As soon as he got home, Rodolphe sat down hurriedly at his desk which stood beneath a shooting trophy in the form of a stag's head which was fastened to the wall. But with the pen already between his fingers, he could find nothing to say, and sat there, leaning on his elbows, thinking. Emma seemed to have vanished into the distant past. It was as though the resolution he had taken had suddenly opened a vast gulf between them.
To bring the thought of her more vividly before him, he started to rummage in the cupboard which stood at the head of his bed. He was looking for an old Rheims biscuit-tin in which he was in the habit of keeping the letters he had received from his many women. A smell of damp dust and withered rose-leaves came from it. The first thing he found was a pocket-handkerchief speckled with small pale stains. It was hers. She had used it on one of their walks when her nose had bled. He could remember nothing else about it. Beside it, its corners all dinted and battered, was the miniature she had given him. He thought the dress she was wearing pretentious, and the sidelong glance of her eyes rather common. But by dint of gazing on the picture and evoking the memory of its living model, he found that Emma's features were gradually losing their distinctness. It was as though the living face and its painted replica had so rubbed against one another that each had lost the clear edges of its definition. Finally, he set himself to read some of her letters. They were full of details about their journey: short, practical and urgent, like business memoranda. He was seized by a desire to read the longer ones which she had written at an earlier period. To find them at the bottom of the tin, he had to disturb the rest of its contents. Mechanically he started to turn up a mass of papers and small objects, coming at random on bouquets, a garter, a black domino, pins and locks of hair--dark hair, fair hair. Some of it, tangled in the fastenings of the box, had broken when he opened it.
Thus aimlessly wandering among the memories of his past, he began to examine the writing and the style of many different letters, letters as various in their contents as in their spelling. Here they all were, tender or jocose, facetious or melancholy. Some of the writers demanded love, some money. At times he would come on a word