A whole draft of youth intoxicated him. Durtal, astonished, took a look at himself in the mirror. His tired eyes brightened, his face seemed more youthful, less worn. “Lucky I had just shaved,” he said to himself. But gradually, as he mused, he saw in this mirror, which he was so little in the habit of consulting, his features droop and his eyes lose their sparkle. His stature, which had seemed to increase in this spiritual upheaval, diminished again. Sadness returned to his thoughtful mien. “I haven’t what you would call the physique of a lady’s man,” he concluded. “What does she see in me? for she could very easily find someone else with whom to be unfaithful to her husband. Enough of these rambling thoughts. Let’s cease to think them. To sum up the situation: I love her with my head and not my heart. That’s the important thing. Under such conditions, whatever happens, a love affair is brief, and I am almost certain to get out of it without committing any follies.”
The next morning he woke, thinking of her, just as he had been doing when he went to sleep. He tried to rationalize the episode and revolved his conjectures over and over. Once again he put himself this question: “Why, when I went to her house, did she not let me see that I pleased her? Never a look, never a word to encourage me. Why this correspondence, when it was so easy to insist on having me to dine, so simple to prepare an occasion which would bring us together, either at her home or elsewhere?” And he answered himself, “It would have been usual and not at all diverting. She is perhaps skilled in these matters. She knows that the unknown frightens a man’s reason away, that the unembodied puts the soul in ferment, and she wished to give me a fever before trying an attack—to call her advances by their right name.
“It must be admitted that if my conjectures are correct she is strangely astute. At heart she is, perhaps, quite simply a crazy romantic or a comedian. It amuses her to manufacture little adventures, to throw tantalizing obstacles in the way of the realization of a vulgar desire. And Chantelouve? He is probably aware of his wife’s goings on, which perhaps facilitate his career. Otherwise, how could she arrange to come here at nine o’clock at night, instead of the morning or afternoon on pretence of going shopping?”
To this new question there could be no answer, and little by little he ceased to interrogate himself on the point. He began to be obsessed by the real woman as he had been by the imaginary creature. The latter had completely vanished. He did not even remember her physiognomy now. Mme. Chantelouve, just as she was in reality, without borrowing the other’s features, had complete possession of him and fired his brain and senses to white heat. He began to desire her madly and to wish furiously for tomorrow night. And if she did not come? He felt cold in the small of his back at the idea that she might be unable to get away from home or that she might wilfully stay away.