. He must, he decided, make up his mind once and for all whether or not he really wanted to possess her. His natural shyness had been worn down as the result of contact with gay companions, and he returned to the provinces full of contempt for those who had never trod the asphalt of the boulevards in varnished boots. Faced by the billowing laces of a Parisian lady encountered in the drawing-room of some illustrious doctor covered with decorations and boasting his own carriage, the poor young man would, no doubt, have trembled like a schoolboy; but here, in Rouen, walking along the quay with the wife of a petty country practitioner, he felt wholly at his ease, and was convinced from the first that he would dazzle her. Self-assurance depends upon environment. One does not speak the same language in a drawing-room as in the attics, and the virtue of the rich lady is protected by the knowledge of all the bank-notes which she wears, like a cuirass, in the lining of her stays.