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Late one night, a man comes to Charles with a letter. Apparently, someone in Les Bertaux, about eighteen miles from Tostes, has broken a leg and is in need of immediate medical attention. At his wife's urging, Charles postpones his journey to Les Bertaux by three hours. When Charles does set out, the early morning air lulls his senses. He sees himself "as two selves, student and husband at once - lying in bed as he had been an hour ago, and going through a ward full of patients as in the old days."
A small boy guides him through Vassonville to the farmhouse of Monsieur Rouault, the patient. From the boy Charles gathers some information about the Rouault family. The man is a prosperous farmer and a widower who lives with his young, unmarried daughter whose name is Emma. It is she who ushers Charles in and leads him to the patient's room. He is relieved to note that Rouault has suffered a simple fracture, which can easily be set. Rouault is soon on his way to recovery.
During this first visit, Charles is fascinated with Emma, and he calls on her father frequently in order to see the daughter. Charles' own wife, Héloïse, is upset when she learns that Rouault has a young, well-educated daughter. She nags Charles until he agrees not to go to Les Bertaux any more. His wife and mother constantly team up to scold him for one thing or another.
The lawyer in charge of Héloïse's investments supposedly disappears with the money. Further investigation, however, reveals that Héloïse has little to substantiate her claims of having investments and property. Charles' parents are very upset about this turn of affairs, and they create a scene. Héloïse is fatally affected by their feelings, and a week later, she has a stroke and dies, leaving Charles as a very young widower.
Flaubert introduces Emma in this chapter. Before she is seen in person, she is described by the young boy who leads Charles to the Roualt home. Charles then gives his own description of the lovely young girl, and Héloïse also reveals her perception of Emma from a distance. Charles, who is not particularly insightful and is seemingly unaware of his own feelings, does not admit that he is attracted to Emma or that his wife is jealous of her. He is aware, however, of the immense contrast between Emma and his wife. The latter is described in unflattering terms as a nag and a bother. Charles seems to regret that he has allowed his mother to convince him to marry this older woman because of her dowry. It, therefore, becomes extremely ironic that Héloïse does not really possess a fortune. When his parents become aware of this fact, they are incensed and treat their daughter-in-law cruelly. Héloïse is so upset over their behavior that she has a stroke and dies. Her death is a convenient and timely occurrence for Charles, for the path is now clear for him to approach Emma.
It is important to notice Flaubert's use of the naturalistic technique in his descriptions. Through this device, he evokes in the readers a 'feel' for the characters and action of the plot. So precise are his descriptive details that the novel becomes a cinematic delight in the mind's eye.