They had scarcely exchanged twenty words up to the time that they found themselves alone in the railway carriage.
As soon as they felt themselves under way, they looked at one another and began to laugh, to hide a certain feeling of awkwardness which they did not want to manifest.
The train slowly passed through the long station of Batignolles, and then crossed the mangy-looking plain extending from the fortifications to the Seine.
Duroy and his wife from time to time made a few idle remarks, and then turned again towards the windows.
When they crossed the bridge of Asnieres, a feeling of greater liveliness was aroused in them at the sight of the river covered with boats, fishermen, and oarsmen.
The sun, a bright May sun, shed its slanting rays upon the craft and upon the smooth stream, which seemed motionless, without current or eddy, checked, as it were, beneath the heat and brightness of the declining day.
A sailing boat in the middle of the river having spread two large triangular sails of snowy canvas, wing and wing, to catch the faintest puffs of wind, looked like an immense bird preparing to take flight.
Duroy murmured: "I adore the neighborhood of Paris. I have memories of dinners which I reckon among the pleasantest in my life."
"And the boats," she replied.
"How nice it is to glide along at sunset."
Then they became silent, as though afraid to continue their outpourings as to their past life, and remained so, already enjoying, perhaps, the poesy of regret.
Duroy, seated face to face with his wife, took her hand and slowly kissed it.
"When we get back again," said he, "we will go and dine sometimes at Chatou."
She murmured: "We shall have so many things to do," in a tone of voice that seemed to imply,
"The agreeable must be sacrificed to the useful."
He still held her hand, asking himself with some uneasiness by what transition he should reach the caressing stage.
He would not have felt uneasy in the same way in presence of the ignorance of a young girl, but the lively and artful intelligence he felt existed in Madeleine, rendered his attitude an embarrassed one.
He was afraid of appearing stupid to her, too timid or too brutal, too slow or too prompt.
He kept pressing her hand gently, without her making any response to this appeal.
At length he said: "It seems to me very funny for you to be my wife."
She seemed surprised as she said:
"I do not know.
It seems strange to me.
I want to kiss you, and I feel astonished at having the right to do so."
She calmly held out her cheek to him, which he kissed as he would have kissed that of a sister.
He continued: "The first time I saw you--you remember the dinner Forestier invited me to--I thought,
'Hang it all, if I could only find a wife like that.'
Well, it's done.
I have one."
She said, in a low tone: "That is very nice," and looked him straight in the face, shrewdly, and with smiling eyes.
He reflected, "I am too cold.
I am stupid.
I ought to get along quicker than this," and asked:
"How did you make Forestier's acquaintance?"
She replied, with provoking archness: "Are we going to Rouen to talk about him?"
He reddened, saying:
"I am a fool.
But you frighten me a great deal."
She was delighted, saying:
How is it?"
He had seated himself close beside her.
She suddenly exclaimed: "Oh! a stag."
The train was passing through the forest of Saint Germaine, and she had seen a frightened deer clear one of the paths at a bound.
Duroy, leaning forward as she looked out of the open window, printed a long kiss, a lover's kiss, among the hair on her neck.
She remained still for a few seconds, and then, raising her head, said:
"You are tickling me. Leave off."
But he would not go away, but kept on pressing his curly moustache against her white skin in a long and thrilling caress.
She shook herself, saying: