Ever since he left Yonvill, Léon has been studying and working hard. His good looks and his poetic streak have made him popular with women, so he has had a few romances. However, he is a relatively timid man who has not taken these relationships too far. Moreover, a ghost of his passion for Emma has always remained in the back of his mind.
Léon’s love for Emma returns in full force when he sees her in Rouen. She still strikes him as the perfect woman, but now that his experience has expanded somewhat, she does not seem quite so unapproachable. The morning after the opera, he goes to see her at her hotel. Charles has already left, so the two of them are able to talk alone. As they catch up, they both neglect to mention the love affairs they have had since they last saw each other. Instead, they both portray themselves as virtuous people who have struggled to behave rightly in spite of temptation.
After a while, Léon gathers his courage and admits out loud that he was “terribly in love” with Emma when he lived in Yonville. She tries but fails to conceal her happiness at hearing this. She tells him that it would not be proper for the two of them to act on their love, and then she asks him to go home.
Unwilling to give up so easily, Léon begs her to meet him the following day. She agrees at first, but as soon as he leaves, she decides it is a bad idea. She writes a long letter explaining why she cannot see him, but she is unable to send it because she does not know where he lives. She resolves to take it to their meeting, give it to him, and leave.
In the morning, Léon arrives early at the cathedral where he and Emma are supposed to meet. A verger offers a tour, but Léon refuses. When Emma arrives a while later, she finds that she is too weak to give him her letter. She sinks to her knees and prays for the strength to resist the urge to have another affair. The verger interrupts to offer a tour again, and she accepts, hoping that by the end of it she will have gathered the will to tell Léon that she cannot love him.
Emma’s strange, shifting behavior confuses and annoys Léon. Eventually he just takes her arm and leads her outside. Emma protests that she should not go with him, but Léon says, “Everybody does it in Paris.” This, for her, is “an irresistible and clinching argument.” Her resistance evaporates.
They find a cab. Léon tells the driver to take them anywhere, and then he and Emma disappear into the carriage. The driver takes them to various tourist destinations, but every time he tries to stop, his passengers shout at him to keep going. They keep this up for hours, and the narrator implies that Emma and Léon make love in the carriage. Eventually a hand slips out the window and throws away a torn-up paper, probably the letter Emma intended to give to Léon this morning.