Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies' Delight) by Émile Zola:
Mouret, meanwhile, was in anguish. Was it possible for this child to torment him so? He could still see her first arriving at Au Bonheur des Dames with her heavy shoes, her think black dress and her unkempt look. She stammered, everyone used to make fun of her and even he had found her ugly to begin with. Ugly! Now she could overcome him with a look, she was bathed in radiance whenever he looked at her! Then there had been the time when she was at the bottom of the pile, rejected, teased and treated by him like some curious animal. For months he had tried to see how such a young woman would develop and had been amused by the experiment, not realizing that his heart was at stake. Bit by bit, she had grown in stature and become a force to reckon with. Perhaps he had loved her from the first minute, even at the time when he thought he felt only pity. Yet he had not been captivated by her until their walk under the chestnuts in the Tuileries Gardens. His life had begun then, hearing the laughter of a group of little girls and the distant tinkling of a fountain, while she was walking beside him in the warm dusk, saying nothing. Since then, he knew nothing, his fever had risen constantly and all his flesh and his being had been hers. Was it possible, a girl like that? Now when she appeared, the rustling of her dress seemed so powerful that he reeled from it.