The mysteries of Albertine — The girls whom she sees reflected in the glass — The other woman — The lift-boy — Madame de Cambremer — The pleasures of M. Nissim Bernard — Outline of the strange character of Morel — M. de Charlus dines with the Verdurins.
In my fear lest the pleasure I found in this solitary excursion might weaken my memory of my grandmother, I sought to revive this by thinking of some great mental suffering that she had undergone; in response to my appeal that suffering tried to build itself in my heart, threw up vast pillars there; but my heart was doubtless too small for it, I had not the strength to bear so great a grief, my attention was distracted at the moment when it was approaching completion, and its arches collapsed before joining as, before they have perfected their curve, the waves of the sea totter and break.
And yet, if only from my dreams when I was asleep, I might have learned that my grief for my grandmother’s death was diminishing, for she appeared in them less crushed by the idea that I had formed of her non-existence. I saw her an invalid still, but on the road to recovery, I found her in better health. And if she made any allusion to what she had suffered, I stopped her mouth with my kisses and assured her that she was now permanently cured. I should have liked to call the sceptics to witness that death is indeed a malady from which one recovers. Only, I no longer found in my grandmother the rich spontaneity of old times. Her words were no more than a feeble, docile response, almost a mere echo of mine; she was nothing more than the reflexion of my own thoughts.
Incapable as I still was of feeling any fresh physical desire, Albertine was beginning nevertheless to inspire in me a desire for happiness. Certain dreams of shared affection, always floating on the surface of our minds, ally themselves readily by a sort of affinity with the memory (provided that this has already become slightly vague) of a woman with whom we have taken our pleasure. This sentiment recalled to me aspects of Albertine’s face, more gentle, less gay, quite different from those that would have been evoked by physical desire; and as it was also less pressing than that desire I would gladly have postponed its realisation until the following winter, without seeking to see Albertine again at Balbec, before her departure. But even in the midst of a grief that is still keen physical desire will revive. From my bed, where I was made to spend hours every day resting, I longed for Albertine to come and resume our former amusements. Do we not see, in the very room in which they have lost a child, its parents soon come together again to give the little angel a baby brother? I tried to distract my mind from this desire by going to the window to look at that day’s sea. As in the former year, the seas, from one day to another, were rarely the same. Nor, however, did they at all resemble those of that first year, whether because we were now in spring with its storms, or because even if I had come down at the same time as before, the different, more changeable weather might have discouraged from visiting this coast certain seas, indolent, vaporous and fragile, which I had seen throughout long, scorching days, asleep upon the beach, their bluish bosoms, only, faintly stirring, with a soft palpitation, or, as was most probable, because my eyes, taught by Elstir to retain precisely those elements that before I had deliberately rejected, would now gaze for hours at what in the former year they had been incapable of seeing. The contrast that used then to strike me so forcibly between the country drives that I took with Mme. de Villeparisis and this proximity, fluid, inaccessible, mythological, of the eternal Ocean, no longer existed for me. And there were days now when, on the contrary, the sea itself seemed almost rural. On the days, few and far between, of really fine weather, the heat had traced upon the waters, as it might be across country, a dusty white track, at the end of which the pointed mast of a fishing-boat stood up like a village steeple. A tug, of which one could see only the funnel, was smoking in the distance like a factory amid the fields, while alone against the horizon a convex patch of white, sketched there doubtless by a sail but apparently a solid plastered surface, made one think of the sunlit wall of some isolated building, an hospital or a school. And the clouds and the wind, on days when these were added to the sun, completed if not the error of judgment, at any rate the illusion of the first glance, the suggestion that it aroused in the imagination. For the alternation of sharply defined patches of colour like those produced in the country by the proximity of different crops, the rough, yellow, almost muddy irregularities of the marine surface, the banks, the slopes that hid from sight a vessel upon which a crew of nimble sailors seemed to be reaping a harvest, all this upon stormy days made the ocean a thing as varied, as solid, as broken, as populous, as civilised as the earth with its carriage roads over which I used to travel, and was soon to be travelling again. And once, unable any longer to hold out against my desire, instead of going back to bed I put on my clothes and started off to Incarville, to find Albertine. I would ask her to come with me to Douville, where I would pay calls at Féterne upon Mme. de Cambremer and at la Raspelière upon Mme. Verdurin. Albertine would wait for me meanwhile upon the beach and we would return together after dark. I went to take the train on the local light railway, of which I had picked up, the time before, from Albertine and her friends all the nicknames current in the district, where it was known as the Twister because of its numberless windings, the Crawler because the train never seemed to move, the Transatlantic because of a horrible siren which it sounded to clear people off the line, the Decauville and the Funi, albeit there was nothing funicular about it but because it climbed the cliff, and, although not, strictly speaking, a Decauville, had a 60 centimetre gauge, the B. A. G. because it ran between Balbec and Grattevast via Angerville, the Tram and the T. S. N. because it was a branch of the Tramways of Southern Normandy. I took my seat in a compartment in which I was alone; it was a day of glorious sunshine, and stiflingly hot; I drew down the blue blind which shut off all but a single ray of sunlight. But immediately I beheld my grandmother, as she had appeared sitting in the train, on our leaving Paris for Balbec, when, in her sorrow at seeing me drink beer, she had preferred not to look, to shut her eyes and pretend to be asleep. I, who in my childhood had been unable to endure her anguish when my grandfather tasted brandy, I had inflicted this anguish upon her, not merely of seeing me accept, at the invitation of another, a drink which she regarded as bad for me, I had forced her to leave me free to swill it down to my heart’s content, worse still, by my bursts of passion, my choking fits, I had forced her to help, to advise me to do so, with a supreme resignation of which I saw now in my memory the mute, despairing image, her eyes closed to shut out the sight. So vivid a memory had, like the stroke of a magic wand, restored the mood that I had been gradually outgrowing for some time past; what had I to do with Rosemondé when my lips were wholly possessed by the desperate longing to kiss a dead woman, what had I to say to the Cambremers and Verdurins when my heart was beating so violently because at every moment there was being renewed in it the pain that my grandmother had suffered. I could not remain in the compartment. As soon as the train stopped at Maineville-la-Teinturiere, abandoning all my plans, I alighted. Maineville had of late acquired considerable importance and a reputation all its own, because a director of various casinos, a caterer in pleasure, had set up, just outside it, with a luxurious display of bad taste that could vie with that of any smart hotel, an establishment to which we shall return anon, and which was, to put it briefly, the first brothel for ‘exclusive’ people that it had occurred to anyone to build upon the coast of France. It was the only one. True, every port has its own, but intended for sailors only, and for lovers of the picturesque whom it amuses to see, next door to the primeval parish church, the bawd, hardly less ancient, venerable and moss-grown, standing outside her ill-famed door, waiting for the return of the fishing fleet.
Hurrying past the glittering house of ‘pleasure,’ insolently erected there despite the protests which the heads of families had addressed in vain to the mayor, I reached the cliff and followed its winding paths in the direction of Balbec. I heard, without responding to it, the appeal of the hawthorns. Neighbours, in humbler circumstances, of the blossoming apple trees, they found them very coarse, without denying the fresh complexion of the rosy-petalled daughters of those wealthy brewers of cider. They knew that, with a lesser dowry, they were more sought after, and were attractive enough by themselves in their tattered whiteness.
On my return, the hotel porter handed me a black-bordered letter in which the Marquis and the Marquise de Gonneville, the Vicomte and the Vicomtesse d’Amfreville, the Comte and the Comtesse de Berneville, the Marquis and the Marquise de Graincourt, the Comte d’Amenoncourt, the Comtesse de Maineville, the Comte and the Comtesse de Franquetot, the Comtesse de Chaverny née d’Aigleville, begged to announce, and from which I understood at length why it had been sent to me when I caught sight of the names of the Marquise de Cambremer née du Mesnil la Guichard, the Marquis and the Marquise de Cambremer, and saw that the deceased, a cousin of the Cambremers, was named Eléonore-Euphrasie-Humbertine de Cambremer, Comtesse de Criquetot. In the whole extent of this provincial family, the enumeration of which filled the closely printed lines, not a single commoner, and on the other hand not a single title that one knew, but the entire muster-roll of the nobles of the region who made their names — those of all the interesting spots in the neighbourhood — ring out their joyous endings in ville, in court, sometimes on a duller note (in tot). Garbed in the roof-tiles of their castle or in the roughcast of their parish church, their nodding heads barely reaching above the vault of the nave or banqueting hall, and then only to cap themselves with the Norman lantern or the dovecot of the pepperpot turret, they gave the impression of having sounded the rallying call to all the charming villages straggling or scattered over a radius of fifty leagues, and to have paraded them in massed formation, without one absentee, one intruder, on the compact, rectangular draught-board of the aristocratic letter edged with black.
My mother had gone upstairs to her room, meditating the phrase of Madame de Sévigné: “I see nothing of the people who seek to distract me from you; the truth of the matter is that they are seeking to prevent me from thinking of you, and that annoys me.”— because the chief magistrate had told her that she ought to find some distraction. To me he whispered: “That’s the Princesse de Parme!” My fears were dispelled when I saw that the woman whom the magistrate pointed out to me bore not the slightest resemblance to Her Royal Highness. But as she had engaged a room in which to spend the night after paying a visit to Mme. de Luxembourg, the report of her coming had the effect upon many people of making them take each newcomer for the Princesse de Parme — and upon me of making me go and shut myself up in my attic.
I had no wish to remain there by myself. It was barely four o’clock. I asked Françoise to go and find Albertine, so that she might spend the rest of the afternoon with me.
It would be untrue, I think, to say that there were already symptoms of that painful and perpetual mistrust which Albertine was to inspire in me, not to mention the special character, emphatically Gomorrhan, which that mistrust was to assume. Certainly, even that afternoon — but this was not the first time — I grew anxious as I was kept waiting. Françoise, once she had started, stayed away so long that I began to despair. I had not lighted the lamp. The daylight had almost gone. The wind was making the flag over the casino flap. And, fainter still in the silence of the beach over which the tide was rising, and like a voice rendering and enhancing the troubling emptiness of this restless, unnatural hour, a little barrel organ that had stopped outside the hotel was playing Viennese waltzes. At length Françoise arrived, but unaccompanied. “I have been as quick as I could but she wouldn’t come because she didn’t think she was looking smart enough. If she was five minutes painting herself and powdering herself, she was an hour by the clock. You’ll be having a regular scentshop in here. She’s coming, she stayed behind to tidy herself at the glass. I thought I should find her here.” There was still a long time to wait before Albertine appeared. But the gaiety, the charm that she shewed on this occasion dispelled my sorrow. She informed me (in contradiction of what she had said the other day) that she would be staying for the whole season and asked me whether we could not arrange, as in the former year, to meet daily. I told her that at the moment I was too melancholy and that I would rather send for her from time to time at the last moment, as I did in Paris. “If ever you’re feeling worried, or feel that you want me, do not hesitate,” she told me, “to send for me, I shall come immediately, and if you are not afraid of its creating a scandal in the hotel, I shall stay as long as you like.” Françoise, in bringing her to me, had assumed the joyous air she wore whenever she had gone out of her way to please me and had been successful. But Albertine herself contributed nothing to her joy, and the very next day Françoise was to greet me with the profound observation: “Monsieur ought not to see that young lady. I know quite well the sort she is, she’ll land you in trouble.” As I escorted Albertine to the door I saw in the lighted dining-room the Princesse de Parme. I merely gave her a glance, taking care not to be seen. But I must say that I found a certain grandeur in the royal politeness which had made me smile at the Guermantes’. It is a fundamental rule that sovereign princes are at home wherever they are, and this rule is conventionally expressed in obsolete and useless customs such as that which requires the host to carry his hat in his hand, in his own house, to shew that he is not in his own home but in the Prince’s. Now the Princesse de Parme may not have formulated this idea to herself, but she was so imbued with it that all her actions, spontaneously invented to suit the circumstances, pointed to it. When she rose from table she handed a lavish tip to Aimé, as though he had been there solely for her and she were rewarding, before leaving a country house, a footman who had been detailed to wait upon her. Nor did she stop at the tip, but with a gracious smile bestowed on him a few friendly, flattering words, with a store of which her mother had provided her. Another moment, and she would have told him that, just as the hotel was perfectly managed, so Normandy was a garden of roses and that she preferred France to any other country in the world. Another coin slipped from the Princess’s fingers, for the wine waiter, for whom she had sent and to whom she made a point of expressing her satisfaction like a general after an inspection. The lift-boy had come up at that moment with a message for her; he too received a little speech, a smile and a tip, all this interspersed with encouraging and humble words intended to prove to them that she was only one of themselves. As Aimé, the wine waiter, the lift-boy and the rest felt that it would be impolite not to grin from ear to ear at a person who smiled at them, she was presently surrounded by a cluster of servants with whom she chatted kindly; such ways being unfamiliar in smart hotels, the people who passed by, not knowing who she was, thought they beheld a permanent resident at Balbec, who, because of her humble origin, or for professional reasons (she was perhaps the wife of an agent for champagne) was less different from the domestics than the really smart visitors. As for me, I thought of the palace at Parma, of the counsels, partly religious, partly political, given to this Princess, who behaved towards the lower orders as though she had been obliged to conciliate them in order to reign over them one day. All the more, as if she were already reigning.
I went upstairs again to my room, but I was not alone there. I could hear some one softly playing Schumann. No doubt it happens at times that people, even those whom we love best, become saturated with the melancholy or irritation that emanates from us. There is nevertheless an inanimate object which is capable of a power of exasperation to which no human being will ever attain: to wit, a piano.
Albertine had made me take a note of the dates on which she would be going away for a few days to visit various girl friends, and had made me write down their addresses as well, in case I should want her on one of those evenings, for none of them lived very far away. This meant that when I tried to find her, going from one girl to another, she became more and more entwined in ropes of flowers. I must confess that many of her friends — I was not yet in love with her — gave me, at one watering-place or another, moments of pleasure. These obliging young comrades did not seem to me to be very many. But recently I have thought it over, their names have recurred to me. I counted that, in that one season, a dozen conferred on me their ephemeral favours. A name came back to me later, which made thirteen. I then, with almost a child’s delight in cruelty, dwelt upon that number. Alas, I realised that I had forgotten the first of them all, Albertine who no longer existed and who made the fourteenth.
I had, to resume the thread of my narrative, written down the names and addresses of the girls with whom I should find her upon the days when she was not to be at Incarville, but privately had decided that I would devote those days rather to calling upon Mme. Verdurin. In any case, our desire for different women varies in intensity. One evening we cannot bear to let one out of our sight who, after that, for the next month or two, will never enter our mind. Then there is the law of change, for a study of which this is not the place, under which, after an over-exertion of the flesh, the woman whose image haunts our momentary senility is one to whom we would barely give more than a kiss on the brow. As for Albertine, I saw her seldom, and only upon the very infrequent evenings when I felt that I could not live without her. If this desire seized me when she was too far from Balbec for Françoise to be able to go and fetch her, I used to send the lift-boy to Egreville, to La Sogne, to Saint-Frichoux, asking him to finish his work a little earlier than usual. He would come into my room, but would leave the door open for, albeit he was conscientious at his ‘job’ which was pretty hard, consisting in endless cleanings from five o’clock in the morning, he could never bring himself to make the effort to shut a door, and, if one were to remark to him that it was open, would turn back and, summoning up all his strength, give it a gentle push. With the democratic pride that marked him, a pride to which, in more liberal careers, the members of a profession that is at all numerous never attain, barristers, doctors and men of letters speaking simply of a ‘brother’ barrister, doctor or man of letters, he, employing, and rightly, a term that is confined to close corporations like the Academy, would say to me in speaking of a page who was in charge of the lift upon alternate days: “I shall get my colleague to take my place.” This pride did not prevent him from accepting, with a view to increasing what he called his ‘salary,’ remuneration for his errands, a fact which had made Françoise take a dislike to him: “Yes, the first time you see him you would give him the sacrament without confession, but there are days when his tongue is as smooth as a prison door. It’s your money he’s after.” This was the category in which she had so often included Eulalie, and in which, alas (when I think of all the trouble that was one day to come of it), she already placed Albertine, because she saw me often asking Mamma, on behalf of my impecunious friend, for trinkets and other little presents, which Françoise held to be inexcusable because Mme. Bontemps had only a general servant. A moment later the lift-boy, having removed what I should have called his livery and he called his tunic, appeared wearing a straw hat, carrying a cane, holding himself stiffly erect, for his mother had warned him never to adopt the ‘working-class’ or ‘pageboy’ style. Just as, thanks to books, all knowledge is open to a working man, who ceases to be such when he has finished his work, so, thanks to a ‘boater’ hat and a pair of gloves, elegance became accessible to the lift-boy who, having ceased for the evening to take the visitors upstairs, imagined himself, like a young surgeon who has taken off his overall, or Serjeant Saint-Loup out of uniform, a typical young man about town. He was not for that matter lacking in ambition, or in talent either in manipulating his machine and not bringing you to a standstill between two floors. But his vocabulary was defective. I credited him with ambition because he said in speaking of the porter, under whom he served: “My porter,” in the same tone in which a man who owned what the page would have called a ‘private mansion’ in Paris would have referred to his footman. As for the lift-boy’s vocabulary, it is curious that anybody who heard people, fifty times a day, calling for the ‘lift,’ should never himself call it anything but a ‘left.’ There were certain things about this boy that were extremely annoying: whatever I might be saying to him he would interrupt with a phrase: “I should say so!” or “I say!” which seemed either to imply that my remark was so obvious that anybody would have thought of it, or else to take all the credit for it to himself, as though it were he that was drawing my attention to the subject. “I should say so!” or “I say!” exclaimed with the utmost emphasis, issued from his lips every other minute, over matters to which he had never given a thought, a trick which irritated me so much that I immediately began to say the opposite to shew him that he knew nothing about it. But to my second assertion, albeit it was incompatible with the first, he replied none the less stoutly: “I should say so!” “I say!” as though these words were inevitable. I found it difficult, also, to forgive him the trick of employing certain terms proper to his calling, which would therefore have sounded perfectly correct in their literal sense, in a figurative sense only, which gave them an air of feeble witticism, for instance the verb to pedal. He never used it when he had gone anywhere on his bicycle. But if, on foot, he had hurried to arrive somewhere in time, then, to indicate that he had walked fast, he would exclaim: “I should say I didn’t half pedal!” The lift-boy was on the small side, clumsily built and by no means good looking. This did not prevent him, whenever one spoke to him of some tall, slim, handsome young man, from saying: “Oh, yes, I know, a fellow who is just my height.” And one day when I was expecting him to bring me the answer to a message, hearing somebody come upstairs, I had in my impatience opened the door of my room and caught sight of a page as beautiful as Endymion, with incredibly perfect features, who was bringing a message to a lady whom I did not know. When the lift-boy returned, in telling him how impatiently I had waited for the answer, I mentioned to him that I had thought I heard him come upstairs but that it had turned out to be a page from the Hôtel de Normandie. “Oh, yes, I know,” he said, “they have only the one, a boy about my build. He’s so like me in face, too, that we’re always being mistaken; anybody would think he was my brother.” Lastly, he always wanted to appear to have understood you perfectly from the first second, which meant that as soon as you asked him to do anything he would say: “Yes, yes, yes, yes, I understand all that,” with a precision and a tone of intelligence which for some time deceived me; but other people, as we get to know them, are like a metal dipped in an acid bath, and we see them gradually lose their good qualities (and their bad qualities too, at times). Before giving him my instructions, I saw that he had left the door open; I pointed this out to him, I was afraid that people might hear us; he acceded to my request and returned, having reduced the gap. “Anything to oblige. But there’s nobody on this floor except us two.” Immediately I heard one, then a second, then a third person go by. This annoyed me partly because of the risk of my being overheard, but more still because I could see that it did not in the least surprise him and was a perfectly normal occurrence. “Yes, that’ll be the maid next door going for her things. Oh, that’s of no importance, it’s the bottler putting away his keys. No, no, it’s nothing, you can say what you want, it’s my colleague just going on duty.” Then, as the reasons that all these people had for passing did not diminish my dislike of the thought that they might overhear me, at a formal order from me he went, not to shut the door, which was beyond the strength of this bicyclist who longed for a ‘motor,’ but to push it a little closer to. “Now we shall be quite quiet.” So quiet were we that an American lady burst in and withdrew with apologies for having mistaken the number of her room. “You are going to bring this young lady back with you,” I told him, after first going and banging the door with all my might (which brought in another page to see whether a window had been left open). “You remember the name: Mlle. Albertine Simonet. Anyhow, it’s on the envelope. You need only say to her that it’s from me. She will be delighted to come,” I added, to encourage him and preserve a scrap of my own self-esteem. “I should say so!” “Not at all, there is not the slightest reason to suppose that she will be glad to come. It’s a great nuisance getting here from Berneville.” “I understand!” “You will tell her to come with you.” “Yes, yes, yes, yes, I understand perfectly,” he replied, in that sharp, precise tone which had long ceased to make a ‘good impression’ upon me because I knew that it was almost mechanical and covered with its apparent clearness plenty of uncertainty and stupidity. “When will you be back?” “Haven’t any too much time,” said the lift-boy, who, carrying to extremes the grammatical rule that forbids the repetition of personal pronouns before coordinate verbs, omitted the pronoun altogether. “Can go there all right. Leave was stopped this afternoon, because there was a dinner for twenty at luncheon. And it was my turn off duty to-day. So it’s all right if I go out a bit this evening. Take my bike with me. Get there in no time.” And an hour later he reappeared and said: “Monsieur’s had to wait, but the young lady’s come with me. She’s down below.” “Oh, thanks very much; the porter won’t be cross with me?” “Monsieur Paul? Doesn’t even know where I’ve been. The head of the door himself can’t say a word.” But once, after I had told him: “You absolutely must bring her back with you,” he reported to me with a smile: “You know, I couldn’t find her. She’s not there. Couldn’t wait any longer; was afraid of getting it like my colleague who was ‘missed from the hotel” (for the lift-boy, who used the word ‘rejoin’ of a profession which one joined for the first time, “I should like to rejoin the post-office,” to make up for this, or to mitigate the calamity, were his own career at stake, or to insinuate it more delicately and treacherously were the victim some one else, elided the prefix and said: “I know he’s been ‘missed”). It was not with any evil intent that he smiled, but from sheer timidity. He thought that he was diminishing the magnitude of his crime by making a joke of it. In the same way, if he had said to me: “You know, I couldn’t find her,” this did not mean that he really thought that I knew it already. On the contrary, he was all too certain that I did not know it, and, what was more, was afraid to tell me. And so he said ‘you know’ to ward off the terror which menaced him as he uttered the words that were to bring me the knowledge. We ought never to lose our tempers with people who, when we find fault with them, begin to titter. They do so not because they are laughing at us, but because they are trembling lest we should be angry. Let us shew all pity and tenderness to those who laugh. For all the world like a stroke, the lift-boy’s anxiety had wrought in him not merely an apoplectic flush but an alteration in his speech which had suddenly become familiar. He wound up by telling me that Albertine was not at Egreville, that she would not be coming back there before nine o’clock, and that if betimes (which meant, by chance) she came back earlier, my message would be given her, and in any case she would be with me before one o’clock in the morning.
[Translator’s note: In the French text of Sodome et Gomorrhe, Volume I ends at this point.]
It was not this evening, however, that my cruel mistrust began to take solid form. No, to make no mystery about it, although the incident did not occur until some weeks later, it arose out of a remark made by Cottard. Albertine and her friends had insisted that day upon dragging me to the casino at Incarville where, as luck would have it, I should not have joined them (having intended to go and see Mme. Verdurin who had invited me again and again), had I not been held up at Incarville itself by a breakdown of the tram which it would take a considerable time to repair. As I strolled up and down waiting for the men to finish working at it, I found myself all of a sudden face to face with Doctor Cottard, who had come to Incarville to see a patient. I almost hesitated to greet him as he had not answered any of my letters. But friendship does not express itself in the same way in different people. Not having been brought up to observe the same fixed rules of behaviour as well-bred people, Cottard was full of good intentions of which one knew nothing, even denying their existence, until the day when he had an opportunity of displaying them. He apologised, had indeed received my letters, had reported my whereabouts to the Verdurins who were most anxious to see me and whom he urged me to go and see. He even proposed to take me to them there and then, for he was waiting for the little local train to take him back there for dinner. As I hesitated and he had still some time before his train ( for there was bound to be still a considerable delay), I made him come with me to the little casino, one of those that had struck me as being so gloomy on the evening of my first arrival, now filled with the tumult of the girls, who, in the absence of male partners, were dancing together. Andrée came sliding along the floor towards me; I was meaning to go off with Cottard in a moment to the Verdurins’, when I definitely declined his offer, seized by an irresistible desire to stay with Albertine. The fact was, I had just heard her laugh. And her laugh at once suggested the rosy flesh, the fragrant portals between which it had just made its way, seeming also, as strong, sensual and revealing as the scent of geraniums, to carry with it some microscopic particles of their substance, irritant and secret.
One of the girls, a stranger to me, sat down at the piano, and Andrée invited Albertine to waltz with her. Happy in the thought that I was going to remain in this little casino with these girls, I remarked to Cottard how well they danced together. But he, taking the professional point of view of a doctor and with an ill-breeding which overlooked the fact that they were my friends, although he must have seen me shaking hands with them, replied: “Yes, but parents are very rash to allow their daughters to form such habits. I should certainly never let mine come here. Are they nice-looking, though? I can’t see their faces. There now, look,” he went on, pointing to Albertine and Andrée who were waltzing slowly, tightly clasped together, “I have left my glasses behind and I don’t see very well, but they are certainly keenly roused. It is not sufficiently known that women derive most excitement from their breasts. And theirs, as you see, are completely touching.” And indeed the contact had been unbroken between the breasts of Andrée and of Albertine. I do not know whether they heard or guessed Cottard’s observation, but they gently broke the contact while continuing to waltz. At that moment Andrée said something to Albertine, who laughed, the same deep and penetrating laugh that I had heard before. But all that it wafted to me this time was a feeling of pain; Albertine appeared to be revealing by it, to be making Andrée share some exquisite, secret thrill. It rang out like the first or the last strains of a ball to which one has not been invited. I left the place with Cottard, distracted by his conversation, thinking only at odd moments of the scene I had just witnessed. This does not mean that Cottard’s conversation was interesting. It had indeed, at that moment, become bitter, for we had just seen Doctor du Boulbon go past without noticing us. He had come down to spend some time on the other side of Balbec bay, where he was greatly in demand. Now, albeit Cottard was in the habit of declaring that he did no professional work during the holidays, he had hoped to build up a select practice along the coast, a hope which du Boulbon’s presence there doomed to disappointment. Certainly, the Balbec doctor could not stand in Cottard’s way. He was merely a thoroughly conscientious doctor who knew everything, and to whom you could not mention the slightest irritation of the skin without his immediately prescribing, in a complicated formula, the ointment, lotion or liniment that would put you right. As Marie Gineste used to say, in her charming speech, he knew how to ‘charm’ cuts and sores. But he was in no way eminent. He had indeed caused Cottard some slight annoyance. The latter, now that he was anxious to exchange his Chair for that of Therapeutics, had begun to specialise in toxic actions. These, a perilous innovation in medicine, give an excuse for changing the labels in the chemists’ shops, where every preparation is declared to be in no way toxic, unlike its substitutes, and indeed to be disintoxicant. It is the fashionable cry; at the most there may survive below in illegible lettering, like the faint trace of an older fashion, the assurance that the preparation has been carefully disinfected. Toxic actions serve also to reassure the patient, who learns with joy that his paralysis is merely a toxic disturbance. Now, a Grand Duke who had come for a few days to Balbec and whose eye was extremely swollen had sent for Cottard who, in return for a wad of hundred-franc notes (the Professor refused to see anyone for less), had put down the inflammation to a toxic condition and prescribed a disintoxicant treatment. As the swelling did not go down, the Grand Duke fell back upon the general practitioner of Balbec, who in five minutes had removed a speck of dust. The following day, the swelling had gone. A celebrated specialist in nervous diseases was, however, a more dangerous rival. He was a rubicund, jovial person, since, for one thing, the constant society of nervous wrecks did not prevent him from enjoying excellent health, but also so as to reassure his patients by the hearty merriment of his ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good-bye,’ while quite ready to lend the strength of his muscular arms to fastening them in strait-waistcoats later on. Nevertheless, whenever you spoke to him at a party, whether of politics or of literature, he would listen to you with a kindly attention, as though he were saying: “What is it all about?” without at once giving an opinion, as though it were a matter for consultation. But anyhow he, whatever his talent might be, was a specialist. And so the whole of Cottard’s rage was heaped upon du Boulbon. But I soon bade good-bye to the Verdurins’ professional friend, and returned to Balbec, after promising him that I would pay them a visit before long.
The mischief that his remarks about Albertine and Andrée had done me was extreme, but its worst effects were not immediately felt by me, as happens with those forms of poisoning which begin to act only after a certain time.
Albertine, on the night after the lift-boy had gone in search of her, did not appear, notwithstanding his assurances. Certainly, personal charm is a less frequent cause of love than a speech such as: “No, this evening I shall not be free.” We barely notice this speech if we are with friends; we are gay all the evening, a certain image never enters our mind; during those hours it remains dipped in the necessary solution; when we return home we find the plate developed and perfectly clear. We become aware that life is no longer the life which we would have surrendered for a trifle the day before, because, even if we continue not to fear death, we no longer dare think of a parting.
From, however, not one o’clock in the morning (the limit fixed by the lift-boy), but three o’clock, I no longer felt as in former times the anguish of seeing the chance of her coming diminish. The certainty that she would not now come brought me a complete, refreshing calm; this night was simply a night like all the rest during which I did not see her, such was the idea from which I started. After which, the thought that I should see her in the morning, or some other day, outlining itself upon the blank which I submissively accepted, became pleasant. Sometimes, during these nights of waiting, our anguish is due to a drug which we have taken. The sufferer, misinterpreting his own symptoms, thinks that he is anxious about the woman who fails to appear. Love is engendered in these cases, as are certain nervous maladies, by the inaccurate explanation of a state of discomfort. An explanation which it is useless to correct, at any rate so far as love is concerned, a sentiment which (whatever its cause) is invariably in error.
Next day, when Albertine wrote to me that she had only just got back to Epreville, and so had not received my note in time, and was coming, if she might, to see me that evening, behind the words of her letter, as behind those that she had said to me once over the telephone, I thought I could detect the presence of pleasures, of people whom she had preferred to me. Once again, I was stirred from head to foot by the painful longing to know what she could have been doing, by the latent love which we always carry within us; I almost thought for a moment that it was going to attach me to Albertine, but it confined itself to a stationary throbbing, the last echo of which died away without the machine’s having been set in motion.
I had failed during my first visit to Balbec — and perhaps, for that matter, Andrée had failed equally — to understand Albertine’s character. I had put it down as frivolous, but had not known whether our combined supplications might not succeed in keeping her with us and making her forego a garden-party, a donkey ride, a picnic. During my second visit to Balbec, I began to suspect that this frivolity was only for show, the garden-party a mere screen, if not an invention. She shewed herself in various colours in the following incident (by which I mean the incident as seen by me, from my side of the glass which was by no means transparent, and without my having any means of determining what reality there was on the other side). Albertine was making me the most passionate protestations of affection. She looked at the time because she had to go and call upon a lady who was at home, it appeared, every afternoon at five o’clock, at Infreville. Tormented by suspicion, and feeling at the same time far from well, I asked Albertine, I implored her to remain with me. It was impossible (and indeed she could wait only five minutes longer) because it would annoy the lady who was far from hospitable, highly susceptible and, said Albertine, a perfect nuisance. “But one can easily cut a call.” “No, my aunt has always told me that the chief thing is politeness.” “But I have so often seen you being impolite.” “It’s not the same thing, the lady would be angry with me and would say nasty things about me to my aunt. I’m pretty well in her bad books already. She expects me to go and see her.” “But if she’s at home every day?” Here Albertine, feeling that she was caught, changed her line of argument. “So she is at home every day. But to-day I’ve made arrangements to meet some other girls there. It will be less boring that way.” “So then, Albertine, you prefer this lady and your friends to me, since, rather than miss paying an admittedly boring call, you prefer to leave me here alone, sick and wretched?” “I don’t care if it is boring. I’m going for their sake. I shall bring them home in my trap. Otherwise they won’t have any way of getting back.” I pointed out to Albertine that there were trains from Infreville up to ten o’clock at night. “Quite true, but don’t you see, it is possible that we may be asked to stay to dinner. She is very hospitable.” “Very well then, you won’t.” “I should only make my aunt angry.” “Besides, you can dine with her and catch the ten o’clock train.” “It’s cutting it rather fine.” “Then I can never go and dine in town and come back by train. But listen, Albertine. We are going to do something quite simple, I feel that the fresh air will do me good; since you can’t give up your lady, I am going to come with you to Infreville. Don’t be alarmed, I shan’t go as far as the Tour Elisabeth” (the lady’s villa), “I shall see neither the lady nor your friends.” Albertine started as though she had received a violent blow. For a moment, she was unable to speak. She explained that the sea bathing was not doing her any good. “If you don’t want me to come with you?” “How can you say such a thing, you know there’s nothing I enjoy more than going out with you.” A sudden change of tactics had occurred. “Since we are going for a drive together,” she said to me, “why not go out in the other direction, we might dine together. It would be so nice. After all, that side of Balbec is much the prettier. I’m getting sick of Infreville and all those little spinach-bed places.” “But your aunt’s friend will be annoyed if you don’t go and see her.” “Very well, let her be.” “No, it is wrong to annoy people.” “But she won’t even notice that I’m not there, she has people every day; I can go to-morrow, the next day, next week, the week after, it’s exactly the same.” “And what about your friends?” “Oh, they’ve cut me often enough. It’s my turn now.” “But from the side you suggest there’s no train back after nine.” “Well, what’s the matter with that? Nine will do perfectly. Besides, one need never think about getting back. We can always find a cart, a bike, if the worse comes to the worst, we have legs.” “We can always find, Albertine, how you go on! Out Infreville way, where the villages run into one another, well and good. But the other way, it’s a very different matter.” “That way too. I promise to bring you back safe and sound.” I felt that Albertine was giving up for my sake some plan arranged beforehand of which she refused to tell me, and that there was some one else who would be as unhappy as I was. Seeing that what she had intended to do was out of the question, since I insisted upon accompanying her, she gave it up altogether. She knew that the loss was not irremediable. For, like all women who have a number of irons in the fire, she had one resource that never failed: suspicion and jealousy. Of course she did not seek to arouse them, quite the contrary. But lovers are so suspicious that they instantly scent out falsehood. With the result that Albertine, being no better than anyone else, knew by experience (without for a moment imagining that she owed her experience to jealousy) that she could always be certain of meeting people again after she had failed to keep an appointment. The stranger whom she was deserting for me would be hurt, would love her all the more for that (though Albertine did not know that this was the reason), and, so as not to prolong the agony, would return to her of his own accord, as I should have done. But I had no desire either to give pain to another, or to tire myself, or to enter upon the terrible course of investigation, of multiform, unending vigilance. “No, Albertine, I do not wish to spoil your pleasure, go to your lady at Infreville, or rather to the person you really mean to see, it is all the same to me. The real reason why I am not coming with you is that you do not wish it, the outing you would be taking with me is not the one you meant to take, which is proved by your having contradicted yourself at least five times without noticing it.” Poor Albertine was afraid that her contradictions, which she had not noticed, had been more serious than they were. Not knowing exactly what fibs she had told me: “It is quite on the cards that I did contradict myself. The sea air makes me lose my head altogether. I’m always calling things by the wrong names.” And (what proved to me that she would not, now, require many tender affirmations to make me believe her) I felt a stab in my heart as I listened to this admission of what I had but faintly imagined. “Very well, that’s settled, I’m off,” she said in a tragic tone, not without looking at the time to see whether she was making herself late for the other person, now that I had provided her with an excuse for not spending the evening with myself. “It’s too bad of you. I alter all my plans to spend a nice, long evening with you, and it’s you that won’t have it, and you accuse me of telling lies. I’ve never known you to be so cruel. The sea shall be my tomb. I will never see you any more.” (My heart leaped at these words, albeit I was certain that she would come again next day, as she did.) “I shall drown myself, I shall throw myself into the water.” “Like Sappho.” “There you go, insulting me again. You suspect not only what I say but what I do.” “But, my lamb, I didn’t mean anything, I swear to you, you know Sappho flung herself into the sea.” “Yes, yes, you have no faith in me.” She saw that it was twenty minutes to the hour by the clock; she was afraid of missing her appointment, and choosing the shortest form of farewell (for which as it happened she apologised by coming to see me again next day, the other person presumably not being free then), she dashed from the room, crying: “Good-bye for ever,” in a heartbroken tone. And perhaps she was heartbroken. For knowing what she was about at that moment better than I, being at the same time more strict and more indulgent towards herself than I was towards her, she may all the same have had a fear that I might refuse to see her again after the way in which she had left me. And I believe that she was attached to me, so much so that the other person was more jealous than I was.
Some days later, at Balbec, while we were in the ballroom of the casino, there entered Bloch’s sister and cousin, who had both turned out quite pretty, but whom I refrained from greeting on account of my girl friends, because the younger one, the cousin, was notoriously living with the actress whose acquaintance she had made during my first visit. Andrée, at a murmured allusion to this scandal, said to me: “Oh! About that sort of thing I’m like Albertine; there’s nothing we both loathe so much as that sort of thing.” As for Albertine, on sitting down to talk to me upon the sofa, she had turned her back on the disreputable pair. I had noticed, however, that, before she changed her position, at the moment when Mlle. Bloch and her cousin appeared, my friend’s eyes had flashed with that sudden, close attention which now and again imparted to the face of this frivolous girl a serious, indeed a grave air, and left her pensive afterwards. But Albertine had at once turned towards myself a gaze which nevertheless remained singularly fixed and meditative. Mlle. Bloch and her cousin having finally left the room after laughing and shouting in a loud and vulgar manner, I asked Albertine whether the little fair one (the one who was so intimate with the actress) was not the girl who had won the prize the day before in the procession of flowers. “I don’t know,” said Albertine, “is one of them fair? I must confess they don’t interest me particularly, I have never looked at them. Is one of them fair?” she asked her three girl friends with a detached air of inquiry. When applied to people whom Albertine passed every day on the front, this ignorance seemed to me too profound to be genuine. “They didn’t appear to be looking at us much either,” I said to Albertine, perhaps (on the assumption, which I did not however consciously form, that Albertine loved her own sex), to free her from any regret by pointing out to her that she had not attracted the attention of these girls and that, generally speaking, it is not customary even for the most vicious of women to take an interest in girls whom they do not know. “They weren’t looking at us!” was Albertine’s astonished reply. “Why, they did nothing else the whole time.” “But you can’t possibly tell,” I said to her, “you had your back to them.” “Very well, and what about that?” she replied, pointing out to me, set in the wall in front of us, a large mirror which I had not noticed and upon which I now realised that my friend, while talking to me, had never ceased to fix her troubled, preoccupied eyes.
Ever since the day when Cottard had accompanied me into the little casino at Incarville, albeit I did not share the opinion that he had expressed, Albertine had seemed to me different; the sight of her made me lose my temper. I myself had changed, quite as much as she had changed in my eyes. I had ceased to bear her any good will; to her face, behind her back when there was a chance of my words being repeated to her, I spoke of her in the most insulting language. There were, however, intervals of calmer feeling. One day I learned that Albertine and Andrée had both accepted an invitation to Elstir’s. Feeling certain that this was in order that they might, on the return journey, amuse themselves like schoolgirls on holiday by imitating the manners of fast young women, and in so doing find an unmaidenly pleasure the thought of which wrung my heart, without announcing my intention, to embarrass them and to deprive Albertine of the pleasure on which she was reckoning, I paid an unexpected call at his studio. But I found only Andrée there. Albertine had chosen another day when her aunt was to go there with her. Then I said to myself that Cottard must have been mistaken; the favourable impression that I received from Andrée’s presence there without her friend remained with me and made me feel more kindly disposed towards Albertine. But this feeling lasted no longer than the healthy moments of delicate people subject to passing maladies, who are prostrated again by the merest trifle. Albertine incited Andrée to actions which, without going very far, were perhaps not altogether innocent; pained by this suspicion, I managed in the end to repel it. No sooner was I healed of it than it revived under another form. I had just seen Andrée, with one of those graceful gestures that came naturally to her, lay her head coaxingly on Albertine’s shoulder, kiss her on the throat, half shutting her eyes; or else they had exchanged a glance; a remark had been made by somebody who had seen them going down together to bathe: little trifles such as habitually float in the surrounding atmosphere where the majority of people absorb them all day long without injury to their health or alteration of their mood, but which have a morbid effect and breed fresh sufferings in a nature predisposed to receive them. Sometimes even without my having seen Albertine again, without anyone’s having spoken to me about her, there would flash from my memory some vision of her with Gisèle in an attitude which had seemed to me innocent at the time; it was enough now to destroy the peace of mind that I had managed to recover, I had no longer any need to go and breathe dangerous germs outside, I had, as Cottard would have said, supplied my own toxin. I thought then of all that I had been told about Swann’s love for Odette, of the way in which Swann had been tricked all his life. Indeed, when I come to think of it, the hypothesis that made me gradually build up the whole of Albertine’s character and give a painful interpretation to every moment of a life that I could not control in its entirety, was the memory, the rooted idea of Mme. Swann’s character, as it had been described to me. These accounts helped my imagination, in after years, to take the line of supposing that Albertine might, instead of being a good girl, have had the same immorality, the same faculty of deception as a reformed prostitute, and I thought of all the sufferings that would in that case have been in store for me had I ever really been her lover.
One day, outside the Grand Hotel, where we were gathered on the front, I had just been addressing Albertine in the harshest, most humiliating language, and Rosemonde was saying: “Oh, how you have changed your mind about her; why, she used to be everything, it was she who ruled the roost, and now she isn’t even fit to be thrown to the dogs.” I was beginning, in order to make my attitude towards Albertine still more marked, to say all the nicest things I could think of to Andrée, who, if she was tainted with the same vice, seemed to me to have more excuse for it since she was sickly and neurasthenic, when we saw emerging at the steady trot of its pair of horses into the street at right angles to the front, at the corner of which we were standing, Mme. de Cambremer’s barouche. The chief magistrate who, at that moment, was advancing towards us, sprang back upon recognising the carriage, in order not to be seen in our company; then, when he thought that the Marquise’s eye might catch his, bowed to her with an immense sweep of his hat. But the carriage, instead of continuing, as might have been expected, along the Rue de la Mer, disappeared through the gate of the hotel. It was quite ten minutes later when the lift-boy, out of breath, came to announce to me: “It’s the Marquise de Camembert, she’s come here to see Monsieur. I’ve been up to the room, I looked in the reading-room, I couldn’t find Monsieur anywhere. Luckily I thought of looking on the beach.” He had barely ended this speech when, followed by her daughter-in-law and by an extremely ceremonious gentleman, the Marquise advanced towards me, coming on probably from some afternoon tea-party in the neighbourhood, and bowed down not so much by age as by the mass of costly trinkets with which she felt it more sociable and more befitting her rank to cover herself, in order to appear as ‘well dressed’ as possible to the people whom she went to visit. It was in fact that ‘landing’ of the Cambremers at the hotel which my grandmother had so greatly dreaded long ago when she wanted us not to let Legrandin know that we might perhaps be going to Balbec. Then Mamma used to laugh at these fears inspired by an event which she considered impossible. And here it was actually happening, but by different channels and without Legrandin’s having had any part in it. “Do you mind my staying here, if I shan’t be in your way?” asked Albertine (in whose eyes there lingered, brought there by the cruel things I had just been saying to her, a pair of tears which I observed without seeming to see them, but not without rejoicing inwardly at the sight), “there is something I want to say to you.” A hat with feathers, itself surmounted by a sapphire pin, was perched haphazard upon Mme. de Cambremer’s wig, like a badge the display of which was necessary but sufficient, its place immaterial, its elegance conventional and its stability superfluous. Notwithstanding the heat, the good lady had put on a jet cloak, like a dalmatic, over which hung an ermine stole the wearing of which seemed to depend not upon the temperature and season, but upon the nature of the ceremony. And on Mme. de Cambremer’s bosom a baronial torse, fastened to a chain, dangled like a pectoral cross. The gentleman was an eminent lawyer from Paris, of noble family, who had come down to spend a few days with the Cambremers. He was one of those men whom their vast professional experience inclines to look down upon their profession, and who say, for instance: “I know that I am a good pleader, so it no longer amuses me to plead,” or: “I’m no longer interested in operating, I know that I’m a good operator.” Men of intelligence, artists, they see themselves in their maturity, richly endowed by success, shining with that intellect, that artistic nature which their professional brethren recognise in them and which confer upon them a kind of taste and discernment. They form a passion for the paintings not of a great artist, but of an artist who nevertheless is highly distinguished, and spend upon the purchase of his work the large sums that their career procures for them. Le Sidaner was the artist chosen by the Cambremers’ friend, who incidentally was a delightful person. He talked well about books, but not about the books of the true masters, those who have mastered themselves. The only irritating habit that this amateur displayed was his constant use of certain ready made expressions, such as ‘for the most part,’ which gave an air of importance and incompleteness to the matter of which he was speaking. Madame de Cambremer had taken the opportunity, she told me, of a party which some friends of hers had been giving that afternoon in the Balbec direction to come and call upon me, as she had promised Robert de Saint-Loup. “You know he’s coming down to these parts quite soon for a few days: His uncle Charlus is staying near here with his sister-in-law, the Duchesse de Luxembourg, and M. de Saint-Loup means to take the opportunity of paying his aunt a visit and going to see his old regiment, where he is very popular, highly respected. We often have visits from officers who are never tired of singing his praises. How nice it would be if you and he would give us the pleasure of coming together to Féterne.” I presented Albertine and her friends. Mme. de Cambremer introduced us all to her daughter-in-law. The latter, so frigid towards the petty nobility with whom her seclusion at Féterne forced her to associate, so reserved, so afraid of compromising herself, held out her hand to me with a radiant smile, safe as she felt herself and delighted at seeing a friend of Robert de Saint-Loup, whom he, possessing a sharper social intuition than he allowed to appear, had mentioned to her as being a great friend of the Guermantes. So, unlike her mother-in-law, Mme. de Cambremer employed two vastly different forms of politeness. It was at the most the former kind, dry, insupportable, that she would have conceded me had I met her through her brother Legrandin. But for a friend of the Guermantes she had not smiles enough. The most convenient room in the hotel for entertaining visitors was the reading-room, that place once so terrible into which I now went a dozen times every day, emerging freely, my own master, like those mildly afflicted lunatics who have so long been inmates of an asylum that the superintendent trusts them with a latchkey. And so I offered to take Mme. de Cambremer there. And as this room no longer filled me with shyness and no longer held any charm for me, since the faces of things change for us like the faces of people, it was without the slightest emotion that I made this suggestion. But she declined it, preferring to remain out of doors, and we sat down in the open air, on the terrace of the hotel. I found there and rescued a volume of Madame de Sévigné which Mamma had not had time to carry off in her precipitate flight, when she heard that visitors had called for me. No less than my grandmother, she dreaded these invasions of strangers, and, in her fear of being too late to escape if she let herself be seen, would fly from the room with a rapidity which always made my father and me laugh at her. Madame de Cambremer carried in her hand, with the handle of a sunshade, a number of embroidered bags, a hold-all, a gold purse from which there dangled strings of garnets, and a lace handkerchief. I could not help thinking that it would be more convenient for her to deposit them on a chair; but I felt that it would be unbecoming and useless to ask her to lay aside the ornaments of her pastoral visitation and her social priesthood. We gazed at the calm sea upon which, here and there, a few gulls floated like white petals. Because of the ‘mean level’ to which social conversation reduces us and also of our desire to attract not by means of those qualities of which we are ourselves unaware but of those which, we suppose, ought to be appreciated by the people who are with us, I began instinctively to talk to Mme. de Cambremer née Legrandin in the strain in which her brother might have talked. “They appear,” I said, referring to the gulls, “as motionless and as white as water-lilies.” And indeed they did appear to be offering a lifeless object to the little waves which tossed them about, so much so that the waves, by contrast, seemed in their pursuit of them to be animated by a deliberate intention, to have acquired life. The dowager Marquise could not find words enough to do justice to the superb view of the sea that we had from Balbec, or to say how she envied it, she who from la Raspelière (where for that matter she was not living that year) had only such a distant glimpse of the waves. She had two remarkable habits, due at once to her exalted passion for the arts (especially for the art of music), and to her want of teeth. Whenever she talked of aesthetic subjects her salivary glands — like those of certain animals when in rut — became so overcharged that the old lady’s edentulous mouth allowed to escape from the corners of her faintly moustached lips a trickle of moisture for which that was not the proper place. Immediately she drew it in again with a deep sigh, like a person recovering his breath. Secondly, if her subject were some piece of music of surpassing beauty, in her enthusiasm she would raise her arms and utter a few decisive opinions, vigorously chewed and at a pinch issuing from her nose. Now it had never occurred to me that the vulgar beach at Balbec could indeed offer a ‘seascape,’ and Mme. de Cambremer’s simple words changed my ideas in that respect. On the other hand, as I told her, I had always heard people praise the matchless view from la Raspelière, perched on the summit of the hill, where, in a great drawing-room with two fireplaces, one whole row of windows swept the gardens, and, through the branches of the trees, the sea as far as Balbec and beyond it, and the other row the valley. “How nice of you to say so, and how well you put it: the sea through the branches. It is exquisite, one would say . . . a painted fan.” And I gathered from a deep breath intended to catch the falling spittle and dry the moustaches, that the compliment was sincere. But the Marquise née Legrandin remained cold, to shew her contempt not for my words but for those of her mother-in-law. Besides, she not only despised the other’s intellect but deplored her affability, being always afraid that people might not form a sufficiently high idea of the Cambremers. “And how charming the name is,” said I. “One would like to know the origin of all those names.” “That one I can tell you,” the old lady answered modestly. “It is a family place, it came from my grandmother Arrachepel, not an illustrious family, but a decent and very old country stock.” “What! Not illustrious!” her daughter-in-law tartly interrupted her. “A whole window in Bayeux cathedral is filled with their arms, and the principal church at Avranches has their tombs. If these old names interest you,” she added, “you’ve come a year too late. We managed to appoint to the living of Criquetot, in spite of all the difficulties about changing from one diocese to another, the parish priest of a place where I myself have some land, a long way from here, Combray, where the worthy cleric felt that he was becoming neurasthenic. Unfortunately, the sea air was no good to him at his age; his neurasthenia grew worse and he has returned to Combray. But he amused himself while he was our neighbour in going about looking up all the old charters, and he compiled quite an interesting little pamphlet on the place names of the district. It has given him a fresh interest, too, for it seems he is spending his last years in writing a great work upon Combray and its surroundings. I shall send you his pamphlet on the surroundings of Féterne. It is worthy of a Benedictine. You will find the most interesting things in it about our old Raspelière, of which my mother-in-law speaks far too modestly.” “In any case, this year,” replied the dowager Mme. de Cambremer, “la Raspelière is no longer ours and does not belong to me. But I can see that you have a painter’s instincts; I am sure you sketch, and I should so like to shew you Féterne, which is far finer than la Raspelière.” For as soon as the Cambremers had let this latter residence to the Verdurins, its commanding situation had at once ceased to appear to them as it had appeared for so many years past, that is to say to offer the advantage, without parallel in the neighbourhood, of looking out over both sea and valley, and had on the other hand, suddenly and retrospectively, presented the drawback that one had always to go up or down hill to get to or from it. In short, one might have supposed that if Mme. de Cambremer had let it, it was not so much to add to her income as to spare her horses. And she proclaimed herself delighted at being able at last to have the sea always so close at hand, at Féterne, she who for so many years (forgetting the two months that she spent there) had seen it only from up above and as though in a panorama. “I am discovering it at my age,” she said, “and how I enjoy it! It does me a world of good. I would let la Raspelière for nothing so as to be obliged to live at Féterne.”
“To return to more interesting topics,” went on Legrandin’s sister, who addressed the old Marquise as ‘Mother,’ but with the passage of years had come to treat her with insolence, “you mentioned water-lilies: I suppose you know Claude Monet’s pictures of them. What a genius! They interest me particularly because near Combray, that place where I told you I had some land. . . . ” But she preferred not to talk too much about Combray. “Why! That must be the series that Elstir told us about, the greatest painter of this generation,” exclaimed Albertine, who had said nothing so far. “Ah! I can see that this young lady loves the arts,” cried Mme. de Cambremer and, drawing a long breath, recaptured a trail of spittle. “You will allow me to put Le Sidaner before him, Mademoiselle,” said the lawyer, smiling with the air of an expert. And, as he had enjoyed, or seen people enjoy, years ago, certain ‘daring’ work by Elstir, he added: “Elstir was gifted, indeed he was one of the advance guard, but for some reason or other he never kept up, he has wasted his life.” Mme. de Cambremer disagreed with the lawyer, so far as Elstir was concerned, but, greatly to the annoyance of her guest, bracketed Monet with Le Sidaner. It would be untrue to say that she was a fool; she was overflowing with a kind of intelligence that meant nothing to me. As the sun was beginning to set, the seagulls were now yellow, like the water-lilies on another canvas of that series by Monet. I said that I knew it, and (continuing to copy the diction of her brother, whom I had not yet dared to name) added that it was a pity that she had not thought of coming a day earlier, for, at the same hour, there would have been a Poussin light for her to admire. Had some Norman squireen, unknown to the Guermantes, told her that she ought to have come a day earlier, Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin would doubtless have drawn herself up with an offended air. But I might have been far more familiar still, and she would have been all smiles and sweetness; I might in the warmth of that fine afternoon devour my fill of that rich honey cake which Mme. de Cambremer so rarely was and which took the place of the dish of pastry that it had not occurred to me to offer my guests. But the name of Poussin, without altering the amenity of the society lady, called forth the protests of the connoisseur. On hearing that name, she produced six times in almost continuous succession that little smack of the tongue against the lips which serves to convey to a child who is misbehaving at once a reproach for having begun and a warning not to continue. “In heaven’s name, after a painter like Monet, who is an absolute genius, don’t go and mention an old hack without a vestige of talent, like Poussin. I don’t mind telling you frankly that I find him the deadliest bore. I mean to say, you can’t really call that sort of thing painting. Monet, Degas, Manet, yes, there are painters if you like! It is a curious thing,” she went on, fixing a scrutinous and ecstatic gaze upon a vague point in space where she could see what was in her mind, “it is a curious thing, I used at one time to prefer Manet. Nowadays, I still admire Manet, of course, but I believe I like Monet even more. Oh! The Cathedrals!” She was as scrupulous as she was condescending in informing me of the evolution of her taste. And one felt that the phases through which that taste had evolved were not, in her eyes, any less important than the different manners of Monet himself. Not that I had any reason to feel flattered by her taking me into her confidence as to her preferences, for even in the presence of the narrowest of provincial ladies she could not remain for five minutes without feeling the need to confess them. When a noble dame of Avranches, who would have been incapable of distinguishing between Mozart and Wagner, said in Mme. de Cambremer’s hearing: “We saw nothing of any interest while we were in Paris, we went once to the Opéra-Comique, they were doing Pelléas et Mélisande, it’s dreadful stuff,” Mme. de Cambremer not only boiled with rage but felt obliged to exclaim: “Not at all, it’s a little gem,” and to ‘argue the point.’ It was perhaps a Combray habit which she had picked up from my grandmother’s sisters, who called it ‘fighting in the good cause,’ and loved the dinner-parties at which they knew all through the week that they would have to defend their idols against the Philistines. Similarly, Mme. de Cambremer liked to ‘fly into a passion’ and wrangle about art, as other people do about politics. She stood up for Debussy as she would have stood up for a woman friend whose conduct had been criticised. She must however have known very well that when she said: “Not at all, it’s a little gem,” she could not improvise in the other lady, whom she was putting in her place, the whole progressive development of artistic culture on the completion of which they would come naturally to an agreement without any need of discussion. “I must ask Le Sidaner what he thinks of Poussin,” the lawyer remarked to me. “He’s a regular recluse, never opens his mouth, but I know how to get things out of him.”
“Anyhow,” Mme. de Cambremer went on, “I have a horror of sunsets, they’re so romantic, so operatic. That is why I can’t abide my mother-in-law’s house, with its tropical plants. You will see it, it’s just like a public garden at Monte-Carlo. That’s why I prefer your coast, here. It is more sombre, more sincere; there’s a little lane from which one doesn’t see the sea. On rainy days, there’s nothing but mud, it’s a little world apart. It’s just the same at Venice, I detest the Grand Canal and I don’t know anything so touching as the little alleys. But it’s all a question of one’s surroundings.” “But,” I remarked to her, feeling that the only way to rehabilitate Poussin in Mme. de Cambremer’s eyes was to inform her that he was once more in fashion, “M. Degas assures us that he knows nothing more beautiful than the Poussins at Chantilly.” “Indeed? I don’t know the ones at Chantilly,” said Mme. de Cambremer who had no wish to differ from Degas, “but I can speak about the ones in the Louvre, which are appalling.” “He admires them immensely too.” “I must look at them again. My impressions of them are rather distant,” she replied after a moment’s silence, and as though the favourable opinion which she was certain, before very long, to form of Poussin would depend, not upon the information that I had just communicated to her, but upon the supplementary and, this time, final examination that she intended to make of the Poussins in the Louvre in order to be in a position to change her mind. Contenting myself with what was a first step towards retraction since, if she did not yet admire the Poussins, she was adjourning the matter for further consideration, in order not to keep her on tenterhooks any longer, I told her mother-in-law how much I had heard of the wonderful flowers at Féterne. In modest terms she spoke of the little presbytery garden that she had behind the house, into which in the mornings, by simply pushing open a door, she went in her wrapper to feed her peacocks, hunt for new-laid eggs, and gather the zinnias or roses which, on the sideboard, framing the creamed eggs or fried fish in a border of flowers, reminded her of her garden paths. “It is true, we have a great many roses,” she told me, “our rose garden is almost too near the house, there are days when it makes my head ache. It is nicer on the terrace at la Raspelière where the breeze carries the scent of the roses, but it is not so heady.” I turned to her daughter-in-law. “It is just like Pelléas,” I said to her, to gratify her taste for the modern, “that scent of roses wafted up to the terraces. It is so strong in the score that, as I suffer from hay-fever and rose-fever, it sets me sneezing every time I listen to that scene.”
“What a marvellous thing Pelléas is,” cried Mme. de Cambremer, “I’m mad about it;” and, drawing closer to me with the gestures of a savage woman seeking to captivate me, using her fingers to pick out imaginary notes, she began to hum something which, I supposed, represented to her the farewells of Pelléas, and continued with a vehement persistence as though it had been important that Mme. de Cambremer should at that moment remind me of that scene or rather should prove to me that she herself remembered it. “I think it is even finer than Parsifal,” she added, “because in Parsifal the most beautiful things are surrounded with a sort of halo of melodious phrases, which are bad simply because they are melodious.” “I know, you are a great musician, Madame,” I said to the dowager. “I should so much like to hear you play.” Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin gazed at the sea so as not to be drawn into the conversation. Being of the opinion that what her mother-in-law liked was not music at all, she regarded the talent, a sham talent according to her, though in reality of the very highest order that the other was admitted to possess as a technical accomplishment devoid of interest. It was true that Chopin’s only surviving pupil declared, and with justice, that the Master’s style of playing, his ‘feeling’ had been transmitted, through herself, to Mme. de Cambremer alone, but to play like Chopin was far from being a recommendation in the eyes of Legrandin’s sister, who despised nobody so much as the Polish composer. “Oh! They are flying away,” exclaimed Albertine, pointing to the gulls which, casting aside for a moment their flowery incognito, were rising in a body towards the sun. “Their giant wings from walking hinder them,” quoted Mme. de Cambremer, confusing the seagull with the albatross. “I do love them; I used to see them at Amsterdam,” said Albertine. “They smell of the sea, they come and breathe the salt air through the paving stones even.” “Oh! So you have been in Holland, you know the Vermeers?” Mme. de Cambremer asked imperiously, in the tone in which she would have said: “You know the Guermantes?” for snobbishness in changing its subject does not change its accent. Albertine replied in the negative, thinking that they were living people. But her mistake was not apparent. “I should be delighted to play to you,” Mme. de Cambremer said to me. “But you know I only play things that no longer appeal to your generation. I was brought up in the worship of Chopin,” she said in a lowered tone, for she was afraid of her daughter-in-law, and knew that to the latter, who considered that Chopin was not music, playing him well or badly were meaningless terms. She admitted that her mother-in-law had technique, was a finished pianist. “Nothing will ever make me say that she is a musician,” was Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin’s conclusion. Because she considered herself ‘advanced,’ because (in matters of art only) “one could never move far enough to the Left,” she said, she maintained not merely that music progressed, but that it progressed along one straight line, and that Debussy was in a sense a super-Wagner, slightly more advanced again than Wagner. She did not take into account the fact that if Debussy was not as independent of Wagner as she herself was to suppose in a few years’ time, because we must always make use of the weapons that we have captured to free ourselves finally from the foe whom we have for the moment overpowered, he was seeking nevertheless, after the feeling of satiety that people were beginning to derive from work that was too complete, in which everything was expressed, to satisfy an opposite demand. There were theories of course, to support this reaction for the time being, like those theories which, in politics, come to the support of the laws against religious communities, of wars in the East (unnatural teaching, the Yellow Peril, etc., etc.). People said that an age of speed required rapidity in art, precisely as they might have said that the next war could not last longer than a fortnight, or that the coming of railways would kill the little places beloved of the coaches, which the motor-car, for all that, was to restore to favour. Composers were warned not to strain the attention of their audience, as though we had not at our disposal different degrees of attention, among which it rests precisely with the artist himself to arouse the highest. For the people who yawn with boredom after ten lines of a mediocre article have journeyed year after year to Bayreuth to listen to the Ring. Besides, the day was to come when, for a season, Debussy would be pronounced as trivial as Massenet, and the trills of Mélisande degraded to the level of Manon’s. For theories and schools, like microbes and corpuscles, devour one another and by their warfare ensure the continuity of existence. But that time was still to come.
As on the Stock Exchange, when a rise occurs, a whole group of securities benefit by it, so a certain number of despised composers were gaining by the reaction, either because they did not deserve such scorn, or simply — which enabled one to be original when one sang their praises — because they had incurred it. And people even went the length of seeking out, in an isolated past, men of independent talent upon whose reputation the present movement did not seem calculated to have any influence, but of whom one of the new masters was understood to have spoken favourably. Often it was because a master, whoever he may be, however exclusive his school, judges in the light of his own untutored instincts, does justice to talent wherever it be found, or rather not so much to talent as to some agreeable inspiration which he has enjoyed in the past, which reminds him of a precious moment in his adolescence. Or, it may be, because certain artists of an earlier generation have in some fragment of their work realised something that resembles what the master has gradually become aware that he himself meant at one time to create. Then he sees the old master as a sort of precursor; he values in him, under a wholly different form, an effort that is momentarily, partially fraternal. There are bits of Turner in the work of Poussin, we find a phrase of Flaubert in Montesquieu. Sometimes, again, this rumoured predilection of the Master was due to an error, starting heaven knows where and circulated through the school. But in that case the name mentioned profited by the auspices under which it was introduced in the nick of time, for if there is an element of free will, some genuine taste expressed in the master’s choice, the schools themselves go only by theory. Thus it is that the mind, following its habitual course which advances by digression, inclining first in one direction, then in the other, had brought back into the light of day a number of works to which the need for justice, or for a renewal of standards, or the taste of Debussy, or his caprice, or some remark that he had perhaps never made had added the works of Chopin. Commended by the judges in whom one had entire confidence, profiting by the admiration that was aroused by Pelléas, they had acquired a fresh lustre, and even the people who had not heard them again were so anxious to admire them that they did so in spite of themselves, albeit preserving the illusion of free will. But Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin spent part of the year in the country. Even in Paris, being an invalid, she was largely confined to her own room. It is true that the drawbacks of this mode of existence were noticeable chiefly in her choice of expressions which she supposed to be fashionable and which would have been more appropriate to the written language, a distinction that she did not perceive, for she derived them more from reading than from conversation. The latter is not so necessary for an exact knowledge of current opinion as of the latest expressions. Unfortunately this revival of the Nocturnes had not yet been announced by the critics. The news of it had been transmitted only by word of mouth among the ‘younger’ people. It remained unknown to Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin. I gave myself the pleasure of informing her, but by addressing my remark to her mother-in-law, as when at billiards in order to hit a ball one aims at the cushion, that Chopin, so far from being out of date, was Debussy’s favourite composer. “Indeed, that’s quaint,” said the daughter-in-law with a subtle smile as though it had been merely a deliberate paradox on the part of the composer of Pelléas. Nevertheless it was now quite certain that in future she would always listen to Chopin with respect and even pleasure. Moreover my words which had sounded the hour of deliverance for the dowager produced on her face an expression of gratitude to myself and above all of joy. Her eyes shone like the eyes of Latude in the play entitled Latude, or Thirty-five Years in Captivity, and her bosom inhaled the sea air with that dilatation which Beethoven has so well described in Fidelio, at the point where his prisoners at last breathe again ‘this life-giving air.’ As for the dowager, I thought that she was going to press her hirsute lips to my cheek. “What, you like Chopin? He likes Chopin, he likes Chopin,” she cried with a nasal trumpet-tone of passion; she might have been saying: “What, you know Mme. de Franquetot too?” with this difference, that my relations with Mme. de Franquetot would have left her completely indifferent, whereas my knowledge of Chopin plunged her in a sort of artistic delirium. Her salivary super-secretion no longer sufficed. Not having attempted even to understand the part played by Debussy in the rediscovery of Chopin, she felt only that my judgment of him was favourable. Her musical enthusiasm overpowered her. “Elodie! Elodie! He likes Chopin!” her bosom rose and she beat the air with her arms. “Ah! I knew at once that you were a musician,” she cried. “I can quite understand an artist such as you are liking him. He’s so lovely!” And her voice was as pebbly as if, to express her ardour for Chopin, she had copied Demosthenes and filled her mouth with all the shingle on the beach. Then came the turn of the tide, reaching as far as her veil which she had not time to lift out of harm’s way and which was flooded; and lastly the Marquise wiped away with her embroidered handkerchief the tidemark of foam in which the memory of Chopin had steeped her moustaches.
“Good heavens,” Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin remarked to me, “I’m afraid my mother-in-law’s cutting it rather fine, she’s forgotten that we’ve got my Uncle de Ch’nouville dining. Besides, Cancan doesn’t like to be kept waiting.” The word ‘Cancan’ was beyond me, and I supposed that she might perhaps be referring to a dog. But as for the Ch’nouville relatives, the explanation was as follows. With the lapse of time the young Marquise had outgrown the pleasure that she had once found in pronouncing their name in this manner. And yet it was the prospect of enjoying that pleasure that had decided her choice of a husband. In other social circles, when one referred to the Chenouville family, the custom was (whenever, that is to say, the particle was preceded by a word ending in a vowel sound, for otherwise you were obliged to lay stress upon the de, the tongue refusing to utter Madam’ d’Ch’nonceaux) that it was the mute e of the particle that was sacrificed. One said: “Monsieur d’Chenouville.” The Cambremer tradition was different, but no less imperious. It was the mute e of Chenouville that was suppressed. Whether the name was preceded by mon cousin or by ma cousine, it was always de Ch’nouville and never de Chenouville. (Of the father of these Chenouvilles, one said ‘our Uncle’ for they were not sufficiently ‘smart set’ at Féterne to pronounce the word ‘Unk’ like the Guermantes, whose deliberate jargon, suppressing consonants and naturalising foreign words, was as difficult to understand as Old French or a modern dialect.) Every newcomer into the family circle at once received, in the matter of the Ch’nouvilles, a lesson which Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin had not required. When, paying a call one day, she had heard a girl say: “My Aunt d’Uzai,” “My Unk de Rouan,” she had not at first recognised the illustrious names which she was in the habit of pronouncing: Uzès, and Rolîan, she had felt the astonishment, embarrassment and shame of a person who sees before him on the table a recently invented implement of which he does not know the proper use and with which he dares not begin to eat. But during that night and the next day she had rapturously repeated: “My Aunt Uzai,” with that suppression of the final s, a suppression that had stupefied her the day before, but which it now seemed to her so vulgar not to know that, one of her friends having spoken to her of a bust of the Duchesse d’Uzès, Mlle. Legrandin had answered her crossly, and in an arrogant tone: “You might at least pronounce her name properly: Mme. d’Uzai.” From that moment she had realised that, by virtue of the transmutation of solid bodies into more and more subtle elements, the considerable and so honourably acquired fortune that she had inherited from her father, the finished education that she had received, her regular attendance at the Sorbonne, whether at Caro’s lectures or at Brunetiere’s, and at the Lamoureux concerts, all this was to be rendered volatile, to find its utmost sublimation in the pleasure of being able one day to say: “My Aunt d’Uzai.” This did not exclude the thought that she would continue to associate, in the earlier days, at least, of her married life, not indeed with certain women friends whom she liked and had resigned herself to sacrificing, but with certain others whom she did not like and to whom she looked forward to being able to say (since that, after all, was why she was marrying): “I must introduce you to my Aunt d’Uzai,” and, when she saw that such an alliance was beyond her reach, “I must introduce you to my Aunt de Ch’nouville,” and “I shall ask you to dine to meet the Uzai.” Her marriage to M. de Cambremer had procured for Mlle. Legrandin the opportunity to use the former of these phrases but not the latter, the circle in which her parents-in-law moved not being that which she had supposed and of which she continued to dream. After saying to me of Saint-Loup (adopting for the occasion one of his expressions, for if in talking to her I used those expressions of Legrandin, she by a reverse suggestion answered me in Robert’s dialect which she did not know to be borrowed from Rachel), bringing her thumb and forefinger together and half-shutting her eyes as though she were gazing at something infinitely delicate which she had succeeded in capturing: “He has a charming quality of mind,” she began to extol him with such warmth that one might have supposed that she was in love with him (it had indeed been alleged that, some time back, when he was at Doncières, Robert had been her lover), in reality simply that I might repeat her words to him, and ended up with: “You are a great friend of the Duchesse de Guermantes. I am an invalid, I never go anywhere, and I know that she sticks to a close circle of chosen friends, which I do think so wise of her, and so I know her very slightly, but I know she is a really remarkable woman.” Aware that Mme. de Carnbremer barely knew her, and anxious to reduce myself to her level, I avoided the subject and answered the Marquise that the person whom I did know well was her brother, M. Legrandin. At the sound of his name she assumed the same evasive air as myself over the name of Mme. de Guermantes, but combined with it an expression of annoyance, for she supposed that I had said this with the object of humiliating not myself but her. Was she gnawed by despair at having been born a Legrandin? So at least her husband’s sisters and sisters-in-law asserted, ladies of the provincial nobility who knew nobody and nothing, and were jealous of Mme. de Cambremer’s intelligence, her education, her fortune, the physical attractions that she had possessed before her illness. “She can think of nothing else, that is what is killing her,” these slanderers would say whenever they spoke of Mme. de Cambremer to no matter whom, but preferably to a plebeian, whether, were he conceited and stupid, to enhance, by this affirmation of the shamefulness of a plebeian origin, the value of the affability that they were shewing him, of, if he were shy and clever and applied the remark to himself, to give themselves the pleasure, while receiving him hospitably, of insulting him indirectly. But if these ladies thought that they were speaking the truth about their sister-in-law, they were mistaken. She suffered not at all from having been born Legrandin, for she had forgotten the fact altogether. She was annoyed at my reminding her of it, and remained silent as though she had not understood, not thinking it necessary to enlarge upon or even to confirm my statement.
“Our cousins are not the chief reason for our cutting short our visit,” said the dowager Mme. de Cambremer, who was probably more satiated than her daughter-in-law with the pleasure to be derived from saying ‘Ch’nouville.’ “But, so as not to bother you with too many people, Monsieur,” she went on, indicating the lawyer, “was afraid to bring his wife and son to the hotel. They are waiting for us on the beach, and they will be growing impatient.” I asked for an exact description of them and hastened in search of them. The wife had a round face like certain flowers of the ranunculus family, and a large vegetable growth at the corner of her eye. And as the generations of mankind preserve their characteristic like a family of plants, just as on the blemished face of his mother, an identical mole, which might have helped one in classifying a variety of the species, protruded below the eye of the son. The lawyer was touched by my civility to his wife and son. He shewed an interest in the subject of my stay at Balbec. “You must find yourself rather out of your element, for the people here are for the most part foreigners.” And he kept his eye on me as he spoke, for, not caring for foreigners, albeit he had many foreign clients, he wished to make sure that I was not hostile to his xenophobia, in which case he would have beaten a retreat saying: “Of course, Mme. X—— may be a charming woman. It’s a question of principle.” As at that time I had no definite opinion about foreigners, I shewed no sign of disapproval; he felt himself to be on safe ground. He went so far as to invite me to come one day, in Paris, to see his collection of Le Sidaner, and to bring with me the Cambremers, with whom he evidently supposed me to be on intimate terms. “I shall invite you to meet Le Sidaner,” he said to me, confident that from that moment I would live only in expectation of that happy day. “You shall see what a delightful man he is. And his pictures will enchant you. Of course, I can’t compete with the great collectors, but I do believe that I am the one that possesses the greatest number of his favourite canvases. They will interest you all the more, coming from Balbec, since they are marine subjects, for the most part, at least.” The wife and son, blessed with a vegetable nature, listened composedly. One felt that their house in Paris was a sort of temple of Le Sidaner. Temples of this sort are not without their use. When the god has doubts as to his own merits, he can easily stop the cracks in his opinion of himself with the irrefutable testimony of people who have devoted their lives to his work.
At a signal from her daughter-in-law, Mme. de Cambremer prepared to depart, and said to me: “Since you won’t come and stay at Féterne, won’t you at least come to luncheon, one day this week, to-morrow for instance?” And in her bounty, to make the invitation irresistible, she added: “You will find the Comte de Crisenoy,” whom I had never lost, for the simple reason that I did not know him. She was beginning to dazzle me with yet further temptations, but stopped short. The chief magistrate who, on returning to the hotel, had been told that she was on the premises had crept about searching for her everywhere, then waited his opportunity, and pretending to have caught sight of her by chance, came up now to greet her. I gathered that Mme. de Cambremer did not mean to extend to him the invitation to luncheon that she had just addressed to me. And yet he had known her far longer than I, having for years past been one of the regular guests at the afternoon parties at Féterne whom I used so to envy during my former visit to Balbec. But old acquaintance is not the only thing that counts in society. And hostesses are more inclined to reserve their luncheons for new acquaintances who still whet their curiosity, especially when they arrive preceded by a glowing and irresistible recommendation like Saint-Loup’s of me. Mme. de Cambremer decided that the chief magistrate could not have heard what she was saying to me, but, to calm her guilty conscience, began addressing him in the kindest tone. In the sunlight that flooded, on the horizon, the golden coastline, invisible as a rule, of Rivebelle, we could just make out, barely distinguishable from the luminous azure, rising from the water, rosy, silvery, faint, the little bells that were sounding the angélus round about Féterne. “That is rather Pelléas, too,” I suggested to Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin. “You know the scene I mean.” “Of course I do!” was what she said; but “I haven’t the faintest idea” was the message proclaimed by her voice and features which did not mould themselves to the shape of any recollection and by a smile that floated without support in the air. The dowager could not get over her astonishment that the sound of the bells should carry so far, and rose, reminded of the time. “But, as a rule,” I said, “we never see that part of the coast from Balbec, nor hear it either. The weather must have changed and enlarged the horizon in more ways than one. Unless, that is to say, the bells have come to look for you, since I see that they are making you leave; to you they are a dinner bell.” The chief magistrate, little interested in the bells, glanced furtively along the front, on which he was sorry to see so few people that evening. “You are a true poet,” said Mme. de Cambremer to me. “One feels you are so responsive, so artistic, come, I will play you Chopin,” she went on, raising her arms with an air of ecstasy and pronouncing the words in a raucous voice like the shifting of shingle on the beach. Then came the deglutition of spittle, and the old lady instinctively wiped the stubble of her moustaches with her handkerchief. The chief magistrate did me, unconsciously, a great service by offering the Marquise his arm to escort her to her carriage, a certain blend of vulgarity, boldness and love of ostentation prompting him to actions which other people would have hesitated to risk, and which are by no means unsuccessful in society. He was, moreover, and had been for years past far more in the habit of these actions than myself. While blessing him for what he did I did not venture to copy him, and walked by the side of Mme. de Cambremer-Legrandin who insisted upon seeing the book that I had in my hand. The name of Madame de Sévigné drew a grimace from her; and using a word which she had seen in certain newspapers, but which, used in speech and given a feminine form, and applied to a seventeenth century writer, had an odd effect, she asked me: “Do you think her really masterly?” The Marquise gave her footman the address of a pastry-cook where she had to call before taking the road, rosy with the evening haze, through which loomed one beyond another the dusky walls of cliff. She asked her old coachman whether one of the horses which was apt to catch cold had been kept warm enough, whether the other’s shoe were not hurting him. “I shall write to you and make a definite engagement,” she murmured to me. “I heard you talking about literature to my daughter-in-law, she’s a darling,” she went on, not that she really thought so, but she had acquired the habit — and kept it up in her kindness of heart — of saying so, in order that her son might not appear to have married for money. “Besides,” she added with a final enthusiastic gnashing of her teeth, “she’s so harttissttick!” With this she stepped into her carriage, nodding her head, holding the crook of her sunshade aloft like a crozier, and set off through the streets of Balbec, overloaded with the ornaments of her priesthood, like an old Bishop on a confirmation tour.
“She has asked you to luncheon,” the chief magistrate said to me sternly when the carriage had passed out of sight and I came indoors with the girls. “We’re not on the best of terms just now. She feels that I neglect her. Gad, I’m easy enough to get on with. If anybody needs me, I’m always there to say: Adsum! But they tried to force my hand. That, now,” he went on with an air of subtlety, holding up his finger as though making and arguing a distinction, “that is a thing I do not allow. It is a threat to the liberty of my holidays. I was obliged to say: Stop! You seem to be in her good books. When you reach my age you will see that society is a very trumpery thing, and you will be sorry you attached so much importance to these trifles. Well, I am going to take a turn before dinner. Good-bye, children,” he shouted back at us, as though he were already fifty yards away.
When I had said good-bye to Rosemonde and Gisèle, they saw with astonishment that Albertine was staying behind instead of accompanying them. “Why, Albertine, what are you doing, don’t you know what time it is?” “Go home,” she replied in a tone of authority. “I want to talk to him,” she added, indicating myself with a submissive air. Rosemonde and Gisèle stared at me, filled with a new and strange respect. I enjoyed the feeling that, for a moment at least, in the eyes even of Rosemonde and Gisèle, I was to Albertine something more important than the time, than her friends, and might indeed share solemn secrets with her into which it was impossible for them to be admitted. “Shan’t we see you again this evening?” “I don’t know, it will depend on this person. Anyhow, to-morrow.” “Let us go up to my room,” I said to her, when her friends had gone. We took the lift; she remained silent in the boy’s presence. The habit of being obliged to resort to personal observation and deduction in order to find out the business of their masters, those strange beings who converse among themselves and do not speak to them, develops in ‘employees’ (as the lift-boy styled servants), a stronger power of divination than the ‘employer’ possesses. Our organs become atrophied or grow stronger or more subtle, accordingly as our need of them increases or diminishes. Since railways came into existence, the necessity of not missing the train has taught us to take account of minutes whereas among the ancient Romans, who not only had a more cursory science of astronomy but led less hurried lives, the notion not of minutes but even of fixed hours barely existed. And so the lift-boy had gathered and meant to inform his comrades that Albertine and I were preoccupied. But he talked to us without ceasing because he had no tact. And yet I could see upon his face, in place of the customary expression of friendliness and joy at taking me up in his lift, an air of extraordinary depression and uneasiness. As I knew nothing of the cause of this, in an attempt to distract his thoughts, and albeit I was more preoccupied than Albertine, I told him that the lady who had just left was called the Marquise de Cambremer and not de Camembert. On the landing at which we were pausing at the moment, I saw, carrying a pair of pails, a hideous chambermaid who greeted me with respect, hoping for a tip when I left. I should have liked to know if she were the one whom I had so ardently desired on the evening of my first arrival at Balbec, but I could never arrive at any certainty. The lift-boy swore to me with the sincerity of most false witnesses, but without shedding his expression of despair, that it was indeed by the name of Camembert that the Marquise had told him to announce her. And as a matter of fact it was quite natural that he should have heard her say a name which he already knew. Besides, having those very vague ideas of nobility, and of the names of which titles are composed, which are shared by many people who are not lift-boys, the name Camembert had seemed to him all the more probable inasmuch as, that cheese being universally known, it was not in the least surprising that people should have acquired a marquisate from so glorious a distinction, unless it were the marquisate that had bestowed its renown upon the cheese. Nevertheless as he saw that I refused to admit that I might be mistaken, and as he knew that masters like to see their most futile whims obeyed and their most obvious lies accepted, he promised me like a good servant that in future he would say Cambremer. It is true that none of the shopkeepers in the town, none of the peasants in the district, where the name and persons of the Cambremers were perfectly familiar, could ever have made the lift-boy’s mistake. But the staff of the ‘Grand Hotel of Balbec’ were none of them natives. They came direct, with the furniture and stock, from Biarritz, Nice and Monte-Carlo, one division having been transferred to Deauville, another to Dinard and the third reserved for Balbec.
But the lift-boy’s pained anxiety continued to grow. That he should thus forget to shew his devotion to me by the customary smiles, some misfortune must have befallen him. Perhaps he had been ‘‘missed.’ I made up my mind in that case to try to secure his reinstatement, the manager having promised to ratify all my wishes with regard to his staff. “You can always do just what you like, I rectify everything in advance.” Suddenly, as I stepped out of the lift, I guessed the meaning of the boy’s distress, his panic-stricken air. Because Albertine was with me, I had not given him the five francs which I was in the habit of slipping into his hand when I went up. And the idiot, instead of understanding that I did not wish to make a display of generosity in front of a third person, had begun to tremble, supposing that it was all finished, that I would never give him anything again. He imagined that I was ‘on the rocks’ (as the Duc de Guermantes would have said), and the supposition inspired him with no pity for myself but with a terrible selfish disappointment. I told myself that I was less unreasonable than my mother thought when I dared not, one day, refrain from giving the extravagant but feverishly awaited sum that I had given the day before. But at the same time the meaning that I had until then, and without a shadow of doubt, ascribed to his habitual expression of joy, in which I had no hesitation in seeing a sign of devotion, seemed to me to have become less certain. Seeing the lift-boy ready, in his despair, to fling himself down from the fifth floor of the hotel, I asked myself whether, if our respective social stations were to be altered, in consequence let us say of a revolution, instead of politely working his lift for me, the boy, grown independent, would not have flung me down the well, and whether there was not, in certain of the lower orders, more duplicity than in society, where, no doubt, people reserve their offensive remarks until we are out of earshot, but where their attitude towards us would not be insulting if we were reduced to poverty.
One cannot however say that, in the Balbec hotel, the lift-boy was the most commercially minded. From this point of view the staff might be divided into two categories; on the one hand, those who drew distinctions between the visitors, and were more grateful for the modest tip of an old nobleman (who, moreover, was in a position to relieve them from 28 days of military service by saying a word for them to General de Beautreillis) than for the thoughtless liberalities of a cad who by his very profusion revealed a want of practice which only to his face did they call generosity. On the other hand, those to whom nobility, intellect, fame, position, manners were nonexistent, concealed under a cash valuation. For these there was but a single standard, the money one has, or rather the money one bestows. Possibly Aimé himself, albeit pretending, in view of the great number of hotels in which he had served, to a great knowledge of the world, belonged to this latter category. At the most he would give a social turn, shewing that he knew who was who, to this sort of appreciation, as when he said of the Princesse de Luxembourg: “There’s a pile of money among that lot?” (the question mark at the end being to ascertain the facts or to check such information as he had already ascertained, before supplying a client with a ‘chef for Paris, or promising him a table on the left, by the door, with a view of the sea, at Balbec). In spite of this, and albeit not free from sordid considerations, he would not have displayed them with the fatuous despair of the lift-boy. And yet, the latter’s artlessness helped perhaps to simplify things. It is the convenience of a big hotel, of a house such as Rachel used at one time to frequent, that, without any intermediary, the face, frozen stiff until that moment, of a servant or a woman, at the sight of a hundred-franc note, still more of one of a thousand, even although it is being given to some one else, will melt in smiles and offers of service. Whereas in the dealings, in the relations between lover and mistress, there are too many things interposed between money and docility. So many things that the very people upon whose faces money finally evokes a smile are often incapable of following the internal process that links them together, believe themselves to be, and indeed are more refined. Besides, it rids polite conversation of such speeches as: “There’s only one thing left for me to do, you will find me to-morrow in the mortuary.” And so one meets in polite society few novelists, or poets, few of all those sublime creatures who speak of the things that are not to be mentioned.
As soon as we were alone and had moved along the corridor, Albertine began: “What is it, you have got against me?” Had my harsh treatment of her been painful to myself? Had it been merely an unconscious ruse on my part, with the object of bringing my mistress to that attitude of fear and supplication which would enable me to interrogate her, and perhaps to find out which of the alternative hypotheses that I had long since formed about her was correct? However that may be, when I heard her question, I suddenly felt the joy of one who attains to a long desired goal. Before answering her, I escorted her to the door of my room. Opening it, I scattered the roseate light that was flooding the room and turning the white muslin of the curtains drawn for the night to golden damask. I went across to the window; the gulls had settled again upon the waves; but this time they were pink. I drew Albertine’s attention to them. “Don’t change the subject,” she said, “be frank with me.” I lied. I declared to her that she must first listen to a confession, that of my passionate admiration, for some time past, of Andrée, and I made her this confession with a simplicity and frankness worthy of the stage, but seldom employed in real life except for a love which people do not feel. Harking back to the fiction I had employed with Gilberte before my first visit to Balbec, but adapting its terms, I went so far (in order to make her more ready to believe me when I told her now that I was not in love with her) as to let fall the admission that at one time I had been on the point of falling in love with her, but that too long an interval had elapsed, that she could be nothing more to me now than a good friend and comrade, and that even if I wished to feel once again a more ardent sentiment for her it would be quite beyond my power. As it happened, in taking my stand thus before Albertine on these protestations of coldness towards her, I was merely — because of a particular circumstance and with a particular object in view — making more perceptible, accentuating more markedly, that dual rhythm which love adopts in all those who have too little confidence in themselves to believe that a woman can ever fall in love with them, and also that they themselves can genuinely fall in love with her. They know themselves well enough to have observed that in the presence of the most divergent types of woman they felt the same hopes, the same agonies, invented the same romances, uttered the same words, to have deduced therefore that their sentiments, their actions bear no close and necessary relation to the woman they love, but pass by her, spatter her, surround her, like the waves that break round upon the rocks, and their sense of their own instability increases still further their misgivings that this woman, by whom they would so fain be loved, is not in love with them. Why should chance have brought it about, when she is simply an accident placed so as to catch the ebullience of our desire, that we should ourselves be the object of the desire that is animating her? And so, while we feel the need to pour out before her all those sentiments, so different from the merely human sentiments that our neighbour inspires in us, those so highly specialised sentiments which are a lover’s, after we have taken a step forward, in avowing to her whom we love our affection for her, our hopes, overcome at once by the fear of offending her, ashamed too that the speech we have addressed to her was not composed expressly for her, that it has served us already, will serve us again for others, that if she does not love us she cannot understand us and we have spoken in that case with the want of taste, of modesty shewn by the pedant who addresses an ignorant audience in subtle phrases which are not for them, this fear, this shame bring into play the counter-rhythm, the reflux, the need, even by first drawing back, hotly denying the affection we have already confessed, to resume the offensive, and to recapture her esteem, to dominate her; the double rhythm is perceptible in the various periods of a single love affair, in all the corresponding periods of similar love affairs, in all those people whose self-analysis outweighs their self-esteem. If it was however somewhat more vigorously accentuated than usual in this speech which I was now preparing to make to Albertine, that was simply to allow me to pass more speedily and more emphatically to the alternate rhythm which should sound my affection.
As though it must be painful to Albertine to believe what I was saying to her as to the impossibility of my loving her again, after so long an interval, I justified what I called an eccentricity of my nature by examples taken from people with whom I had, by their fault or my own, allowed the time for loving them to pass, and been unable, however keenly I might have desired it, to recapture it. I thus appeared at one and the same time to be apologising to her, as for a want of courtesy, for this inability to begin loving her again, and to be seeking to make her understand the psychological reasons for that incapacity as though they had been peculiar to myself. But by explaining myself in this fashion, by dwelling upon the case of Gilberte, in regard to whom the argument had indeed been strictly true which was becoming so far from true when applied to Albertine, all that I did was to render my assertions as plausible as I pretended to believe that they were not. Feeling that Albertine appreciated what she called my ‘frank speech’ and recognising in my deductions the clarity of the evidence, I apologised for the former by telling her that I knew that the truth was always unpleasant and in this instance must seem to her incomprehensible. She, on the contrary, thanked me for my sincerity and added that so far from being puzzled she understood perfectly a state of mind so frequent and so natural.
This avowal to Albertine of an imaginary sentiment for Andrée, and, towards herself, an indifference which, that it might appear altogether sincere and without exaggeration, I assured her incidentally, as though by a scruple of politeness, must not be taken too literally, enabled me at length, without any fear of Albertine’s suspecting me of loving her, to speak to her with a tenderness which I had so long denied myself and which seemed to me exquisite. I almost caressed my confidant; as I spoke to her of her friend whom I loved, tears came to my eyes. But, coming at last to the point, I said to her that she knew what love meant, its susceptibilities, its sufferings, and that perhaps, as the old friend that she now was, she might feel it in her heart to put a stop to the bitter grief that she was causing me, not directly, since it was not herself that I loved, if I might venture to repeat that without offending her, but indirectly by wounding me in my love for Andrée. I broke off to admire and point out to Albertine a great bird, solitary and hastening, which far out in front of us, lashing the air with the regular beat of its wings, was passing at full speed over the beach stained here and there with reflexions like little torn scraps of red paper, and crossing it from end to end without slackening its pace, without diverting its attention, without deviating from its path, like an envoy carrying far afield an urgent and vital message. “He at least goes straight to the point!” said Albertine in a tone of reproach. “You say that because you don’t know what it is I was going to tell you. But it is so difficult that I prefer to give it up; I am certain that I should make you angry; and then all that will have happened will be this: I shall be in no way better off with the girl I really love and I shall have lost a good friend.” “But when I swear to you that I will not be angry.” She had so sweet, so wistfully docile an air, as though her whole happiness depended on me, that I could barely restrain myself from kissing — with almost the same kind of pleasure that I should have taken in kissing my mother — this novel face which no longer presented the startled, blushing expression of a rebellious and perverse kitten with its little pink, tip-tilted nose, but seemed, in the fulness of its crushing sorrow, moulded in broad, flattened, drooping slabs of pure goodness. Making an abstraction of my love as of a chronic mania that had no connexion with her, putting myself in her place, I let my heart be melted before this honest girl, accustomed to being treated in a friendly and loyal fashion, whom the good comrade that she might have supposed me had been pursuing for weeks past with persecutions which had at last arrived at their culminating point. It was because I placed myself at a standpoint that was purely human, external to both of us, at which my jealous love dissolved, that I felt for Albertine that profound pity, which would have been less profound if I had not loved her. However, in that rhythmical oscillation which leads from a declaration to a quarrel (the surest, the most certainly perilous way of forming by opposite and successive movements a knot which will not be loosed and attaches us firmly to a person by the strain of the movement of withdrawal which constitutes one of the two elements of the rhythm), of what use is it to analyse farther the refluences of human pity, which, the opposite of love, though springing perhaps unconsciously from the same cause, produces in every case the same effects? When we count up afterwards the total amount of all that we have done for a woman, we often discover that the actions prompted by the desire to shew that we love her, to make her love us, to win her favours, bulk little if any greater than those due to the human need to repair the wrongs that we have done to the creature whom we love, from a mere sense of moral duty, as though we were not in love with her. “But tell me, what on earth have I done?” Albertine asked me. There was a knock at the door; it was the lift-boy; Albertine’s aunt, who was passing the hotel in a carriage, had stopped on the chance of finding her there, to take her home. Albertine sent word that she could not come, that they were to begin dinner without her, that she could not say at what time she would return. “But won’t your aunt be angry?” “What do you suppose? She will understand all right.” And so, at this moment at least, a moment such as might never occur again — a conversation with myself was proved by this incident to be in Albertine’s eyes a thing of such self-evident importance that it must be given precedence over everything, a thing to which, referring no doubt instinctively to a family code, enumerating certain crises in which, when the career of M. Bontemps was at stake, a journey had been made without a thought, my friend never doubted that her aunt would think it quite natural to see her sacrifice the dinner-hour. That remote hour which she passed without my company, among her own people, Albertine, having brought it to me, bestowed it on me; I might make what use of it I chose. I ended by making bold to tell her what had been reported to me about her way of living, and that notwithstanding the profound disgust that I felt for women tainted with that vice, I had not given it a thought until I had been told the name of her accomplice, and that she could readily understand, loving Andrée as I did, the grief that, the news had caused me. It would have been more tactful perhaps to say that I had been given the names of other women as well, in whom I was not interested. But the sudden and terrible revelation that Cottard had made to me had entered my heart to lacerate it, complete in itself but without accretions. And just as, before that moment, it would never have occurred to me that Albertine was in love with Andrée, or at any rate could find pleasure in caressing her, if Cottard had not drawn my attention to their attitude as they waltzed together, so I had been incapable of passing from that idea to the idea, so different for me, that Albertine might have, with other women than Andrée, relations for which affection could not be pleaded in excuse. Albertine, before even swearing to me that it was not true, shewed, like everyone upon learning that such things are being said about him, anger, concern, and, with regard to the unknown slanderer, a fierce curiosity to know who he was and a desire to be confronted with him so as to be able to confound him. But she assured me that she bore me, at least, no resentment. “If it had been true, I should have told you. But Andrée and I both loathe that sort of thing. We have not lived all these years without seeing women with cropped hair who behave like men and do the things you mean, and nothing revolts us more.” Albertine gave me merely her word, a peremptory word unsupported by proof. But this was just what was best calculated to calm me, jealousy belonging to that family of sickly doubts which are better purged by the energy than by the probability of an affirmation. It is moreover the property of love to make us at once more distrustful and more credulous, to make us suspect, more readily than we should suspect anyone else, her whom we love, and be convinced more easily by her denials. We must be in love before we can care that all women are not virtuous, which is to say before we can be aware of the fact, and we must be in love too before we can hope, that is to say assure ourselves that some are. It is human to seek out what hurts us and then at once to seek to get rid of it. The statements that are capable of so relieving us seem quite naturally true, we are not inclined to cavil at a sedative that acts. Besides, however multiform may be the person with whom we are in love, she can in any case offer us two essential personalities accordingly as she appears to us as ours, or as turning her desires in another direction. The former of these personalities possesses the peculiar power which prevents us from believing in the reality of the other, the secret remedy to heal the sufferings that this latter has caused us. The beloved object is successively the malady and the remedy that suspends and aggravates it. No doubt, I had long since been prepared, by the strong impression made on my imagination and my faculty for emotion by the example of Swann, to believe in the truth of what I feared rather than of what I should have wished. And so the comfort brought me by Albertine’s affirmations came near to being jeopardised for a moment, because I was reminded of the story of Odette. But I told myself that, if it was only right to allow for the worst, not only when, in order to understand Swann’s sufferings, I had tried to put myself in his place, but now, when I myself was concerned, in seeking the truth as though it referred to some one else, still I must not, out of cruelty to myself, a soldier who chooses the post not where he can be of most use but where he is most exposed, end in the mistake of regarding one supposition as more true than the rest, simply because it was more painful. Was there not a vast gulf between Albertine, a girl of good, middle-class parentage, and Odette, a courtesan bartered by her mother in her childhood? There could be no comparison of their respective credibility. Besides, Albertine had in no respect the same interest in lying to me that Odette had had in lying to Swann. Moreover to him Odette had admitted what Albertine had just denied. I should therefore be guilty of an error in reasoning as serious — though in the opposite direction — as that which had inclined me towards a certain hypothesis because it had caused me less pain than the rest, were I not to take into account these material differences in their positions, but to reconstruct the real life of my mistress solely from what I had been told about the life of Odette. I had before me a new Albertine, of whom I had already, it was true, caught more than one glimpse towards the end of my previous visit to Balbec, frank and honest, an Albertine who had, out of affection for myself, forgiven me my suspicions and tried to dispel them. She made me sit down by her side upon my bed. I thanked her for what she had said to me, assured her that our reconciliation was complete, and that I would never be horrid to her again. I suggested to her that she ought, at the same time, to go home to dinner. She asked me whether I was not glad to have her with me. Drawing my head towards her for a caress which she had never before given me and which I owed perhaps to the healing of our rupture, she passed her tongue lightly over my lips which she attempted to force apart. At first I kept them tight shut. “You are a great bear!” she informed me.
I ought to have left the place that evening and never set eyes on her again. I felt even then that in a love which is not reciprocated — I might as well say, in love, for there are people for whom there is no such thing as reciprocated love — we can enjoy only that simulacrum of happiness which had been given me at one of those unique moments in which a woman’s good nature, or her caprice, or mere chance, bring to our desires, in perfect coincidence, the same words, the same actions as if we were really loved. The wiser course would have been to consider with curiosity, to possess with delight that little parcel of happiness failing which I should have died without ever suspecting what it could mean to hearts less difficult to please or more highly favoured; to suppose that it formed part of a vast and enduring happiness of which this fragment only was visible to me, and — lest the next day should expose this fiction — not to attempt to ask for any fresh favour after this, which had been due only to the artifice of an exceptional moment. I ought to have left Balbec, to have shut myself up in solitude, to have remained so in harmony with the last vibrations of the voice which I had contrived to render amorous for an instant, and of which I should have asked nothing more than that it might never address another word to me; for fear lest, by an additional word which now could only be different, it might shatter with a discord the sensitive silence in which, as though by the pressure of a pedal, there might long have survived in me the throbbing chord of happiness.
Soothed by my explanation with Albertine, I began once again to live in closer intimacy with my mother. She loved to talk to me gently about the days in which my grandmother had been younger. Fearing that I might reproach myself with the sorrows with which I had perhaps darkened the close of my grandmother’s life, she preferred to turn back to the years when the first signs of my dawning intelligence had given my grandmother a satisfaction which until now had always been kept from me. We talked of the old days at Combray. My mother reminded me that there at least I used to read, and that at Balbec I might well do the same, if I was not going to work. I replied that, to surround myself with memories of Combray and of the charming coloured plates, I should like to read again the Thousand and One Nights. As, long ago at Combray, when she gave me books for my birthday, so it was in secret, as a surprise for me, that my mother now sent for both the Thousand and One Nights of Galland and the Thousand Nights and a Night of Mardrus. But, after casting her eye over the two translations, my mother would have preferred that I should stick to Galland’s, albeit hesitating to influence me because of the respect that she felt for intellectual liberty, her dread of interfering with my intellectual life and the feeling that, being a woman, on the one hand she lacked, or so she thought, the necessary literary equipment, and on the other hand ought not to condemn because she herself was shocked by it the reading of a young man. Happening upon certain of the tales, she had been revolted by the immorality of the subject and the crudity of the expression. But above all, preserving, like precious relics, not only the brooch, the sunshade, the cloak, the volume of Madame de Sévigné, but also the habits of thought and speech of her mother, seeking on every occasion the opinion that she would have expressed, my mother could have no doubt of the horror with which my grandmother would have condemned Mardrus’s book. She remembered that at Combray while before setting out for a walk, Méséglise way, I was reading Augustin Thierry, my grandmother, glad that I should be reading, and taking walks, was indignant nevertheless at seeing him whose name remained enshrined in the hemistich: ‘Then reignèd Mérovée’ called Merowig, refused to say ‘Carolingians’ for the ‘Carlovingians’ to which she remained loyal. And then I told her what my grandmother had thought of the Greek names which Bloch, following Leconte de Lisle, gave to the gods of Homer, going so far, in the simplest matters, as to make it a religious duty, in which he supposed literary talent to consist, to adopt a Greek system of spelling. Having occasion, for instance, to mention in a letter that the wine which they drank at his home was real nectar, he would write ‘real nektar,’ with a k, which enabled him to titter at the mention of Lamartine. And if an Odyssey from which the names of Ulysses and Minerva were missing was no longer the Odyssey to her, what would she have said upon seeing corrupted even upon the cover the title of her Thousand and One Nights, upon no longer finding, exactly transcribed as she had all her life been in the habit of pronouncing them, the immortally familiar names of Scheherazade, of Dinarzade, in which, debaptised themselves (if one may use the expression of Musulman tales), the charming Caliph and the powerful Genies were barely recognisable, being renamed, he the ‘Khalifat’ and they the ‘Gennis.’ Still, my mother handed over both books to me, and I told her that I would read them on the days when I felt too tired to go out.
These days were not very frequent, however. We used to go out picnicking as before in a band, Albertine, her friends and myself, on the cliff or to the farm called Marie-Antoinette. But there were times when Albertine bestowed on me this great pleasure. She would say to me: “To-day I want to be alone with you for a little, it will be nicer if we are just by ourselves.” Then she would give out that she was busy, not that she need furnish any explanation, and so that the others, if they went all the same, without us, for an excursion and picnic, might not be able to find us, we would steal away like a pair of lovers, all by ourselves to Bagatelle or the Cross of Heulan, while the band, who would never think of looking for us there and never went there, waited indefinitely, in the hope of seeing us appear, at Marie-Antoinette. I recall the hot weather that we had then, when from the brow of each of the farm-labourers toiling in the sun a drop of sweat would fall, vertical, regular, intermittent, like the drop of water from a cistern, and alternate with the fall of the ripe fruit dropping from the tree in the adjoining ‘closes’; they have remained, to this day, with that mystery of a woman’s secret, the most substantial part of every love that offers itself to me. A woman who has been mentioned to me and to whom I would not give a moment’s thought — I upset all my week’s engagements to make her acquaintance, if it is a week of similar weather, and I am to meet her in some isolated farmhouse. It is no good my knowing that this kind of weather, this kind of assignation are not part of her, they are still the bait, which I know all too well, by which I allow myself to be tempted and which is sufficient to hook me. I know that this woman, in cold weather, in a town, I might perhaps have desired, but without the accompaniment of a romantic sentiment, without becoming amorous; my love for her is none the less keen as soon as, by force of circumstances, it has enthralled me — it is only the more melancholy, as in the course of life our sentiments for other people become, in proportion as we become more clearly aware of the ever smaller part that they play in our life and that the new love which we would like to be so permanent, cut short in the same moment as life itself, will be the last.
There were still but a few people at Balbec, hardly any girls. Sometimes I saw some girl resting upon the beach, devoid of charm, and yet apparently identified by various features as one whom I had been in despair at not being able to approach at the moment when she emerged with her friends from the riding school or gymnasium. If it was the same (and I took care not to mention the matter to Albertine), then the girl that I had thought so exciting did not exist. But I could not arrive at any certainty, for the face of any one of these girls did not fill any space upon the beach, did not offer a permanent form, contracted, dilated, transformed as it was by my own observation, the uneasiness of my desire or a sense of comfort that was self-sufficient, by the different clothes that she was wearing, the rapidity of her movements or her immobility. All the same, two or three of them seemed to me adorable. Whenever I saw one of these, I longed to take her away along the Avenue des Tamaris, or among the sandhills, better still upon the cliff. But, albeit into desire, as opposed to indifference, there enters already that audacity which is a first stage, if only unilateral, towards realisation, all the same, between my desire and the action that my request to be allowed to kiss her would have been, there was all the indefinite blank of hesitation, of timidity. Then I went into the pastrycook’s bar, I drank, one after another, seven or eight glasses of port wine. At once, instead of the impassable gulf between my desire and action, the effect of the alcohol traced a line that joined them together. No longer was there any room for hesitation or fear. It seemed to me that the girl was about to fly into my arms. I went up to her, the words came spontaneously to my lips: “I should like to go for a walk with you. You wouldn’t care to go along the cliff, we shan’t be disturbed behind the little wood that keeps the wind off the wooden bungalow that is empty just now?” All the difficulties of life were smoothed away, there was no longer any obstacle to the conjunction of our two bodies. No obstacle for me, at least. For they had not been volatilised for her, who had not been drinking port wine. Had she done so, had the outer world lost some of its reality in her eyes, the long cherished dream that would then have appeared to her to be suddenly realisable might perhaps have been not at all that of falling into my arms.
Not only were the girls few in number but at this season which was not yet ‘the season’ they stayed but a short time. There is one I remember with a reddish skin, green eyes and a pair of ruddy cheeks, whose slight symmetrical face resembled the winged seeds of certain trees. I cannot say what breeze wafted her to Balbec or what other bore her away. So sudden was her removal that for some days afterwards I was haunted by a grief which I made bold to confess to Albertine when I realised that the girl had gone for ever.
I should add that several of them were either girls whom I did not know at all or whom I had not seen for years. Often, before addressing them, I wrote to them. If their answer allowed me to believe in the possibility of love, what joy! We cannot, at the outset of our friendship with a woman, even if that friendship is destined to come to nothing, bear to part from those first letters that we have received from her. We like to have them beside us all the time, like a present of rare flowers, still quite fresh, at which we cease to gaze only to draw them closer to us and smell them. The sentence that we know by heart, it is pleasant to read again, and in those that we have committed less accurately to memory we like to verify the degree of affection in some expression. Did she write: ‘Your dear letter’? A slight marring of our bliss, which must be ascribed either to our having read too quickly, or to the illegible handwriting of our correspondent; she did not say: ‘Your dear letter’ but ‘From your letter.’ But the rest is so tender. Oh, that more such flowers may come to-morrow. Then that is no longer enough, we must with the written words compare the writer’s eyes, her face. We make an appointment, and — without her having altered, perhaps — whereas we expected, from the description given us or our personal memory, to meet the fairy Viviane, we encounter Puss-in-Boots. We make an appointment, nevertheless, for the following day, for it is, after all, she, and the person we desired is she. And these desires for a woman of whom we have been dreaming do not make beauty of form and feature essential. These desires are only the desire for a certain person; vague as perfumes, as styrax was the desire of Prothyraia, saffron the ethereal desire, aromatic scents the desire of Hera, myrrh the perfume of the Magi, manna the desire of Nike, incense the perfume of the sea. But these perfumes that are sung in the Orphic hymns are far fewer in number than the deities they worship. Myrrh is the perfume of the Magi, but also of Protogonos, Neptune, Nereus, Leto; incense is the perfume of the sea, but also of the fair Dike, of Themis, of Circe, of the Nine Muses, of Eos, of Mnemosyne, of the Day, of Dikaiosyne. As for styrax, manna and aromatic scents, it would be impossible to name all the deities that inhale them, so many are they. Amphietes has all the perfumes except incense, and Gaia rejects only beans and aromatic scents. So was it with these desires for different girls that I felt. Fewer in number than the girls themselves, they changed into disappointments and regrets closely similar one to another. I never wished for myrrh. I reserved it for Jupien and for the Prince de Guermantes, for it is the desire of Protogonos “of twofold sex, who roars like a bull, of countless orgies, memorable, unspeakable, descending, joyous, to the sacrifices of the Orgiophants.”
But presently the season was in full swing; every day there was some fresh arrival, and for the sudden increase in the frequency of my outings, which took the place of the charmed perusal of the Thousand and One Nights, there was a reason devoid of pleasure which poisoned them all. The beach was now peopled with girls, and, since the idea suggested to me by Cottard had not indeed furnished me with fresh suspicions but had rendered me sensitive and weak in that quarter and careful not to let any suspicion take shape in my mind, as soon as a young woman arrived at Balbec, I began to feel ill at ease, I proposed to Albertine the most distant excursions, in order that she might not make the newcomer’s acquaintance, and indeed, if possible, might not set eyes on her. I dreaded naturally even more those women whose dubious ways were remarked or their bad reputation already known; I tried to persuade my mistress that this bad reputation had no foundation, was a slander, perhaps, without admitting it to myself, from a fear, still unconscious, that she might seek to make friends with the depraved woman or regret her inability to do so, because of me, or might conclude from the number of examples that a vice so widespread was not to be condemned. In denying the guilt of each of them, my intention was nothing less than to pretend that sapphism did not exist. Albertine adopted my incredulity as to the viciousness of this one or that. “No, I think it’s just a pose, she wants to look the part.” But then, I regretted almost that I had pleaded the other’s innocence, for it distressed me that Albertine, formerly so severe, could believe that this ‘part’ was a thing so flattering, so advantageous, that a woman innocent of such tastes could seek to ‘look it.’ I would have liked to be sure that no more women were coming to Balbec; I trembled when I thought that, as it was almost time for Mme. Putbus to arrive at the Verdurins’, her maid, whose tastes Saint-Loup had not concealed from me, might take it into her head to come down to the beach, and, if it were a day on which I was not with Albertine, might seek to corrupt her. I went the length of asking myself whether, as Cottard had made no secret of the fact that the Verdurins thought highly of me and, while not wishing to appear, as he put it, to be running after me, would give a great deal to have me come to their house, I might not, on the strength of promises to bring all the Guermantes in existence to call on them in Paris, induce Mme. Verdurin, upon some pretext or other, to inform Mme. Putbus that it was impossible to keep her there any longer and make her leave the place at once. Notwithstanding these thoughts, and as it was chiefly the presence of Andrée that was disturbing me, the soothing effect that Albertine’s words had had upon me still to some extent persisted — I knew moreover that presently I should have less need of it, as Andrée would be leaving the place with Rosemonde and Gisèle just about the time when the crowd began to arrive and would be spending only a few weeks more with Albertine. During these weeks, moreover, Albertine seemed to have planned everything that she did, everything that she said, with a view to destroying my suspicions if any remained, or to prevent them from reviving. She contrived never to be left alone with Andrée, and insisted, when we came back from an excursion, upon my accompanying her to her door, upon my coming to fetch her when we were going anywhere. Andrée meanwhile took just as much trouble on her side, seemed to avoid meeting Albertine. And this apparent understanding between them was not the only indication that Albertine must have informed her friend of our conversation and have asked her to be so kind as to calm my absurd suspicions.
About this time there occurred at the Grand Hotel a scandal which was not calculated to modify the intensity of my torment. Bloch’s cousin had for some time past been indulging, with a retired actress, in secret relations which presently ceased to satisfy them. That they should be seen seemed to them to add perversity to their pleasure, they chose to flaunt their perilous sport before the eyes of all the world. They began with caresses, which might, after all, be set down to a friendly intimacy, in the card-room, by the baccarat-table. Then they grew more bold. And finally, one evening, in a corner that was not even dark of the big ball-room, on a sofa, they made no more attempt to conceal what they were doing than if they had been in bed. Two officers who happened to be near, with their wives, complained to the manager. It was thought for a moment that their protest would be effective. But they had this against them that, having come over for the evening from Netteholme, where they were staying, they could not be of any use to the manager. Whereas, without her knowing it even, and whatever remarks the manager may have made to her, there hovered over Mlle. Bloch the protection of M. Nissim Bernard. I must explain why. M. Nissim Bernard carried to their highest pitch the family virtues. Every year he took a magnificent villa at Balbec for his nephew, and no invitation would have dissuaded him from going home to dine at his own table, which was in reality theirs. But he never took his luncheon at home. Every day at noon he was at the Grand Hotel. The fact of the matter was that he was keeping, as other men keep a chorus-girl from the opera, an embryo waiter of much the same type as the pages of whom we have spoken, and who made us think of the young Israelites in Esther and Athalie. It is true that the forty years’ difference in age between M. Nissim Bernard and the young waiter ought to have preserved the latter from a contact that was scarcely pleasant. But, as Racine so wisely observes in those same choruses:
Great God, with what uncertain tread
A budding virtue ‘mid such perils goes!
What stumbling-blocks do lie before a soul
That seeks Thee and would fain be innocent.
The young waiter might indeed have been brought up ‘remote from the world’ in the Temple-Caravanserai of Balbec, he had not followed the advice of Joad:
In riches and in gold put not thy trust.
He had perhaps justified himself by saying: “The wicked cover the earth.” However that might be, and albeit M. Nissim Bernard had not expected so rapid a conquest, on the very first day,
Were’t in alarm, or anxious to caress,
He felt those childish arms about him thrown.
And by the second day, M. Nissim Bernard having taken the young waiter out,
The dire assault his innocence destroyed.
From that moment the boy’s life was altered. He might indeed carry bread and salt, as his superior bade him, his whole face sang:
From flowers to flowers, from joys to keener joys
Let our desires now range.
Uncertain is our tale of fleeting years.
Haste we then to enjoy this life!
Honours and fame are the reward
Of blind and meek obedience.
For moping innocence
Who now would raise his voice!
Since that day, M. Nissim Bernard had never failed to come and occupy his seat at the luncheon-table (as a man would occupy his in the stalls who was keeping a dancer, a dancer in this case of a distinct and special type, which still awaits its Degas). It was M. Nissim Bernard’s delight to follow over the floor of the restaurant and down the remote vista to where beneath her palm the cashier sat enthroned, the evolutions of the adolescent hurrying in service, in the service of everyone, and, less than anyone, of M. Nissim Bernard, now that the latter was keeping him, whether because the young chorister did not think it necessary to display the same friendliness to a person by whom he supposed himself to be sufficiently well loved, or because that love annoyed him or he feared lest, if discovered, it might make him lose other opportunities. But this very coldness pleased M. Nissim Bernard, because of all that it concealed; whether from Hebraic atavism or from profanation of the Christian spirit, he took a singular pleasure, were it Jewish or Catholic, in the Racinian ceremony. Had it been a real performance of Esther or Athalie, M. Bernard would have regretted that the gulf of centuries must prevent him from making the acquaintance of the author, Jean Racine, so that he might obtain for his protégé a more substantial part. But as the luncheon ceremony came from no author’s pen, he contented himself with being on good terms with the manager and Aimé, so that the ‘young Israelite’ might be promoted to the coveted post of under-waiter, or even full waiter to a row of tables. The post of wine waiter had been offered him. But M. Bernard made him decline it, for he would no longer have been able to come every day to watch him race about the green dining-room and to be waited upon by him like a stranger. Now this pleasure was so keen that every year M. Bernard returned to Balbec and took his luncheon away from home, habits in which M. Bloch saw, in the former a poetical fancy for the bright sunshine, the sunsets of this coast favoured above all others, in the latter the inveterate mania of an old bachelor.
As a matter of fact, the mistake made by M. Nissim Bernard’s relatives, who never suspected the true reason for his annual return to Balbec and for what the pedantic Mme. Bloch called his absentee palate, was really a more profound and secondary truth. For M. Nissim Bernard himself was unaware how much there was of love for the beach at Balbec, for the view one enjoyed from the restaurant over the sea, and of maniacal habits in the fancy that he had for keeping, like a dancing girl of another kind which still lacks a Degas, one of his servants the rest of whom were still girls. And so M. Nissim Bernard maintained, with the director of this theatre which was the hotel at Balbec, and with the stage-manager and producer Aimé— whose part in all this affair was anything but simple — excellent relations. One day they would intrigue to procure an important part, a place perhaps as headwaiter. In the meantime M. Nissim Bernard’s pleasure, poetical and calmly contemplative as it might be, reminded one a little of those women-loving men who always know — Swann, for example, in the past — that if they go out to a party they will meet their mistress. No sooner had M. Nissim Bernard taken his seat than he would see the object of his affections appear on the scene, bearing in his hand fruit or cigars upon a tray. And so every morning, after kissing his niece, bothering my friend Bloch about his work and feeding his horses with lumps of sugar from the palm of his outstretched hand, he would betray a feverish haste to arrive in time for luncheon at the Grand Hotel. Had the house been on fire, had his niece had a stroke, he would doubtless have started off just the same. So that he dreaded like the plague a cold that would confine him to his bed — for he was a hypochondriac — and would oblige him to ask Aimé to send his young friend across to visit him at home, between luncheon and tea-time.
He loved moreover all the labyrinth of corridors, private offices, reception-rooms, cloakrooms, larders, galleries which composed the hotel at Balbec. With a strain of oriental atavism he loved a seraglio, and when he went out at night might be seen furtively exploring its passages. While, venturing down to the basement and endeavouring at the same time to escape notice and to avoid a scandal, M. Nissim Bernard, in his quest of the young Lévites, put one in mind of those lines in La Juive:
O God of our Fathers, come down to us again,
Our mysteries veil from the eyes of wicked men!
I on the contrary would go up to the room of two sisters who had come to Balbec, as her maids, with an old lady, a foreigner. They were what the language of hotels called ‘couriers,’ and that of Françoise, who imagined that a courier was a person who was there to run his course, two ‘coursers.’ The hotels have remained, more nobly, in the period when people sang: “C’est un courrier de cabinet.”
Difficult as it was for a visitor to penetrate to the servants’ quarters, I had very soon formed a mutual bond of friendship, as strong as it was pure, with these two young persons, Mademoiselle Marie Gineste and Madame Céleste Albaret. Born at the foot of the high mountains in the centre of France, on the banks of rivulets and torrents (the water passed actually under their old home, turning a millwheel, and the house had often been damaged by floods), they seemed to embody the features of that region. Marie Gineste was more regularly rapid and abrupt, Céleste Albaret softer and more languishing, spread out like a lake, but with terrible boiling rages in which her fury suggested the peril of spates and gales that sweep everything before them. They often came in the morning to see me when I was still in bed. I have never known people so deliberately ignorant, who had learned absolutely nothing at school, and yet whose language was somehow so literary that, but for the almost savage naturalness of their tone, one would have thought their speech affected. With a familiarity which I reproduce verbatim, notwithstanding the praises (which I set down here in praise not of myself but of the strange genius of Céleste) and the criticisms, equally unfounded, in which her remarks seem to involve me, while I dipped crescent rolls in my milk, Céleste would say to me: “Oh! Little black devil with hair of jet, O profound wickedness! I don’t know what your mother was thinking of when she made you, for you are just like a bird. Look, Marie, wouldn’t you say he was preening his feathers, and turning his head right round, so light he looks, you would say he was just learning to fly. Ah! It’s fortunate for you that those who bred you brought you into the world to rank and riches; what would ever have become of you, so wasteful as you are. Look at him throwing away his crescent because it touched the bed. There he goes, now, look, he’s spilling his milk, wait till I tie a napkin round you, for you could never do it for yourself, never in my life have I seen anyone so helpless and so clumsy as you.” I would then hear the more regular sound of the torrent of Marie Gineste who was furiously reprimanding her sister: “Will you hold your tongue, now, Céleste. Are you mad, talking to Monsieur like that?” Céleste merely smiled; and as I detested having a napkin tied round my neck: “No, Marie, look at him, bang, he’s shot straight up on end like a serpent. A proper serpent, I tell you.” These were but a few of her zoological similes, for, according to her, it was impossible to tell when I slept, I fluttered about all night like a butterfly, and in the day time I was as swift as the squirrels. “You know, Marie, the way we see them at home, so nimble that even with your eyes you can’t follow them.” “But, Céleste, you know he doesn’t like having a napkin when he’s eating.” “It isn’t that he doesn’t like it, it’s so that he can say nobody can make him do anything against his will. He’s a grand gentleman and he wants to shew that he is. They can change the sheets ten times over, if they must, but he won’t give way. Yesterday’s had served their time, but to-day they have only just been put on the bed and they’ll have to be changed already. Oh, I was right when I said that he was never meant to be born among the poor. Look, his hair’s standing on end, swelling with rage like a bird’s feathers. Poor ploumissou!” Here it was not only Marie that protested, but myself, for I did not feel in the least like a grand gentleman. But Céleste would never believe in the sincerity of my modesty and cut me short. “Oh! The story-teller! Oh! The flatterer! Oh! The false one! The cunning rogue! Oh! Molière!” (This was the only writer’s name that she knew, but she applied it to me, meaning thereby a person who was capable both of writing plays and of acting them.) “Céleste!” came the imperious cry from Marie, who, not knowing the name of Molière, was afraid that it might be some fresh insult. Céleste continued to smile: “Then you haven’t seen the photograph of him in his drawer, when he was little. He tried to make us believe that he was always dressed quite simply. And there, with his little cane, he’s all furs and laces, such as no Prince ever wore. But that’s nothing compared with his tremendous majesty and kindness which is even more profound.” “So then,” scolded the torrent Marie, “you go rummaging in his drawers now, do you?” To calm Marie’s fears I asked her what she thought of M. Nissim Bernard’s behaviour. . . . “Ah! Monsieur, there are things I wouldn’t have believed could exist. One has to come here to learn.” And, for once outrivalling Céleste by an even more profound observation: “Ah! You see, Monsieur, one can never tell what there may be in a person’s life.” To change the subject, I spoke to her of the life led by my father, who toiled night and day. “Ah! Monsieur, there are people who keep nothing of their life for themselves, not one minute, not one pleasure, the whole thing is a sacrifice for others, they are lives that are given away.” “Look, Marie, he has only to put his hand on the counterpane and take his crescent, what distinction. He can do the most insignificant things, you would say that the whole nobility of France, from here to the Pyrenees, was stirring in each of his movements.”
Overpowered by this portrait so far from lifelike, I remained silent; Céleste interpreted my silence as a further instance of guile: “Oh! Brow that looks so pure, and hides so many things, nice, cool cheeks like the inside of an almond, little hands of satin all velvety, nails like claws,” and so forth. “There, Marie, look at him sipping his milk with a devoutness that makes me want to say my prayers. What a serious air! They ought really to take his portrait as he is just now. He’s just like a child. Is it drinking milk, like them, that has kept you their bright colour? Oh! Youth! Oh! Lovely skin. You will never grow old. You are a lucky one, you will never need to raise your hand against anyone, for you have a pair of eyes that can make their will be done. Look at him now, he’s angry. He shoots up, straight as a sign-post.”
Françoise did not at all approve of what she called the two ‘tricksters’ coming to talk to me like this. The manager, who made his staff keep watch over everything that went on, even gave me a serious warning that it was not proper for a visitor to talk to servants. I, who found the ‘tricksters’ far better than any visitor in the hotel, merely laughed in his face, convinced that he would not understand my explanations. And the sisters returned. “Look, Marie, at his delicate lines. Oh, perfect miniature, finer than the most precious you could see in a glass case, for he can move, and utters words you could listen to for days and nights.”
It was a miracle that a foreign lady could have brought them there, for, without knowing anything of history or geography, they heartily detested the English, the Germans, the Russians, the Italians, all foreign vermin, and cared, with certain exceptions, for French people alone. Their faces had so far preserved the moisture of the pliable clay of their native river beds, that, as soon as one mentioned a foreigner who was staying in the hotel, in order to repeat what he had said, Céleste and Marie imposed upon their faces his face, their mouths became his mouth, their eyes his eyes, one would have liked to preserve these admirable comic masks. Céleste indeed, while pretending merely to be repeating what the manager had said, or one of my friends, would insert in her little narrative fictitious remarks in which were maliciously portrayed all the defects of Bloch, the chief magistrate, etc., while apparently unconscious of doing so. It was, under the form of the delivery of a simple message which she had obligingly undertaken to convey, an inimitable portrait. They never read anything, not even a newspaper. One day, however, they found lying on my bed a book. It was a volume of the admirable but obscure poems of Saint-Léger Léger. Céleste read a few pages and said to me: “But are you quite sure that these are poetry, wouldn’t they just be riddles?” Obviously, to a person who had learned in her childhood a single poem: “Down here the lilacs die,” there was a gap in evolution. I fancy that their obstinate refusal to learn anything was due in part to the unhealthy climate of their early home. They had nevertheless all the gifts of a poet with more modesty than poets generally shew. For if Céleste had said something noteworthy and, unable to remember it correctly, I asked her to repeat it, she would assure me that she had forgotten. They will never read any books, but neither will they ever write any.
Françoise was considerably impressed when she learned that the two brothers of these humble women had married, one the niece of the Archbishop of Tours, the other a relative of the Bishop of Rodez. To the manager, this would have conveyed nothing. Céleste would sometimes reproach her husband with his failure to understand her, and as for me, I was astonished that he could endure her. For at certain moments, raging, furious, destroying everything, she was detestable. It is said that the salt liquid which is our blood is only an internal survival of the primitive marine element. Similarly, I believe that Céleste, not only in her bursts of fury, but also in her hours of depression preserved the rhythm of her native streams. When she was exhausted, it was after their fashion; she had literally run dry. Nothing could then have revived her. Then all of a sudden the circulation was restored in her large body, splendid and light. The water flowed in the opaline transparence of her bluish skin. She smiled at the sun and became bluer still. At such moments she was truly celestial.
Bloch’s family might never have suspected the reason which made their uncle never take his luncheon at home and have accepted it from the first as the mania of an elderly bachelor, due perhaps to the demands of his intimacy with some actress; everything that concerned M. Nissim Bernard was tabu to the manager of the Balbec hotel. And that was why, without even referring to the uncle, he had finally not ventured to find fault with the niece, albeit recommending her to be a little more circumspect. And so the girl and her friend who, for some days, had pictured themselves as excluded from the casino and the Grand Hotel, seeing that everything was settled, were delighted to shew those fathers of families who held aloof from them that they might with impunity take the utmost liberties. No doubt they did not go so far as to repeat the public exhibition which had revolted everybody. But gradually they returned to their old ways. And one evening as I came out of the casino which was half in darkness with Albertine and Bloch whom we had met there, they came towards us, linked together, kissing each other incessantly, and, as they passed us, crowed and laughed, uttering indecent cries. Bloch lowered his eyes, so as to seem not to have recognised his cousin, and as for myself I was tortured by the thought that this occult, appalling language was addressed perhaps to Albertine.
Another incident turned my thoughts even more in the direction of Gomorrah. I had noticed upon the beach a handsome young woman, erect and pale, whose eyes, round their centre, scattered rays so geometrically luminous that one was reminded, on meeting her gaze, of some constellation. I thought how much more beautiful this girl was than Albertine, and that it would be wiser to give up the other. Only, the face of this beautiful young woman had been smoothed by the invisible plane of an utterly low life, of the constant acceptance of vulgar expedients, so much so that her eyes, more noble however than the rest of her face, could radiate nothing but appetites and desires. Well, on the following day, this young woman being seated a long way away from us in the casino, I saw that she never ceased to fasten upon Albertine the alternate, circling fires of her gaze. One would have said that she was making signals to her from a lighthouse. I dreaded my friend’s seeing that she was being so closely observed, I was afraid that these incessantly rekindled glances might have the conventional meaning of an amorous assignation for the morrow. For all I knew, this assignation might not be the first. The young woman with the radiant eyes might have come another year to Balbec. It was perhaps because Albertine had already yielded to her desires, or to those of a friend, that this woman allowed herself to address to her those flashing signals. If so, they did more than demand something for the present, they found a justification in pleasant hours in the past.
This assignation, in that case, must be not the first, but the sequel to adventures shared in past years. And indeed her glance did not say: “Will you?” As soon as the young woman had caught sight of Albertine, she had turned her head and beamed upon her glances charged with recollection, as though she were terribly afraid that my friend might not remember. Albertine, who could see her plainly, remained phlegmatically motionless, with the result that the other, with the same sort of discretion as a man who sees his old mistress with a new lover, ceased to look at her and paid no more attention to her than if she had not existed.
But, a day or two later, I received a proof of this young woman’s tendencies, and also of the probability of her having known Albertine in the past. Often, in the hall of the casino, when two girls were smitten with mutual desire, a luminous phenomenon occurred, a sort of phosphorescent train passing from one to the other. Let us note in passing that it is by the aid of such materialisations, even if they be imponderable, by these astral signs that set fire to a whole section of the atmosphere, that the scattered Gomorrah tends, in every town, in every village, to reunite its separated members, to reform the biblical city while everywhere the same efforts are being made, be it in view of but a momentary reconstruction, by the nostalgic, the hypocritical, sometimes by the courageous exiles from Sodom.
Once I saw the stranger whom Albertine had appeared not to recognise, just at the moment when Bloch’s cousin was approaching her. The young woman’s eyes flashed, but it was quite evident that she did not know the Israelite maiden. She beheld her for the first time, felt a desire, a shadow of doubt, by no means the same certainty as in the case of Albertine, Albertine upon whose comradeship she must so far have reckoned that, in the face of her coldness, she had felt the surprise of a foreigner familiar with Paris but not resident there, who, having returned to spend a few weeks there, on the site of the little theatre where he was in the habit of spending pleasant evenings, sees that they have now built a bank.
Bloch’s cousin went and sat down at a table where she turned the pages of a magazine. Presently the young woman came and sat down, with an abstracted air, by her side. But under the table one could presently see their feet wriggling, then their legs and hands, in a confused heap. Words followed, a conversation began, and the young woman’s innocent husband, who had been looking everywhere for her, was astonished to find her making plans for that very evening with a girl whom he did not know. His wife introduced Bloch’s cousin to him as a friend of her childhood, by an inaudible name, for she had forgotten to ask her what her name was. But the husband’s presence made their intimacy advance a stage farther, for they addressed each other as tu, having known each other at their convent, an incident at which they laughed heartily later on, as well as at the hoodwinked husband, with a gaiety which afforded them an excuse for more caresses.
As for Albertine, I cannot say that anywhere in the casino or on the beach was her behaviour with any girl unduly free. I found in it indeed an excess of coldness and indifference which seemed to be more than good breeding, to be a ruse planned to avert suspicion. When questioned by some girl, she had a quick, icy, decent way of replying in a very loud voice: “Yes, I shall be going to the tennis court about five. I shall bathe to-morrow morning about eight,” and of at once turning away from the person to whom she had said this — all of which had a horrible appearance of being meant to put people off the scent, and either to make an assignation, or, the assignation already made in a whisper, to utter this speech, harmless enough in itself, aloud, so as not to attract attention. And when later on I saw her mount her bicycle and scorch away into the distance, I could not help thinking that she was hurrying to overtake the girl to whom she had barely spoken.
Only, when some handsome young woman stepped out of a motor-car at the end of the beach, Albertine could not help turning round. And she at once explained: “I was looking at the new flag they’ve put up over the bathing place. The old one was pretty moth-eaten. But I really think this one is mouldier still.”
On one occasion Albertine was not content with cold indifference, and this made me all the more wretched. She knew that I was annoyed by the possibility of her sometimes meeting a friend of her aunt, who had a ‘bad style’ and came now and again to spend a few days with Mme. Bontemps. Albertine had pleased me by telling me that she would not speak to her again. And when this woman came to Incarville, Albertine said: “By the way, you know she’s here. Have they told you?” as though to shew me that she was not seeing her in secret. One day, when she told me this, she added: “Yes, I ran into her on the beach, and knocked against her as I passed, on purpose, to be rude to her.” When Albertine told me this, there came back to my mind a remark made by Mme. Bontemps, to which I had never given a second thought, when she had said to Mme. Swann in my presence how brazen her niece Albertine was, as though that were a merit, and told her how Albertine had reminded some official’s wife that her father had been employed in a kitchen. But a thing said by her whom we love does not long retain its purity; it withers, it decays. An evening or two later, I thought again of Albertine’s remark, and it was no longer the ill breeding of which she was so proud — and which could only make me smile — that it seemed to me to signify, it was something else, to wit that Albertine, perhaps even without any definite object, to irritate this woman’s senses, or wantonly to remind her of former proposals, accepted perhaps in the past, had swiftly brushed against her, thought that I had perhaps heard of this as it had been done in public, and had wished to forestall an unfavourable interpretation.
However, the jealousy that was caused me by the women whom Albertine perhaps loved was abruptly to cease.
* * *
We were waiting, Albertine and I, at the Balbec station of the little local railway. We had driven there in the hotel omnibus, because it was raining. Not far away from us was M. Nissim Bernard, with a black eye. He had recently forsaken the chorister from Athalie for the waiter at a much frequented farmhouse in the neighbourhood, known as the ‘Cherry Orchard.’ This rubicund youth, with his blunt features, appeared for all the world to have a tomato instead of a head. A tomato exactly similar served as head to his twin brother. To the detached observer there is this attraction about these perfect resemblances between pairs of twins, that nature, becoming for the moment industrialised, seems to be offering a pattern for sale. Unfortunately M. Nissim Bernard looked at it from another point of view, and this resemblance was only external. Tomato II shewed a frenzied zeal in furnishing the pleasures exclusively of ladies, Tomato I did not mind condescending to meet the wishes of certain gentlemen. Now on each occasion when, stirred, as though by a reflex action, by the memory of pleasant hours spent with Tomato I, M. Bernard presented himself at the Cherry Orchard, being short-sighted (not that one need be short-sighted to mistake them), the old Israelite, unconsciously playing Amphitryon, would accost the twin brother with: “Will you meet me somewhere this evening?” He at once received a resounding smack in the face. It might even be repeated in the course of a single meal, when he continued with the second brother the conversation he had begun with the first. In the end this treatment so disgusted him, by association of ideas, with tomatoes, even of the edible variety, that whenever he heard a newcomer order that vegetable, at the next table to his own, in the Grand Hotel, he would murmur to him: “You must excuse me, Sir, for addressing you, without an introduction. But I heard you order tomatoes. They are stale to-day. I tell you in your own interest, for it makes no difference to me, I never touch them myself.” The stranger would reply with effusive thanks to this philanthropic and disinterested neighbour, call back the waiter, pretend to have changed his mind: “No, on second thoughts, certainly not, no tomatoes.” Aimé, who had seen it all before, would laugh to himself, and think: “He’s an old rascal, that Monsieur Bernard, he’s gone and made another of them change his order.” M. Bernard, as he waited for the already overdue tram, shewed no eagerness to speak to Albertine and myself, because of his black eye. We were even less eager to speak to him. It would however have been almost inevitable if, at that moment, a bicycle had not come dashing towards us; the lift-boy sprang from its saddle, breathless. Madame Verdurin had telephoned shortly after we left the hotel, to know whether I would dine with her two days later; we shall see presently why. Then, having given me the message in detail, the lift-boy left us, and, being one of these democratic ‘employees’ who affect independence with regard to the middle classes, and among themselves restore the principle of authority, explained: “I must be off, because of my chiefs.”
Albertine’s girl friends had gone, and would be away for some time. I was anxious to provide her with distractions. Even supposing that she might have found some happiness in spending the afternoons with no company but my own, at Balbec, I knew that such happiness is never complete, and that Albertine, being still at the age (which some of us never outgrow) when we have not yet discovered that this imperfection resides in the person who receives the happiness and not in the person who gives it, might have been tempted to put her disappointment down to myself. I preferred that she should impute it to circumstances which, arranged by myself, would not give us an opportunity of being alone together, while at the same time preventing her from remaining in the casino and on the beach without me. And so I had asked her that day to come with me to Doncières, where I was going to meet Saint-Loup. With a similar hope of occupying her mind, I advised her to take up painting, in which she had had lessons in the past. While working she would not ask herself whether she was happy or unhappy. I would gladly have taken her also to dine now and again with the Verdurins and the Cambremers, who certainly would have been delighted to see any friend introduced by myself, but I must first make certain that Mme. Putbus was not yet at la Raspelière. It was only by going there in person that I could make sure of this, and, as I knew beforehand that on the next day but one Albertine would be going on a visit with her aunt, I had seized this opportunity to send Mme. Verdurin a telegram asking her whether she would be at home upon Wednesday. If Mme. Putbus was there, I would manage to see her maid, ascertain whether there was any danger of her coming to Balbec, and if so find out when, so as to take Albertine out of reach on the day. The little local railway, making a loop which did not exist at the time when I had taken it with my grandmother, now extended to Doncières-la-Goupil, a big station at which important trains stopped, among them the express by which I had come down to visit Saint-Loup, from Paris, and the corresponding express by which I had returned. And, because of the bad weather, the omnibus from the Grand Hotel took Albertine and myself to the station of the little tram, Balbec-Plage.
The little train had not yet arrived, but one could see, lazy and slow, the plume of smoke that it had left in its wake, which, confined now to its own power of locomotion as an almost stationary cloud, was slowly mounting the green slope of the cliff of Criquetot. Finally the little tram, which it had preceded by taking a vertical course, arrived in its turn, at a leisurely crawl. The passengers who were waiting to board it stepped back to make way for it, but without hurrying, knowing that they were dealing with a good-natured, almost human traveller, who, guided like the bicycle of a beginner, by the obliging signals of the station-master, in the strong hands of the engine-driver, was in no danger of running over anybody, and would come to a halt at the proper place.
My telegram explained the Verdurins’ telephone message and had been all the more opportune since Wednesday (the day I had fixed happened to be a Wednesday) was the day set apart for dinner-parties by Mme. Verdurin, at la Raspelière, as in Paris, a fact of which I was unaware. Mme. Verdurin did not give ‘dinners,’ but she had ‘Wednesdays.’ These Wednesdays were works of art. While fully conscious that they had not their match anywhere, Mme. Verdurin introduced shades of distinction between them. “Last Wednesday was not as good as the one before,” she would say. “But I believe the next will be one of the best I have ever given.” Sometimes she went so far as to admit: “This Wednesday was not worthy of the others. But I have a big surprise for you next week.” In the closing weeks of the Paris season, before leaving for the country, the Mistress would announce the end of the Wednesdays. It gave her an opportunity to stimulate the faithful. “There are only three more Wednesdays left, there are only two more,” she would say, in the same tone as though the world were coming to an end. “You aren’t going to miss next Wednesday, for the finale.” But this finale was a sham, for she would announce: “Officially, there will be no more Wednesdays. To-day was the last for this year. But I shall be at home all the same on Wednesday. We shall have a little Wednesday to ourselves; I dare say these little private Wednesdays will be the nicest of all.” At la Raspelière, the Wednesdays were of necessity restricted, and since, if they had discovered a friend who was passing that way, they would invite him for one or another evening, almost every day of the week became a Wednesday. “I don’t remember all the guests, but I know there’s Madame la Marquise de Camembert,” the liftboy had told me; his memory of our discussion of the name Cambremer had not succeeded in definitely supplanting that of the old world, whose syllables, familiar and full of meaning, came to the young employee’s rescue when he was embarrassed by this difficult name, and were immediately preferred and readopted by him, not by any means from laziness or as an old and ineradicable usage, but because of the need for logic and clarity which they satisfied.
We hastened in search of an empty carriage in which I could hold Albertine in my arms throughout the journey. Having failed to find one, we got into a compartment in which there was already installed a lady with a massive face, old and ugly, with a masculine expression, very much in her Sunday best, who was reading the Revue des Deux Mondes. Notwithstanding her commonness, she was eclectic in her tastes, and I found amusement in asking myself to what social category she could belong; I at once concluded that she must be the manager of some large brothel, a procuress on holiday. Her face, her manner, proclaimed the fact aloud. Only, I had never yet supposed that such ladies read the Revue des Deux Mondes. Albertine drew my attention to her with a wink and a smile. The lady wore an air of extreme dignity; and as I, for my part, bore within me the consciousness that I was invited, two days later, to the terminal point of the little railway, by the famous Mme. Verdurin, that at an intermediate station I was awaited by Robert de Saint-Loup, and that a little farther on I had it in my power to give great pleasure to Mme. de Cambremer, by going to stay at Féterne, my eyes sparkled with irony as I studied this self-important lady who seemed to think that, because of her elaborate attire, the feathers in her hat, her Revue des Deux Mondes, she was a more considerable personage than myself. I hoped that the lady would not remain in the train much longer than M. Nissim Bernard, and that she would alight at least at Toutainville, but no. The train stopped at Evreville, she remained seated. Similarly at Montmartin-sur-Mer, at Parville-la-Bingard, at Incarville, so that in despair, when the train had left Saint-Frichoux, which was the last station before Doncières, I began to embrace Albertine without bothering about the lady. At Doncières, Saint-Loup had come to meet me at the station, with the greatest difficulty, he told me, for, as he was staying with his aunt, my telegram had only just reached him and he could not, having been unable to make any arrangements beforehand, spare me more than an hour of his time. This hour seemed to me, alas, far too long, for as soon as we had left the train Albertine devoted her whole attention to Saint-Loup. She never talked to me, barely answered me if I addressed her, repulsed me when I approached her. With Robert, on the other hand, she laughed her provoking laugh, talked to him volubly, played with the dog he had brought with him, and, as she excited the animal, deliberately rubbed against its master. I remembered that, on the day when Albertine had allowed me to kiss her for the first time, I had had a smile of gratitude for the unknown seducer who had wrought so profound a change in her and had so far simplified my task. I thought of him now with horror. Robert must have noticed that I was not unconcerned about Albertine, for he offered no response to her provocations, which made her extremely annoyed with myself; then he spoke to me as though I had been alone, which, when she realised it, raised me again in her esteem. Robert asked me if I would not like to meet those of his friends with whom he used to make me dine every evening at Doncières, when I was staying there, who were still in the garrison. And as he himself adopted that irritating manner which he rebuked in others: “What is the good of your having worked so hard to charm them if you don’t want to see them again?” I declined his offer, for I did not wish to run any risk of being parted from Albertine, but also because now I was detached from them. From them, which is to say from myself. We passionately long that there may be another life in which we shall be similar to what we are here below. But we do not pause to reflect that, even without waiting for that other life, in this life, after a few years we are unfaithful to what we have been, to what we wished to remain immortally. Even without supposing that death is to alter us more completely than the changes that occur in the course of a lifetime, if in that other life we were to encounter the self that we have been, we should turn away from ourselves as from those people with whom we were once on friendly terms but whom we have not seen for years — such as Saint-Loup’s friends whom I used so much to enjoy meeting again every evening at the Faisan Doré, and whose conversation would now have seemed to me merely a boring importunity. In this respect, and because I preferred not to go there in search of what had pleased me there in the past, a stroll through Doncières might have seemed to me a prefiguration of an arrival in Paradise. We dream much of Paradise, or rather of a number of successive Paradises, but each of them is, long before we die, a Paradise lost, in which we should feel ourselves lost also.
He left us at the station. “But you may have about an hour to wait,” he told me. “If you spend it here, you will probably see my uncle Charlus, who is going by the train to Paris, ten minutes before yours. I have said good-bye to him already, because I have to go back before his train starts. I didn’t tell him about you, because I hadn’t got your telegram.” To the reproaches which I heaped upon Albertine when Saint-Loup had left us, she replied that she had intended, by her coldness towards me, to destroy any idea that he might have formed if, at the moment when the train stopped, he had seen me leaning against her with my arm round her waist. He had indeed noticed this attitude (I had not caught sight of him, otherwise I should have adopted one that was more correct), and had had time to murmur in my ear: “So that’s how it is, one of those priggish little girls you told me about, who wouldn’t go near Mlle. de Stermaria because they thought her fast?” I had indeed mentioned to Robert, and in all sincerity, when I went down from Paris to visit him at Doncières, and when we were talking about our time at Balbec, that there was nothing to be had from Albertine, that she was the embodiment of virtue. And now that I had long since discovered for myself that this was false, I was even more anxious that Robert should believe it to be true. It would have been sufficient for me to tell Robert that I was in love with Albertine. He was one of those people who are capable of denying themselves a pleasure to spare their friend sufferings which they would feel even more keenly if they themselves were the victims. “Yes, she is still rather childish. But you don’t know anything against her?” I added anxiously. “Nothing, except that I saw you clinging together like a pair of lovers.”
“Your attitude destroyed absolutely nothing,” I told Albertine when Saint-Loup had left us. “Quite true,” she said to me, “it was stupid of me, I hurt your feelings, I’m far more unhappy about it than you are. You’ll see, I shall never be like that again; forgive me,” she pleaded, holding out her hand with a sorrowful air. At that moment, from the entrance to the waiting-room in which we were sitting, I saw advance slowly, followed at a respectful distance by a porter loaded with his baggage, M. de Charlus.
In Paris, where I encountered him only in evening dress, immobile, straitlaced in a black coat, maintained in a vertical posture by his proud aloofness, his thirst for admiration, the soar of his conversation, I had never realised how far he had aged. Now, in a light travelling suit which made him appear stouter, as he swaggered through the room, balancing a pursy stomach and an almost symbolical behind, the cruel light of day broke up into paint, upon his lips, rice-powder fixed by cold cream, on the tip of his nose, black upon his dyed moustaches whose ebon tint formed a contrast to his grizzled hair, all that by artificial light had seemed the animated colouring of a man who was still young.
While I stood talking to him, though briefly, because of his train, I kept my eye on Albertine’s carriage to shew her that I was coming. When I turned my head towards M. de Charlus, he asked me to be so kind as to summon a soldier, a relative of his, who was standing on the other side of the platform, as though he were waiting to take our train, but in the opposite direction, away from Balbec. “He is in his regimental band,” said M. de Charlus. “As you are so fortunate as to be still young enough, and I unfortunately am old enough for you to save me the trouble of going across to him.” I took it upon myself to go across to the soldier he pointed out to me, and saw from the lyres embroidered on his collar that he was a bandsman. But, just as I was preparing to execute my commission, what was my surprise, and, I may say, my pleasure, on recognising Morel, the son of my uncle’s valet, who recalled to me so many memories. They made me forget to convey M. de Charlus’s message. “What, you are at Doncières?” “Yes, and they’ve put me in the band attached to the batteries.” But he made this answer in a dry and haughty tone. He had become an intense ‘poseur,’ and evidently the sight of myself, reminding him of his father’s profession, was not pleasing to him. Suddenly I saw M. de Charlus descending upon us. My delay had evidently taxed his patience. “I should like to listen to a little music this evening,” he said to Morel without any preliminaries, “I pay five hundred francs for the evening, which may perhaps be of interest to one of your friends, if you have any in the band.” Knowing as I did the insolence of M. de Charlus, I was astonished at his not even saying how d’ye do to his young friend. The Baron did not however give me time to think. Holding out his hand in the friendliest manner: “Good-bye, my dear fellow,” he said, as a hint that I might now leave them. I had, as it happened, left my dear Albertine too long alone. “D’you know,” I said to her as I climbed into the carriage, “life by the sea-side and travelling make me realise that the theatre of the world is stocked with fewer settings than actors, and with fewer actors than situations.” “What makes you say that?” “Because M. de Charlus asked me just now to fetch one of his friends, whom, this instant, on the platform of this station, I have just discovered to be one of my own.” But as I uttered these words, I began to wonder how the Baron could have bridged the social gulf to which I had not given a thought. It occurred to me first of all that it might be through Jupien, whose niece, as the reader may remember, had seemed to shew a preference for the violinist. What did baffle me completely was that, when due to leave for Paris in five minutes, the Baron should have asked for a musical evening. But, visualising Jupien’s niece again in my memory, I was beginning to find that ‘recognitions’ did indeed play an important part in life, when all of a sudden the truth flashed across my mind and I realised that I had been absurdly innocent. M. de Charlus had never in his life set eyes upon Morel, nor Morel upon M. de Charlus, who, dazzled but also terrified by a warrior, albeit he bore no weapon but a lyre, had called upon me in his emotion to bring him the person whom he never suspected that I already knew. In any case, the offer of five hundred francs must have made up to Morel for the absence of any previous relations, for I saw that they continued to talk, without reflecting that they were standing close beside our tram. As I recalled the manner in which M. de Charlus had come up to Morel and myself, I saw at once the resemblance to certain of his relatives, when they picked up a woman in the street. Only the desired object had changed its sex. After a certain age, and even if different evolutions are occurring in us, the more we become ourselves, the more our characteristic features are accentuated. For Nature, while harmoniously contributing the design of her tapestry, breaks the monotony of the composition thanks to the variety of the intercepted forms. Besides, the arrogance with which M. de Charlus had accosted the violinist is relative, and depends upon the point of view one adopts. It would have been recognised by three out of four of the men in society who nodded their heads to him, not by the prefect of police who, a few years later, was to keep him under observation.
“The Paris train is signalled, Sir,” said the porter who was carrying his luggage. “But I am not going by the train, put it in the cloakroom, damn you!” said M. de Charlus, as he gave twenty francs to the porter, astonished by the change of plan and charmed by the tip. This generosity at once attracted a flower-seller. “Buy these carnations, look, this lovely rose, kind gentlemen, it will bring you luck.” M. de Charlus, out of patience, handed her a couple of francs, in exchange for which the woman gave him her blessing, and her flowers as well. “Good God, why can’t she leave us alone,” said M. de Charlus, addressing himself in an ironical and complaining tone, as of a man distraught, to Morel, to whom he found a certain comfort in appealing. “We’ve quite enough to talk about as it is.” Perhaps the porter was not yet out of earshot, perhaps M. de Charlus did not care to have too numerous an audience, perhaps these incidental remarks enabled his lofty timidity not to approach too directly the request for an assignation. The musician, turning with a frank, imperative and decided air to the flower-seller, raised a hand which repulsed her and indicated to her that they did not want her flowers and that she was to get out of their way as quickly as possible. M. de Charlus observed with ecstasy this authoritative, virile gesture, made by the graceful hand for which it ought still to have been too weighty, too massively brutal, with a precocious firmness and suppleness which gave to this still beardless adolescent the air of a young David capable of waging war against Goliath. The Baron’s admiration was unconsciously blended with the smile with which we observe in a child an expression of gravity beyond his years. “This is a person whom I should like to accompany me on my travels and help me in my business. How he would simplify my life,” M. de Charlus said to himself.
The train for Paris (which M. de Charlus did not take) started. Then we took our seats in our own train, Albertine and I, without my knowing what had become of M. de Charlus and Morel. “We must never quarrel any more, I beg your pardon again,” Albertine repeated, alluding to the Saint-Loup incident. “We must always be nice to each other,” she said tenderly. “As for your friend Saint-Loup, if you think that I am the least bit interested in him, you are quite mistaken. All that I like about him is that he seems so very fond of you.” “He’s a very good fellow,” I said, taking care not to supply Robert with those imaginary excellences which I should not have failed to invent, out of friendship for himself, had I been with anybody but Albertine. “He’s an excellent creature, frank, devoted, loyal, a person you can rely on to do anything.” In saying this I confined myself, held in check by my jealousy, to telling the truth about Saint-Loup, but what I said was literally true. It found expression in precisely the same terms that Mme. de Villeparisis had employed in speaking to me of him, when I did not yet know him, imagined him to be so different, so proud, and said to myself: “People think him good because he is a great gentleman.” Just as when she had said to me: “He would be so pleased,” I imagined, after seeing him outside the hotel, preparing to drive away, that his aunt’s speech had been a mere social banality, intended to flatter me. And I had realised afterwards that she had said what she did sincerely, thinking of the things that interested me, of my reading, and because she knew that that was what Saint-Loup liked, as it was to be my turn to say sincerely to somebody who was writing a history of his ancestor La Rochefoucauld, the author of the Maximes, who wished to consult Robert about him: “He will be so pleased.” It was simply that I had learned to know him. But, when I set eyes on him for the first time, I had not supposed that an intelligence akin to my own could be enveloped in so much outward elegance of dress and attitude. By his feathers I had judged him to be a bird of another species. It was Albertine now who, perhaps a little because Saint-Loup, in his kindness to myself, had been so cold to her, said to me what I had already thought: “Ah! He is as devoted as all that! I notice that people always find all the virtues in other people, when they belong to the Faubourg Saint-Germain.” Now that Saint-Loup belonged to the Faubourg Saint-Germain was a thing of which I had never once thought in the course of all these years in which, stripping himself of his prestige, he had displayed to me his virtues. A change in our perspective in looking at other people, more striking already in friendship than in merely social relations, but how much more striking still in love, where desire on so vast a scale increases to such proportions the slightest signs of coolness, that far less than the coolness Saint-Loup had shewn me in the beginning had been enough to make me suppose at first that Albertine scorned me, imagine her friends to be creatures marvellously inhuman, and ascribe merely to the indulgence that people feel for beauty and for a certain elegance, Elstir’s judgment when he said to me of the little band, with just the same sentiment as Mme. de Villeparisis speaking of Saint-Loup: “They are good girls.” But this was not the opinion that I would instinctively have formed when I heard Albertine say: “In any case, whether he’s devoted or not, I sincerely hope I shall never see him again, since he’s made us quarrel. We must never quarrel again. It isn’t nice.” I felt, since she had seemed to desire Saint-Loup, almost cured for the time being of the idea that she cared for women, which I had supposed to be incurable. And, faced by Albertine’s mackintosh in which she seemed to have become another person, the tireless vagrant of rainy days, and which, close-fitting, malleable and grey, seemed at that moment not so much intended to protect her garments from the rain as to have been soaked by her and to be clinging to my mistress’s body as though to take the imprint of her form for a sculptor, I tore apart that tunic which jealously espoused a longed-for bosom and, drawing Albertine towards me: “But won’t you, indolent traveller, dream upon my shoulder, resting your brow upon it?” I said, taking her head in my hands, and shewing her the wide meadows, flooded and silent, which extended in the gathering dusk to the horizon closed by the parallel openings of valleys far and blue.
Two days later, on the famous Wednesday, in that same little train, which I had again taken, at Balbec, to go and dine at la Raspelière, I was taking care not to miss Cottard at Graincourt-Saint-Vast, where a second telephone message from Mme. Verdurin had told me that I should find him. He was to join my train and would tell me where we had to get out to pick up the carriages that would be sent from la Raspelière to the station. And so, as the little train barely stopped for a moment at Graincourt, the first station after Doncières, I was standing in readiness at the open window, so afraid was I of not seeing Cottard or of his not seeing me. Vain fears! I had not realised to what an extent the little clan had moulded all its regular members after the same type, so that they, being moreover in full evening dress, as they stood waiting upon the platform, let themselves be recognised immediately by a certain air of assurance, fashion and familiarity, by a look in their eyes which seemed to sweep, like an empty space in which there was nothing to arrest their attention, the serried ranks of the common herd, watched for the arrival of some fellow-member who had taken the train at an earlier station, and sparkled in anticipation of the talk that was to come. This sign of election, with which the habit of dining together had marked the members of the little group, was not all that distinguished them; when numerous, in full strength, they were massed together, forming a more brilliant patch in the midst of the troop of passengers — what Brichot called the pecus — upon whose dull countenances could be read no conception of what was meant by the name Verdurin, no hope of ever dining at la Raspelière. To be sure, these common travellers would have been less interested than myself had anyone quoted in their hearing — notwithstanding the notoriety that several of them had achieved — the names of those of the faithful whom I was astonished to see continuing to dine out, when many of them had already been doing so, according to the stories that I had heard, before my birth, at a period at once so distant and so vague that I was inclined to exaggerate its remoteness. The contrast between the continuance not only of their existence, but of the fulness of their powers, and the annihilation of so many friends whom I had already seen, in one place or another, pass away, gave me the same sentiment that we feel when in the stop-press column of the newspapers we read the very announcement that we least expected, for instance that of an untimely death, which seems to us fortuitous because the causes that have led up to it have remained outside our knowledge. This is the feeling that death does not descend upon all men alike, but that a more oncoming wave of its tragic tide carries off a life placed at the same level as others which the waves that follow will long continue to spare. We shall see later on that the diversity of the forms of death that circulate invisibly is the cause of the peculiar unexpectedness presented, in the newspapers, by their obituary notices. Then I saw that, with the passage of time, not only do the real talents that may coexist with the most commonplace conversation reveal and impose themselves, but furthermore that mediocre persons arrive at those exalted positions, attached in the imagination of our childhood to certain famous elders, when it never occurred to us that, after a certain number of years, their disciples, become masters, would be famous also, and would inspire the respect and awe that once they felt. But if the names of the faithful were unknown to the pecus, their aspect still singled them out in its eyes. Indeed in the train (when the coincidence of what one or another of them might have been doing during the day, assembled them all together), having to collect at a subsequent station only an isolated member, the carriage in which they were gathered, ticketed with the elbow of the sculptor Ski, flagged with Cottard’s Temps, stood out in the distance like a special saloon, and rallied at the appointed station the tardy comrade. The only one who might, because of his semi-blindness, have missed these welcoming signals, was Brichot. But one of the party would always volunteer to keep a look-out for the blind man, and, as soon as his straw hat, his green umbrella and blue spectacles caught the eye, he would be gently but hastily guided towards the chosen compartment. So that it was inconceivable that one of the faithful, without exciting the gravest suspicions of his being ‘on the loose,’ or even of his not having come ‘by the train,’ should not pick up the others in the course of the journey. Sometimes the opposite process occurred: one of the faithful had been obliged to go some distance down the line during the afternoon and was obliged in consequence to make part of the journey alone before being joined by the group; but even when thus isolated, alone of his kind, he did not fail as a rule to produce a certain effect. The Future towards which he was travelling marked him out to the person on the seat opposite, who would say to himself: “That must be somebody,” would discern, round the soft hat of Cottard or of the sculptor Ski, a vague aureole and would be only half-astonished when at the next station an elegant crowd, if it were their terminal point, greeted the faithful one at the carriage door and escorted him to one of the waiting carriages, all of them reverently saluted by the factotum of Douville station, or, if it were an intermediate station, invaded the compartment. This was what was done, and with precipitation, for some of them had arrived late, just as the train which was already in the station was about to start, by the troop which Cottard led at a run towards the carriage in the window of which he had seen me signalling. Brichot, who was among these faithful, had become more faithful than ever in the course of these years which had diminished the assiduity of others. As his sight became steadily weaker, he had been obliged, even in Paris, to reduce more and more his working hours after dark. Besides he was out of sympathy with the modern Sorbonne, where ideas of scientific exactitude, after the German model, were beginning to prevail over humanism. He now confined himself exclusively to his lectures and to his duties as an examiner; and so had a great deal more time to devote to social pursuits. That is to say, to evenings at the Verdurins’, or to those parties that now and again were offered to the Verdurins by one of the faithful, tremulous with emotion. It is true that on two occasions love had almost succeeded in achieving what his work could no longer do, in detaching Brichot from the little clan. But Mme. Verdurin, who kept her eyes open, and moreover, having acquired the habit in the interests of her salon, had come to take a disinterested pleasure in this sort of drama and execution, had immediately brought about a coolness between him and the dangerous person, being skilled in (as she expressed it) ‘putting things in order’ and ‘applying the red hot iron to the wound.’ This she had found all the more easy in the case of one of the dangerous persons, who was simply Brichot’s laundress, and Mme. Verdurin, having the right of entry into the Professor’s fifth floor rooms, crimson with rage, when she deigned to climb his stairs, had only had to shut the door in the wretched woman’s face. “What!” the Mistress had said to Brichot, “a woman like myself does you the honour of calling upon you, and you receive a creature like that?” Brichot had never forgotten the service that Mme. Verdurin had rendered him by preventing his old age from foundering in the mire, and became more and more strongly attached to her, whereas, in contrast to this revival of affection and possibly because of it, the Mistress was beginning to be tired of a too docile follower, and of an obedience of which she could be certain beforehand. But Brichot derived from his intimacy with the Verdurins a distinction which set him apart from all his colleagues at the Sorbonne. They were dazzled by the accounts that he gave them of dinner-parties to which they would never be invited, by the mention made of him in the reviews, the exhibition of his portrait in the Salon, by some writer or painter of repute whose talent the occupants of the other chairs in the Faculty of Arts esteemed, but without any prospect of attracting his attention, not to mention the elegance of the mundane philosopher’s attire, an elegance which they had mistaken at first for slackness until their colleague kindly explained to them that a tall hat is naturally laid on the floor, when one is paying a call, and is not the right thing for dinners in the country, however smart, where it should be replaced by a soft hat, which goes quite well with a dinner-jacket. For the first few moments after the little group had plunged into the carriage, I could not even speak to Cottard, for he was suffocated, not so much by having run in order not to miss the train as by his astonishment at having caught it so exactly. He felt more than the joy inherent in success, almost the hilarity of an excellent joke. “Ah! That was a good one!” he said when he had recovered himself. “A minute later! ‘Pon my soul, that’s what they call arriving in the nick of time!” he added, with a wink intended not so much to inquire whether the expression were apt, for he was now overflowing with assurance, but to express his satisfaction. At length he was able to introduce me to the other members of the little clan. I was annoyed to see that they were almost all in the dress which in Paris is called smoking. I had forgotten that the Verdurins were beginning a timid evolution towards fashionable ways, retarded by the Dreyfus case, accelerated by the ‘new’ music, an evolution which for that matter they denied, and continued to deny until it was complete, like those military objectives which a general does not announce until he has reached them, so as not to appear defeated if he fails. In addition to which, Society was quite prepared to go half way to meet them. It went so far as to regard them as people to whose house nobody in Society went but who were not in the least perturbed by the fact. The Verdurin salon was understood to be a Temple of Music. It was there, people assured you, that Vinteuil had found inspiration, encouragement. Now, even if Vinteuil’s sonata remained wholly unappreciated, and almost unknown, his name, quoted as that of the greatest of modern composers, had an extraordinary effect. Moreover, certain young men of the Faubourg having decided that they ought to be more intellectual than the middle classes, there were three of them who had studied music, and among these Vinteuil’s sonata enjoyed an enormous vogue. They would speak of it, on returning to their homes, to the intelligent mothers who had incited them to acquire culture. And, taking an interest in what interested their sons, at a concert these mothers would gaze with a certain respect at Mme. Verdurin in her front box, following the music in the printed score. So far, this social success latent in the Verdurins was revealed by two facts only. In the first place, Mme. Verdurin would say of the Principessa di Caprarola: “Ah! She is intelligent, she is a charming woman. What I cannot endure, are the imbeciles, the people who bore me, they drive me mad.” Which would have made anybody at all perspicacious realise that the Principessa di Caprarola, a woman who moved in the highest society, had called upon Mme. Verdurin. She had even mentioned her name in the course of a visit of condolence which she had paid to Mme. Swann after the death of her husband, and had asked whether she knew them. “What name did you say?” Odette had asked, with a sudden wistfulness. “Verdurin? Oh, yes, of course,” she had continued in a plaintive tone, “I don’t know them, or rather, I know them without really knowing them, they are people I used to meet at people’s houses, years ago, they are quite nice.” When the Principessa di Caprarola had gone, Odette would fain have spoken the bare truth. But the immediate falsehood was not the fruit of her calculations, but the revelation of her fears, of her desires. She denied not what it would have been adroit to deny, but what she would have liked not to have happened, even if the other person was bound to hear an hour later that it was a fact. A little later she had recovered her assurance, and would indeed anticipate questions by saying, so as not to appear to be afraid of them: “Mme. Verdurin, why, I used to know her terribly well!” with an affectation of humility, like a great lady who tells you that she has taken the tram. “There has been a great deal of talk about the Verdurins lately,” said Mme. de Souvré. Odette, with the smiling disdain of a Duchess, replied: “Yes, I do seem to have heard a lot about them lately. Every now and then there are new people who arrive like that in society,” without reflecting that she herself was among the newest. “The Principessa di Caprarola has dined there,” Mme. de Souvré went on. “Ah!” replied Odette, accentuating her smile, “that does not surprise me. That sort of thing always begins with the Principessa di Caprarola, and then some one else follows suit, like Comtesse Mole.” Odette, in saying this, appeared to be filled with a profound contempt for the two great ladies who made a habit of ‘house-warming’ in recently established drawing-rooms. One felt from her tone that the implication was that she, Odette, was, like Mme. de Souvré, not the sort of person to let herself in for that sort of thing.
After the admission that Mme. Verdurin had made of the Principessa di Caprarola’s intelligence, the second indication that the Verdurins were conscious of their future destiny was that (without, of course, their having formally requested it) they became most anxious that people should now come to dine with them in evening dress. M. Verdurin could now have been greeted without shame by his nephew, the one who was ‘in the cart.’ Among those who entered my carriage at Graincourt was Saniette, who long ago had been expelled from the Verdurins’ by his cousin Forcheville, but had since returned. His faults, from the social point of view, had originally been — notwithstanding his superior qualities — something like Cottard’s, shyness, anxiety to please, fruitless attempts to succeed in doing so. But if the course of life, by making Cottard assume, if not at the Verdurins’, where he had, because of the influence that past associations exert over us when we find ourselves in familiar surroundings, remained more or less the same, at least in his practice, in his hospital ward, at the Academy of Medicine, a shell of coldness, disdain, gravity, that became more accentuated while he rewarded his appreciative students with puns, had made a clean cut between the old Cottard and the new, the same defects had on the contrary become exaggerated in Saniette, the more he sought to correct them. Conscious that he was frequently boring, that people did not listen to him, instead of then slackening his pace as Cottard would have done, of forcing their attention by an air of authority, not only did he try by adopting a humorous tone to make them forgive the unduly serious turn of his conversation, he increased his pace, cleared the ground, used abbreviations in order to appear less long-winded, more familiar with the matters of which he spoke, and succeeded only, by making them unintelligible, in seeming interminable. His self-assurance was not like that of Cottard, freezing his patients, who, when other people praised his social graces, would reply: “He is a different man when he receives you in his consulting room, you with your face to the light, and he with his back to it, and those piercing eyes.” It failed to create an effect, one felt that it was cloaking an excessive shyness, that the merest trifle would be enough to dispel it. Saniette, whose friends had always told him that he was wanting in self-confidence, and who had indeed seen men whom he rightly considered greatly inferior to himself, attain with ease to the success that was denied to him, never began telling a story without smiling at its drollery, fearing lest a serious air might make his hearers underestimate the value of his wares. Sometimes, giving him credit for the comic element which he himself appeared to find in what he was about to say, people would do him the honour of a general silence. But the story would fall flat. A fellow-guest who was endowed with a kind heart would sometimes convey to Saniette the private, almost secret encouragement of a smile of approbation, making it reach him furtively, without attracting attention, as one passes a note from hand to hand. But nobody went so far as to assume the responsibility, to risk the glaring publicity of an honest laugh. Long after the story was ended and had fallen flat, Saniette, crestfallen, would remain smiling to himself, as though relishing in it and for himself the delectation which he pretended to find adequate and which the others had not felt. As for the sculptor Ski, so styled on account of the difficulty they found in pronouncing his Polish surname, and because he himself made an affectation, since he had begun to move in a certain social sphere, of not wishing to be confused with certain relatives, perfectly respectable but slightly boring and very numerous, he had, at forty-four and with no pretension to good looks, a sort of boyishness, a dreamy wistfulness which was the result of his having been, until the age of ten, the most charming prodigal imaginable, the darling of all the ladies. Mme. Verdurin maintained that he was more of an artist than Elstir. Any resemblance that there may have been between them was, however, purely external. It was enough to make Elstir, who had met Ski once, feel for him the profound repulsion that is inspired in us less by the people who are our exact opposite than by those who resemble us in what is least good, in whom are displayed our worst qualities, the faults of which we have cured ourselves, who irritate by reminding us of how we may have appeared to certain other people before we became what we now are. But Mme. Verdurin thought that Ski had more temperament than Elstir because there was no art in which he had not a facility of expression, and she was convinced that he would have developed that facility into talent if he had not been so lazy. This seemed to the Mistress to be actually an additional gift, being the opposite of hard work which she regarded as the lot of people devoid of genius. Ski would paint anything you asked, on cuff-links or on the panels over doors. He sang with the voice of a composer, played from memory, giving the piano the effect of an orchestra, less by his virtuosity than by his vamped basses, which suggested the inability of the fingers to indicate that at a certain point the cornet entered, which, for that matter, he would imitate with his lips. Choosing his words when he spoke so as to convey an odd impression, just as he would pause before banging out a chord to say ‘Ping!’ so as to let the brasses be heard, he was regarded as marvellously intelligent, but as a matter of fact his ideas could be boiled down to two or three, extremely limited. Bored with his reputation for whimsicality, he had set himself to shew that he was a practical, matter-of-fact person, whence a triumphant affectation of false precision, of false common sense, aggravated by his having no memory and a fund of information that was always inaccurate. The movements of his head, neck, limbs, would have been graceful if he had been still nine years old, with golden curls, a wide lace collar and little boots of red leather. Having reached Graincourt station with Cottard and Brichot, with time to spare, he and Cottard had left Brichot in the waiting-room and had gone for a stroll. When Cottard proposed to turn back, Ski had replied: “But there is no hurry. It isn’t the local train to-day, it’s the departmental train.” Delighted by the effect that this refinement of accuracy produced upon Cottard, he added, with reference to himself: “Yes, because Ski loves the arts, because he models in clay, people think he’s not practical. Nobody knows this line better than I do.” Nevertheless they had turned back towards the station when, all of a sudden, catching sight of the smoke of the approaching train, Cottard, with a wild shout, had exclaimed: “We shall have to put our best foot foremost.” They did as a matter of fact arrive with not a moment to spare, the distinction between local and departmental trains having never existed save in the mind of Ski. “But isn’t the Princess on the train?” came in ringing tones from Brichot, whose huge spectacles, resplendent as the reflectors that laryngologists attach to their foreheads to throw a light into the throats of their patients, seemed to have taken their life from the Professor’s eyes, and possibly because of the effort that he was making to adjust his sight to them, seemed themselves, even at the most trivial moments, to be gazing at themselves with a sustained attention and an extraordinary fixity. Brichot’s malady, as it gradually deprived him of his sight, had revealed to him the beauties of that sense, just as, frequently, we have to have made up our minds to part with some object, to make a present of it for instance, before we can study it, regret it, admire it. “No, no, the Princess went over to Maineville with some of Mme. Verdurin’s guests who were taking the Paris train. It is within the bounds of possibility that Mme. Verdurin, who had some business at Saint-Mars, may be with her! In that case, she will be coming with us, and we shall all travel together, which will be delightful. We shall have to keep our eyes skinned at Maineville and see what we shall see! Oh, but that’s nothing, you may say that we came very near to missing the bus. When I saw the train I was dumbfoundered. That’s what is called arriving at the psychological moment. Can’t you picture us missing the train, Mme. Verdurin seeing the carriages come back without us: Tableau!” added the doctor, who had not yet recovered from his emotion. “That would be a pretty good joke, wouldn’t it? Now then, Brichot, what have you to say about our little escapade?” inquired the doctor with a note of pride. “Upon my soul,” replied Brichot, “why, yes, if you had found the train gone, that would have been what the late Villemain used to call a wipe in the eye!” But I, distracted at first by these people who were strangers to me, was suddenly reminded of what Cottard had said to me in the ball-room of the little casino, and, just as though there were an invisible link uniting an organ to our visual memory, the vision of Albertine leaning her breasts against Andrée’s caused my heart a terrible pain. This pain did not last: the idea of Albertine’s having relations with women seemed no longer possible since the occasion, forty-eight hours earlier, when the advances that my mistress had made to Saint-Loup had excited in me a fresh jealousy which had made me forget the old. I was simple enough to suppose that one taste of necessity excludes another. At Harambouville, as the tram was full, a farmer in a blue blouse who had only a third class ticket got into our compartment. The doctor, feeling that the Princess must not be allowed to travel with such a person, called a porter, shewed his card, describing him as medical officer to one of the big railway companies, and obliged the station-master to make the farmer get out. This incident so pained and alarmed Saniette’s timid spirit that, as soon as he saw it beginning, fearing already lest, in view of the crowd of peasants on the platform, it should assume the proportions of a rising, he pretended to be suffering from a stomach-ache, and, so that he might not be accused of any share in the responsibility for the doctor’s violence, wandered down the corridor, pretending to be looking for what Cottard called the ‘water.’ Failing to find one, he stood and gazed at the scenery from the other end of the ‘twister.’ “If this is your first appearance at Mme. Verdurin’s, Sir,” I was addressed by Brichot, anxious to shew off his talents before a newcomer, “you will find that there is no place where one feels more the ‘amenities of life,’ to quote one of the inventors of dilettantism, of pococurantism, of all sorts of words in — ism that are in fashion among our little snobbesses, I refer to M. le Prince de Talleyrand.” For, when he spoke of these great noblemen of the past, he thought it clever and ‘in the period’ to prefix a ‘M.’ to their titles, and said ‘M. le Duc de La Rochefoucauld,’ ‘M. le Cardinal de Retz,’ referring to these also as ‘That struggle-for-lifer de Gondi,’ ‘that Boulangist de Marcillac.’ And he never failed to call Montesquieu, with a smile, when he referred to him: “Monsieur le Président Secondât de Montesquieu.” An intelligent man of the world would have been irritated by a pedantry which reeked so of the lecture-room. But in the perfect manners of the man of the world when speaking of a Prince, there is a pedantry also, which betrays a different caste, that in which one prefixes ‘the Emperor’ to the name ‘William’ and addresses a Royal Highness in the third person. “Ah, now that is a man,” Brichot continued, still referring to ‘Monsieur le Prince de Talleyrand’—“to whom we take off our hats. He is an ancestor.” “It is a charming house,” Cottard told me, “you will find a little of everything, for Mme. Verdurin is not exclusive, great scholars like Brichot, the high nobility, such as the Princess Sherbatoff, a great Russian lady, a friend of the Grand Duchess Eudoxie, who even sees her alone at hours when no one else is admitted.” As a matter of fact the Grand Duchess Eudoxie, not wishing Princess Sherbatoff, who for years past had been cut by everyone, to come to her house when there might be other people, allowed her to come only in the early morning, when Her Imperial Highness was not at home to any of those friends to whom it would have been as unpleasant to meet the Princess as it would have been awkward for the Princess to meet them. As, for the last three years, as soon as she came away, like a manicurist, from the Grand Duchess, Mme. Sherbatoff would go on to Mme. Verdurin, who had just awoken, and stuck to her for the rest of the day, one might say that the Princess’s loyalty surpassed even that of Brichot, constant as he was at those Wednesdays, both in Paris, where he had the pleasure of fancying himself a sort of Chateaubriand at l’Abbaye-aux-Bois, and in the country, where he saw himself becoming the equivalent of what might have been in the salon of Mme. de Châtelet the man whom he always named (with an erudite sarcasm and satisfaction): “M. de Voltaire.”
Her want of friends had enabled Princess Sherbatoff to shew for some years past to the Verdurins a fidelity which made her more than an ordinary member of the ‘faithful,’ the type of faithfulness, the ideal which Mme. Verdurin had long thought unattainable and which now, in her later years, she at length found incarnate in this new feminine recruit. However keenly the Mistress might feel the pangs of jealousy, it was without precedent that the most assiduous of her faithful should not have ‘failed’ her at least once. The most stay-at-home yielded to the temptation to travel; the most continent fell from virtue; the most robust might catch influenza, the idlest be caught for his month’s soldiering, the most indifferent go to close the eyes of a dying mother. And it was in vain that Mme. Verdurin told them then, like the Roman Empress, that she was the sole general whom her legion must obey, like the Christ or the Kaiser that he who loved his father or mother more than her and was not prepared to leave them and follow her was not worthy of her, that instead of slacking in bed or letting themselves be made fools of by bad women they would do better to remain in her company, by her, their sole remedy and sole delight. But destiny which is sometimes pleased to brighten the closing years of a life that has passed the mortal span had made Mme. Verdurin meet the Princess Sherbatoff. Out of touch with her family, an exile from her native land, knowing nobody but the Baroness Putbus and the Grand Duchess Eudoxie, to whose houses, because she herself had no desire to meet the friends of the former, and the latter no desire that her friends should meet the Princess, she went only in the early morning hours when Mme. Verdurin was still asleep, never once, so far as she could remember, having been confined to her room since she was twelve years old, when she had had the measles, having on the 31st of December replied to Mme. Verdurin who, afraid of being left alone, had asked her whether she would not ‘shake down’ there for the night, in spite of its being New Year’s Eve: “Why, what is there to prevent me, any day of the year? Besides, to-morrow is a day when one stays at home, and this is my home,” living in a boarding-house, and moving from it whenever the Verdurins moved, accompanying them upon their holidays, the Princess had so completely exemplified to Mme. Verdurin the line of Vigny:
Thou only didst appear that which one seeks always,
that the Lady President of the little circle, anxious to make sure of one of her ‘faithful’ even after death, had made her promise that whichever of them survived the other should be buried by her side. Before strangers — among whom we must always reckon him to whom we lie most barefacedly because he is the person whose scorn we should most dread: ourself — Princess Sherbatoff took care to represent her only three friendships — with the Grand Duchess, the Verdurins, and the Baroness Putbus — as the only ones, not which cataclysms beyond her control had allowed to emerge from the destruction of all the rest, but which a free choice had made her elect in preference to any other, and to which a certain love of solitude and simplicity had made her confine herself. “I see nobody else,” she would say, insisting upon the inflexible character of what appeared to be rather a rule that one imposes upon oneself than a necessity to which one submits. She would add: “I visit only three houses,” as a dramatist who fears that it may not run to a fourth announces that there will be only three performances of his play. Whether or not M. and Mme. Verdurin believed in the truth of this fiction, they had helped the Princess to instil it into the minds of the faithful. And they in turn were persuaded both that the Princess, among the thousands of invitations that were offered her, had chosen the Verdurins alone, and that the Verdurins, courted in vain by all the higher aristocracy, had consented to make but a single exception, in favour of the Princess.
In their eyes, the Princess, too far superior to her native element not to find it boring, among all the people whose society she might have enjoyed, found the Verdurins alone entertaining, while they, in return, deaf to the overtures with which they were bombarded by the entire aristocracy, had consented to make but a single exception, in favour of a great lady of more intelligence than the rest of her kind, the Princess Sherbatoff.
The Princess was very rich; she engaged for every first night a large box, to which, with the assent of Mme. Verdurin, she invited the faithful and nobody else. People would point to this pale and enigmatic person who had grown old without turning white, turning red rather like certain sere and shrivelled hedgerow fruits. They admired both her influence and her humility, for, having always with her an Academician, Brichot, a famous scientist, Cottard, the leading pianist of the day, at a later date M. de Charlus, she nevertheless made a point of securing the least prominent box in the theatre, remained in the background, paid no attention to the rest of the house, lived exclusively for the little group, who, shortly before the end of the performance, would withdraw in the wake of this strange sovereign, who was not without a certain timid, fascinating, faded beauty. But if Mme. Sherbatoff did not look at the audience, remained in shadow, it was to try to forget that there existed a living world which she passionately desired and was unable to know: the coterie in a box was to her what is to certain animals their almost corpselike immobility in the presence of danger. Nevertheless the thirst for novelty and for the curious which possesses people in society made them pay even more attention perhaps to this mysterious stranger than to the celebrities in the front boxes to whom everybody paid a visit. They imagined that she must be different from the people whom they knew, that a marvellous intellect combined with a discerning bounty retained round about her that little circle of eminent men. The Princess was compelled, if you spoke to her about anyone, or introduced anyone to her, to feign an intense coldness, in order to keep up the fiction of her horror of society. Nevertheless, with the support of Cottard or Mme. Verdurin, several newcomers succeeded in making her acquaintance and such was her excitement at making a fresh acquaintance that she forgot the fable of her deliberate isolation, and went to the wildest extremes to please the newcomer. If he was entirely unimportant, the rest would be astonished. “How strange that the Princess, who refuses to know anyone, should make an exception of such an uninteresting person.” But these fertilising acquaintances were rare, and the Princess lived narrowly confined in the midst of the faithful.
Cottard said far more often: “I shall see him on Wednesday at the Verdurins’,” than: “I shall see him on Tuesday at the Academy.” He spoke, too, of the Wednesdays as of an engagement equally important and inevitable. But Cottard was one of those people, little sought after, who make it as imperious a duty to respond to an invitation as if such invitations were orders, like a military or judicial summons. It required a call from a very important patient to make him “fail” the Verdurins on a Wednesday, the importance depending moreover rather upon the rank of the patient than upon the gravity of his complaint. For Cottard, excellent fellow as he was, would forego the delights of a Wednesday not for a workman who had had a stroke, but for a Minister’s cold. Even then he would say to his wife: “Make my apologies to Mme. Verdurin. Tell her that I shall be coming later on. His Excellency might really have chosen some other day to catch cold.” One Wednesday their old cook having opened a vein in her arm, Cottard, already in his dinner-jacket to go to the Verdurins’, had shrugged his shoulders when his wife had timidly inquired whether he could not bandage the cut: “Of course I can’t, Léontine,” he had groaned; “can’t you see I’ve got my white waistcoat on?” So as not to annoy her husband, Mme. Cottard had sent post haste for his chief dresser. He, to save time, had taken a cab, with the result that, his carriage entering the courtyard just as Cottard’s was emerging to take him to the Verdurins’, five minutes had been wasted in backing to let one another pass. Mme. Cottard was worried that the dresser should see his master in evening dress. Cottard sat cursing the delay, from remorse perhaps, and started off in a villainous temper which it took all the Wednesday’s pleasures to dispel.
If one of Cottard’s patients were to ask him: “Do you ever see the Guermantes?” it was with the utmost sincerity that the Professor would reply: “Perhaps not actually the Guermantes, I can’t be certain. But I meet all those people at the house of some friends of mine. You must, of course, have heard of the Verdurins. They know everybody. Besides, they certainly are not people who’ve come down in the world. They’ve got the goods, all right. It is generally estimated that Mme. Verdurin is worth thirty-five million. Gad, thirty-five million, that’s a pretty figure. And so she doesn’t make two bites at a cherry. You mentioned the Duchesse de Guermantes. Let me explain the difference. Mme. Verdurin is a great lady, the Duchesse de Guermantes is probably a nobody. You see the distinction, of course. In any case, whether the Guermantes go to Mme. Verdurin’s or not, she entertains all the very best people, the d’Sherbatoffs, the d’Forchevilles, e tutti quanti, people of the highest flight, all the nobility of France and Navarre, with whom you would see me conversing as man to man. Of course, those sort of people are only too glad to meet the princes of science,” he added, with a smile of fatuous conceit, brought to his lips by his proud satisfaction not so much that the expression formerly reserved for men like Potain and Charcot should now be applicable to himself, as that he knew at last how to employ all these expressions that were authorised by custom, and, after a long course of study, had learned them by heart. And so, after mentioning to me Princess Sherbatoff as one of the people who went to Mme. Verdurin’s, Cottard added with a wink: “That gives you an idea of the style of the house, if you see what I mean?” He meant that it was the very height of fashion. Now, to entertain a Russian lady who knew nobody but the Grand Duchess Eudoxie was not fashionable at all. But Princess Sherbatoff might not have known even her, it would in no way have diminished Cottard’s estimate of the supreme elegance of the Verdurin salon or his joy at being invited there. The splendour that seems to us to invest the people whose houses we visit is no more intrinsic than that of kings and queens on the stage, in dressing whom it is useless for a producer to spend hundreds and thousands of francs in purchasing authentic costumes and real jewels, when a great designer will procure a far more sumptuous impression by focussing a ray of light on a doublet of coarse cloth studded with lumps of glass and on a cloak of paper. A man may have spent his life among the great ones of the earth, who to him have been merely boring relatives or tiresome acquaintances, because a familiarity engendered in the cradle had stripped them of all distinction in his eyes. The same man, on the other hand, need only have been led by some chance to mix with the most obscure people, for innumerable Cottards to be permanently dazzled by the ladies of title whose drawing-rooms they imagined as the centres of aristocratic elegance, ladies who were not even what Mme. de Villeparisis and her friends were (great ladies fallen from their greatness, whom the aristocracy that had been brought up with them no longer visited); no, those whose friendship has been the pride of so many men, if these men were to publish their memoirs and to give the names of those women and of the other women who came to their parties, Mme. de Cambremer would be no more able than Mme. de Guermantes to identify them. But what of that! A Cottard has thus his Marquise, who is to him “the Baronne,” as in Marivaux, the Baronne whose name is never mentioned, so much so that nobody supposes that she ever had a name. Cottard is all the more convinced that she embodies the aristocracy — which has never heard of the lady — in that, the more dubious titles are, the more prominently coronets are displayed upon wineglasses, silver, notepaper, luggage. Many Cottards who have supposed that they were living in the heart of the Faubourg Saint-Germain have had their imagination perhaps more enchanted by feudal dreams than the men who did really live among Princes, just as with the small shopkeeper who, on Sundays, goes sometimes to look at “old time” buildings, it is sometimes from those buildings every stone of which is of our own time, the vaults of which have been, by the pupils of Viollet-le-Duc, painted blue and sprinkled with golden stars, that they derive the strongest sensation of the middle ages. “The Princess will be at Maineville. She will be coming with us. But I shall not introduce you to her at once. It will be better to leave that to Mme. Verdurin. Unless I find a loophole. Then you can rely on me to take the bull by the horns.” “What were you saying?” asked Saniette, as he rejoined us, pretending to have gone out to take the air. “I was quoting to this gentleman,” said Brichot, “a saying, which you will remember, of the man who, to my mind, is the first of the fins-de-siècle (of the eighteenth century, that is), by name Charles Maurice, Abbé de Perigord. He began by promising to be an excellent journalist. But he made a bad end, by which I mean that he became a Minister! Life has these tragedies. A far from scrupulous politician to boot who, with the lofty contempt of a thoroughbred nobleman, did not hesitate to work in his time for the King of Prussia, there are no two ways about it, and died in the skin of a ‘Left Centre.’”
At Saint-Pierre-des-Ifs we were joined by a glorious girl who, unfortunately, was not one of the little group. I could not tear my eyes from her magnolia skin, her dark eyes, her bold and admirable outlines. A moment later she wanted to open a window, for it was hot in the compartment, and not wishing to ask leave of everybody, as I alone was without a greatcoat, she said to me in a quick, cool, jocular voice: “Do you mind a little fresh air, Sir?” I would have liked to say to her: “Come with us to the Verdurins’?” or “Give me your name and address.” I answered: “No, fresh air doesn’t bother me, Mademoiselle.” Whereupon, without stirring from her seat: “Do your friends object to smoke?” and she lit a cigarette. At the third station she sprang from the carriage. Next day, I inquired of Albertine, who could she be. For, stupidly thinking that people could have but one sort of love, in my jealousy of Albertine’s attitude towards Robert, I was reassured so far as other women were concerned. Albertine told me, I believe quite sincerely, that she did not know. “I should so much like to see her again,” I exclaimed. “Don’t worry, one always sees people again,” replied Albertine. In this particular instance, she was wrong; I never saw again, nor did I ever identify, the pretty girl with the cigarette. We shall see, moreover, why, for a long time, I ceased to look for her. But I have not forgotten her. I find myself at times, when I think of her, seized by a wild longing. But these recurrences of desire oblige us to reflect that if we wish to rediscover these girls with the same pleasure we must also return to the year which has since been followed by ten others in the course of which her bloom has faded. We can sometimes find a person again, but we cannot abolish time. And so on until the unforeseen day, gloomy as a winter night, when we no longer seek for that girl, or for any other, when to find her would actually frighten us. For we no longer feel that we have sufficient attraction to appeal to her, or strength to love her. Not, of course, that we are, in the strict sense of the word, impotent. And as for loving, we should love her more than ever. But we feel that it is too big an undertaking for the little strength that we have left. Eternal rest has already fixed intervals which we can neither cross nor make our voice be heard across them. To set our foot on the right step is an achievement like not missing the perilous leap. To be seen in such a state by a girl we love, even if we have kept the features and all the golden locks of our youth! We can no longer undertake the strain of keeping pace with youth. All the worse if our carnal desire increases instead of failing! We procure for it a woman whom we need make no effort to attract, who will share our couch for one night only and whom we shall never see again.
“Still no news, I suppose, of the violinist,” said Cottard. The event of the day in the little clan was, in fact, the failure of Mme. Verdurin’s favourite violinist. Employed on military service near Doncières, he came three times a week to dine at la Raspelière, having a midnight pass. But two days ago, for the first time, the faithful had been unable to discover him on the tram. It was supposed that he had missed it. But albeit Mme. Verdurin had sent to meet the next tram, and so on until the last had arrived, the carriage had returned empty. “He’s certain to have been shoved into the guard-room, there’s no other explanation of his desertion. Gad! In soldiering, you know, with those fellows, it only needs a bad-tempered serjeant.” “It will be all the more mortifying for Mme. Verdurin,” said Brichot, “if he fails again this evening, because our kind hostess has invited to dinner for the first time the neighbours from whom she has taken la Raspelière, the Marquis and Marquise de Cambremer.” “This evening, the Marquis and Marquise de Cambremer!” exclaimed Cottard. “But I knew absolutely nothing about it. Naturally, I knew like everybody else that they would be coming one day, but I had no idea that it was to be so soon. Sapristi!” he went on, turning to myself, “what did I tell you? The Princess Sherbatoff, the Marquis and Marquise de Cambremer.” And, after repeating these names, lulling himself with their melody: “You see that we move in good company,” he said to me. “However, as it’s your first appearance, you’ll be one of the crowd. It is going to be an exceptionally brilliant gathering.” And, turning to Brichot, he went on: “The Mistress will be furious. It is time we appeared to lend her a hand.” Ever since Mme. Verdurin had been at la Raspelière she had pretended for the benefit of the faithful to be at once feeling and regretting the necessity of inviting her landlords for one evening. By so doing she would obtain better terms next year, she explained, and was inviting them for business reasons only. But she pretended to regard with such terror, to make such a bugbear of the idea of dining with people who did not belong to the little group that she kept putting off the evil day. The prospect did for that matter alarm her slightly for the reasons which she professed, albeit exaggerating them, if at the same time it enchanted her for reasons of snobbishness which she preferred to keep to herself. She was therefore partly sincere, she believed the little clan to be something so matchless throughout the world, one of those perfect wholes which it takes centuries of time to produce, that she trembled at the thought of seeing introduced into its midst these provincials, people ignorant of the Ring and the Meistersinger, who would be unable to play their part in the concert of conversation and were capable, by coming to Mme. Verdurin’s, of ruining one of those famous Wednesdays, masterpieces of art incomparable and frail, like those Venetian glasses which one false note is enough to shatter. “Besides, they are bound to be absolutely anti, and militarists,” M. Verdurin had said. “Oh, as for that, I don’t mind, we’ve heard quite enough about all that business,” had replied Mme. Verdurin, who, a sincere Dreyfusard, would nevertheless have been glad to discover a social counterpoise to the preponderant Dreyfusism of her salon. For Dreyfusism was triumphant politically, but not socially. Labori, Reinach, Picquart, Zola were still, to people in society, more or less traitors, who could only keep them aloof from the little nucleus. And so, after this incursion into politics, Mme. Verdurin was determined to return to the world of art. Besides were not Indy, Debussy, on the ‘wrong’ side in the Case? “So far as the Case goes, we need only remember Brichot,” she said (the Don being the only one of the faithful who had sided with the General Staff, which had greatly lowered him in the esteem of Madame Verdurin). “There is no need to be eternally discussing the Dreyfus case. No, the fact of the matter is that the Cambremers bore me.” As for the faithful, no less excited by their unconfessed desire to make the Cambremers’ acquaintance than dupes of the affected reluctance which Mme. Verdurin said she felt to invite them, they returned, day after day, in conversation with her, to the base arguments with which she herself supported the invitation, tried to make them irresistible. “Make up your mind to it once and for all,” Cottard repeated, “and you will have better terms for next year, they will pay the gardener, you will have the use of the meadow. That will be well worth a boring evening. I am thinking only of yourselves,” he added, albeit his heart had leaped on one occasion, when, in Mme. Verdurin’s carriage, he had met the carriage of the old Mme. de Cambremer and, what was more, he had been abased in the sight of the railwaymen when, at the station, he had found himself standing beside the Marquis. For their part, the Cambremers, living far too remote from the social movement ever to suspect that certain ladies of fashion were speaking with a certain consideration of Mme. Verdurin, imagined that she was a person who could know none but Bohemians, was perhaps not even legally married, and so far as people of birth were concerned would never meet any but themselves. They had resigned themselves to the thought of dining with her only to be on good terms with a tenant who, they hoped, would return again for many seasons, especially after they had, in the previous month, learned that she had recently inherited all those millions. It was in silence and without any vulgar pleasantries that they prepared themselves for the fatal day. The faithful had given up hope of its ever coming, so often had Mme. Verdurin already fixed in their hearing a date that was invariably postponed. These false decisions were intended not merely to make a display of the boredom that she felt at the thought of this dinner-party, but to keep in suspense those members of the little group who were staying in the neighbourhood and were sometimes inclined to fail. Not that the Mistress guessed that the “great day” was as delightful a prospect to them as to herself, but in order that, having persuaded them that this dinner-party was to her the most terrible of social duties, she might make an appeal to their devotion. “You are not going to leave me all alone with those Chinese mandarins! We must assemble in full force to support the boredom. Naturally, we shan’t be able to talk about any of the things in which we are interested. It will be a Wednesday spoiled, but what is one to do!”
“Indeed,” Brichot explained to me, “I fancy that Mme. Verdurin, who is highly intelligent and takes infinite pains in the elaboration of her Wednesdays, was by no means anxious to see these bumpkins of ancient lineage but scanty brains. She could not bring herself to invite the dowager Marquise, but has resigned herself to having the son and daughter-in-law.” “Ah! We are to see the Marquise de Cambremer?” said Cottard with a smile into which he saw fit to introduce a leer of sentimentality, albeit he had no idea whether Mme. de Cambremer were good-looking or not. But the title Marquise suggested to him fantastic thoughts of gallantry. “Ah! I know her,” said Ski, who had met her once when he was out with Mme. Verdurin. “Not in the biblical sense of the word, I trust,” said the doctor, darting a sly glance through his eyeglass; this was one of his favourite pleasantries. “She is intelligent,” Ski informed me. “Naturally,” he went on, seeing that I said nothing, and dwelling with a smile upon each word, “she is intelligent and at the same time she is not, she lacks education, she is frivolous, but she has an instinct for beautiful things. She may say nothing, but she will never say anything silly. And besides, her colouring is charming. She would be an amusing person to paint,” he added, half shutting his eyes, as though he saw her posing in front of him. As my opinion of her was quite the opposite of what Ski was expressing with so many fine shades, I observed merely that she was the sister of an extremely distinguished engineer, M. Legrandin. “There, you see, you are going to be introduced to a pretty woman,” Brichot said to me, “and one never knows what may come of that. Cleopatra was not even a great lady, she was a little woman, the unconscious, terrible little woman of our Meilhac, and just think of the consequences, not only to that idiot Antony, but to the whole of the ancient world.” “I have already been introduced to Mme. de Cambremer,” I replied. “Ah! In that case, you will find yourself on familiar ground.” “I shall be all the more delighted to meet her,” I answered him, “because she has promised me a book by the former curé of Combray about the place-names of this district, and I shall be able to remind her of her promise. I am interested in that priest, and also in etymologies.” “Don’t put any faith in the ones he gives,” replied Brichot, “there is a copy of the book at la Raspelière, which I have glanced through, but without finding anything of any value; it is a mass of error. Let me give you an example. The word Bricq is found in a number of place-names in this neighbourhood. The worthy cleric had the distinctly odd idea that it comes from Briga, a height, a fortified place. He finds it already in the Celtic tribes, Latobriges, Nemetobriges, and so forth, and traces it down to such names as Briand, Brion, and so forth. To confine ourselves to the region in which we have the pleasure of your company at this moment, Bricquebose means the wood on the height, Bricqueville the habitation on the height, Bricquebec, where we shall be stopping presently before coming to Maineville, the height by the stream. Now there is not a word of truth in all this, for the simple reason that bricq is the old Norse word which means simply a bridge. Just as fleur, which Mme. de Cambremer’s protégé takes infinite pains to connect, in one place with the Scandinavian words floi, flo, in another with the Irish word ae or aer, is, beyond any doubt, the fjord of the Danes, and means harbour. So too, the excellent priest thinks that the station of Saint-Mars-le-Vetu, which adjoins la Raspelière, means Saint-Martin-le-Vieux (vetus). It is unquestionable that the word vieux has played a great part in the toponymy of this region. Vieux comes as a rule from vadum, and means a passage, as at the place called les Vieux. It is what the English call ford (Oxford, Hereford). But, in this particular instance, Vêtu is derived not from vetus, but from vas-tatus, a place that is devastated and bare. You have, round about here, Sottevast, the vast of Setold, Brillevast, the vast of Berold. I am all the more certain of the cure’s mistake, in that Saint-Mars-le-Vetu was formerly called Saint-Mars du Cast and even Saint-Mars-de-Terregate. Now the v and the g in these words are the same letter. We say dévaster, but also gâcher. Jâchères and gatines (from the High German wastinna) have the same meaning: Terregate is therefore terra vasta. As for Saint-Mars, formerly (save the mark) Saint-Merd, it is Saint-Medardus, which appears variously as Saint-Médard, Saint-Mard, Saint-Marc, Cinq-Mars, and even Dammas. Nor must we forget that quite close to here, places bearing the name of Mars are proof simply of a pagan origin (the god Mars) which has remained alive in this country but which the holy man refuses to see. The high places dedicated to the gods are especially frequent, such as the mount of Jupiter (Jeumont). Your curé declines to admit this, but, on the other hand, wherever Christianity has left traces, they escape his notice. He has gone so far afield as to Loctudy, a barbarian name, according to him, whereas it is simply Locus Sancti Tudeni, nor has he in Sammarcoles divined Sanctus Martialis. Your curé,” Brichot continued, seeing that I was interested, “derives the terminations hon, home, holm, from the word holl (hullus), a hill, whereas it cornes from the Norse holm, an island, with which you are familiar in Stockholm, and which is so widespread throughout this district, la Houlme, Engohomme, Tahoume, Robehomme, Néhomme, Quettehon, and so forth.” These names made me think of the day when Albertine had wished to go to Amfreville-la-Bigot (from the name of two successive lords of the manor, Brichot told me), and had then suggested that we should dine together at Robehomme. As for Maineville, we were just coming to it. “Isn’t Néhomme,” I asked, “somewhere near Carquethuit and Clitourps?” “Precisely; Néhomme is the holm, the island or peninsula of the famous Viscount Nigel, whose name has survived also in Neville. The Carquethuit and Clitourps that you mention furnish Mme. de Cambremer’s protégé with an occasion for further blunders. No doubt he has seen that carque is a church, the Kirche of the Germans. You will remember Querqueville, not to mention Dunkerque. For there we should do better to stop and consider the famous word Dun, which to the Celts meant high ground. And that you will find over the whole of France. Your abbé was hypnotised by Duneville, which recurs in the Eure-et-Loir; he would have found Châteaudun, Dun-le-Roi in the Cher, Duneau in the Sarthe, Dun in the Ariège, Dune-les-Places in the Nièvre, and many others. This word Dun leads him into a curious error with regard to Douville where we shall be alighting, and shall find Mme. Verdurin’s comfortable carriages awaiting us. Douville, in Latin donvilla, says he. As a matter of fact, Douville does lie at the foot of high hills. Your curé, who knows everything, feels all the same that he has made a blunder. He has, indeed, found in an old cartulary, the name Domvilla. Whereupon he retracts; Douville, according to him, is a fief belonging to the Abbot, Domino Abbati, of Mont Saint-Michel. He is delighted with the discovery, which is distinctly odd when one thinks of the scandalous life that, according to the Capitulary of Sainte-Claire sur Epte, was led at Mont Saint-Michel, though no more extraordinary than to picture the King of Denmark as suzerain of all this coast, where he encouraged the worship of Odin far more than that of Christ. On the other hand, the supposition that the n has been changed to m does not shock me, and requires less alteration than the perfectly correct Lyon, which also is derived from Dun (Lugdunum). But the fact is, the abbé is mistaken. Douville was never Donville, but Doville, Eudonis villa, the village of Eudes. Douville was formerly called Escalecliff, the steps up the cliff. About the year 1233, Eudes le Bouteiller, Lord of Escalecliff, set out for the Holy Land; on the eve of his departure he made over the church to the Abbey of Blanchelande. By an exchange of courtesies, the village took his name, whence we have Douville to-day. But I must add that toponymy, of which moreover I know little or nothing, is not an exact science; had we not this historical evidence, Douville might quite well come from Ouville, that is to say the Waters. The forms in ai (Aiguës-Mortes), from aqua, are constantly changed to eu or ou. Now there were, quite close to Douville, certain famous springs, Carquethuit. You might suppose that the curé was only too ready to detect there a Christian origin, especially as this district seems to have been pretty hard to convert, since successive attempts were made by Saint Ursal, Saint Gofroi, Saint Barsanore, Saint Laurent of Brèvedent, who finally handed over the task to the monks of Beaubec. But as regards thuit the writer is mistaken, he sees in it a form of toft, a building, as in Cricquetot, Ectot, Yvetot, whereas it is the thveit, the clearing, the reclaimed land, as in Braquetuit, le Thuit, Regnetuit, and so forth. Similarly, if he recognises in Clitourps the Norman thorp which means village, he insists that the first syllable of the word must come from clivus, a slope, whereas it comes from cliff, a precipice. But his biggest blunders are due not so much to his ignorance as to his prejudices. However loyal a Frenchman one is, there is no need to fly in the face of the evidence and take Saint-Laurent en Bray to be the Roman priest, so famous at one time, when he is actually Saint Lawrence ‘Toot, Archbishop of Dublin. But even more than his patriotic sentiments, your friend’s religious bigotry leads him into strange errors. Thus you have not far from our hosts at la Raspelière two places called Montmartin, Montmartin-sur-Mer and Montmartin-en-Graignes. In the case of Graignes, the good curé has been quite right, he has seen that Graignes, in Latin Grania, in Greek Krene, means ponds, marshes; how many instances of Cresmays, Croen, Gremeville, Lengronne, might we not adduce? But, when he comes to Montmartin, your self-styled linguist positively insists that these must be parishes dedicated to Saint Martin. He bases his opinion upon the fact that the Saint is their patron, but does not realise that he was only adopted subsequently; or rather he is blinded by his hatred of paganism; he refuses to see that we should say Mont-Saint-Martin as we say Mont-Saint-Michel, if it were a question of Saint Martin, whereas the name Montmartin refers in a far more pagan fashion to temples consecrated to the god Mars, temples of which, it is true, no other vestige remains, but which the undisputed existence in the neighbourhood of vast Roman camps would render highly probable even without the name Montmartin, which removes all doubt. You see that the little pamphlet which you will find at la Raspelière is far from perfect.” I protested that at Combray the curé had often told us interesting etymologies. “He was probably better on his own ground, the move to Normandy must have made him lose his bearings.” “Nor did it do him any good,” I added, “for he came here with neurasthenia and went away again with rheumatism.” “Ah, his neurasthenia is to blame. He has lapsed from neurasthenia to philology, as my worthy master Pocquelin would have said. Tell us, Cottard, do you suppose that neurasthenia can have a disturbing effect on philology, philology a soothing effect on neurasthenia and the relief from neurasthenia lead to rheumatism?” “Undoubtedly, rheumatism and neurasthenia are subordinate forms of neuro-arthritism. You may pass from one to the other by metastasis.” “The eminent Professor,” said Brichot, “expresses himself in a French as highly infused with Latin and Greek as M. Purgon himself, of Molièresque memory! My uncle, I refer to our national Sarcey. . . . ” But he was prevented from finishing his sentence. The Professor had leaped from his seat with a wild shout: “The devil!” he exclaimed on regaining his power of articulate speech, “we have passed Maineville (d’you hear?) and Renneville too.” He had just noticed that the train was stopping at Saint-Mars-le-Vetu, where most of the passengers alighted. “They can’t have run through without stopping. We must have failed to notice it while we were talking about the Cambremers. Listen to me, Ski, pay attention, I am going to tell you ‘a good one,’” said Cottard, who had taken a fancy to this expression, in common use in certain medical circles. “The Princess must be on the train, she can’t have seen us, and will have got into another compartment. Come along and find her. Let’s hope this won’t land us in trouble!” And he led us all off in search of Princess Sherbatoff. He found her in the corner of an empty compartment, reading the Revue des Deux Mondes. She had long ago, from fear of rebuffs, acquired the habit of keeping in her place, or remaining in her corner, in life as on the train, and of not offering her hand until the other person had greeted her. She went on reading as the faithful trooped into her carriage. I recognised her immediately; this woman who might have forfeited her position but was nevertheless of exalted birth, who in any event was the pearl of a salon such as the Verdurins’, was the lady whom, on the same train, I had put down, two days earlier, as possibly the keeper of a brothel. Her social personality, which had been so vague, became clear to me as soon as I learned her name, just as when, after racking our brains over a puzzle, we at length hit upon the word which clears up all the obscurity, and which, in the case of a person, is his name. To discover two days later who the person is with whom one has travelled in the train is a far more amusing surprise than to read in the next number of a magazine the clue to the problem set in the previous number. Big restaurants, casinos, local trains, are the family portrait galleries of these social enigmas. “Princess, we must have missed you at Maineville! May we come and sit in your compartment?” “Why, of course,” said the Princess who, upon hearing Cottard address her, but only then, raised from her magazine a pair of eyes which, like the eyes of M. de Charlus, although gentler, saw perfectly well the people of whose presence she pretended to be unaware. Cottard, coming to the conclusion that the fact of my having been invited to meet the Cambremers was a sufficient recommendation, decided, after a momentary hesitation, to introduce me to the Princess, who bowed with great courtesy but appeared to be hearing my name for the first time. “Cré nom!” cried the doctor, “my wife has forgotten to make them change the buttons on my white waistcoat. Ah! Those women, they never remember anything. Don’t you ever marry, my boy,” he said to me. And as this was one of the pleasantries which he considered appropriate when he had nothing else to say, he peeped out of the corner of his eye at the Princess and the rest of the faithful, who, because he was a Professor and an Academician, smiled back, admiring his good temper and freedom from pride. The Princess informed us that the young violinist had been found. He had been confined to bed the evening before by a sick headache, but was coming that evening and bringing with him a friend of his father whom he had met at Doncières. She had learned this from Mme. Verdurin with whom she had taken luncheon that morning, she told us in a rapid voice, rolling her rs, with her Russian accent, softly at the back of her throat, as though they were notrrs but ls. “Ah! You had luncheon with her this morning,” Cottard said to the Princess; but turned his eyes to myself, the purport of this remark being to shew me on what intimate terms the Princess was with the Mistress. “You are indeed a faithful adherent!” “Yes, I love the little cirlcle, so intelligent, so agleeable, neverl spiteful, quite simple, not at all snobbish, and clevel to theirl fingle-tips.” “Nom d’une pipe! I must have lost my ticket, I can’t find it anywhere,” cried Cottard, with an agitation that was, in the circumstances, quite unjustified. He knew that at Douville, where a couple of landaus would be awaiting us, the collector would let him pass without a ticket, and would only bare his head all the more humbly, so that the salute might furnish an explanation of his indulgence, to wit that he had of course recognised Cottard as one of the Verdurins’ regular guests. “They won’t shove me in the lock-up for that,” the doctor concluded. “You were saying, Sir,” I inquired of Brichot, “that there used to be some famous waters near here; how do we know that?” “The name of the next station is one of a multitude of proofs. It is called Fervaches.” “I don’t undlestand what he’s talking about,” mumbled the Princess, as though she were saying to me out of politeness: “He’s rather a bore, ain’t he?” “Why, Princess, Fervaches means hot springs. Fervidae aquae. But to return to the young violinist,” Brichot went on, “I was quite forgetting, Cottard, to tell you the great news. Had you heard that our poor friend Dechambre, who used to be Mme. Verdurin’s favourite pianist, has just died? It is terribly sad.” “He was quite young,” replied Cottard, “but he must have had some trouble with his liver, there must have been something sadly wrong in that quarter, he had been looking very queer indeed for a long time past.” “But he was not so young as all that,” said Brichot; “in the days when Elstir and Swann used to come to Mme. Verdurin’s, Dechambre had already made himself a reputation in Paris, and, what is remarkable, without having first received the baptism of success abroad. Ah! He was no follower of the Gospel according to Saint Barnum, that fellow.” “You are mistaken, he could not have been going to Mme. Verdurin’s, at that time, he was still in the nursery.” “But, unless my old memory plays me false, I was under the impression that Dechambre used to play Vinteuil’s sonata for Swann, when that clubman, who had broken with the aristocracy, had still no idea that he was one day to become the embourgeoised Prince Consort of our national Odette.” “It is impossible, Vinteuil’s sonata was played at Mme. Verdurin’s long after Swann ceased to come there,” said the doctor, who, like all people who work hard and think that they remember many things which they imagine to be of use to them, forget many others, a condition which enables them to go into ecstasies over the memories of people who have nothing else to do. “You are hopelessly muddled, though your brain is as sound as ever,” said the doctor with a smile. Brichot admitted that he was mistaken. The train stopped. We were at la Sogne. The name stirred my curiosity. “How I should like to know what all these names mean,” I said to Cottard. “You must ask M. Brichot, he may know, perhaps.” “Why, la Sogne is la Cicogne, Siconia,” replied Brichot, whom I was burning to interrogate about many other names.
Forgetting her attachment to her ‘corner,’ Mme. Sherbatoff kindly offered to change places with me, so that I might talk more easily with Brichot, whom I wanted to ask about other etymologies that interested me, and assured me that she did not mind in the least whether she travelled with her face or her back to the engine, standing, or seated, or anyhow. She remained on the defensive until she had discovered a newcomer’s intentions, but as soon as she had realised that these were friendly, she would do everything in her power to oblige. At length the train stopped at the station of Douville-Féterne, which being more or less equidistant from the villages of Féterne and Douville, bore for this reason their hyphenated name. “Saperlipopette!” exclaimed Doctor Cottard, when we came to the barrier where the tickets were collected, and, pretending to have only just discovered his loss, “I can’t find my ticket, I must have lost it.” But the collector, taking off his cap, assured him that it did not matter and smiled respectfully. The Princess (giving instructions to the coachman, as though she were a sort of lady in waiting to Mme. Verdurin, who, because of the Cambremers, had not been able to come to the station, as, for that matter, she rarely did) took me, and also Brichot, with herself in one of the carriages. The doctor, Saniette and Ski got into the other.
The driver, although quite young, was the Verdurins’ first coachman, the only one who had any right to the title; he took them, in the daytime, on all their excursions, for he knew all the roads, and in the evening went down to meet the faithful and took them back to the station later on. He was accompanied by extra helpers (whom he selected if necessary). He was an excellent fellow, sober and capable, but with one of those melancholy faces on which a fixed stare indicates that the merest trifle will make the person fly into a passion, not to say nourish dark thoughts. But at the moment he was quite happy, for he had managed to secure a place for his brother, another excellent type of fellow, with the Verdurins. We began by driving through Douville. Grassy knolls ran down from the village to the sea, in wide slopes to which their saturation in moisture and salt gave a richness, a softness, a vivacity of extreme tones. The islands and indentations of Rivebelle, far nearer now than at Balbec, gave this part of the coast the appearance, novel to me, of a relief map. We passed by some little bungalows, almost all of which were let to painters; turned into a track upon which some loose cattle, as frightened as were our horses, barred our way for ten minutes, and emerged upon the cliff road. “But, by the immortal gods,” Brichot suddenly asked, “let us return to that poor Dechambre; do you suppose Mme. Verdurin knows? Has anyone told her?” Mme. Verdurin, like most people who move in society, simply because she needed the society of other people, never thought of them again for a single day, as soon as, being dead, they could no longer come to the Wednesdays, nor to the Saturdays, nor dine without dressing. And one could not say of the little clan, a type in this respect of all salons, that it was composed of more dead than living members, seeing that, as soon as one was dead, it was as though one had never existed. But, to escape the nuisance of having to speak of the deceased, in other words to postpone one of the dinners — a thing impossible to the mistress — as a token of mourning, M. Verdurin used to pretend that the death of the faithful had such an effect on his wife that, in the interest of her health, it must never be mentioned to her. Moreover, and perhaps just because the death of other people seemed to him so conclusive, so vulgar an accident, the thought of his own death filled him with horror and he shunned any consideration that might lead to it. As for Brichot, since he was the soul of honesty and completely taken in by what M. Verdurin said about his wife, he dreaded for his friend’s sake the emotions that such a bereavement must cause her. “Yes, she knew the worst this morning,” said the Princess, “it was impossible to keep it from her.” “Ah! Thousand thunders of Zeus!” cried Brichot. “Ah! it must have been a terrible blow, a friend of twenty-five years’ standing. There was a man who was one of us.” “Of course, of course, what can you expect? Such incidents are bound to be painful; but Madame Verdurin is a brave woman, she is even more cerebral than emotive.” “I don’t altogether agree with the Doctor,” said the Princess, whose rapid speech, her murmured accents, certainly made her appear both sullen and rebellious. “Mme. Verdurin, beneath a cold exterior, conceals treasures of sensibility. M. Verdurin told me that he had had great difficulty in preventing her from going to Paris for the funeral; he was obliged to let her think that it was all to be held in the country.” “The devil! She wanted to go to Paris, did she? Of course, I know that she has a heart, too much heart perhaps. Poor Dechambre! As Madame Verdurin remarked not two months ago: ‘Compared with him, Planté, Paderewski, Risler himself are nowhere!’ Ah, he could say with better reason than that limelighter Nero, who has managed to take in even German scholarship: Qualis artifex pereo! But he at least, Dechambre, must have died in the fulfilment of his priesthood, in the odour of Beethovenian devotion; and gallantly, I have no doubt; he had every right, that interpreter of German music, to pass away while celebrating the Mass in D. But he was, when all is said, the man to greet the unseen with a cheer, for that inspired performer would produce at times from the Parisianised Champagne stock of which he came, the swagger and smartness of a guardsman.”
From the height we had now reached, the sea suggested no longer, as at Balbec, the undulations of swelling mountains, but on the contrary the view, beheld from a mountain-top or from a road winding round its flank, of a blue-green glacier or a glittering plain, situated at a lower level. The lines of the currents seemed to be fixed upon its surface, and to have traced there for ever their concentric circles; the enamelled face of the sea which changed imperceptibly in colour, assumed towards the head of the bay, where an estuary opened, the blue whiteness of milk, in which little black boats that did not move seemed entangled like flies. I felt that from nowhere could one discover a vaster prospect. But at each turn in the road a fresh expanse was added to it and when we arrived at the Douville toll-house, the spur of the cliff which until then had concealed from us half the bay, withdrew, and all of a sudden I descried upon my left a gulf as profound as that which I had already had before me, but one that changed the proportions of the other and doubled its beauty. The air at this lofty point acquired a keenness and purity that intoxicated me. I adored the Verdurins; that they should have sent a carriage for us seemed to me a touching act of kindness. I should have liked to kiss the Princess. I told her that I had never seen anything so beautiful. She professed that she too loved this spot more than any other. But I could see that to her as to the Verdurins the thing that really mattered was not to gaze at the view like tourists, but to partake of good meals there, to entertain people whom they liked, to write letters, to read books, in short to live in these surroundings, passively allowing the beauty of the scene to soak into them rather than making it the object of their attention.
After the toll-house, where the carriage had stopped for a moment at such a height above the sea that, as from a mountain-top, the sight of the blue gulf beneath almost made one dizzy, I opened the window; the sound, distinctly caught, of each wave that broke in turn had something sublime in its softness and precision. Was it not like an index of measurement which, upsetting all our ordinary impressions, shews us that vertical distances may be coordinated with horizontal, in contradiction of the idea that our mind generally forms of them; and that, though they bring the sky nearer to us in this way, they are not great; that they are indeed less great for a sound which traverses them as did the sound of those little waves, the medium through which it has to pass being purer. And in fact if one went back but a couple of yards below the toll-house, one could no longer distinguish that sound of waves, which six hundred feet of cliff had not robbed of its delicate, minute and soft precision. I said to myself that my grandmother would have listened to it with the delight that she felt in all manifestations of nature or art, in the simplicity of which one discerns grandeur. I was now at the highest pitch of exaltation, which raised everything round about me accordingly. It melted my heart that the Verdurins should have sent to meet us at the station. I said as much to the Princess, who seemed to think that I was greatly exaggerating so simple an act of courtesy. I know that she admitted subsequently to Cottard that she found me very enthusiastic; he replied that I was too emotional, required sedatives and ought to take to knitting. I pointed out to the Princess every tree, every little house smothered in its mantle of roses, I made her admire everything, I would have liked to take her in my arms and press her to my heart. She told me that she could see that I had a gift for painting, that of course I must sketch, that she was surprised that nobody had told her about it. And she confessed that the country was indeed picturesque. We drove through, where it perched upon its height, the little village of Englesqueville (Engleberti villa, Brichot informed us). “But are you quite sure that there will be a party this evening, in spite of Dechambre’s death, Princess?” he went on, without stopping to think that the presence at the station of the carriage in which we were sitting was in itself an answer to his question. “Yes,” said the Princess, “M. Verldulin insisted that it should not be put off, simply to keep his wife from thinking. And besides, after never failing for all these years to entertain on Wednesdays, such a change in her habits would have been bound to upset her. Her nerves are velly bad just now. M. Verdurin was particularly pleased that you were coming to dine this evening, because he knew that it would be a great distraction for Mme. Verdurin,” said the Princess, forgetting her pretence of having never heard my name before. “I think that it will be as well not to say anything in front of Mme. Verdurin,” the Princess added. “Ah! I am glad you warned me,” Brichot artlessly replied. “I shall pass on your suggestion to Cottard.” The carriage stopped for a moment. It moved on again, but the sound that the wheels had been making in the village street had ceased. We had turned into the main avenue of la Raspelière where M. Verdurin stood waiting for us upon the steps. “I did well to put on a dinner-jacket,” he said, observing with pleasure that the faithful had put on theirs, “since I have such smart gentlemen in my party.” And as I apologised for not having changed: “Why, that’s quite all right. We’re all friends here. I should be delighted to offer you one of my own dinner-jackets, but it wouldn’t fit you.” The handclasp throbbing with emotion which, as he entered the hall of la Raspelière, and by way of condolence at the death of the pianist, Brichot gave our host elicited no response from the latter. I told him how greatly I admired the scenery. “Ah! All the better, and you’ve seen nothing, we must take you round. Why not come and spend a week or two here, the air is excellent.” Brichot was afraid that his handclasp had not been understood. “Ah! Poor Dechambre!” he said, but in an undertone, in case Mme. Verdurin was within earshot. “It is terrible,” replied M. Verdurin lightly. “So young,” Brichot pursued the point. Annoyed at being detained over these futilities, M. Verdurin replied in a hasty tone and with an embittered groan, not of grief but of irritated impatience: “Why yes, of course, but what’s to be done about it, it’s no use crying over spilt milk, talking about him won’t bring him back to life, will it?” And, his civility returning with his joviality: “Come along, my good Brichot, get your things off quickly. We have a bouillabaisse which mustn’t be kept waiting. But, in heaven’s name, don’t start talking about Dechambre to Madame Verdurin. You know that she always hides her feelings, but she is quite morbidly sensitive. I give you my word, when she heard that Dechambre was dead, she almost cried,” said M. Verdurin in a tone of profound irony. One might have concluded, from hearing him speak, that it implied a form of insanity to regret the death of a friend of thirty years’ standing, and on the other hand one gathered that the perpetual union of M. Verdurin and his wife did not preclude his constantly criticising her and her frequently irritating him. “If you mention it to her, she will go and make herself ill again. It is deplorable, three weeks after her bronchitis. When that happens, it is I who have to be sick-nurse. You can understand that I have had more than enough of it. Grieve for Dechambre’s fate in your heart as much as you like. Think of him, but do not speak about him. I was very fond of Dechambre, but you cannot blame me for being fonder still of my wife. Here’s Cottard, now, you can ask him.” And indeed, he knew that a family doctor can do many little services, such as prescribing that one must not give way to grief.
The docile Cottard had said to the Mistress: “Upset yourself like that, and to-morrow you will give me a temperature of 102,” as he might have said to the cook: “To-morrow you will give me a riz de veau.” Medicine, when it fails to cure the sick, busies itself with changing the sense of verbs and pronouns.
M. Verdurin was glad to find that Saniette, notwithstanding the snubs that he had had to endure two days earlier, had not deserted the little nucleus. And indeed Mme. Verdurin and her husband had acquired, in their idleness, cruel instincts for which the great occasions, occurring too rarely, no longer sufficed. They had succeeded in effecting a breach between Odette and Swann, between Brichot and his mistress. They would try it again with some one else, that was understood. But the opportunity did not present itself every day. Whereas, thanks to his shuddering sensibility, his timorous and quickly aroused shyness, Saniette provided them with a whipping-block for every day in the year. And so, for fear of his failing them, they took care always to invite him with friendly and persuasive words, such as the bigger boys at school, the old soldiers in a regiment, address to a recruit whom they are anxious to beguile so that they may get him into their clutches, with the sole object of flattering him for the moment and bullying him when he can no longer escape. “Whatever you do,” Brichot reminded Cottard, who had not heard what M. Verdurin was saying, “mum’s the word before Mme. Verdurin. Have no fear, O Cottard, you are dealing with a sage, as Theocritus says. Besides, M. Verdurin is right, what is the use of lamentations,” he went on, for, being capable of assimilating forms of speech and the ideas which they suggested to him, but having no finer perception, he had admired in M. Verdurin’s remarks the most courageous stoicism. “All the same, it is a great talent that has gone from the world.” “What, are you still talking about Dechambre,” said M. Verdurin, who had gone on ahead of us, and, seeing that we were not following him, had turned back. “Listen,” he said to Brichot, “nothing is gained by exaggeration. The fact of his being dead is no excuse for making him out a genius, which he was not. He played well, I admit, and what is more, he was in his proper element here; transplanted, he ceased to exist. My wife was infatuated with him and made his reputation. You know what she is. I will go farther, in the interest of his own reputation he has died at the right moment, he is done to a turn, as the demoiselles de Caen, grilled according to the incomparable recipe of Pampilles, are going to be, I hope (unless you keep us standing here all night with your jeremiads in this Kasbah exposed to all the winds of heaven). You don’t seriously expect us all to die of hunger because Dechambre is dead, when for the last year he was obliged to practise scales before giving a concert; to recover for the moment, and for the moment only, the suppleness of his wrists. Besides, you are going to hear this evening, or at any rate to meet, for the rascal is too fond of deserting his art, after dinner, for the card-table, somebody who is a far greater artist than Dechambre, a youngster whom my wife has discovered” (as she had discovered Dechambre, and Paderewski, and everybody else): “Morel. He has not arrived yet, the devil. He is coming with an old friend of his family whom he has picked up, and who bores him to tears, but otherwise, not to get into trouble with his father, he would have been obliged to stay down at Doncières and keep him company: the Baron de Charlus.” The faithful entered the drawing-room. M. Verdurin, who had remained behind with me while I took off my things, took my arm by way of a joke, as one’s host does at a dinner-party when there is no lady for one to take in. “Did you have a pleasant journey?” “Yes, M. Brichot told me things which interested me greatly,” said I, thinking of the etymologies, and because I had heard that the Verdurins greatly admired Brichot. “I am surprised to hear that he told you anything,” said M. Verdurin, “he is such a retiring man, and talks so little about the things he knows.” This compliment did not strike me as being very apt. “He seems charming,” I remarked. “Exquisite, delicious, not the sort of man you meet every day, such a light, fantastic touch, my wife adores him, and so do I!” replied M. Verdurin in an exaggerated tone, as though repeating a lesson. Only then did I grasp that what he had said to me about Brichot was ironical. And I asked myself whether M. Verdurin, since those far-off days of which I had heard reports, had not shaken off the yoke of his wife’s tutelage.
The sculptor was greatly astonished to learn that the Verdurins were willing to have M. de Charlus in their house. Whereas in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, where M. de Charlus was so well known, nobody ever referred to his morals (of which most people had no suspicion, others remained doubtful, crediting him rather with intense but Platonic friendships, with behaving imprudently, while the enlightened few strenuously denied, shrugging their shoulders, any insinuation upon which some malicious Gallardon might venture), those morals, the nature of which was known perhaps to a few intimate friends, were, on the other hand, being denounced daily far from the circle in which he moved, just as, at times, the sound of artillery fire is audible only beyond a zone of silence. Moreover, in those professional and artistic circles where he was regarded as the typical instance of inversion, his great position in society, his noble origin were completely unknown, by a process analogous to that which, among the people of Rumania, has brought it about that the name of Ronsard is known as that of a great nobleman, while his poetical work is unknown there. Not only that, the Rumanian estimate of Ronsard’s nobility is founded upon an error. Similarly, if in the world of painters and actors M. de Charlus had such an evil reputation, that was due to their confusing him with a certain Comte Leblois de Charlus who was not even related to him (or, if so, the connexion was extremely remote), and who had been arrested, possibly by mistake, in the course of a police raid which had become historic. In short, all the stories related of our M. de Charlus referred to the other. Many professionals swore that they had had relations with M. de Charlus, and did so in good faith, believing that the false M. de Charlus was the true one, the false one possibly encouraging, partly from an affectation of nobility, partly to conceal his vice, a confusion which to the true one (the Baron whom we already know) was for a long time damaging, and afterwards, when he had begun to go down the hill, became a convenience, for it enabled him likewise to say: “That is not myself.” And in the present instance it was not he to whom the rumours referred. Finally, what enhanced the falsehood of the reports of an actual fact (the Baron’s tendencies), he had had an intimate and perfectly pure friendship with an author who, in the theatrical world, had for some reason acquired a similar reputation which he in no way deserved. When they were seen together at a first night, people would say: “You see,” just as it was supposed that the Duchesse de Guermantes had immoral relations with the Princesse de Parme; an indestructible legend, for it would be disproved only in the presence of those two great ladies themselves, to which the people who repeated it would presumably never come any nearer than by staring at them through their glasses in the theatre and slandering them to the occupant of the next stall. Given M. de Charlus’s morals, the sculptor concluded all the more readily that the Baron’s social position must be equally low, since he had no sort of information whatever as to the family to which M. de Charlus belonged, his title or his name. Just as Cottard imagined that everybody knew that the degree of Doctor of Medicine implied nothing, the title of Consultant to a Hospital meant something, so people in society are mistaken when they suppose that everybody has the same idea of the social importance of their name as they themselves and the other people of their set.
The Prince d’Agrigente was regarded as a swindler by a club servant to whom he owed twenty-five louis, and regained his importance only in the Faubourg Saint-Germain where he had three sisters who were Duchesses, for it is not among the humble people in whose eyes he is of small account, but among the smart people who know what is what, that the great nobleman creates an effect. M. de Charlus, for that matter, was to learn in the course of the evening that his host had the vaguest ideas about the most illustrious ducal families.
Certain that the Verdurins were making a grave mistake in allowing an individual of tarnished reputation to be admitted to so ‘select’ a household as theirs, the sculptor felt it his duty to take the Mistress aside. “You are entirely mistaken, besides I never pay any attention to those tales, and even if it were true, I may be allowed to point out that it could hardly compromise me!” replied Mme. Verdurin, furious, for Morel being the principal feature of the Wednesdays, the chief thing for her was not to give any offence to him. As for Cottard, he could not express an opinion, for he had asked leave to go upstairs for a moment to ‘do a little job’ in the buen retiro, and after that, in M. Verdurin’s bedroom, to write an extremely urgent letter for a patient.
A great publisher from Paris who had come to call, expecting to be invited to stay to dinner, withdrew abruptly, quickly, realising that he was not smart enough for the little clan. He was a tall, stout man, very dark, with a studious and somewhat cutting air. He reminded one of an ebony paper-knife.
Mme. Verdurin who, to welcome us in her immense drawing-room, in which displays of grasses, poppies, field-flowers, plucked only that morning, alternated with a similar theme painted on the walls, two centuries earlier, by an artist of exquisite taste, had risen for a moment from a game of cards which she was playing with an old friend, begged us to excuse her for just one minute while she finished her game, talking to us the while. What I told her about my impressions did not, however, seem altogether to please her. For one thing I was shocked to observe that she and her husband came indoors every day long before the hour of those sunsets which were considered so fine when seen from that cliff, and finer still from the terrace of la Raspelière, and which I would have travelled miles to see. “Yes, it’s incomparable,” said Mme. Verdurin carelessly, with a glance at the huge windows which gave the room a wall of glass. “Even though we have it always in front of us, we never grow tired of it,” and she turned her attention back to her cards. Now my very enthusiasm made me exacting. I expressed my regret that I could not see from the drawing-room the rocks of Darnetal, which, Elstir had told me, were quite lovely at that hour, when they reflected so many colours. “Ah! You can’t see them from here, you would have to go to the end of the park, to the ‘view of the bay.’ From the seat there, you can take in the whole panorama. But you can’t go there by yourself, you will lose your way. I can take you there, if you like,” she added kindly. “No, no, you are not satisfied with the illness you had the other day, you want to make yourself ill again. He will come back, he can see the view of the bay another time.” I did not insist, and understood that it was enough for the Verdurins to know that this sunset made its way into their drawing-room or dining-room, like a magnificent painting, like a priceless Japanese enamel, justifying the high rent that they were paying for la Raspelière, with plate and linen, but a thing to which they rarely raised their eyes; the important thing, here, for them was to live comfortably, to take drives, to feed well, to talk, to entertain agreeable friends whom they provided with amusing games of billiards, good meals, merry tea-parties. I noticed, however, later on, how intelligently they had learned to know the district, taking their guests for excursions as ‘novel’ as the music to which they made them listen. The part which the flowers of la Raspelière, the roads by the sea’s edge, the old houses, the undiscovered churches, played in the life of M. Verdurin was so great that those people who saw him only in Paris and who, themselves, substituted for the life by the seaside and in the country the refinements of life in town could barely understand the idea that he himself formed of his own life, or the importance that his pleasures gave him in his own eyes. This importance was further enhanced by the fact that the Verdurins were convinced that la Raspelière, which they hoped to purchase, was a property without its match in the world. This superiority which their self-esteem made them attribute to la Raspelière justified in their eyes my enthusiasm which, but for that, would have annoyed them slightly, because of the disappointments which it involved (like my disappointment when long ago I had first listened to Berma) and which I frankly admitted to them.
“I hear the carriage coming back,” the Mistress suddenly murmured. Let us state briefly that Mme. Verdurin, quite apart from the inevitable changes due to increasing years, no longer resembled what she had been at the time when Swann and Odette used to listen to the little phrase in her house. Even when she heard it played, she was no longer obliged to assume the air of attenuated admiration which she used to assume then, for that had become her normal expression. Under the influence of the countless neuralgias which the music of Bach, Wagner, Vinteuil, Debussy had given her, Mme. Verdurin’s brow had assumed enormous proportions, like limbs that are finally crippled by rheumatism. Her temples, suggestive of a pair of beautiful, pain-stricken, milk-white spheres, in which Harmony rolled endlessly, flung back upon either side her silvered tresses, and proclaimed, on the Mistress’s behalf, without any need for her to say a word: “I know what is in store for me to-night.” Her features no longer took the trouble to formulate successively aesthetic impressions of undue violence, for they had themselves become their permanent expression on a countenance ravaged and superb. This attitude of resignation to the ever impending sufferings inflicted by Beauty, and of the courage that was required to make her dress for dinner when she had barely recovered from the effects of the last sonata, had the result that Mme. Verdurin, even when listening to the most heartrending music, preserved a disdainfully impassive countenance, and actually withdrew into retirement to swallow her two spoonfuls of aspirin.
“Why, yes, here they are!” M. Verdurin cried with relief when he saw the door open to admit Morel, followed by M. de Charlus. The latter, to whom dining with the Verdurins meant not so much going into society as going into questionable surroundings, was as frightened as a schoolboy making his way for the first time into a brothel with the utmost deference towards its mistress. Moreover the persistent desire that M. de Charlus felt to appear virile and frigid was overcome (when he appeared in the open doorway) by those traditional ideas of politeness which are awakened as soon as shyness destroys an artificial attitude and makes an appeal to the resources of the subconscious. When it is a Charlus, whether he be noble or plebeian, that is stirred by such a sentiment of instinctive and atavistic politeness to strangers, it is always the spirit of a relative of the female sex, attendant like a goddess, or incarnate as a double, that undertakes to introduce him into a strange drawing-room and to mould his attitude until he comes face to face with his hostess. Thus a young painter, brought up by a godly, Protestant, female cousin, will enter a room, his head aslant and quivering, his eyes raised to the ceiling, his hands gripping an invisible muff, the remembered shape of which and its real and tutelary presence will help the frightened artist to cross without agoraphobia the yawning abyss between the hall and the inner drawing-room. Thus it was that the pious relative, whose memory is helping him to-day, used to enter a room years ago, and with so plaintive an air that one was asking oneself what calamity she had come to announce, when from her first words one realised, as now in the case of the painter, that she had come to pay an after-dinner call. By virtue of the same law, which requires that life, in the interests of the still unfulfilled act, shall bring into play, utilise, adulterate, in a perpetual prostitution, the most respectable, it may be the most sacred, sometimes only the most innocent legacies from the past, and albeit in this instance it engendered a different aspect, the one of Mme. Cottard’s nephews who distressed his family by his effeminate ways and the company he kept would always make a joyous entry as though he had a surprise in store for you or were going to inform you that he had been left a fortune, radiant with a happiness which it would have been futile to ask him to explain, it being due to his unconscious heredity and his misplaced sex. He walked upon tiptoe, was no doubt himself astonished that he was not holding a cardcase, offered you his hand parting his lips as he had seen his aunt part hers, and his uneasy glance was directed at the mirror in which he seemed to wish to make certain, albeit he was bare-headed, whether his hat, as Mme. Cottard had once inquired of Swann, was not askew. As for M. de Charlus, whom the society in which he had lived furnished, at this critical moment, with different examples, with other patterns of affability, and above all with the maxim that one must, in certain cases, when dealing with people of humble rank, bring into play and make use of one’s rarest graces, which one normally holds in reserve, it was with a flutter, archly, and with the same sweep with which a skirt would have enlarged and impeded his waddling motion that he advanced upon Mme. Verdurin with so flattered and honoured an air that one would have said that to be taken to her house was for him a supreme favour. One would have thought that it was Mme. de Marsantes who was entering the room, so prominent at that moment was the woman whom a mistake on the part of Nature had enshrined in the body of M. de Charlus. It was true that the Baron had made every effort to obliterate this mistake and to assume a masculine appearance. But no sooner had he succeeded than, he having in the meantime kept the same tastes, this habit of looking at things through a woman’s eyes gave him a fresh feminine appearance, due this time not to heredity but to his own way of living. And as he had gradually come to regard even social questions from the feminine point of view, and without noticing it, for it is not only by dint of lying to other people, but also by lying to oneself that one ceases to be aware that one is lying, albeit he had called upon his body to manifest (at the moment of his entering the Verdurins’ drawing-room) all the courtesy of a great nobleman, that body which had fully understood what M. de Charlus had ceased to apprehend, displayed, to such an extent that the Baron would have deserved the epithet ‘ladylike,’ all the attractions of a great lady. Not that there need be any connexion between the appearance of M. de Charlus and the fact that sons, who do not always take after their fathers, even without being inverts, and though they go after women, may consummate upon their faces the profanation of their mothers. But we need not consider here a subject that deserves a chapter to itself: the Profanation of the Mother.
Albeit other reasons dictated this transformation of M. de Charlus, and purely physical ferments set his material substance ‘working’ and made his body pass gradually into the category of women’s bodies, nevertheless the change that we record here was of spiritual origin. By dint of supposing yourself to be ill you become ill, grow thin, are too weak to rise from your bed, suffer from nervous enteritis. By dint of thinking tenderly of men you become a woman, and an imaginary spirit hampers your movements. The obsession, just as in the other instance it affects your health, may in this instance alter your sex. Morel, who accompanied him, came to shake hands with me. From that first moment, owing to a twofold change that occurred in him I formed (alas, I was not warned in time to act upon it!) a bad impression of him. I have said that Morel, having risen above his father’s menial status, was generally pleased to indulge in a contemptuous familiarity. He had talked to me on the day when he brought me the photographs without once addressing me as Monsieur, treating me as an inferior. What was my surprise at Mme. Verdurin’s to see him bow very low before me, and before me alone, and to hear, before he had even uttered a syllable to anyone else, words of respect, most respectful — such words as I thought could not possibly flow from his pen or fall from his lips — addressed to myself. I at once suspected that he had some favour to ask of me. Taking me aside a minute later: “Monsieur would be doing me a very great service,” he said to me, going so far this time as to address me in the third person, “by keeping from Mme. Verdurin and her guests the nature of the profession that my father practised with his uncle. It would be best to say that he was, in your family, the agent for estates so considerable as to put him almost on a level with your parents,” Morel’s request annoyed me intensely because it obliged me to magnify not his father’s position, in which I took not the slightest interest, but the wealth — the apparent wealth of my own, which I felt to be absurd. But he appeared so unhappy, so pressing, that I could not refuse him. “No, before dinner,” he said in an imploring tone, “Monsieur can easily find some excuse for taking Mme. Verdurin aside.” This was what, in the end, I did, trying to enhance to the best of my ability the distinction of Morel’s father, without unduly exaggerating the ‘style,’ the ‘worldly goods’ of my own family. It went like a letter through the post, notwithstanding the astonishment of Mme. Verdurin, who had had a nodding acquaintance with my grandfather. And as she had no tact, hated family life (that dissolvent of the little nucleus), after telling me that she remembered, long ago, seeing my great-grandfather, and after speaking of him as of somebody who was almost an idiot, who would have been incapable of understanding the little group, and who, to use her expression, “was not one of us,” she said to me: “Families are such a bore, the only thing is to get right away from them;” and at once proceeded to tell me of a trait in my great-grandfather’s character of which I was unaware, although I might have suspected it at home (I had never seen him, but they frequently spoke of him), his remarkable stinginess (in contrast to the somewhat excessive generosity of my great-uncle, the friend of the lady in pink and Morel’s father’s employer): “Why, of course, if your grandparents had such a grand agent, that only shews that there are all sorts of people in a family. Your grandfather’s father was so stingy that, at the end of his life, when he was almost half-witted — between you and me, he was never anything very special, you are worth the whole lot of them — he could not bring himself to pay a penny for his ride on the omnibus. So that they were obliged to have him followed by somebody who paid his fare for him, and to let the old miser think that his friend M. de Persigny, the Cabinet Minister, had given him a permit to travel free on the omnibuses. But I am delighted to hear that our Morel’s father held such a good position. I was under the impression that he had been a schoolmaster, but that’s nothing, I must have misunderstood. In any case, it makes not the slightest difference, for I must tell you that here we appreciate only true worth, the personal contribution, what I call the participation. Provided that a person is artistic, provided in a word that he is one of the brotherhood, nothing else matters.” The way in which Morel was one of the brotherhood was — so far as I have been able to discover — that he was sufficiently fond of both women and men to satisfy either sex with the fruits of his experience of the other. But what it is essential to note here is that as soon as I had given him my word that I would speak on his behalf to Mme. Verdurin, as soon, moreover, as I had actually done so, and without any possibility of subsequent retractation, Morel’s ‘respect’ for myself vanished as though by magic, the formal language of respect melted away, and indeed for some time he avoided me, contriving to appear contemptuous of me, so that if Mme. Verdurin wanted me to give him a message, to ask him to play something, he would continue to talk to one of the faithful, then move on to another, changing his seat if I approached him. The others were obliged to tell him three or four times that I had spoken to him, after which he would reply, with an air of constraint, briefly, that is to say unless we were by ourselves. When that happened, he was expansive, friendly, for there was a charming side to him. I concluded all the same from this first evening that his must be a vile nature, that he would not, at a pinch, shrink from any act of meanness, was incapable of gratitude. In which he resembled the majority of mankind. But inasmuch as I had inherited a strain of my grandmother’s nature, and enjoyed the diversity of other people without expecting anything of them or resenting anything that they did, I overlooked his baseness, rejoiced in his gaiety when it was in evidence, and indeed in what I believe to have been a genuine affection on his part when, having gone the whole circuit of his false ideas of human nature, he realised (with a jerk, for he shewed strange reversions to a blind and primitive savagery) that my kindness to him was disinterested, that my indulgence arose not from a want of perception but from what he called goodness; and, more important still, I was enraptured by his art which indeed was little more than an admirable virtuosity, but which made me (without his being in the intellectual sense of the word a real musician) hear again or for the first time so much good music. Moreover a manager — M. de Charlus (whom I had not suspected of such talents, albeit Mme. de Guermantes, who had known him a very different person in their younger days, asserted that he had composed a sonata for her, painted a fan, and so forth), modest in regard to his true merits, but possessing talents of the first order, contrived to place this virtuosity at the service of a versatile artistic sense which increased it tenfold. Imagine a merely skilful performer in the Russian ballet, formed, educated, developed in all directions by M. Diaghileff.
I had just given Mme. Verdurin the message with which Morel had charged me and was talking to M. de Charlus about Saint-Loup, when Cottard burst into the room announcing, as though the house were on fire, that the Cambremers had arrived. Mme. Verdurin, not wishing to appear before strangers such as M. de Charlus (whom Cottard had not seen) and myself to attach any great importance to the arrival of the Cambremers, did not move, made no response to the announcement of these tidings, and merely said to the doctor, fanning herself gracefully, and adopting the tone of a Marquise in the Théâtre Français: “The Baron has just been telling us. . . . ” This was too much for Cottard! Less abruptly than he would have done in the old days, for learning and high positions had added weight to his utterance, but with the emotion, nevertheless, which he recaptured at the Verdurins’, he exclaimed: “A Baron! What Baron? Where’s the Baron?” staring around the room with an astonishment that bordered on incredulity. Mme. Verdurin, with the affected indifference of a hostess when a servant has, in front of her guests, broken a valuable glass, and with the artificial, highfalutin tone of a conservatoire prize-winner acting in a play by the younger Dumas, replied, pointing with her fan to Morel’s patron: “Why, the Baron de Charlus, to whom let me introduce you, M. le Professeur Cottard.” Mme. Verdurin was, for that matter, by no means sorry to have an opportunity of playing the leading lady. M. de Charlus proffered two fingers which the Professor clasped with the kindly smile of a ‘Prince of Science.’ But he stopped short upon seeing the Cambremers enter the room, while M. de Charlus led me into a corner to tell me something, not without feeling my muscles, which is a German habit. M. de Cambremer bore no resemblance to the old Marquise. To anyone who had only heard of him, or of letters written by him, well and forcibly expressed, his personal appearance was startling. No doubt, one would grow accustomed to it. But his nose had chosen to place itself aslant above his mouth, perhaps the only crooked line, among so many, which one would never have thought of tracing upon his face, and one that indicated a vulgar stupidity, aggravated still further by the proximity of a Norman complexion on cheeks that were like two ripe apples. It is possible that the eyes of M. de Cambremer retained behind their eyelids a trace of the sky of the Cotentin, so soft upon sunny days when the wayfarer amuses himself in watching, drawn up by the roadside, and counting in their hundreds the shadows of the poplars, but those eyelids, heavy, bleared and drooping, would have prevented the least flash of intelligence from escaping. And so, discouraged by the meagreness of that azure glance, one returned to the big crooked nose. By a transposition of the senses, M. de Cambremer looked at you with his nose. This nose of his was not ugly, it was if anything too handsome, too bold, too proud of its own importance. Arched, polished, gleaming, brand new, it was amply prepared to atone for the inadequacy of his eyes. Unfortunately, if the eyes are sometimes the organ through which our intelligence is revealed, the nose (to leave out of account the intimate solidarity and the unsuspected repercussion of one feature upon the rest), the nose is generally the organ in which stupidity is most readily displayed.
The propriety of the dark clothes which M. de Cambremer invariably wore, even in the morning, might well reassure those who were dazzled and exasperated by the insolent brightness of the seaside attire of people whom they did not know; still it was impossible to understand why the chief magistrate’s wife should have declared with an air of discernment and authority, as a person who knows far more than you about the high society of Alençon, that on seeing M. de Cambremer one immediately felt oneself, even before one knew who he was, in the presence of a man of supreme distinction, of a man of perfect breeding, a change from the sort of person one saw at Balbec, a man in short in whose company one could breathe freely. He was to her, stifled by all those Balbec tourists who did not know her world, like a bottle of smelling salts. It seemed to me on the contrary that he was one of the people whom my grandmother would at once have set down as ‘all wrong,’ and that, as she had no conception of snobbishness, she would no doubt have been stupefied that he could have succeeded in winning the hand of Mlle. Legrandin, who must surely be difficult to please, having a brother who was ‘so refined.’ At best one might have said of M. de Cambremer’s plebeian ugliness that it was redolent of the soil and preserved a very ancient local tradition; one was reminded, on examining his faulty features, which one would have liked to correct, of those names of little Norman towns as to the etymology of which my friend the curé was mistaken because the peasants, mispronouncing the names, or having misunderstood the Latin or Norman words that underlay them, have finally fixed in a barbarism to be found already in the cartularies, as Brichot would have said, a wrong meaning and a fault of pronunciation. Life in these old towns may, for all that, be pleasant enough, and M. de Cambremer must have had his good points, for if it was in a mother’s nature that the old Marquise should prefer her son to her daughter-in-law, on the other hand, she, who had other children, of whom two at least were not devoid of merit, was often heard to declare that the Marquis was, in her opinion, the best of the family. During the short time he had spent in the army, his messmates, finding Cambremer too long a name to pronounce, had given him the nickname Cancan, implying a flow of chatter, which he in no way merited. He knew how to brighten a dinner-party to which he was invited by saying when the fish (even if it were stale) or the entrée came in: “I say, that looks a fine animal.” And his wife, who had adopted upon entering the family everything that she supposed to form part of their customs, put herself on the level of her husband’s friends and perhaps sought to please him, like a mistress, and as though she had been involved in his bachelor existence, by saying in a careless tone when she was speaking of him to officers: “You shall see Cancan presently. Cancan has gone to Balbec, but he will be back this evening.” She was furious at having compromised herself by coming to the Verdurins’ and had done so only upon the entreaties of her mother-in-law and husband, in the hope of renewing the lease. But, being less well-bred than they, she made no secret of the ulterior motive and for the last fortnight had been making fun of this dinner-party to her women friends. “You know we are going to dine with our tenants. That will be well worth an increased rent. As a matter of fact, I am rather curious to see what they have done to our poor old la Raspelière” (as though she had been born in the house, and would find there all her old family associations). “Our old keeper told me only yesterday that you wouldn’t know the place. I can’t bear to think of all that must be going on there. I am sure we shall have to have the whole place disinfected before we move in again.” She arrived haughty and morose, with the air of a great lady whose castle, owing to a state of war, is occupied by the enemy, but who nevertheless feels herself at home and makes a point of shewing the conquerors that they are intruding. Mme. de Cambremer could not see me at first for I was in a bay at the side of the room with M. de Charlus, who was telling me that he had heard from Morel that Morel’s father had been an ‘agent’ in my family, and that he, Charlus, credited me with sufficient intelligence and magnanimity (a term common to himself and Swann) to forego the mean and ignoble pleasure which vulgar little idiots (I was warned) would not have failed, in my place, to give themselves by revealing to our hosts details which they might regard as derogatory. “The mere fact that I take an interest in him and extend my protection over him, gives him a pre-eminence and wipes out the past,” the Baron concluded. As I listened to him and promised the silence which I would have kept even without any hope of being considered in return intelligent and magnanimous, I was looking at Mme. de Cambremer. And I had difficulty in recognising the melting, savoury morsel which I had had beside me the other afternoon at teatime, on the terrace at Balbec, in the Norman rock-cake that I now saw, hard as a rock, in which the faithful would in vain have tried to set their teeth. Irritated in anticipation by the knowledge that her husband inherited his mother’s simple kindliness, which would make him assume a flattered expression whenever one of the faithful was presented to him, anxious however to perform her duty as a leader of society, when Brichot had been named to her she decided to make him and her husband acquainted, as she had seen her more fashionable friends do, but, anger or pride prevailing over the desire to shew her knowledge of the world, she said, not, as she ought to have said: “Allow me to introduce my husband,” but: “I introduce you to my husband,” holding aloft thus the banner of the Cambremers, without avail, for her husband bowed as low before Brichot as she had expected. But all Mme. de Cambremer’s ill humour vanished in an instant when her eye fell on M. de Charlus, whom she knew by sight. Never had she succeeded in obtaining an introduction, even at the time of her intimacy with Swann. For as M. de Charlus always sided with the woman, with his sister-in-law against M. de Guermantes’s mistresses, with Odette, at that time still unmarried, but an old flame of Swann’s, against the new, he had, as a stern defender of morals and faithful protector of homes, given Odette — and kept — the promise that he would never allow himself to be presented to Mme. de Cambremer. She had certainly never guessed that it was at the Verdurins’ that she was at length to meet this unapproachable person. M. de Cambremer knew that this was a great joy to her, so great that he himself was moved by it and looked at his wife with an air that implied: “You are glad now you decided to come, aren’t you?” He spoke very little, knowing that he had married a superior woman. “I, all unworthy,” he would say at every moment, and spontaneously quoted a fable of La Fontaine and one of Florian which seemed to him to apply to his ignorance, and at the same time enable him, beneath the outward form of a contemptuous flattery, to shew the men of science who were not members of the Jockey that one might be a sportsman and yet have read fables. The unfortunate thing was that he knew only two of them. And so they kept cropping up. Mme. de Cambremer was no fool, but she had a number of extremely irritating habits. With her the corruption of names bore absolutely no trace of aristocratic disdain. She was not the person to say, like the Duchesse de Guermantes (whom the mere fact of her birth ought to have preserved even more than Mme. de Cambremer from such an absurdity), with a pretence of not remembering the unfashionable name (albeit it is now that of one of the women whom it is most difficult to approach) of Julien de Monchâteau: “a little Madame . . . Pica della Mirandola.” No, when Mme. de Cambremer said a name wrong it was out of kindness of heart, so as not to appear to know some damaging fact, and when, in her sincerity, she admitted it, she tried to conceal it by altering it. If, for instance, she was defending a woman, she would try to conceal the fact, while determined not to lie to the person who had asked her to tell the truth, that Madame So-and-so was at the moment the mistress of M. Sylvain Levy, and would say: “No . . . I know absolutely nothing about her, I fancy that people used to charge her with having inspired a passion in a gentleman whose name I don’t know, something like Cahn, Kohn, Kuhn; anyhow, I believe the gentleman has been dead for years and that there was never anything between them.” This is an analogous, but contrary process to that adopted by liars who think that if they alter their statement of what they have been doing when they make it to a mistress or merely to another man, their listener will not immediately see that the expression (like her Cahn, Kohn, Kuhn) is interpolated, is of a different texture from the rest of the conversation, has a double meaning.
Mme. Verdurin whispered in her husband’s ear: “Shall I offer my arm to the Baron de Charlus? As you will have Mme. de Cambremer on your right, we might divide the honours.” “No,” said M. Verdurin, “since the other is higher in rank” (meaning that M. de Cambremer was a Marquis), “M. de Charlus is, strictly speaking, his inferior.” “Very well, I shall put him beside the Princess.” And Mme. Verdurin introduced Mme. Sherbatoff to M. de Charlus; each of them bowed in silence, with an air of knowing all about the other and of promising a mutual secrecy. M. Verdurin introduced me to M. de Cambremer. Before he had even begun to speak in his loud and slightly stammering voice, his tall figure and high complexion displayed in their oscillation the martial hesitation of a commanding officer who tries to put you at your ease and says: “I have heard about you, I shall see what can be done; your punishment shall be remitted; we don’t thirst for blood here; it will be all right.” Then, as he shook my hand: “I think you know my mother,” he said to me. The word ‘think’ seemed to him appropriate to the discretion of a first meeting, but not to imply any uncertainty, for he went on: “I have a note for you from her.” M. de Cambremer took a childish pleasure in revisiting a place where he had lived for so long. “I am at home again,” he said to Mme. Verdurin, while his eyes marvelled at recognising the flowers painted on panels over the doors, and the marble busts on their high pedestals. He might, all the same, have felt himself at sea, for Mme. Verdurin had brought with her a quantity of fine old things of her own. In this respect, Mme. Verdurin, while regarded by the Cambremers as having turned everything upside down, was not revolutionary but intelligently conservative in a sense which they did not understand. They were thus wrong in accusing her of hating the old house and of degrading it by hanging plain cloth curtains instead of their rich plush, like an ignorant parish priest reproaching a diocesan architect with putting back in its place the old carved wood which the cleric had thrown on the rubbish heap, and had seen fit to replace with ornaments purchased in the Place Saint-Sulpice. Furthermore, a herb garden was beginning to take the place, in front of the mansion, of the borders that were the pride not merely of the Cambremers but of their gardener. The latter, who regarded the Cambremers as his sole masters, and groaned beneath the yoke of the Verdurins, as though the place were under occupation for the moment by an invading army, went in secret to unburden his griefs to its dispossessed mistress, grew irate at the scorn that was heaped upon his araucarias, begonias, house-leeks, double dahlias, and at anyone’s daring in so grand a place to grow such common plants as camomile and maidenhair. Mme. Verdurin felt this silent opposition and had made up her mind, if she took a long lease of la Raspelière or even bought the place, to make one of her conditions the dismissal of the gardener, by whom his old mistress, on the contrary, set great store. He had worked for her without payment, when times were bad, he adored her; but by that odd multiformity of opinion which we find in the lower orders, among whom the most profound moral scorn is embedded in the most passionate admiration, which in turn overlaps old and undying grudges, he used often to say of Mme. de Cambremer who, in ‘70, in a house that she owned in the East of France, surprised by the invasion, had been obliged to endure for a month the contact of the Germans: “What many people can’t forgive Mme. la Marquise is that during the war she took the side of the Prussians and even had them to stay in her house. At any other time, I could understand it; but in war time, she ought not to have done it. It is not right.” So that he was faithful to her unto death, venerated her for her goodness, and firmly believed that she had been guilty of treason. Mme. Verdurin was annoyed that M. de Cambremer should pretend to feel so much at home at la Raspelière. “You must notice a good many changes, all the same,” she replied. “For one thing there were those big bronze Barbedienne devils and some horrid little plush chairs which I packed off at once to the attic, though even that is too good a place for them.” After this bitter retort to M. de Cambremer, she offered him her arm to go in to dinner. He hesitated for a moment, saying to himself: “I can’t, really, go in before M. de Charlus.” But supposing the other to be an old friend of the house, seeing that he was not set in the post of honour, he decided to take the arm that was offered him and told Mme. Verdurin how proud he felt to be admitted into the symposium (so it was that he styled the little nucleus, not without a smile of satisfaction at his knowledge of the term). Cottard, who was seated next to M. de Charlus, beamed at him through his glass, to make his acquaintance and to break the ice, with a series of winks far more insistent than they would have been in the old days, and not interrupted by fits of shyness. And these engaging glances, enhanced by the smile that accompanied them, were no longer dammed by the glass but overflowed on all sides. The Baron, who readily imagined people of his own kind everywhere, had no doubt that Cottard was one, and was making eyes at him. At once he turned on the Professor the cold shoulder of the invert, as contemptuous of those whom he attracts as he is ardent in pursuit of such as attract him. No doubt, albeit each one of us speaks mendaciously of the pleasure, always refused him by destiny, of being loved, it is a general law, the application of which is by no means confined to the Charlus type, that the person whom we do not love and who does love us seems to us quite intolerable. To such a person, to a woman of whom we say not that she loves us but that she bores us, we prefer the society of any other, who has neither her charm, nor her looks, nor her brains. She will recover these, in our estimation, only when she has ceased to love us. In this light, we might see only the transposition, into odd terms, of this universal rule in the irritation aroused in an invert by a man who displeases him and runs after him. And so, whereas the ordinary man seeks to conceal what he feels, the invert is implacable in making it felt by the man who provokes it, as he would certainly not make it felt by a woman, M. de Charlus for instance by the Princesse de Guermantes, whose passion for him bored him, but flattered him. But when they see another man shew a peculiar liking for them, then, whether because they fail to realise that this liking is the same as their own, or because it annoys them to be reminded that this liking, which they glorify so long as it is they themselves that feel it, is regarded as a vice, or from a desire to rehabilitate themselves by a sensational display in circumstances in which it costs them nothing, or from a fear of being unmasked which they at once recover as soon as desire no longer leads them blindfold from one imprudence to another, or from rage at being subjected, by the equivocal attitude of another person, to the injury which, by their own attitude, if that other person attracted them, they would not be afraid to inflict on him, the men who do not in the least mind following a young man for miles, never taking their eyes off him in the theatre, even if he is with friends, and there is therefore a danger of their compromising him with them, may be heard, if a man who does not attract them merely looks at them, to say: “Sir, for what do you take me?” (simply because he takes them for what they are) “I don’t understand, no, don’t attempt to explain, you are quite mistaken,” pass if need be from words to blows, and, to a person who knows the imprudent stranger, wax indignant: “What, you know that loathsome creature. He stares at one so! . . . A fine way to behave!” M. de Charlus did not go quite as far as this, but assumed the offended, glacial air adopted, when one appears to be suspecting them, by women who are not of easy virtue, even more by women who are. Furthermore, the invert brought face to face with an invert sees not merely an unpleasing image of himself which, being purely inanimate, could at the worst only injure his self-esteem, but a second self, living, acting in the same sphere, capable therefore of injuring him in his loves. And so it is from an instinct of self-preservation that he will speak evil of the possible rival, whether to people who are able to do him some injury (nor does invert the first mind being thought a liar when he thus denounces invert the second before people who may know all about his own case), or to the young man whom he has ‘picked up,’ who is perhaps going to be snatched away from him and whom it is important to persuade that the very things which it is to his advantage to do with the speaker would be the bane of his life if he allowed himself to do them with the other person. To M. de Charlus, who was thinking perhaps of the — wholly imaginary — dangers in which the presence of this Cottard whose smile he misinterpreted might involve Morel, an invert who did not attract him was not merely a caricature of himself, but was a deliberate rival. A tradesman, practising an uncommon trade, who, on his arrival in the provincial town where he intends to settle for life discovers that, in the same square, directly opposite, the same trade is being carried on by a competitor, is no more discomfited than a Charlus who goes down to a quiet spot to make love unobserved and, on the day of his arrival, catches sight of the local squire or the barber, whose aspect and manner leave no room for doubt. The tradesman often comes to regard his competitor with hatred; this hatred degenerates at times into melancholy, and, if there be but a sufficient strain of heredity, one has seen in small towns the tradesman begin to shew signs of insanity which is cured only by his deciding to sell his stock and goodwill and remove to another place. The invert’s rage is even more agonising. He has realised that from the first moment the squire and the barber have desired his young companion. Even though he repeat to him a hundred times daily that the barber and the squire are scoundrels whose contact would dishonour him, he is obliged, like Harpagon, to watch over his treasure, and rises in the night to make sure that it is not being stolen. And it is this no doubt that, even more than desire, or the convenience of habits shared in common, and almost as much as that experience of oneself which is the only true experience, makes one invert detect another with a rapidity and certainty that are almost infallible. He may be mistaken for a moment, but a rapid divination brings him back to the truth. And so M. de Charlus’s error was brief. His divine discernment shewed him after the first minute that Cottard was not of his kind, and that he need not fear his advances either for himself, which would merely have annoyed him, or for Morel, which would have seemed to him a more serious matter. He recovered his calm, and as he was still beneath the influence of the transit of Venus Androgyne, now and again, he smiled a faint smile at the Verdurins without taking the trouble to open his mouth, merely curving his lips at one corner, and for an instant kindled a coquettish light in his eyes, he so obsessed with virility, exactly as his sister-in-law the Duchesse de Guermantes might have done. “Do you shoot much, Sir?” said M. Verdurin with a note of contempt to M. de Cambremer. “Has Ski told you of the near shave we had to-day?” Cottard inquired of the mistress. “I shoot mostly in the forest of Chantepie,” replied M. de Cambremer. “No, I have told her nothing,” said Ski. “Does it deserve its name?” Brichot asked M. de Cambremer, after a glance at me from the corner of his eye, for he had promised me that he would introduce the topic of derivations, begging me at the same time not to let the Cambremers know the scorn that he felt for those furnished by the Combray curé. “I am afraid I must be very stupid, but I don’t grasp your question,” said M. de Cambremer. “I mean to say: do many pies sing in it?” replied Brichot. Cottard meanwhile could not bear Mme. Verdurin’s not knowing that they had nearly missed the train. “Out with it,” Mme. Cottard said to her husband encouragingly, “tell us your odyssey.” “Well, really, it is quite out of the Ordinary,” said the doctor, and repeated his narrative from the beginning. “When I saw that the train was in the station, I stood thunderstruck. It was all Ski’s fault. You are somewhat wide of the mark in your information, my dear fellow! And there was Brichot waiting for us at the station!” “I assumed,” said the scholar, casting around him what he could still muster of a glance and smiling with his thin lips, “that if you had been detained at Graincourt, it would mean that you had encountered some peripatetic siren.” “Will you hold your tongue, if my wife were to hear you!” said the Professor. “This wife of mine, it is jealous.” “Ah! That Brichot,” cried Ski, moved to traditional merriment by Brichot’s spicy witticism, “he is always the same;” albeit he had no reason to suppose that the university don had ever indulged in obscenity. And, to embellish this consecrated utterance with the ritual gesture, he made as though he could not resist the desire to pinch Brichot’s leg. “He never changes, the rascal,” Ski went on, and without stopping to think of the effect, at once tragic and comic, that the don’s semi-blindness gave to his words: “Always a sharp look-out for the ladies.” “You see,” said M. de Cambremer, “what it is to meet with a scholar. Here have I been shooting for fifteen years in the forest of Chantepie, and I’ve never even thought of what the name meant.” Mme. de Cambremer cast a stern glance at her husband; she did not like him to humble himself thus before Brichot. She was even more annoyed when, at every ‘ready-made’ expression that Cancan employed, Cottard, who knew the ins and outs of them all, having himself laboriously acquired them, pointed out to the Marquis, who admitted his stupidity, that they meant nothing. “Why ‘stupid as a cabbage?’ Do you suppose cabbages are stupider than anything else? You say:‘repeat the same thing thirty-six times.’ Why thirty-six? Why do you say:‘sleep like a top?’ Why ‘Thunder of Brest?’ Why ‘play four hundred tricks?’” But at this, the defence of M. de Cambremer was taken up by Brichot who explained the origin of each of these expressions. But Mme. de Cambremer was occupied principally in examining the changes that the Verdurins had introduced at la Raspelière, in order that she might be able to criticise some, and import others, or possibly the same ones, to Féterne. “I keep wondering what that lustre is that’s hanging all crooked. I can hardly recognise my old Raspelière,” she went on, with a familiarly aristocratic air, as she might have spoken of an old servant meaning not so much to indicate his age as to say that she had seen him in his cradle. And, as she was a trifle bookish in her speech: “All the same,” she added in an undertone, “I can’t help feeling that if I were inhabiting another person’s house, I should feel some compunction about altering everything like this.” “It is a pity you didn’t come with them,” said Mme. Verdurin to M. de Charlus and Morel, hoping that M. de Charlus was now ‘enrolled’ and would submit to the rule that they must all arrive by the same train. “You are sure that Chantepie means the singing magpie, Chochotte?” she went on, to shew that, like the great hostess that she was, she could join in every conversation at the same time. “Tell me something about this violinist,” Mme. de Cambremer said to me, “he interests me; I adore music, and it seems to me that I have heard of him before, complete my education.” She had heard that Morel had come with M. de Charlus and hoped, by getting the former to come to her house, to make friends with the latter. She added, however, so that I might not guess her reason for asking, “M. Brichot, too, interests me.” For, even if she was highly cultivated, just as certain persons inclined to obesity eat hardly anything, and take exercise all day long without ceasing to grow visibly fatter, so Mme. de Cambremer might in vain master, and especially at Féterne, a philosophy that became ever more esoteric, music that became ever more subtle, she emerged from these studies only to weave plots that would enable her to cut the middle-class friends of her girlhood and to form the connexions which she had originally supposed to be part of the social life of her ‘in laws,’ and had then discovered to be far more exalted and remote. A philosopher who was not modern enough for her, Leibnitz, has said that the way is long from the intellect to the heart. This way Mme. de Cambremer had been no more capable than her brother of traversing. Abandoning the study of John Stuart Mill only for that of Lachelier, the less she believed in the reality of the external world, the more desperately she sought to establish herself, before she died, in a good position in it. In her passion for realism in art, no object seemed to her humble enough to serve as a model to painter or writer. A fashionable picture or novel would have made her feel sick; Tolstoi’s mujiks, or Millet’s peasants, were the extreme social boundary beyond which she did not allow the artist to pass. But to cross the boundary that limited her own social relations, to raise herself to an intimate acquaintance with Duchesses, this was the goal of all her efforts, so ineffective had the spiritual treatment to which she subjected herself, by the study of great masterpieces, proved in overcoming the congenital and morbid snobbishness that had developed in her. This snobbishness had even succeeded in curing certain tendencies to avarice and adultery to which in her younger days she had been inclined, just as certain peculiar and permanent pathological conditions seem to render those who are subject to them immune to other maladies. I could not, all the same, refrain, as I listened to her, from giving her credit, without deriving any pleasure from them, for the refinement of her expressions. They were those that are used, at a given date, by all the people of the same intellectual breadth, so that the refined expression provides us at once, like the arc of a circle, with the means to describe and limit the entire circumference. And so the effect of these expressions is that the people who employ them bore me immediately, because I feel that I already know them, but are generally regarded as superior persons, and have often been offered me as delightful and unappreciated companions. “You cannot fail to be aware, Madame, that many forest regions take their name from the animals that inhabit them. Next to the forest of Chantepie, you have the wood Chantereine.” “I don’t know who the queen may be, but you are not very polite to her,” said M. de Cambremer. “One for you, Chochotte,” said Mme. de Verdurin. “And apart from that, did you have a pleasant journey?” “We encountered only vague human beings who thronged the train. But I must answer M. de Cambremer’s question; reine, in this instance, is not the wife of a king, but a frog. It is the name that the frog has long retained in this district, as is shewn by the station, Renneville, which ought to be spelt Reineville.” “I say, that seems a fine animal,” said M. de Cambremer to Mme. Verdurin, pointing to a fish. (It was one of the compliments by means of which he considered that he paid his scot at a dinner-party, and gave an immediate return of hospitality. “There is no need to invite them,” he would often say, in speaking of one or other couple of their friends to his wife. “They were delighted to have us. It was they that thanked me for coming.”) “I must tell you, all the same, that I have been going every day for years to Renneville, and I have never seen any more frogs there than anywhere else. Madame de Cambremer brought the curé here from a parish where she owns a considerable property, who has very much the same turn of mind as yourself, it seems to me. He has written a book.” “I know, I have read it with immense interest,” Brichot replied hypocritically. The satisfaction that his pride received indirectly from this answer made M. de Cambremer laugh long and loud. “Ah! well, the author of, what shall I say, this geography, this glossary, dwells at great length upon the name of a little place of which we were formerly, if I may say so, the Lords, and which is called Pont-a-Couleuvre. Of course I am only an ignorant rustic compared with such a fountain of learning, but I have been to Pont-à-Couleuvre a thousand times if he’s been there once, and devil take me if I ever saw one of his beastly serpents there, I say beastly, in spite of the tribute the worthy La Fontaine pays them.” (The Man and the Serpent was one of his two fables.) “You have not seen any, and you have been quite right,” replied Brichot. “Undoubtedly, the writer you mention knows his subject through and through, he has written a remarkable book.” “There!” exclaimed Mme. de Cambremer, “that book, there’s no other word for it, is a regular Benedictine opus.” “No doubt he has consulted various polyptychs (by which we mean the lists of benefices and cures of each diocese), which may have furnished him with the names of lay patrons and ecclesiastical collators. But there are other sources. One of the most learned of my friends has delved into them. He found that the place in question was named Pont-a-Quileuvre. This odd name encouraged him to carry his researches farther, to a Latin text in which the bridge that your friend supposes to be infested with serpents is styled Pons cui aperit: A closed bridge that was opened only upon due payment.” “You were speaking of frogs. I, when I find myself among such learned folk, feel like the frog before the areopagus,” (this being his other fable) said Cancan who often indulged, with a hearty laugh, in this pleasantry thanks to which he imagined himself to be making, at one and the same time, out of humility and with aptness, a profession of ignorance and a display of learning. As for Cottard, blocked upon one side by M. de Charlus’s silence, and driven to seek an outlet elsewhere, he turned to me with one of those questions which so impressed his patients when it hit the mark and shewed them that he could put himself so to speak inside their bodies; if on the other hand it missed the mark, it enabled him to check certain theories, to widen his previous point of view. “When you come to a relatively high altitude, such as this where we now are, do you find that the change increases your tendency to choking fits?” he asked me with the certainty of either arousing admiration or enlarging his own knowledge. M. de Cambremer heard the question and smiled. “I can’t tell you how amused I am to hear that you have choking fits,” he flung at me across the table. He did not mean that it made him happy, though as a matter of fact it did. For this worthy man could not hear any reference to another person’s sufferings without a feeling of satisfaction and a spasm of hilarity which speedily gave place to the instinctive pity of a kind heart. But his words had another meaning which was indicated more precisely by the clause that followed. “It amuses me,” he explained, “because my sister has them too.” And indeed it did amuse him, as it would have amused him to hear me mention as one of my friends a person who was constantly coming to their house. “How small the world is,” was the reflexion which he formed mentally and which I saw written upon his smiling face when Cottard spoke to me of my choking fits. And these began to establish themselves, from the evening of this dinner-party, as a sort of interest in common, after which M. de Cambremer never failed to inquire, if only to hand on a report to his sister. As I answered the questions with which his wife kept plying me about Morel, my thoughts returned to a conversation I had had with my mother that afternoon. Having, without any attempt to dissuade me from going to the Verdurins’ if there was a chance of my being amused there, suggested that it was a house of which my grandfather would not have approved, which would have made him exclaim: “On guard!” my mother had gone on to say: “Listen, Judge Toureuil and his wife told me they had been to luncheon with Mme. Bontemps. They asked me no questions. But I seemed to gather from what was said that your marriage to Albertine would be the joy of her aunt’s life. I think the real reason is that they are all extremely fond of you. At the same time the style in which they suppose that you would be able to keep her, the sort of friends they more or less know that we have, all that is not, I fancy, left out of account, although it may be a minor consideration. I should not have mentioned it to you myself, because I attach no importance to it, but as I imagine that people will mention it to you, I prefer to get a word in first.” “But you yourself, what do you think of her?” I asked my mother. “Well, it’s not I that am going to marry her. You might certainly do a thousand times better. But I feel that your grandmother would not have liked me to influence you. As a matter of fact, I cannot tell you what I think of Albertine; I don’t think of her. I shall say to you, like Madame de Sévigné: ‘She has good qualities, at least I suppose so. But at this first stage I can praise her only by negatives. One thing she is not, she has not the Rennes accent. In time, I shall perhaps say, she is something else. And I shall always think well of her if she can make you happy.’” But by these very words which left it to myself to decide my own happiness, my mother had plunged me in that state of doubt in which I had been plunged long ago when, my father having allowed me to go to Phèdre and, what was more, to take to writing, I had suddenly felt myself burdened with too great a responsibility, the fear of distressing him, and that melancholy which we feel when we cease to obey orders which, from one day to another, keep the future hidden, and realise that we have at last begun to live in real earnest, as a grown-up person, the life, the only life that any of us has at his disposal.
Perhaps the best thing would be to wait a little longer, to begin by regarding Albertine as in the past, so as to find out whether I really loved her. I might take her, as a distraction, to see the Verdurins, and this thought reminded me that I had come there myself that evening only to learn whether Mme. Putbus was staying there or was expected. In any case, she was not dining with them. “Speaking of your friend Saint-Loup,” said Mme. de Cambremer, using an expression which shewed a closer sequence in her ideas than her remarks might have led one to suppose, for if she spoke to me about music she was thinking about the Guermantes; “you know that everybody is talking about his marriage to the niece of the Princesse de Guermantes. I may tell you that, so far as I am concerned, all that society gossip leaves me cold.” I was seized by a fear that I might have spoken unfeelingly to Robert about the girl in question, a girl full of sham originality, whose mind was as mediocre as her actions were violent. Hardly ever do we hear anything that does not make us regret something that we have said. I replied to Mme. de Cambremer, truthfully as it happened, that I knew nothing about it, and that anyhow I thought that the girl was still too young to be engaged. “That is perhaps why it is not yet official, anyhow there is a lot of talk about it.” “I ought to warn you,” Mme. Verdurin observed dryly to Mme. de Cambremer, having heard her talking to me about Morel and supposing, when Mme. de Cambremer lowered her voice to speak of Saint-Loup’s engagement, that Morel was still under discussion. “You needn’t expect any light music here. In matters of art, you know, the faithful who come to my Wednesdays, my children as I call them, are all fearfully advanced,” she added with an air of proud terror. “I say to them sometimes: My dear people, you move too fast for your Mistress, not that she has ever been said to be afraid of anything daring. Every year it goes a little farther; I can see the day coming when they will have no more use for Wagner or Indy.” “But it is splendid to be advanced, one can never be advanced enough,” said Mme. de Cambremer, scrutinising as she spoke every corner of the dining-room, trying to identify the things that her mother-in-law had left there, those that Mme. Verdurin had brought with her, and to convict the latter red-handed of want of taste. At the same time, she tried to get me to talk of the subject that interested her most, M. de Charlus. She thought it touching that he should be looking after a violinist. “He seems intelligent.” “Why, his mind is extremely active for a man of his age,” said I. “Age? But he doesn’t seem at all old, look, the hair is still young.” (For, during the last three or four years, the word hair had been used with the article by one of those unknown persons who launch the literary fashions, and everybody at the same radius from the centre as Mme. de Cambremer would say ‘the hair,’ not without an affected smile. At the present day, people still say ‘the hair’ but, from an excessive use of the article, the pronoun will be born again.) “What interests me most about M. de Charlus,” she went on, “is that one can feel that he has the gift. I may tell you that I attach little importance to knowledge. Things that can be learned do not interest me.” This speech was not incompatible with Mme. de Cambremer’s own distinction which was, in the fullest sense, imitated and acquired. But it so happened that one of the things which one had to know at that moment was that knowledge is nothing, and is not worth a straw when compared with originality. Mme. de Cambremer had learned, with everything else, that one ought not to learn anything. “That is why,” she explained to me, “Brichot, who has an interesting side to him, for I am not one to despise a certain spicy erudition, interests me far less.” But Brichot, at that moment, was occupied with one thing only; hearing people talk about music, he trembled lest the subject should remind Mme. Verdurin of the death of Dechambre. He decided to say something that would avert that harrowing memory. M. de Cambremer provided him with an opportunity with the question: “You mean to say that wooded places always take their names from animals?” “Not at all,” replied Brichot, proud to display his learning before so many strangers, among whom, I had told him, he would be certain to interest one at least. “We have only to consider how often, even in the names of people, a tree is preserved, like a fern in a piece of coal. One of our Conscript Fathers is called M. de Saulces de Freycinet, which means, if I be not mistaken, a spot planted with willows and ashes, salix et fraxinetum; his nephew M. de Selves combines more trees still, since he is named de Selves, de sylvis.” Saniette was delighted to see the conversation take so animated a turn. He could, since Brichot was talking all the time, preserve a silence which would save him from being the butt of M. and Mme. Verdurin’s wit. And growing even more sensitive in his joy at being set free, he had been touched when he heard M. Verdurin, notwithstanding the formality of so grand a dinner-party, tell the butler to put a decanter of water in front of M. Saniette who never drank anything else. (The generals responsible for the death of most soldiers insist upon their being well fed.) Moreover, Mme. Verdurin had actually smiled once at Saniette. Decidedly, they were kind people. He was not going to be tortured any more. At this moment the meal was interrupted by one of the party whom I have forgotten to mention, an eminent Norwegian philosopher who spoke French very well but very slowly, for the twofold reason that, in the first place, having learned the language only recently and not wishing to make mistakes (he did, nevertheless, make some), he referred each word to a sort of mental dictionary, and secondly, being a metaphysician, he always thought of what he intended to say while he was saying it, which, even in a Frenchman, causes slowness of utterance. He was, otherwise, a charming person, although similar in appearance to many other people, save in one respect. This man so slow in his diction (there was an interval of silence after every word) acquired a startling rapidity in escaping from the room as soon as he had said good-bye. His haste made one suppose, the first time one saw him, that he was suffering from colic or some even more urgent need.
“My dear — colleague,” he said to Brichot, after deliberating in his mind whether colleague was the correct term, “I have a sort of — desire to know whether there are other trees in the — nomenclature of your beautiful French — Latin — Norman tongue. Madame” (he meant Madame Verdurin, although he dared not look at her) “has told me that you know everything. Is not this precisely the moment?” “No, it is the moment for eating,” interrupted Mme. Verdurin, who saw the dinner becoming interminable. “Very well,” the Scandinavian replied, bowing his head over his plate with a resigned and sorrowful smile. “But I must point out to Madame that if I have permitted myself this questionnaire — pardon me, this questation — it is because I have to return to-morrow to Paris to dine at the Tour d’Argent or at the Hôtel Meurice, My French — brother — M. Boutroux is to address us there about certain seances of spiritualism — pardon me, certain spirituous evocations which he has controlled.” “The Tour d’Argent is not nearly as good as they make out,” said Mme. Verdurin sourly. “In fact, I have had some disgusting dinners there.” “But am I mistaken, is not the food that one consumes at Madame’s table an example of the finest French cookery?” “Well, it is not positively bad,” replied Mme. Verdurin, sweetening. “And if you come next Wednesday, it will be better.” “But I am leaving on Monday for Algiers, and from there I am going to the Cape. And when I am at the Cape of Good Hope, I shall no longer be able to meet my illustrious colleague — pardon me, I shall no longer be able to meet my brother.” And he set to work obediently, after offering these retrospective apologies, to devour his food at a headlong pace. But Brichot was only too delighted to be able to furnish other vegetable etymologies, and replied, so greatly interesting the Norwegian that he again stopped eating, but with a sign to the servants that they might remove his plate and help him to the next course. “One of the Forty,” said Brichot, “is named Houssaye, or a place planted with hollies; in the name of a brilliant diplomat, d’Ormesson, you will find the elm, the ulmus beloved of Virgil, which has given its name to the town of Ulm; in the names of his colleagues, M. de la Boulaye, the birch (bouleau), M. d’Aunay, the alder (aune), M. de Buissière, the box (buis), M. Albaret, the sapwood (aubier)” (I made a mental note that I must tell this to Céleste), “M. de Cholet, the cabbage (chou), and the apple-tree (pommier) in the name of M. de la Pommeraye, whose lectures we used to attend, do you remember, Saniette, in the days when the worthy Porel had been sent to the farthest ends of the earth, as Proconsul in Odeonia?” “You said that Cholet was derived from chou,” I remarked to Brichot. “Am I to suppose that the name of a station I passed before reaching Doncières, Saint-Frichoux, comes from chou also?” “No, Saint-Frichoux is Sanctus Fructuosus, as Sanctus Ferreolus gave rise to Saint-Fargeau, but that is not Norman in the least.” “He knows too much, he’s boring us,” the Princess muttered softly. “There are so many other names that interest me, but I can’t ask you everything at once.” And, turning to Cottard, “Is Madame Putbus here?” I asked him. On hearing Brichot utter the name of Saniette, M. Verdurin cast at his wife and at Cottard an ironical glance which confounded their timid guest. “No, thank heaven,” replied Mme. Verdurin, who had overheard my question, “I have managed to turn her thoughts in the direction of Venice, we are rid of her for this year.” “I shall myself be entitled presently to two trees,” said M. de Charlus, “for I have more or less taken a little house between Saint-Martin-du-Chene and Saint-Pierre-des-Ifs.” “But that is quite close to here, I hope that you will come over often with Charlie Morel. You have only to come to an arrangement with our little group about the trains, you are only a step from Doncières,” said Mme. Verdurin, who hated people’s not coming by the same train and not arriving at the hours when she sent carriages to meet them. She knew how stiff the climb was to la Raspelière, even if you took the zigzag path, behind Féterne, which was half-an-hour longer; she was afraid that those of her guests who kept to themselves might not find carriages to take them, or even, having in reality stayed away, might plead the excuse that they had not found a carriage at Douville-Féterne, and had not felt strong enough to make so stiff a climb on foot. To this invitation M. de Charlus responded with a silent bow. “He’s not the sort of person you can talk to any day of the week, he seems a tough customer,” the doctor whispered to Ski, for having remained quite simple, notwithstanding a surface-dressing of pride, he made no attempt to conceal the fact that Charlus had snubbed him. “He is doubtless unaware that at all the watering-places, and even in Paris in the wards, the physicians, who naturally regard me as their ‘chief,’ make it a point of honour to introduce me to all the noblemen present, not that they need to be asked twice. It makes my stay at the spas quite enjoyable,” he added carelessly. “Indeed at Doncières the medical officer of the regiment, who is the doctor who attends the Colonel, invited me to luncheon to meet him, saying that I was fully entitled to dine with the General. And that General is a Monsieur de something. I don’t know whether his title-deeds are more or less ancient than those of this Baron.” “Don’t you worry about him, his is a very humble coronet,” replied Ski in an undertone, and added some vague statement including a word of which I caught only the last syllable, -ast, being engaged in listening to what Brichot was saying to M. de Charlus. “No, as for that, I am sorry to say, you have probably one tree only, for if Saint-Martin-du-Chêne is obviously Sanctus Martinus juxta quercum, on the other hand, the word if may be simply the root ave, eve, which means moist, as in Aveyron, Lodève, Yvette, and which you see survive in our kitchen-sinks (éviers). It is the word eau which in Breton is represented by ster, Stermaria, Sterlaer, Sterbouest, Ster-en-Dreuchen.” I heard no more, for whatever the pleasure I might feel on hearing again the name Stermaria, I could not help listening to Cottard, next to whom I was seated, as he murmured to Ski: “Indeed! I was not aware of it. So he is a gentleman who has learned to look behind! He is one of the happy band, is he? He hasn’t got rings of fat round his eyes, all the same. I shall have to keep my feet well under me, or he may start squeezing them. But I’m not at all surprised. I am used to seeing noblemen in the bath, in their birthday suits, they are all more or less degenerates. I don’t talk to them, because after all I am in an official position and it might do me harm. But they know quite well who I am.” Saniette, whom Brichot’s appeal had frightened, was beginning to breathe again, like a man who is afraid of the storm when he finds that the lightning has not been followed by any sound of thunder, when he heard M. Verdurin interrogate him, fastening upon him a stare which did not spare the wretch until he had finished speaking, so as to put him at once out of countenance and prevent him from recovering his composure. “But you never told us that you went to those matinées at the Odéon, Saniette?” Trembling like a recruit before a bullying serjeant, Saniette replied, making his speech as diminutive as possible, so that it might have a better chance of escaping the blow: “Only once, to the Chercheuse.” “What’s that he says?” shouted M. Verdurin, with an air of disgust and fury combined, knitting his brows as though it was all he could do to grasp something unintelligible. “It is impossible to understand what you say, what have you got in your mouth?” inquired M. Verdurin, growing more and more furious, and alluding to Saniette’s defective speech. “Poor Saniette, I won’t have him made unhappy,” said Mme. Verdurin in a tone of false pity, so as to leave no one in doubt as to her husband’s insolent intention. “I was at the Ch . . . Che..” “Che, che, try to speak distinctly,” said M. Verdurin, “I can’t understand a word you say.” Almost without exception, the faithful burst out laughing and they suggested a band of cannibals in whom the sight of a wound on a white man’s skin has aroused the thirst for blood. For the instinct of imitation and absence of courage govern society and the mob alike. And we all of us laugh at a person whom we see being made fun of, which does not prevent us from venerating him ten years later in a circle where he is admired. It is in like manner that the populace banishes or acclaims its kings. “Come, now, it is not his fault,” said Mme. Verdurin. “It is not mine either, people ought not to dine out if they can’t speak properly.” “I was at the Chercheuse d’Esprit by Favart.” “What! It’s the Chercheuse d’Esprit that you call the Chercheuse? Why, that’s marvellous! I might have tried for a hundred years without guessing it,” cried M. Verdurin, who all the same would have decided immediately that you were not literary, were not artistic, were not ‘one of us,’ if he had heard you quote the full title of certain works. For instance, one was expected to say the Malade, the Bourgeois; and whoso would have added imaginaire or gentilhomme would have shewn that he did not understand ‘shop,’ just as in a drawing-room a person proves that he is not in society by saying ‘M. de Montesquiou-Fézensac’ instead of ‘M. de Montesquieu.’ “But it is not so extraordinary,” said Saniette, breathless with emotion but smiling, albeit he was in no smiling mood. Mme. Verdurin could not contain herself. “Yes, indeed!” she cried with a titter. “You may be quite sure that nobody would ever have guessed that you meant the Chercheuse d’Esprit.” M. Verdurin went on in a gentler tone, addressing both Saniette and Brichot: “It is quite a pretty piece, all the same, the Chercheuse d’Esprit.” Uttered in a serious tone, this simple phrase, in which one could detect no trace of malice, did Saniette as much good and aroused in him as much gratitude as a deliberate compliment. He was unable to utter a single word and preserved a happy silence. Brichot was more loquacious. “It is true,” he replied to M. Verdurin, “and if it could be passed off as the work of some Sarmatian or Scandinavian author, we might put forward the Chercheuse d’Esprit as a candidate for the vacant post of masterpiece. But, be it said without any disrespect to the shade of the gentle Favart, he had not the Ibsenian temperament.” (Immediately he blushed to the roots of his hair, remembering the Norwegian philosopher who appeared troubled because he was seeking in vain to discover what vegetable the buis might be that Brichot had cited a little earlier in connexion with the name Bussière.) “However, now that Porel’s satrapy is filled by a functionary who is a Tolstoist of rigorous observance, it may come to pass that we shall witness Anna Karenina or Resurrection beneath the Odéonian architrave.” “I know the portrait of Favart to which you allude,” said M. de Charlus. “I have seen a very fine print of it at Comtesse Molé‘s.” The name of Comtesse Molé made a great impression upon Mme. Verdurin. “Oh! So you go to Mme. de Molé‘s!” she exclaimed. She supposed that people said Comtesse Molé, Madame Molé, simply as an abbreviation, as she heard people say ‘the Rohans’ or in contempt, as she herself said: ‘Madame la Trémoïlle.’ She had no doubt that Comtesse Molé, who knew the Queen of Greece and the Principessa di Caprarola, had as much right as anybody to the particle, and for once in a way had decided to bestow it upon so brilliant a personage, and one who had been extremely civil to herself. And so, to make it clear that she had spoken thus on purpose and did not grudge the Comtesse her ‘de,’ she went on: “But I had no idea that you knew Madame de Molé!” as though it had been doubly extraordinary, both that M. de Charlus should know the lady, and that Mme. Verdurin should not know that he knew her. Now society, or at least the people to whom M. de Charlus gave that name, forms a relatively homogeneous and compact whole. And so it is comprehensible that, in the incongruous vastness of the middle classes, a barrister may say to somebody who knows one of his school friends: “But how in the world do you come to know him?” whereas to be surprised at a Frenchman’s knowing the meaning of the word temple or forest would be hardly more extraordinary than to wonder at the hazards that might have brought together M. de Charlus and the Comtesse Molé. What is more, even if such an acquaintance had not been derived quite naturally from the laws that govern society, how could there be anything strange in the fact of Mme. Verdurin’s not knowing of it, since she was meeting M. de Charlus for the first time, and his relations with Mme. Molé were far from being the only thing that she did not know with regard to him, about whom, to tell the truth, she knew nothing. “Who was it that played this Chercheuse d’Esprit, my good Saniette?” asked M. Verdurin. Albeit he felt that the storm had passed, the old antiquarian hesitated before answering. “There you go,” said Mme. Verdurin, “you frighten him, you make fun of everything that he says, and then you expect him to answer. Come along, tell us who played the part, and you shall have some galantine to take home,” said Mme. Verdurin, making a cruel allusion to the penury into which Saniette had plunged himself by trying to rescue the family of a friend. “I can remember only that it was Mme. Samary who played the Zerbine,” said Saniette. “The Zerbine? What in the world is that,” M. Verdurin shouted, as though the house were on fire. “It is one of the parts in the old repertory, like Captain Fracasse, as who should say the Fire-eater, the Pedant.” “Ah, the pedant, that’s yourself. The Zerbine! No, really the man’s mad,” exclaimed M. Verdurin. Mme. Verdurin looked at her guests and laughed as though to apologise for Saniette. “The Zerbine, he imagines that everybody will know at once what it means. You are like M. de Longepierre, the stupidest man I know, who said to us quite calmly the other day ‘the Banat.’ Nobody had any idea what he meant. Finally we were informed that it was a province in Serbia.” To put an end to Saniette’s torture, which hurt me more than it hurt him, I asked Brichot if he knew what the word Balbec meant. “Balbec is probably a corruption of Dalbec,” he told me. “One would have to consult the charters of the Kings of England, Overlords of Normandy, for Balbec was held of the Barony of Dover, for which reason it was often styled Balbec d’Outre-Mer, Balbec-en-Terre. But the Barony of Dover was itself held of the Bishopric of Bayeux, and, notwithstanding the rights that were temporarily enjoyed in the abbey by the Templars, from the time of Louis d’Harcourt, Patriarch of Jerusalem and Bishop of Bayeux; it was the Bishops of that diocese who collated to the benefice of Balbec. So it was explained to me by the incumbent of Douville, a bald person, eloquent, fantastic, and a devotee of the table, who lives by the Rule of Brillat-Savarin, and who expounded to me in slightly sibylline language a loose pedagogy, while he fed me upon some admirable fried potatoes.” While Brichot smiled to shew how witty it was to combine matters so dissimilar and to employ an ironically lofty diction in treating of commonplace things, Saniette was trying to find a loophole for some clever remark which would raise him from the abyss into which he had fallen. The witty remark was what was known as a ‘comparison,’ but had changed its form, for there is an evolution in wit as in literary styles, an epidemic that disappears has its place taken by another, and so forth. . . . At one time the typical ‘comparison’ was the ‘height of. . . . ’ But this was out of date, no one used it any more, there was only Cottard left to say still, on occasion, in the middle of a game of piquet: “Do you know what is the height of absent-mindedness, it is to think that the Edict (l’edit) of Nantes was an Englishwoman.” These ‘heights’ had been replaced by nicknames. In reality it was still the old ‘comparison,’ but, as the nickname was in fashion, people did not observe the survival. Unfortunately for Saniette, when these ‘comparisons’ were not his own, and as a rule were unknown to the little nucleus, he produced them so timidly that, notwithstanding the laugh with which he followed them up to indicate their humorous nature, nobody saw the point. And if on the other hand the joke was his own, as he had generally hit upon it in conversation with one of the faithful, and the latter had repeated it, appropriating the authorship, the joke was in that case known, but not as being Saniette’s. And so when he slipped in one of these it was recognised, but, because he was its author, he was accused of plagiarism. “Very well, then,” Brichot continued, “Bee, in Norman, is a stream; there is the Abbey of Bee, Mobec, the stream from the marsh (Mor or Mer meant a marsh, as in Morville, or in Bricquemar, Alvimare, Cambremer), Bricquebac the stream from the high ground coming from Briga, a fortified place, as in Bricqueville, Bricquebose, le Bric, Briand, or indeed Brice, bridge, which is the same as bruck in German (Innsbruck), and as the English bridge which ends so many place-names (Cambridge, for instance). You have moreover in Normandy many other instances of bec: Caudebec, Bolbec, le Robec, le Bec-Hellouin, Becquerel. It is the Norman form of the German bach, Offenbach, Anspach. Varaguebec, from the old word varaigne, equivalent to warren, preserved woods or ponds. As for Dal,” Brichot went on, “it is a form of thal, a valley: Darnetal, Rosendal, and indeed, close to Louviers, Becdal. The river that has given its name to Balbec, is, by the way, charming. Seen from a falaise (fels in German, you have indeed, not far from here, standing on a height, the picturesque town of Falaise), it runs close under the spires of the church, which is actually a long way from it, and seems to be reflecting them.” “I should think,” said I, “that is an effect that Elstir admires greatly. I have seen several sketches of it in his studio.” “Elstir! You know Tiche,” cried Mme. Verdurin. “But do you know that we used to be the dearest friends? Thank heaven, I never see him now. No, but ask Cottard, Brichot, he used to have his place laid at my table, he came every day. Now, there’s a man of whom you can say that it has done him no good to leave our little nucleus. I shall shew you presently some flowers he painted for me; you shall see the difference from the things he is doing now, which I don’t care for at all, not at all! Why! I made him do me a portrait of Cottard, not to mention all the sketches he has made of me.” “And he gave the Professor purple hair,” said Mme. Cottard, forgetting that at the time her husband had not been even a Fellow of the College. “I don’t know, Sir, whether you find that my husband has purple hair.” “That doesn’t matter,” said Mme. Verdurin, raising her chin with an air of contempt for Mme. Cottard and of admiration for the man of whom she was speaking, “he was a brave colourist, a fine painter. Whereas,” she added, turning again to myself, “I don’t know whether you call it painting, all those huge she-devils of composition, those vast structures he exhibits now that he has given up coming to me. For my part, I call it daubing, it’s all so hackneyed, and besides, it lacks relief, personality. It’s anybody’s work.” “He revives the grace of the eighteenth century, but in a modern form,” Saniette broke out, fortified and reassured by my affability. “But I prefer Helleu.” “He’s not in the least like Helleu,” said Mme. Verdurin. “Yes, he has the fever of the eighteenth century. He’s a steam Watteau,” and he began to laugh. “Old, old as the hills, I’ve had that served up to me for years,” said M. Verdurin, to whom indeed Ski had once repeated the remark, but as his own invention. “It’s unfortunate that when once in a way you say something quite amusing and make it intelligible, it is not your own.” “I’m sorry about it,” Mme. Verdurin went on, “because he was really gifted, he has wasted a charming temperament for painting. Ah! if he had stayed with us! Why, he would have become the greatest landscape painter of our day. And it is a woman that has dragged him down so low! Not that that surprises me, for he was a pleasant enough man, but common. At bottom, he was a mediocrity. I may tell you that I felt it at once. Really, he never interested me. I was very fond of him, that was all. For one thing, he was so dirty. Tell me, do you, now, really like people who never wash?” “What is this charmingly coloured thing that we are eating?” asked Ski. “It is called strawberry mousse,” said Mme. Verdurin. “But it is ex-qui-site. You ought to open bottles of Château-Margaux, Château-Lafite, port wine.” “I can’t tell you how he amuses me, he never drinks anything but water,” said Mme. Verdurin, seeking to cloak with her delight at such a flight of fancy her alarm at the thought of so prodigal an outlay. “But not to drink,” Ski went on, “you shall fill all our glasses, they will bring in marvelous peaches, huge nectarines, there against the sunset; it will be as gorgeous as a fine Veronese.” “It would cost almost as much,” M. Verdurin murmured. “But take away those cheeses with their hideous colour,” said Ski, trying to snatch the plate from before his host, who defended his gruyère with his might and main. “You can realise that I don’t regret Elstir,” Mme. Verdurin said to me, “that one is far more gifted. Elstir is simply hard work, the man who can’t make himself give up painting when he would like to. He is the good student, the slavish competitor. Ski, now, only follows his own fancy. You will see him light a cigarette in the middle of dinner.” “After all, I can’t see why you wouldn’t invite his wife,” said Cottard, “he would be with us still.” “Will you mind what you’re saying, please, I don’t open my doors to street-walkers, Monsieur le Professeur,” said Mme. Verdurin, who had, on the contrary, done everything in her power to make Elstir return, even with his wife. But before they were married she had tried to make them quarrel, had told Elstir that the woman he loved was stupid, dirty, immoral, a thief. For once in a way she had failed to effect a breach. It was with the Verdurin salon that Elstir had broken; and he was glad of it, as converts bless the illness or misfortune that has withdrawn them from the world and has made them learn the way of salvation. “He really is magnificent, the Professor,” she said. “Why not declare outright that I keep a disorderly house? Anyone would think you didn’t know what Madame Elstir was like. I would sooner have the lowest street-walker at my table! Oh no, I don’t stand for that sort of thing. Besides I may tell you that it would have been stupid of me to overlook the wife, when the husband no longer interests me, he is out of date, he can’t even draw.” “That is extraordinary in a man of his intelligence,” said Cottard. “Oh, no!” replied Mme. Verdurin, “even at the time when he had talent, for he had it, the wretch, and to spare, what was tiresome about him was that he had not a spark of intelligence.” Mme. Verdurin, in passing this judgment upon Elstir, had not waited for their quarrel, or until she had ceased to care for his painting. The fact was that, even at the time when he formed part of the little group, it would happen that Elstir spent the whole day in the company of some woman whom, rightly or wrongly, Mme. Verdurin considered a goose, which, in her opinion, was not the conduct of an intelligent man. “No,” she observed with an air of finality, “I consider that his wife and he are made for one another. Heaven knows, there isn’t a more boring creature on the face of the earth, and I should go mad if I had to spend a couple of hours with her. But people say that he finds her very intelligent. There’s no use denying it, our Tiche was extremely stupid. I have seen him bowled over by people you can’t conceive, worthy idiots we should never have allowed into our little clan. Well! He wrote to them, he argued with them, he, Elstir! That doesn’t prevent his having charming qualities, oh, charming and deliciously absurd, naturally.” For Mme. Verdurin was convinced that men who are truly remarkable are capable of all sorts of follies. A false idea in which there is nevertheless a grain of truth. Certainly, people’s follies are insupportable. But a want of balance which we discover only in course of time is the consequence of the entering into a human brain of delicacies for which it is not regularly adapted. So that the oddities of charming people exasperate us, but there are few if any charming people who are not, at the same time, odd. “Look, I shall be able to shew you his flowers now,” she said to me, seeing that her husband was making signals to her to rise. And she took M. de Cambremer’s arm again. M. Verdurin tried to apologise for this to M. de Charlus, as soon as he had got rid of Mme. de Cambremer, and to give him his reasons, chiefly for the pleasure of discussing these social refinements with a gentleman of title, momentarily the inferior of those who assigned to him the place to which they considered him entitled. But first of all he was anxious to make it clear to M. de Charlus that intellectually he esteemed him too highly to suppose that he could pay any attention to these trivialities. “Excuse my mentioning so small a point,” he began, “for I can understand how little such things mean to you. Middle-class minds pay attention to them, but the others, the artists, the people who are really of our sort, don’t give a rap for them. Now, from the first words we exchanged, I realised that you were one of us!” M. de Charlus, who gave a widely different meaning to this expression, drew himself erect. After the doctor’s oglings, he found his host’s insulting frankness suffocating. “Don’t protest, my dear Sir, you are one of us, it is plain as daylight,” replied M. Verdurin. “Observe that I have no idea whether you practise any of the arts, but that is not necessary. It is not always sufficient. Dechambre, who has just died, played exquisitely, with the most vigorous execution, but he was not one of us, you felt at once that he was not one of us. Brichot is not one of us. Morel is, my wife is, I can feel that you are. . . . ” “What were you going to tell me?” interrupted M. de Charlus, who was beginning to feel reassured as to M. Verdurin’s meaning, but preferred that he should not utter these misleading remarks quite so loud. “Only that we put you on the left,” replied M. Verdurin. M. de Charlus, with a comprehending, genial, insolent smile, replied: “Why! That is not of the slightest importance, here!” And he gave a little laugh that was all his own — a laugh that came to him probably from some Bavarian or Lorraine grandmother, who herself had inherited it, in identical form, from an ancestress, so that it had been sounding now, without change, for not a few centuries in little old-fashioned European courts, and one could relish its precious quality like that of certain old musical instruments that have now grown rare. There are times when, to paint a complete portrait of some one, we should have to add a phonetic imitation to our verbal description, and our portrait of the figure that M. de Charlus presented is liable to remain incomplete in the absence of that little laugh, so delicate, so light, just as certain compositions are never accurately rendered because our orchestras lack those ‘small trumpets,’ with a sound so entirely their own, for which the composer wrote this or that part. “But,” M. Verdurin explained, stung by his laugh, “we did it on purpose. I attach no importance whatever to title of nobility,” he went on, with that contemptuous smile which I have seen so many people whom I have known, unlike my grandmother and my mother, assume when they spoke of anything that they did not possess, before others who thus, they supposed, would be prevented from using that particular advantage to crow over them. “But, don’t you see, since we happened to have M. de Cambremer here, and he is a Marquis, while you are only a Baron. . . . ” “Pardon me,” M. de Charlus replied with an arrogant air to the astonished Verdurin, “I am also Duc de Brabant, Damoiseau de Montargis, Prince d’Oloron, de Carency, de Viareggio and des Dunes. However, it is not of the slightest importance. Please do not distress yourself,” he concluded, resuming his subtle smile which spread itself over these final words: “I could see at a glance that you were not accustomed to society.”
Mme. Verdurin came across to me to shew me Elstir’s flowers. If this action, to which I had grown so indifferent, of going out to dinner, had on the contrary, taking the form that made it entirely novel, of a journey along the coast, followed by an ascent in a carriage to a point six hundred feet above the sea, produced in me a sort of intoxication, this feeling had not been dispelled at la Raspelière. “Just look at this, now,” said the Mistress, shewing me some huge and splendid roses by Elstir, whose unctuous scarlet and rich white stood out, however, with almost too creamy a relief from the flower-stand upon which they were arranged. “Do you suppose he would still have to touch to get that? Don’t you call that striking? And besides, it’s fine as matter, it would be amusing to handle. I can’t tell you how amusing it was to watch him painting them. One could feel that he was interested in trying to get just that effect.” And the Mistress’s gaze rested musingly on this present from the artist in which were combined not merely his great talent but their long friendship which survived only in these mementoes of it which he had bequeathed to her; behind the flowers which long ago he had picked for her, she seemed to see the shapely hand that had painted them, in the course of a morning, in their freshness, so that, they on the table, it leaning against the back of a chair, had been able to meet face to face at the Mistress’s luncheon party, the roses still alive and their almost lifelike portrait. Almost only, for Elstir was unable to look at a flower without first transplanting it to that inner garden in which we are obliged always to remain. He had shewn in this water-colour the appearance of the roses which he had seen, and which, but for him, no one would ever have known; so that one might say that they were a new variety with which this painter, like a skilful gardener, had enriched the family of the Roses. “From the day he left the little nucleus, he was finished. It seems, my dinners made him waste his time, that I hindered the development of his genius,” she said in a tone of irony. “As if the society of a woman like myself could fail to be beneficial to an artist,” she exclaimed with a burst of pride. Close beside us, M. de Cambremer, who was already seated, seeing that M. de Charlus was standing, made as though to rise and offer him his chair. This offer may have arisen, in the Marquis’s mind, from nothing more than a vague wish to be polite. M. de Charlus preferred to attach to it the sense of a duty which the plain gentleman knew that he owed to a Prince, and felt that he could not establish his right to this precedence better than by declining it. And so he exclaimed: “What are you doing? I beg of you! The idea!” The astutely vehement tone of this protest had in itself something typically ‘Guermantes’ which became even more evident in the imperative, superfluous and familiar gesture with which he brought both his hands down, as though to force him to remain seated, upon the shoulders of M. de Cambremer who had not risen. “Come, come, my dear fellow,” the Baron insisted, “this is too much. There is no reason for it! In these days we keep that for Princes of the Blood.” I made no more effect on the Cambremers than on Mme. Verdurin by my enthusiasm for their house. For I remained cold to the beauties which they pointed out to me and grew excited over confused reminiscences; at times I even confessed my disappointment at not finding something correspond to what its name had made me imagine. I enraged Mme. de Cambremer by telling her that I had supposed the place to be more in the country. On the other hand I broke off in an ecstasy to sniff the fragrance of a breeze that crept in through the chink of the door. “I see you like draughts,” they said to me. My praise of the patch of green lining-cloth that had been pasted over a broken pane met with no greater success: “How frightful!” cried the Marquise. The climax came when I said: “My greatest joy was when I arrived. When I heard my step echoing along the gallery, I felt that I had come into some village council-office, with a map of the district on the wall.” This time, Mme. de Cambremer resolutely turned her back on me. “You don’t think the arrangement too bad?” her husband asked her with the same compassionate anxiety with which he would have inquired how his wife had stood some painful ceremony. “They have some fine things.” But, inasmuch as malice, when the hard and fast rules of sure taste do not confine it within fixed limits, finds fault with everything, in the persons or in the houses, of the people who have supplanted the critic: “Yes, but they are not in the right places. Besides, are they really as fine as all that?” “You noticed,” said M. de Cambremer, with a melancholy that was controlled by a note of firmness, “there are some Jouy hangings that are worn away, some quite threadbare things in this drawing-room!” “And that piece of stuff with its huge roses, like a peasant woman’s quilt,” said Mme. de Cambremer whose purely artificial culture was confined exclusively to idealist philosophy, impressionist painting and Debussy’s music. And, so as not to criticise merely in the name of smartness but in that of good taste: “And they have put up windscreens! Such bad style! What can you expect of such people, they don’t know, where could they have learned? They must be retired tradespeople. It’s really not bad for them.” “I thought the chandeliers good,” said the Marquis, though it was not evident why he should make an exception of the chandeliers, just as inevitably, whenever anyone spoke of a church, whether it was the Cathedral of Chartres, or of Rheims, or of Amiens, or the church at Balbec, what he would always make a point of mentioning as admirable would be: “the organ-loft, the pulpit and the misericords.” “As for the garden, don’t speak about it,” said Mme. de Cambremer. “It’s a massacre. Those paths running all crooked.” I seized the opportunity while Mme. Verdurin was pouring out coffee to go and glance over the letter which M. de Cambremer had brought me, and in which his mother invited me to dinner. With that faint trace of ink, the handwriting revealed an individuality which in the future I should be able to recognise among a thousand, without any more need to have recourse to the hypothesis of special pens, than to suppose that rare and mysteriously blended colours are necessary to enable a painter to express his original vision. Indeed a paralytic, stricken with agraphia after a seizure, and compelled to look at the script as at a drawing without being able to read it, would have gathered that Mme. de Cambremer belonged to an old family in which the zealous cultivation of literature and the arts had supplied a margin to its artistocratic traditions. He would have guessed also the period in which the Marquise had learned simultaneously to write and to play Chopin’s music. It was the time when well-bred people observed the rule of affability and what was called the rule of the three adjectives. Mme. de Cambremer combined the two rules in one. A laudatory adjective was not enough for her, she followed it (after a little stroke of the pen) with a second, then (after another stroke), with a third. But, what was peculiar to herself was that, in defiance of the literary and social object at which she aimed, the sequence of the three epithets assumed in Mme. de Cambremer’s notes the aspect not of a progression but of a diminuendo. Mme. de Cambremer told me in this first letter that she had seen Saint-Loup and had appreciated more than ever his ‘unique — rare — real’ qualities, that he was coming to them again with one of his friends (the one who was in love with her daughter-in-law), and that if I cared to come, with or without them, to dine at Féterne she would be ‘delighted — happy — pleased.’ Perhaps it was because her desire to be friendly outran the fertility of her imagination and the riches of her vocabulary that the lady, while determined to utter three exclamations, was incapable of making the second and third anything more than feeble echoes of the first. Add but a fourth adjective, and, of her initial friendliness, there would be nothing left. Moreover, with a certain refined simplicity which cannot have failed to produce a considerable impression upon her family and indeed in her circle of acquaintance, Mme. de Cambremer had acquired the habit of substituting for the word (which might in time begin to ring false) ‘sincere,’ the word ‘true.’ And to shew that it was indeed by sincerity that she was impelled, she broke the conventional rule that would have placed the adjective ‘true’ before its noun, and planted it boldly after. Her letters ended with: “Croyez à mon amitié vraie.” “Croyez à ma sympathie vraie.” Unfortunately, this had become so stereotyped a formula that the affectation of frankness was more suggestive of a polite fiction than the time-honoured formulas, of the meaning of which people have ceased to think. I was, however, hindered from reading her letter by the confused sound of conversation over which rang out the louder accents of M. de Charlus, who, still on the same topic, was saying to M. de Cambremer: “You reminded me, when you offered me your chair, of a gentleman from whom I received a letter this morning, addressed: ‘To His Highness, the Baron de Charlus,’ and beginning ‘Monseigneur.’” “To be sure, your correspondent was slightly exaggerating,” replied M. de Cambremer, giving way to a discreet show of mirth. M. de Charlus had provoked this; he did not partake in it. “Well, if it comes to that, my dear fellow,” he said, “I may observe that, heraldically speaking, he was entirely in the right. I am not regarding it as a personal matter, you understand. I should say the same of anyone else. But one has to face the facts, history is history, we can’t alter it and it is not in our power to rewrite it. I need not cite the case of the Emperor William, who at Kiel never ceased to address me as ‘Monseigneur.’ I have heard it said that he gave the same title to all the Dukes of France, which was an abuse of the privilege, but was perhaps simply a delicate attention aimed over our heads at France herself.” “More delicate, perhaps, than sincere,” said M. de Cambremer. “Ah! There I must differ from you. Observe that, personally, a gentleman of the lowest rank such as that Hohenzollern, a Protestant to boot, and one who has usurped the throne of my cousin the King of Hanover, can be no favourite of mine,” added M. de Charlus, with whom the annexation of Hanover seemed to rankle more than that of Alsace-Lorraine. “But I believe the feeling that turns the Emperor in our direction to be profoundly sincere. Fools will tell you that he is a stage emperor. He is on the contrary marvellously intelligent; it is true that he knows nothing about painting, and has forced Herr Tschudi to withdraw the Elstirs from the public galleries. But Louis XIV did not appreciate the Dutch Masters, he had the same fondness for display, and yet he was, when all is said, a great Monarch. Besides, William II has armed his country from the military and naval point of view in a way that Louis XIV failed to do, and I hope that his reign will never know the reverses that darkened the closing days of him who is fatuously styled the Roi Soleil. The Republic made a great mistake, to my mind, in rejecting the overtures of the Hohenzollern, or responding to them only in driblets. He is very well aware of it himself and says, with that gift that he has for the right expression: ‘What I want is a clasped hand, not a raised hat.’ As a man, he is vile; he has abandoned, surrendered, denied his best friends, in circumstances in which his silence was as deplorable as theirs was grand,” continued M. de Charlus, who was irresistibly drawn by his own tendencies to the Eulenburg affair, and remembered what one of the most highly placed of the culprits had said to him: “The Emperor must have relied upon our delicacy to have dared to allow such a trial. But he was not mistaken in trusting to our discretion. We would have gone to the scaffold with our lips sealed.” “All that, however, has nothing to do with what I was trying to explain, which is that, in Germany, mediatised Princes like ourselves are Durchlaucht, and in France our rank of Highness was publicly recognised. Saint-Simon tries to make out that this was an abuse on our part, in which he is entirely mistaken. The reason that he gives, namely that Louis XIV forbade us to style him the Most Christian King and ordered us to call him simply the King, proves merely that we held our title from him, and not that we had not the rank of Prince. Otherwise, it would have to be withheld from the Duc de Lorraine and ever so many others. Besides, several of our titles come from the House of Lorraine through Thérèse d’Espinay, my great-grandmother, who was the daughter of the Damoiseau de Commercy.” Observing that Morel was listening, M. de Charlus proceeded to develop the reasons for his claim. “I have pointed out to my brother that it is not in the third part of Gotha, but in the second, not to say the first, that the account of our family ought to be included,” he said, without stopping to think that Morel did not know what ‘Gotha’ was. “But that is his affair, he is the Head of my House, and so long as he raises no objection and allows the matter to pass, I have only to shut my eyes.” “M. Brichot interests me greatly,” I said to Mme. Verdurin as she joined me, and I slipped Mme. de Cambremer’s letter into my pocket. “He has a cultured mind and is an excellent man,” she replied coldly. “Of course what he lacks is originality and taste, he has a terrible memory. They used to say of the ‘forebears’ of the people we have here this evening, the émigrés, that they had forgotten nothing. But they had at least the excuse,” she said, borrowing one of Swann’s epigrams, “that they had learned nothing. Whereas Brichot knows everything, and hurls chunks of dictionary at our heads during dinner. I’m sure you know everything now about the names of all the towns and villages.” While Mme. Verdurin was speaking, it occurred to me that I had determined to ask her something, but I could not remember what it was. I could not at this moment say what Mme. Verdurin was wearing that evening. Perhaps even then I was no more able to say, for I have not an observant mind. But feeling that her dress was not unambitious I said to her something polite and even admiring. She was like almost all women, who imagine that a compliment that is paid to them is a literal statement of the truth, and is a judgment impartially, irresistibly pronounced, as though it referred to a work of art that has no connexion with a person. And so it was with an earnestness which made me blush for my own hypocrisy that she replied with the proud and artless question, habitual in the circumstances: “You like it?” “I know you’re talking about Brichot. Eh, Chantepie, Freycinet, he spared you nothing. I had my eye on you, my little Mistress!” “I saw you, it was all I could do not to laugh.” “You are talking about Chantepie, I am certain,” said M. Verdurin, as he came towards us. I had been alone, as I thought of my strip of green cloth and of a scent of wood, in failing to notice that, while he discussed etymologies, Brichot had been provoking derision. And inasmuch as the expressions which, for me, gave their value to things were of the sort which other people either do not feel or reject without thinking of them, as unimportant, they were entirely useless to me and had the additional drawback of making me appear stupid in the eyes of Mme. Verdurin who saw that I had ‘swallowed’ Brichot, as before I had appeared stupid to Mme. de Guermantes, because I enjoyed going to see Mme. d’Arpajon. With Brichot, however, there was another reason. I was not one of the little clan. And in every clan, whether it be social, political, literary, one contracts a perverse facility in discovering in a conversation, in an official speech, in a story, in a sonnet, everything that the honest reader would never have dreamed of finding there. How many times have I found myself, after reading with a certain emotion a tale skilfully told by a learned and slightly old-fashioned Academician, on the point of saying to Bloch or to Mme. de Guermantes: “How charming this is!” when before I had opened my mouth they exclaimed, each in a different language: “If you want to be really amused, read a tale by So-and-so. Human stupidity has never sunk to greater depths.” Bloch’s scorn was aroused principally by the discovery that certain effects of style, pleasant enough in themselves, were slightly faded; that of Mme. de Guermantes because the tale seemed to prove the direct opposite of what the author meant, for reasons of fact which she had the ingenuity to deduce but which would never have occurred to me. I was no less surprised to discover the irony that underlay the Verdurins’ apparent friendliness for Brichot than to hear, some days later, at Féterne, the Cambremers say to me, on hearing my enthusiastic praise of la Raspelière: “It’s impossible that you can be sincere, after all they’ve done to it.” It is true that they admitted that the china was good. Like the shocking windscreens, it had escaped my notice. “Anyhow, when you go back to Balbec, you will know what Balbec means,” said M. Verdurin ironically. It was precisely the things Brichot had told me that interested me. As for what they called his mind, it was exactly the same mind that had at one time been so highly appreciated by the little clan. He talked with the same irritating fluency, but his words no longer carried, having to overcome a hostile silence or disagreeable echoes; what had altered was not the things that he said but the acoustics of the room and the attitude of his audience. “Take care,” Mme. Verdurin murmured, pointing to Brichot. The latter, whose hearing remained keener than his vision, darted at the mistress the hastily withdrawn gaze of a short-sighted philosopher. If his bodily eyes were less good, his mind’s eye on the contrary had begun to take a larger view of things. He saw how little was to be expected of human affection, and resigned himself to it. Undoubtedly the discovery pained him. It may happen that even the man who on one evening only, in a circle where he is usually greeted with joy, realises that the others have found him too frivolous or too pedantic or too loud, or too forward, or whatever it may be, returns home miserable. Often it is a difference of opinion, or of system, that has made him appear to other people absurd or old-fashioned. Often he is perfectly well aware that those others are inferior to himself. He could easily dissect the sophistries with which he has been tacitly condemned, he is tempted to pay a call, to write a letter: on second thoughts, he does nothing, awaits the invitation for the following week. Sometimes, too, these discomfitures, instead of ending with the evening, last for months. Arising from the instability of social judgments, they increase that instability further. For the man who knows that Mme. X despises him, feeling that he is respected at Mme. Y’s, pronounces her far superior to the other and emigrates to her house. This however is not the proper place to describe those men, superior to the life of society but lacking the capacity to realise their own worth outside it, glad to be invited, embittered by being disparaged, discovering annually the faults of the hostess to whom they have been offering incense and the genius of her whom they have never properly appreciated, ready to return to the old love when they shall have felt the drawbacks to be found equally in the new, and when they have begun to forget those of the old. We may judge by these temporary discomfitures the grief that Brichot felt at one which he knew to be final. He was not unaware that Mme. Verdurin sometimes laughed at him publicly, even at his infirmities, and knowing how little was to be expected of human affection, submitting himself to the facts, he continued nevertheless to regard the Mistress as his best friend. But, from the blush that swept over the scholar’s face, Mme. Verdurin saw that he had heard her, and made up her mind to be kind to him for the rest of the evening. I could not help remarking to her that she had not been very kind to Saniette. “What! Not kind to him! Why, he adores us, you can’t imagine what we are to him. My husband is sometimes a little irritated by his stupidity, and you must admit that he has every reason, but when that happens why doesn’t he rise in revolt, instead of cringing like a whipped dog? It is not honest. I don’t like it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t always try to calm my husband, because if he went too far, all that would happen would be that Saniette would stay away; and I don’t want that because I may tell you that he hasn’t a penny in the world, he needs his dinners. But after all, if he does mind, he can stay away, it has nothing to do with me, when a person depends on other people he should try not to be such an idiot.” “The Duchy of Aumale was in our family for years before passing to the House of France,” M. de Charlus was explaining to M. de Cambremer, before a speechless Morel, for whom, as a matter of fact, the whole of this dissertation was, if not actually addressed to him, intended. “We took precedence over all foreign Princes; I could give you a hundred examples. The Princesse de Croy having attempted, at the burial of Monsieur, to fall on her knees after my great-great-grandmother, that lady reminded her sharply that she had not the privilege of the hassock, made the officer on duty remove it, and reported the matter to the King, who ordered Mme. de Croy to call upon Mme. de Guermantes and offer her apologies. The Duc de Bourgogne having come to us with ushers with raised wands, we obtained the King’s authority to have them lowered. I know it is not good form to speak of the merits of one’s own family. But it is well known that our people were always to the fore in the hour of danger. Our battle-cry, after we abandoned that of the Dukes of Brabant, was Passavant! So that it is fair enough after all that this right to be everywhere the first, which we had established for so many centuries in war, should afterwards have been confirmed to us at Court. And, egad, it has always been admitted there. I may give you a further instance, that of the Princess of Baden. As she had so far forgotten herself as to attempt to challenge the precedence of that same Duchesse de Guermantes of whom I was speaking just now, and had attempted to go in first to the King’s presence, taking advantage of a momentary hesitation which my relative may perhaps have shewn (although there could be no reason for it), the King called out: ‘Come in, cousin, come in; Mme. de Baden knows very well what her duty is to you.’ And it was as Duchesse de Guermantes that she held this rank, albeit she was of no mean family herself, since she was through her mother niece to the Queen of Poland, the Queen of Hungary, the Elector Palatine, the Prince of Savoy-Carignano and the Elector of Hanover, afterwards King of England.” “Maecenas atavis édite regibus!” said Brichot, addressing M. de Charlus, who acknowledged the compliment with a slight inclination of his head. “What did you say?” Mme. Verdurin asked Brichot, anxious to make amends to him for her previous speech. “I was referring, Heaven forgive me, to a dandy who was the pick of the basket” (Mme. Verdurin winced) “about the time of Augustus” (Mme. Verdurin, reassured by the remoteness in time of this basket, assumed a more serene expression), “of a friend of Virgil and Horace who carried their sycophancy to the extent of proclaiming to his face his more than aristocratic, his royal descent, in a word I was referring to Maecenas, a bookworm who was the friend of Horace, Virgil, Augustus. I am sure that M. de Charlus knows all about Maecenas.” With a gracious, sidelong glance at Mme. Verdurin, because he had heard her make an appointment with Morel for the day after next and was afraid that she might not invite him also, “I should say,” said M. de Charlus, “that Maecenas was more or less the Verdurin of antiquity.” Mme. Verdurin could not altogether suppress a smile of satisfaction. She went over to Morel. “He’s nice, your father’s friend,” she said to him. “One can see that he’s an educated man, and well bred. He will get on well in our little nucleus. What is his address in Paris?” Morel preserved a haughty silence and merely proposed a game of cards. Mme. Verdurin insisted upon a little violin music first. To the general astonishment, M. de Charlus, who never referred to his own considerable gifts, accompanied, in the purest style, the closing passage (uneasy, tormented, Schumannesque, but, for all that, earlier than Franck’s Sonata) of the Sonata for piano and violin by Fauré. I felt that he would furnish Morel, marvellously endowed as to tone and virtuosity, with just those qualities that he lacked, culture and style. But I thought with curiosity of this combination in a single person of a physical blemish and a spiritual gift. M. de Charlus was not very different from his brother, the Duc de Guermantes. Indeed, a moment ago (though this was rare), he had spoken as bad French as his brother. He having reproached me (doubtless in order that I might speak in glowing terms of Morel to Mme. Verdurin) with never coming to see him, and I having pleaded discretion, he had replied: “But, since it is I that asks you, there is no one but I who am in a position to take offence.” This might have been said by the Duc de Guermantes. M. de Charlus was only a Guermantes when all was said. But it had been enough that nature should upset the balance of his nervous system sufficiently to make him prefer to the woman that his brother the Duke would have chosen one of Virgil’s shepherds or Plato’s disciples, and at once qualities unknown to the Duc de Guermantes and often combined with this want of balance had made M. de Charlus an exquisite pianist, an amateur painter who was not devoid of taste, an eloquent talker. Who would ever have detected that the rapid, eager, charming style with which M. de Charlus played the Schumannesque passage of Fauré‘s Sonata had its equivalent — one dares not say its cause — in elements entirely physical, in the nervous defects of M. de Charlus? We shall explain later on what we mean by nervous defects, and why it is that a Greek of the time of Socrates, a Roman of the time of Augustus might be what we know them to have been and yet remain absolutely normal men, and not men-women such as we see around us to-day. Just as he had genuine artistic tendencies, which had never come to fruition, so M. de Charlus had, far more than the Duke, loved their mother, loved his own wife, and indeed, years after her death, if anyone spoke of her to him would shed tears, but superficial tears, like the perspiration of an over-stout man, whose brow will glisten with sweat at the slightest exertion. With this difference, that to the latter we say: “How hot you are,” whereas we pretend not to notice other people’s tears. We, that is to say, people in society; for the humbler sort are as distressed by the sight of tears as if a sob were more serious than a hemorrhage. His sorrow after the death of his wife, thanks to the habit of falsehood, did not debar M. de Charlus from a life which was not in harmony with it. Indeed later on, he sank so low as to let it be known that, during the funeral rites, he had found an opportunity of asking the acolyte for his name and address. And it may have been true.
When the piece came to an end, I ventured to ask for some Franck, which appeared to cause Mme. de Cambremer such acute pain that I did not insist. “You can’t admire that sort of thing,” she said to me. Instead she asked for Debussy’s Fêtes, which made her exclaim: “Ah! How sublime!” from the first note. But Morel discovered that he remembered the opening bars only, and in a spirit of mischief, without any intention to deceive, began a March by Meyerbeer. Unfortunately, as he left little interval and made no announcement, everybody supposed that he was still playing Debussy, and continued to exclaim ‘Sublime!’ Morel, by revealing that the composer was that not of Pelléas but of Robert le Diable created a certain chill. Mme. de Cambremer had scarcely time to feel it, for she had just discovered a volume of Scarlatti, and had flung herself upon it with an hysterical impulse. “Oh! Play this, look, this piece, it’s divine,” she cried. And yet, of this composer long despised, recently promoted to the highest honours, what she had selected in her feverish impatience was one of those infernal pieces which have so often kept us from sleeping, while a merciless pupil repeats them indefinitely on the next floor. But Morel had had enough music, and as he insisted upon cards, M. de Charlus, to be able to join in, proposed a game of whist. “He was telling the Master just now that he is a Prince,” said Ski to Mme. Verdurin, “but it’s not true, they’re quite a humble family of architects.” “I want to know what it was you were saying about Maecenas. It interests me, don’t you know!” Mme. Verdurin repeated to Brichot, with an affability that carried him off his feet. And so, in order to shine in the Mistress’s eyes, and possibly in mine: “Why, to tell you the truth, Madame, Maecenas interests me chiefly because he is the earliest apostle of note of that Chinese god who numbers more followers in France to-day than Brahma, than Christ himself, the all-powerful God Ubedamd.” Mme. Verdurin was no longer content, upon these occasions, with burying her head in her hands. She would descend with the suddenness of the insects called ephemeral upon Princess Sherbatoff; were the latter within reach the Mistress would cling to her shoulder, dig her nails into it, and hide her face against it for a few moments like a child playing at hide and seek. Concealed by this protecting screen, she was understood to be laughing until she cried and was as well able to think of nothing at all as people are who while saying a prayer that is rather long take the wise precaution of burying their faces in their hands. Mme. Verdurin used to imitate them when she listened to Beethoven quartets, so as at the same time to let it be seen that she regarded them as a prayer and not to let it be seen that she was asleep. “I am quite serious, Madame,” said Brichot. “Too numerous, I consider, to-day is become the person who spends his time gazing at his navel as though it were the hub of the universe. As a matter of doctrine, I have no objection to offer to some Nirvana which will dissolve us in the great Whole (which, like Munich and Oxford, is considerably nearer to Paris than Asnières or Bois-Colombes), but it is unworthy either of a true Frenchman, or of a true European even, when the Japanese are possibly at the gates of our Byzantium, that socialised anti-militarists should be gravely discussing the cardinal virtues of free verse.” Mme. Verdurin felt that she might dispense with the Princess’s mangled shoulder, and allowed her face to become once more visible, not without pretending to wipe her eyes and gasping two or three times for breath. But Brichot was determined that I should have my share in the entertainment, and having learned, from those oral examinations which he conducted so admirably, that the best way to flatter the young is to lecture them, to make them feel themselves important, to make them regard you as a reactionary: “I have no wish to blaspheme against the Gods of Youth,” he said, with that furtive glance at myself which a speaker turns upon a member of his audience whom he has mentioned by name. “I have no wish to be damned as a heretic and renegade in the Mallarméan chapel in which our new friend, like all the young men of his age, must have served the esoteric mass, at least as an acolyte, and have shewn himself deliquescent or Rosicrucian. But, really, we have seen more than enough of these intellectuals worshipping art with a big A, who, when they can no longer intoxicate themselves upon Zola, inject themselves with Verlaine. Become etheromaniacs out of Baudelairean devotion, they would no longer be capable of the virile effort which the country may, one day or another, demand of them, anaesthetised as they are by the great literary neurosis in the heated, enervating atmosphere, heavy with unwholesome vapours, of a symbolism of the opium-pipe.” Feeling incapable of feigning any trace of admiration for Brichot’s inept and motley tirade, I turned to Ski and assured him that he was entirely mistaken as to the family to which M. de Charlus belonged; he replied that he was certain of his facts, and added that I myself had said that his real name was Gandin, Le Gandin. “I told you,” was my answer, “that Mme. de Cambremer was the sister of an engineer, M. Legrandin. I never said a word to you about M. de Charlus. There is about as much connexion between him and Mme. de Cambremer as between the Great Condé and Racine.” “Indeed! I thought there was,” said Ski lightly, with no more apology for his mistake than he had made a few hours earlier for the mistake that had nearly made his party miss the train. “Do you intend to remain long on this coast?” Mme. Verdurin asked M. de Charlus, in whom she foresaw an addition to the faithful and trembled lest he should be returning too soon to Paris. “Good Lord, one never knows,” replied M. de Charlus in a nasal drawl. “I should like to stay here until the end of September.” “You are quite right,” said Mme. Verdurin; “that is the time for fine storms at sea.” “To tell you the truth, that is not what would influence me. I have for some time past unduly neglected the Archangel Saint Michael, my patron, and I should like to make amends to him by staying for his feast, on the 29th of September, at the Abbey on the Mount.” “You take an interest in all that sort of thing?” asked Mme. Verdurin, who might perhaps have succeeded in hushing the voice of her outraged anti-clericalism, had she not been afraid that so long an expedition might make the violinist and the Baron ‘fail’ her for forty-eight hours. “You are perhaps afflicted with intermittent deafness,” M. de Charlus replied insolently. “I have told you that Saint Michael is one of my glorious patrons.” Then, smiling with a benevolent ecstasy, his eyes gazing into the distance, his voice strengthened by an excitement which seemed now to be not merely aesthetic but religious: “It is so beautiful at the offertory when Michael stands erect by the altar, in a white robe, swinging a golden censer heaped so high with perfumes that the fragrance of them mounts up to God.” “We might go there in a party,” suggested Mme. Verdurin, notwithstanding her horror of the clergy. “At that moment, when the offertory begins,” went on M. de Charlus who, for other reasons but in the same manner as good speakers in Parliament, never replied to an interruption and would pretend not to have heard it, “it would be wonderful to see our young friend Palestrinising, indeed performing an aria by Bach. The worthy Abbot, too, would be wild with joy, and that is the greatest homage, at least the greatest public homage that I can pay to my Holy Patron. What an edification for the faithful! We must mention it presently to the young Angelico of music, a warrior like Saint Michael.”
Saniette, summoned to make a fourth, declared that he did not know how to play whist. And Cottard, seeing that there was not much time left before our train, embarked at once on a game of écarté with Morel. M. Verdurin was furious, and bore down with a terrible expression upon Saniette. “Is there anything in the world that you can play?” he cried, furious at being deprived of the opportunity for a game of whist, and delighted to have found one to insult the old registrar. He, in his terror, did his best to look clever. “Yes, I can play the piano,” he said. Cottard and Morel were seated face to face. “Your deal,” said Cottard. “Suppose we go nearer to the card-table,” M. de Charlus, worried by the sight of Morel in Cottard’s company, suggested to M. de Cambremer. “It is quite as interesting as those questions of etiquette which in these days have ceased to count for very much. The only kings that we have left, in France at least, are the kings in the pack of cards, who seem to me to be positively swarming in the hand of our young virtuoso,” he added a moment later, from an admiration for Morel which extended to his way of playing cards, to flatter him also, and finally to account for his suddenly turning to lean over the young violinist’s shoulder. “I-ee cut,” said (imitating the accent of a cardsharper) Cottard, whose children burst out laughing, like his students and the chief dresser, whenever the master, even by the bedside of a serious case, uttered with the emotionless face of an epileptic one of his hackneyed witticisms. “I don’t know what to play,” said Morel, seeking advice from M. de Charlus. “Just as you please, you’re bound to lose, whatever you play, it’s all the same (c’est égal).” “Egal . . . Ingalli?” said the doctor, with an insinuating, kindly glance at M. de Cambremer. “She was what we call a true diva, she was a dream, a Carmen such as we shall never see again. She was wedded to the part. I used to enjoy too listening to Ingalli — married.” The Marquis drew himself up with that contemptuous vulgarity of well-bred people who do not realise that they are insulting their host by appearing uncertain whether they ought to associate with his guests, and adopt English manners by way of apology for a scornful expression: “Who is that gentleman playing cards, what does he do for a living, what does he sell? I rather like to know whom I am meeting, so as not to make friends with any Tom, Dick or Harry. But I didn’t catch his name when you did me the honour of introducing me to him.” If M. Verdurin, availing himself of this phrase, had indeed introduced M. de Cambremer to his fellow-guests, the other would have been greatly annoyed. But, knowing that it was the opposite procedure that was observed, he thought it gracious to assume a genial and modest air, without risk to himself. The pride that M. Verdurin took in his intimacy with Cottard had increased if anything now that the doctor had become an eminent professor. But it no longer found expression in the artless language of earlier days. Then, when Cottard was scarcely known to the public, if you spoke to M. Verdurin of his wife’s facial neuralgia: “There is nothing to be done,” he would say, with the artless self-satisfaction of people who assume that anyone whom they know must be famous, and that everybody knows the name of their family singing-master. “If she had an ordinary doctor, one might look for a second opinion, but when that doctor is called Cottard” (a name which he pronounced as though it were Bouchard or Charcot) “one has simply to bow to the inevitable.” Adopting a reverse procedure, knowing that M. de Cambremer must certainly have heard of the famous Professor Cottard, M. Verdurin adopted a tone of simplicity. “He’s our family doctor, a worthy soul whom we adore and who would let himself be torn in pieces for our sakes; he is not a doctor, he is a friend, I don’t suppose you have ever heard of him or that his name would convey anything to you, in any case to us it is the name of a very good man, of a very dear friend, Cottard.” This name, murmured in a modest tone, took in M. de Cambremer who supposed that his host was referring to some one else. “Cottard? You don’t mean Professor Cottard?” At that moment one heard the voice of the said Professor who, at an awkward point in the game, was saying as he looked at his cards: “This is where Greek meets Greek.” “Why, yes, to be sure, he is a professor,” said M. Verdurin. “What! Professor Cottard! You are not making a mistake? You are quite sure it’s the same man? The one who lives in the Rue du Bac?” “Yes, his address is 43, Rue du Bac. You know him?” “But everybody knows Professor Cottard. He’s at the top of the tree! You might as well ask me if I knew Bouffe de Saint-Biaise or Courtois-Suffit. I could see when I heard him speak that he was not an ordinary person, that is why I took the liberty of asking you.” “Come now, what shall I play, trumps?” asked Cottard. Then abruptly, with a vulgarity which would have been offensive even in heroic circumstances, as when a soldier uses a coarse expression to convey his contempt for death, but became doubly stupid in the safe pastime of a game of cards, Cottard, deciding to play a trump, assumed a sombre, suicidal air, and, borrowing the language of people who are risking their skins, played his card as though it were his life, with the exclamation: “There it is, and be damned to it!” It was not the right card to play, but he had a consolation. In the middle of the room, in a deep armchair, Mme. Cottard, yielding to the effect, which she always found irresistible, of a good dinner, had succumbed after vain efforts to the vast and gentle slumbers that were overpowering her. In vain might she sit up now and again, and smile, whether at her own absurdity or from fear of leaving unanswered some polite speech that might have been addressed to her, she sank back, in spite of herself, into the clutches of the implacable and delicious malady. More than the noise, what awakened her thus for an instant only, was the glance (which, in her wifely affection she could see even when her eyes were shut, and foresaw, for the same scene occurred every evening and haunted her dreams like the thought of the hour at which one will have to rise), the glance with which the Professor drew the attention of those present to his wife’s slumbers. To begin with, he merely looked at her and smiled, for if as a doctor he disapproved of this habit of falling asleep after dinner (or at least gave this scientific reason for growing annoyed later on, but it is not certain whether it was a determining reason, so many and diverse were the views that he held about it), as an all-powerful and teasing husband, he was delighted to be able to make a fool of his wife, to rouse her only partly at first, so that she might fall asleep again and he have the pleasure of waking her afresh.
By this time, Mme. Cottard was sound asleep. “Now then, Léontine you’re snoring,” the professor called to her. “I am listening to Mme. Swann, my dear,” Mme. Cottard replied faintly, and dropped back into her lethargy. “It’s perfect nonsense,” exclaimed Cottard, “she’ll be telling us presently that she wasn’t asleep. She’s like the patients who come to consult us and insist that they never sleep at all.” “They imagine it, perhaps,” said M. de Cambremer with a laugh. But the doctor enjoyed contradicting no less than teasing, and would on no account allow a layman to talk medicine to him. “People do not imagine that they never sleep,” he promulgated in a dogmatic tone. “Ah!” replied the Marquis with a respectful bow, such as Cottard at one time would have made. “It is easy to see,” Cottard went on, “that you have never administered, as I have, as much as two grains of trional without succeeding in provoking somnolescence.” “Quite so, quite so,” replied the Marquis, laughing with a superior air, “I have never taken trional, or any of those drugs which soon cease to have any effect but ruin your stomach. When a man has been out shooting all night, like me, in the forest of Chantepie, I can assure you he doesn’t need any trional to make him sleep.” “It is only fools who say that,” replied the Professor. “Trional frequently has a remarkable effect on the nervous tone. You mention trional, have you any idea what it is?” “Well . . . I’ve heard people say that it is a drug to make one sleep.” “You are not answering my question,” replied the Professor, who, thrice weekly, at the Faculty, sat on the board of examiners. “I don’t ask you whether it makes you sleep or not, but what it is. Can you tell me what percentage it contains of amyl and ethyl?” “No,” replied M. de Cambremer with embarrassment. “I prefer a good glass of old brandy or even 345 Port.” “Which are ten times as toxic,” the Professor interrupted. “As for trional,” M. de Cambremer ventured, “my wife goes in for all that sort of thing, you’d better talk to her about it.” “She probably knows just as much about it as yourself. In any case, if your wife takes trional to make her sleep, you can see that mine has no need of it. Come along, Léontine, wake up, you’re getting ankylosed, did you ever see me fall asleep after dinner? What will you be like when you’re sixty, if you fall asleep now like an old woman? You’ll go and get fat, you’re arresting the circulation. She doesn’t even hear what I’m saying.” “They’re bad for one’s health, these little naps after dinner, ain’t they, Doctor?” said M. de Cambremer, seeking to rehabilitate himself with Cottard. “After a heavy meal one ought to take exercise.” “Stuff and nonsense!” replied the Doctor. “We have taken identical quantities of food from the stomach of a dog that has lain quiet and from the stomach of a dog that has been running about and it is in the former that digestion is more advanced.” “Then it is sleep that stops digestion.” “That depends upon whether you mean oesophagic digestion, stomachic digestion, intestinal digestion; it is useless to give you explanations which you would not understand since you have never studied medicine. Now then, Léontine, quick march, it is time we were going.” This was not true, for the doctor was going merely to continue his game, but he hoped thus to cut short in a more drastic fashion the slumbers of the deaf mute to whom he had been addressing without a word of response the most learned exhortations. Whether a determination to remain awake survived in Mme. Cottard, even in the state of sleep, or because the armchair offered no support to her head, it was jerked mechanically from left to right, and up and down, in the empty air, like a lifeless object, and Mme. Cottard, with her nodding poll, appeared now to be listening to music, now to be in the last throes of death. Where her husband’s increasingly vehement admonitions failed of their effect, her sense of her own stupidity proved successful. “My bath is nice and hot,” she murmured, “but the feathers in the dictionary . . . ” she exclaimed as she sat bolt upright. “Oh! Good lord, what a fool I am. Whatever have I been saying, I was thinking about my hat, I’m sure I said something silly, in another minute I should have been asleep, it’s that wretched fire.” Everybody began to laugh, for there was no fire in the room.
[Note: In the French text of Sodome et Gomorrhe, Volume II ends at this point.]
“You are making fun of me,” said Mme. Cottard, herself laughing, and raising her hand to her brow to wipe away, with the light touch of a hypnotist and the sureness of a woman putting her hair straight, the last traces of sleep, “I must offer my humble apologies to dear Mme. Verdurin and ask her to tell me the truth.” But her smile at once grew sorrowful, for the Professor who knew that his wife sought to please him and trembled lest she should fail, had shouted at her: “Look at yourself in the glass, you are as red as if you had an eruption of acne, you look just like an old peasant.” “You know, he is charming,” said Mme. Verdurin, “he has such a delightfully sarcastic side to his character. And then, he snatched my husband from the jaws of death when the whole Faculty had given him up. He spent three nights by his bedside, without ever lying down. And so Cottard to me, you know,” she went on, in a grave and almost menacing tone, raising her hand to the twin spheres, shrouded in white tresses, of her musical temples, and as though we had wished to assault the doctor, “is sacred! He could ask me for anything in the world! As it is, I don’t call him Doctor Cottard, I call him Doctor God! And even in saying that I am slandering him, for this God does everything in his power to remedy some of the disasters for which the other is responsible.” “Play a trump,” M. de Charlus said to Morel with a delighted air. “A trump, here goes,” said the violinist. “You ought to have declared your king first,” said M. de Charlus, “you’re not paying attention to the game, but how well you play!” “I have the king,” said Morel. “He’s a fine man,” replied the Professor. “What’s all that business up there with the sticks?” asked Mme. Verdurin, drawing M. de Cambremer’s attention to a superb escutcheon carved over the mantelpiece. “Are they your arms?” she added with an ironical disdain. “No, they are not ours,” replied M. de Cambremer. “We bear, barry of five, embattled counter-embattled or and gules, as many trefoils countercharged. No, those are the arms of the Arrachepels, who were not of our stock, but from whom we inherited the house, and nobody of our line has ever made any changes here. The Arrachepels (formerly Pelvilains, we are told) bore or five piles couped in base gules. When they allied themselves with the Féterne family, their blazon changed, but remained cantoned within twenty cross crosslets fitchee in base or, a dexter canton ermine.” “That’s one for her!” muttered Mme. de Cambremer. “My great-grandmother was a d’Arrachepel or de Rachepel, as you please, for both forms are found in the old charters,” continued M. de Cambremer, blushing vividly, for only then did the idea for which his wife had given him credit occur to him, and he was afraid that Mme. Verdurin might have applied to herself a speech which had been made without any reference to her. “The history books say that, in the eleventh century, the first Arrachepel, Mace, named Pelvilain, shewed a special aptitude, in siege warfare, in tearing up piles. Whence the name Arrachepel by which he was ennobled, and the piles which you see persisting through the centuries in their arms. These are the piles which, to render fortifications more impregnable, used to be driven, plugged, if you will pardon the expression, into the ground in front of them, and fastened together laterally. They are what you quite rightly called sticks, though they had nothing to do with the floating sticks of our good Lafontaine. For they were supposed to render a stronghold unassailable. Of course, with our modern artillery, they make one smile. But you must bear in mind that I am speaking of the eleventh century.” “It is all rather out of date,” said Mme. Verdurin, “but the little campanile has a character.” “You have,” said Cottard, “the luck of . . . turlututu,” a word which he gladly repeated to avoid using Molière’s. “Do you know why the king of diamonds was turned out of the army?” “I shouldn’t mind being in his shoes,” said Morel, who was tired of military service. “Oh! What a bad patriot,” exclaimed M. de Charlus, who could not refrain from pinching the violinist’s ear. “No, you don’t know why the king of diamonds was turned out of the army,” Cottard pursued, determined to make his joke, “it’s because he has only one eye.” “You are up against it, Doctor,” said M. de Cambremer, to shew Cottard that he knew who he was. “This young man is astonishing,” M. de Charlus interrupted innocently. “He plays like a god.” This observation did not find favour with the doctor, who replied: “Never too late to mend. Who laughs last, laughs longest.” “Queen, ace,” Morel, whom fortune was favouring, announced triumphantly. The doctor bowed his head as though powerless to deny this good fortune, and admitted, spellbound: “That’s fine.” “We are so pleased to have met M. de Charlus,” said Mme. de Cambremer to Mme. Verdurin. “Had you never met him before? He is quite nice, he is unusual, he is of a period“ (she would have found it difficult to say which), replied Mme. Verdurin with the satisfied smile of a connoisseur, a judge and a hostess. Mme. de Cambremer asked me if I was coming to Féterne with Saint-Loup. I could not suppress a cry of admiration when I saw the moon hanging like an orange lantern beneath the vault of oaks that led away from the house. “That’s nothing, presently, when the moon has risen higher and the valley is lighted up, it will be a thousand times better.” “Are you staying any time in this neighbourhood, Madame?” M. de Cambremer asked Mme. Cottard, a speech that might be interpreted as a vague intention to invite and dispensed him for the moment from making any more precise engagement. “Oh, certainly, Sir, I regard this annual exodus as most important for the children. Whatever you may say, they must have fresh air. The Faculty wanted to send me to Vichy; but it is too stuffy there, and I can look after my stomach when those big boys of mine have grown a little bigger. Besides, the Professor, with all the examinations he has to hold, has always got his shoulder to the wheel, and the hot weather tires him dreadfully. I feel that a man needs a thorough rest after he has been on the go all the year like that. Whatever happens we shall stay another month at least.” “Ah! In that case we shall meet again.” “Besides, I shall be all the more obliged to stay here as my husband has to go on a visit to Savoy, and won’t be finally settled here for another fortnight.” “I like the view of the valley even more than the sea view,” Mme. Verdurin went on. “You are going to have a splendid night for your journey.” “We ought really to find out whether the carriages are ready, if you are absolutely determined to go back to Balbec to-night,” M. Verdurin said to me, “for I see no necessity for it myself. We could drive you over to-morrow morning. It is certain to be fine. The roads are excellent.” I said that it was impossible. “But in any case it is not time yet,” the Mistress protested. “Leave them alone, they have heaps of time. A lot of good it will do them to arrive at the station with an hour to wait. They are far happier here. And you, my young Mozart,” she said to Morel, not venturing to address M. de Charlus directly, “won’t you stay the night? We have some nice rooms facing the sea.” “No, he can’t,” M. de Charlus replied on behalf of the absorbed card-player who had not heard. “He has a pass until midnight only. He must go back to bed like a good little boy, obedient, and well-behaved,” he added in a complaisant, mannered, insistent voice, as though he derived some sadic pleasure from the use of this chaste comparison and also from letting his voice dwell, in passing, upon any reference to Morel, from touching him with (failing his fingers) words that seemed to explore his person.
From the sermon that Brichot had addressed to me, M. de Cambremer had concluded that I was a Dreyfusard. As he himself was as anti-Dreyfusard as possible, out of courtesy to a foe, he began to sing me the praises of a Jewish colonel who had always been very decent to a cousin of the Chevregny and had secured for him the promotion he deserved. “And my cousin’s opinions were the exact opposite,” said M. de Cambremer; he omitted to mention what those opinions were, but I felt that they were as antiquated and misshapen as his own face, opinions which a few families in certain small towns must long have entertained. “Well, you know, I call that really fine!” was M. de Cambremer’s conclusion. It is true that he was hardly employing the word ‘fine’ in the aesthetic sense in which it would have suggested to his wife and mother different works, but works, anyhow, of art. M. de Cambremer often made use of this term, when for instance he was congratulating a delicate person who had put on a little flesh. “What, you have gained half-a-stone in two months. I say, that’s fine!” Refreshments were set out on a table. Mme. Verdurin invited the gentlemen to go and choose whatever drinks they preferred. M. de Charlus went and drank his glass and at once returned to a seat by the card-table from which he did not stir. Mme. Verdurin asked him: “Have you tasted my orangeade?” Upon which M. de Charlus, with a gracious smile, in a crystalline tone which he rarely sounded and with endless motions of his lips and body, replied: “No, I preferred its neighbour, it was strawberry-juice, I think, it was delicious.” It is curious that a certain order of secret actions has the external effect of a manner of speaking or gesticulating which reveals them. If a gentleman believes or disbelieves in the Immaculate Conception, or in the innocence of Dreyfus, or in a plurality of worlds, and wishes to keep his opinion to himself, you will find nothing in his voice or in his movements that will let you read his thoughts. But on hearing M. de Charlus say in that shrill voice and with that smile and waving his arms: “No, I preferred its neighbour, the strawberry-juice,” one could say: “There, he likes the stronger sex,” with the same certainty as enables a judge to sentence a criminal who has not confessed, a doctor a patient suffering from general paralysis who himself is perhaps unaware of his malady but has made some mistake in pronunciation from which one can deduce that he will be dead in three years. Perhaps the people who conclude from a man’s way of saying: “No, I preferred its neighbour, the strawberry-juice,” a love of the kind called unnatural, have no need of any such scientific knowledge. But that is because there is a more direct relation between the revealing sign and the secret. Without saying it in so many words to oneself, one feels that it is a gentle, smiling lady who is answering and who appears mannered because she is pretending to be a man and one is not accustomed to seeing men adopt such mannerisms. And it is perhaps more pleasant to think that for long years a certain number of angelic women have been included by mistake in the masculine sex where, in exile, ineffectually beating their wings towards men in whom they inspire a physical repulsion, they know how to arrange a drawing-room, compose ‘interiors.’ M. de Charlus was not in the least perturbed that Mme. Verdurin should be standing, and remained installed in his armchair so as to be nearer to Morel. “Don’t you think it criminal,” said Mme. Verdurin to the Baron, “that that creature who might be enchanting us with his violin should be sitting there at a card-table. When anyone can play the violin like that!” “He plays cards well, he does everything well, he is so intelligent,” said M. de Charlus, keeping his eye on the game, so as to be able to advise Morel. This was not his only reason, however, for not rising from his chair for Mme. Verdurin. With the singular amalgam that he had made of the social conceptions at once of a great nobleman and an amateur of art, instead of being polite in the same way that a man of his world would be, he would create a sort of tableau-vivant for himself after Saint-Simon; and at that moment was amusing himself by impersonating the Maréchal d’Uxelles, who interested him from other aspects also, and of whom it is said that he was so proud as to remain seated, with a pretence of laziness, before all the most distinguished persons at court. “By the way, Charlus,” said Mme. Verdurin, who was beginning to grow familiar, “you don’t know of any ruined old nobleman in your Faubourg who would come to me as porter?” “Why, yes . . . why, yes,” replied M. de Charlus with a genial smile, “but I don’t advise it.” “Why not?” “I should be afraid for your sake, that your smart visitors would call at the lodge and go no farther.” This was the first skirmish between them. Mme. Verdurin barely noticed it. There were to be others, alas, in Paris. M. de Charlus remained glued to his chair. He could not, moreover, restrain a faint smile, seeing how his favourite maxims as to aristocratic prestige and middle-class cowardice were confirmed by the so easily won submission of Mme. Verdurin. The Mistress appeared not at all surprised by the Baron’s posture, and if she left him it was only because she had been perturbed by seeing me taken up by M. de Cambremer. But first of all, she wished to clear up the mystery of M. de Charlus’s relations with Comtesse Mole. “You told me that you knew Mme. de Molê. Does that mean, you go there?” she asked, giving to the words ‘go there’ the sense of being received there, of having received authority from the lady to go and call upon her. M. de Charlus replied with an inflexion of disdain, an affectation of precision and in a sing-song tone: “Yes, sometimes.” This ‘sometimes’ inspired doubts in Mme. Verdurin, who asked: “Have you ever met the Duc de Guermantes there?” “Ah! That I don’t remember.” “Oh!” said Mme. Verdurin, “you don’t know the Duc de Guermantes?” “And how should I not know him?” replied M. de Charlus, his lips curving in a smile. This smile was ironical; but as the Baron was afraid of letting a gold tooth be seen, he stopped it with a reverse movement of his lips, so that the resulting sinuosity was that of a good-natured smile. “Why do you say: ‘How should I not know him?’ “ “Because he is my brother,” said M. de Charlus carelessly, leaving Mme. Verdurin plunged in stupefaction and in the uncertainty whether her guest was making fun of her, was a natural son, or a son by another marriage. The idea that the brother of the Duc de Guermantes might be called Baron de Charlus never entered her head. She bore down upon me. “I heard M. de Cambremer invite you to dinner just now. It has nothing to do with me, you understand. But for your own sake, I do hope you won’t go. For one thing, the place is infested with bores. Oh! If you like dining with provincial Counts and Marquises whom nobody knows, you will be supplied to your heart’s content.” “I think I shall be obliged to go there once or twice. I am not altogether free, however, for I have a young cousin whom I cannot leave by herself” (I felt that this fictitious kinship made it easier for me to take Albertine about). “But as for the Cambremers, as I have been introduced to them. . . . ” “You shall do just as you please. One thing I can tell you: it’s extremely unhealthy; when you have caught pneumonia, or a nice little chronic rheumatism, you’ll be a lot better off!” “But isn’t the place itself very pretty?” “Mmmmyess. . . . If you like. For my part, I confess frankly that I would a hundred times rather have the view from here over this valley. To begin with, if they’d paid us I wouldn’t have taken the other house because the sea air is fatal to M. Verdurin. If your cousin suffers at all from nerves. . . . But you yourself have bad nerves, I think you have choking fits. Very well! You shall see. Go there once, you won’t sleep for a week after it; but it’s not my business.” And without thinking of the inconsistency with what she had just been saying: “If it would amuse you to see the house, which is not bad, pretty is too strong a word, still it is amusing with its old moat, and the old drawbridge, as I shall have to sacrifice myself and dine there once, very well, come that day, I shall try to bring all my little circle, then it will be quite nice. The day after to-morrow we are going to Harambouville in the carriage. It’s a magnificent drive, the cider is delicious. Come with us. You, Brichot, you shall come too. And you too, Ski. That will make a party which, as a matter of fact, my husband must have arranged already. I don’t know whom all he has invited, Monsieur de Charlus, are you one of them?” The Baron, who had not heard the whole speech, and did not know that she was talking of an excursion to Harambouville, gave a start. “A strange question,” he murmured in a mocking tone by which Mme. Verdurin felt hurt. “Anyhow,” she said to me, “before you dine with the Cambremers, why not bring her here, your cousin? Does she like conversation, and clever people? Is she pleasant? Yes, very well then. Bring her with you. The Cambremers aren’t the only people in the world. I can understand their being glad to invite her, they must find it difficult to get anyone. Here she will have plenty of fresh air, and lots of clever men. In any case, I am counting on you not to fail me next Wednesday. I heard you were having a tea-party at Rivebelle with your cousin, and M. de Charlus, and I forget who’ else. You must arrange to bring the whole lot on here, it would be nice if you all came in a body. It’s the easiest thing in the world to get here, the roads are charming; if you like I can send down for you. I can’t imagine what you find attractive in Rivebelle, it’s infested with mosquitoes. You are thinking perhaps of the reputation of the rock-cakes. My cook makes them far better. I can let you have them, here, Norman rock-cakes, the real article, and shortbread; I need say no more. Ah! If you like the filth they give you at Rivebelle, that I won’t give you, I don’t poison my guests, Sir, and even if I wished to, my cook would refuse to make such abominations and would leave my service. Those rock-cakes you get down there, you can’t tell what they are made of. I knew a poor girl who got peritonitis from them, which carried her off in three days. She was only seventeen. It was sad for her poor mother,” added Mme. Verdurin with a melancholy air beneath the spheres of her temples charged with experience and suffering. “However, go and have tea at Rivebelle, if you enjoy being fleeced and flinging money out of the window. But one thing I beg of you, it is a confidential mission I am charging you with, on the stroke of six, bring all your party here, don’t allow them to go straggling away by themselves. You can bring whom you please. I wouldn’t say that to everybody. But I am sure that your friends are nice, I can see at once that we understand one another. Apart from the little nucleus, there are some very pleasant people coming on Wednesday. You don’t know little Madame de Longpont. She is charming, and so witty, not in the least a snob, you will find, you’ll like her immensely. And she’s going to bring a whole troop of friends too,” Mme. Verdurin added to shew me that this was the right thing to do and encourage me by the other’s example. “We shall see which has most influence and brings most people, Barbe de Longpont or you. And then I believe somebody’s going to bring Bergotte,” she added with a vague air, this meeting with a celebrity being rendered far from likely by a paragraph which had appeared in the papers that morning, to the effect that the great writer’s health was causing grave anxiety. “Anyhow, you will see that it will be one of my most successful Wednesdays, I don’t want to have any boring women. You mustn’t judge by this evening, it has been a complete failure. Don’t try to be polite, you can’t have been more bored than I was, I thought myself it was deadly. It won’t always be like to-night, you know! I’m not thinking of the Cambremers, who are impossible, but I have known society people who were supposed to be pleasant, well, compared with my little nucleus, they didn’t exist. I heard you say that you thought Swann clever. I must say, to my mind, his cleverness was greatly exaggerated, but without speaking of the character of the man, which I have always found fundamentally antipathetic, sly, underhand, I have often had him to dinner on Wednesdays. Well, you can ask the others, even compared with Brichot, who is far from being anything wonderful, a good assistant master, whom I got into the Institute, Swann was simply nowhere. He was so dull!” And, as I expressed a contrary opinion: “It’s the truth. I don’t want to say a word against him to you, since he was your friend, indeed he was very fond of you, he has spoken to me about you in the most charming way, but ask the others here if he ever said anything interesting, at our dinners. That, after all, is the supreme test. Well, I don’t know why it was, but Swann, in my house, never seemed to come off, one got nothing out of him. And yet anything there ever was in him he picked up here.” I assured her that he was highly intelligent. “No, you only think that, because you haven’t known him as long as I have. One got to the end of him very soon. I was always bored to death by him.” (Which may be interpreted: “He went to the La Trémoïlles and the Guermantes and knew that I didn’t.”) “And I can put up with anything, except being bored. That, I cannot and will not stand!” Her horror of boredom was now the reason upon which Mme. Verdurin relied to explain the composition of the little group. She did not yet entertain duchesses because she was incapable of enduring boredom, just as she was unable to go for a cruise, because of sea-sickness. I thought to myself that what Mme. Verdurin said was not entirely false, and, whereas the Guermantes would have declared Brichot to be the stupidest man they had ever met, I remained uncertain whether he were not in reality superior, if not to Swann himself, at least to the other people endowed with the wit of the Guermantes who would have had the good taste to avoid and the modesty to blush at his pedantic pleasantries; I asked myself the question as though a fresh light might be thrown on the nature of the intellect by the answer that I should make, and with the earnestness of a Christian influenced by Port-Royal when he considers the problem of Grace. “You will see,” Mme. Verdurin continued, “when one has society people together with people of real intelligence, people of our set, that’s where one has to see them, the society man who is brilliant in the kingdom of the blind, is only one-eyed here. Besides, the others don’t feel at home any longer. So much so that I’m inclined to ask myself whether, instead of attempting mixtures that spoil everything, I shan’t start special evenings confined to the bores so as to have the full benefit of my little nucleus. However: you are coming again with your cousin. That’s settled. Good. At any rate you will both find something to eat here. Féterne is starvation corner. Oh, by the way, if you like rats, go there at once, you will get as many as you want. And they will keep you there as long as you are prepared to stay. Why, you’ll die of hunger. I’m sure, when I go there, I shall have my dinner before I start. The more the merrier, you must come here first and escort me. We shall have high tea, and supper when we get back. Do you like apple-tarts? Yes, very well then, our chef makes the best in the world. You see, I was quite right when I told you that you were meant to live here. So come and stay. You know, there is far more room in the house than people think. I don’t speak of it, so as not to let myself in for bores. You might bring your cousin to stay. She would get a change of air from Balbec. With this air here, I maintain I can cure incurables. I have cured them, I may tell you, and not only this time. For I have stayed quite close to here before, a place I discovered and got for a mere song, a very different style of house from their Raspelicre. I can shew you it if we go for a drive together. But I admit that even here the air is invigorating. Still, I don’t want to say too much about it, the whole of Paris would begin to take a fancy to my little corner. That has always been my luck. Anyhow, give your cousin my message. We shall put you in two nice rooms looking over the valley, you ought to see it in the morning, with the sun shining on the mist! By the way, who is this Robert de Saint-Loup of whom you were speaking?” she said with a troubled air, for she had heard that I was to pay him a visit at Doncières, and was afraid that he might make me fail her. “Why not bring him here instead, if he’s not a bore. I have heard of him from Morel; I fancy he’s one of his greatest friends,” said Mme. Verdurin with entire want of truth, for Saint-Loup and Morel were not even aware of one another’s existence. But having heard that Saint-Loup knew M. de Charlus, she supposed that it was through the violinist, and wished to appear to know all about them. “He’s not taking up medicine, by any chance, or literature? You know, if you want any help about examinations, Cottard can do anything, and I make what use of him I please. As for the Academy later on, for I suppose he’s not old enough yet, I have several notes in my pocket. Your friend would find himself on friendly soil here, and it might amuse him perhaps to see over the house. Life’s not very exciting at Doncières. But you shall do just what you please, then you can arrange what you think best,” she concluded, without insisting, so as not to appear to be trying to know people of noble birth, and because she always maintained that the system by which she governed the faithful, to wit despotism, was named liberty. “Why, what’s the matter with you,” she said, at the sight of M. Verdurin who, with gestures of impatience, was making for the wooden terrace that ran along the side of the drawing-room above the valley, like a man who is bursting with rage and must have fresh air. “Has Saniette been annoying you again? But you know what an idiot he is, you have to resign yourself to him, don’t work yourself up into such a state. I dislike this sort of thing,” she said to me, “because it is bad for him, it sends the blood to his head. But I must say that one would need the patience of an angel at times to put up with Saniette, and one must always remember that it is a charity to have him in the house. For my part I must admit that he’s so gloriously silly, I can’t help enjoying him. I dare say you heard what he said after dinner: ‘I can’t play whist, but I can the piano.’ Isn’t it superb? It is positively colossal, and incidentally quite untrue, for he knows nothing at all about either. But my husband, beneath his rough exterior, is very sensitive, very kind-hearted, and Saniette’s self-centred way of always thinking about the effect he is going to make drives him crazy. Come, dear, calm yourself, you know Cottard told you that it was bad for your liver. And it is I that will have to bear the brunt of it all,” said Mme. Verdurin. “To-morrow Saniette will come back all nerves and tears. Poor man, he is very ill indeed. Still, that is no reason why he should kill other people. Besides, even at times when he is in pain, when one would like to be sorry for him, his silliness hardens one’s heart. He is really too stupid. You have only to tell him quite politely that these scenes make you both ill, and he is not to come again, since that’s what he’s most afraid of, it will have a soothing effect on his nerves,” Mme. Verdurin whispered to her husband.
One could barely make out the sea from the windows on the right. But those on the other side shewed the valley, now shrouded in a snowy cloak of moonlight. Now and again one heard the voices of Morel and Cottard. “You have a trump?” “Yes.” “Ah! You’re in luck, you are,” said M. de Cambremer to Morel, in answer to his question, for he had seen that the doctor’s hand was full of trumps. “Here comes the lady of diamonds,” said the doctor. “That’s a trump, you know? My trick. But there isn’t a Sorbonne any longer,” said the doctor to M. de Cambremer; “there’s only the University of Paris.” M. de Cambremer confessed his inability to understand why the doctor made this remark to him. “I thought you were talking about the Sorbonne,” replied the doctor. “I heard you say: tu nous la sors bonne,” he added, with a wink, to shew that this was meant for a pun. “Just wait a moment,” he said, pointing to his adversary, “I have a Trafalgar in store for him.” And the prospect must have been excellent for the doctor, for in his joy his shoulders began to shake rapturously with laughter, which in his family, in the ‘breed’ of the Cottards, was an almost zoological sign of satisfaction. In the previous generation the gesture of rubbing the hands together as though one were soaping them used to accompany this movement. Cottard himself had originally employed both forms simultaneously, but one fine day, nobody ever knew by whose intervention, wifely, professorial perhaps, the rubbing of the hands had disappeared. The doctor even at dominoes, when he got his adversary on the run, and made him take the double six, which was to him the keenest of pleasures, contented himself with shaking his shoulders. And when — which was as seldom as possible — he went down to his native village for a few days, and met his first cousin, who was still at the hand-rubbing stage, he would say to Mme. Cottard on his return: “I thought poor René very common.” “Have you the little dee-ar?” he said, turning to Morel. “No? Then I play this old David.” “Then you have five, you have won!” “That’s a great victory, Doctor,” said the Marquis. “A Pyrrhic victory,” said Cottard, turning to face the Marquis and looking at him over his glasses to judge the effect of his remark. “If there is still time,” he said to Morel, “I give you your revenge. It is my deal. Ah! no, here come the carriages, it will have to be Friday, and I shall shew you a trick you don’t see every day.” M. and Mme. Verdurin accompanied us to the door. The Mistress was especially coaxing with Saniette so as to make certain of his returning next time. “But you don’t look to me as if you were properly wrapped up, my boy,” said M. Verdurin, whose age allowed him to address me in this paternal tone. “One would say the weather had changed.” These words filled me with joy, as though the profoundly hidden life, the uprising of different combinations which they implied in nature, hinted at other changes, these occurring in my own life, and created fresh possibilities in it. Merely by opening the door upon the park, before leaving, one felt that a different ‘weather’ had, at that moment, taken possession of the scene; cooling breezes, one of the joys of summer, were rising in the fir plantation (where long ago Mme. de Cambremer had dreamed of Chopin) and almost imperceptibly, in caressing coils, capricious eddies, were beginning their gentle nocturnes. I declined the rug which, on subsequent evenings, I was to accept when Albertine was with me, more to preserve the secrecy of my pleasure than to avoid the risk of cold. A vain search was made for the Norwegian philosopher. Had he been seized by a colic? Had he been afraid of missing the train? Had an aeroplane come to fetch him? Had he been carried aloft in an Assumption? In any case he had vanished without anyone’s noticing his departure, like a god. “You are unwise,” M. de Cambremer said to me, “it’s as cold as charity.” “Why charity?” the doctor inquired. “Beware of choking,” the Marquis went on. “My sister never goes out at night. However, she is in a pretty bad state at present. In any case you oughtn’t to stand about bare-headed, put your tile on at once.” “They are not frigorifie chokings,” said Cottard sententiously. “Oh, indeed!” M. de Cambremer bowed. “Of course, if that’s your opinion. . . . ” “Opinions of the press!” said the doctor, smiling round his glasses. M. de Cambremer laughed, but, feeling certain that he was in the right, insisted: “All the same,” he said, “whenever my sister goes out after dark, she has an attack.” “It’s no use quibbling,” replied the doctor, regardless of his want of manners. “However, I don’t practise medicine by the seaside, unless I am called in for a consultation. I am here on holiday.” He was perhaps even more on holiday than he would have liked. M. de Cambremer having said to him as they got into the carriage together: “We are fortunate in having quite close to us (not on your side of the bay, on the opposite side, but it is quite narrow at that point) another medical celebrity, Doctor du Boulbon,” Cottard, who, as a rule, from ‘deontology,’ abstained from criticising his colleagues, could not help exclaiming, as he had exclaimed to me on the fatal day when we had visited the little casino: “But he is not a doctor. He practises a literary medicine, it is all fantastic therapeutics, charlatanism. All the same, we are on quite good terms. I should take the boat and go over and pay him a visit, if I weren’t leaving.” But, from the air which Cottard assumed in speaking of du Boulbon to M. de Cambremer, I felt that the boat which he would gladly have taken to call upon him would have greatly resembled that vessel which, in order to go and ruin the waters discovered by another literary doctor, Virgil (who took all their patients from them as well), the doctors of Salerno had chartered, but which sank with them on the voyage. “Good-bye, my dear Saniette, don’t forget to come to-morrow, you know how my husband enjoys seeing you. He enjoys your wit, your intellect; yes indeed, you know quite well, he takes sudden moods, but he can’t live without seeing you. It’s always the first thing he asks me: ‘Is Saniette coming? I do so enjoy seeing him.’” “I never said anything of the sort,” said M. Verdurin to Saniette with a feigned frankness which seemed perfectly to reconcile what the Mistress had just said with the manner in which he treated Saniette. Then looking at his watch, doubtless so as not to prolong the leave-taking in the damp night air, he warned the coachmen not to lose any time, but to be careful when going down the hill, and assured us that we should be in plenty of time for our train. This was to set down the faithful, one at one station, another at another, ending with myself, for no one else was going as far as Balbec, and beginning with the Cambremers. They, so as not to bring their horses all the way up to la Raspelière at night, took the train with us at Douville-Féterne. The station nearest to them was indeed not this, which, being already at some distance from the village, was farther still from the mansion, but la Sogne. On arriving at the station of Douville-Féterne, M. de Cambremer made a point of giving a ‘piece,’ as Françoise used to say, to the Verdurins’ coachman (the nice, sensitive coachman, with melancholy thoughts), for M. de Cambremer was generous, and in that respect took, rather, ‘after his mamma.’ But, possibly because his ‘papa’s’ strain intervened at this point, he felt a scruple, or else that there might be a mistake — either on his part, if, for instance, in the dark, he were to give a sou instead of a franc, or on the recipient’s who might not perceive the importance of the present that was being given him. And so he drew attention to it: “It is a franc I’m giving you, isn’t it?” he said to the coachman, turning the coin until it gleamed in the lamplight, and so that the faithful might report his action to Mme. Verdurin. “Isn’t it? Twenty sous is right, as it’s only a short drive.” He and Mme. de Cambremer left us at la Sogne. “I shall tell my sister,” he repeated to me, “that you have choking fits, I am sure she will be interested.” I understood that he meant: ‘will be pleased.’ As for his wife, she employed, in saying good-bye to me, two abbreviations which, even in writing, used to shock me at that time in a letter, although one has grown accustomed to them since, but which, when spoken, seem to me to-day even to contain in their deliberate carelessness, in their acquired familiarity, something insufferably pedantic: “Pleased to have met you,” she said to me; “greetings to Saint-Loup, if you see him.” In making this speech, Mme. de Cambremer pronounced the name ‘Saint-Loupe.’ I have never discovered who had pronounced it thus in her hearing, or what had led her to suppose that it ought to be so pronounced. However it may be, for some weeks afterwards, she continued to say ‘Saint-Loupe’ and a man who had a great admiration for her and echoed her in every way did the same. If other people said ‘Saint-Lou,’ they would insist, would say emphatically ‘Saint-Loupe,’ whether to teach the others an indirect lesson or to be different from them. But, no doubt, women of greater brilliance than Mme. de Cambremer told her, or gave her indirectly to understand that this was not the correct pronunciation, and that what she regarded as a sign of originality was a mistake which would make people think her little conversant with the usages of society, for shortly afterwards Mme. de Cambremer was again saying ‘Saint-Lou,’ and her admirer similarly ceased to hold out, whether because she had lectured him, or because he had noticed that she no longer sounded the final consonant, and had said to himself that if a woman of such distinction, energy and ambition had yielded, it must have been on good grounds. The worst of her admirers was her husband. Mme. de Cambremer loved to tease other people in a way that was often highly impertinent. As soon as she began to attack me, or anyone else, in this fashion, M. de Cambremer would start watching her victim, laughing the while. As the Marquis had a squint — a blemish which gives an effect of wit to the mirth even of imbeciles — the effect of this laughter was to bring a segment of pupil into the otherwise complete whiteness of his eye. So a sudden rift brings a patch of blue into an otherwise clouded sky. His monocle moreover protected, like the glass over a valuable picture, this delicate operation. As for the actual intention of his laughter, it was hard to say whether it was friendly: “Ah! You rascal! You’re in an enviable position, aren’t you. You have won the favour of a lady who has a pretty wit!” Or coarse: “Well, Sir, I hope you’ll learn your lesson, you’ve got to eat a slice of humble pie.” Or obliging: “I’m here, you know, I take it with a laugh because it’s all pure fun, but I shan’t let you be ill-treated.” Or cruelly accessory: “I don’t need to add my little pinch of salt, but you can see, I’m revelling in all the insults she is showering on you. I’m wriggling like a hunchback, therefore I approve, I, the husband. And so, if you should take it into your head to answer back, you would have me to deal with, my young Sir. I should first of all give you a pair of resounding smacks, well aimed, then we should go and cross swords in the forest of Chantepie.”
Whatever the correct interpretation of the husband’s merriment, the wife’s whimsies soon came to an end. Whereupon M. de Cambremer ceased to laugh, the temporary pupil vanished and as one had forgotten for a minute or two to expect an entirely white eyeball, it gave this ruddy Norman an air at once anaemic and ecstatic, as though the Marquis had just undergone an operation, or were imploring heaven, through his monocle, for the palms of martyrdom.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59