The chambermaid Elisa finds out that she's going to inherit some money. She hopes that this money will give her the freedom she needs to marry Julien. Her local priest, Father Chélan is happy about this. But he's sad to find out that Julien isn't interested.
Father sits Julien down and tells him that he needs to think carefully about becoming a priest. He knows Julien is ambitious and he's worried that Julien will do whatever it takes to become rich. That's why he's worried that Julien is going to compromise on his holy values in order to flatter and make friends with powerful men.
Father Chélan can see through Julien's phony belief in the church. He wants Julien to stay way from the priesthood.
Meanwhile, Madame de Rênal realizes that Elisa has been very depressed lately, in spite of the money she's just inherited.
Elisa tells Madame about Julien refusing her. Madame feels bad, but also is secretly pleased. She still promises Elisa that she'll try to convince Julien to marry the girl.
The narrator tells us that Madame only does this because she loves the pleasure of hearing Julien reject Elisa over and over. It's only after this encounter that she starts to wonder if she's in love with Julien.
The mayor needs to leave for a few days on business. While he's gone, Madame asks the workmen to construct a walkway on her property.
She relishes the opportunity to spend the next couple of days with Julien, with both of them directing the workers. In other words, she likes having Julien temporarily replace her husband as man of the house.
Julien and Madame start hunting butterflies together and reading about them in books. They finally have something they can talk about. Neighbors notice that Madame has started paying more attention to her wardrobe.
A cousin of Madame de Rênal's, named Madame Derville, visits the de Rênal house. The two spend a lot of time together, and Derville recognizes that Madame is happier than usual.
Julien often spends time with the two women as they hang out beneath a tree. One evening, his hand accidentally brushes against Madame de Rênal's. She quickly pulls hers away. Julien decides that he must find a way to touch her hand without this happening.