Soon after her funeral, Monsieur Rouault visits Charles to pay him for his services and to offer his condolences. He describes the crushing grief he felt after his wife’s death, and assures Charles that with time the grief will abate. He invites Charles to come do a little hunting on his farm, and Charles happily accepts. He begins to visit Les Bertaux again, where he is coddled and comforted by all. He feels some sadness at the thought of his wife, but he enjoys his independence.
Charles does not expect anything in particular of marriage, and he imposes no preconceived ideas on widowhood. He perceives his emotions – slight misery, and then slight sadness – and accepts them. He does not ask himself: “what should I feel?” He is almost a caricature of a realist, a blank slate where experience is written. He is implausibly neutral.
One day, Charles comes to Les Bertaux when only Emma is at home. He watches her sew gracefully in the afternoon light. She asks him for medical advice and shows him her room, explaining all her most precious possessions and telling him stories about her childhood. He is enchanted by the modulations of her voice. At home, he thinks of Emma longingly all night.
Emma is anything but neutral. She has constructed an elaborate, inflected narrative of her life, made of stories, objects, and refinements of behavior. Because Charles is so profoundly unselfconscious, he cannot suspect Emma of falseness. He encounters her as he would a lovely deer – as though she were born lovely.
Charles resolves to ask for Emma’s hand in marriage, but never seems to find the courage. When Charles visits at Michaelmas, he finally tries to speak to Monsieur Rouault. Before he can even get his words out, Monsieur Rouault happily gives his blessing. Rouault goes inside to tell Emma, and gives a sign indicating her consent – an open shutter. They are married the following spring.
Charles loves Emma and wants to be near her, but it is difficult for him to propose to her. He lacks the conviction that he deserves happiness – not because he hates himself, but because he does not love himself. Because he has no coherent self-image, he has nothing to live up to – no ideal driving him on.