When we left for
Bricquebec that day my body offered no objection to this journey
so long as I had been content, when I thought about it, to gaze
out at the Persian church by the edge of the storm from the
warmth of my bed in Paris. My body only began to object as soon
as it understood that it would be of the party, and that on my
arrival I would be shown to a room which would be called
"my" room, which I would have never seen before. On the
day of departure I looked so unhappy that the new doctor who was
treating me and who had advised me to accustom myself to
everything which his precursor had prescribed me to avoid, told
"You don't seem pleased to be leaving. Doesn't Bricquebec mean anything to you? It is very strange to dislike journeys. I find that exquisite (which he pronounced esquisite). I don't mind telling you that if I could only manage a week to get some sea air at the coast, I wouldn't need asking twice. And then there will be races, regattas, you will have a wonderful time."
It is probably true, however, that my yearning to see Cricquebec was much greater than the doctor's, and that I "loved" journeys just as much as he did. But I had already come to suspect, when I had been to see Berma, and on all the occasions when I had been to play in the Champs-Elysées with Gilberte, that those who love and those who feel pleasure are perhaps not the same. The contemplation of Cricquebec did not seem to me to be any the less desirable because it had to be bought at a heavy cost, which on the contrary was like a symbol of the reality of the impression I was going there to seek, an impression which no equivalent spectacle, no stereoscopic image, which would not have prevented me from returning home to sleep in my own bed, could have replaced. And as I understood that whatever it was, later, that I loved, that it would never be attained other than at the end of a painful pursuit, which initially I would have to overcome, to sacrifice my pleasure to the paramount good instead of seeking it therein, and to overcome like an obstacle, my own health, I would not have wished to ask to avoid taking this journey - while secretly hoping that some unforeseen accident was going to prevent it - which would have seemed to me to detract from the initial experience, if not to feel the sensation - because I never put it to the test - at least to possess the object of happiness. But on this occasion the resistance of my body was much more difficult to master because my father had not yet returned from a trip to Spain which he had taken with Monsieur de Norpois, and preferred, it seemed, to rent a house for the summer in the outskirts of Paris, causing my mother to decide, which she did not tell me until the day before our departure in order to lessen our distress, that she would not be accompanying us and that my grandmother would go alone with me to Cricquebec.
My grandmother, anxious as ever that the presents which were made me should take some artistic form, had initially wanted to offer me an ancient "imprint" from this journey, and for us to repeat, partly by rail and partly by road, the route that Madame de Sévigné had taken when she went from Paris to "L'Orient" by way of Chaulnes and "the Pont-Audemer". But realizing that "it would be a shame" to have me pass by beautiful things without seeing them, she was obliged to renounce her plan, on the advice of my father, who Mamma had kept up-to-date by letter, and who knew that when my grandmother organized any expedition with a view to extracting from it the utmost intellectual benefit that it was capable of yielding, what a tale could be foreseen of missed trains, lost luggage, sore throats and broken rules. In short we were simply to leave by that 1:22 train which over the years I had often sought out in the timetable where its departure time gave me the emotion, almost the illusion of departure. To take it, to get out at Bayeaux or Coutances for a long time had symbolized for me one of the greatest of all possible forms of pleasure; and as the delineation in our minds of any form of happiness depends more on the nature of the longings that it inspires in us than on the accuracy of the information which we have about it, we believe that we know this happiness in all its details, and I had no doubt that I should feel in my compartment a special pleasure as the day began to cool, should contemplate such an impression at the approach of a certain station; to such an extent that this train always awoke in me images of the same villages which I swathed in the light of those afternoon hours through which it sped, seemed to me to be different from any other train; and I had ended, as we are apt to do, with a person we have never seen but who we imagine constantly, by giving a distinct and unalterable countenance to this fair, artistic traveller who would have taken me with him on his journey, and to whom I should bid farewell at the foot of a cathedral before he disappeared towards the setting sun.
As my grandmother could not bring herself to go "purely and simply" to Cricquebec, she was to stop for twenty four hours at the house of one of her friends, from whence I was to proceed the same evening, so as not to be in the way there, and at the same time that I might see Bricquebec church in the daylight the following day, which, we had learned, was at some distance from Bricquebec-Plage, and which I might not have had chance to visit later on, when I had begun my course of bathing. And perhaps it was less painful for me to feel that the admirable goal of my journey stood between me and that cruel first night on which I should have to enter a new habitation and consent to live there. But I had first to leave the old and Mamma was to accompany us. She conducted us to the station. As she had to spend the summer with my father at St Cloud, she had arranged to move in on the same day and had made, or pretended to make, all the arrangements for going there directly after leaving the station, without having to call again at our house, to which she was afraid that rather than leaving I might feel compelled to return with her. And so, on the pretext of having so much to see to in the new house and of being pressed for time, so as not to remain with us (thinking that it would also be less unhappy to leave her) until the moment of the train's departure when, concealed amidst the comings and goings and preparations that involve no final commitment, a separation suddenly looms up, impossible to endure when it is no longer possible to avoid, concentrated in its entirety in one enormous instant of impotent and supreme lucidity. She would enter the station with us, in this tragic and miraculous place where I now had to abandon all hope of returning to the familiar places where I had lived but where the miracle was about to come about thanks to which those in which I would soon be living would be the very places which as yet had no existence outside my own imagination.
Today we would doubtless make such a journey by motor car and we should think this would make it more agreeable and more real, following more closely the various gradations by which the surface of the earth is diversified. I have said elsewhere, and from a different point of view, that I will demonstrate later on that I do not disown the motor car. But I do not value this new spirit which, on the whole, only shows us things in the surroundings of their own reality, removes the essential thing, the intellectual act which keeps them apart and masks behind a mediocre satisfaction which it comes to grant us through excess, the original pleasure which they should have afforded us. We maintain that a XVIIth century painting must be viewed in the midst of furniture, trinkets and hangings of the period, and we merely reconstruct the stale settings such as we are presented with at all the "good" houses of today where the humiliated Rembrandt does nothing more than reflect the poor taste of the hostess, who has spent many years amongst archives just as all the others of her kind do nowadays, where the only irritation is the time of the dinner when we are in the presence of masterpieces which never restore in us the intoxicating joy which we should only expect of them on the walls of a museum, which can never be sufficiently bare, or stripped of all distractions, so that they are able to symbolize those innermost spaces into which the artist withdrew to create them. But after all the specific attraction of a journey lies not in our being able to alight at places on the way and to stop as soon as we grow tired, the real truth of a journey lies in its making the difference between departure and arrival not as imperceptible but as intense as possible, to preserve in its totality, intact, as it existed in us when our imagination bore us from the place in which we were living to the very heart of a place we longed to see, in a single leap which seemed miraculous to us not so much because it covered a certain distance as because it united two distinct individualities of the world, which took us from one name to another name; and which is schematized (better than in a real excursion in which, since one can disembark where one chooses, there can scarcely be said to be any point of arrival) by the mysterious operation performed in those peculiar places, railway stations, which scarcely form part of their surrounding town but contain the essence of its personality just as on their sign-boards they bear its name, smoking laboratories, pestiferous caverns through which we gain access to the mystery, vast glass-roofed sheds, like the one I entered that day when I went to find the train to Cricquebec, and which extended over the eviscerated city one of those immense, bleak and tragic skies, like certain skies by Mantegna or Veronese, beneath which only some terrible and solemn act could be in process, such as a departure by train or the erection of the Cross.
For the first time I began to feel that it was possible that my mother might live another kind of life, without me, otherwise than for me. I perceived that she could live for her part with my father for whom she felt perhaps that my poor health, my nervousness made life somewhat difficult and sad, so that I experienced a more melancholy wretchedness with this separation, in telling myself that for my mother it was probably the outcome of the successive disappointments which I had caused her, of which she had never said a word to me but which had made her realize the difficulty of our taking our holidays together; and perhaps also a preliminary trial for a form of existence to which she was beginning, now, to resign herself to the future, as the years crept on for my father and herself, an existence in which I should see less of her, in which (a thing that not even in my nightmares had yet been revealed to me) she would already have become something of a stranger to me, a lady who might be seen going home by herself to a house in which I should not be, asking whether there was a letter to her from me.
My mother tried to comfort me by the methods which seemed to her successively most efficacious. Thinking it useless to appear not to notice my unhappiness, she gently teased me about it:
"Well, and what would Cricquebec church say if it knew that people pulled long faces like that when they were going to see it? Surely this is not the enraptured traveller Ruskin speaks of. In any case, I shall know if you have risen to the occasion, even when we are miles apart I shall still be with my little man. You shall have a letter tomorrow from your Mamma."
Then she sought to distract me by asking what I thought of having for dinner, then admiring Françoise's outfit and complementing her on it.
"Well, Françoise, you look magnificent! Where did you find that hat and cloak?"
Françoise replied that we knew them well and indeed went on to force my mother to recall an ancient hat and cloak belonging to my great-aunt which had horrified my mother when they were new, the one with an immense bird towering over it, the other decorated with a hideous pattern and jet beads. But the cloak, having grown too shabby to wear, Françoise had had turned, exposing an inside of plain red cloth of a pretty shade. As for the bird it had long since come to grief. Just as it is disturbing sometimes, to find the effects which the most conscious artists have to strive for present in a folk-song or on the wall of some peasant's cottage where above the door, at precisely the right spot in the composition, blooms a white or yellow rose - so with the velvet band, the loop of ribbon that would have delighted one in a portrait by Chardin or Whistler, which Françoise had set with simple but unerring taste upon the hat, which was now charming. But over and above the feelings which were second nature to her, her fondness for her own people, her respect for her masters, the pride in her honesty which allowed her to "hold her head high", the modesty over the position in which she found herself such that it would be "pure nonsense" to wish to go out socially, all this had not only given a singular nobility to her regular features, which must have been charming in her youth, but had formed her deportment and the way she held her head; and even, in the unexpected clothes that she had readorned for the journey so as to be fit to be seen in our company without at the same time seeming or wishing to make herself conspicuous - from the faded cherry-coloured cloth of her cloak, to the inevitable nap and droop of her fur collar similar to those which cover the mouth - had acquired the reserved expression with no trace of servility of a woman who knows how to "hold her own and to keep her place", bringing to mind those portraits in which the old masters painted a stained-glass church window or Anne of Brittany at prayer for a Book of Hours, in which everything is so exactly in the right place, the sense of the whole is so evenly distributed throughout the parts, that the rich and obsolete singularity of the costume expresses the same pious gravity as the lips and the eyes. But when my mother saw that I was having difficulty holding back my tears she said to me:
"Regulus was in the habit, when things looked grave..." then remembering that affection for another distracts one's attention from selfish griefs, she endeavoured to beguile me by telling me that she expected the removal to St Cloud to go without a hitch, that she was pleased with the cab, that the driver seemed civil and the seats comfortable. I made an effort to smile at these trifles, and bowed my head with an air of acquiescence and contentment.
But they helped me only to picture to myself the more accurately her departure for St Cloud, and it was with a heavy heart that I gazed at her as though she were already torn from me, beneath her wide-brimmed straw hat which she had bought to wear in the country, in a flimsy dress which she had put on in view of the long drive through the midday heat, and which made her someone else, somebody who already belonged to that place in which I should not see her.
In order to prevent the suffocating fits which the journey might bring on, the doctor had advised me to take a small drop of beer at the moment of departure, so as to begin the journey in a state of what he called "euphoria", in which the nervous system is for a time less vulnerable. I had not yet made up my mind whether to do this, but I wished at least that my grandmother should acknowledge that, if I did so decide, I should have wisdom and authority on my side. I spoke about it therefore as if my hesitation were concerned only with where I should go for my drink, to the platform buffet or to the bar on the train. But immediately, at the air of reproach which my grandmother's face assumed, an air of not wishing even to entertain such an idea for a moment, "What!" I cried, suddenly resolving with indignant violence on this action of going to get a drink, the performance of which became necessary as a proof of my independence since the verbal announcement had not succeeded in passing unchallenged, "What! You know how ill I am, you know what the doctor ordered, and you treat me like this!" And only then did I notice, so much had the grief at leaving Mamma completely absorbed my attention until that moment, that the attack which I was fearing was already primed, the psychological remorse at having deceived my grandmother with a show of apparent good health pushed me on to feel sorry for myself, to confess by my outward signs the illness which I was feeling but which I had omitted to make manifest.
My grandmother looked so distressed and so kindly as she said to me: "Run along then quickly, get yourself some beer if it will do you good" that I flung myself upon her and smothered her in kisses which in my fondness for her I imagined could efface the grief which I had not hesitated to cause her in order to satisfy the wishes of my body to feel pitied. And if after that I went for some beer, and drank rather too much, it was because I felt that otherwise I should have too violent an attack, which was what would have distressed my grandmother the most. But by taking a good deal more than would have been necessary merely to prevent an attack, the attack had begun and must be overcome. When at the first stop I clambered back into our compartment I told my grandmother how pleased I was to be going to Bricquebec, that I felt that everything would go off splendidly, that after all I should grow used to being without Mamma, that the train was most comfortable, the barman and the attendants so friendly that I should like to make the journey often so as to have the opportunity of seeing them again. My grandmother, however, did not appear to be quite so overjoyed as I was at all these good tidings. Turning her head towards the window and without looking at me in the face she answered: "Perhaps you should try to get a little sleep", but when she thought that my eyes were shut I could see her now and again, from behind her spotted veil, steal a glance at me, then withdraw it, then look back again, like a person trying to make himself perform some exercise that hurts them in order to get used to the habit.
Thereupon I spoke to her. But that did not seem to please her. And yet to myself the sound of my own voice was agreeable, as were the most imperceptible, the innermost movements of my body. And so I endeavoured to prolong them, I allowed each of my inflexions to linger lazily upon the words, I felt each glance from my eyes pause pleasurably on the spot where it came to rest and remain there beyond its normal time. In order to compensate for the sacrifice my love of architecture caused to my well being and to make me look at a beautiful monument, towards the middle of the day as we were approaching the town where we were to stop to go to her friend's house, my grandmother said to me: "You know the station after this one is Bayeux, wouldn't you prefer to stay on the train until then so that you can see the Cathedral rather than come with me. You would only be spending a few hours with me in any case, and the weather is fine, the sun hasn't yet set and it would give you more time to look at it properly."
I recalled everything I had read about Bayeux Cathedral, about the tapestries of Queen Mathilda, but my grandmother was here; I did not have the strength to tear myself away from her so precipitously; suddenly she had once again become the most dear person in the world; then again the name of Bayeux with its associations of grand antique lace and gilded finery came back to me more forcefully; yet with all my reasoning I hesitated for a moment and as a single fixed idea of a resolution (unless one had not made the idea inert by deciding that one would not follow through the resolution) unfolds in a moment like a perennial seed following its natural pattern, every detail of the emotion which would come to fruition from this pleasant act touched and broke my heart through my hesitation quite as much as if I were to leave my grandmother, a distress which I could have spared myself, since when the train left the station I had disembarked with her. When I took the train again, alone, in the evening, after having spent a few hours with my grandmother at her friend's house, at least that particular night would seem a short one to me; this is because I did not have to spend it imprisoned in a room whose somnolence would have kept me awake; I was surrounded by the soothing activity of all those movements of the train which kept me company, watched over me, offered to stay and talk to me if I could not sleep, lulled me with their sounds which I combined - like the chime of the Combray bells - now in one rhythm, now in another (hearing as the whim took me first four equal semi-quavers, then one semi-quaver furiously dashing against a crotchet); they neutralized the centrifugal force of my insomnia by exerting on it contrary pressures which kept me in equilibrium and on which my immobility and presently my drowsiness seemed to be borne with the same sense of relaxation that I should have felt had I been resting under the protecting vigilance of powerful forces in the heart of nature and of life, had I been able for a moment to metamorphose myself into a fish that sleeps in the sea, carried along in its slumber by the currents and the waves, or an eagle outstretched upon the buoyant air of the storm. Sunrise is a necessary concomitant of long railway journeys, just as are hard-boiled eggs, illustrated papers, packs of cards, boats which strain without making progress on a river in the setting sun, beneath a partly-drawn blue blind. At a certain moment, when I was counting over the thoughts that had filled my mind during the preceding minutes, so as to discover whether I had just been asleep or not (and when the very uncertainty which made me ask myself the question was about to furnish me with an affirmative answer), in the pale square of the window, above a small black wood, I saw some ragged clouds whose fleecy edges were of a fixed, dead pink, not liable to change, like the colour that dyes the feathers of a wing that has assimilated it or a pastel on which it has been deposited by the artist's whim. But I felt that, unlike them, this colour was neither inertia nor caprice, but necessity and life. Presently there gathered behind it reserves of light. It brightened; the sky turned to glowing pink which I strove, gluing my eyes to the window, to see more clearly, for I felt that it was related somehow to the most intimate life of Nature, but, the course of the line altering, the train turned, the morning scene gave place in the frame of the window to a nocturnal village, its roofs still blue with moonlight, its pond encrusted with the opalescent sheen of night, beneath a firmament still spangled with all its stars, and I was lamenting the loss of my strip of pink sky when I caught sight of it anew, but red this time, in the opposite window which it left at a second bend in the line; so that I spent my time running from one window to the other to reassemble, to collect on a single canvas the intermittent, antipodean fragments of my fine, scarlet, ever-changing morning, and to obtain a comprehensive view and continuous picture of it. But I was impeded by the sun itself, because all at once, propelled mechanically like an egg which bursts by virtue of a single change to the density which causes it to set hard, it leapt from behind the curtain across the translucidity of which I felt a moment before it had been nervously awaiting the moment of its entry onto the stage, and the purple mystery of which it effaced beneath a flood of light. It was already illuminating the matutinal countryside and in which it gave me a joyous longing to go and live, which in no way neutralized my body's apprehension, assured as it was of not having to carry itself there or arrive there unaccustomedly. The countryside through which the train ran was furrowed by a river where the trees displayed the golden tableau of their foliage beneath the sheen of the water, just as at the hour when the walker who has taken his rest in the shade during the midday sun, gets up to continue his walk when he sees the sun getting lower in the sky; boats in disarray in the blue mists of night which still trawl over the waters encumbered by the remains of the mother-of-pearl and pink of dawn as they expire smiling in the slanting light which, just as when they reappear in the evening, moistening and tingeing with yellow the edge of their veil, their bows channelling through a point of gold: an imaginary scene, shivering and deserted, pure evocation of the sleeper, not resting on the succession of daylight hours which frequently precede it, as interpolated and inconsistent as a fleeting memory or an image from a dream. Then the river disappeared, the countryside became hilly and steep, and the train stopped at a little station between two mountains. Far down the gorge, on the edge of a hurrying stream, one could only see a solitary watch-house, embedded in the water that ran past on a level with its windows. If a person can be the product of a soil to the extent of embodying for us the quintessence of its peculiar charm, more even than the peasant girl who I had so desperately longed to see appear when I wandered by myself along the Méséglise way, in the woods of Roussainville, such a person must have been the tall girl who I now saw emerge from the house and, climbing a path lighted by the first slanting rays of the sun, come towards the station carrying a jar of milk. In her valley from which the rest of the world was hidden by these heights, she must never see anyone save in these trains which stopped for a moment only. She passed down the line of carriages offering coffee and milk to a few awakened passengers. Flushed with the glow of morning, her face was rosier than the sky. I felt on seeing her that desire to live which is reborn in us whenever we become conscious anew of beauty and of happiness. We invariably forget that these are individual qualities, and mentally substituting for them a conventional type at which we arrive by striking a sort of mean among the different faces that have taken our fancy, among the pleasures we have known, we are left with mere abstract images which are lifeless and insipid because they lack precisely that element of novelty, different from anything we have known, that element which is peculiar to beauty and to happiness. And we deliver on life a pessimistic judgement which we suppose to be accurate, for we believed we were taking happiness and beauty into account, whereas in fact we left them out and replaced them by syntheses in which there is not a single atom of either. So it is that a well-read man will at once begin to yawn with boredom when one speaks to him of a new "good book" because he imagines a sort of composite of all the good books that he has read, whereas a good book is something special, something unforeseeable. Such would be la Chartreuse de Parme, an Emily Brontë novel, a story by Francis Jammes and immediately the well-read man, however jaded his palate, feels his interest awaken to the reality which is depicted for him by the new great writer. In such a way, completely unrelated to the models of beauty which I was wont to conjure up in my mind when I was by myself, did the supple bearing of this handsome girl, with energetic and gentle features, appear to my eyes. And the sight of them gave me all at once the taste for a certain happiness - (the sole form in which we may acquire a taste for Happiness) - for a happiness that would be realized by my staying and living there by her side. Perhaps I was receiving, a little, the benefit of the fact that it was the whole of my being, a new being, tasting the keenest joys, which confronted her. As a rule it is with our being reduced to a minimum that we live, most of our faculties lie dormant because they can rely on Habit, which knows what there is to be done and has no need of their services. But on this morning of travel, in this railway carriage, the interruption of the routine of my existence, the unfamiliar place and time, had made their presence indispensable. My habits, which were sedentary and not matutinal, for once were missing, and all my faculties came hurrying to take their place, and even my simple organic functions of appetite or respiration were vying zealously with their nobler cousins. I cannot say whether, in making me believe that this girl was unlike the rest of women, the rugged charm of the locality added to her own, but she was equal to it. The singular and graceful assurance of her movements, the wild candour of her quick, piercing gaze and all those naive and lively qualities which had fixed the line of her nose, the curve of her chin, the looseness of her shoulders, with the sureness of a sculptor's chisel as if he had made of her a statue representing all the qualities which were foreign to me, like the personification of a life in which I took no part, all this suddenly gave something so sweet to the place in which she lived, to the insignificant tasks which occupied her time, that life would have seemed an exquisite thing to me if only I had been free to spend it, hour after hour, with her going to the stream, to the cow, to the train, to be always at her side, to feel that I was known to her, had my place in her thoughts. She would have initiated me into the delights of country life and of early hours of the day. I signalled to her to bring me some of her coffee. I felt the need to be noticed by her. She did not see me; I called to her. She retraced her steps, fastening her direct and penetrating gaze on me, and as the guards were starting to close the carriage doors and with marvellous speed and skill she poured me a steaming coffee. I looked at her; she did not avert her eyes from me. I tried to entice her into the compartment; she pulled herself away laughing: "Come on now, look, it's leaving", as the train began to move; I saw her leave the station and walk back down the path. Whether this state of exultation in which I found myself had been produced by this girl or on the other hand had been responsible for most of the pleasure that I had found in her presence, in either event she was so closely associated with it that my desire to see her again, like the predilection which endears opium smokers to their fellow smokers, was above all a mental desire not to allow this state of excitement to perish utterly, not to be separated for ever from the person who had participated in it. It was not only that this state was a pleasant one. It was above all that (just as increased tension upon a string or the accelerated vibration of a nerve produces a qualitatively different sound or colour), it gave another tonality to all that I saw, introduced me as an actor upon the stage of an unknown and infinitely more interesting universe; that handsome girl who I could still see, as the train gathered speed, walking back down the path by which she had come, was like part of a life other than the life I knew, separated from it by a clear boundary, in which the sensations aroused in me by things were no longer the same; it seemed that this boundary would be impossible to cross back over and now that I had entered this new life, to leave it would be to die myself. To have the consolation of feeling that I had at least an attachment to this new life, it would suffice that I should live near enough to the little station to be able to come to it every morning for a cup of coffee from the peasant girl. But alas, she must be for ever absent from the other life to which I was being borne with ever increasing speed, a life which I could resign myself to accept only by weaving plans that would enable me to take the same train again some day and stop at the same station, a project which had the further advantage of providing food for the selfish, active, practical, mechanical, indolent, centrifugal tendency which is that of the human mind, for it turns all too readily aside from the effort which is required to thoroughly examine in a general and disinterested manner an agreeable impression which we have received. And since, at the same time, we wish to continue to think of that impression, the mind prefers to examine it in the future tense, to continue to bring about the circumstances which may make it recur - which, while giving us no clue as to the real nature of the thing, saves us the trouble of recreating it within ourselves and allows us to hope that we may receive it afresh from without. In such a way my mind contrived itineraries which would allow me to find the handsome girl again whilst I began to see her anew as she returned to the watch house with an assured and brisk step, under a sky which was less rosy than her face.
Certain names of towns serve to designate, by abbreviation, their principal churches. If someone asks us whether we prefer Vézelay or Jumièges, Bourges or Beauvais, we understand immediately that they are talking about the abbey or the church. This acceptation - if the names in question are those of places that we do not yet know - to sculpt the name as a whole, which henceforth, whenever we wish to introduce into it the idea of the town - the town which we have never seen - will impose on it like a mould the same carved outlines, in the same style, will make of it a sort of vast cathedral. It was, however, above a railway refreshment room, in white letters on a blue panel, that I read the name - almost Persian in style - of Cricquebec. I strode eagerly through the station and across the avenue, and asked the way to the shore, so as to see nothing in the place but its church and the sea; people seemed not to understand what I meant - Old Cricquebec, Cricquebec town, Cricquebec-en-Terre, at which I had arrived, had neither beach nor harbour. True, it was indeed in the sea that the fishermen, according to the legend, had found the miraculous Christ of which a window in the church that stood a few yards from where I now was recorded the discovery; it was indeed from cliffs battered by the waves that the stone of its nave and its towers had been quarried. But this sea, which for those reasons I had imagined as coming to expire at the foot of the window, was twelve miles away and more, at Bricquebec-Plage, and, rising besides its cupola, that steeple which, because I had read that it was itself a rugged Norman cliff around which the winds howled and the seabirds wheeled, I had always pictured to myself receiving at its base the last dying foam of the uplifted waves, stood on a square which was the junction of two tramway routes, opposite a café which bore, in letters of gold, the legend "Billiards", against a background of houses with the roofs of which no upstanding mast was blended. And the church - impinging on my attention at the same time as the café, the passing stranger of whom I had had to ask my way, the station to which presently I should have to return - merged with all the rest, seemed an accident, a by-product of this summer afternoon, in which the mellow and distended dome against the sky was like a fruit of which the same light that bathed the chimneys of the houses ripened the pink, glowing, luscious skin. But I only wished to consider the eternal significance of the carvings when I recognized the Apostles, of which I had seen casts in the Trocadéro museum, and which on either side of the Virgin, before the deep bay of the porch, were awaiting me as though to do me honour. With their benevolent, mild faces and bowed shoulders they seemed to be advancing upon me with an air of welcome, singing the Alleluia of a fine day. But it was evident that their expression was immutable and altered only if we changed our position, as happens when we walk around a dead dog. I said to myself: "Here it is: this is Bricquebec Church. This square, which looks as though it were conscious of its glory, is the only place in the world that possesses Bricquebec Church. All that I have seen so far have been photographs of this church, casts of these Apostles, of the famous Virgin of the Porch in the Trocadéro museum. Now here is the church itself, the statue itself, they, the only ones - this is something far greater." Perhaps also something less. As a young man on the day of an examination or a duel feels the question that he has been asked, the shot that he has fired, to be very insignificant when he thinks of the reserves of knowledge and of valour that he would like to have displayed, so my mind, which had lifted the Virgin of the Porch far above the reproductions that I had had before my eyes, invulnerable to the vicissitudes which might threaten them, ideal, endowed with a universal value, was astonished to see the statue which it had carved a thousand times, reduced now to its own stone semblance, occupying, in relation to the reach of my arm, a place in which it had for rivals an election poster and the point of my umbrella, fettered in the Square, inseparable from the opening of the main street, powerless to hide from the gaze of the café and of the omnibus office, receiving on its face half of the ray of the setting sun (and presently, in a few hours time, of the light of the street lamp) of which the savings bank received the other half, affected simultaneously with that branch office of a loan society by the smells from the pastry cook's oven, subjected to the tyranny of the Particular to such a point that, if I had chosen to scribble my name upon that stone, it was she, the illustrious Virgin whom until then I had endowed with a general existence and an intangible beauty, the Virgin of Bricquebec, the unique (which meant, alas, the only one), who, on her body coated with the same soot as defiled the neighbouring houses, would have displayed - powerless to rid herself of them - to all the admiring strangers come there to gaze upon her, the marks of my piece of chalk and the letters of my name, and as it was she, the immortal work of art so long desired, as was the church itself, turned into a little old woman in stone whose height I could measure and whose wrinkles I could count. But time was passing; I must return to the station where I was to wait for my grandmother and Françoise, so that we should all go on to Cricquebec-Plage together. I reminded myself of what I had read about Bricquebec, of Swann's saying: "It's exquisite; as beautiful as Sienna." And casting the blame for my disappointment upon various accidental causes, such as the state of my health, my tiredness, my incapacity for looking at things properly, I endeavoured to console myself with the thought that other towns still remained intact for me, and that if my grandmother allowed it I might soon, perhaps, be making my way, as into a shower of pearls, into the cool babbling murmur of Quimperlé, or traversing the roseate glow in which verdant Pont-Aven was bathed; but as for Bricquebec, no sooner had I set foot in it than it was as though I had broken open a name which ought to have been kept hermetically closed, and into which, seizing at once the opportunity that I had imprudently given them, expelling all the images that had lived in it until then, a tramway, a café, people crossing the square, the branch of the savings bank, irresistibly propelled by some external pressure, by a pneumatic force, had come surging into the interior of those two syllables which, closing over them, now let them frame the porch of the Persian church and would henceforth never cease to contain them.
I found my grandmother in the little train of the local railway which was to take us to Bricquebec-Plage, but found her alone - for she had had the idea of sending Françoise on ahead of her, so that everything should be ready before we arrived, but having given her the wrong instructions, had succeeded only in sending her off in the wrong direction, so that Françoise at that moment was being carried down all unsuspecting at full speed to Nantes, and would probably wake up next morning at Bordeaux. No sooner had I taken my seat on the carriage, which was filled with the fleeting light of sunset and with the lingering heat of the afternoon (the former enabling me, alas, to see written clearly upon my grandmother's face how much the latter had tired her), than she began: "Well, and Cricquebec?" with a smile so brightly illuminated by her expectation of the great pleasure which she supposed me to have experienced that I dared not at once confess to her my disappointment. Besides, the impression that my mind had been seeking occupied it steadily less as the place to which my body would have to become accustomed drew nearer. Uppermost in my mind I was trying to form a mental picture of the manager of the hotel at Bricquebec, for whom I, at that moment did not exist, and I should have liked to be presenting myself to him in more impressive company than that of my grandmother, who would be certain to ask him for a reduction in his terms. He appeared to me to be endowed with an indubitable haughtiness, but its contours were very vague. We were still not at Bricquebec; every few minutes the little train brought us to a standstill at one of the stations which came before Bricquebec-Plage, stations the mere names of which (Bergeville, Cricqueville, Equemanville, Couliville) seemed to me outlandish, whereas if I had come upon them in a book I should at once have been struck by their affinity to the names of certain places in the neighbourhood of Combray. But to the ear of a musician two themes, substantially composed of the same notes, will present no similarity whatsoever if they differ in the colour of their harmony and orchestration. In the same way, nothing could have reminded me less than these dreary names, redolent of sand, of space so airy and empty, and of salt, out of which the suffix "ville" emerged like "vole" in Pigeonvole - nothing could have reminded me less of those other names, Trousainville, or Rousinville, which, because I had heard them pronounced so often by my great-aunt at table, in the dining-room, had acquired a certain sombre charm in which were blended perhaps extracts of the flavour of preserves, the smell of the log fire and of the pages of one of Bergotte's books, and which even today, when they rise like a gaseous bubble from the depths of my memory, preserve their own specific virtue through all the successive layers of different environments which they must traverse before reaching the surface.
Overlooking the distant sea from the crests of their dunes or already settling down for the night at the foot of hills of a harsh green and a disagreeable shape, like that of the sofa in one's bedroom in an hotel at which one has just arrived, each composed of a cluster of villas whose line was extended to include a tennis court and occasionally a casino over which a flag flapped in the freshening, hollow, uneasy wind, and of little stations which showed me for the first time, through their daily exteriors, tennis players in white hats, the station-master living there on the spot among his tamarisks and roses, a lady who, following the everyday routine of an existence which I should never know, was calling to her dog which was lingering nearby, before going into her bungalow where the lamp was already lighted and closing the door behind her - and which with these strangely ordinary and disdainfully familiar sights cruelly stung my unconsidered eyes and stabbed my homesick heart. But how much more were my sufferings increased when we had finally landed in the hall of the Grand Hotel at Bricquebec, as I stood there in front of the monumental staircase of imitation marble, while my grandmother, regardless of the growing hostility and contempt of the strangers among whom we were about to live, discussed "terms" with the manager, a man with a face and a voice alike covered with scars (left by the excision of countless pustules from the one, and from the other the diverse accents acquired from an alien ancestry and a cosmopolitan upbringing), a smart dinner-jacket, and the air of a psychologist who, whenever the omnibus discharged a fresh load, invariably took the grandees for haggling skinflints and the flashy crooks for grandees. - While I heard my grandmother ask him in an artificial tone of voice: "And what are ... your charges? ... Oh! far too high for my little budget", waiting on a bench, I took refuge in the innermost depths of my being, strove to migrate to a plane of eternal thoughts, to leave nothing of myself, nothing living on the surface of my body - anaesthetized like those of certain animals, which, by inhibition, feign death when they are wounded - so as not to suffer too keenly in this place, my total unfamiliarity with which was impressed upon me all the more forcibly by the familiarity with it that seemed to be evinced at the same moment by a smartly dressed lady to whom the manager showed his respect by taking liberties with her little dog, the young "blood" with a feather in his hat who came in whistling and asking if there were "any letters", all these people for whom climbing those imitation marble stairs meant going home. My sense of loneliness was further increased a moment later when my grandmother was about to go out (I had confessed to her that I did not feel well, that I thought that we should be obliged to return to Paris, and she had offered no protest, saying merely that she was going out to buy a few things which would be equally useful whether we left or stayed, and which, I afterwards learned, were all intended for me, Françoise having gone off with certain articles which I might need such as jerseys, slippers, a hot water bottle). While I waited for her I had taken a turn through the streets, which were packed with a crowd of people who imparted to them a sort of indoor warmth, and in which the hairdresser's shop and the pastry cook's were still open, the latter filled with customers eating ices opposite the statue of Duguay-Trouin. This crowd gave me just about as much pleasure as a photograph of it on the cover of a magazine might give a patient who was turning its pages in the surgeon's waiting-room. I was astonished to find that there were people so different from myself, that this stroll through the town had actually been recommended to me by the manager as a diversion; and also that the torture-chamber which a new place of residence is could appear to some people a "delightful abode", to quote the hotel prospectus, which might perhaps exaggerate but was none the less addressed to a whole army of clients to whose tastes it must appeal. True, it invoked, to make them come to the Grand Hotel, Cricquebec, not only the "exquisite fare" and the "magical view across the Casino gardens", but also the "ordinances of Her Majesty Queen Fashion, which no one may violate with impunity without being taken for a philistine, a charge that no well-bred man would willingly incur". The need that I now felt for my grandmother was intensified by my fear that I had shattered another of her illusions by what I had said to her, by my confessing to her that I was not well and that it would be better not to continue with the trip in which she had invested so many hopes for my well-being. She must be feeling discouraged, feeling that if I could not stand the fatigue of it, there was no hope that anything could ever do me good. Needing to speak to her I returned to the hotel on two occasions but still she had not returned; thinking that perhaps I would not see her, would not be able to try to console her for at least another hour, being aware of her sadness which would endure until then, my anguish was so keen that my imaginings were forced to come to a halt there and then. Just as when one tries to imagine oneself falling from a balloon into the void, in a descent that one cannot imagine for the space of more than a second, I was touching nothingness, I was obliged even to stop walking in order to get my breath back and to begin to feel alive again. I decided to return to the hotel and to wait for her there; the manager himself came forward and pressed a button, whereupon a personage whose acquaintance I had not yet made, known as "lift" (who at the highest point of the hotel, where the lantern would be in a Norman church, was installed like a photographer behind his curtain or even more like an organist in his loft) began to descend towards me with the agility of a domestic, industrious and captive squirrel. Then, gliding upwards again along a steel pillar, he bore me aloft in his wake towards the dome of this temple to commerce. Then so as to dissipate the mortal anguish I felt in traversing in silence the mystery of this chiaroscuro so devoid of poetry, lighted by a single vertical line of little windows which were those of the solitary water-closet on each landing, I addressed a few words to the young organist, artificer of my journey and my partner in captivity, who continued to manipulate the registers of his instrument and to finger the stops. I apologised for taking up so much room, for giving him so much trouble, and asked whether I was not obstructing him in the practice of an art in regard to which, in order to flatter the virtuoso more than displaying curiosity, I confessed my strong attachment. But he made no reply, whether from astonishment at my words, preoccupation with his work, regard for etiquette, hardness of hearing, respect for his position, fear of danger, slowness of understanding, or the manager's orders.
There is perhaps nothing which gives us so strong an impression of the reality of the external world and our opinion of it as the difference in the position, relative to ourselves, of even a quite unimportant person before we have met him and after. I was the same man who had come, that afternoon, in the little train from Cricquebec, I carried in my body the same consciousness. But in this consciousness, in the place where - while the little train carried me to Cricquebec it had been impossible to form any idea of the manager, the hotel, his staff, a vague and timorous anticipation of the moment when the manager would first encounter me, this same fear had [section of manuscript missing] sublime. And this change which I had done nothing to bring about proved to me that something had happened which was external to myself, like the traveller who, having had the sun in his face when he started his journey, concludes that time has passed when he finds the sun behind him. I was half-dead with exhaustion; I was burning with fever. I would have gone to bed, but I had no night things. I should have liked at least to lie down for a little while on the bed, but to what purpose since I should not have been able to procure any rest for that mass of sensations which is for each of us his conscious if not his physical body, and since the unfamiliar objects which encircled that body, forcing it to place its perceptions on the permanent footing of a vigilant defensive, would have kept my sight, my hearing, all my senses in a position as cramped and uncomfortable (even if I had stretched out my legs) as that of Cardinal La Balue in the cage in which he could neither stand nor sit? It is our noticing them that puts things in a room, our growing used to them that takes them away again and clears a space for us. Space there was none for me in my bedroom (mine in name only) at Cricquebec; it was full of things which did not know me, which flung back at me the distrustful glance I cast at them, and, without taking any heed of my existence, showed that I was interrupting the humdrum course of theirs. The clock - whereas at home I heard mine tick only a few seconds in a week, when I was coming out of some profound meditation - continued without a moment's interruption to utter, in an unknown tongue, a series of observations which must have been most uncomplimentary to myself, for the red curtains listened to them without replying, but in an attitude such as people adopt who shrug their shoulders and raise their eyebrows to indicate that the sight of a third person irritates them. I was tormented by the presence of some little bookcases with glass fronts which ran along the walls, but especially by a large cheval-glass which stood across one corner and before the departure of which I felt that there could be no possibility of rest for me there. I kept raising my eyes - which the things in my room in Paris disturbed no more than did my eyeballs themselves, for they were merely extensions of my organs, an enlargement of myself - towards the high ceiling of this belvedere planted upon the summit of the hotel; and deep down in that region more intimate than that in which we see and hear, in that region where we experience the quality of smells, almost in the very heart of my innermost self, the scent of flowering grasses next launched its offensive against my last line of trenches, an offensive against which I opposed, not without exhausting myself still further, by the futile and unremitting riposte of an alarmed sniffling. Having no world, no bedroom, no body now that was not menaced by the enemies thronging around me, penetrated to the very bones of my fever, I was alone and I longed to die. Then my grandmother came in, and to the expansion of my constricted heart there opened at once an infinity of space.
She was wearing a loose cambric dressing-gown which she put on at home whenever any of us was ill (because she felt more comfortable in it, she used to say, for she always ascribed selfish motives to her actions), and which was, for tending us, for watching by our beds, her servant's smock, her nurse's uniform, her nun's habit. But whereas the attentions of servants, nurses and nuns, their kindness to us, the merits we find in them and the gratitude we owe them, increase the impression we have of being, in their eyes, someone else, of feeling that we are alone, keeping in our own hands the control over our thoughts, our will to live, I knew, when I was with my grandmother, that however great the misery that was in me, it would be received by her with a pity still more vast, that everything that was mine, my cares, my wishes, would be buttressed, in my grandmother, by a desire to preserve and enhance my life that was altogether stronger than my own; and my thoughts were continued and extended in her without undergoing the slightest deflection, since they passed from my mind into hers without any change of atmosphere or of personality. And - like the man who tries to fasten his tie in front of a mirror and forgets that the end which he sees reflected is not on the side to which he raises his hand, or like dog that chases along the ground the dancing shadow of an insect in the air - misled by her appearance in the body as we are apt to be in this world where we have no direct perception of people's souls, I threw myself into the arms of my grandmother and pressed my lips to her cheeks as though I were thus gaining access to that immense heart which she opened to me, and which was more to me than my own. And when I felt my mouth glued to her cheeks, to her brow, I drew from them something so beneficial, so nourishing, that I remained as motionless, as solemn, as calmly gluttonous as a baby at the breast.
At her request, as she appreciated my tiredness, I calmed myself; I gazed inexhaustibly at her large face, outlined like a beautiful cloud, glowing and serene, behind which I could discern the radiance of her tender love. And everything that received, in however slight a degree, any share of her sensations, everything that could be said to belong in any way to her was at once so spiritualized, so sanctified that with outstretched hands I smoothed her beautiful hair, still hardly grey, with as much respect, precaution and gentleness as if I had actually been caressing her goodness. She found such pleasure in taking any trouble that saved me one, and in a moment of immobility and rest for my weary limbs something so exquisite, that when, having seen that she wished to help me undress and go to bed, I made as though to stop her and to undress myself, with an imploring gaze she arrested my hands as they fumbled with the top buttons of my jacket and my boots, about to pitilessly crush her fragile goodness.
"Oh, do let me!" she begged. "It's such a joy for your old grandmother to be useful for something. And be sure to knock on the wall if you want anything in the night, my bed is just on the other side, and the partitions are quite thin. Just give me a knock now, as soon as you're in bed, so that we shall know where we are."
And sure enough, that evening I gave three knocks - a signal which, a week later, when I was ill, I repeated every morning for several days, because my grandmother wanted me to have some milk early. Then, when I thought that I could hear her stirring - so that she should not be kept waiting but might, the moment she had brought me the milk, go to sleep again - I would venture three little taps, timidly, faintly, but for all that distinctly, for if I was afraid of disturbing her in case I had been mistaken and she was still asleep, neither did I wish her to lie awake listening for a summons which she had not at once caught and which I should not have the heart to repeat. And scarcely had I given my taps than I heard three others, in a different tone from mine, stamped with a calm authority, repeated twice over so that there should be no mistake, and saying to me plainly: "Don't get agitated, I've heard you, don't fret, I shall be with you in a minute!" and my grandmother would appear. I would explain to her that I had been afraid she would not hear me, or think that it was someone in the room beyond who was tapping; at which she would smile: "Mistake my poor pet's knocking for anybody else's! Why, your old grandmother could tell it a mile away! Do you suppose there's anybody else in the world who's such a silly-billy, with such febrile knuckles, so afraid of waking me and of not making me understand? Even if it just gave the tiniest scratch, your old grandmother could tell her mouse's sound at once, especially such a poor, miserable mouse as mine is. I could hear it just now, trying to make up its mind, and rustling the bedclothes, and going through all its tricks."
She would give me my milk and partly open the shutters; and where a wing of the hotel jutted out, the sun would already have settled on the roofs, like a slater who is up in good time, and starts work early and works quietly so as not to rouse the sleeping town whose stillness makes him seem more agile. She would tell me what time it was, what sort of day it would be, that it was not worth my while my getting up and coming to the window, that there was a mist over the sea, whether the baker's shop had opened yet, what the vehicle was that I could hear passing - that whole trifling curtain-raiser, that insignificant introit of a new day which no one attends, and in which we, from all the inhabitants of the hotel, were the only ones present; a little scrap of life which was only for our two selves, but which I should have no hesitation in evoking, later on, to Françoise or even to strangers, by saying: "There was a terrible fog, you know, at six o'clock this morning", with the ostentation of one who was boasting not of a piece of knowledge that he alone had acquired but of a mark of affection shown to himself alone; sweet morning moment which opened like a symphony with the rhythmical dialogue of my three taps, to which the thin wall of my bedroom, steeped in love and joy, grown melodious, incorporeal, singing like the angelic choir, responded with three other taps, eagerly awaited, repeated once and again, in which it contrived to waft to me the soul of my grandmother, whole and perfect, and the promise of her coming, with the swiftness of an annunciation and a musical fidelity. But on this first night after our arrival, when my grandmother had quite left me, I began again to suffer as I had suffered the day before, in Paris, when I began to understand that in leaving for Bricquebec I was saying goodbye to my own room. Perhaps this fear that I had - and that is shared by so many others - of sleeping in a strange room, perhaps this fear is only the most humble, obscure, organic, almost unconscious form of that great and desperate resistance put up by the things that constitute the better part of our present life against our mentally acknowledging the possibility of a future in which they are to have no part; a resistance which was at the root of the horror that I had so often been made to feel by the thought that my parents would die some day, that the necessity of life might oblige me to live far from Gilberte, or simply to settle permanently in a place where I should never see any of my old friends; a resistance that was also at the root of the difficulty that I found in imagining my own death, or a survival such as Bergotte used to promise to mankind in his books, a survival in which I should not be allowed to take with me my memories, my frailties, my character, which did not easily resign themselves to the idea of ceasing to be, and desired for me neither extinction nor an eternity in which they would have no part.
When Swann had said to me in Paris; "You ought to go off to one of those glorious islands in the Pacific; you'd never come back again if you did", I should have liked to answer: "But then I shall never see your daughter again, I shall be living among people and things she has never seen". And yet my reason told me: "What difference can that make, since you won't be distressed by it? When M. Swann tells you that you won't come back he means by that that you won't want to come back, and if you don't want to that is because you'll be happier out there." For my reason was aware that Habit - Habit which was even now setting to work to make me like this unfamiliar lodging, to change the position of the mirror, the shade of the curtains, to stop the clock - undertakes as well to make dear to us the companions whom at first we disliked, to give another appearance to their faces, to make the sound of their voices attractive, to modify the inclinations of their hearts. It is true that these new friendships for places and people are based upon forgetfulness of the old; my reason precisely thought that I could envisage without dread the prospect of a life in which I should be for ever separated from people all memory of whom I should lose, and it was by way of consolation that it offered my heart a promise of oblivion which in fact succeeded only by sharpening the edge of its despair. Not that the heart, too, is not bound in time, when separation is complete, to feel the analgesic effect of habit; but until then it will continue to suffer. And our dread of a future in which we must forgo the sight of faces and the sound of voices which we love and from which today we derive our dearest joy, this dread, far from being dissipated, is intensified, if to the pain of such a privation we feel that there will be added what seems to us now in anticipation more painful still: not to feel it as a pain at all - to remain indifferent; it would then be not merely the charm of our family, our mistress, our friends that had ceased to enclose us, but our affection for them would have been so completely eradicated from our hearts, of which today it is so conspicuous an element, that we should be able to enjoy a life apart from them; the very thought of which today makes us recoil in horror; so that it would be in a real sense the death of the self, a death followed, it is true, by resurrection, but in a different self, to the love of which the elements of the old self that are condemned to die cannot bring themselves to aspire. It is they - even the merest of them, such as our obscure attachments to the dimensions, to the atmosphere of a bedroom - that take fright and refuse, in acts of rebellion which we must recognize to be a secret, partial, tangible and true aspect of our resistance to death, of the long, desperate, daily resistance to the fragmentary and continuous death that insinuates itself through the whole course of life, detaching from us at each moment a shred of ourself, dead matter on which new cells will multiply and grow. And for a neurotic nature such as mine - one, that is to say, in which the intermediaries, the nerves, perform their functions badly, fail to arrest on its way to the consciousness, allow indeed to reach it, distinct, exhausting, innumerable and distressing, the plaints of the most humble elements of the self which are about to disappear - the anxiety and alarm which I felt as I lay beneath the strange and too lofty ceiling were but the protest of an affection that survived in me for a ceiling that was familiar and low. Doubtless this affection too would disappear, another having taken its place (when death, and then another life, had, in the guise of Habit, performed their double task); but until its annihilation, every night it would suffer afresh, and on this night especially, confronted with an irreversible future in which there would no longer be any place for it, it rose in revolt, it tortured me with the sound of its lamentations whenever my straining eyes, powerless to turn from what was wounding them, endeavoured to fasten themselves upon that inaccessible ceiling.
But next morning! (like at Combray when, after spending a fretful night, all my cares were effaced all at once by the sun at the hour when it pressed its beams against the window, as if to say to me: come on down to the garden; where, seeing the blazing slates on the belfry of St. Hilaire, I got myself ready to go through the square, to the church, to the banks of the Vivonne), - the next morning, after a servant had come to call me and to bring me hot water, and while I was washing and dressing myself and trying in vain to find the things that I needed in my trunk, from which I extracted, pell-mell, only a lot of things that were no use whatever, what a joy it was to me, thinking already of the pleasure of lunch and a walk along the shore, to see in the window, and in all the glass fronts of the bookcases, as in the port holes in a ship's cabin, the open sea, naked, unshadowed, and yet with half of its expanse in shadow, bounded by a thin, fluctuating line, and to follow with my eyes the waves that leapt up one behind another like the jumpers on a trampoline. Every other moment, holding in my hand the stiff, starched towel with the name: Grand Hotel printed upon it, which I unfolded with difficulty, and with which I was making futile efforts to dry myself - I returned to the window to have another look at that vast, dazzling, mountainous amphitheatre, and at the snowy crests of its emerald waves, here and there polished and translucent, which with a placid violence and a leonine frown, to which the sun added a faceless smile, allowed their crumbling slopes to topple down at last. It was at this window that I was later to take up my position every morning, as at the window of a stage-coach in which one has slept, to see whether, during the night, a longed-for mountain range has come nearer or receded - only here it was those hills of the sea which, before they come dancing back towards us, are apt to withdraw so far that often it was only truly at the end of a long, sandy plain that I could distinguish, far off, their first undulations in a transparent, vaporous, bluish distance, like the glaciers one sees in the background of the Tuscan Primitives. On other mornings it was quite close at hand that the sun laughed upon those waters of a green as tender as that preserved in Alpine pastures, less by the moisture of the soil than by the liquid mobility of the light. Moreover, in that breach which the shore and the waves open up in the midst of the rest of the world for the passage or the accumulation of light, it is above all the light, according to the direction from which it comes and along which our eyes follow it, it is the light that displaces and situates the undulations of the sea. Diversity of lighting modifies no less the orientation of a place, erects no less before our eyes new goals which it inspires in us the yearning to attain, than would a distance in space actually traversed in the course of a long journey, when, in the morning, the sun came from behind the hotel, disclosing to me the sands bathed in light as far as the first bastions of the sea, it seemed to be showing me another side of the picture, and to be inviting me to pursue, along the winding path of its rays, a motionless but varied journey amid all the fairest scenes of the diversified landscape of the hours. And on this first morning, it pointed out to me far off, with a jovial finger, those blue peaks of the sea which bear no name on any map, until, dizzy with its sublime excursion over the thundering and chaotic surface of their crests and avalanches, it came to take shelter from the wind in my bedroom, lolling across the unmade bed and scattering its riches over the splashed surface of the basin-stand and into my open trunk, where, by its very splendour and misplaced luxury, it added still further to the general impression of disorder. Alas for that sea-wind: an hour later, in the big dining room - while we were having lunch, and from the leathery gourd of a lemon were sprinkling a few golden drops onto a pair of soles which presently left on our plates the plumes of their picked skeletons, curled like stiff feathers and resonant as citherns, - it seemed to my grandmother a cruel deprivation not to be able to feel its life-giving breath on her cheek, on account of the glass partition, transparent but closed, which, like the front of a glass case in a museum, separated us from the beach while allowing us to look out upon its whole expanse, and into which the sky fitted so completely that its azure had the effect of being the colour of the windows and its white clouds so many flaws in the glass. Imagining that I was "sitting on the breakwater" or deep inside the "boudoir" I felt that Baudelaire's "sun's rays upon the sea" were - a very different thing from the evening ray, simple and superficial as a tremulous golden shaft - just what at that moment was scorching the sea topaz-yellow, fermenting it, turning it pale and milky like beer, frothy like milk, while now and then there hovered over it great blue shadows which, for his own amusement, some giant seemed to be shifting to and fro by moving a mirror in the sky. And this instability of the light which one only ever finds on the sea and in the mountains made one think of uncertainties, of the perpetual setting up of some kind of sublime magic lantern, in which the accidents over which it plays seemed to have little importance; a great light joined the shore to the waves before deserting it, isolating itself in the middle of the sea, reuniting two boats, cutting in two a mist, one half of which remained in shadow, with as much indifference as did my magic lantern at Combray when it projected the image of Geneviève de Brabant across the door knob or the chimney breast as well as on the curtains at the window. But my grandmother, unable to endure the thought that I was losing the benefit of an hour in the open air, surreptitiously opened a pane and at once sent flying menus, newspapers, veils and hats, while she herself, fortified by the celestial draught, remained calm and smiling like Saint Blandina amid the torrent of invective which, increasing my sense of isolation and misery, those contemptuous, dishevelled, furious visitors combined to pour on us.
To a certain extent - and this, at Cricquebec, gave to the population, as a rule monotonously rich and cosmopolitan, of that sort of "grand" hotel a quite distinctive local character - they were composed of eminent persons from the departmental capitals of that region of France, a senior judge from Le Mans, a leader of the Cherbourg bar, a notary public from Nantes, who annually, when the holidays came round, starting from the various points over which, throughout the working year, they were scattered like snipers on a battlefield or pieces on a draughts board, concentrated their forces in this hotel. They always took the same rooms, and with their wives who had pretensions to aristocracy, formed a little group which was joined by a leading barrister and a leading doctor from Paris, who on the day of departure would say to the others: "Oh, yes, of course, you don't go by our train. You're privileged, you'll be home in time for lunch."
"Privileged, you say? You who live in the capital, in Paris, while I have to live in a wretched county town of a hundred thousand inhabitants, a hundred and two thousand at the last census it's true, but what is that compared to your two and a half millions?"
They said this with a rustic burring of their 'r's, without acrimony, for they were leading lights each in his own province, who could like others have gone to Paris had they chosen - the senior judge from Rennes had several times been offered a seat on the Court of Appeal - but had preferred to stay where they were, from love of their native towns, or of obscurity, or of fame, or because they were reactionaries who enjoyed being on friendly terms with the country houses of the neighbourhood. Besides, several of them were not going back at once to their county towns.
For - inasmuch as the Bay of Bricquebec was a little world apart in the midst of the great, a basketful of the seasons in which good days and bad, and the successive months, were clustered in a ring, so that not only on days when one could make out Rivebelle, which was a sign of a storm, could one see the sunlight on the houses there while Bricquebec was plunged into darkness, but later on, when the cold weather of autumn had reached Bricquebec, one could be certain of finding on that opposite shore two or three supplementary months of warmth - those of the regular visitors to Bricquebec Hotel whose holidays began late or lasted longer gave orders, when the rains and the mists came, for their boxes to be packed and loaded on to a boat, and set sail across the bay to find summer again at Costedor or Rivebelle. This little group in the Bricquebec hotel looked at each new arrival with suspicion, and, while affecting to take not the least interest in him, hastened, all of them, to interrogate their friend the head waiter about him. For it was the same head waiter - Aimé - who returned every year for the season, and kept their tables for them; and their lady-wives, having heard that his wife was "expecting", would sit after meals each working at a separate article of baby clothing, stopping only to put up their lorgnettes and stare at my grandmother and myself because we were eating hard-boiled eggs in salad, which was considered common and was "not done" in the best society of Nantes or Alençon. They affected an attitude of contemptuous irony with regard to a Frenchman who was called "His Majesty" and who had indeed proclaimed himself king of a small island in the South Seas peopled only by a few savages. He was staying in the hotel with his pretty mistress, whom, as she crossed the beach to bathe, the little boys would greet with: "Long live the Queen!" because she would toss them fifty centimes pieces. The judge and the barrister went so far as to pretend not to see her, and if any of their friends happened to look at her, felt bound to warn them that she was only a little shop girl.
"But I was told that at Ostend they used the royal bathing hut."
"Well and why not? It's on hire for twenty francs. You can take it yourself if you care for that sort of thing. Anyhow, I know for a fact that the fellow asked for an audience with the king, who sent back word that he wasn't interested in pantomime princes."
"Really, that's interesting! What queer people there are in the world to be sure!"
And no doubt this was true; but it was also from resentment of the thought that, to many of their fellow visitors, they were themselves simply solid middle-class citizens who did not know this king and queen who were so prodigal with their small change, that the notary, the judge, the barrister, when what they were pleased to call the "Carnival" went by, felt so much annoyance and expressed aloud an indignation that was quite understood by their friend the head waiter who, obliged to show proper civility to the generous if not authentic sovereigns, would nevertheless, as he took their orders, glance across the room at his old patrons and give them a meaningful wink. Perhaps there was also some of the same resentment at being erroneously supposed to be less "smart" and unable to explain that they were more, at the root of their "Fine Specimen!" with which they referred to a young toff, the consumptive and dissipated son of an industrial magnate, who appeared every day in a new suit of clothes with an orchid in his buttonhole, drank champagne at luncheon, and then went off to the Casino, pale, impassive, a smile of complete indifference on his lips, to throw away at the baccarat table enormous sums "which he could ill afford to lose", as the notary said with a knowing air to the senior judge, whose wife had it "on good authority" that this "decadent" young man was bringing his parents to an early grave in their sorrow.
Perhaps the little colony had less occasion to express these feelings with regard to a young actress (better known in fact for her grace, her wit, her elegance, her taste, her collection of German porcelain, than for the occasional parts that she had played at the Odéon), who was staying at the Grand Hotel, Cricquebec with her lover, an immensely rich young man for whose sake she had acquired her culture, and with two young men from the aristocracy at that time much in the public eye, four people who formed an exclusive group for the simple pleasure that they took in chatting together, playing cards together, eating together (as all four had attained the same degree of gastronomy), a little society that the changes of surroundings of the summer could not disunite and which transposed itself, complete and intact, sometimes here, sometimes there. But the wife of the senior judge, and the wife of the notary found themselves denying themselves any pleasure they would have had in tolerating any promiscuity with this member of the demi-monde. For the little society, which always had special menus, for the elaboration of which one or two of its members would have long discussions with the chef, did not come down for luncheon until extremely late, by which time everybody else was on the point of leaving table. They took their meals in a separate part of the dining room, entering through a small door, out of the way of everybody else; the woman, always beautifully dressed, always wore different dresses but ones which we had never seen before, with a taste, peculiar to herself, in scarves which were pleasing to her lover. One never saw a single one of them during the daytime, which they spent, together, playing cards. In the evening, after leaving table, we would see up to three young men in dinner jackets waiting for the woman, who was always late, and who, shortly after ringing for the lift from her floor, would emerge through the lift doors as if from a box of toys, all dressed up with a new scarf, pausing for a moment to look at herself in the mirror, applying a little more makeup, whereupon the whole group would disappear into a closed carriage, harnessed with two waiting horses, to set off to dine out at a little restaurant, well known for its food, which was half an hour away, and where, because there were not so many people there, the chef was able to take greater pains over his dishes, and they themselves could discuss with him at greater length the possibility of adding such and such an ingredient or not. In this way they passed virtually unnoticed by the other inhabitants of the hotel. The same was not true of a wealthy titled old lady of whom, even though she was from a different floor, the room valet from ours had spoken to us, impressed, as were all of his companions, by the fact that she had brought with her her own chambermaid, coachman, horses, carriages, and had been preceded by a butler who was charged with choosing the rooms and to have them made, thanks to the ornaments and precious antiques which he had brought, as little different as possible to those in which his mistress lived in Paris. The barrister and his friends were inexhaustibly sarcastic on the subject of their respect for an old titled lady, who never moved anywhere without taking her whole household with her. Whenever the wives of the notary and the judge saw her in the dining-room at meal times, they put up their lorgnettes and gave her an insolent scrutiny, as meticulous and distrustful as if she had been some dish with a pretentious name, but a suspicious appearance, such as is often served in "grand" hotels, which, after the adverse result of a systematic study, is sent away with a lofty wave of the hand, an air of resignation, and a grimace of disgust.
No doubt by this behaviour they meant only to show that, if there were things in the world which they themselves lacked - in this instance certain prerogatives which the old lady enjoyed, and the privilege of her acquaintance - it was not because they could not, but because they did not choose to acquire them. But the unfortunate thing was that in seeking to persuade others that this was how they felt they ended up by convincing themselves of it. And the suppression of all desire for, of all curiosity about, ways of life which are unfamiliar, of all hope of endearing oneself to new people, of any effort to please, for which, in these women, had been substituted a feigned contempt, a spurious jubilation, had the disagreeable effect of obliging them to label their discontent satisfaction and to lie everlastingly to themselves, two reasons why they were unhappy. But everyone else in the hotel was no doubt behaving in a similar fashion, though under different forms, and sacrificing if not to self-esteem, at any rate to certain inculcated principles or mental habits, the disturbing thrill of being involved in an unfamiliar way of life, in pursuit of the object of their desires, in seduction, in forming attachments by renewing for themselves the mysterious sympathy of unknown beings. Of course the microcosm in which the old lady isolated herself was not poisoned with virulent rancour, as was the group in which the wives of the judge and the notary sat sneering with rage. It was indeed embalmed with a delicate and old-world fragrance which, however, was no less artificial. But I liked to think that perhaps she had deep within her some sensitivity and imagination, and that the charm which redeems an unknown person would have had a more profound effect upon her, than the pleasure without mystery which is to be derived from mixing with people from one's own world, and reminding oneself that this is the best of all possible worlds; who knows if it was not by thinking that if she arrived at the hotel incognito making little impression she would, in her black woollen dress and old fashioned bonnet, bring a smile to the lips, upon noticing her in the hall, of a young reprobate whom she would have thought a handsome young boy - like the one who was ruining himself this year with his gambling - and who would himself have murmured from his rocking chair "What a scarecrow!", or, still worse, to those of some worthy man who had, like the senior judge, kept between his pepper-and-salt whiskers a fresh complexion and a pair of sparkling eyes such as she liked to see, would have pointed out to his wife with a smile, the apparition of this quaint phenomenon upon whom she had brought to bear, with no malice, the lens of her lorgnette as if it were a precision instrument, who knows if it were not through apprehension of those first few minutes which one knows will be brief but which are nonetheless dreaded - like one's first head dip into the sea - that this lady sent a servant down in advance to inform the hotel of the personality and habits of his mistress, and who, upon leaving the motor car, and advancing rapidly between the lady's maid and the footman, cut short the manager's greetings with an abruptness in which there was more shyness than pride, and made straight for her room, where her own curtains, replacing those that draped the hotel windows, her own screens, photographs and trinkets, set up so effectively between her and the outside world, to which otherwise she would have had to adapt herself, the barrier of her habits, that it was her home (in the cocoon of which she had remained) that travelled rather than herself. Thenceforward, having placed between herself on the one hand and the hotel staff and the tradesmen on the other, her own servants who bore instead of her the pain or charm of contact with all this strange humanity, having set the prejudices between herself and the other visitors, strangers and bathers, indifferent whether or not she gave offence to people whom her friends would not have had in their houses, it was in her own world that she continued to live, by correspondence with her friends, by memories, by her intimate awareness of her own position, the quality of her manners, the adroitness of her courtesy. And every day, when she came downstairs to go for a drive in her own carriage, the lady's maid who came after her carrying her wraps, and the footman who preceded her seemed like sentries who, at the gate of an embassy, flying the flag of the country to which she belonged, assured to her upon foreign soil the privilege of extra-territoriality. She did not leave her room on the day after our arrival, so that we did not see her in the dining-room, into which the manager, since we were newcomers, conducted us at the lunch hour, taking us under his wing, as a corporal takes a squad of recruits to the master tailor to have them fitted. We did however see a moment later a country squire and his daughter, of an obscure but very ancient Breton family, M. and Mlle de Silaria, whose table had been allotted to us by the manager in the belief that they had gone out and would not be back until the evening. Having come to Cricquebec only to see various country magnates who they knew in that neighbourhood, they spent in the hotel dining-room, what with the invitations they accepted and the visits they paid, only such time as was strictly unavoidable. It was their haughtiness that preserved them from all human sympathy, from arousing the least interest in the strangers seated around them, among whom M. de Silaria kept up the glacial, preoccupied, distant, stiff, punctilious and ill-intentioned air that we assume in a railway refreshment-room in the midst of fellow-passengers whom we have never seen before and will never see again, and with whom we can conceive of no other relations than to defend from their onslaught our portion of cold chicken and our seat in the train. No sooner had we begun our lunch than we were asked to leave the table on the instructions of M. de Silaria who had just arrived and, without the faintest apology to us, requested in a loud voice to see that "such a mistake did not happen again", for it was repugnant to him that "people whom he did not know" should have taken his table.
And certainly in the desire which impelled the wealthy young man, his mistress and his two friends to form an exclusive group, to travel only together, to come down to luncheon only after everyone else had finished, reflected no sort of ill will or malice towards the rest of us, which would have been distasteful and which they would have considered ill-mannered, but simply the requirements of the taste that they had formed for a certain type of witty conversation, for certain refinements of good living, which would have rendered intolerable a life in common with people who had not been initiated into their mysteries. Even at a dinner table or at a card table where these notions could not be made use of, each of them had to be certain that in the diner or partner who sat opposite to him there were, latent and in abeyance, a certain brand of knowledge which would enable him to identify the rubbish which so many houses in Paris boast of as genuine mediaeval or Renaissance "pieces", the subtlety of wit to take no pleasure in idiotic puns, and sufficient experience in good society to enable them to hunt out everything which is pretentious or common, in short a criteria common to them all by which to distinguish the good from the bad whatever the subject. No doubt by now, at such moments, it was merely by some rare and amusing interjection flung into the general silence of the meal or the game, or by the new charming dress which the young actress had put on for lunch or for poker with these three men, that the special kind of existence in which these friends desired everywhere to remain plunged was made apparent. But by engulfing them thus in a system of habits which they knew by heart it sufficed to protect them from the mystery of the life that was going on all around them. All the long afternoon, the sea was suspended there before their eyes only as a canvas of attractive colouring might hang on the wall of a wealthy bachelor's flat, and it was only in the intervals between "hands" that one of the players, finding nothing better to do, raised his eyes to it to seek some indication of the weather or the time, and to remind the others that tea was ready. As it was with the sea and with other people so it was with the countryside. And in the evening when they went out to dine, the road bordered with apple-trees that led out of Cricquebec was no more to them than the distance that must be traversed - barely distinguishable in the darkness from that which separated their homes in Paris from the Café Anglais or the Café Joseph - before they arrived at the fashionable rural little restaurant where they were to take their fine meal and where, while the rich young man's friends envied him because he had such a smartly dressed mistress, the latter's scarves hung before the company a sort of fragrant, flowing veil, but one that kept it apart from the outer world.
Alas for my peace of mind, I was far from being like these people, to many of whom I gave constant thought; I did not want them to show contempt for me; and at that time I did not have the comfort of learning the traits of Swann's character, who would have believed in having his mistress brought from Paris in order to expend with her the desire that had been inspired in him by an unknown woman, not believing that this desire to substitute a particular reality for that which one could not imagine was unknown to a man with a receding forehead and eyes that dodged between the blinkers of his prejudices and his upbringing. The grandee of the district was the brother-in-law of Legrandin, who sometimes came to visit Bricquebec and every Sunday, by reason of his garden parties, robbed the hotel of a large number of its occupants, because one or two of them were invited to these entertainments and the others, so as not to appear not to have been invited, chose that day for an excursion which kept them far away from Cricquebec. I should have been glad to arouse some response even from the adventurer who had been king of a desert island in the South Seas, even from the young consumptive about whom I thought constantly, supposing that he concealed beneath his insolent exterior a shy and tender heart, which might perhaps have lavished on me alone the treasures of its affection. I was concerned about the impression I might make on all these temporary or local celebrities whom my tendency to put myself in the place of other people and to re-create their state of mind made me place not in their true rank, that which they would have occupied in Paris for instance and which would have been quite low, but in that which they must imagine to be theirs and was indeed theirs at Cricquebec, where the want of a common denominator gave them a sort of relative superiority and unwonted interest. Alas, none of these people's contempt was so painful to me as that of M. de Silaria.
For I had noticed his daughter the moment she came into the room, her pretty face, her pallid, almost bluish complexion, the distinctiveness in the carriage of her tall figure, in her gait, which suggested to me, with reason, her heredity, her aristocratic upbringing, and all the more vividly because I knew her name - like those expressive themes invented by musicians of genius which paint in splendid colours the glow of fire, the rush of water, the peace of the countryside, to audiences who, having glanced through the programme in advance, have their imaginations trained in the right direction. "Pedigree", by adding to Mlle de Silaria's charms the idea of her origin, made them more intelligible, more complete. It made them more desirable also, advertising their inaccessibility as a high price enhances the value of a thing that has already taken our fancy. And its stock of heredity gave to her complexion, in which so many juices had been blended, the savour of an exotic fruit or a famous vintage.
Now, chance had suddenly put in our hands, my grandmother's and mine, the means of acquiring instantaneous prestige in the eyes of all the occupants of the hotel. For on that first afternoon, at the moment when the old lady came down from her room with a simple crocheted cap in her hair and looking less imposing in the flesh, but producing, thanks to the footman who preceded her, the valet who carried her things and the maid who came running after her with a book and a rug that she had forgotten, a marked effect upon all who beheld her and arousing in each of them a curiosity and a respect from which it was evident that none was so little immune, perhaps because he had heard more about her and her family than the others, as M. de Silaria, the manager leaned across to my grandmother and out of kindness (as one might point out the Shah of Persia to an obscure onlooker who could obviously have no sort of connection with such a mighty potentate, but might all the same be interested to know that he had been standing within a few feet of one) whispered in her ear: "The Marquise de Villeparisis!" while at the same moment the Marquise, catching sight of my grandmother, could not suppress a start of pleased surprise.
Unfortunately, if there was one person in the world who, more than anyone else, lived shut up in a little world of her own, oblivious of anybody in the hotel, it was my grandmother. She would not even have scorned me, she would simply not have understood what I meant, if she had known that I attached importance to the opinions, that I felt an interest in the persons, of people the very existence of whom she never noticed, and of whom, when the time came to leave Cricquebec, she would not even remember the names. I dared not confess to her that if these same people had seen her talking to Mme de Villeparisis, I should have been immensely gratified, because I felt that the Marquise enjoyed some prestige in the hotel on account of her numerous servants and that her friendship would have given us status in the eyes of M. de Silaria. Not that my grandmother's friend represented to me, in any sense of the word, a member of the aristocracy: I was too accustomed to her name, which had been familiar to my ears before my mind had begun to consider it, when as a child I had heard it uttered in conversation at home for it to sound to me like a grand name; while her title added to it only a touch of quaintness, as some uncommon Christian name would have done, or as in the names of streets, among which we can see nothing more noble in the Rue Lord Byron or in the Rue de Gramont than in the Rue Léouce-Reynand or the Rue Hippolyte-Lebas. Mme de Villeparisis no more made me think of a person who belonged to a special social world than did her cousin MacMahon, whom I did not clearly distinguish from M. Grévy, likewise president of the Republic, or from Raspail, whose photograph Françoise had bought with that of the marshal from the open-air shop on the corner of the Rue Royale. It was one of my grandmother's principles that, when away from home, one should cease to have any social intercourse, that one did not go to the seaside to meet people, having plenty of time for that sort of thing in Paris, that they would make one waste, in polite exchanges, in pointless conversation, the precious time which ought to be spent in the open air, beside the waves; and finding it convenient to assume that this view was shared by everyone else, and that it authorized, between old friends whom chance had brought face to face in the same hotel, the fiction of a mutual incognito, on hearing her friend's name from the manager she merely replied "Ah" and looked the other way, pretending not to see Mme de Villeparisis, who, realizing that my grandmother did not want to be recognized, likewise gazed into space.
She, too, had her meals in the dining-room, but at the other end of it. She knew none of the people who were staying in the hotel or who came there to call, not even M. de Solangy; indeed, I noticed that he gave her no greeting one day when, with his wife, he had accepted an invitation to lunch with the barrister, who, intoxicated with the honour of having the nobleman at his table, avoided his habitual friends and confined himself to a distant twitch of the eyelid, so as to draw their attention to this historic event but so discreetly that his signal could not be interpreted as an invitation to join the party.
"Well, I hope you've done yourself proud, I hope you feel smart enough," the judge's wife said to him that evening.
"Smart? Why should I?" asked the barrister, concealing his rapture in an exaggerated astonishment. "Because of my guests, do you mean?" he went on, feeling that it was impossible to keep up the farce any longer. "But what is there smart about having a few friends to lunch" After all, they must feed somewhere!"
"Of course it's smart! They were the Soulangys weren't they? I recognized them at once. She's a countess and quite genuine, too, not through the females."
"Oh, she's a very simple soul, she's charming, no standoffishness about her. I thought you were coming to join us, I was making signals to you ... I would have introduced you!" he asserted, tempering with a hint of irony the vast generosity of his offer, like Asahuerus when he says to Esther: "Of all my kingdom must I give you half!"
"No, no, no, no, we keep to ourselves in our own little corner."
"But you were quite wrong, I assure you," replied the barrister, emboldened now that the danger point was passed. "They weren't going to eat you. I say, aren't we going to have our little game of bezique?"
"Why of course! We didn't dare suggest it, now that you go about entertaining countesses!"
"Oh, get along with you; there's nothing so very wonderful about them. Why, I'm dining there tomorrow. Would you care to go instead of me? I mean it. Honestly, I'd just as soon stay here."
"No, no! I should be removed from the bench as a reactionary," cried the senior judge, laughing till the tears came to his eyes at his own joke. "But you go to their house too, don't you?" he went on, turning to the notary.
"Oh, I go there on Sundays - in one door and out the other. But they don't come and have lunch with me like they do with the barrister."
"That's only because I've known them for a long time," replied the barrister.
M. de Silaria had not dined at Bricquebec that morning, to the great regret of the barrister, who, since the day when a waiter had given him the name of this unknown person, had judged that one could see straight away that here was a very well bred gentleman. But he managed to say insidiously to the head waiter:
"Aimé, you can tell M. de Sclaria that he's not the only nobleman you've had in this dining-room. You saw the gentleman who was with me today at lunch? Eh? A small moustache, looked like a military man. Well, that was the Count de Solangy."
"Was it indeed? I'm not surprised to hear it."
"That will show him that he's not the only man who's got a title. That'll teach him! It's not a bad thing to take 'em down a peg or two, those gentlemen. I say, Aimé, don't say anything to him unless you want to. I mean to say, it's no business of mine; besides they know each other already."
And next day M. de Sclaria, who remembered that the barrister had once represented one of his friends, came up and introduced himself.
"Our friends in common, the Solangys, were anxious that we should meet", said the barrister shamelessly, "the days didn't fit - I don't know quite what went wrong."
As usual, but more easily now that her father had left her to talk to the barrister, I was gazing at Mlle de Sclaria. I knew of the environment, still almost Feudal, in which she had been brought up in Brittany, and (no less than the bold and always graceful distinctiveness of her attitudes, as when, leaning her elbows on the table, she raised her glass in both hands over her forearms like the handles of a vase) the dry flame of a glance at once extinguished, the landed, congenital hardness that one could sense, ill-concealed by her own personal inflexions, in the depths of her voice, and that had shocked my grandmother, a sort of atavistic ratchet to which she returned as soon as, in a glance or an intonation, she had finished expressing her own thoughts; all this brought the thoughts of the observer back to the long line of ancestors who had bequeathed to her that inadequacy of human sympathy, those gaps in her sensibility, a lack of fullness in the stuff of which she was made and to the education which had circumscribed the world for her to her uncle the bishop and her aunt the abbess. Young noble cousins partaking of leisurely customs, the familiarity of her person with hunting parties, of pastimes which, alas, were far removed from my own upbringing, at the bottom of that silvery bay, sown with a myriad of small crags which on calm evenings, such as the one on which Tristan's sails appeared, refracted the gradations of the setting sun to infinity in this isle where fallen oaks whose green splendour above enchanted springs and pink heathers seemed to me to possess so much charm because it enclosed the life of Mlle de Silaria and reposed in the memory of her eyes. But from a certain look which flooded for a moment the wells - instantly dry again - of her eyes, a look in which one sensed that almost humble docility which the predominance of a taste for sensual pleasures gives to the proudest of women, who will soon come to recognize but one form of personal magic, that which any man will enjoy in her eyes who can make her feel those pleasures, an actor or a mountebank for whom, perhaps, she will one day leave her husband, and from a certain pink tinge, warm and sensual, which flushed her pallid cheeks, like the colour that stained the hearts of the white water-lilies in the Vivonne, I thought I could discern that she might readily have consented to my coming to seek in her the savour of that life of poetry and romance which she led in Brittany, a life which, whether from over-familiarity or from innate superiority, or from disgust at the penury or the avarice of her family, she seemed to attach no great value, but which, for all that, she held enclosed in her body. In the meagre stock of will-power that had been transmitted to her, and gave her expression a hint of weakness, she would not perhaps have found the strength to resist. And, crowned by a feather that was a trifle old-fashioned and pretentious, the grey felt hat which she invariably wore at meals made her all the more attractive to me, not because it was in harmony with her silver and rose complexion, but because, by making me suppose her to be poor, it brought her closer to me. Obliged by her father's presence to adopt a conventional attitude, but already bringing to the perception and classification of people who passed before her eyes other principles than his, perhaps she saw in me not my humble rank, but the attractions of sex and age. If one day M. de Silaria had gone out leaving her behind, if, above all, Mme de Villeparisis, by coming to sit at our table, had given her an opinion of me which might have emboldened me to approach her, perhaps then we might have contrived to exchange a few words, to arrange a meeting, to form a closer tie. And for a whole month in winter during which she would be left alone without her parents in her romantic and legendary castle, we should perhaps have been able to wander by ourselves at evening, she and I together in the twilight through which the pink flowers of the bell-heather would glow more softly above the darkening water, beneath oak trees beaten and stunted by the pounding of the waves which in heavy weather the wind hurled over the island. For it seemed to me that I should truly have possessed her only there, when I had traversed those regions which enveloped Mlle de Sclaria in so many memories - a veil which my desire longed to tear aside, one of those veils which nature interposes between woman and her pursuers (with the same intention as when, for all of us, she places the act of reproduction between ourselves and our keenest pleasure, and for insects, places before the nectar the pollen which they must carry away with them) in order that, tricked by the illusion of possessing her thus more completely, they may be forced to occupy first the scenes among which she lives and which, of more service to their imagination than the sensual pleasure can be, yet would not without that pleasure have sufficed to attract them.
But I was obliged to take my eyes from Mlle de Silaria, for already, considering no doubt that making the acquaintance of an important person was an odd, brief act which was sufficient in itself and, to bring out all the interest that was latent in it, required only a handshake and a penetrating stare, without either immediate conversation or any subsequent relations, her father had taken leave of the barrister and returned to sit down facing her, rubbing his hands like a man who has just made a valuable acquisition. As for the barrister, once the first emotion of this interview had subsided, he could be heard, as on other days, addressing the waiter every other minute: "But I'm not a king, Aimé; go and attend to the king! I say, Chief, those little trout don't look at all bad, do they? We must ask Aimé to let us have some. Aimé, that little fish you have over there looks highly commendable to me: will you bring us some please, Aimé, and don't be sparing with it." He repeated the name "Aimé" all the time, with the result that when he had anyone to dinner the guest would remark "I can see you're quite at home in this place," and would feel himself obliged to keep on saying "Aimé" also, from that tendency, combining elements of timidity, vulgarity and silliness, which many people have to believe that it is smart and witty to imitate slavishly the people in whose company they happen to be. The barrister repeated the name incessantly for he wanted to exhibit at one and the same time his good relations with the head waiter and his own superior station. And each of his interpellations was accompanied by the sort of smile which one would reserve for when holding a conversation with a small child. And the head waiter, whenever he caught the sound of his own name, smiled too, as though touched and at the same time proud, showing that he was conscious of the honour and could appreciate the joke.
But a few days later, the day after M. and Mlle de Silaria had left, my grandmother and Mme de Villeparisis collided with each other one morning in a doorway and were obliged to accost each other, not without having first exchanged gestures of surprise and hesitation, performed movements of withdrawal and uncertainty, and finally broken into protestations of joy and greeting, as in certain scenes in Molière where two actors who have been delivering long soliloquies each on his own account, a few feet apart, are supposed not yet to have seen each other, cannot believe their eyes, break off what they are saying, and then simultaneously find their tongues again and fall into each other's arms. Mme de Villeparisis tactfully made as if to leave my grandmother to herself after the first greetings, but my grandmother insisted on staying to talk to her until lunchtime, being anxious to discover how her friend managed to get her letters earlier than we got ours, and to get such nice grilled dishes. And Mme de Villeparisis formed the habit of coming every day, while waiting to be served, to sit down for a moment at our table in the dining-room, insisting that we should not rise from our chairs or in any way put ourselves out. "I shall tell my chamber maid to go and fetch your letters at the same time as mine. What, your daughter writes to you every day? What on earth can you find to say to each other?" These words of Mme de Villeparisis merited such disdain in the eyes of my grandmother that she did not think that they were even worthy of her protestation, so that when her old friend said to her "What's that you've got there? Oh, yes, I have often seen you with Mme de Sévigné's letters," (forgetting for the moment that she had never seen my grandmother at the hotel until they met in the doorway) "Don't you find it rather exaggerated, her constant anxiety about her daughter? She refers to it too often to be really sincere. She is not very natural." my grandmother felt that any discussion would be futile, and so as not to be obliged to speak of the things she loved to a person incapable of understanding them, concealed the Mémoires de Madame de Charlus by laying her bag upon them.
[Note in the manuscript by Proust: Before the passage in the margin and after the marquise, say that she accepted our thanks by saying: "It's wise to find fruit that one is sure of at the seaside" or "it's difficult to find decent fruit at the seaside. The little pears that they have here are not juicy enough for my taste."]
In return, if my
grandmother noticed a book that Mme de Villeparisis was reading
or admired the fruit that she had for her dessert, an hour later
a valet would come up to our room and ask Françoise - who was
flattered by the provenance - to give us a book or some fruit
"with the compliments of Madame the Marquise".
"I must remember sometime to ask her whether I'm not right, after all, in thinking that she doesn't have some connection with the Guermantes," said my grandmother, to my great indignation, not appearing to understand that the life led by the descendants of Geneviève de Brabant was far removed from that of other beings, and that they would never have wanted to be known to Mme de Villeparisis. How could I be expected to believe in a common origin uniting two names which had entered my consciousness, one through the low and shameful gate of experience, the other by the golden gate of imagination?
But one day in the hotel we saw some fruit which was even better than that which Mme de Villeparisis had on her table. We had, several times, in the last few days, seen driving past us in a stately equipage, tall, red-haired, handsome, with a rather prominent nose, the Princesse de Luxembourg, who was staying in the neighbourhood in order to spend a few days in the country. Her carriage had stopped outside the hotel, a footman had come in and spoken to the manager, had gone back to the carriage and had reappeared with the most amazing armful of fruit with a card: "La Princesse de Luxembourg", on which were written a few words in pencil. For what princely traveller, sojourning here incognito, could this fruit be intended? For it could not be on Mme de Villeparisis that the Princess had meant to pay a call. How could she possibly have known her? And yet one hour later Mme de Villeparisis sent us some pears and grapes which we recognized as the same. The next morning we met Mme de Villeparisis as we came away from the symphony concert which was given every day on the beach. The day before I had bumped into Bloch there, who told me that he never missed it because the musical director, who was a great musician (according to him), played several pieces from Wagner and transcriptions from Schumann. And he had recited to me some fine quotations from Baudelaire on Wagner and from Schopenhauer on music. In this way I came to hear extracts from Lohengrin, Rheingold, Schumann's Carnaval, the Dream of Brunhilde wherein the same phrases that I had heard at the end of the Walkyries were able, when rediscovered in a different place and no longer preparing the sleep of the Virgin but her resurrection, to show the same new and mysterious meaning as those rosy glimmers, those oblique rays which I had seen again after spending a night in a railway train, so often heralding the ending but this time the beginning of the day. Knowing the music to reflect the "Whims of its own nature and all the spectacles of the universe" I did not consider for a moment the idea that Schumann could have sought to depict anything quite so limited, of such amusing but mediocre importance, and, if I applied it to my own tastes, as boring and as vulgar as a night at the carnival. It was the alternations of irresistible joy and unutterable melancholy to which the spirit gives itself up by turns that I sought to seize upon in this music. And convinced that the pieces that I heard expressed the loftiest of truths, I tried to raise myself in so far as I could in order to understand them, and put back into them all that was best and most profound in my own nature at that time. But, as we came out of the concert, and, on our way back to the hotel, had stopped for a moment on the front, my grandmother and I, to exchange a few words with Mme de Villeparisis who told us that she had ordered some croque-monsieurs and a dish of creamed eggs for us at the hotel, I saw, in the distance, coming in our direction, the Princesse de Luxembourg, half leaning upon a parasol in such a way as to impart to her tall and wonderful form that slight inclination, to make it trace that arabesque, so dear to the women who had been beautiful under the Empire and knew how, with drooping shoulders, arched backs, concave hips and taut legs, to make their bodies float as softly as a silken scarf about the rigid armature of an invisible shaft which might be supposed to have transfixed it. Mme de Villeparisis introduced my grandmother and was about to introduce me, but she did not know my name. She had perhaps never known it, or if she had must have forgotten years ago to whom my grandmother had married her daughter. The name appeared to make a sharp impression on her. Meanwhile the Princesse de Luxembourg had offered us her hand, smiling as if at a joke. As a street vendor passed she bought everything that he had and held it out to my grandmother and myself as one might to a baby and its nurse, then pushed it, all tied up in packets, into my pocket telling me "You give some to your grandmother to eat." She called Mme de Villeparisis by her Christian name and invited her to dine the next day. From time to time her eyes rested on us, smiling, with a thousand little signs of understanding, just as one might look at a deaf mute with whom one cannot converse but wishes to show that one is fond of them. And her smile was so sweet that at any moment I thought that she was about to stretch out her hand and stroke us, my grandmother and me, like the strange but tame animals that we see at the Jardin d'Acclimatation. Another street vendor passed with his cakes, and again she bought them and put them into my other pocket. Then she bade her farewells to Mme de Villeparisis, and turning towards us held out her hand with a smile, just as we might amuse ourselves by saying goodbye to small children as if they were grown-ups, and continued her stroll on the esplanade bathed in sunshine, curving her magnificent figure which wound itself like a snake around her white parasol printed with blue designs. "Are you," she had asked me, "the son of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry? Indeed, I'm told your father is a most charming man. He is having a splendid holiday just now."
A few days earlier we had heard, in a letter from Mamma, that my father and his travelling companion M. de Montfort had lost their luggage.
"It has been found, or rather it was never really lost. I can tell you what happened," explained Mme de Villeparisis, who, without our knowing how, seemed to be far better informed than ourselves about my father's travels. "I think your father is now planning to come home earlier, next week, in fact, as he will probably give up the idea of going to Algeciras. But he's anxious to spend a day longer in Toledo, since he's an admirer of a pupil of Titian - I forget the name - whose work can only be seen properly there."
And I wondered by what strange accident, in the impartial telescope through which Mme de Villeparisis considered, from a safe distance, the minuscule, perfunctory, vague agitation of the host of people whom she knew, there had come to be inserted at the spot through which she observed my father a fragment of glass of prodigious magnifying power which made her see in such high relief and in the fullest detail everything that was agreeable about him, the contingencies that obliged him to return home, his difficulties with the customs, his admiration for El Greco, and, altering the scale of her vision, showed her this one man, so large among all the rest so small, like that of Jupiter to whom Gustave Moreau, when he portrayed him by the side of a weak mortal, gave a superhuman stature.
My grandmother bade Mme de Villeparisis good-bye, so that we might stay and take in the fresh air for a little while longer outside the hotel, until they signalled to us through the glazed partition that our lunch was ready. We could hear a commotion. The young mistress of the king of the savages had been down to bathe and was now coming back to the hotel.
"Really and truly, it's a perfect plague, it's enough to make one decide to emigrate!" cried the barrister in a towering rage as he crossed her path. Meanwhile the notary's wife was following the bogus queen with eyes that seemed ready to start from their sockets.
"I can't tell you how angry Mme Blandais makes me when she stares at those people like that," said the barrister to the judge, "I feel I want to slap her. That's just the way to make the wretches appear important, which is of course the very thing that they want. Do ask her husband to tell her what a fool she's making of herself. I swear I won't go out with them again if they stop and gape at those masqueraders."
As to the coming of the Princesse de Luxembourg, whose carriage, on the day she had left the fruit, had drawn up outside the hotel, it had not passed unobserved by the little group of wives, the notary's, the barrister's and the judge's, who had already for some time past been extremely anxious to know whether that Mme de Villeparisis whom everyone treated with such respect - which all these ladies were burning to hear that she did not deserve - was a genuine Marquise and not an adventuress. Whenever Mme de Villeparisis passed through the hall the judge's wife, who scented irregularities everywhere, would lift her nose from her needlework with her face in her hands and the air of someone examining a suspicious dish which he has no intention of trying in a way that made her friends die with laughter.
"Oh well, you know," she proudly explained, "I always begin by believing the worst. I will never admit that a woman is properly married until she has shown me her birth certificate and her marriage licence. But never fear - just wait till I've finished my little investigation."
And so every evening the ladies would come together and laughingly ask: "Any news?"
But on the evening of the Princesse de Luxembourg's call the judge's wife laid a finger on her lips.
"I've discovered something."
"Oh, isn't Mme Poncin simply wonderful? I never saw ... But do tell us! What's happened?"
"Just listen to this. A woman with yellow hair and six inches of paint on her face and a carriage which reeked of harlot a mile away - which only a creature like that would dare to have - came here today to call on the so-called Marquise!"
"Oh-yow-yow! Tut-tut-tut-tut. Did you ever! Why it must be the woman we saw - you remember, Leader - we said at the time that we didn't at all like the look of her, but we didn't know it was the 'Marquise' she'd come to see. A woman with a nigger-boy you mean?"
"That's the one."
"You don't say! Do you happen to know her name?"
"Yes, I made a mistake on purpose. I picked up her card. She trades under the name of the 'Princesse de Luxembourg'! Wasn't I right to have my doubts about her?"
As the Bricquebec doctor whom my grandmother had called to see me had determined that I ought not to stay out on the beach all day where there was no shade (who had also written out innumerable prescriptions for me which my grandmother accepted with a show of respect but I could at once discern her firm resolve to ignore them all), my grandmother accepted an offer from Mme de Villeparisis to take us for drives in her carriage. In order not to tire me, on those days I had to stay in bed until lunch and, because of the very bright sunlight, I had to keep those same great red curtains, which had provoked so much hostility towards me on that first night, closed for as long as possible. But in spite of the pins which Françoise attached to them every evening so as to prevent any daylight penetrating through, and which she alone knew how to undo, and despite the sheets and the pieces of cloth which she put up here and there, variously adjusting their positions, she never managed to close them completely, so that they allowed a scarlet leaf fall of anemones to shine through onto the carpet, amongst which I was unable to prevent myself from placing my bare feet. And on the opposite wall an unattached cylinder of gold rose vertically, gradually shifting its position like the pillar of light that preceded the Hebrews in the desert. I went back to bed, and without stirring relished in my imagination, at one and the same time, the pleasures of games, of bathing, of strolling in the sunshine which the morning seemed to invite, and the joy of it made my heart beat clamorously like a machine working at full speed but fixed, which must discharge itself on the spot by turning over on itself. Sometimes it would be the hour of the high tide. I could hear from the heights of my belvedere the noise of the gently breaking waves punctuated by the cries of children at play, newspaper vendors and bathers as if they were the mewling cries of seagulls. Then suddenly at ten o'clock the symphony concert would burst into life beneath my windows. In the interludes in the music the watery billows took up the flow and continued the glissando of the music and seemed to envelop the strokes of the violins with its crystal volutes and caused its spray to gush forth over the intermittent echoes of a sub-aquatic music. As the time for lunch approached I would run to my grandmother's room to see if Françoise was about to come and unfasten the curtains and fetch me my things. Her room did not look out directly on the sea, as mine did, but was open on three of its four sides - onto a strip of the esplanade, a courtyard, and a view of the country inland - it was furnished differently from mine, with armchairs embroidered with metallic filigree and pink flowers from which the cool and pleasant odour that greeted one on entering seemed to emanate. And at that hour when the sun's rays, drawn from different exposures and, as it were, from different hours of the day, broke the angles of the wall, changed the shape of the room, projected onto the chest of drawers, side by side with a reflection of the beach, a festal altar as variegated as a bank of field flowers, hung on the fourth wall the folded, quivering, warm wings of a radiance ready at any moment to resume its flight, warmed like a bath a square of provincial carpet before the window overlooking the courtyard, at the end of which a wall bleached like limestone gave the appearance of being cut off from the midday, and added to the charm and complexity of the room's furniture by seeming to pluck and scatter the petals of the silken flowers on the chairs and to make their silver threads stand out from the fabric, this room in which I lingered for a moment before going to get ready for our drive suggested a prism in which the colours of the light that shone outside were broken up, a hive in which the sweet juices of the day which I was about to taste were distilled, scattered, intoxicating and visible, a garden of hope which dissolved in a quivering haze of silver threads and rose petals. I went back to my room. Françoise came in to give me some daylight as I rose myself up, impatient to know what sort of sea it was that was playing that morning by the shore, like a Nereid. For none of them ever stayed with us longer than a day. The next day there would be another, which sometimes resembled its predecessor. But I never saw the same one twice.
There were some that were of so rare a beauty that my pleasure on catching sight of them was enhanced by surprise, as if present before a miracle. By what privilege, on one morning rather than another, did the window on being uncurtained disclose to my wondering eyes the nymph Alecto, whose lazy beauty, gently breathing, had the transparency of a vapourous emerald through which I could see teeming the ponderable elements that coloured it? She made the sun join in her play, with a smile attenuated by an invisible haze which was no more than a space kept vacant about the translucent surface, which, thus curtailed, was rendered more striking, like those goddesses whom the sculptor carves in relief upon a block of marble the rest of which he leaves unchiselled. So, in her matchless colour, she invited us over those rough terrestrial roads, from which, in Mme de Villeparisis' barouche, we should glimpse, all day long and without ever reaching it, the coolness of her soft palpitation. But at other times there was not such a great contrast between our rustic excursion and this inaccessible goal, this fluid and mythological proximity. For on such days the sea itself seemed to have a rural quality where the heat had traced over its surface, as if across a field, a dusty, white track behind which the sharp mast of a fishing boat sailed out like the steeple of a village church. A tug-boat of which one can only discern its smoking funnel in the distance, like a remote factory, whilst alone on the horizon a white, humped square, painted no doubt by a sail but which appears to be compact like limestone, makes one think of the corner, bathed in sunshine, of some isolated building, school or hospital. And the clouds and the wind, on the days when they were mingled with the sunshine, completed if not the error of judgement, at least the illusion of one's first sight of them, and the suggestion that it awakened in the imagination. For the alternation of clearly defined spaces of colour like those which occur in the countryside at the contiguity of different fields, the rugged, yellow irregularities, like a muddiness over the marine surface, the sloping embankments which concealed from view the small boat from which a crew of agile sailors seemed to be harvesting, all that, on account of the stormy days, made of the ocean something as varied, as solid, as uneven, as populous, as civilized as the coach track from which, in Mme de Villeparisis's carriage, we looked out upon it.
But sometimes too, during the following weeks, the fine weather was so bright and so settled that when Françoise came to open the window I was certain of finding the same section of sunlight bent around the angle of the wall, and of the same immutable colour but which was no longer stirring like a revelation of the summer, but dull like that of an inert and artificial enamel. And while Françoise removed the pins from the imposts, detached the pieces of cloth, drew open the curtains, the summers day that she exposed seemed as dead, as immemorial as a magnificent thousand year old mummy which our old servant had cautiously freed from all of its wrappings, before making it appear, embalmed in its robe of gold.
[Note in the manuscript by Proust: "If strictly necessary the first volume can end here."]
Mme de Villeparisis used to
order her carriage early, so that we should have time to reach
Couliville, or the rocks of Erméez, or some other goal which,
for a somewhat lumbering vehicle, was far enough off to require
the whole day. In my joy at the thought of the long drive we were
going to take I would hum some tune that I had heard recently as
I strolled up and down in front of the hotel until Mme de
Villeparisis was ready. If it was Sunday, hers would not be the
only carriage drawn up outside the hotel; several hired cabs
would be waiting there, not only for the people who had been
invited to Mme de Chemisey's, but for those who had not been
invited who, rather than giving the appearance of children in
disgrace who had to stay at home all day, declared that Sunday
was always quite impossible at Bricquebec and set off immediately
after lunch to hide themselves at some neighbouring
watering-place or to visit one of the nearby "sights".
And indeed whenever (which was often) the notary's wife was asked
if she had been to Mme de Chemisey's, she would answer
emphatically: "No, we went to the falls at Allaire" as
though that were the sole reason for her not having spent the day
at Mme de Chemisey's. And the barrister would charitably remark:
"I envy you, they must be much more interesting."
Mme de Villeparisis was not long in coming down, followed by her old butler who carried her things and watched us leaving with an approving smile, tender and complicit, as one would look on two newlyweds, on the new relationship which with an indulgent glance he saw establishing itself between his mistress and ourselves; meanwhile from time to time I would raise my eyes to seek out an open window where I could see Françoise appear and then immediately disappear, who with an avid yet indifferent expression was incapable of denying herself this spectacle, not wishing to appear to be disavowing the prohibition established by Mamma in Paris of ever standing at the windows. Shortly after rounding the railway station, we came into a country road which soon became as familiar to me as the roads around Combray, from the bend where it took off to the turning at which we left it where there were tilled fields on either side. All along the road it filled me with joy to see here and there an apple tree, stripped it is true of its blossom and bearing no more than a fringe of pistils, but sufficient even so to enchant me since I could imagine, seeing those inimitable leaves, how their broad expanse, like the ceremonial carpet spread out for a wedding that was now over, had been only recently swept by the white satin train of their blushing flowers.
How often in Paris, during the month of May the following year, preserving from this roadway and also from particular fields which surrounded it at a distance the same present, fixed and immutable memory as formerly I had kept of certain scenes from classical plays which I had recited to myself and which I would have liked to have heard spoken by La Brème - how often was I to bring home a branch of apple-blossom from the florist and afterwards to spend the night in company with its flowers in which bloomed the same creamy essence that still powdered with its froth the burgeoning leaves and between whose white corollas it seemed almost as though it had been the florist who, from generosity towards me, from a taste for invention too and as an effective contrast, had added on either side the supplement of a becoming pink bud: I sat gazing at them, I grouped them in the light of my lamp - for so long that I was often still there when the dawn brought to their whiteness the same flush with which it must at that moment have been tingeing their sisters on the Cricquebec road - and I sought to carry them back in my imagination to that roadside, to multiply them, to spread them out within the frame prepared for them, on the canvas already primed, of those fields and orchards whose outline I knew by heart, which I longed to see, which one day I must see, again, at the moment when, with the exquisite fervour of genius, spring covers their canvas with its colours.
Before getting into the carriage, I had composed the seascape which I was going to look out for, which I hoped to see with the "radiant sun" upon it, and which at Cricquebec I could distinguish only in too fragmentary form, broken by so many vulgar adjuncts that had no place in my dream - bathers, cabins, pleasure yachts. But when, Mme de Villeparisis's carriage having reached the top of the hill, I caught a glimpse of the sea through the leafy boughs of the trees, then no doubt at such a distance the disappearing contemporaneous details which hindered me from clearly understanding that Baudelaire's ocean was here before me, the ancient sea of Leconte de Lisle, still breaking with the same sonorous waves which "like a flight of birds of prey, before the dawn of day" are beaten by a hundred thousand oars from "spurred bows"; but on the other hand I was no longer near enough the sea, which seemed to me not alive but congealed, I no longer felt any power beneath its colours, spread like those of a picture between the leaves, through which it appeared as insubstantial as the sky and only of an intenser blue.
From time to time, knowing that it would give pleasure to my grandmother, she would ask the driver to stop beside the Arbonne woods. The invisibility of the numerous birds which we could hear in the trees on all sides of us gave the same peaceful feeling that we have when we close our eyes to rest them; and enchained up on my carriage seat like Prometheus on his rock, I was hearing the cries of the Oceanides. And when I happened to see one of the birds as it disappeared from one leaf onto another beneath, there seemed to be so little connection between it and its song that I could not believe that the sound could be coming from this startled, hopping and unseen little body.
As the driver did not yet know the area very well he would ask for directions from a passing peasant and I frequently heard them mention as a landmark a village whose church I especially wanted to see, Blenpertuis. As it was not directly on our route I could hardly, on account of Mme de Villeparisis, ask that we stop there, but I gave to this name a special place, a privileged position in my memory, I vowed that if my health did not improve sufficiently this year for me to take walks alone and to be able to visit this church, that next year at least I would return, be it from Paris expressly for the purpose. And by persuading myself and placing before myself the pledge that my pilgrimage was merely to be postponed, I was able without feeling too much regret to see our carriage continue on its way and leave the church of Blenpertuis far behind. But I knew perfectly well however that if, among all the other equally interesting churches which were described in my Concise Monumental Archaeology of the West it was that particular one which I wished to see, it was not because it possessed any intrinsic superiority to justify my exclusive preference. By leaving at the very moment that I had arbitrarily chosen it, it was to that particular one, each time my desire for village churches resurfaced, that I was drawn. It had provided my desire with an object to love, to name and to be represented. In the shapeless and empty expanse of the whole of France I only saw the blue steeple of Blenpertuis. To renounce Blenpertuis would be to take my first unwilling step towards the forfeiture which I would one day be forced to make, that of no longer seeing life as the embodiment of the knowledge and possession of the things I had desired, would be to renounce wishing from reality the things to which my imagination and my understanding had already set the value.
Mme de Villeparisis, seeing that I was fond of churches, wanted us to be able to visit the one at Brissinville "quite buried in old ivy", as she said with a gesture of her hand which seemed tastefully to be clothing the absent façade in an invisible and delicate screen of foliage. Mme de Villeparisis would often, with this descriptive gesture, find just the right word to define the charm of an historic church, always avoiding technical terms, but incapable of concealing her thorough understanding of the things to which she referred. She appeared to seek an excuse for this erudition in the fact that one of her father's country houses, the one in which she had lived as a girl, was situated in a region where there were churches in the same style of architecture - of which, if she were being quite honest, she said, this house was one of the finest examples of that of the Renaissance - from which she had acquired a taste for painting - of which it was a regular museum, and of music and literature as well, Chopin having come to play the piano there, and Lamartine to recite verses to her mother - it having been a sort of annex of her liberal and cultivated aristocratic childhood. Perhaps even by dint of her ascribing, whether from good education, lack of vanity or a philosophical mind, this purely material origin of her artistic tastes she had come to regard them too exclusively. She would not entertain going to see a work of art in one of those collections which have been put together at vast expense where "one is never sure if any of it is genuine and where you are never sure of what you are seeing". When my grandmother admired a necklace with red beads that she was wearing underneath her cloak she replied: " Yes, it's pretty isn't it? I like to wear it because it appears in a portrait by Titian of my great-grandmother from whom I inherited it along with the portrait. It was in my bedroom when I was a child. It is one of the finest Titians there is and it has never left our family. That way you can be sure of its authenticity. But don't talk to me about paintings which have been bought, heaven knows where, I'm sure they are fakes and I have no interest in them." My grandmother was not in the least surprised to see that she was so knowledgeable about painting, knowing that she painted flowers in water-colour; she told her that she had heard them highly praised. Mme de Villeparisis modestly changed the subject, but without showing any more surprise or pleasure than would an artist of established reputation to whom compliments mean nothing. She said merely that it was a delightful pastime because, even if the flowers that sprang from the brush were nothing wonderful, at least the work made you live in the company of real flowers, the beauty of which you could never grow tired. She was not working at Cricquebec though, because she was giving herself a holiday in order to rest her tired eyes, but back in Paris she would be happy to give us some flowers of her own creation. But if nature, churches and paintings cropped up in the little vignettes which were sprinkled into her conversation, they were, so far as I could judge during the course of our drive, totally human, and more often featured anecdotes about society to which the public character of people whom the old lady had known in her youth gave an almost historical or literary interest. And with the same slight gesture of her hand, the same restrained epithet whether for a church steeple or of a mill chimney, she showed us the queen of Belgium on a visit, Louis-Philippe coming to her father's house when she was a child, Merimée making caricatures or Delacriox's studio. But it seemed as if she did this in spite of herself, and because that was the way she saw them again in her memory; and if the names of these people appeared in the history books, her familiarity with their behaviour and their gossip showed the extent to which she had lived in the intimate company of so many brilliant people. Because she never tried to talk about herself; in the smallest occurrences, in the most trivial incidents during the course of our drives, the things which she told us always had her placed in the background but made us seem important, always showing herself to be full of tact, regard, charm and kindness (the total opposite to my friend Bloch); all the more so because whereas in the prejudices of a less brilliant society, be they denigrated or be exalted but always longed for and respected, commanded a place of importance, Mme de Villeparisis spoke about birth and rank as being secondary to talent and intelligence. She extended this modesty so far as to reject ideas which, without being inevitably aristocratic or worldly, seemed to us nevertheless to be those which must be professed in the aristocracy and in the world of society. She did not understand how anyone could be scandalized by the expulsion of the Jesuits, saying that it had always been done, even under the Monarchy, in Spain even. She said: "To my mind, a man who doesn't work doesn't count", defending the Republic which she agreed to and reproached it for its anti-clericalism only to this extent: "I should find it just as bad to be prevented from going to mass when I wanted to, as to be forced to go to it when I didn't", even putting forth such remarks as "Oh! the aristocracy of today! what does it amount to?" - which she said perhaps only because she sensed how much they gained in spice and piquancy, how memorable they became, on her lips. In her every word she professed on all things the opinions of a bourgeois conservative yet liberal attitude the justness of which we had not dared to fully hold true, my grandmother and I, until that moment, because they corresponded too closely to our own wishes and because we would endeavour, when seeking the truth, to take the side, through an effort of impartiality, of those who were bound to think differently to us, and in the end perhaps more correctly than us, of somebody like Mme de Villeparisis for example. But what a shock it was to hear these opinions expressed here without scruple from a mind so different but which to us were so instinctive and natural, taking on the authority of truth and becoming meritorious. As we listened to Mme de Villeparisis expressing these opinions our sympathy for her became a real admiration and we took great pleasure in her conversation wherein two seemingly contradictory instincts, but which may nevertheless co-exist in the minds of many people, could be satisfied: a horror of snobbery in its eulogy of mediocrity, mockery of the nobility, lofty views; and the taste for snobbery, because through listening to such lofty language we were drawn further into the aristocratic world frequented by Mme de Villeparisis and her princely companions. At such moments I could almost believe that the measure and model of the truth in all its aspects was enthroned in Mme de Villeparisis. But - like those learned people who hold us spellbound when we get them on to Egyptian painting or Etruscan inscriptions, and yet talk so tritely about modern works that we wonder whether we have not over estimated the interest of the sciences in which they are versed since they do not betray therein the mediocrity of mind which they must have brought to those studies just as much as to their judgements on Manet and Baudelaire - Mme de Villeparisis, questioned by me about Chateaubriand, about Balzac, about Victor Hugo, smiled at my reverence, told amusing anecdotes about them such as she had just been telling us about dukes and statesmen, and severely criticized those writers precisely because they had been lacking in that modesty, that sober art which is satisfied with a single precise stroke and does not over emphasize, which avoids above all else the absurdity of grandiloquence, of self effacement, in that aptness, those qualities of moderation, of judgement and simplicity to which she had been taught that real greatness attained. It was evident that she had no hesitation in placing above them men who might after all, perhaps, by virtue of those qualities, have had the advantage of a Balzac, a Hugo, a Vigny in a drawing-room, an academy, a cabinet council, men like Molé, Barante, Fontanes, Vitrolles, Pasquier, Lebrun or Daru. Yet these people, Chateaubriand when she was small, Balzac at the home of Mme de Castries, Stendhal, these were people whom she knew and she had their autographs and mementoes of them. She seemed, presuming on the personal relations which her family had had with them, to think that her judgement of them must be better founded than that of young people who, like myself, had had no opportunity of meeting them. "I think I have a right to speak about them, since they used to come to my father's house, and as M. Sainte-Beuve, who was a most intelligent man, used to say, in forming an estimate you must take the word of people who saw them close to and were able to judge more exactly their real worth."
Sometimes, as the carriage laboured up a steep road through ploughed fields, all at once the fields which were on either side of me seemed to me to be miraculously real, fields as beautiful as those in the Bible, and I would catch my breath. I would have just caught sight of a few hesitant cornflowers on the embankment that followed in the wake of our carriage. But after Combray certain very local aspects that I missed had in the end taken on this precious, inaccessible character, of everything which is in our thoughts, that is to say things which are so close to us but without us being able to touch them. A cornflower set its signature at the bottom of a field adding a mark of authenticity like the precious floret with which certain of the old masters used to sign their canvases. Presently the horses outdistanced them, but a little way on we could glimpse another that while awaiting us had pricked up its blue star in front of us in the grass. Some made so bold as to come and plant themselves by the side of the road, and a whole constellation began to take shape, what with my distant memories and these domesticated flowers.
We began to go down the hill; and then we would meet, climbing it on foot, on a bicycle, in a cart or carriage, one of those creatures - flowers of a fine day but unlike the flowers of the field, for each of them holds something that is not to be found in another and that will prevent us from gratifying with any of her peers the desire that she has aroused in us - a farm-girl driving her cow or reclining on the back of a waggon, a shop-keeper's daughter taking the air, a fashionable young lady erect on the back seat of a landau, facing her parents. Certainly Bloch, in the same way as a great scholar or the founder of a religion, had been the means of opening a new era and had altered the value of life and good fortune on the day when he had told me that the dreams which I had entertained on my solitary walks along the Méseglise way, when I hoped that some peasant girl might pass whom I could take in my arms, were not a mere fantasy which corresponded to nothing outside myself but that all the girls one met, whether villagers or "young ladies", dreamed of hardly anything else than love making. And even if I were fated, now that I was ill and did not go out by myself, never to be able to make love to them, I was like a child born in a prison or in a hospital who, having long supposed that the human organism was capable of digesting only dry bread and medications, has learned suddenly that peaches, apricots and grapes are not simply part of the decoration of the country scene but delicious and easily assimilated food. Even if his gaoler or his nurse forbids him from plucking those tempting fruits, still the world seems to him a better place and existence in it more clement. For a desire seems to us more attractive, we repose on it with more confidence, when we know that outside ourselves there is a reality which conforms to it, even if, for us, it is not to be realized. And we think more joyfully of a life in which (on condition that we eliminate for a moment from our mind the tiny obstacle, accidental and special, which prevents us personally from doing so) we can imagine ourselves to be assuaging that desire. As to the pretty girls who went past, from the day on which I had first known that their cheeks could be kissed, I had become curious about their souls. And the universe had appeared to me more interesting.
Mme de Villeparisis's carriage moved fast. I scarcely had time to see the girl who was coming in our direction; and yet - since the beauty of human beings is not like the beauty of things, and we feel that it is that of a unique creature, endowed with consciousness and free-will - as soon as her individuality, a soul still vague, a will unknown to me, presented a tiny picture of itself, enormously reduced but complete, in the depths of her indifferent eyes, at once, by a mysterious response of the pollen ready in me for the pistils that should receive it, I felt surging through me the embryo, equally vague, equally minute, of the desire not to let this girl pass without forcing her mind to become aware of my person, without preventing her desires from wandering to someone else, without insinuating myself into her dreams and taking possession of her heart. Meanwhile our carriage had moved on; the pretty girl was already behind us; and as she had - of me - none of those notions which constitute a person in one's mind, her eyes, which had barely seen me, had forgotten me already, even if she had not been mocking me. Was it because I had caught but a momentary glimpse of her that I had found her so attractive? Had I been free to get down from the carriage and to speak to her, I might perhaps have been disillusioned by some blemish on her skin that I had not been able to distinguish from the carriage. Perhaps a single word which she might have uttered, or a smile would have furnished me with an unexpected key or a clue with which to read the expression on her face, to interpret her bearing, which would at once have become commonplace. It is possible, for I have never in real life met any girls so desirable as on days when I was with some solemn person from whom, despite the myriad pretexts that I invented, I could not tear myself away. Such as being stricken with a sudden headache that would not go away unless I got down from the carriage and returned to Cricquebec on foot, which convinced neither Mme de Villeparisis nor my grandmother who would not let me out. And my regret at never having been able to stand before this pretty girl, at never having got to know her was more bitter for me than having to leave behind a village church or a belfry, and I found myself longing to find this one girl again, and no other who may have been more exclusive. Because I knew that lying beneath the grace of this pretty girl was something very different from what lay beneath the grace of old stones: a living consciousness in which I had no existence even if I were known and loved by every other girl in the world. But I had no point of reference such as a name, as I had for the church, or a mile-post for a field. But the particularities that I endeavoured to call to mind were so vague. She had passed at a similar time on a cart or in a victoria, in a similar place, heading towards a similar village, but even so would I ever be able to see her again? In the meantime I told myself that these encounters made me find even more beautiful a world which thus caused to grow along all the country roads flowers at once rare and common, fleeting treasures of the day, windfalls of the drive, of which the contingent circumstances that might not, perhaps, recur had alone prevented me from taking advantage, and which gave a new zest to life.
Perhaps in hoping that, one day, with greater freedom, I should be able to find similar girls on other roads, I was already beginning to falsify and corrupt what is exclusively individual in the desire to live in the company of a woman whom one has found attractive, and by the mere fact that I admitted the possibility of bringing it about artificially, I had implicitly acknowledged its illusoriness.
On one occasion Mme de Villeparisis took us to Briseville to see the ivy-covered church which she had spoken to us about. Built on top of a hillock it dominated both the village and the river that flowed beneath it and looked down onto its little mediaeval bridge. My grandmother, thinking that I would like to be left alone to study the church at my leisure, suggested to Mme de Villeparisis that they should go on and wait for me at the pastry shop in the village square that was clearly visible from where we were and beneath its mellow patina seemed like another part of the wholly ancient object. It was agreed that I should join them there later. In the mass of greenery in front of which I was standing I was obliged, in order to recognize a church, to make a mental effort which involved my grasping more intensely the idea "church". In fact, as happens to school boys who gather more fully the meaning of a sentence when they are made, by translating or paraphrasing it, to divest it of the forms to which they are accustomed, I was obliged perpetually to refer back to this idea of "church", which as a rule I scarcely needed when I stood beneath steeples that were recognizable in themselves, in order not to forget, here that the arch of this clump of ivy was that of a Gothic window, there that the salience of the leaves was due to the carved relief of a capital. Then came a breath of wind, sending a tremor through the mobile porch, which was traversed by eddies flickering and spreading like light; the leaves unfurled against one another; and, quivering, the arboreal façade bore away with it the undulant, rustling, fugitive pillars.
As I came away from the church I saw by the old bridge a cluster of girls from the village who, because it was Sunday, were standing about in their best clothes, hailing the boys who went past. One of them, a tall girl not so well dressed as the others but seeming to enjoy some ascendancy over them - for she scarcely answered when they spoke to her - with a more serious and self-willed air, was sitting on the parapet of the bridge with her feet hanging down, and holding on her lap a bowl of fish which she had presumably just caught. She had a tanned complexion, soft eyes but with a look of contempt for her surroundings, and a nose that was above all small in shape, delicate and charming. My eyes alighted on her skin; and my lips, at a pinch, might have believed that they had followed my eyes. But it was not simply to her body that I should have liked to attain; it was also the person that lived inside it, the consciousness within each of us, and with which there is but one form of contact, namely to attract its attention, but one sort of penetration, to awaken an idea in it.
And this inner being of the handsome fisher-girl seemed to be still closed to me; I was doubtful whether I had entered it, even after I had seen my own image furtively reflected in the twin mirrors of her gaze, following an index of refraction that was as unknown to me as if I had been placed in the field of vision of a doe. But just as it would not have sufficed that my lips should find pleasure in hers without giving pleasure to them too, so I could have wished that the idea of me which entered this being and took hold in it should bring me not merely her attention but her admiration, her desire, and should compel her to keep me in her memory until the day when I should be able to meet her again. Meanwhile I could see, within a stone's throw, the square in which Mme de Villeparisis's carriage must be waiting for me. I had not a moment to lose; and already I could feel that the girls were beginning to laugh at the sight of me standing there before them. I had a five-franc piece in my pocket. I drew it out, and, before explaining to the girl the errand on which I proposed to send her, in order to have a better chance of her listening to me I held the coin for a moment before her eyes.
"Since you seem to belong to this place," I said to the fisher-girl, "I wonder if you would be so good as to take a message for me. I want to go to a pastry shop - which is apparently in a square, but I don't know where that is - there is a carriage waiting for me. One moment! To make quite sure, will you ask if the carriage belongs to the Marquise de Villeparisis? But you can't miss it; it's a carriage and pair."
That was what I wished her to know, so that she should regard me as someone of importance, and I was so worried that she would not hear me to the end that I held out the five-franc piece in front of her eyes (so that there would be more chance of her accepting the commission) before beginning my speech, not daring to raise my eyes until I had finished, for fear of seeing a gesture of refusal which would have interrupted me and would have denied me any pretext for making it known to this village girl that there was a carriage and pair belonging to a Marquise waiting for me. But when I had uttered the words "Marquise" and "carriage and pair", suddenly I had a sense of enormous assuagement. I felt that she would remember me. I felt my fear of not being able to see her again disappear. I felt that I had just touched her person with invisible lips and that I had pleased her. And this forcible appropriation of her mind, this immaterial possession, had robbed her of mystery as much as physical possession would have done. I raised my eyes to her face and gave her the coin. Then I saw that her brown cheeks were scarred, her eyes which I had thought to be disdainful and soft expressed merely a humble and stupid willingness and as she said something to her companions which I could not hear about them looking after her bowl of fish which she held out to them, her mouth took on a grimacing and vulgar shape. It had occurred to me that I ought not to send her off to the carriage where my grandmother and Mme de Villeparisis would not have been able to understand why I had sent her there. "But if it's a long way," I told her, "it would be simpler for me to come with you." And as soon as we were in sight of the pastry shop I said to her: "I recognize the shop window, this is it", and I took my leave of her. She remained at the corner of the square, watching us leave with eyes wide. But the creature that I had composed from some features that I had perceived from her appearance but which were contradicted by others, and from my imagination which had made me assume in her a depth that I thought she imagined in me, this creature no longer existed. There remained only a rather ugly girl, with a large body and a pretty nose and whose gaze was a matter of indifference to me at the glorious moment when, as soon as I had climbed back into the carriage, and when it was untied, we made our echoing and solemn departure, before the eyes of all the inhabitants of Briseville who had been drawn to their door steps.
On one occasion as we were taking a crossroads which came down towards Couliville, I was filled with a profound feeling of well-being which I had felt only once, when I breathed in the humid odour from the little pavilion in the Champs Elysées, since our walks around Combray when I had been seized by it so often. From the carriage seat upon which I was sitting opposite my grandmother and Mme de Villeparisis, I had just seen, standing a little way back from the hog's-back road along which we were travelling, three trees which probably marked the entry to a covered driveway and formed a pattern which I felt, at the same time as it passed in front of my eyes, palpitate in my heart.
Into these places which I was seeing for the first time they interpolated a fragment of scenery which I had not recognized but which I felt to have been very familiar to me once, so that my mind wavered between some distant year and the present moment, Bricquebec and its surrounding area began to dissolve and I wondered whether the whole of this drive were not a make-believe, Cricquebec a place that I had never visited other than in my imagination, Mme de Villeparisis a character in a novel and the three old trees the reality which one recaptures on raising one's eyes from the book which one has just been reading and which describes an environment into which one has come to believe that one has been bodily transported. This illusion lasted no more than a second. I sensed that the trees were no different from any other three trees that disclose themselves elsewhere in the same fashion onto a landscape which was familiar to me. But which? I looked at them; I could see them plainly, but my mind felt that they were concealing something which it could not grasp, as when an object is placed out of our reach, so that our fingers, stretched out at arm's length, can only touch for a moment its outer surface, without managing to take hold of anything. Then we rest for a little while before thrusting out our arm with a renewed momentum, and trying to reach an inch or two further. But if my mind was thus to collect itself, to gather momentum, I should have to be alone. What would I not have given to be able to draw aside as I used to do on those walks along the Guermantes way, when I detached myself from my parents. I put my hand across my eyes for a moment, so as to be able to shut them without Mme de Villeparisis's noticing. I sat there thinking of nothing, then with my thoughts collected, compressed and strengthened I sprang further forward in the direction of the trees, or rather in that inner direction at the end of which I could see them inside myself. I felt again behind them the same reality, known to me yet vague, which I could not bring nearer. And yet all three of them, as the carriage moved on, I could see coming towards me. Where had I looked at them before? There was no place near Combray, on the Guermantes way or the Méseglise way, where an avenue opened off the road like that. Nor was there room for the site which they recalled to me of the scenery of the place in Germany where I had gone one year with my grandmother to take the waters. Was I to suppose, then, that they came from years already so remote in my life that the landscape which surrounded them had been entirely obliterated from my memory and that, like the pages which, with a sudden thrill, we recognize in a book that we imagined we had never read, they alone survived from the forgotten book of my earliest childhood? Were they not rather to be numbered among those dream landscapes, always the same, and therefore more supernatural than earthly landscapes, at least for me in whom their strange aspect was only the objectivation in my sleeping mind of the effort I made while awake either to penetrate the mystery of a place beneath the outward appearance of which I was dimly conscious of there being something more, as had so often happened to me on the Guermantes way, or to try to put mystery back into a place which I had longed to know and which, from the day when I had come to know it, had seemed to me to be wholly superficial, like Cricquebec? Or were they merely an image freshly extracted from a dream of the night before, but already so floating, so vague that it seemed to come from somewhere far more distant? Or had I indeed never seen them before, and did they conceal behind their surface, like certain trees, certain church steeples, certain tufts of flowers that I had seen beside the Guermantes way, a meaning as obscure, as hard to grasp, as is a distant past, so that, whereas they were inviting me to probe a new thought, I imagined that I had to identify an old memory? Or again, were they concealing no hidden thought, and was it simply visual fatigue that made me see them double in time as one sometimes sees double in space? I could not tell. And meanwhile they were coming towards me; perhaps some fabulous apparition, a ring of witches or of Norns who would propound their oracles to me. I chose rather to believe that they were phantoms of the past, dear companions of my childhood, vanished friends who were invoking our common memories. Like the ghosts around Aeneas they seemed to be appealing to me to take them with me, to bring them back to life. In their simple and passionate gesticulation I could discern the helpless anguish of a beloved person who has lost the power of speech, and knows that he will never be able to tell us what he wishes to say and we can never guess.
Presently, at a crossroads, the carriage left them behind. I watched the trees gradually recede, waving their despairing arms, seeming to say to me: "What you fail to learn from us today, you will never know. If you allow us to drop into the hollow of this road from which we sought to raise ourselves up to you, a whole part of yourself which we were bringing to you will vanish for ever into thin air." And indeed I was never to know later what they had been trying to tell me, nor where else I had seen them. And when the carriage turned off I turned my back on them and ceased to see them, while I smilingly replied to Mme de Villeparisis as she asked me why I looked as though I were in a dream, my heart beat with anguish as if I had just lost a friend for ever, had died to myself, had broken faith with the dead or repudiated a god.
Often dusk would have fallen before we made our way back. Shyly I would quote to Mme de Villeparisis, pointing to the moon in the sky, some memorable expression of Chateaubriand or Vigny or Victor Hugo: "She shed all around her that ancient secret of melancholy" or "Weeping like Diana by the brink of her streams" or "The shadows nuptial, solemn and august".
"And you think that good, do you?" she would ask. "I must confess that I am always surprised to see people taking things seriously nowadays which the friends of those gentlemen, while giving them full credit for their qualities, were the first to laugh at. It's like those novels of Stendhal. You would have given him a great surprise if you had spoken to him in that tone which you use all the time. He was very good company and confessed that he could not prevent himself from bursting with laughter at the extravagant praises of M. de Balzac (behind which there was an unseemly concern for money in any case). People weren't so free then with the word 'genius' as they are now, when if you say to a writer that he has talent he takes it as an insult. You quote me a fine phrase of M. de Chateaubriand's about moonlight. You shall see that I have my own reasons for being resistant to it. M. de Chateaubriand used often to come to see my father. He was quite a pleasant person when you were alone with him because then he was simple and amusing, but the moment he had an audience he would begin to pose, and then he became absurd. Once, in my father's presence, he claimed that he had flung his resignation in the King's face, and that he had controlled the voting in the Conclave, forgetting that he had asked my father to beg the King to take him back, and that my father had heard him make the most idiotic forecasts of the Papal election. As to his fine phrases about moonlight, they became part of our regular programme for entertaining our guests. Whenever the moon was shining, if there was anyone staying with us for the first time he would be told to take M. de Chateaubriand for a stroll after dinner. When they came in, my father would take his guest aside and say: 'Well, and was M. de Chateaubriand very eloquent?' - 'Oh, yes.' - 'He talked to you about the moonlight?' - 'Yes, how did you know?' - 'One moment, didn't he say...' and then my father would quote the phrase. 'He did, but how in the world...?' - 'And he spoke to you of the moonlight on the Roman Campagna?' - 'But my dear sir, you're a magician!' My father was no magician, but M. de Chateaubriand had the same little speech about the moon which he served up every time."
At the mention of Vigny she laughed: "The man who said: 'I am the Comte Alfred de Vigny!' One is either a count or one isn't; it's not of the slightest importance, there is nothing to say about it." And then she discovered that it was, after all, of some slight importance, for she went on: "For one thing I'm by no means sure that he was, and in any case he was of very inferior stock, that gentleman who speaks in his verses about his 'esquire's crest'. In such charming taste, is it not, and so interesting to his readers!" In the same way she found fault with Balzac, whom she was surprised to find her nephews admiring, for having presumed to describe a society "in which he was never received" and of which his descriptions were highly improbable. As for M. Victor Hugo, she told us that M. de Villeparisis, her father, who had friends among the young Romantics thanks to whom he had attended the first performance of Hernani, had been unable to sit through it, so ridiculous had he found the verse of that gifted but extravagant writer who had acquired the title of "major poet" only by virtue of having struck a bargain, and as a reward for the not disinterested indulgence that he showed towards the dangerous aberrations of the socialists.
It was time to be thinking of home. Mme de Villeparisis, who had a certain feeling for nature - colder than that of my grandmother but sharing with her an admiration of the same beauties - and who on the roads, just as, no doubt, in the museums, showed an elevated and discerning taste which could appreciate the most beautiful things from the past, asked her coachman one day to return home along the old Cricquebec road which was little frequented but was much more beautiful than the other, planted with venerable elms which enraptured my grandmother. Mme de Villeparisis, because of the nature of her education and even the literary culture that she had received, had thought it ridiculous to repeat admiring phrases about these old elms. Yet she did have an appreciation of them since she had chosen to return along the old road so as to pass before them and could smile at the enthusiasm of my grandmother who would never have seen them had it not been for her. But the long familiarity that certain people of taste have for objects, which were more recent for us, did not prove that in her case the admiration that she felt was the same as ours. Mme de Villeparisis did not show any admiration within herself, seeking neither to understand it nor to analyze it. She immediately let it sink into the obscure domain of practical life and in this way form the noble customs which for the arts make up a beautiful framework for her life, without her giving it much thought. Once we had got to know the old road, for a change we would return - unless we had taken it on the outward journey - by another which ran through the woods, [the text is very confused at this point] a road like many others which are to be found in France, climbing on a fairly steep gradient and then gradually descending over a long stretch. At that particular moment, I found no special attraction in it; I was simply glad to be going home. It was becoming cool, the leaves smelled good. Mme de Villeparisis threw a blanket over my legs. I was beginning to feel hungry. Occasionally a lady would send her greetings to Mme de Villeparisis from a carriage as it passed at full speed. On this occasion it was the Princesse de Luxembourg who was going to dine at her cousin's; we began to see a village and further on, through the trees, as if it were a far off place, like the following locality, remote and forested which we would not be able to reach that evening: the sunset. But this road became for me later on a frequent source of joy by remaining in my memory as a lodestone to which all the similar roads that I was to take, on walks or on drives, would at once attach themselves without breach of continuity and would be able, thanks to it, to communicate immediately with my heart. For as soon as the carriage or the motor-car turned into one of these roads that seemed to be the continuation of the road along which I had driven with Mme de Villeparisis, what I found my present consciousness immediately dwelling upon, as upon the most recent event in my past, would be (all the intervening years being quietly obliterated) the impressions that I had had on those late afternoons, driving in the neighbourhood of Cricquebec. Linked up with those I was experiencing now in another place, on a similar road, surrounded by all the incidental sensations of breathing fresh air, of curiosity, indolence, appetite, gaiety which were common to them both, and excluding all others, these impressions would be reinforced, would take on the consistency of a particular type of pleasure, and almost a framework of existence which, as it happened, I rarely had the luck to come across, but in which these awakened memories introduced, amid the reality that my senses could perceive, a large enough element of evoked, dreamed (and therefore not only beautiful but unseizable) reality to give me, among these regions through which I was passing, more than an aesthetic feeling, a fleeting but exalted ambition to stay and live there for ever. Many years later, on similar roads, sometimes at the end of the day, when the leaves smelled good, when the mist was lifting, and beyond the next village one could see the sun setting between the trees, like a distant scene, as if it were in the next locality, remote and forested but which we would not be able to reach that same evening, while I recalled that summer in Cricquebec, when often, as I was sitting on the carriage seat opposite Mme de Villeparisis, we would pass the Princesse de Luxembourg crossing through the forest, returning to dine at the Grand Hotel where the lights were already illuminated, who would send her greetings from her carriage, did it not appear to me as one of those ineffable moments of happiness which neither the present nor the future can restore to us and which we taste only once in a lifetime.
We were already in sight of the hotel. And the luminous globes in the hall, those fascinating adversaries of my first evening had now become the friendly light of the foyer, gentle and protective like a study lamp. For me this was to return home, to return to the room that had finally become my actual bedroom, so that to see the great curtains and the low bookcases again was to find myself once more in my element. And when the carriage drew up outside the door, the porter, the grooms, the lift-boy, attentive, clumsy, vaguely uneasy, massed on the steps to receive us, hostile, then familiar, like the things, like the people who change so many times in the course of our lives, as we ourselves change, but in whom, when they are for the time being the mirror of our habits, we find comfort in the feeling that we are being faithfully and amicably reflected. We prefer them to friends who we have not seen for some time, for they contain more of what we are at the present. We got out of the carriage with the help of a great many more servants than were required, but they were conscious of the importance of the scene and each felt obliged to take some part in it. I was weary and hungry. Often, so as not to keep dinner waiting, we would not go back to our rooms before taking our places at table, and we would all wait together in the hall until the head waiter came to tell us that our dinner was ready. This gave us another opportunity of listening to Mme de Villeparisis.
"But we must be getting in your way; we are taking advantage of you", my grandmother would say.
"Not at all! Why I'm delighted, what could be nicer?" replied Mme de Villeparisis with a winning smile, drawing out her words in a melodious tone which contrasted with her customary simplicity of speech, like that of a grumbling old woman. And indeed at such moments as this she was not natural; her mind reverted to her early training, to the aristocratic manner in which a great lady is supposed to show commoners that she is glad to be with them, that she is not at all arrogant. And her one and only failure in true politeness lay in this excess of politeness. Mme de Villeparisis certainly had a wish to continue the relations which concerned us personally in her drawing room in Paris but which she feared on the contrary that my grandmother may not put an end to when we left Bricquebec. For we had seen once and for all one of those professional "wrinkles" of a lady of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, who, always seeing in her humbler friends the discontent that she must one day arouse in them, greedily seizes every opportunity to establish in advance, in the ledger in which she keeps her social account with them, a credit balance which will enable her presently to enter on the debit side the dinner or reception to which she will not invite them. And so, having long ago taken effect in her once and for all, and oblivious of the fact that now both the circumstances and the people concerned were different, that in Paris she would wish to see us often at her house, the spirit of her caste was urging Mme de Villeparisis on with feverish ardour, as if the time that was allowed to her for being amiable to us was limited, to step up, while we were on holiday at the coast, her gifts of grapes, roses and melons, drives in her carriage and verbal effusions.
"No, no, on the contrary, I'm delighted, stay, let's complete this lovely day together. Give them your coats to take upstairs."
My grandmother handed them to the manager who took them away muttering that he was not a lackey.
"I think you've hurt his feelings," said Mme de Villeparisis. "He probably fancies himself too great a gentleman to carry your coat. I remember so well the Duc de Nemours, when I was still quite little, coming to see my father who was living then on the top floor of the Hôtel Bouillon, with a fat parcel under his arm, and letters and newspapers. I can see the Prince now in his splendid blue coat, framed in our doorway, which had such pretty panelling - I think it was Bagard who used to do it - you know those fine laths that they used to cut, so supple that the joiner would twist them sometimes into little shells and flowers, like the ribbons round a nosegay. 'Here you are, Cyrus,' he said to my father, 'look what the porter's given me to bring up to you. He said to me: Since you're going up to see the Count, it's not worth my while climbing all those stairs; but take care you don't break the string. - I hope I haven't damaged anything', said the Prince laughing. - Now that you've got rid of your things, why don't you sit down," she said to my grandmother, taking her by the hand. "Here, take this chair."
"Oh, if you don't mind, not that one! It's too small for two, and too big for me by myself. I shouldn't feel comfortable."
"You remind me, for it was exactly like this one, of an armchair I had for many years until at last I couldn't keep it any longer because it had been given to my mother by the unfortunate Mme de Praslin. My mother, though she was the simplest person in the world, really, had ideas that belonged to another generation, which even in those days I could scarcely understand; and at first she had not been at all willing to let herself be introduced to Mme de Praslin, who had been plain Mlle Sebastiani, while she, because she was a Duchess, felt that it was not for her to be introduced to my mother. And really, you know," Mme de Villeparisis went on, forgetting that she herself did not understand these fine shades of distinction, "even if she had just been Mme de Choiseul, there was a good deal to be said for her claim. The Choiseuls are everything you could want in a good family; they spring from a sister of Louis the Fat; they were real sovereigns down in Bassigny. I admit that we beat them in marriages and distinction, but the seniority is pretty much the same. This little matter of precedence gave rise to several comic incidents, such as a luncheon party which was kept waiting a whole hour or more before one of these ladies could make up her mind to let herself be introduced to the other. In spite of which they became great friends, and she gave my mother a chair like this one, in which people always refused to sit, as you've just done. One day my mother heard a carriage drive into the courtyard. She asked a young servant who it was. 'The Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld, ma'am.' 'Very well, say that I am at home.' A quarter of an hour passed; no one came. 'What about the Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld?' my mother asked, 'where is she?' 'She's on the stairs, ma'am, getting her breath,' said the young servant who had not been long up from the country, where my mother had the excellent habit of getting all her servants. Often she had seen them born. That's the only way to get really good ones. And they're the rarest of luxuries. And sure enough the Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld had the greatest of difficulty in getting upstairs, for she was an enormous woman, so enormous, indeed, that when she did come into the room my mother was quite at a loss for a moment to know where to put her. And then the seat that Mme de Praslin had given her caught her eye. 'Won't you sit down?' she said, bringing it forward. And the Duchess filled it from side to side. She was quite a pleasant woman, for all her ... imposingness. 'She still creates a certain effect when she comes in,' one of our friends said once. 'She certainly creates an effect when she goes out,' said my mother, who was rather more free in her speech than would be thought proper nowadays. Even in Mme de La Rochefoucauld's own drawing-room people didn't hesitate to make fun of her (and she was always the first to laugh at it) over her ample proportions. 'But are you all alone?' my mother once asked M. de La Rochefoucauld, when she had come to pay a call on the Duchess, and being met at the door by him had not seen his wife who was in an alcove at the other end of the room. 'Is Mme de La Rochefoucauld not at home? I don't see her.' - 'How charming of you!' replied the Duke, who had about the worst judgement of any man I have ever known, but was not altogether lacking in humour."
After dinner, as we chatted together in my grandmother's room, I compared the justness of my favourable impressions of Mme de Villeparisis against hers. And my grandmother sanctioned them completely. But then I immediately brought to her attention my doubts and scruples. Was Mme de Villeparisis really so intelligent after all, and were we being totally sincere in our admiration for her? I reminded her of the things she had said about some great writers, and I confessed that it made me wonder not only if to have known an artist personally, to own their unpublished manuscripts can help one to understand him better, but even if those qualities of moderation, tact, delicacy and self-effacement, as possessed by Mme de Villeparisis, were not perhaps of very great value since those who possessed them in the highest degree were merely people like Molé and the Vitrolles, and that if the want of them can make everyday social relations disagreeable yet it did not prevent from becoming Chateaubriand, Vigny, Hugo, Balzac conceited fellows who had no judgement, at whom it was easy to mock, like Bloch... But at the name of Bloch my grandmother protested. She availed herself by contrasting his behaviour unflatteringly with Mme de Villeparisis's, whose praises she began to sing simply because she had a sincere admiration for her. As we are told that it is the preservation of the species which guides our individual preferences in love and, so that the child may be constituted in the most normal fashion, sends fat men in pursuit of slim women and vice versa, so in some dim way it was the requirements of my happiness, threatened by my disordered nerves, by my morbid tendency to melancholy and solitude, that made her allot the highest place to the qualities of balance and judgement, peculiar not only to Mme de Villeparisis but to a society in which I might find distraction and assuagement - a society similar to the one in which our ancestors saw the minds of a Doudan, a Mme de Rémusat flourish, not to mention a Mme de Sévigné, a type of mind that invests life with more happiness, with greater dignity than the converse requirements which had led a Baudelaire, a Poe to sufferings, to a disrepute such as my grandmother did not wish for her daughter's child. She repeated the pleasant words and the kind attentions paid us by Mme de Villeparisis that day. I interrupted her with a kiss and asked her if she had noticed such and such a remark that Mme de Villeparisis had made which seemed to point to a woman who thought more of her noble birth than she was prepared to admit. In this way I used to submit my impressions of the day to my grandmother, for I was never certain what degree of respect was due to anyone until she had pointed it out to me. I could take no pleasure from an intelligent remark, a kind gesture, until afterwards when, between two kisses, I was able to determine my grandmother's opinion of them. I took no pleasure in people without thinking that I would be able to describe them in our evening chats, in which, by allowing my thoughts to come into contact with hers I would discover something new in them, I would come to her with the mental sketches that I had made during the day of all those non-existent people who were not her.
I would often say to her: "I couldn't live without you."
"But you mustn't speak like that," she replied in a troubled voice. "We must be a bit pluckier than that. Otherwise, what would become of you if I went away on a journey? But I hope that you would be quite sensible and quite happy."
"I could manage to be sensible if you went away for a few days, but I should count the hours."
"But if I were to go away for months..." (at the mere thought my heart turned over) "...for years...for..."
We both fell silent. We dared not look one another in the face. And yet I was suffering more keenly from her anguish than from my own. And so I walked across to the window and said to her distinctly: "You know what a creature of habit I am. For the first few days after I've been separated from the people I love best, I'm miserable. But though I go on loving them just as much, I get used to their absence, my life becomes calm and smooth. I could stand being parted from them for months, for years..."
I was obliged to stop speaking and look straight out of the window. My grandmother left the room for a moment. But next day I began to talk to her about philosophy, a subject on which my [blank in the text] I told her that in the most recent, and after the most essential questions [the text is very confused at this point] everything that could be known about truth, then I told her about this philosophy and the great thinkers. A subject upon which my grandmother very much agreed with me. And speaking in the most casual tone but at the same time taking care that my grandmother should pay attention to my words, I remarked what a curious thing it was that, according to the latest scientific discoveries, the materialist position appeared to be crumbling, and what was again most likely was the immortality of souls and their future reunion.
Soon Mme de Villeparisis stopped seeing us so frequently. A young nephew, recently entered at St Cyr, whose visit she had been expecting for some weeks, had arrived and she was spending much of her time with him. In the course of our drives together she had spoken highly of his intelligence and above all his kindness, and already I imagined that he would take a liking to me, that I should be his best friend; and when, before his arrival, his aunt gave my grandmother to understand that he had unfortunately fallen into the clutches of an appalling woman with whom he was infatuated and who would never let him go, since I was persuaded that that sort of love was doomed to end in mental derangement, crime and suicide, thinking how short a time was reserved for our friendship, already so great in my heart although I had not yet set eyes upon him, I wept for that friendship and for the misfortunes that were in store for it, as we weep for someone we love when we learn from his doctor that he is seriously ill and that his days are numbered.
One afternoon of scorching heat I was in the dining-room of the hotel, plunged in semi-darkness to shield it from the sun, which gilded the drawn curtains through the gaps between which twinkled the blue of the sea, when along the central gangway which ran the length of the hotel, leading from the beach to the road I saw approaching a young man, dressed in a suit of grey, almost white material such as I had never seen before worn by anybody, and that I could never have believed that any man would have the audacity to wear, the thinness of which suggested no less vividly than the coolness of the dining-room the heat and brightness of the glorious day outside, whose skin was as fair and his hair as golden as if they had absorbed, as do grapes or honey, all the rays of the sun, and between the narrow gaps of his eyelids shone darting eyes as green as the colour of the sea. Here was Mme de Villeparisis's nephew, Comte de Beauvais, who had just arrived that morning. He seemed to be in pursuit of his monocle, which kept darting away in front of him like a butterfly. He was coming from the beach, and the sea which filled the lower half of the glass front of the hall made a background against which he stood out full-length, as in certain portraits whose painters attempt, without in any way falsifying the most accurate observations of contemporary life, but by choosing for their sitter an appropriate setting - a polo ground, golf links, a race-course, the bridge of a yacht - to furnish a modern equivalent of those canvases on which primitive painters used to present the human figure in the foreground of a landscape. A carriage and pair awaited him at the door; and while his monocle, now positioned and captive for the moment, resumed its luminous, winged gambollings on the sunlit road, with the elegance and mastery which a great pianist contrives to display in the simplest stroke of execution, where it did not seem possible that he could reveal his superiority to a performer of the second class, Mme de Villeparisis's nephew, taking the reins that were handed him by the coachman, sat down beside him and, while opening a letter which the manager of the hotel brought out to him, started up his horses.
How disappointed I was on the days that followed, when, each time that I met him outside or in the hotel, he did not greet us, perpetually balancing the movements of his limbs round the fugitive and dancing monocle which seemed to be their centre of gravity. I could see that he had no desire to make our acquaintance, and that he did not bow to us even though he must have known that we were friends of his aunt. And calling to mind the friendliness that Mme de Villeparisis, and before her M. de Montfort, had shown me, I thought that perhaps they were only mock aristocrats and that there must be a secret article in the laws that govern the nobility which allowed women, perhaps and certain marquis to discard, in their relations with commoners, for a reason which was beyond me, the haughtiness which must, on the other hand, be pitilessly maintained by young counts. This haughtiness which I surmised in M. de Beauvais, his contempt for us and all that it implied of innate hardness, received daily confirmation from his attitude. Every time we passed him in the hotel or outside he gave us an impassive, implacable look, devoid of that vague respect which one has for the rights of other people, which we feel when confronted by another human creature, even if they do not know one's aunt, and as if he made no distinction between us and the furniture in the hall or the paving stones outside. And this evidence that his looks, his attitude came to bring thus to my hypothesis about his unfeeling, arrogant and unpleasant nature had created a moral certainty which was so absolute that when Mme de Villeparisis, doubtless in an attempt to counteract the bad impression which had inevitably created an attitude in us, by which she was no doubt constrained herself, spoke to us of the inexhaustible kindness of her nephew, I marvelled how the gentry, with an utter disregard for truth, and no doubt to give an honourable and legitimate appearance to their liking for them, ascribe tenderness of heart to those people who are perhaps friendly to the brilliant members of their own set but behave with a frightful dryness to the rest of humanity. Moreover even in front of Mme de Villeparisis he supplied renewed confirmation of the law which I had already established for myself governing his character. Because one day when I met him with his aunt coming along a path so narrow that she could not do otherwise than introduce me to him, while he thrust out his hand mechanically before him which I took, not a muscle of his face moved, remaining as impassive as if he had not heard his aunt telling him my name, his expressionless eyes, which showed not the faintest gleam of human sympathy, showed merely the the insensibility they would have shown had they been lifeless mirrors; they overstated this to such an extent that the living creature behind those dead eyeballs by an exaggeration of the lifelessness of his look, which did not recognize inanimate objects, by the faintest effort to expulse from his vision any notion that before him stood a cognizant person to whom his hand had been thrust out at arm's length, and not held out of his own volition.
So it turned out that this attitude which so clearly confirmed the opinion that I had formed of him was quite simply a social usage - which was particular in this extreme form to his family - and to which his body had been moulded since his childhood; like that other habit that he had of at once demanding an introduction to the family of anyone he knew, which had become so instinctive in him that, seeing me again the day after our meeting, he bore down on me and without further ado asked to be introduced to my grandmother who was with me, with the same feverish haste as if the request had been due to some instinct of self-preservation, like the act of warding off a blow or shutting one's eyes to avoid a stream of boiling water, without the protection of which it would have been dangerous to remain a moment longer. But in these fulfilled formalities I saw that this young man who had the air of a disdainful aristocrat and sportsman had in fact no respect or curiosity except for the things of the mind, and especially those modern manifestations of literature and art which seemed so ridiculous to his aunt; he was imbued, moreover, with what she called "socialistic spoutings", was filled with the most profound contempt for his caste, and spent long hours in the study of Prudhomme. From the first day he made a conquest of my grandmother, not only by the incessant kindness which he went out of his way to show to us both, but by the naturalness which he put into it as into everything else. For naturalness - doubtless because through the artifice of man it allows a feeling of nature to permeate - was the quality which my grandmother preferred to all others, whether in gardens, where she did not like there to be, as in our Combray gardens, too formal flower-beds, or in cooking, where she detested those dressed-up dishes in which you can hardly detect the foodstuffs that have gone to make them, or in piano-playing, which she did not like to be too finicking, too polished, having indeed had a special weakness for the wrong notes of Rubinstein. This naturalness she found and appreciated in the clothes that Montargis wore, of a loose elegance, with nothing "swagger" or "dressed-up" about them, no stiffness or starch. She appreciated this rich young man still more highly for the free and careless way he had of living in luxury without "smelling of money", without being puffed-up or giving himself airs; she even discovered the charm of this naturalness in the incapacity which he had kept - though as a rule it is outgrown with childhood, at the same time as certain physiological peculiarities of that age - for preventing his face from at once reflecting every emotion. Something, for instance, that he wanted to have but had not expected, if only a compliment, induced in him a pleasure so quick, so glowing, so volatile, so expansive that it was impossible for him to contain and to conceal it; a grin of delight seized irresistible hold of his face, as would a fit of sneezing or giggling, the too delicate skin of his cheeks allowed a bright red glow to shine through them, his eyes sparkled with confusion and joy; and my grandmother was infinitely touched by this charming show of innocence and frankness, and which indeed in him was not misleading. But there are many others in whom such physiological sincerity in no way excludes moral duplicity; as often as not it proves nothing more than the intensity with which pleasures may be felt - to the extent of disarming them and forcing them publicly to confess it - by natures capable of the vilest treachery. But where my grandmother especially adored de Beauvais's naturalness was in his way of confessing without the slightest reservation his affection for me, to give expression to which he found words than which she herself, she told me, could not have thought of any more appropriate, more truly loving, words to which "Sévigné and Charlus" might have set their signatures. He was not afraid to make fun of my weaknesses - which he had discerned with a shrewdness that made her smile - but as she herself would have done, affectionately, at the same time extolling my good qualities with a warmth, an impulsive freedom that showed no sign of the reserve, the coldness by means of which young men of his age are apt to suppose that they give themselves importance. And he evinced, in anticipating my every discomfort, however slight, in covering my legs if the day had turned cold without my noticing it, in arranging (without telling me) to stay later with me in the evening if he thought I was sad or gloomy, a vigilance which, from the point of view of my health, for which a more hardening discipline would perhaps have been better, my grandmother found almost excessive, though as a proof of his affection for me she was deeply touched by it.
It was promptly and tacitly settled between us that he and I were to be great friends for ever, and he would say "our friendship" as though he were speaking of some important and delightful thing which had an existence independent of ourselves, and which he soon called - apart from his love for his mistress - the great joy of his life. These words filled me with a sort of melancholy and I was at a loss for an answer, for I felt when I was with him, when I was talking to him - and no doubt it would have been the same with anyone else - none of that happiness which it was possible for me to experience when I was by myself. Then, at times, I felt surging from the depths of my being one or other of those impressions which gave me a delicious sense of well-being. But as soon as I was with Montargis, as soon as I was talking with someone else, my mind as it were faced about, it was towards this interlocutor and not towards myself that I directed its thoughts, and when they followed this contrary direction they brought me no pleasure. Once I had left him, I managed, with the help of words, to put some sort of order into the confused minutes that I had spent with him; I told myself that I had a good friend, that a good friend is a rare thing, and I savoured, when I felt myself surrounded by blessings that were difficult to acquire, what was precisely the opposite of the pleasure that was natural to me, the opposite of the pleasure of having extracted from myself and brought to light something that was hidden in my inner darkness. If I had spent two or three hours in conversation with Montargis, and he had expressed his admiration of what I had said to him, I felt a sort of remorse, or regret, or weariness at not having remained alone and settled down to work at last. But I told myself that one is not intelligent for oneself alone, that the greatest of men have wanted to be appreciated, that hours in which I had built up a lofty idea of myself in my friend's mind could not be considered wasted and if I experienced none of the joy I had felt when throwing light on the least of my thoughts about myself, at least I had no difficulty in persuading myself that I ought to be happy in consequence, and I hoped all the more keenly that this happiness might never be taken from me because I had not actually felt it. We fear more than the loss of anything else the disappearance of possessions that have remained outside of ourselves, because our hearts have not taken possession of them. I felt that I was capable of exemplifying the virtues of friendship better than most people because I should always place the good of my friends before those personal interests to which other people are devoted but which did not count for me. But I felt myself incapable of finding happiness in all feelings which, instead of increasing the differences that there were between my nature and those of other people - as there are between all of us - would eliminate them, and particularly the joy of friendship. On the other hand there were moments when my mind distinguished in Beauvais a personality more generalized than his own, that of the "nobleman", which like an indwelling spirit moved his limbs, ordered his gestures and his actions; then, at such moments, although in his company, I was alone, as I should have been in front of a landscape the harmony of which I could understand. He was no more than an object the properties of which, in my musings, I sought to explore. The discovery in him of this pre-existent, this immemorial being, this aristocrat who was precisely what de Beauvais aspired not to be, gave me intense joy, but a joy of the mind rather than the feelings. In the moral and physical agility which gave so much grace to his kindness, in the ease with which he offered my grandmother his carriage and helped her into it, in the alacrity with which he sprang from the box when he was afraid that I might be cold, to spread his own cloak over my shoulders, I sensed not only the inherited litheness of the mighty hunters who had been for generations the ancestors of this young man who had no pretensions except to intellectuality, their scorn of wealth which, subsisting in him side by side with his enjoyment of it simply because it enabled him to entertain his friends more lavishly, made him so carelessly shower riches at their feet; I sensed in it above all the certainty or the illusion in the minds of those great lords of being "better than other people", thanks to which they had not been able to hand down to Beauvais that anxiety to show that one is "just as good as the next man", that dread of seeming too assiduous of which he was indeed wholly innocent and which mars with so much stiffness and awkwardness the most plebeian civility. Sometimes I reproached myself for thus taking pleasure in considering my friend as a work of art, that is to say in regarding the play of all the parts of his being as harmoniously ordered by a general idea from which they depended but of which he was unaware and which consequently added nothing to his own qualities, to that personal value, intellectual and moral, which he prized so highly. And yet that idea was to a certain extent their determining cause. It was because he was a gentleman that that mental activity, those social aspirations, which made him seek the company of arrogant and ill-dressed students, Bloch being a case in point when he asked me to let him know that they had met in one of the common universities, connoted in him something really pure and disinterested which was not to be found in them. Looking upon himself as the heir of an ignorant and selfish caste, he was sincerely anxious that they should forgive in him that aristocratic origin which they, on the contrary, found irresistibly attractive and on account of which they sought his acquaintance while simulating coldness and indeed insolence towards him. And the opinions which he professed were not dictated in his case, as they were in theirs even though they would not admit it, by any wish to make a brilliant career. At the most I may have smiled now and then, to discover in him the marks of his Jesuit schooling in the embarrassment which the fear of hurting people's feelings at once provoked in him whenever one of his intellectual friends made a social error or did something silly to which Montargis himself attached no importance but felt that the other would have blushed if anybody had noticed it. And it was Montargis who used to blush as though he were the guilty party, for instance on the day when Bloch, after promising to come and see him at the hotel, went on: "As I cannot endure to be kept waiting among all the false splendour of these great caravanserais, and the Hungarian band would make me ill, you must tell the 'lighft-boy' to make them shut up, and to let you know at once." As far as Montargis was concerned, on discovering that Bloch did not know how to pronounce the word 'lift', he saw in this error nothing more than a lack of good breeding, something that Montargis himself practised faultlessly but for which he felt nothing but scorn. But the fear lest Bloch should retrospectively imagine that Montargis had thought him ridiculous, made the latter feel as guilty as if he had been found wanting in the indulgence with which, as we have seen, he overflowed, so that the blush which would doubtless colour the cheek of Bloch on the discovery of his error, Montargis already, by anticipation and reversibility, could feel mounting to his own. For he assumed that Bloch attached more importance than he to this mistake - an assumption which Bloch confirmed some days later, when he heard me pronounce the word "lift", by breaking in with: "Oh, one says 'lift' does one?" And then, in a dry and lofty tone: "Not that it's of the slightest importance." A phrase that is like a reflex action, the same in all men who in the gravest circumstances as well as in the most trivial, denounce the importance they attach to a thing which they lack, the first to escape (and then how tragic and heart-breakingly) the lips of any man who is at all proud from whom we have just removed the last hope to which he clung by refusing to do him a service: "Oh, well, it's not of the slightest importance; I shall make some other arrangement"; the other arrangement which is not of the slightest importance that he should be driven to adopt being sometimes suicide... But if Beauvais blushed on account of Bloch's error he did not laugh at him, as Bloch would not have failed to do so on his account. And if in this benevolence I still sensed the aristocrat devoid of shyness and envy which often gave rise to his malicious mockery of the petit bourgeois, the aristocracy still present in him had facilitated the manifestation of certain of its virtues by maintaining the great purity of its moral atmosphere. And it was this great purity which, not being able to find entire satisfaction in a selfish emotion such as love, and at the same time failing to find in him that sense (which existed in me, for instance) of the impossibility of finding one's spiritual nourishment elsewhere than in oneself, rendered him truly capable of friendship. Nobody had less class prejudice than he. One day when he was in a furious temper with his groom and I had reproached him for it he replied:
"Why should I go out of my way to speak politely to him? Isn't he my equal? Isn't he just as near to me as any of my uncles and cousins? You seem to think I ought to treat him with respect, as an inferior. You talk like an aristocrat!" he added scornfully. And indeed if there was a class to which he showed himself prejudiced and hostile, it was the aristocracy, so much so that he found it as hard to believe in the superior qualities of a man of the world as he found it easy to believe in those of a man of the people. When I mentioned the Princesse de Luxembourg, whom I had met with his aunt:
"An old trout," was his comment. "Like all that lot. She's a sort of cousin of mine, by the way."
"How is she your cousin?"
"Oh, I don't know," he replied absently with an air of boredom. "These questions of genealogy leave me cold. Life is too short, there really are far more interesting things for us to talk about."
Having a strong prejudice against the people who frequented it, he went rarely into "society", and on the occasions he did go out the contemptuous or hostile attitude which he adopted towards it served to intensify, among all his closest relatives, the painful impression made by his liaison with an actress; a liaison which, they declared, would be his ruin, blaming it specially for having bred in him that spirit of denigration, that rebelliousness, for having "led him astray", and it was only a matter of time before he "dropped out" altogether. Of course, he was not the first to be thus ensnared. But the others amused themselves like men of the world, that is they continued to think like men of the world. Whereas his family found him "soured", they failed to realize that for young men of fashion who would otherwise remain uncultivated mentally, rough in their friendships, without gentleness or taste, it is very often their mistresses who are their real masters, and liaisons of this sort the only school of ethics in which they are initiated into a superior culture, where they learn the value of disinterested relations. Even among the lower orders (who in point of coarseness so often remind us of high society) the woman, more sensitive, more fastidious, more leisured, is driven by curiosity to adopt certain refinements, respects certain beauties of sentiment and of art which, though she may not understand them, she nevertheless places above what has seemed most desirable to the man, above money and position. Now whether it be the mistress of a young "clubman" like Montargis or a young workman, her lover has too much admiration and respect for her not to extend them also to what she herself respects and admires; and for him the scale of values is thereby overturned. Her very sex makes her weak; she suffers from nervous troubles, inexplicable things which in a man, or even in another woman - a woman whose nephew or cousin he was - would bring a smile to the lips of this robust young man. But he cannot bear to see the woman he loves suffer. The young nobleman who, like Montargis, has a mistress, acquires the habit, when he takes her out to dine, of carrying in his pocket the valerian "drops" which she may need, of ordering the waiter, firmly and with no hint of sarcasm, to see that he shuts the door quietly and does not put any damp moss on the table, so as to spare his companion those little ailments which he himself has never felt, which compose for him an occult world in whose reality she has taught him to believe, ailments for which he now feels sympathy without needing to understand them, for which he will still feel sympathy when women other than she are the sufferers. An actress, like the woman who was living with him - even a coquette would have done the same thing - had given him the advantage of making him find society women boring, and to look upon having to go out to a party as a painful duty, had saved him from snobbishness and cured him of frivolity. Thanks to her, social relations filled a smaller place in the life of her young lover, but whereas, if he had been simply a man about town, vanity or self-interest would have dictated his choice of friends as rudeness would have characterized his treatment of them, his mistress had taught him to bring nobility and refinement into his friendships. With her feminine instinct, with a keener appreciation of certain qualities of sensibility in men which her lover might, perhaps, without her guidance, have misunderstood and mocked, she had always been quick to distinguish from among the rest of Montargis's friends the one who had a real affection for him, and to make that one her favorite. She knew how to persuade him to feel grateful to that friend, to show his gratitude, to notice what things gave his friend pleasure and what pain. And presently Montargis, without any more need for her to prompt him, began to think of these things himself, and at Bricquebec, where she was not with him, for me whom she had never seen, of his own accord would pull up the window of the carriage in which I was sitting, take out of the room the roses that made me feel unwell, and when he had to say good-bye to several people at once would contrive to do so before it was actually time for him to go, so as to be left alone and last with me, to treat me differently from the rest. His mistress had opened his mind to the invisible, had brought an element of seriousness into his life, of delicacy into his heart, but all this escaped his grieving family who repeated:
"That creature will be the death of him, and meanwhile she's doing what she can to disgrace him."
It is true that he had already drawn from her all the good that she was capable of doing him; and that she now caused him only incessant suffering, for she had taken an intense dislike to him. She had begun to regard him as stupid and absurd because her young literary friends had assured her that he was, and she duly repeated what they had said with that passion, that lack of reserve which we show whenever we receive from without, and accept as our own, opinions or customs of which we previously knew nothing. She readily professed, like her literary friends, that between Montargis and herself there was an unbridgeable gulf, because they were of a different breed, because she was an intellectual and he, whatever he might claim, by birth an enemy of the intellect. This view of him seemed to her profound, and she sought confirmation of it in the most insignificant words, the most trivial actions of her lover. But when the same friends had further convinced her that she was destroying the great promise she had shown in company so ill-suited to her, that her lover's influence would finally rub off on her, that by living with him she was ruining her future as an artist, to her contempt for Montargis was added the sort of hatred that she would have felt for him if he had insisted upon inoculating her with a deadly germ. She saw him as seldom as possible, at the same time postponing a definite rupture. This dramatic period of their liaison - which had now reached its most acute, its cruellest state for Montargis, for she had forbidden him to remain in Paris, where his presence exasperated her, and had sent him alone to Cricquebec - had begun one evening at the house of one of his aunts, on whom he had prevailed to allow his mistress to come there, before a large party, to recite some fragments of a symbolist play in which she had once appeared in an avant-garde theatre, and for which she had brought him to share the admiration that she herself professed. When she appeared in the room, with a large lily in her hand, and wearing a costume copied from the Ancilla Domini which she had persuaded Montargis was an absolute "vision of beauty", her entrance had been greeted, in that assemblage of clubmen and duchesses, with smiles which the monotonous tone of her sing-song, the oddity of certain words and their frequent repetition, had changed into fits of giggles, stifled at first but presently so uncontrollable that the wretched reciter had been unable to go on.
Next day Montargis' aunt had been universally censured for having allowed so grotesque an actress to appear in her drawing-room. The Duc d'Albon, one of the most well-known gentlemen in society, made no bones about telling her that she had only herself to blame if she found herself criticized.
"Damn it all, people really don't come to see 'turns' like that! If the woman had talent, even; but she has none, and never will have any. 'Pon my soul, Paris is not so stupid as people make out. Society does not consist exclusively of imbeciles. This little lady evidently believed that she was going to take Paris by surprise. But Paris is not so easily surprised as all that, and there are still some things that they can't make us swallow."
As for the actress, she left the house with Montargis, exclaiming: "What do you mean by letting me in for those old hens, those uneducated bitches, those dirty corner boys? I don't mind telling you, there wasn't a man in the room who hadn't leered at me or tried to paw me, and it was because I wouldn't look at them that they were out to get their revenge." And what she told him had changed the antipathy he felt for society into a horror that was altogether more profound and caused him to endure ceaseless suffering. All of his relatives and friends that he had introduced her to, she assured him - whether out of a desire to burn the bridges between him and his young friends who may have sided with his parents and told the young woman of the pain that their liaison was causing them, in an attempt to make him accept the idea of a break with her, whether out of a desire to excite his jealousy, whether in an effort to explain her failure when she had gone to perform at his aunt's, or whether quite simply because it was true - she had sworn that they had all tried to sleep with her, even to take her by force. And Montargis, although he, and she too, had ceased to see them, thought that perhaps when he was separated from her, as he was now in Bricquebec, that they or others like them were profiting by his absence to return to the charge. And so it was almost always with a furrowed brow and often empty-handed that I would see him returning from the post office, where, alone in all the hotel, he and Françoise went to fetch and hand in letters, he from a lover's impatience, she with a servant's mistrust of others. And when he spoke of the lechers who betrayed their friends, who sought to corrupt women, tried to make them come to houses of assignation, his whole face radiated suffering and hatred.
"I'd kill them with less compunction than I'd kill a dog, which is at least a decent, honest and faithful beast. They're the ones who deserve the guillotine if you like, far more than poor wretches who've been led into crime by poverty and by the cruelty of the rich."
As my grandmother approved of my spending as much time as possible with Montargis she even allowed us to go out together in the evenings. We had begun by not returning to the hotel to dine one day and had gone together to an old mill, situated a few kilometres from Bricquebec, which had become a restaurant for the non-commissioned officers from the nearby garrison, men who had come to take a break from the harshness of their daily duties, from the heat and the dust of the town, by hiring a small boat and dining at the water's edge. Montargis told me: "Your grandmother is so good, she won't scold you if we stay out till nine." We had ordered trout and Montargis had taken me out on the water which struck against the slanting rays of the sun until the waitress signalled us that our meal was ready. I asked him if he thought one could easily take the waitress upstairs to the little room that was for hire. He didn't think so; but in any case I found it easier to stay with him and contented myself with watching him as I ate my trout, beside the murmuring water beneath the trees filled with birdsong. And I questioned him on the virtues of various women; personally he had no interest in them, being far from his mistress he maintained a chastity which cost him little, as he had become indifferent to other women, and it brought him a sort of calm by believing that through his own chastity he could prove to himself that it is not an impossible virtue and persuade himself that his mistress was practising it the same as him. But as we chatted I could not question him about the definite or possible fickleness of one woman or another without taking into account the same intolerable discomfort he would have felt had I asked him about debauched men, because he always imagined it was his mistress that their desires were focused upon. He assured me that young women were often far less shy than I supposed. "As for Mlle de Silaria who I know a little," he told me, "I have almost no doubt. I'm sorry I wasn't there, I could have brought you together." I used this to my advantage by talking to him about a tall young girl to whom he had introduced me outside the hotel, one of his cousins, who was staying in the country with the Princesse de Parme.
It seemed to me impossible to mistake for anybody else this majestic and supple Jean Goujon or Primatrice nymph, with her towering crown of blonde hair, her brow elongated by an unblemished nose, this radiant beauty, as Greek as court goddesses, refined and proud as if she had been taken from the antiquity of the Fontainebleau school. And yet if Montargis had not said that she was one of his relatives I would have been sure that I recognized her, had encountered her several times on the street in my Paris neighbourhood. Something had struck me about her - which I never saw in such a proper way among the middle-classes - too elegant and at the same time too careless in her dress - unoccupied in her bearing, unconscious of the refined crowd all around her - which created retrospectively in my memory of this Parisian stroller the appearance of somebody finding themselves out walking after leaving a friend's villa, dressed for the beach. But when this beautiful girl caught sight of me in Paris, she stopped short, looked me in the eyes, smiling, lips parted, with more shamelessness than a prostitute. And I had noticed her behaving in the same way to other young men. So I interrogated Montargis about his cousin. On the contrary she possessed an ill-tempered virtue. "She is odious", he assured me. "The only reason she is not married is that she won't accept less than royalty, or at least the head of a grand ducal family. Honestly! She can hardly bring herself to say hello to my aunt Villeparisis. She's the limit! She has nothing going for her but her antique beauty and austerity. You can't deny Claremonde that. But she thinks that gives her the right to be haughtiness personified." Indeed she had barely even nodded her head when Montargis had introduced me to her.
Consequently I learned that there could not possibly be anything in common between this woman and my unknown Parisienne. I was alarmed to think about the risks of identifying an image that was nothing more than our ever uncertain memory, and the way in which we fail to notice the tiny differences that are all we need to undeceive us. And by a bizarre coincidence which did not throw me back into perplexity because the information furnished by Montargis had unburdened me of my error and established for me a certainty - after having gone out some days later for a stroll along the embankment, right at the end where there are very few houses, when the neighbouring dunes begin, I crossed in front of Mlle Claremonde who turned around three or four times and even stopped, she even made a sign without me being able to see the friends that she had doubtless caught sight of and who were attracting her attention.
Montargis was unable to join me on a visit a short distance from Cricquebec to the painter Elstir, who we had both got to know. Because that day he was expecting one of his uncles who was coming to spend a few days with Mme de Villeparisis. Montargis had preferred, since I was not going to be there, to devote this first afternoon to his uncle so that he could more easily excuse himself for spending the others with me. Since he was greatly addicted to physical exercise, and especially to long walks, it was largely on foot, spending the night in wayside farms, that this uncle was to make the journey from the country house in which he was staying, and the precise moment of his arrival at Bricquebec was somewhat uncertain. The uncle in question was called Palamède, a Christian name that had come down to him from his ancestors the Princes of Sicily. And later on, when I found, in the course of my historical reading, belonging to this or that Podestà or Pope, the same Christian name, a fine Renaissance medal - some said a genuine antique - that had always remained in the family, having passed from generation to generation, from the Vatican cabinet to the uncle of my friend, I felt the pleasure that is reserved for those who, unable from lack of means to start a collection of statues or cameos, look out for old names - names of localities in which survive the ancient vestiges of customs or of a region, instructive and picturesque as an old map, as unceremonious as a sign-board or a tailor's pattern - old Christian names whose fine French endings echo the defect of speech, the intonation of an ethnic vulgarity, the corrupt pronunciation whereby our ancestors made Latin and Saxon words undergo lasting mutilations which in due course became the august law-givers of our grammar books, and, in short, by drawing upon these collections of ancient sonorities, give themselves concerts like the people who acquire viole da gamba of viole d'amore to perform the music of the past on old instruments. Montargis told me that even in the most exclusive society his uncle Palamède stood out as being particularly unapproachable, scornful, obsessed with his nobility, forming with his brother's wife and a few other chosen spirits what was known as the Phoenix Club. Even there his insolence was so dreaded that it happened more than once that people who had been anxious to meet him had met with a refusal from his own brother: "Really, you mustn't ask me to introduce you to my brother Palamède. Even if my wife and the whole lot of us put ourselves to the task it would be no good. Or else you'd run the risk of his being rude to you, and I shouldn't want that." At the Jockey Club he had, with a few of his friends, made up a list of two hundred members whom they would never allow to be introduced to them. And in the Comte de Paris's circle he was known by the nickname of "The Prince" because of his elegance and his pride. This aristocratic arrogance, however mitigated, it seemed, by his piety and his age, could not have been other than particularly offensive to Montargis. But he assured me that despite what he called "those ideas from another world", nobody was more intelligent or gifted in all the Arts than his uncle Palamède, who lived in such an isolated sphere, distant and ravishing as a coral reef in the Australian seas, that he appeared to my mind not with the contradictions and opacity of a real man but with the homogeneous translucence of a character from legend. He gave me the idea of a power, not simply greater than that of other men, as with kings, but of a different kind of power, particular to the Noble Palamède, and which added something flattering for the vanity to the images that his name evoked, but at the same time remained so much held in their dependency, that behind the pleasure of imagining this great nobleman lurked, unrecognized by me, my ambition to know him, which, on the contrary, would never be fully satisfied if he turned out not to resemble the character that I had imagined.
Montargis told me about his uncle's early life. Every day he used to take women to a bachelor establishment which he shared with two of his friends, as good-looking as himself, on account of which they were known as "the three Graces".
"One day a man who is now one of the brightest luminaries of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, but who displayed bizarre tastes in his youth, asked my uncle to let him come to this place. But no sooner had he arrived than it was not to the ladies but to my uncle that he began to make overtures. My uncle pretended not to understand, and took his two friends aside on some pretext or other. They reappeared on the scene, seized the offender, stripped him, thrashed him till he bled and threw him outside where he was found more dead than alive; so much so that the police started an inquiry which the poor devil had the greatest difficulty in getting them to abandon. Naturally he would not do anything like that today because he detests those sort of men. On the contrary he is very good, in fact you couldn't imagine the number of working men he takes under his wing, only to be repaid with the basest ingratitude. It may be a servant who has looked after him in a hotel, for whom he will find a place in Paris, or a farm-labourer whom he will pay to have taught a trade. He really isn't as malicious as he pretends. I'm told it was quite extraordinary to what extent he set the tone, to what extent he laid down the law for the whole of society when he was a young man. As far as he was concerned, in any circumstances he did whatever seemed most agreeable or most convenient for himself, but immediately it was imitated by all the snobs. If he felt thirsty at the theatre, and had a drink brought to him in his box, a week later the little sitting-rooms behind all the boxes would be filled with refreshments. If there was a piece where you need to see the whole stage, he would leave his box and sit in the orchestra, then the stalls became the most sought-after seats. One wet summer when he had a touch of rheumatism, he ordered an overcoat of a loose but warm vicuna wool, which is used only for travelling rugs, and insisted on the usual blue and orange stripes. The big tailors at once received orders from all their customers for blue and orange overcoats of rough wool. If for some reason he wanted to remove every aspect of ceremony from a dinner in a country house where he was spending the day, and to underline the distinction had come without evening clothes and sat down to table in the suit he had been wearing that afternoon, it became the fashion not to dress for dinner in the country. If instead of taking a spoon to eat his pudding he used a fork, or a special implement of his own invention which he had had made for him by a silversmith, or his fingers, it was no longer permissible to eat in any other way. He wanted once to hear some Beethoven quartets again and arranged for some musicians to come and play them to him and a few friends once a week. The ultra-fashionable thing to do that season was to give quite small parties with chamber music. Really, I don't think he has ever been bored in his life. With his looks, he must have had any number of women. I couldn't tell you exactly which, because he's very discreet. But I do know that he was thoroughly unfaithful to my poor aunt, which doesn't mean that he wasn't always perfectly charming to her, that she didn't adore him, and that he didn't go on mourning her for years." And in this way Montargis, as he accompanied me all the way to the station where I was catching a train to visit Elstir, told me all about his uncle whose arrival he was anticipating. But he waited in vain. That evening, when I arrived back from my visit to Elstir, uncle Palamède had still not arrived.
The next morning as I was passing the Casino on my way back to the hotel, I had the sensation of being watched by somebody who was not far off. I turned my head and saw a man of about forty, very tall and rather stout, with a very black moustache, who, nervously slapping his white linen trousers with a cane, was staring at me, his eyes dilated with extreme attentiveness. From time to time these eyes were shot through with a look of restless activity such as the sight of a person they do not know excites only in men in whom, for whatever reason, it inspires thoughts that would not occur to anyone else - madmen, for example, or spies. He darted a final glance at me that was at once bold, prudent, rapid and profound, like a last shot which one fires at an enemy as one turns to flee, and, after first looking all round him, suddenly adopting an absent and lofty air, with an abrupt revolution of his whole person he turned towards a playbill in the reading of which he became absorbed, while he hummed a tune and fingered the moss-rose in his buttonhole. He drew from his pocket a note-book in which he appeared to be taking down the title of the performance that was announced because it was Sunday and there was to be a grand matinée, looked at his watch two or three times, pulled down over his eyes a black straw hat the brim of which he extended with his hand held out over it like an eye-shade, as though to see whether someone was coming at last, made the perfunctory gesture of annoyance by which people mean to show that they have waited long enough, although they never make it when they are really waiting, then pushing back his hat and exposing a scalp cropped close except at the sides where he allowed a pair of waved "pigeon's-wings" to grow quite long, he emitted the loud panting breath that people exhale not when they are too hot but when they wish it to be thought that they are too hot. He gave me the impression of a hotel crook who, having been watching my grandmother and myself for some days, and planning to rob us, had just discovered that I had caught him in the act of spying on me. Perhaps he was only seeking by his new attitude to express abstractedness and detachment in order to put me off the scent, but it was with an exaggeration so aggressive that his object appeared to be - at least as much as the dissipating of the suspicions he might have aroused in me - to avenge a humiliation which I must have unwittingly inflicted on him, to give me the idea not so much that he had not seen me as that I was an object of too little importance to attract his attention. He threw back his shoulders with an air of bravado, pursed his lips, twisted his moustache, and adjusted his face into an expression that was at once indifferent, harsh, and almost insulting. So much so that I took him at one moment for a thief and at another for a lunatic. And yet his scrupulously ordered attire was far more sober and far more simple that that of any of the summer visitors I saw at Cricquebec, and reassured me as to my own suit, so often humiliated by the dazzling whiteness of their holiday garb. But my grandmother was coming towards me, we took a turn together, and I was waiting for her, an hour later, outside the hotel into which she had gone to fetch something, when I saw emerge from it Mme de Villeparisis with Montargis and the stranger who stared at me so intently outside the Casino. Swift as a lightning-flash his look shot through me, just as at the moment when I had first noticed him, and returned, as though he had not seen me, to hover, slightly lowered, before his eyes, deadened, like the neutral look which feigns to see nothing without and is incapable of reporting anything to the mind within, the look which expresses merely the satisfaction of feeling round it the eyelids which it keeps apart with its beatific roundness, the devout and sanctimonious look that we see on the faces of certain hypocrites, the smug look on those of certain fools. I saw that he had changed his clothes. The suit he was wearing was darker than ever; and no doubt true elegance is less intimidating, lies nearer to simplicity than false; but there was something more; from close at hand one felt that if colour was almost entirely absent from these garments it was not because he who had banished it from them was indifferent to it but rather because for some reason he forbade himself the enjoyment of it. And the sobriety which they displayed seemed to be of the kind that comes from obedience to a rule of diet rather than from lack of appetite. A dark green thread harmonized, in the stuff of his trousers, with the stripe on his socks, with a refinement which betrayed the vivacity of a taste that was everywhere else subdued, to which this single concession had been made out of tolerance, while a spot of red on his tie was imperceptible, like a liberty which one dares not take.
"How are you? Let me introduce my nephew, the Baron de Guermantes," Mme de Villeparisis said to me, while the stranger, without looking at me, muttered a vague "Charmed" which he followed with a "H'm, h'm, h'm," to make his affability seem somehow forced, and crooking his little finger, forefinger and thumb, held out his middle and ring fingers, which I clasped earnestly through his suede glove; then, without lifting his eyes to my face, he turned towards Mme de Villeparisis.
"Good gracious, I shall be forgetting my own name next," she exclaimed. "Here I am calling you the Baron de Guermantes. But after all it's not a very serious mistake," she went on with a smile, "for you're a thorough Guermantes whatever else you are."
By this time my grandmother had reappeared, and we all set out together. Montargis' uncle declined to honour me not only with a word but with so much as a look in my direction. If he stared strangers out of countenance (and during this short excursion he two or three times hurled his terrible and searching scrutiny like a thunderbolt at insignificant people of the most humble extraction who happened to pass), on the other hand he never for a moment, if I was to judge by myself, looked at persons whom he knew - as a detective on a secret mission might except his personal friends from his professional vigilance. Leaving my grandmother, Mme de Villeparisis and him to talk to one another, I fell behind with Montargis.
"Tell me, am I right in thinking I heard Mme de Villeparisis say just now to your uncle that he was a Guermantes?"
"Of course he is: Palamède de Guermantes."
"Not the same Guermantes who have a Château near Combray, and claim descent from Geneviève de Brabant?"
"Most certainly: my uncle, who is more concerned about heraldry than me, will tell you that our 'cry', our war cry that is to say, was 'Combraysis'," he said, smiling so as not to appear to be priding himself on this prerogative of a 'cry', which only the quasi-royal houses, the great feudal chieftains, enjoyed."It's his brother who has the place now. How do you come to know the Château? Have you visited it? Or perhaps you know the Gilbert de Guermantes, my aunt Guermantes-La Trémoïlle who used to live there before?" he asked me, finding it perfectly natural that I should know the same people as himself, taking no account of the fact that I belonged to a totally different social group, or rather, out of politeness, made himself appear not to be taking it into account.
"No... but... I have heard people talking about the Château. Haven't they got the busts of all the old lords of Guermantes down there?"
"Yes, and a lovely sight they are!" said Montargis ironically, partly from modesty, since to my great astonishment he was related to the Guermantes, partly due to his sincere indifference, even partly on account of his hostile prejudice against all matters concerning the nobility.
"They have something that is a little more interesting! A superb portrait of my aunt by Carolus Deran, and some magnificent Delacroix drawings. My aunt is the niece of Mme de Villeparisis, she was brought up by her, and married her cousin, who was a nephew too of my aunt, the present Duc de Guermantes."
"Then what is your uncle?"
"He bears the title of Baron de Fleurus. Strictly, when my great-uncle died, my uncle Palamède ought to have taken the title of Prince des Launes, which was that of his brother before he became Duc de Guermantes - in that family they change their names as often as their shirts. But my uncle has peculiar ideas about nobility. As he feels that people are rather apt to overdo the Italian Prince, Grandee of Spain, Papal titles business nowadays, and although he had five or six Princely titles to choose from, he has remained Baron de Fleurus, as a protest, and with an apparent simplicity which really covers a good deal of pride. 'In these days', he says, 'everybody is a prince; one really must have something to distinguish one; I shall call myself Prince when I wish to travel incognito.' But," Montargis continued, "you mustn't ask me to talk pedigrees. Nothing bores me more."
I now recognized in the look that earlier had made me turn round outside the Casino as the same that I had seen fixed on me at La Frapelière at the moment when Mme Swann had called Gilberte away.
"But wasn't your uncle thought to be Mme Swann's lover?"
"Good Lord no! That is to say, my uncle's a great friend of Swann, and has always stood up for him. But no one has ever suggested that he was his wife's lover. You would cause the utmost astonishment in Parisian society if people believed you thought that."
I dared not reply that it would have caused even greater astonishment in Combray society if people thought that I did not believe it.
My grandmother was delighted with M. de Fleurus. No doubt he attached an extreme importance to all questions of birth and social position, and my grandmother had remarked this, but without any trace of that severity which as a rule embodies a secret envy and irritation, at seeing another person enjoy advantages which one would like but cannot oneself possess. Since, on the contrary, my grandmother, content with her lot and not for a moment regretting that she did not move in a more brilliant sphere, employed only her intellect in observing the eccentricities of M. de Fleurus, she spoke of Montargis' uncle with that detached, smiling, almost affectionate benevolence with which we reward the object of our disinterested observation for the pleasure that it has given us, all the more so because this time the object was a person whose pretensions, if not legitimate at any rate picturesque, made him stand out in fairly vivid contrast to the people whom she generally had the occasion to see. But it was above all in consideration of his intelligence and sensibility, qualities which it was easy to see that M. de Fleurs, unlike so many of the society people whom Montargis derided, possessed in a marked degree, that my grandmother had so readily forgiven him his aristocratic prejudice. And yet this prejudice had not been sacrificed by the uncle, as it had been by the nephew, to higher qualities. Rather M. de Fleurus had reconciled it with them. Possessing, by virtue of his descent from the Ducs de Nemours, the Princes de Lamballe, La Trémoïlle and de Choiseul, documents, furniture, tapestries, portraits painted for his ancestors by Raphael, Velasquez, Boucher, justified him in saying that he was "visiting a museum and a matchless library" when he was merely going over his family mementoes, he still, on account of their rarefied tastes, placed the whole heritage of the French aristocracy in the high position from which his nephew had toppled it. Perhaps also, being less ideological than his nephew, less satisfied with words, a more realistic observer of men, he did not care to neglect an essential element of prestige in their eyes which, if it gave certain disinterested pleasures, could often be a powerfully effective aid to his utilitarian activities. No agreement can ever be reached between men of his sort and those who obey an "inner" ideal which drives them to rid themselves of such advantages so that they may seek only to realize that ideal, resembling in that respect the painters and writers who renounce their virtuosity, the artistic people who modernize themselves, the warrior people who initiate universal disarmament, the absolute governments which turn democratic and repeal their harsh laws, though as often as not the sequel fails to reward their noble efforts; for the artists lose their talent, the nations their age-old predominance; pacifism often breeds wars and tolerance criminality. Even from an aesthetic point of view, if M. de Fleurus had narrow tastes, if his mind appeared to be closed to Modern Art, ever since the rise of Romanticism which he considered decadent, it was possible to discern this narrowness as more perceptive than the efforts to emancipation that Montargis had made, by their visible result: M. de Fleurus had transported a large part of the marvellous panelling from the Hôtel de Guermantes to his own residence, rather exchanging the things he possessed, as Montargis had done, for a modern style of furniture and multi-coloured Gérôme statues. In certain women of great beauty and rare culture whose ancestresses, two centuries earlier, had shared in all the glory and grace of the old order, he found a distinction which made him capable of taking pleasure in their society alone, and doubtless his admiration for them was sincere, but countless reminiscences, historical and artistic, evoked by their names played a considerable part in it, just as memories of classical antiquity are one of the reasons for the pleasure which a literary man finds in reading an ode by Horace that is perhaps inferior to poems of our own day which would leave him cold. Any of these women by the side of a pretty commoner was for him what an old picture is to a contemporary canvas representing a procession or a wedding - one of those old pictures the history of which we know, from the Pope or king that commissioned them, through the hands of the eminent persons whose acquisition of them, by gift, purchase, conquest or inheritance, recalls to us some event or at least some alliance of historic interest, and consequently some knowledge that we ourselves have acquired, gives it new meaning, increases our sense of richness of the possessions of our memory or of our erudition. M. de Fleurus was thankful that a prejudice similar to his own, by preventing these few great ladies from mixing with women whose blood was less pure, presented themselves for his veneration intact, in their unadulterated nobility, like some eighteenth-century façade supported on its flat columns of pink marble, in which the passage of time has wrought no change.
M. de Fleurus extolled the true "nobility" of mind and heart which characterized these women, playing upon the word in a double sense by which he himself was taken in, and in which lay the falsehood of this bastard conception, of this medley of aristocracy, generosity and art, but also its seductiveness, dangerous to people like my grandmother, to whom the less refined but more innocent prejudice of a nobleman who cared only about quarterings and took no thought of anything besides would have appeared too silly for words, whereas she was defenceless as soon as anything presented itself under the externals of an intellectual superiority, so much so, indeed, that she regarded princes as enviable above all other men because they were able to have a La Bruyère or a Fénelon as their tutors.
Mme de Villeparisis took her nephew off for a little walk. Although it was Sunday, there were no more carriages waiting outside the hotel now than at the beginning of the season. The notary's wife, in particular, had decided that it was not worth the expense of hiring one every time simply because she was not going to the Chemisey's, and simply stayed in her room.
"Is Mme Bruland not well?" her husband was asked. "We haven't seen her all day."
"She has a slight headache - the heat, you know, this thundery weather. The least thing upsets her. But I expect you'll see her this evening. I've told her she ought to come down. It can do her nothing but good."
When Mme de Villeparisis, on returning from her walk, invited us to take tea with M. de Fleurus later that day, I thought that perhaps she had noticed the impoliteness that he had shown towards me, and she wanted to give him the opportunity to make amends. But when, on entering the little salon in her apartment where she was receiving us, I attempted to greet M. de Charlus, [sic] for all that I walked right round him while he was telling a story in a shrill voice, I could not succeed in catching his eye; I decided to say "Good evening" to him, and fairly loud, to warn him of my presence, but I realized that he had observed it, for before ever a word had passed my lips, just as I was beginning to bow to him, I saw his two fingers held out for me to shake without his having turned to look at me or paused in his story. He had evidently seen me, without letting it appear that he had, and I noticed then that his eyes, which were never fixed on the person to whom he was speaking, strayed perpetually in all directions, like those of certain frightened animals, or those of street hawkers who, while delivering their patter and displaying their illicit merchandise, keep a sharp look-out, though without turning their heads, on the different points of the horizon from which the police may appear at any moment.
No doubt, had it not been for those eyes, M. de Fleurus's face and body would have been similar to the faces and bodies of many good-looking men, and just as I had imagined a "great nobleman" to be a totally different creature from all others, I felt that I had been deceived in seeing M. de Fleurus with the same slim figure, regular profile and refined moustache as so many other people I had either seen or knew. I thought that this great nobleman alone made himself an exception from the others by assuming the body of an ordinary man. And when Montargis, speaking to me of various other Guermantes, said to me: "Gad, they've got that aristocratic air to their very fingertips that my uncle Palamède has", confirming my suspicions that a thoroughbred air and aristocratic distinction were not something mysterious and new but consisted in elements that I had recognized without difficulty and without receiving any particular impression from them, I was to feel that another of my illusions had been shattered. But however much M. de Fleurus tried to seal hermetically the expression on that face, to which a light coating of powder lent a faintly theatrical aspect, the eyes were like two crevices, two loop-holes which alone he had failed to stop, and through which, according to one's position in relation to him, one suddenly felt oneself in the path of some hidden weapon which seemed to bode no good, even to him who, without being altogether master of it, carried it within himself in a state of precarious equilibrium and always on the verge of explosion; and the circumspect and unceasingly restless expression of those eyes, with all the signs of exhaustion which the heavy pouches beneath them stamped upon his face, however carefully he might compose and regulate it, made one think of some incognito, some disguise assumed by a powerful man in danger, or merely by a dangerous - but tragic - individual. I should have liked to divine what was this secret which other men did not carry with them and which had already made his stare seem to me so enigmatic when I had seen him that morning outside the Casino. But with what I now knew of his family I could no longer believe that it was that of a thief, nor after what I had heard of his conversation, of a madman. If he was so cold towards me, while making himself so agreeable to my grandmother, this did not perhaps arise from any personal antipathy towards me, for in general, to the extent that he was kindly disposed towards women, of whose faults he spoke without, as a rule, departing from the utmost tolerance, he displayed towards men, and especially young men, a hatred so violent as to suggest that of certain misogynists for women. Of two or three, relatives or intimate friends of Montargis, who happened to mention their names, he remarked with an almost ferocious expression in sharp contrast to his usual coldness: "Young scum!" I gathered that the particular fault which he found in the young men of the day was their effeminacy. "They're nothing but women," he said with scorn. But what life would not have appeared effeminate beside that which he expected a man to lead, and never found energetic or virile enough? (He himself told how when he walked across country, after long hours on the road he would plunge his heated body into frozen streams.) He would not even concede that a man should wear any rings. And I noticed that on the ring finger that he held out to me he wore none.
But this obsession with virility did not prevent his having also the most delicate sensibilities. When Mme de Villeparisis asked him to describe to my grandmother some country house in which Mme de Sévigné had stayed, adding that there was something rather "literary" about that person's distress at being parted from "that tiresome Mme de Grignan":
"On the contrary," he retorted, "nothing could be further from the truth - it is because of that that Mme de Sévigné's letters are genuinely profound and human. Besides, it was a time in which feelings of that sort were thoroughly understood. The inhabitant of La Fontaine's Monomotapa, running round to see his friend who had appeared to him in a dream looking rather sad, the pigeon finding that the greatest of evils is the absence of the other pigeon, seem to you perhaps, my dear aunt, as exaggerated as Mme de Sévigné's impatience for the moment when she will be alone with her daughter."
"But as soon as she was alone with her she probably had nothing to say to her."
"Most certainly she had: if it was only what she called 'things so slight that nobody else would notice them but you and I'. And even if she had nothing to say to her, at least she was with her. And La Bruyère tells us that this is everything: 'To be with the people one loves, to speak to them, not to speak to them, it is all the same.' He is right: that is the only true happiness," added M. de Fleurus in a mournful voice, "and alas, life is so ill-arranged that one very rarely experiences it. Mme de Sévigné was after all less to be pitied than most of us. She spent a great part of her life with the person she loved."
"You forget that it wasn't love in her case, it was her daughter."
"But what matters in life is not whom or what one loves," he went on, in a more peremptory, almost cutting tone, "it is the fact of loving. What Mme de Sévigné felt for her daughter has a far better claim to rank with the passion that Racine described in Andromaque or Phèdre than the commonplace relations young Sévigné had with his mistresses. It's the same with a mystic's love for his God. The hard and fast lines in which we circumscribe love arise solely from our ignorance of life."
In these reflections upon the sadness of having to live far apart from those one loves (which were to lead my grandmother to say later that same evening that M. de Fleurus understood certain works a great deal better than Mme de Villeparisis, and moreover had something about him that set him far above the average clubman, who is often uncouth, and lent him an almost feminine intuition) - he not only revealed a refinement of feeling such as men rarely show; his voice itself, like certain contralto voices in which the middle register has not been sufficiently trained, so that when they sing it sounds like an alternating duet between a young man and a woman, mounted, when he expressed these delicate sentiments, to its higher notes, took on an unexpected sweetness and seemed to embody choirs of sisters, of mothers, of betrothed maidens, pouring out their fond feelings. But the bevy of young girls whom M. de Fleurus in his horror of every kind of effeminacy would have been so distressed to learn that he gave the impression of sheltering thus within his voice did not confine themselves to the interpretation, the modulation of sentimental ditties. Often while M. de Fleurus was talking one could hear their laughter, the shrill, fresh laughter of school-girls or coquettes quizzing their companions with all the archness and malice of clever tongues and pretty wits.
"Goodness me, I could have taken you to visit that château that interests you so much," he told my grandmother, "if the Montmorencys were still living there, but the family line has died out."
"How amiable you are to your cousin the Duc de Montmorency," put in Montargis.
"Oh! excuse me I was meaning the Montmorencys, the members of the Montmorency family. The charming gentleman you are alluding to, probably not knowing which name to take and thinking that there were no Montmorencys left, conveniently found and took up the name of the station on the Northern line. Perhaps he owned a house nearby, you never know!" he added, when, noticing that the embroidered handkerchief which he had in his pocket was exhibiting its coloured border, he thrust it sharply down out of sight with the scandalized air of a prudish but far from innocent lady concealing attractions which, by an excess of scrupulosity, she regards as indecent.
"It is always the case," he added, turning towards my grandmother, "that the owners of that château you were talking about show at that moment how unworthy they are of owning it, because they are going to sell it, and sadly it is to be feared that the people who are to buy it are less deserving still. In any case I don't want to have anything to do with an absurd and faithless place which allows itself to be sold to such people and to be disfigured by them. I don't want to have anything more to do with it than I do with my cousin Avaray who has turned out badly and is no longer beautiful. Yet I keep a picture of the house just as I do of my cousin, and I often gaze at those beautiful features that were then still unspoilt. I don't go as far as to carry it around with me but I could send you a copy. A photograph acquires something of the dignity it ordinarily lacks when it shows us things that no longer exist."
He told us about a house that had belonged to his family, in which Marie-Antoinette had slept, with a park laid out by Le Nôtre, which now belonged to the Gebzelterns, the wealthy financiers, who had bought it. "To have been the home of the Guermantes and to belong to the Gebzelterns!" he exclaimed. "It reminds me of a room in the Château of Blois where the caretaker who was showing me around said to me: 'This is where Mary Stuart used to say her prayers. Now I use it to keep my brooms in.' The first thing these people did was to destroy the park and replace it with an English garden. Anybody who destroys a Le Nôtre park is as bad as somebody who slashes a picture by Poussin. For that alone these Gebzelterns should be in prison. It is true," he added with a smile, after a moment's silence, "that there are probably plenty of other reasons why they should be there! In any case you can imagine the effect of an English garden with that architecture."
"But the house is in the same style as the Trianon," said Mme de Villeparisis, "and Marie-Antoinette had an English garden laid out there."
"Which after all ruins Gabriel's façade," replied M. de Fleurus. "Obviously it would be an act of vandalism to destroy the Haneau. But whatever the spirit of the age may be, I beg leave to doubt whether, in that respect, a whim of Mme Gebzeltern has the same prestige as the memory of the Queen."
Meanwhile my grandmother had been making signs to me to go up to bed, in spite of the urgent appeals of Montargis who, to my utter shame, had alluded in front of M. de Fleurus to the depression which often used to come upon me at night before I went to sleep, which his uncle must regard as showing a sad lack of virility. I lingered a few moments more, then went upstairs, and was greatly surprised when, a little while later, having heard a knock at my bedroom door and asked who was there, I heard the voice of M. de Fleurus saying drily: "It is Fleurus. May I come in Monsieur? Monsieur," he continued in the same tone, "my nephew was saying just now that you were apt to be a little upset before going to sleep, and also that you were an admirer of Bergotte's books. As I had one here in my luggage that you probably do not know, I have brought it to you to while away those moments during which you are unhappy."
I thanked M. de Fleurus warmly and told him that I had been afraid that what Montargis had told him about my distress at the approach of night could have made me appear in his eyes even more stupid than I was.
"Not at all," he answered in a gentler voice. "You have not, perhaps, any personal merit, so few people have! But for a time at least you have youth, and that is always an attraction. Besides, Monsieur, the greatest folly of all is to mock or to condemn in others what one does not happen to feel oneself. I love the night, and you tell me that you are afraid of it. I love the scent of roses, and I have a friend who it throws into a fever. Do you suppose that for that reason I consider him inferior to me? I try to understand everything and I take care to condemn nothing. In short, you must not be too sorry for yourself; I do not say that these moods of depression are not painful, I know how much one can suffer from things which others would not understand. But at least you have placed your affection wisely in your grandmother. You see a great deal of her. And besides, it is a legitimate affection, I mean one that is repaid. There are so many of which that cannot be said!"
He walked up and down the room, looking at one thing, picking up another. I had the impression that he had something to tell me, and could not find the right words to express it. Several minutes passed in this way, then, in his earlier biting tone of voice, flung at me: "Good night, Monsieur," and left the room.
After all the lofty sentiments which I had heard him express that evening, next day, which was the day of his departure, on the beach in the morning, as I was on my way down to bathe, when M. de Fleurus came across to tell me that my grandmother was waiting for me to join her as soon as I left the water, I was greatly surprised to hear him say, pinching my neck with a familiarity and a laugh that was frankly vulgar: "But he doesn't care a fig for his old grandmother, does he, eh? Little rascal."
"What. Monsieur, I adore her, I love her more than anybody in the world..."
"Monsieur," he said, stepping back a pace, and with a glacial air, "you are still young; you should profit by your youth to learn two things: first, to refrain from expressing sentiments that are too natural not to be taken for granted; and secondly not to rush into speech in reply to things that are said to you before you have penetrated their meaning. If you had taken this precaution a moment ago you would have saved yourself the appearance of speaking at cross-purposes like a deaf man, thereby adding a second absurdity to that of having anchors embroidered on your swimming costume. You make me realize that I was premature in speaking to you last night of the charms of youth. I should have done you a greater service had I pointed out to you its thoughtlessness, its inconsequence, and its want of comprehension. I hope, Monsieur, that this little verbal dousing will be no less salutary to you than your swim. But don't let me keep you standing there, you might catch cold. Good day, Monsieur."
No doubt he felt remorse for this speech, for some time later I received - in a binding on which my initials had been encircled by a spray of forget-me-nots - the book by Bergotte he had lent me and which I had had sent back to him on the day of his departure.
When, some days after M. de Fleurus's departure, my grandmother told me with a joyous air that Montargis had just asked her whether she would like him to take a photograph of her before he left Cricquebec, and, when I saw that she had put on her nicest dress for the purpose and was hesitating between various hats, I felt a little annoyed at this childishness, at this coquettishness, which surprised me on her part. I even wondered whether I had not been mistaken in my grandmother, whether I did not put her on too lofty a pedestal, whether she was as unconcerned about her person as I had always supposed. The starting point for my ill-humour had arisen primarily from the fact that for the past few days when I had come back in the evening she had not knocked on the wall to call me in, and I, having dined out with Montargis, would be thinking the whole time of how long it would be until the joy of my return when I would be able to go to my grandmother and embrace her. I wanted to deprive myself of her a little, especially as that whole week I had not been able to have her for myself, either by day or night. When I came back in the afternoon to be alone with her a little I was told that she was not there, or else she would shut herself up with Françoise for endless confabulations which I was not permitted to interrupt. Unfortunately, the displeasure that was aroused in me by the prospect of this photographic session, and more particularly by the childish pleasure with which my grandmother appeared to be looking forward to it, was sufficiently apparent for Françoise to notice it, and to do her best, unintentionally, to increase it by making me a sentimental, gushing speech by which I refused to appear moved.
"Oh, Monsieur, my poor Madame will be so pleased at having her portrait taken. She's going to wear the hat that her old Françoise has trimmed for her: you must let her Monsieur."
I persuaded myself that it was not cruel of me to mock Françoise's sensibility, by reminding myself that my mother and grandmother, my models in all things, often did the same themselves. But my grandmother, noticing that I seemed put out, said that if it offended me in any way she would give up the idea. I would not hear of it. I assured her that I saw no harm in it, and let her adorn herself, but, thinking to show how shrewd and forceful I was, added a few hurtful words calculated to neutralize the pleasure which she seemed to find in being photographed, with the result that, if I was obliged to see her magnificent hat, I had succeeded at least in driving from her face that joyful expression which ought to have made me happy. And it too often happens, while the people we love best are still alive, that such expressions appear to us as the exasperating manifestation of some petty whim which we hate and seek to destroy rather than as the precious form of the happiness which we should dearly like to procure for them.
[The text is very confused here.]
The starting point for my ill-humour had arisen primarily from the fact that all that week my grandmother had seemed to be avoiding me and that I never had her to myself for a moment. When I came back in the afternoon to be alone with her for a little I was told that she was not there; or else she would shut herself up with Françoise for endless confabulations which I was not permitted to interrupt. And when, after being out all evening with Montargis, I had been thinking on the way home of the moment when I should be able to go to my grandmother and embrace her, I waited in vain for her knock on the party wall which would tell me to go in and say goodnight to her, and hearing nothing I would end up going to bed in tears, resentful of her for depriving me, with an indifference so new and strange in her, of a joy which I needed so much and on which I had counted so much, until I cried myself to sleep.
If I returned back at Cricquebec rather late, it was because for some time my grandmother, who seldom stood in the way of my plans, if they came about with the mutual consent of Montargis, whose influence on me she thought beneficial, had given her blessing to me dining out with him once or twice a week. And at the hour when on other days I would already be sitting down at table Montargis would have had the horses harnessed to take me to dine some distance from Cricquebec at the Rivebelle restaurant where on certain days all the elegance of this part of the coast, which was much more fashionable then than it is today, were brought together and where daring speculators had opened attractions and places of pleasure that are now deserted. On those days my grandmother insisted that, contrary to my usual habit, I came back to rest on my bed for an hour before going off with Montargis and at about half past six I returned to the hotel, now ringing for the lift attendant without any trace of shyness or sadness, who no longer stood in silence while I rose by his side in the lift as in a mobile thoracic cage propelled upwards along its ascending pillar, and who, because he had taken on an engagement at a more southerly resort for the end of the season, was hoping to have the hotel closed as soon as possible, repeated to me:
"It's starting to get empty now, people are leaving, the days are drawing in."
And it was he now who stood there and received no answer during the short journey on which he threaded his way through the hotel, which, hollowed out inside like a toy, deployed around us, floor by floor, the ramifications of its corridors in the depths of which the light grew velvety, lost its tone, blurred the communicating doors or the steps of the service stairs which it transformed into that amber haze, unsubstantial and mysterious as a twilight, in which Rembrandt picks out here and there a window-sill or a well-head. And on each landing a golden light reflected from the carpet indicated the setting sun and the lavatory window. When we reached the top floor I stepped out of the lift. But instead of going to my room I made my way further along the corridor, for at that hour the valet in charge of the landing, despite his horror of draughts, had opened the window at the end which looked out on the hill and the valley inland, but never allowed them to be seen because its panes, which were made of clouded glass, were generally closed. I made a brief halt in front of it, time enough just to pay my devotions to the view which for once it revealed and which - beyond the hill which the hotel backed on to and from where, beneath an early mist which was already veiling it, escaped in fits and starts a secret sound of infiltration or a spring - contained only a single house situated at some distance, to which the perspective and the evening light, while preserving its mass, gave a gem-like precision and a velvet casing, as though to one of those architectural works in miniature, tiny temples or chapels wrought in gold and enamel, which serve as reliquaries and are exposed only on rare days for the veneration of the faithful. But this moment of adoration had already lasted too long, for the valet, who carried in one hand a bunch of keys and with the other saluted me by touching his sacristan's skull cap, though without raising it on account of the pure, cool evening air, came and drew together, like those of a shrine, the two sides of the window, and so shut off the minute edifice, the golden relic from my adoring gaze. I went into my room. Gradually, as the season advanced, the picture that I found there in my window changed. At first it was broad daylight, and dark only if the weather was bad: and then, in the greenish glass which it distended with the curve of its rounded waves, the sea, set between the iron uprights of my casement window like a piece of stained glass in its leads, ravelled out over the deep rocky border of the bay little plumed triangles of motionless foam etched with the delicacy of a feather or a downy breast from Pisanello's pencil, and fixed in that white, unvarying, cream enamel which is used to depict fallen snow in Gallé's glass. But more often the weather was fine, and from time to time scattered seagulls floated on the calm sea like Nymphaea which, according to the time of day appeared to my gaze as white, yellow or, when the sun had already set, pink. They seemed to offer up a totally inert target to the little waves that were buffeting them, which, in contrast, seemed to have some purpose in their pursuit, to come to life. Then all of a sudden, escaping as if from some concealment in their floral disguise, the seagulls flew up as one towards the sun, while from the furthest extremity from the shore, not deigning to look in their eyes, a great solitary rushing bird, beating the air with the regular movement of its wings, passed by at full speed over the beach spotted here and there with identical reflections on the sand from little pieces of torn up red paper, and crossed its full length, without slowing its pace, without diverting its attention, without deviating from its course, like an emissary who is carrying an urgent and capital order from a far off place. Soon the days got shorter, and at the moment I pushed open my door, and upon entering, my room would be flooded by a reflection of pink light which changed my curtains from white muslin to golden damask; it emanated from the violet sky which seemed branded with the stiff, geometrical, fleeting, effulgent figure of the sun (like the representation of some miraculous sign, of some mystical apparition) lowering over the sea on the edge of the horizon like a sacred picture over a high altar, while the different parts of the western sky exposed in the glass fronts of the low mahogany bookcases that ran along the walls, and which I carried back in my mind to the marvellous painting from which they had been detached, seemed like those different scenes executed long ago for a confraternity by some old master on a reliquary, whose separate panels are now exhibited side by side in a gallery, so that the visitor's imagination alone can restore them to their place on the predella of the reredos. A few weeks later, when I went upstairs, the sun had already set. Like the one that I used to see at Combray, behind the Calvary, when I came home from a walk and was getting ready to go down to the kitchen before dinner, a band of red sky above the sea, compact and clear-cut as a layer of aspic over meat, then, a little later, over a sea already cold and steel-blue like a grey mullet, a sky of the same pink as the salmon that we would be presently ordering at Rivebelle, reawakened my pleasure in dressing to go out for dinner. Close to the shore, patches of vapour, soot-black but with the burnish and consistency of agate, visibly solid and palpable, were trying to rise one above another over the sea in ever wider tiers, so that the highest of them, poised on top of the twisted column and over-reaching the centre of gravity of those which had hitherto supported them, seemed on the point of bringing down in ruin this lofty structure already half-way up the sky, and precipitating into the sea. The sight of a ship receding like a nocturnal traveller gave me the same impression that I had had in the train of being set free from the necessity of sleep and from confinement in a bedroom. Not that I felt myself a prisoner in the room in which I now was, since in another hour I should be leaving it to drive away in a carriage. I threw myself down on the bed; and, just as if I had been lying in a berth on board one of those steamers which I could see quite near me and which at night it would be strange to see stealing slowly through the darkness, like shadowy and silent but unsleeping swans, I was surrounded on all sides by pictures of the sea. But as often as not they were, indeed, only pictures, and my mind, dwelling at such moments upon the surface of the body which I was about to dress up in order to try to appear as pleasing as possible to the feminine eyes which would scrutinize me in the well-lit restaurant at Rivebelle, was incapable of putting any depth behind the colour of things, and if, beneath my window, the soft, unwearying flights of swifts and swallows had not arisen like a playing fountain, like living fireworks, joining the intervals between their soaring rockets with the motionless white streaming lines of long horizontal wakes - without the charming miracle of this natural and local phenomenon which brought into touch with reality the scenes that I had before my eyes - I might easily have believed that they were no more than a selection, made afresh every day, of paintings which were shown quite arbitrarily in the place in which I happened to be and without having any necessary connection with that place. At one time it was an exhibition of Japanese colour prints: beside the neat disc of sun, red and round as the moon, a yellow cloud seemed a lake against which black swords were outlined like the trees upon its shore, while a bar of a tender pink which I had never seen since my first paint-box swelled out like a river on either bank of which boats seemed to be waiting high and dry for someone to push them down and set them afloat. And with the contemptuous, bored and frivolous glance of an amateur or a woman hurrying through a picture gallery between two social engagements, I would say to myself: "Curious sunset, this, it's different from how they usually are but after all I've seen them just as delicate, just as remarkable as this." I had more pleasure on evenings when a ship, absorbed and liquefied by the horizon, appeared so much the same colour as its background, as in an Impressionist painting, that it seemed to be also of the same substance, as though its hull and the rigging in which it tapered into a slender filigree had simply been cut out from the vaporous blue of the sky. Sometimes the ocean filled almost the whole of my window, raised as it was by a band of sky edged at the top only by a line that was of the same blue as the sea, so that I supposed it to be still sea, and the change in colour due only to some effect of the lighting. Another day the sea was painted only in the lower part of the window, all the rest of which was filled with so many clouds, packed one against another in horizontal bands, that its panes seemed, by some premeditation or predilection on the part of the artist, to be presenting a "Cloud Study", while the fronts of the various bookcases showing similar clouds but in another part of the horizon and differently coloured by the light, appeared to be offering as it were the repetition - dear to certain contemporary masters - of one and the same effect caught at different hours but able now in the immobility of art to be seen all together in a single room, drawn in pastel and mounted under glass. And sometimes to a sky and sea uniformly grey a touch of pink would be added with an exquisite delicacy, while a little butterfly that had gone to sleep at the foot of the window seemed to be appending with its wings at the corner of this "Harmony in Grey and Pink" in the Whistler manner the favorite signature of the Chelsea master. Then even the pink would vanish, there was nothing now left to look at. I would get to my feet and, before lying down again, close the inner curtains. Above them I could see from my bed the ray of light that still remained, growing steadily fainter and thinner, but it was without any feeling of sadness, without any regret for its passing, that I thus allowed the hour at which as a rule I was seated at table to die above the curtains, for I knew that this day was of another kind from ordinary days, longer, like those arctic days which night interrupts for a few hours only; I knew that from the chrysalis of this twilight, by a radiant metamorphosis, the dazzling light of the Rivebelle restaurant was preparing to emerge. I said to myself: "It's time"; I stretched myself on the bed, and rose, and finished dressing; and I found a charm in these idle moments, relieved of every material burden, in which, while the others were dining down below, I was employing the forces accumulated during the inactivity of this late evening hour only in drying my body; in putting on a dinner jacket, in tying my tie, in making all those gestures which were already dictated by the anticipated pleasure of seeing again some woman whom I had noticed at Rivebelle last time, who had seemed to be watching me, had perhaps left the table for a moment only in the hope that I would follow her; it was with joy that I embellished myself with all these allurements so as to give myself, fresh, alert and whole-hearted, a new life, free, without cares, in which I would lean my hesitations upon the calm strength of Montargis and would choose, from among the different species of natural history and the produce of every land, those which, composing the unfamiliar dishes that my companion would at once order, might have tempted my appetite or my imagination.
On the first few occasions, when we arrived there, the sun would just have set, but it was light still; in the garden outside the restaurant, where the lamps had not yet been lighted, the heat of the day was falling and setting, as though in a vase along the sides of which the transparent, dusky jelly of the air seemed of such consistency that a tall rose-tree, fastened against the dim wall which it veined with pink, looked like the arborescence that one sees at the heart of an onyx or an agate. Presently it was after nightfall when we alighted from the carriage at Rivebelle, often indeed when we started from Cricquebec if the weather was bad and we had put off sending for the carriage in the hope of a lull. But on those days it was with no sense of gloom that I listened to the wind, for I knew that it did not mean the abandonment of my plans, imprisonment in my bedroom, I knew that in the great dining-room of the restaurant which we would enter to the sound of the music of the gypsy band, the innumerable lamps would triumph easily over the darkness and the cold, by applying to them their broad cauteries of molten gold, and I climbed light-heartedly after Montargis into the closed carriage which stood waiting for us in the rain. For some time past the words of Bergotte, when he pronounced himself positive that, in spite of all I might say, I had been created to enjoy pre-eminently the pleasures of the mind, had restored to me, with regard to what I might succeed in achieving later on, a hope that was disappointed afresh every day by the boredom I felt on sitting down at a writing-table to start work on a critical essay or a novel. "After all", I said to myself, "perhaps the pleasure one feels in writing it is not the infallible test of the literary value of a page; perhaps it is only a secondary state which is often superadded, but the want of which can have no prejudicial effect on it. Perhaps some of the greatest masterpieces were written while yawning." My grandmother set my doubts at rest by telling me that I should be able to work, and to enjoy working, as soon as I was well. And, our doctor having thought it only prudent to warn me of the grave risks to which my state of health might expose me, and having outlined all the hygienic precautions that I ought to take to avoid any accident, I subordinated all my pleasures to an object which I judged to be infinitely more important than them, that of becoming strong enough to be able to bring into being the work that I had, possibly, within me, and had been exercising over myself, ever since I had come to Cricquebec, a scrupulous and constant control, always paying attention to how warm I felt, the state of my appetite or my tiredness, so as to know whether I should take off my overcoat, eat a particular dish or go for a walk, reminding myself before having a drink exactly how much beer I had already drunk in order to keep slightly under the single glass which I would never exceed when I was not having one of my attacks. Nothing would have induced me to touch the cup of coffee which would have robbed me of the night's sleep that was necessary if I was not to be tired next day. But when we arrived at Rivebelle, immediately, as though there were never to be any such thing as tomorrow, nor any lofty aims to be realized, all that precise machinery of prudent hygiene which had been working to safeguard them vanished. A waiter was offering to take my coat, whereupon Montargis asked: "You're sure you won't be cold? Perhaps you'd better keep it, it's not very warm in here."
"No, no," I assured him, and perhaps I did not feel cold; but however that might be, I no longer knew the fear of falling ill, the necessity of not dying, the importance of work. I gave up my coat; we entered the dining-room to the sound of some warlike march played by the gypsy band, we advanced between two rows of tables laid for dinner as along an easy path of glory, and, feeling a happy glow imparted to our bodies by the rhythms of the band which conferred on us these military honours, this unmerited triumph, we concealed it beneath a grave and frozen air, beneath a languid, casual gait, so as not to be like those music-hall "swells" who, wedding a ribald verse to a patriotic air, come running onto the stage with the martial countenance of a victorious general. The amount of beer, which at Cricquebec I should not have ventured to drink in a week, albeit to my calm and lucid consciousness the savour of those beverages represented a pleasure clearly appreciable if easily sacrificed, I now drank in an hour without even tasting it; and I gave the violinist who had just been playing so well the two Louis which I had been saving up for the last month with a view to buying something, I could not remember what. I could feel the grumbling of my nerves, in which there was a sense of well-being independent of the external objects that might have produced it, and which the least shifting of my body or of my attention was enough to make me feel, just as to a closed eye a slight compression gives the sensation of colour. All I wished was that I should not be removed from this passivity, and I allowed the music itself to guide my pleasure from note to note on which it rested. If, like one of those chemical industries by means of which compounds are produced in large quantities which in nature are encountered only by accident and very rarely, this restaurant at Rivebelle assembled at one and the same moment more women to tempt me with beckoning vistas of happiness than I should have come across in the course of walks or travels in a whole year, at the same time this music that greeted our ears, - arrangements of waltzes, of German operettas, of songs from the café concerts, all of them quite new to me - was itself like an ethereal pleasure-dome superimposed upon the other and more intoxicating still. For these tunes, each as individual as a woman, did not reserve, as she would have done, for some privileged person the voluptuous secret which they contained; they offered it to me, ogled me, came up to me with lewd or provocative movements, accosted me, caressed me as if I had suddenly become more seductive, more powerful, richer. Certainly I found in these tunes an element of cruelty; because any such thing as a disinterested feeling for beauty, a gleam of intelligence, was unknown to them; they are the most merciless of hells, the most barred against escape, for the unfortunate jealous wretch; for them physical pleasure alone existed. And they are the most merciless of hells, the most gateless and imprisoning for the jealous wretch to whom they present that pleasure - that pleasure which the woman he loves is enjoying with another - as the only thing that exists in the world for her who is all the world to him. But while I was humming softly to myself the notes of this tune and returning its kiss, the pleasure peculiar to itself which it made me feel, unknown to me only a moment before, now became so dear to me that I would have left my father and mother to follow it through the singular world which it constructed in lines alternately filled with languor and vivacity. Although such a pleasure as this is not calculated to enhance the value of the person to whom it comes, for it is perceived by him alone, and although whenever, in the course of our lives, we have failed to attract a woman who has caught sight of us, she did not know whether at that moment we possessed this inward and subjective felicity which, consequently, could in no way have altered the judgement which she passed on us, the grounds on which she had made them remaining the same regardless of the new sense of pleasure we were experiencing, I felt myself more powerful, almost irresistible.
And when one of the musicians came forward and standing at the front of the band began to sing the beautiful melody by Renaldo Hahn: "I know a hidden corner on a Breton beach where I would have loved to take you dear on evenings in autumn", it seemed to me that my love for Mlle de Silariat, (to whom I was mentally addressing this proposition) was no longer something disagreeable and about which she would smile, but held precisely the same touching beauty and seductiveness as this music. The melody, like a sympathetic place in which we could meet, had established such intimacy between Mlle de Silaria and myself that the word "dear" when addressed to her seemed as natural on my lips as was the accent that the musical phrase gave it. And having no doubt that my project would seem to her as sensual as this phrase seemed to me, my timid and unhappy love became suddenly consoled by all the poetry that I felt to be liberated for Mlle de Silaria, and by the revelation that at that very moment "on this evening in autumn" she was filled with sadness because I had not taken her to "a hidden corner on a Breton beach".
If it so happened that, to finish the evening with a party of his friends whom we had met, Montargis decided to go on to the Casino of a neighbouring resort, and, taking them with him, put me in a carriage by myself, I would urge the driver to go as fast as he possibly could, so that the minutes might pass less slowly which I must spend without having anyone at hand to dispense me from the obligation to provide my own sensibility - reversing the engine, so to speak, and emerging from the passivity in which I was caught and held as in a mesh - with those modifications which, since my arrival at Rivebelle, I had been receiving from other people. The risk of collision with a carriage coming the other way along those lanes where there was barely room for one and it was dark as pitch, the instability of the surface, crumbling in many places, at the cliff's edge, the proximity of its vertical drop to the sea - none of these things exerted on me the slightest stimulus that would have been required to bring them into my reason. But after all, I was doing no more than concentrate in a single evening the carelessness that, for most men, is diluted throughout their whole existence in which every day they face unnecessarily the dangers of a sea-voyage, of a trip in an aeroplane or motor-car, when there is waiting for them at home the person whom their death would shatter, or when the book whose eventual publication is the sole reason for their existence is still stored in the fragile receptacle of their brain. And so too in the Rivebelle restaurant, on evenings when we stayed there after dinner, if anyone had come in with the intention of killing me, since I no longer saw, save in a distance too remote to have any reality, my grandmother, my life to come, the books I might write, since I now clung body and soul to the scent of the woman at the next table, to the politeness of the waiters, to the contours of the waltz that the band was playing, since I was glued to the sensation of the moment, with no extension beyond its limits, nor any object other than not to be separated from it, I should have died in and with that sensation, I should have let myself be slaughtered without offering any resistance, without a movement, a bee drugged with tobacco smoke that had ceased to take any thought for preserving the accumulation of its labours and the hopes of its hive.
Montargis had, in fact, before he made the acquaintance of his present mistress, lived so much in the restricted world of amorous adventure that of all the women who were dining on those evenings at Rivebelle, where many of them had appeared quite by chance, having come to the coast some to join their lovers, others in the hope of finding lovers, there was scarcely one that he did not know from having spent - he himself, or one or other of his friends - at least one night with her. He did not greet them if they were with men, and they, although they looked more at him than at anyone else because the indifference he was known to feel towards every woman who was not his actress gave him in their eyes a special glamour, appeared not to know him. And one of them whispered: "That's young Montargis. It seems he's still in love with that actress of his. It's true love. What a handsome fellow he is. I think he's just wonderful. And what style. Some women have all the luck. And he's so nice in every way. I saw a lot of him when I was with d'Orléans. They were quite inseparable those two. He was going the pace in those days. But it's not like that now, he doesn't leave her in the queue. Ah! she can certainly consider herself lucky. I wonder what on earth he sees in her. She's got feet like boats, false eyebrows, and her undies are filthy! I can tell you, a little shop-girl would be ashamed to be seen in her knickers. Do just look at his eyes a moment: you'd throw yourself into fire for a man like that. Hush, he's seen me; look he's smiling. Oh, he knew me alright. Just mention Léa to him." Between these women and him I caught a glance of mutual understanding. I should have liked him to introduce me to these women, so that I might ask them for assignations which they would grant me, even if I was unable to keep them. For otherwise each of their faces would remain for all time devoid, in my memory, of that part of itself - just as though it had been hidden by a veil - which varies in every woman, which we cannot imagine in any woman until we have actually seen it in her, and which appears only in the look of recognition she gives us one time and addresses to us, in a smile that acquiesces in our desire and promises that it should be fulfilled. And yet, even thus reduced, their faces meant far more to me than those of women whom I knew to be virtuous, and did not seem to me to be flat, like theirs, with nothing behind them, fashioned in one piece with no depth or solidity. It was not, of course, for me what it must be for Montargis who, by an act of memory, beneath the indifference, transparent to him, of the motionless features which affected not to know him, or beneath the dull formality of the greeting that might equally well have been addressed to anyone else, could recall, could see, disheveled hair, a swooning mouth, a pair of half-closed eyes, a whole licentious picture like those that painters, to deceive the bulk of their visitors, drape with decent covering. For me, who felt that nothing of my personality had penetrated the surface of any one of these women, or would be borne by her upon the unknown ways which she would thread through life, these faces remained sealed. But it was enough for me to know that they did open in order for them to seem to me to be more precious than I should have thought them had they been only handsome medals instead of lockets within which memories of love were hidden.
Presently Montargis' visit to Cricquebec drew to an end; and my grandmother was anxious to offer my friend some token of her gratitude for all the kindnesses that he had shown to her and myself. I told her that he was a great admirer of Prudhon, and this put it into her head to send for a collection of autograph letters by that philosopher which she had once bought. Montargis came to the hotel to look at them on the day they arrived, which was also the day before his departure. He read them eagerly, fingering each page with reverence, trying to get the sentences by heart; and then, rising from the table, was beginning to apologize to my grandmother for having stayed so long, when he heard her say: "No, no, take them with you, they are for you to keep. That was why I sent for them, to give them to you."
He was overwhelmed by a joy which he could no more control than we can a physical condition that arises without the intervention of our will. He blushed scarlet as a child who has just been punished, and my grandmother was far more touched to see all the efforts he made (without success) to contain the joy that convulsed him than she would have been to hear any words of thanks that he could have uttered. But he, fearing that he had failed to show his gratitude properly, begged me to make his excuses to her again, next day, from his railway carriage, and then again, the day after, in a letter I received from him from the town in which he was quartered, a town which seemed, on the envelope where the post-mark had stamped its name, to be hastening to me across country, to tell me that within its walls, in the Louis XVI cavalry barracks, he was thinking of me. The paper was embossed with the arms of a lion, surmounted by a coronet encircling the cap of a Peer of France.
"After a journey which," he wrote, "passed pleasantly enough, with a book I bought at the station, by Arvède Barine (a Russian author, I fancy; it seemed to me remarkably well written for a foreigner, but you shall give me your critical opinion, you who are a fount of knowledge and have read everything), here I am again in the thick of this debased existence which you would no doubt despise yet which is not without a certain charm. Everything seems to have changed since I left it, for in the interval one of the most important periods of my life, that from which our friendship dates, has begun. I hope that it may never come to an end. I have spoken of our friendship, of you, to one person only, a friend who I saw on my way through Paris. She would very much like to know you, and I feel that you would get on well together, for she too is extremely literary. Otherwise, to go over in my mind all our talks, to relive those hors which I never shall forget, I have shut myself off from my comrades, excellent fellows, but altogether incapable of understanding that sort of thing. This remembrance of the moments I spent with you I should almost have preferred, on my first day here, to conjure up for my own solitary enjoyment, without writing to you. But I was afraid, lest with your subtle mind and ultra-sensitive heart, you might needlessly torment yourself if you did not hear from me, if, that is to say, you still condescend to occupy your thoughts with this blunt trooper whom you will have a hard task to polish and refine and make a little more subtle and worthier of your company." And from then on, every time the post was brought in, I could tell at once whether it was from him that a letter came. For it had always that second face which a person assumes when he is absent, in the features of which, the familiar characters of the handwriting, there is no reason why we should not suppose that we can detect an individual soul just as much as in the line of a nose or the inflexions of a voice.
But we stayed on in Cricquebec for a little time after Montargis' departure, in the hotel which was soon to close and had never been so agreeable, where sometimes the rain kept us, the Casino being closed, in rooms almost completely deserted, as in the hold of a ship when a storm is raging; and there, day by day, as in the course of a sea-voyage, a new person from among those in whose company we had spent three months without getting to know them, the senior judge from Rennes, the leader of the Caen bar, an American lady and her daughters, came up to us, engaged us in conversation, thought up some way of making the time pass less slowly, revealed some accomplishment, taught us a new game, invited us to drink tea or to listen to music, to meet them at a certain hour, to plan together some of those diversions which contain the true secret of giving ourselves pleasure, which is not to aspire to it but merely to help ourselves to pass the time less boringly - in a word, formed with us, at the end of our stay, ties of friendship which, in a day or two, their successive departures from the place would sever. I even made the acquaintance of the rich young man, of one of his pair of aristocratic friends and of the actress, who had reappeared for a few days; but their little society was composed now of three persons only, the other friend having returned earlier to Paris. They asked me to come out to dinner with them at their restaurant. I think they were just as well pleased that I did not accept. But they had issued the invitation in the most friendly way imaginable, and although it came in fact from the rich young man, since the others were only his guests, as the friend who was staying with them, the Marquis Maurice de Vaudémont, came of a very good family indeed, instinctively the actress, in asking me whether I would not come, said, to flatter my vanity: "It will give Maurice such pleasure."
And when I met them all three together in the hall of the hotel, it was M. de Vaudémont, the rich young man who was effacing himself in order to add to the value of the invitation, who said to me: "Won't you give us the pleasure of dining with us?"
I was broken-hearted to leave. On the whole, especially since Montargis had introduced me to worldly pleasures, Cricquebec had made very little impression on me, but in the end I understood that I was indeed living there, that that was the name that people were obliged to write as an address on their letters if they were to reach me, and I felt that the possibility at least remained close to me of impressions that I had not had. Moreover, as in the letters where I was asked if I was ever coming back, how could I continue to stay on at Cricquebec when everybody else had left long ago, I reasoned that, if I did not experience it directly, that by prolonging my stay I was acquiring a deeper understanding and I was proving my love for this part of the coast. Contrary to the evidence against my boredom, of my absence of impressions, I brought to my aid the opinion that I had often heard expressed, and which could be true, that we are often poorly informed by our intimate feelings, and are not good judges of ourselves, thinking that we are in a poorer state of health after treatment that has cured us, being unhappy with ourselves despite the best [illegible word], believing that we are worse than we really are. And as my window looked out not over countryside or a street but on the plains of the sea that I would hear through the night, its mountainous rumblings, stretched out like a landscape, in the darkness that it diversified and and to the resistance of which, before going to sleep, I had entrusted to the ship of my enchained dreams, I had the illusion that this continuity with the sea must effectively, without my knowledge, pervade me with the notion of its charm, like those lessons which one learns by heart while one is asleep. And I would profit on the last few days of sunshine by exposing myself to its marine rays, as if they were, unbeknownst to myself, impressions in me which it must inevitably ripen, like grapes on a vine. And the little pleasure that I had taken, finally, from the sea, from the countryside and the Norman churches did not make me desire them any the less, but on the contrary rather, not only to stay on later this year, but to return next year. Because it is much less pleasure than deception that gives us the desire for repetition and new beginnings, the real avowal of inachievement. And then my need to know that I would return was born too from this attachment to things that had, a few months earlier, caused the sufferings I experienced when I had to leave my bedroom in Paris for the one I was now sleeping in, into which I went without ever noticing the scent of vetiver, while my mind, which had once found such difficulty in rising to fill its space, had come now to take its measurements so exactly that I was obliged to submit it to a reverse process when I had to sleep in my new room, the ceiling of which was low.
And when I had left Cricquebec without ever having seen any of those things for which I had overcome illness and unhappiness: waves whipped up by a storm lashing against a Persian church, surrounded by eternal mists, towards dawn, as I was drinking coffee in an inn, it turned out that each time, to these images, the memory of my wish to return to Cricquebec substituted its own, chosen no less arbitrarily than those from my imagination, they were as narrow, as delimited in their outline, as instantaneous in their duration, as exclusive from all others, as privileged, as stimulating to my desire, as imperious to my will. What now made me dream of returning one day to Cricquebec, was the longing, on a day of sunshine and wind, to go back up to the beach with Mme de Villeparisis who in passing waved good day to the Princesse de Luxembourg and announced that we were going to have cream eggs and fried sole, to enter the dining room at noon across the long azure window of which I would see shadows thrown from the sky onto the sea as if in a mirror; or indeed to be aboard a boat moored in a small stream outside the ancient mill, in the failing light of evening while the same waitress leant over us to announce that our trout was ready. It was not a boat trip anywhere that I needed, nor the same rays of sunlight on a different river; I wanted it to be at the same ancient mill; had the same waitress been transported to a different place the trout would have meant nothing; and yet without the waitress and without the trout, the boat trip and the sunlight would not be enough. Without doubt some of these pleasures in themselves were insignificant. But memory brought them together into a cohesion, into an equilibrium from which I could take nothing away or deny any of it without corrupting its authenticity. But I knew perfectly well that I would never be able to find these same circumstances again. Perhaps there would be a different waitress, and perhaps, once in Cricquebec, taken up by the machinery of life that I could not foresee, I would never visit the mill. The hotel would still be the same. But Mme de Villeparisis might not be there, or by then be too old to go out for walks, or the Princesse de Luxembourg would no longer be there that year. And by then the little path that led us to the beach would no longer be the same. Because places do not belong only to the fixed world in space to which we have assigned them for our own convenience. They were nothing, when we had got to know them, but a thin slice in the midst of contiguous impressions which composed our life at that time, the memory of a particular image is nothing more in the end than regret for a particular moment, and houses, roads, beaches, are just as fugitive as years. But even if, at a little distance in time, I were able to artificially reunite the elements of this memory, I would discover that it is impossible to attain. Because it was out of some spiritual essence, perceived in the idea and the desire of dining at Cricquebec on a windy day, not in the end like my former desire to see Cricquebec in the mist, but a form of this contradictory need that we feel to seek to understand from the experience of our senses something which we begin to comprehend in ourselves. Besides, at the church in Cricquebec, its solidarity with the different parts of the town that gave it in my memory not only that same light in which it was bathed along with the savings bank and the billiard hall, but the same quality of the state of mind in which I saw them - a state of mind which formed my inclinations and dreams of a day trip, which the town stood in the way of by its non-subjective reality, in which I could change nothing, that solidarity that had thwarted me that day assured to the monument on the contrary that living savour of being a particular town, a unique existence, that I imagined now when I gave an individual existence to the name Cricquebec. I would have wanted to see once more the good apostles who welcomed me on the threshold of their church, I would have ...
[the paperole which continues this passage is missing]
Destroyed, but not without allowing them to be reborn sometimes. When the weather was mild, as I heard the wind blowing in my fireplace, the desire to go to see a storm against the cliffs of the Persian church at Cricquebec, to catch the lovely little train at one fifty, was reborn in me just as it had been in former times. And I forgot for a moment that I knew that church at Cricquebec, that it was not next to the seashore, veiled in eternal mist, but was lit by the same gas lamp as the branch of the savings bank in a town crossed by a tramway.
In the same way it was the rebirth of my desire to see Florence (and not as it had been previously from memories of Easter holidays spent at Combray) which gave me that year and the years to follow its tonality and its imagery to the period of Lent. As in the previous year when I had to see Florence, Holy Week continued to be enveloped for me by this idea, as if it had been its natural atmosphere. In the same way as the city, it seemed to have a special physiognomy in harmony with itself. Holy Week, Easter week had something of Tuscany about it, Florence something of the Paschal, each of them helped me to penetrate the secret of the other. I knew perfectly well however that the reasons why I had not found in the church at Cricquebec the charm that it had had in my imagination, were no more peculiar to it than to water when, leaning over the side of a boat, we draw up into the cup of our hand the causes that scatter over it the reflections that from afar appear to adorn it. At Florence when I got there, no less than at Cricquebec, my imagination would not be able to substitute itself for my eyes in order to look. I knew that. But I had previously invested in the name of Florence, in the name of Parma, in the name of Venice, a singular world, with no links [...] so different from their neighbouring towns [...] individual that I had placed there and which in [...] duality that we attribute to days, it did not [...] New Year's day, in front of a theatre poster. [...] but I could not prevent my memories from making them different.
[some text is missing here]
In the range of days that stretched out before me, some detached themselves more vividly from their adjoining days, as if they had been constituted of a different material, or touched by a ray of light in the same way as one sometimes sees only certain houses in a distant village picked out by the effect of shade and light. Like them the days in Holy Week retain all of the sunshine for themselves. It freezes, winter seems to be returning, and Françoise, the last votary in whom obscurely survives the doctrine of my aunt Léonie, sees in this unseasonal weather a proof of the wrath of a benevolent God. But I respond to these complaints only with a weary smile, because in a state of weakness similar to that of convalescence, when it is not in the interests of taste that we take things up once more, from the dream of our desire to live and to travel, that is the result of it. Just like the Breton village that only rises out of the sea at certain times of the year,the days had come when Florence was reborn for me. Holy Week was over. Françoise put a log on the fire, lit the lamp and announced that it would rain tomorrow. But for me it was assuredly fine because I was already warming myself in the Fiesole sunshine and the fierceness of its rays was forcing me to half close my eyes and smile. It was not just the bells that were bringing back Italy, it was Italy itself. And my faithful hands did not lack the flowers to honour the trip that I had had to make the previous year, because, since in Paris the weather had become cold and gloomy again, as had happened the other year at the end of Lent, in the liquid and icy air that bathed the Chestnut-trees in the avenue and the Plane-trees in the boulevards, there opened out before me like in a cup of pure water, the Narcissi, The Jonquils, the Anemones of the Ponte Vecchio.
With acknowledgement to Terence Kilmartin's revised Scott Montcrieff translation of Place Names: The Place, Penguin 1981. I have made frequent use of this translation where similar or identical passages have survived into the final published version.
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Last updated : 28.11.15