M. Vington and Mlle Vington

   But those evenings on which Mama only actually stayed for so short a time in my bedroom were still sweet compared to those when we had company to dine with us, and on which she did not come up to say goodnight to me. This "company" was usually limited to M. Swann and M. Vington. M. Vington, whom my grandmother called "the best of gentlemen", was a man of exaggerated politeness and of an old fashioned prudishness. My father took a great interest in M. Vington's studies on natural history and would have been delighted when he went to see M. Vington at his home in La Courbe, or when he received his visits at our house, to hear him explain some of them. Nothing would have given M. Vington greater pleasure. But sensitive, scrupulous, polite to the extreme, he always tried to put himself in the place of others, he had a fear of boring them by appearing too egotistical, if he followed, or even let them guess, his own wishes. One day when I had accompanied my father to La Courbe and he had made me wait in front of the house which was situated in a dip so that M. Vington's window was at ground level, I was able to see him before my father had gone in, quickly place just beside him some notes that he had no doubt wanted to show him. But as soon as my father was there, I saw M. Vington push aside the manuscript. No doubt he feared that my father would assume that he had made him come to La Courbe to read them to him, and he made it appear that those papers had only been put there inadvertently and every time my father insisted: "I don't know who put those there, I've said a hundred times that this is not their proper place", and when my father insisted that M. Vington read them to him, out of fear of being tiresome, and abandoning himself from speaking about the subjects that interested him, M. Vington turned the conversation to other topics that did interest my father, such as the characters of our servants, the maintenance of our garden, interrupting himself at every moment to enquire if my father was not too hot, too cold, uncomfortable in his chair.M. Vington made us smile at the indignation he took up against the language of "young people", against their use of improper words. "You always talk of Vington as if he were an old fool", my father would say angrily. "He is perhaps the greatest naturalist of our age. If only all his strength had not been shattered by the death of his wife and if he hadn't taken his tenderness for his daughter to the lengths of spoiling her, he would have put together a thousand observations that would have formed the basis for an idea of genius and what a book you would have seen then! But it was never published, he sacrificed it for his daughter. She is not very pretty, the poor girl, with her freckles, and her rough appearance, you would think she was a boy!" But my grandmother thought that this rough honesty was charming and she brought to our attention the becoming expression of almost timid sweetness, of delicacy, of sincerity that sometimes passed over the young Vington's face. When she had just said something she listened to it with the mind of those she had spoken to, and became alarmed about any possible misunderstanding. Sometimes she became red in the face after she had told my parents about her longing to see them, because straight away she thought that they had seen in her words a request to be invited for dinner on the evening that she would be going to Combray for the month of Mary, or some other indiscretion that was far from her intention and which we would be far from taking her up on. "She seems to be very nervous", my grandmother said, "he has had a lot of trouble bringing her up, she would spend entire days not opening her mouth to speak or eat. Just look, in spite of the healthy outdoor life she leads, how he always covers her up, as though he is afraid of her catching cold."
   My parents must have been closer to M. Vington in the past because it was from him, so it seems, that a little collection of minerals came which my father gave me one day for my birthday, amongst which there were various different ores, green, orange, sparkling like silver, a small opal in which one could see lit up in parts, as if it had been rubbed by a hand, the glittering green that we see on the throat of a humming-bird, and a stone, perhaps a raw agate, all grey in its worn and rugged casing, but on which one cut face was as bright as a mirror and allowed one to see, one might say, under glass, a pale blue silk upon which concentric circles were traced as if in pastels or on the wing of a butterfly. M. Vington, shocked to see that we were continuing to receive as if he were a single man, our other Combray friend, M. Swann, after he had made a scandalous marriage, ceased to visit us almost completely and we no longer encountered him apart from in the month of Mary or on the road to the cemetery  where he spent his hours weeping at the grave of his wife.

From NAF 16754 3v-4r. Uncorrected proofs from 1 April 1913.


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