A Duel


   We left Jean sitting on a bench in the Réveillon mansion beside the young duchess. Just at the moment she had told him that she never received Jews, he said: "Would you excuse me please, time is getting on and I have several things to do." It was a quarter to one, the duel was at five o' clock. Jean had time, since he did not want to return home and risk being detained by his mother, to go and collect his thoughts in another room, write his dispositions relating to the various mementoes that he wished to leave, but above all to write that piece of verse that he had been composing bit by bit in his head for several years, that he had hoped would be published after his death so that at least something would remain of that interior life that was unknown to others and to bear witness that even if he had left no works of literature or painting, it was the lack of any truly rich subject matter, rather than through the obstacles that idleness, social ambition, illness and pleasure had put in the way of its development.
   It was only a quarter to one and the duel was at five o' clock. With the duke's good horses his time would be free until a quarter past four. But we only ever see our non-existent or atrophied faculties assume the strength that they lack when it becomes absolutely necessary. We only ever see a man pursued from all quarters, with no refuge other than the skies, fly off on wings sprung forth by the circumstances. Likewise a boy who has never worked, if the examination for which he has not prepared becomes strictly necessary for his situation, to exempt him from military service for example, pass it forthwith as brilliantly as was his exact wish. In the same way the gravity of the circumstances could not but make Jean suddenly find in himself the strength capable of making him get up from a comfortable armchair in the sunshine, to lock himself up alone in a room at a desk, to make the effort to think not in a vague dreamy way, but rather in a positive manner and so to speak engaged in the things that he was content to feel in the twilight of his consciousness, facing them, summoning them, making them come to him, truly taking possession of them. And besides for several days his life had become singularly external, active, amusing. He had not spent an hour without the situation changing, without his being acquainted with it, often taking the initiative. During all those days he had not opened a book, and when he was not able to occupy himself with matters that related to his duel, like going to see his seconds, going to the shooting range, he at least exercised that external activity by making visits, dining out in town, going to the theatre. In the same way each time the examinations, the slightest successes had in similar fashion relived his habitual apathy.


Unused manuscript fragment from Jean Santeuil, c 1897.

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