Swann's Way
Marcel Proust

Part 3 out of 9

Combray itself, and which is every bit as good, I understand, as the
famous^windows at Chartres. Only yesterday I met Dr. Percepied's brother,
who goes in for these things, and he told me that he looked upon it as a
most beautiful piece of work. But, as I said to this artist, who, by the
way, seems to be a most civil fellow, and is a regular virtuoso, it
appears, with his brush; what on earth, I said to him, do you find so
extraordinary in this window, which is, if anything, a little dingier than
the rest?"

"I am sure that if you were to ask his Lordship," said my aunt in a
resigned tone, for she had begun to feel that she was going to be 'tired,'
"he would never refuse you a new window."

"You may depend upon it, Mme. Octave," replied the Curé. "Why, it was just
his Lordship himself who started the outcry about the window, by proving
that it represented Gilbert the Bad, a Lord of Guermantes and a direct
descendant of Geneviève de Brabant, who was a daughter of the House of
Guermantes, receiving absolution from Saint Hilaire."

"But I don't see where Saint Hilaire comes in."

"Why yes, have you never noticed, in the corner of the window, a lady in a
yellow robe? Very well, that is Saint Hilaire, who is also known, you will
remember, in certain parts of the country as Saint Illiers, Saint Hèlier,
and even, in the Jura, Saint Ylie. But these various corruptions of
_Sanctus Hilarius_ are by no means the most curious that have occurred in
the names of the blessed Saints. Take, for example, my good Eulalie, the
case of your own patron, _Sancta Eulalia_; do you know what she has become
in Burgundy? Saint Eloi, nothing more nor less! The lady has become a
gentleman. Do you hear that, Eulalie, after you are dead they will make a
man of you!"

"Father will always have his joke."

"Gilbert's brother, Charles the Stammerer, was a pious prince, but, having
early in life lost his father, Pepin the Mad, who died as a result of his
mental infirmity, he wielded the supreme power with all the arrogance of a
man who has not been subjected to discipline in his youth, so much so
that, whenever he saw a man in a town whose face he did not remember, he
would massacre the whole place, to the last inhabitant. Gilbert, wishing
to be avenged on Charles, caused the church at Combray to be burned down,
the original church, that was, which Théodebert, when he and his court
left the country residence he had near here, at Thiberzy (which is, of
course, _Theodeberiacus_), to go out and fight the Burgundians, had
promised to build over the tomb of Saint Hilaire if the Saint brought him;
victory. Nothing remains of it now but the crypt, into which Théodore has
probably taken you, for Gilbert burned all the rest. Finally, he defeated
the unlucky Charles with the aid of William" which the Curé pronounced
"Will'am" "the Conqueror, which is why so many English still come to visit
the place. But he does not appear to have managed to win the affection of
the people of Combray, for they fell upon him as he was coming out from
mass, and cut off his head. Théodore has a little book, that he lends
people, which tells you the whole story.

"But what is unquestionably the most remarkable thing about our church is
the view from the belfry, which is full of grandeur. Certainly in your
case, since you are not very strong, I should never recommend you: to
climb our seven and ninety steps, just half the number they have in the
famous cathedral at Milan. It is quite tiring enough for the most active
person, especially as you have to go on your hands and knees, if you don't
wish to crack your skull, and you collect all the cobwebs off the
staircase upon your clothes. In any case you should be well wrapped up,"
he went on, without noticing my aunt's fury at the mere suggestion that
she could ever, possibly, be capable of climbing into his belfry, "for
there's a strong breeze there, once you get to the top. Some people even
assure me that they have felt the chill of death up there. No matter, on
Sundays there are always clubs and societies, who come, some of them, long
distances to admire our beautiful panorama, and they always go home
charmed. Wait now, next Sunday, if the weather holds, you will be sure to
find a lot of people there, for Rogation-tide. You must admit, certainly,
that the view from up there is like a fairy-tale, with what you might call
vistas along the plain, which have quite a special charm of their own. On
a clear day you can see as far as Verneuil. And then another thing; you
can see at the same time places which you are in the habit of seeing one
without the other, as, for instance, the course of the Vivonne and the
ditches at Saint-Assise-lès-Combray, which are separated, really, by a
screen of tall trees; or, to take another example, there are all the
canals at Jouy-le-Vicomte, which is _Gaudiacus vicecomitis_, as of course
you know. Each time that I have been to Jouy I have seen a bit of a canal
in one place, and then I have turned a corner and seen another, but when I
saw the second I could no longer see the first. I tried in vain to imagine
how they lay by one another; it was no good. But, from the top of
Saint-Hilaire, it's quite another matter; the whole countryside is spread
out before you like a map. Only, you cannot make out the water; you would
say that there were great rifts in the town, slicing it up so neatly that
it looks like a loaf of bread which still holds together after it has been
cut up. To get it all quite perfect you would have to be in both places at
once; up here on the top of Saint-Hilaire and down there at

The Curé had so much exhausted my aunt that no sooner had he gone than she
was obliged to send away Eulalie also.

"Here, my poor Eulalie," she said in a feeble voice, drawing a coin from a
small purse which lay ready to her hand. "This is just something so that
you shall not forget me in your prayers."

"Oh, but, Mme. Octave, I don't think I ought to; you know very well that I
don't come here for that!" So Eulalie would answer, with the same
hesitation and the same embarrassment, every Sunday, as though each
temptation were the first, and with a look of displeasure which enlivened
my aunt and never offended her, for if it so happened that Eulalie, when
she took the money, looked a little less sulky than usual, my aunt would
remark afterwards, "I cannot think what has come over Eulalie; I gave her
just the trifle I always give, and she did not look at all pleased."

"I don't think she has very much to complain of, all the same," Françoise
would sigh grimly, for she had a tendency to regard as petty cash all that
my aunt might give her for herself or her children, and as treasure
riotously squandered on a pampered and ungrateful darling the little coins
slipped, Sunday by Sunday, into Eulalie's hand, but so discreetly passed
that Françoise never managed to see them. It was not that she wanted to
have for herself the money my aunt bestowed on Eulalie. She already
enjoyed a sufficiency of all that my aunt possessed, in the knowledge that
the wealth of the mistress automatically ennobled and glorified the maid
in the eyes of the world; and that she herself was conspicuous and worthy
to be praised throughout Combray, Jouy-le-Vicomte, and other cities of
men, on account of my aunt's many farms, her frequent and prolonged visits
from the Curé, and the astonishing number of bottles of Vichy water which
she consumed. Françoise was avaricious only for my aunt; had she had
control over my aunt's fortune (which would have more than satisfied her
highest ambition) she would have guarded it from the assaults of strangers
with a maternal ferocity. She would, however, have seen no great harm in
what my aunt, whom she knew to be incurably generous, allowed herself to
give away, had she given only to those who were already rich. Perhaps she
felt that such persons, not being actually in need of my aunt's presents,
could not be suspected of simulating affection for her on that account.
Besides, presents offered to persons of great wealth and position, such as
Mme. Sazerat, M. Swann, M. Legrandin and Mme. Goupil, to persons of the
'same class' as my aunt, and who would naturally 'mix with her,' seemed to
Françoise to be included among the ornamental customs of that strange and
brilliant life led by rich people, who hunted and shot, gave balls and
paid visits, a life which she would contemplate with an admiring smile.
But it was by no means the same thing if, for this princely exchange of
courtesies, my aunt substituted mere charity, if her beneficiaries were of
the class which Françoise would label "people like myself," or "people no
better than myself," people whom she despised even more if they did not
address her always as "Mme. Françoise," just to shew that they considered
themselves to be 'not as good.' And when she saw that, despite all her
warnings, my aunt continued to do exactly as she pleased, and to fling
money away with both hands (or so, at least, Françoise believed) on
undeserving objects, she began to find that the presents she herself
received from my aunt were very tiny compared to the imaginary riches
squandered upon Eulalie, There was not, in the neighbourhood of Combray, a
farm of such prosperity and importance that Françoise doubted Eulalie's
ability to buy it, without thinking twice, out of the capital which her
visits to my aunt had 'brought in.' It must be added that Eulalie had
formed an exactly similar estimate of the vast and secret hoards of
Françoise. So, every Sunday, after Eulalie had gone, Françoise would
mercilessly prophesy her coming downfall. She hated Eulalie, but was at
the same time afraid of her, and so felt bound, when Eulalie was there, to
'look pleasant.' But she would make up for that after the other's
departure; never, it is true, alluding to her by name, but hinting at her
in Sibylline oracles, or in utterances of a comprehensive character, like
those of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher, but so worded that their special
application could not escape my aunt. After peering out at the side of the
curtain to see whether Eulalie had shut the front-door behind her;
"Flatterers know how to make themselves welcome, and to gather up the
crumbs; but have patience, have patience; our God is a jealous God, and
one fine day He will be avenged upon them!" she would declaim, with the
sidelong, insinuating glance of Joash, thinking of Athaliah alone when he
says that the

Of wicked men runs like a torrent past,
And soon is spent.

But on this memorable afternoon, when the Curé had come as well, and by
his interminable visit had drained my aunt's strength, Françoise followed
Eulalie from the room, saying: "Mme. Octave, I will leave you to rest; you
look utterly tired out."

And my aunt answered her not a word, breathing a sigh so faint that it
seemed it must prove her last, and lying there with closed eyes, as though
already dead. But hardly had Françoise arrived downstairs, when four peals
of a bell, pulled with the utmost violence, reverberated through the
house, and my aunt, sitting erect upon her bed, called out: "Has Eulalie
gone yet? Would you believe it; I forgot to ask her whether Mme. Goupil
arrived in church before the Elevation. Run after her, quick!"

But Françoise returned alone, having failed to overtake Eulalie. "It is
most provoking," said my aunt, shaking her head. "The one important thing
that I had to ask her."

In this way life went by for my aunt Léonie, always the same, in the
gentle uniformity of what she called, with a pretence of deprecation but
with a deep tenderness, her 'little jog-trot.' Respected by all and
sundry, not merely in her own house, where every one of us, having learned
the futility of recommending any healthier mode of life, had become
gradually resigned to its observance, but in the village as well, where,
three streets away, a tradesman who had to hammer nails into a
packing-case would send first to Françoise to make sure that my aunt was
not 'resting'--her 'little jog-trot' was, none the less, brutally
disturbed on one occasion in this same year. Like a fruit hidden among its
leaves, which has grown and ripened unobserved by man, until it falls of
its own accord, there came upon us one night the kitchen-maid's
confinement. Her pains were unbearable, and, as there was no midwife in
Combray, Françoise had to set off before dawn to fetch one from Thiberzy.
My aunt was unable to 'rest,' owing to the cries of the girl, and as
Françoise, though the distance was nothing, was very late in returning,
her services were greatly missed. And so, in the course of the morning,
my mother said to me: "Run upstairs, and see if your aunt wants anything."

I went into the first of her two rooms, and through the open door of the
other saw my aunt lying on her side, asleep. I could hear her breathing,
in what was almost distinguishable as a snore. I was just going to slip
away when something, probably the sound of my entry, interrupted her
sleep, and made it 'change speed,' as they say of motorcars nowadays, for
the music of her snore broke off for a second and began again on a lower
note; then she awoke, and half turned her face, which I could see for the
first time; a kind of horror was imprinted on it; plainly she had just
escaped from some terrifying dream. She could not see me from where she
was lying, and I stood there not knowing whether I ought to go forward or
to retire; but all at once she seemed to return to a sense of reality, and
to grasp the falsehood of the visions that had terrified her; a smile of
joy, a pious act of thanksgiving to God, Who is pleased to grant that life
shall be less cruel than our dreams, feebly illumined her face, and, with
the habit she had formed of speaking to herself, half-aloud, when she
thought herself alone, she murmured: "The Lord be praised! We have nothing
to disturb us here but the kitchen-maid's baby. And I've been dreaming
that my poor Octave had come back to life, and was trying to make me take
a walk every day!" She stretched out a hand towards her rosary, which was
lying on the small table, but sleep was once again getting the mastery,
and did not leave her the strength to reach it; she fell asleep, calm and
contented, and I crept out of the room on tiptoe, without either her or
anyone's else ever knowing, from that day to this, what I had seen and

When I say that, apart from such rare happenings as this confinement, my
aunt's 'little jog-trot' never underwent any variation, I do not include
those variations which, repeated at regular intervals and in identical
form, did no more, really, than print a sort of uniform pattern upon the
greater uniformity of her life. So, for instance, every Saturday, as
Françoise had to go in the afternoon to market at Roussainville-le-Pin,
the whole household would have to have luncheon an hour earlier. And my
aunt had so thoroughly acquired the habit of this weekly exception to her
general habits, that she clung to it as much as to the rest. She was so
well 'routined' to it, as Françoise would say, that if, on a Saturday, she
had had to wait for her luncheon until the regular hour, it would have
'upset' her as much as if she had had, on an ordinary day, to put her
luncheon forward to its Saturday time. Incidentally this acceleration of
luncheon gave Saturday, for all of us, an individual character, kindly and
rather attractive. At the moment when, ordinarily, there was still an hour
to be lived through before meal-time sounded, we would all know that in a
few seconds we should see the endives make their precocious appearance,
followed by the special favour of an omelette, an unmerited steak. The
return of this asymmetrical Saturday was one of those petty occurrences,
intra-mural, localised, almost civic, which, in uneventful lives and
stable orders of society, create a kind of national unity, and become the
favourite theme for conversation, for pleasantries, for anecdotes which
can be embroidered as the narrator pleases; it would have provided a
nucleus, ready-made, for a legendary cycle, if any of us had had the epic
mind. At daybreak, before we were dressed, without rhyme or reason, save
for the pleasure of proving the strength of our solidarity, we would call
to one another good-humoredly, cordially, patriotically, "Hurry up;
there's no time to be lost; don't forget, it's Saturday!" while my aunt,
gossiping with Françoise, and reflecting that the day would be even longer
than usual, would say, "You might cook them a nice bit of veal, seeing
that it's Saturday." If, at half-past ten, some one absent-mindedly pulled
out a watch and said, "I say, an hour-and-a-half still before luncheon,"
everyone else would be in ecstasies over being able to retort at once:
"Why, what are you thinking about? Have you for-gotten that it's
Saturday?" And a quarter of an hour later we would still be laughing, and
reminding ourselves to go up and tell aunt Léonie about this absurd
mistake, to amuse her. The very face of the sky appeared to undergo a
change. After luncheon the sun, conscious that it was Saturday, would
blaze an hour longer in the zenith, and when some one, thinking that we
were late in starting for our walk, said, "What, only two o'clock!"
feeling the heavy throb go by him of the twin strokes from the steeple of
Saint-Hilaire (which as a rule passed no one at that hour upon the
highways, deserted for the midday meal or for the nap which follows it, or
on the banks of the bright and ever-flowing stream, which even the angler
had abandoned, and so slipped unaccompanied into the vacant sky, where
only a few loitering clouds remained to greet them) the whole family would
respond in chorus: "Why, you're forgetting; we had luncheon an hour
earlier; you know very well it's Saturday."

The surprise of a 'barbarian' (for so we termed everyone who was not
acquainted with Saturday's special customs) who had called at eleven
o'clock to speak to my father, and had found us at table, was an event
which used to cause Françoise as much merriment as, perhaps, anything that
had ever happened in her life. And if she found it amusing that the
nonplussed visitor should not have known, beforehand, that we had our
luncheon an hour earlier on Saturday, it was still more irresistibly funny
that my father himself (fully as she sympathised, from the bottom of her
heart, with the rigid chauvinism which prompted him) should never have
dreamed that the barbarian could fail to be aware of so simple a matter,
and so had replied, with no further enlightenment of the other's surprise
at seeing us already in the dining-room: "You see, it's Saturday." On
reaching this point in the story, Françoise would pause to wipe the tears
of merriment from her eyes, and then, to add to her own enjoyment, would
prolong the dialogue, inventing a further reply for the visitor to whom
the word 'Saturday' had conveyed nothing. And so far from our objecting to
these interpolations, we would feel that the story was not yet long
enough, and would rally her with: "Oh, but surely he said something else
as well. There was more than that, the first time you told it."

My great-aunt herself would lay aside her work, and raise her head and
look on at us over her glasses.

The day had yet another characteristic feature, namely, that during May we
used to go out on Saturday evenings after dinner to the 'Month of Mary'

As we were liable, there, to meet M. Vinteuil, who held very strict views
on "the deplorable untidiness of young people, which seems to be
encouraged in these days," my mother would first see that there was
nothing out of order in my appearance, and then we would set out for the
church. It was in these 'Month of Mary' services that I can remember
having first fallen in love with hawthorn-blossom. The hawthorn was not
merely in the church, for there, holy ground as it was, we had all of us a
right of entry; but, arranged upon the altar itself, inseparable from the
mysteries in whose celebration it was playing a part, it thrust in among
the tapers and the sacred vessels its rows of branches, tied to one
another horizontally in a stiff, festal scheme of decoration; and they
were made more lovely still by the scalloped outline of the dark leaves,
over which were scattered in profusion, as over a bridal train, little
clusters of buds of a dazzling whiteness. Though I dared not look at them
save through my fingers, I could feel that the formal scheme was composed
of living things, and that it was Nature herself who, by trimming the
shape of the foliage, and by adding the crowning ornament of those snowy
buds, had made the decorations worthy of what was at once a public
rejoicing and a solemn mystery. Higher up on the altar, a flower had
opened here and there with a careless grace, holding so unconcernedly,
like a final, almost vaporous bedizening, its bunch of stamens, slender as
gossamer, which clouded the flower itself in a white mist, that in
following these with my eyes, in trying to imitate, somewhere inside
myself, the action of their blossoming, I imagined it as a swift and
thoughtless movement of the head with an enticing glance from her
contracted pupils, by a young girl in white, careless and alive.

M. Vinteuil had come in with his daughter and had sat down beside us. He
belonged to a good family, and had once been music-master to my
grandmother's sisters; so that when, after losing his wife and inheriting
some property, he had retired to the neighbourhood of Combray, we used
often to invite him to our house. But with his intense prudishness he had
given up coming, so as not to be obliged to meet Swann, who had made what
he called "a most unsuitable marriage, as seems to be the fashion in these
days." My mother, on hearing that he 'composed,' told him by way of a
compliment that, when she came to see him, he must play her something of
his own. M. Vinteuil would have liked nothing better, but he carried
politeness and consideration for others to so fine a point, always putting
himself in their place, that he was afraid of boring them, or of appearing
egotistical, if he carried out, or even allowed them to suspect what were
his own desires. On the day when my parents had gone to pay him a visit, I
had accompanied them, but they had allowed me to remain outside, and as M.
Vinteuil's house, Montjouvain, stood on a site actually hollowed out from
a steep hill covered with shrubs, among which I took cover, I had found
myself on a level with his drawing-room, upstairs, and only a few feet
away from its window. When a servant came in to tell him that my parents
had arrived, I had seen M. Vinteuil run to the piano and lay out a sheet
of music so as to catch the eye. But as soon as they entered the room he
had snatched it away and hidden it in a corner. He was afraid, no doubt,
of letting them suppose that he was glad to see them only because it gave
him a chance of playing them some of his compositions. And every time that
my mother, in the course of her visit, had returned to the subject of his
playing, he had hurriedly protested: "I cannot think who put that on the
piano; it is not the proper place for it at all," and had turned the
conversation aside to other topics, simply because those were of less
interest to himself.

His one and only passion was for his daughter, and she, with her somewhat
boyish appearance, looked so robust that it was hard to restrain a smile
when one saw the precautions her father used to take for her health, with
spare shawls always in readiness to wrap around her shoulders. My
grandmother had drawn our attention to the gentle, delicate, almost timid
expression which might often be caught flitting across the face, dusted
all over with freckles, of this otherwise stolid child. When she had
spoken, she would at once take her own words in the sense in which her
audience must have heard them, she would be alarmed at the possibility of
a misunderstanding, and one would see, in clear outline, as though in a
transparency, beneath the mannish face of the 'good sort' that she was,
the finer features of a young woman in tears.

When, before turning to leave the church, I made a genuflection before the
altar, I felt suddenly, as I rose again, a bitter-sweet fragrance of
almonds steal towards me from the hawthorn-blossom, and I then noticed
that on the flowers themselves were little spots of a creamier colour, in
which I imagined that this fragrance must lie concealed, as the taste of
an almond cake lay in the burned parts, or the sweetness of Mile.
Vinteuil's cheeks beneath their freckles. Despite the heavy, motionless
silence of the hawthorns, these gusts of fragrance came to me like the
murmuring of an intense vitality, with which the whole altar was quivering
like a roadside hedge explored by living antennae, of which I was reminded
by seeing some stamens, almost red in colour, which seemed to have kept
the springtime virulence, the irritant power of stinging insects now
transmuted into flowers.

Outside the church we would stand talking for a moment with M. Vinteuil,
in the porch. Boys would be chevying one another in the Square, and he
would interfere, taking the side of the little ones and lecturing the big.
If his daughter said, in her thick, comfortable voice, how glad she had
been to see us, immediately it would seem as though some elder and more
sensitive sister, latent in her, had blushed at this thoughtless,
schoolboyish utterance, which had, perhaps, made us think that she was
angling for an invitation to the house. Her father would then arrange a
cloak over her shoulders, they would clamber into a little dog-cart which
she herself drove, and home they would both go to Montjouvain. As for
ourselves, the next day being Sunday, with no need to be up and stirring
before high mass, if it was a moonlight night and warm, then, instead of
taking us home at once, my father, in his thirst for personal distinction,
would lead us on a long walk round by the Calvary, which my mother's utter
incapacity for taking her bearings, or even for knowing which road she
might be on, made her regard as a triumph of his strategic genius.
Sometimes we would go as far as the viaduct, which began to stride on its
long legs of stone at the railway station, and to me typified all the
wretchedness of exile beyond the last outposts of civilisation, because
every year, as we came down from Paris, we would be warned to take special
care, when we got to Combray, not to miss the station, to be ready before
the train stopped, since it would start again in two minutes and proceed
across the viaduct, out of the lands of Christendom, of which Combray, to
me, represented the farthest limit. We would return by the Boulevard de la
Gare, which contained the most attractive villas in the town. In each of
their gardens the moonlight, copying the art of Hubert Robert, had
scattered its broken staircases of white marble, its fountains of water
and gates temptingly ajar. Its beams had swept away the telegraph office.
All that was left of it was a column, half shattered, but preserving the
beauty of a ruin which endures for all time. I would by now be dragging my
weary limbs, and ready to drop with sleep; the balmy scent of the
lime-trees seemed a consolation which I could obtain only at the price of
great suffering and exhaustion, and not worthy of the effort. From gates
far apart the watchdogs, awakened by our steps in the silence, would set
up an antiphonal barking, as I still hear them bark, at times, in the
evenings, and it is in their custody (when the public gardens of Combray
were constructed on its site) that the Boulevard de la Gare must have
taken refuge, for wherever I may be, as soon as they begin their alternate
challenge and acceptance, I can see it again with all its lime-trees, and
its pavement glistening beneath the moon.

Suddenly my father would bring us to a standstill and ask my
mother--"Where are we?" Utterly worn out by the walk but still proud of
her husband, she would lovingly confess that she had not the least idea.
He would shrug his shoulders and laugh. And then, as though it had
slipped, with his latchkey, from his waistcoat pocket, he would point out
to us, when it stood before our eyes, the back-gate of our own garden,
which had come hand-in-hand with the familiar corner of the Rue du
Saint-Esprit, to await us, to greet us at the end of our wanderings over
paths unknown. My mother would murmur admiringly "You really are
wonderful!" And from that instant I had not to take another step; the
ground moved forward under my feet in that garden where, for so long, my
actions had ceased to require any control, or even attention, from my
will. Custom came to take me in her arms, carried me all the way up to my
bed, and laid me down there like a little child.

Although Saturday, by beginning an hour earlier, and by depriving her of
the services of Françoise, passed more slowly than other days for my aunt,
yet, the moment it was past, and a new week begun, she would look forward
with impatience to its return, as something that embodied all the novelty
and distraction which her frail and disordered body was still able to
endure. This was not to say, however, that she did not long, at times, for
some even greater variation, that she did not pass through those abnormal
hours in which one thirsts for something different from what one has, when
those people who, through lack of energy or imagination, are unable to
generate any motive power in themselves, cry out, as the clock strikes or
the postman knocks, in their eagerness for news (even if it be bad news),
for some emotion (even that of grief); when the heartstrings, which
prosperity has silenced, like a harp laid by, yearn to be plucked and
sounded again by some hand, even a brutal hand, even if it shall break
them; when the will, which has with such difficulty brought itself to
subdue its impulse, to renounce its right to abandon itself to its own
uncontrolled desires, and consequent sufferings, would fain cast its
guiding reins into the hands of circumstances, coercive and, it may be,
cruel. Of course, since my aunt's strength, which was completely drained
by the slightest exertion, returned but drop by drop into the pool of her
repose, the reservoir was very slow in filling, and months would go by
before she reached that surplus which other people use up in their daily
activities, but which she had no idea--and could never decide how to
employ. And I have no doubt that then--just as a desire to have her
potatoes served with béchamel sauce, for a change, would be formed,
ultimately, from the pleasure she found in the daily reappearance of those
mashed potatoes of which she was never 'tired'--she would extract from the
accumulation of those monotonous days (on which she so much depended) a
keen expectation of some domestic cataclysm, instantaneous in its
happening, but violent enough to compel her to put into effect, once for
all, one of those changes which she knew would be beneficial to her
health, but to which she could never make up her mind without some such
stimulus. She was genuinely fond of us; she would have enjoyed the long
luxury of weeping for our untimely decease; coming at a moment when she
felt 'well' and was not in a perspiration, the news that the house was
being destroyed by a fire, in which all the rest of us had already
perished, a fire which, in a little while, would not leave one stone
standing upon another, but from which she herself would still have plenty
of time to escape without undue haste, provided that she rose at once from
her bed, must often have haunted her dreams, as a prospect which combined
with the two minor advantages of letting her taste the full savour of her
affection for us in long years of mourning, and of causing universal
stupefaction in the village when she should sally forth to conduct our
obsequies, crushed but courageous, moribund but erect, the paramount and
priceless boon of forcing her at the right moment, with no time to be
lost, no room for weakening hesitations, to go off and spend the summer at
her charming farm of Mirougrain, where there was a waterfall. Inasmuch as
nothing of this sort had ever occurred, though indeed she must often have
pondered the success of such a manoeuvre as she lay alone absorbed in her
interminable games of patience (and though it must have plunged her in
despair from the first moment of its realisation, from the first of those
little unforeseen facts, the first word of calamitous news, whose accents
can never afterwards be expunged from the memory, everything that bears
upon it the imprint of actual, physical death, so terribly different from
the logical abstraction of its possibility) she would fall back from time
to time, to add an interest to her life, upon imagining other, minor
catastrophes, which she would follow up with passion. She would beguile
herself with a sudden suspicion that Françoise had been robbing her, that
she had set a trap to make certain, and had caught her betrayer
red-handed; and being in the habit, when she made up a game of cards by
herself, of playing her own and her adversary's hands at once, she would
first stammer out Françoise's awkward apologies, and then reply to them
with such a fiery indignation that any of us who happened to intrude upon
her at one of these moments would find her bathed in perspiration, her
eyes blazing, her false hair pushed awry and exposing the baldness of her
brows. Françoise must often, from the next room, have heard these mordant
sarcasms levelled at herself, the mere framing of which in words would not
have relieved my aunt's feelings sufficiently, had they been allowed to
remain in a purely immaterial form, without the degree of substance and
reality which she added to them by murmuring them half-aloud. Sometimes,
however, even these counterpane dramas would not satisfy my aunt; she must
see her work staged. And so, on a Sunday, with all the doors mysteriously
closed, she would confide in Eulalie her doubts of Françoise's integrity
and her determination to be rid of her, and on another day she would
confide in Françoise her suspicions of the disloyalty of Eulalie, to whom
the front-door would very soon be closed for good. A few days more, and,
disgusted with her latest confidant, she would again be 'as thick as
thieves' with the traitor, while, before the next performance, the two
would once more have changed their parts. But the suspicions which Eulalie
might occasionally breed in her were no more than a fire of straw, which
must soon subside for lack of fuel, since Eulalie was not living with her
in the house. It was a very different matter when the suspect was
Françoise, of whose presence under the same roof as herself my aunt was
perpetually conscious, while for fear of catching cold, were she to leave
her bed, she would never dare go downstairs to the kitchen to see for
herself whether there was, indeed, any foundation for her suspicions. And
so on by degrees, until her mind had no other occupation than to attempt,
at every hour of the day, to discover what was being done, what was being
concealed from her by Françoise. She would detect the most furtive
movement of Françoise's features, something contradictory in what she was
saying, some desire which she appeared to be screening. And she would
shew her that she was unmasked, by, a single word, which made Françoise
turn pale, and which my aunt seemed to find a cruel satisfaction in
driving into her unhappy servant's heart. And the very next Sunday a
disclosure by Eulalie--like one of those discoveries which suddenly open
up an unsuspected field for exploration to some new science which has
hitherto followed only the beaten paths--proved to my aunt that her own
worst suspicions fell a long way short of the appalling truth. "But
Françoise ought to know that," said Eulalie, "now that you have given her
a carriage."

"Now that I have given her a carriage!" gasped my aunt.

"Oh, but I didn't know; I only thought so; I saw her go by yesterday in
her open coach, as proud as Artaban, on her way to Roussainville market. I
supposed that it must be Mme. Octave who had given it to her."

So on by degrees, until Françoise and my aunt, the quarry and the hunter,
could never cease from trying to forestall each other's devices. My
mother was afraid lest Françoise should develop a genuine hatred of my
aunt, who was doing everything in her power to annoy her. However that
might be, Françoise had come, more and more, to pay an infinitely
scrupulous attention to my aunt's least word and gesture. When she had to
ask her for anything she would hesitate, first, for a long time, making up
her mind how best to begin. And when she had uttered her request, she
would watch my aunt covertly, trying to guess from the expression on her
face what she thought of it, and how she would reply. And in this
way--whereas an artist who had been reading memoirs of the seventeenth
century, and wished to bring himself nearer to the great Louis, would
consider that he was making progress in that direction when he constructed
a pedigree that traced his own descent from some historic family, or when
he engaged in correspondence with one of the reigning Sovereigns of
Europe, and so would shut his eyes to the mistake he was making in seeking
to establish a similarity by an exact and therefore lifeless copy of mere
outward forms--a middle-aged lady in a small country town, by doing no
more than yield whole-hearted obedience to her own irresistible
eccentricities, and to a spirit of mischief engendered by the utter
idleness of her existence, could see, without ever having given a thought
to Louis XIV, the most trivial occupations of her daily life, her morning
toilet, her luncheon, her afternoon nap, assume, by virtue of their
despotic singularity, something of the interest that was to be found in
what Saint-Simon used to call the 'machinery' of life at Versailles; and
was able, too, to persuade herself that her silence, a shade of good
humour or of arrogance on her features, would provide Françoise with
matter for a mental commentary as tense with passion and terror, as did
the silence, the good humour or the arrogance of the King when a courtier,
or even his greatest nobles, had presented a petition to him, at the
turning of an avenue, at Versailles.

One Sunday, when my aunt had received simultaneous visits from the Curé
and from Eulalie, and had been left alone, afterwards, to rest, the whole
family went upstairs to bid her good night, and Mamma ventured to condole
with her on the unlucky coincidence that always brought both visitors to
her door at the same time.

"I hear that things went wrong again to-day, Léonie," she said kindly,
"you have had all your friends here at once."

And my great-aunt interrupted with: "Too many good things..."
for, since her daughter's illness, she felt herself in duty bound to
revive her as far as possible by always drawing her attention to the
brighter side of things. But my father had begun to speak.

"I should like to take advantage," he said, "of the whole family's being
here together, to tell you a story, so as not to have to begin all over
again to each of you separately. I am afraid we are in M. Legrandin's bad
books; he would hardly say 'How d'ye do' to me this morning."

I did not wait to hear the end of my father's story, for I had been with
him myself after mass when we had passed M. Legrandin; instead, I went
downstairs to the kitchen to ask for the bill of fare for our dinner,
which was of fresh interest to me daily, like the news in a paper, and
excited me as might the programme of a coming festivity.

As M. Legrandin had passed close by us on our way from church, walking by
the side of a lady, the owner of a country house in the neighbourhood,
whom we knew only by sight, my father had saluted him in a manner at once
friendly and reserved, without stopping in his walk; M. Legrandin had
barely acknowledged the courtesy, and then with an air of surprise, as
though he had not recognised us, and with that distant look characteristic
of people who do not wish to be agreeable, and who from the suddenly
receding depths of their eyes seem to have caught sight of you at the far
end of an interminably straight road, and at so great a distance that they
content themselves with directing towards you an almost imperceptible
movement of the head, in proportion to your doll-like dimensions.

Now, the lady who was walking with Legrandin was a model of virtue, known
and highly respected; there could be no question of his being out for
amorous adventure, and annoyed at being detected; and my father asked
himself how he could possibly have displeased our friend.

"I should be all the more sorry to feel that he was angry with us," he
said, "because among all those people in their Sunday clothes there is
something about him, with his little cut-away coat and his soft neckties,
so little 'dressed-up,' so genuinely simple; an air of innocence, almost,
which is really attractive."

But the vote of the family council was unanimous, that my father had
imagined the whole thing, or that Legrandin, at the moment in question,
had been preoccupied in thinking about something else. Anyhow, my father's
fears were dissipated no later than the following evening. As we returned
from a long walk we saw, near the Pont-Vieux, Legrandin himself, who, on
account of the holidays, was spending a few days more in Combray. He came
up to us with outstretched hand: "Do you know, master book-lover," he
asked me, "this line of Paul Desjardins?

Now are the woods all black, but still the sky is blue.

Is not that a fine rendering of a moment like this? Perhaps you have never
read Paul Desjardins. Read him, my boy, read him; in these days he is
converted, they tell me, into a preaching friar, but he used to have the
most charming water-colour touch--

Now are the woods all black, but still the sky is blue.

May you always see a blue sky overhead, my young friend; and then, even
when the time comes, which is coming now for me, when the woods are all
black, when night is fast falling, you will be able to console yourself,
as I am doing, by looking up to the sky." He took a cigarette from his
pocket and stood for a long time, his eyes fixed on the horizon. "Goodbye,
friends!" he suddenly exclaimed, and left us.

At the hour when I usually went downstairs to find out what there was for
dinner, its preparation would already have begun, and Françoise, a colonel
with all the forces of nature for her subalterns, as in the fairy-tales
where giants hire themselves out as scullions, would be stirring the
coals, putting the potatoes to steam, and, at the right moment, finishing
over the fire those culinary masterpieces which had been first got ready
in some of the great array of vessels, triumphs of the potter's craft,
which ranged from tubs and boilers and cauldrons and fish kettles down to
jars for game, moulds for pastry, and tiny pannikins for cream, and
included an entire collection of pots and pans of every shape and size. I
would stop by the table, where the kitchen-maid had shelled them, to
inspect the platoons of peas, drawn up in ranks and numbered, like little
green marbles, ready for a game; but what fascinated me would be the
asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and rosy pink which ran from their
heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of
imperceptible changes to their white feet, still stained a little by the
soil of their garden-bed: a rainbow-loveliness that was not of this world.
I felt that these celestial hues indicated the presence of exquisite
creatures who had been pleased to assume vegetable form, who, through the
disguise which covered their firm and edible flesh, allowed me to discern
in this radiance of earliest dawn, these hinted rainbows, these blue
evening shades, that precious quality which I should recognise again when,
all night long after a dinner at which I had partaken of them, they played
(lyrical and coarse in their jesting as the fairies in Shakespeare's
_Dream_) at transforming my humble chamber into a bower of aromatic

Poor Giotto's Charity, as Swann had named her, charged by Françoise with
the task of preparing them for the table, would have them lying beside her
in a basket; sitting with a mournful air, as though all the sorrows of the
world were heaped upon her; and the light crowns of azure which capped the
asparagus shoots above their pink jackets would be finely and separately
outlined, star by star, as in Giotto's fresco are the flowers banded about
the brows, or patterning the basket of his Virtue at Padua. And,
meanwhile, Françoise would be turning on the spit one of those chickens,
such as she alone knew how to roast, chickens which had wafted far abroad
from Combray the sweet savour of her merits, and which, while she was
serving them to us at table, would make the quality of kindness
predominate for the moment in my private conception of her character; the
aroma of that cooked flesh, which she knew how to make so unctuous and so
tender, seeming to me no more than the proper perfume of one of her many

But the day on which, while my father took counsel with his family upon
our strange meeting with Legrandin, I went down to the kitchen, was one of
those days when Giotto's Charity, still very weak and ill after her recent
confinement, had been unable to rise from her bed; Françoise, being
without assistance, had fallen into arrears. When I went in, I saw her in
the back-kitchen which opened on to the courtyard, in process of killing a
chicken; by its desperate and quite natural resistance, which Françoise,
beside herself with rage as she attempted to slit its throat beneath the
ear, accompanied with shrill cries of "Filthy creature! Filthy creature!"
it made the saintly kindness and unction of our servant rather less
prominent than it would do, next day at dinner, when it made its
appearance in a skin gold-embroidered like a chasuble, and its precious
juice was poured out drop by drop as from a pyx. When it was dead
Françoise mopped up its streaming blood, in which, however, she did not
let her rancour drown, for she gave vent to another burst of rage, and,
gazing down at the carcass of her enemy, uttered a final "Filthy

I crept out of the kitchen and upstairs, trembling all over; I could have
prayed, then, for the instant dismissal of Françoise. But who would have
baked me such hot rolls, boiled me such fragrant coffee, and even--roasted
me such chickens? And, as it happened, everyone else had already had to
make the same cowardly reckoning. For my aunt Léonie knew (though I was
still in ignorance of this) that Françoise, who, for her own daughter or
for her nephews, would have given her life without a murmur, shewed a
singular implacability in her dealings with the rest of the world. In
spite of which my aunt still retained her, for, while conscious of her
cruelty, she could appreciate her services. I began gradually to realise
that Françoise's kindness, her compunction, the sum total of her virtues
concealed many of these back-kitchen tragedies, just as history reveals to
us that the reigns of the kings and queens who are portrayed as kneeling
with clasped hands in the windows of churches, were stained by oppression
and bloodshed. I had taken note of the fact that, apart from her own
kinsfolk, the sufferings of humanity inspired in her a pity which
increased in direct ratio to the distance separating the sufferers from
herself. The tears which flowed from her in torrents when she read of the
misfortunes of persons unknown to her, in a newspaper, were quickly
stemmed once she had been able to form a more accurate mental picture of
the victims. One night, shortly after her confinement, the kitchen-maid
was seized with the most appalling pains; Mamma heard her groans, and rose
and awakened Françoise, who, quite unmoved, declared that all the outcry
was mere malingering, that the girl wanted to 'play the mistress' in the
house. The doctor, who had been afraid of some such attack, had left a
marker in a medical dictionary which we had, at the page on which the
symptoms were described, and had told us to turn up this passage, where we
would find the measures of 'first aid' to be adopted. My mother sent
Françoise to fetch the book, warning her not to let the marker drop out.
An hour elapsed, and Françoise had not returned; my mother, supposing that
she had gone back to bed, grew vexed, and told me to go myself to the
bookcase and fetch the volume. I did so, and there found Françoise who, in
her curiosity to know what the marker indicated, had begun to read the
clinical account of these after-pains, and was violently sobbing, now that
it was a question of a type of illness with which she was not familiar. At
each painful symptom mentioned by the writer she would exclaim: "Oh, oh,
Holy Virgin, is it possible that God wishes any wretched human creature to
suffer so? Oh, the poor girl!"

But when I had called her, and she had returned to the bedside of Giotto's
Charity, her tears at once ceased to flow; she could find no stimulus for
that pleasant sensation of tenderness and pity which she very well knew,
having been moved to it often enough by the perusal of newspapers; nor any
other pleasure of the same kind in her sense of weariness and irritation
at being pulled out of bed in the middle of the night for the
kitchen-maid; so that at the sight of those very sufferings, the printed
account of which had moved her to tears, she had nothing to offer but
ill-tempered mutterings, mingled with bitter sarcasm, saying, when she
thought that we had gone out of earshot: "Well, she need never have done
what she must have done to bring all this about! She found that pleasant
enough, I dare say! She had better not put on any airs now. All the same,
he must have been a god-forsaken young man to go after _that_. Dear, dear,
it's just as they used to say in my poor mother's country:

Snaps and snails and puppy-dogs' tails,
And dirty sluts in plenty,
Smell sweeter than roses in young men's noses
When the heart is one-and-twenty."

Although, when her grandson had a slight cold in his head, she would Bet
off at night, even if she were ill also, instead of going to bed, to see
whether he had everything that he wanted, covering ten miles on foot
before daybreak so as to be in time to begin her work, this same love for
her own people, and her desire to establish the future greatness of her
house on a solid foundation reacted, in her policy with regard to the
other servants, in one unvarying maxim, which was never to let any of them
set foot in my aunt's room; indeed she shewed a sort of pride in not
allowing anyone else to come near my aunt, preferring, when she herself
was ill, to get out of bed and to administer the Vichy water in person,
rather than to concede to the kitchen-maid the right of entry into her
mistress's presence. There is a species of hymenoptera, observed by
Fabre, the burrowing wasp, which in order to provide a supply of fresh
meat for her offspring after her own decease, calls in the science of
anatomy to amplify the resources of her instinctive cruelty, and, having
made a collection of weevils and spiders, proceeds with marvellous
knowledge and skill to pierce the nerve-centre on which their power of
locomotion (but none of their other vital functions) depends, so that the
paralysed insect, beside which her egg is laid, will furnish the larva,
when it is hatched, with a tamed and inoffensive quarry, incapable either
of flight or of resistance, but perfectly fresh for the larder: in the
same way Françoise had adopted, to minister to her permanent and
unfaltering resolution to render the house uninhabitable to any other
servant, a series of crafty and pitiless stratagems. Many years later we
discovered that, if we had been fed on asparagus day after day throughout
that whole season, it was because the smell of the plants gave the poor
kitchen-maid, who had to prepare them, such violent attacks of asthma that
she was finally obliged to leave my aunt's service.

Alas! we had definitely to alter our opinion of M. Legrandin. On one-of
the Sundays following our meeting with him on the Pont-Vieux, after which
my father had been forced to confess himself mistaken, as mass drew to an
end, and, with the sunshine and the noise of the outer world, something
else invaded the church, an atmosphere so far from sacred that Mme.
Goupil, Mme. Percepied (all those, in fact, who a moment ago, when I
arrived a little late, had been sitting motionless, their eyes fixed on
their prayer-books; who, I might even have thought, had not seen me come
in, had not their feet moved slightly to push away the little
kneeling-desk which was preventing me from getting to my chair) began in
loud voices to discuss with us all manner of utterly mundane topics, as
though we were already outside in the Square, we saw, standing on the
sun-baked steps of the porch, dominating the many-coloured tumult of the
market, Legrandin himself, whom the husband of the lady we had seen with
him, on the previous occasion, was just going to introduce to the wife of
another large landed proprietor of the district. Legrandin's face shewed
an extraordinary zeal and animation; he made a profound bow, with a
subsidiary backward movement which brought his spine sharply up into a
position behind its starting-point, a gesture in which he must have been
trained by the husband of his sister, Mme. de Cambremer. This rapid
recovery caused a sort of tense muscular wave to ripple over Legrandin's
hips, which I had not supposed to be so fleshy; I cannot say why, but this
undulation of pure matter, this wholly carnal fluency, with not the least
hint in it of spiritual significance, this wave lashed to a fury by the
wind of an assiduity, an obsequiousness of the basest sort, awoke my mind
suddenly to the possibility of a Legrandin altogether different from the
one whom we knew. The lady gave him some message for her coachman, and
while he was stepping down to her carriage the impression of joy, timid
and devout, which the introduction had stamped there, still lingered on
his face. Carried away in a sort of dream, he smiled, then he began to
hurry back towards the lady; he was walking faster than usual, and his
shoulders swayed backwards and forwards, right and left, in the most
absurd fashion; altogether he looked, so utterly had he abandoned himself
to it, ignoring all other considerations, as though he were the lifeless
and wire-pulled puppet of his own happiness. Meanwhile we were coming out
through the porch; we were passing close beside him; he was too well bred
to turn his head away; but he fixed his eyes, which had suddenly changed
to those of a seer, lost in the profundity of his vision, on so distant a
point of the horizon that he could not see us, and so had not to
acknowledge our presence. His face emerged, still with an air of
innocence, from his straight and pliant coat, which looked as though
conscious of having been led astray, in spite of itself, and plunged into
surroundings of a detested splendour. And a spotted necktie, stirred by
the breezes of the Square, continued to float in front of Legrandin, like
the standard of his proud isolation, of his noble independence. Just as we
reached the house my mother discovered that we had forgotten the
'Saint-Honoré,' and asked my father to go back with me and tell them to
send it up at once. Near the church we met Legrandin, coming towards us
with the same lady, whom he was escorting to her carriage. He brushed past
us, and did not interrupt what he was saying to her, but gave us, out of
the corner of his blue eye, a little sign, which began and ended, so to
speak, inside his eyelids, and as it did not involve the least movement of
his facial muscles, managed to pass quite unperceived by the lady; but,
striving to compensate by the intensity of his feelings for the somewhat
restricted field in which they had to find expression, he made that blue
chink, which was set apart for us, sparkle with all the animation of
cordiality, which went far beyond mere playfulness, and almost touched the
border-line of roguery; he subtilised the refinements of good-fellowship
into a wink of connivance, a hint, a hidden meaning, a secret
understanding, all the mysteries of complicity in a plot, and finally
exalted his assurances of friendship to the level of protestations of
affection, even of a declaration of love, lighting up for us, and for us
alone, with a secret and languid flame invisible by the great lady upon
his other side, an enamoured pupil in a countenance of ice.

Only the day before he had asked my parents to send me to dine with him on
this same Sunday evening. "Come and bear your aged friend company," he had
said to me. "Like the nosegay which a traveller sends us from some land to
which we shall never go again, come and let me breathe from the far
country of your adolescence the scent of those flowers of spring among
which I also used to wander, many years ago. Come with the primrose, with
the canon's beard, with the gold-cup; come with the stone-crop, whereof
are posies made, pledges of love, in the Balzacian flora, come with that
flower of the Resurrection morning, the Easter daisy, come with the
snowballs of the guelder-rose, which begin to embalm with their fragrance
the alleys of your great-aunt's garden ere the last snows of Lent are
melted from its soil. Come with the glorious silken raiment of the lily,
apparel fit for Solomon, and with the many-coloured enamel of the pansies,
but come, above all, with the spring breeze, still cooled by the last
frosts of wirier, wafting apart, for the two butterflies' sake, that have
waited outside all morning, the closed portals of the first Jerusalem

The question was raised at home whether, all things considered, I ought
still to be sent to dine with M. Legrandin. But my grandmother refused to
believe that he could have been impolite.

"You admit yourself that he appears at church there, quite simply dressed,
and all that; he hardly looks like a man of fashion." She added that; in
any event, even if, at the worst, he had been intentionally rude, it was
far better for us to pretend that we had noticed nothing. And indeed my
father himself, though more annoyed than any of us by the attitude which
Legrandin had adopted, may still have held in reserve a final uncertainty
as to its true meaning. It was like every attitude or action which reveals
a man's deep and hidden character; they bear no relation to what he has
previously said, and we cannot confirm our suspicions by the culprit's
evidence, for he will admit nothing; we are reduced to the evidence of our
own senses, and we ask ourselves, in the face of this detached and
incoherent fragment of recollection, whether indeed our senses have not
been the victims of a hallucination; with the result that such attitudes,
and these alone are of importance in indicating character, are the most
apt to leave us in perplexity.

I dined with Legrandin on the terrace of his house, by moonlight. "There
is a charming quality, is there not," he said to me, "in this silence; for
hearts that are wounded, as mine is, a novelist, whom you will read in
time to come, claims that there is no remedy but silence and shadow. And
see you this, my boy, there comes in all lives a time, towards which you
still have far to go, when the weary eyes can endure but one kind of
light, the light which a fine evening like this prepares for us in the
stillroom of darkness, when the ears can listen to no music save what the
moonlight breathes through the flute of silence."

I could hear what M. Legrandin was saying; like everything that he said,
it sounded attractive; but I was disturbed by the memory of a lady whom I
had seen recently for the first time; and thinking, now that I knew that
Legrandin was on friendly terms with several of the local aristocracy,
that perhaps she also was among his acquaintance, I summoned up all my
courage and said to him: "Tell me, sir, do you, by any chance, know the
lady--the ladies of Guermantes?" and I felt glad because, in pronouncing
the name, I had secured a sort of power over it, by the mere act of
drawing it up out of my dreams and giving it an objective existence in the
world of spoken things.

But, at the sound of the word Guermantes, I saw in the middle of each of
our friend's blue eyes a little brown dimple appear, as though they had
been stabbed by some invisible pin-point, while the rest of his pupils,
reacting from the shock, received and secreted the azure overflow. His
fringed eyelids darkened, and drooped. His mouth, which had been stiffened
and seared with bitter lines, was the first to recover, and smiled, while
his eyes still seemed full of pain, like the eyes of a good-looking martyr
whose body bristles with arrows.

"No, I do not know them," he said, but instead of uttering so simple a
piece of information, a reply in which there was so little that could
astonish me, in the natural and conversational tone which would have
befitted it, he recited it with a separate stress upon each word, leaning
forward, bowing his head, with at once the vehemence which a man gives, so
as to be believed, to a highly improbable statement (as though the fact
that he did not know the Guermantes could be due only to some strange
accident of fortune) and with the emphasis of a man who, finding himself
unable to keep silence about what is to him a painful situation, chooses
to proclaim it aloud, so as to convince his hearers that the confession he
is making is one that causes him no embarrassment, but is easy, agreeable,
spontaneous, that the situation in question, in this case the absence of
relations with the Guermantes family, might very well have been not forced
upon, but actually designed by Legrandin himself, might arise from some
family tradition, some moral principle or mystical vow which expressly
forbade his seeking their society.

"No," he resumed, explaining by his words the tone in which they were
uttered. "No, I do not know them; I have never wished to know them; I have
always made a point of preserving complete independence; at heart, as you
know, I am a bit of a Radical. People are always coming to me about it,
telling me I am mistaken in not going to Guermantes, that I make myself
seem ill-bred, uncivilised, an old bear. But that's not the sort of
reputation that can frighten me; it's too true! In my heart of hearts I
care for nothing in the world now but a few churches, books--two or three,
pictures--rather more, perhaps, and the light of the moon when the fresh
breeze of youth (such as yours) wafts to my nostrils the scent of gardens
whose flowers my old eyes are not sharp enough, now, to distinguish."

I did not understand very clearly why, in order to refrain from going to
the houses of people whom one did not know, it should be necessary to
cling to one's independence, nor how that could give one the appearance of
a savage or a bear. But what I did understand was this, that Legrandin was
not altogether truthful when he said that he cared only for churches,
moonlight, and youth; he cared also, he cared a very great deal, for
people who lived in country houses, and would be so much afraid, when in
their company, of incurring their displeasure that he would never dare to
let them see that he numbered, as well, among his friends middle-class
people, the families of solicitors and stockbrokers, preferring, if the
truth must be known, that it should be revealed in his absence, when he
was out of earshot, that judgment should go against him (if so it must) by
default: in a word, he was a snob. Of course he would never have admitted
all or any of this in the poetical language which my family and I so much
admired. And if I asked him, "Do you know the Guermantes family?"
Legrandin the talker would reply, "No, I have never cared to know them."
But unfortunately the talker was now subordinated to another Legrandin,
whom he kept carefully hidden in his breast, whom he would never
consciously exhibit, because this other could tell stories about our own
Legrandin and about his snobbishness which would have ruined his
reputation for ever; and this other Legrandin had replied to me already in
that wounded look, that stiffened smile, the undue gravity of his tone in
uttering those few words, in the thousand arrows by which our own
Legrandin had instantaneously been stabbed and sickened, like a Saint
Sebastian of snobbery:

"Oh, how you hurt me! No, I do not know the Guermantes family. Do not
remind me of the great sorrow of my life." And since this other, this
irrepressible, dominant, despotic Legrandin, if he lacked our Legrandin's
charming vocabulary, shewed an infinitely greater promptness in expressing
himself, by means of what are called 'reflexes,' it followed that, when
Legrandin the talker attempted to silence him, he would already have
spoken, and it would be useless for our friend to deplore the bad
impression which the revelations of his _alter ego_ must have caused,
since he could do no more now than endeavour to mitigate them.

This was not to say that M. Legrandin was anything but sincere when he
inveighed against snobs. He could not (from his own knowledge, at least)
be aware that he was one also, since it is only with the passions of
others that we are ever really familiar, and what we come to find out
about our own can be no more than what other people have shewn us. Upon
ourselves they react but indirectly, through our imagination, which
substitutes for our actual, primary motives other, secondary motives, less
stark and therefore more decent. Never had Legrandin's snobbishness
impelled him to make a habit of visiting a duchess as such. Instead, it
would set his imagination to make that duchess appear, in Legrandin's
eyes, endowed with all the graces. He would be drawn towards the duchess,
assuring himself the while that he was yielding to the attractions of her
mind, and her other virtues, which the vile race of snobs could never
understand. Only his fellow-snobs knew that he was of their number, for,
owing to their inability to appreciate the intervening efforts of his
imagination, they saw in close juxtaposition the social activities of
Legrandin and their primary cause.

At home, meanwhile, we had no longer any illusions as to M. Legrandin, and
our relations with him had become much more distant. Mamma would be
greatly delighted whenever she caught him red-handed in the sin, which he
continued to call the unpardonable sin, of snobbery. As for my father, he
found it difficult to take Legrandin's airs in so light, in so detached a
spirit; and when there was some talk, one year, of sending me to spend the
long summer holidays at Balbec with my grandmother, he said: "I must, most
certainly, tell Legrandin that you are going to Balbec, to see whether he
will offer you an introduction to his sister. He probably doesn't remember
telling us that she lived within a mile of the place."

My grandmother, who held that, when one went to the seaside, one ought to
be on the beach from morning to night, to taste the salt breezes, and that
one should not know anyone in the place, because calls and parties and
excursions were so much time stolen from what belonged, by rights, to the
sea-air, begged him on no account to speak to Legrandin of our plans; for
already, in her mind's eye, she could see his sister, Mme. de Cambremer,
alighting from her carriage at the door of our hotel just as we were on
the point of going out fishing, and obliging us to remain indoors all
afternoon to entertain her. But Mamma laughed her fears to scorn, for she
herself felt that the danger was not so threatening, and that Legrandin
would shew no undue anxiety to make us acquainted with his sister. And, as
it happened, there was no need for any of us to introduce the subject of
Balbec, for it was Legrandin himself who, without the least suspicion that
we had ever had any intention of visiting those parts, walked into the
trap uninvited one evening, when we met him strolling on the banks of the

"There are tints in the clouds this evening, violets and blues, which are
very beautiful, are they not, my friend?" he said to my father.
"Especially a blue which is far more floral than atmospheric, a cineraria
blue, which it is surprising to see in the sky. And that little pink cloud
there, has it not just the tint of some flower, a carnation or hydrangea?
Nowhere, perhaps, except on the shores of the English Channel, where
Normandy merges into Brittany, have I been able to find such copious
examples of what you might call a vegetable kingdom in the clouds. Down
there, close to Balbec, among all those places which are still so
uncivilised, there is a little bay, charmingly quiet, where the sunsets of
the Auge Valley, those red-and-gold sunsets (which, all the same, I am
very far from despising) seem commonplace and insignificant; for in that
moist and gentle atmosphere these heavenly flower-beds will break into
blossom, in a few moments, in the evenings, incomparably lovely, and often
lasting for hours before they fade. Others shed their leaves at once, and
then it is more beautiful still to see the sky strewn with the scattering
of their innumerable petals, sulphurous yellow and rosy red. In that bay,
which they call the Opal Bay, the golden sands appear more charming still
from being fastened, like fair Andromeda, to those terrible rocks of the
surrounding coast, to that funereal shore, famed for the number of its
wrecks, where every winter many a brave vessel falls a victim to the
perils of the sea. Balbec! the oldest bone in the geological skeleton that
underlies our soil, the true Armor, the sea, the land's end, the accursed
region which Anatole France--an enchanter whose works our young friend
ought to read--has so well depicted, beneath its eternal fogs, as though
it were indeed the land of the Cimmerians in the Odyssey. Balbec; yes,
they are building hotels there now, superimposing them upon its ancient
and charming soil, which they are powerless to alter; how delightful it
is, down there, to be able to step out at once into regions so primitive
and so entrancing."

"Indeed! And do you know anyone at Balbec?" inquired my father. "This
young man is just going to spend a couple of months there with his
grandmother, and my wife too, perhaps."

Legrandin, taken unawares by the question at a moment when he was looking
directly at my father, was unable to turn aside his gaze, and so
concentrated it with steadily increasing intensity--smiling mournfully the
while--upon the eyes of his questioner, with an air of friendliness and
frankness and of not being afraid to look him in the face, until he seemed
to have penetrated my father's skull, as it had been a ball of glass, and
to be seeing, at the moment, a long way beyond and behind it, a brightly
coloured cloud, which provided him with a mental alibi, and would enable
him to establish the theory that, just when he was being asked whether he
knew anyone at Balbec, he had been thinking of something else, and so had
not heard the question. As a rule these tactics make the questioner
proceed to ask, "Why, what are you thinking about?" But my father,
inquisitive, annoyed, and cruel, repeated: "Have you friends, then, in
that neighbourhood, that you know Balbec so well?"

In a final and desperate effort the smiling gaze of Legrandin struggled to
the extreme limits of its tenderness, vagueness, candour, and distraction;
then feeling, no doubt, that there was nothing left for it now but to
answer, he said to us: "I have friends all the world over, wherever there
are companies of trees, stricken but not defeated, which have come
together to offer a common supplication, with pathetic obstinacy, to an
inclement sky which has no mercy upon them."

"That is not quite what I meant," interrupted my father, obstinate as a
tree and merciless as the sky. "I asked you, in case anything should
happen to my mother-in-law and she wanted to feel that she was not all
alone down there, at the ends of the earth, whether you knew any of the

"There as elsewhere, I know everyone and I know no one," replied
Legrandin, who was by no means ready yet to surrender; "places I know
well, people very slightly. But, down there, the places themselves seem to
me just like people, rare and wonderful people, of a delicate quality
which would have been corrupted and ruined by the gift of life. Perhaps it
is a castle which you encounter upon the cliff's edge; standing there by
the roadside, where it has halted to contemplate its sorrows before an
evening sky, still rosy, through which a golden moon is climbing; while
the fishing-boats, homeward bound, creasing the watered silk of the
Channel, hoist its pennant at their mastheads and carry its colours. Or
perhaps it is a simple dwelling-house that stands alone, ugly, if
anything, timid-seeming but full of romance, hiding from every eye some
imperishable secret of happiness and disenchantment. That land which knows
not truth," he continued with Machiavellian subtlety, "that land of
infinite fiction makes bad reading for any boy; and is certainly not what
I should choose or recommend for my young friend here, who is already so
much inclined to melancholy, for a heart already predisposed to receive
its impressions. Climates that breathe amorous secrets and futile regrets
may agree with an old and disillusioned man like myself; but they must
always prove fatal to a temperament which is still unformed. Believe me,"
he went on with emphasis, "the waters of that bay--more Breton than
Norman--may exert a sedative influence, though even that is of
questionable value, upon a heart which, like mine, is no longer unbroken,
a heart for whose wounds there is no longer anything to compensate. But at
your age, my boy, those waters are contra-indicated.... Good night to you,
neighbours," he added, moving away from us with that evasive abruptness to
which we were accustomed; and then, turning towards us, with a
physicianly finger raised in warning, he resumed the consultation: "No
Balbec before you are fifty!" he called out to me, "and even then it must
depend on the state of the heart."

My father spoke to him of it again, as often as we met him, and tortured
him with questions, but it was labour in vain: like that scholarly
swindler who devoted to the fabrication of forged palimpsests a wealth of
skill and knowledge and industry the hundredth part of which would have
sufficed to establish him in a more lucrative--but an honourable
occupation, M. Legrandin, had we insisted further, would in the end have
constructed a whole system of ethics, and a celestial geography of Lower
Normandy, sooner than admit to us that, within a mile of Balbec, his own
sister was living in her own house; sooner than find himself obliged to
offer us a letter of introduction, the prospect of which would never have
inspired him with such terror had he been absolutely certain--as, from his
knowledge of my grandmother's character, he really ought to have been
certain--that in no circumstances whatsoever would we have dreamed of
making use of it.

* * *

We used always to return from our walks in good time to pay aunt Léonie a
visit before dinner. In the first weeks of our Combray holidays, when the
days ended early, we would still be able to see, as we turned into the Rue
du Saint-Esprit, a reflection of the western sky from the windows of the
house and a band of purple at the foot of the Calvary, which was mirrored
further on in the pond; a fiery glow which, accompanied often by a cold
that burned and stung, would associate itself in my mind with the glow of
the fire over which, at that very moment, was roasting the chicken that
was to furnish me, in place of the poetic pleasure I had found in my walk,
with the sensual pleasures of good feeding, warmth and rest. But in
summer, when we came back to the house, the sun would not have set; and
while we were upstairs paying our visit to aunt Léonie its rays, sinking
until they touched and lay along her window-sill, would there be caught
and held by the large inner curtains and the bands which tied them back to
the wall, and split and scattered and filtered; and then, at last, would
fall upon and inlay with tiny flakes of gold the lemonwood of her
chest-of-drawers, illuminating the room in their passage with the same
delicate, slanting, shadowed beams that fall among the boles of forest
trees. But on some days, though very rarely, the chest-of-drawers would
long since have shed its momentary adornments, there would no longer, as
we turned into the Rue du Saint-Esprit, be any reflection from the western
sky burning along the line of window-panes; the pond beneath the Calvary
would have lost its fiery glow, sometimes indeed had changed already to an
opalescent pallor, while a long ribbon of moonlight, bent and broken and
broadened by every ripple upon the water's surface, would be lying across
it, from end to end. Then, as we drew near the house, we would make out a
figure standing upon the doorstep, and Mamma would say to me: "Good
heavens! There is Françoise looking out for us; your aunt must be anxious;
that means we are late."

And without wasting time by stopping to take off our 'things' we would fly
upstairs to my aunt Léonie's room to reassure her, to prove to her by our
bodily presence that all her gloomy imaginings were false, that, on the
contrary, nothing had happened to us, but that we had gone the 'Guermantes
way,' and, good lord, when one took that walk, my aunt knew well
enough that one could never say at what time one would be home.

"There, Françoise," my aunt would say, "didn't I tell you that they must
have gone the Guermantes way? Good gracious! They must be hungry! And your
nice leg of mutton will be quite dried up now, after all the hours it's
been waiting. What a time to come in! Well, and so you went the Guermantes

"But, Leonie, I supposed you knew," Mamma would answer. "I thought that
Françoise had seen us go out by the little gate, through the

For there were, in the environs of Combray, two 'ways' which we used to
take for our walks, and so diametrically opposed that we would actually
leave the house by a different door, according to the way we had chosen:
the way towards Méséglise-la-Vineuse, which we called also 'Swann's way,'
because, to get there, one had to pass along the boundary of M. Swann's
estate, and the 'Guermantes way.' Of Méséglise-la-Vineuse, to tell the
truth, I never knew anything more than the way there, and the strange
people who would come over on Sundays to take the air in Combray, people
whom, this time, neither my aunt nor any of us would 'know at all,' and
whom we would therefore assume to be 'people who must have come over from
Méséglise.' As for Guermantes, I was to know it well enough one day, but
that day had still to come; and, during the whole of my boyhood, if
Méséglise was to me something as inaccessible as the horizon, which
remained hidden from sight, however far one went, by the folds of a
country which no longer bore the least resemblance to the country round
Combray; Guermantes, on the other hand, meant no more than the ultimate
goal, ideal rather than real, of the 'Guermantes way,' a sort of abstract
geographical term like the North Pole or the Equator. And so to 'take the
Guermantes way' in order to get to Méséglise, or vice versa, would have
seemed to me as nonsensical a proceeding as to turn to the east in order
to reach the west. Since my father used always to speak of the 'Méséglise
way' as comprising the finest view of a plain that he knew anywhere, and
of the 'Guermantes way' as typical of river scenery, I had invested each
of them, by conceiving them in this way as two distinct entities, with
that cohesion, that unity which belongs only to the figments of the mind;
the smallest detail of either of them appeared to me as a precious thing,
which exhibited the special excellence of the whole, while, immediately
beside them, in the first stages of our walk, before we had reached the
sacred soil of one or the other, the purely material roads, at definite
points on which they were set down as the ideal view over a plain and the
ideal scenery of a river, were no more worth the trouble of looking at
them than, to a keen playgoer and lover of dramatic art, are the little
streets which may happen to run past the walls of a theatre. But, above
all, I set between them, far more distinctly than the mere distance in
miles and yards and inches which separated one from the other, the
distance that there was between the two parts of my brain in which I used
to think of them, one of those distances of the mind which time serves
only to lengthen, which separate things irremediably from one another,
keeping them for ever upon different planes. And this distinction was
rendered still more absolute because the habit we had of never going both
ways on the same day, or in the course of the same walk, but the
'Méséglise way' one time and the 'Guermantes way' another, shut them up,
so to speak, far apart and unaware of each other's existence, in the
sealed vessels--between which there could be no communication--of separate

When we had decided to go the 'Méséglise way' we would start (without
undue haste, and even if the sky were clouded over, since the walk was not
very long, and did not take us too far from home), as though we were not
going anywhere in particular, by the front-door of my aunt's house, which
opened on to the Rue du Saint-Esprit. We would be greeted by the gunsmith,
we would drop our letters into the box, we would tell Théodore, from
Françoise, as we passed, that she had run out of oil or coffee, and we
would leave the town by the road which ran along the white fence of M.
Swann's park. Before reaching it we would be met on our way by the scent
of his lilac-trees, come out to welcome strangers. Out of the fresh little
green hearts of their foliage the lilacs raised inquisitively over the
fence of the park their plumes of white or purple blossom, which glowed,
even in the shade, with the sunlight in which they had been bathed. Some
of them, half-concealed by the little tiled house, called the Archers'
Lodge, in which Swann's keeper lived, overtopped its gothic gable with
their rosy minaret. The nymphs of spring would have seemed coarse and
vulgar in comparison with these young houris, who retained, in this French
garden, the pure and vivid colouring of a Persian miniature. Despite my
desire to throw my arms about their pliant forms and to draw down towards
me the starry locks that crowned their fragrant heads, we would pass them
by without stopping, for my parents had ceased to visit Tansonville since
Swann's marriage, and, so as not to appear to be looking into his park, we
would, instead of taking the road which ran beside its boundary and then
climbed straight up to the open fields, choose another way, which led in
the same direction, but circuitously, and brought us out rather too far
from home.

One day my grandfather said to my 'father: "Don't you remember Swann's
telling us yesterday that his wife and daughter had gone off to Rheims and
that he was taking the opportunity of spending a day or two in Paris? We
might go along by the park, since the ladies are not at home; that will
make it a little shorter."

We stopped for a moment by the fence. Lilac-time was nearly over; some of
the trees still thrust aloft, in tall purple chandeliers, their tiny balls
of blossom, but in many places among their foliage where, only a week
before, they had still been breaking in waves of fragrant foam, these were
now spent and shrivelled and discoloured, a hollow scum, dry and
scentless. My grandfather pointed out to my father in what respects the
appearance of the place was still the same, and how far it had altered
since the walk that he had taken with old M. Swann, on the day of his
wife's death; and he seized the opportunity to tell us, once again, the
story of that walk.

In front of us a path bordered with nasturtiums rose in the full glare of
the sun towards the house. But to our right the park stretched away into
the distance, on level ground. Overshadowed by the tall trees which stood
close around it, an 'ornamental water' had been constructed by Swann's
parents but, even in his most artificial creations, nature is the material
upon which man has to work; certain spots will persist in remaining
surrounded by the vassals of their own especial sovereignty, and will
raise their immemorial standards among all the 'laid-out' scenery of a
park, just as they would have done far from any human interference, in a
solitude which must everywhere return to engulf them, springing up out of
the necessities of their exposed position, and superimposing itself upon
the work of man's hands. And so it was that, at the foot of the path which
led down to this artificial lake, there might be seen, in its two tiers
woven of trailing forget-me-nots below and of periwinkle flowers above,
the natural, delicate, blue garland which binds the luminous, shadowed
brows of water-nymphs; while the iris, its swords sweeping every way in
regal profusion, stretched out over agrimony and water-growing king-cups
the lilied sceptres, tattered glories of yellow and purple, of the kingdom
of the lake.

The absence of Mlle. Swann, which--since it preserved me from the terrible
risk of seeing her appear on one of the paths, and of being identified and
scorned by this so privileged little girl who had Bergotte for a friend
and used to go with him to visit cathedrals--made the exploration of
Tansonville, now for the first time permitted me, a matter of
indifference to myself, seemed however to invest the property, in my
grandfather's and father's eyes, with a fresh and transient charm, and
(like an entirely cloudless sky when one is going mountaineering) to make
the day extraordinarily propitious for a walk in this direction; I should
have liked to see their reckoning proved false, to see, by a miracle,
Mlle. Swann appear, with her father, so close to us that we should not
have time to escape, and should therefore be obliged to make her
acquaintance. And so, when I suddenly noticed a straw basket lying
forgotten on the grass by the side of a line whose float was bobbing in
the water, I made a great effort to keep my father and grandfather looking
in another direction, away from this sign that she might, after all, be in
residence. Still, as Swann had told us that he ought not, really, to go
away just then, as he had some people staying in the house, the line might
equally belong to one of these guests. Not a footstep was to be heard on
any of the paths. Somewhere in one of the tall trees, making a stage in
its height, an invisible bird, desperately attempting to make the day seem
shorter, was exploring with a long, continuous note the solitude that
pressed it on every side, but it received at once so unanimous an answer,
so powerful a repercussion of silence and of immobility that, one would
have said, it had arrested for all eternity the moment which it had been
trying to make pass more quickly. The sunlight fell so implacably from a
fixed sky that one was naturally inclined to slip away out of the reach of
its attentions, and even the slumbering water, whose repose was
perpetually being invaded by the insects that swarmed above its surface,
while it dreamed, no doubt, of some imaginary maelstrom, intensified the
uneasiness which the sight of that floating cork had wrought in me, by
appearing to draw it at full speed across the silent reaches of a mirrored
firmament; now almost vertical, it seemed on the point of plunging down
out of sight, and I had begun to ask myself whether, setting aside the
longing and the terror that I had of making her acquaintance, it was not
actually my duty to warn Mlle. Swann that the fish was biting--when I was
obliged to run after my father and grandfather, who were calling me, and
were surprised that I had not followed them along the little path,
climbing up hill towards the open fields, into which they had already
turned. I found the whole path throbbing with the fragrance of
hawthorn-blossom. The hedge resembled a series of chapels, whose walls
were no longer visible under the mountains of flowers that were heaped
upon their altars; while underneath, the sun cast a square of light upon
the ground, as though it had shone in upon them through a window; the
scent that swept out over me from them was as rich, and as circumscribed
in its range, as though I had been standing before the Lady-altar, and the
flowers, themselves adorned also, held out each its little bunch of
glittering stamens with an air of inattention, fine, radiating 'nerves' in
the flamboyant style of architecture, like those which, in church, framed
the stair to the rood-loft or closed the perpendicular tracery of the
windows, but here spread out into pools of fleshy white, like
strawberry-beds in spring. How simple and rustic, in comparison with
these, would seem the dog-roses which, in a few weeks' time, would be
climbing the same hillside path in the heat of the sun, dressed in the
smooth silk of their blushing pink bodices, which would be undone and
scattered by the first breath of wind.

But it was in vain that I lingered before the hawthorns, to breathe in, to
marshal! before my mind (which knew not what to make of it), to lose in
order to rediscover their invisible and unchanging odour, to absorb myself
in the rhythm which disposed their flowers here and there with the
light-heartedness of youth, and at intervals as unexpected as certain
intervals of music; they offered me an indefinite continuation of the same
charm, in an inexhaustible profusion, but without letting me delve into it
any more deeply, like those melodies which one can play over a hundred
times in succession without coming any nearer to their secret. I turned
away from them for a moment so as to be able to return to them with
renewed strength. My eyes followed up the slope which, outside the hedge,
rose steeply to the fields, a poppy that had strayed and been lost by its
fellows, or a few cornflowers that had fallen lazily behind, and decorated
the ground here and there with their flowers like the border of a
tapestry, in which may be seen at intervals hints of the rustic theme
which appears triumphant in the panel itself; infrequent still, spaced
apart as the scattered houses which warn us that we are approaching a
village, they betokened to me the vast expanse of waving corn beneath the
fleecy clouds, and the sight of a single poppy hoisting upon its slender
rigging and holding against the breeze its scarlet ensign, over the buoy
of rich black earth from which it sprang, made my heart beat as does a
wayfarer's when he perceives, upon some low-lying ground, an old and
broken boat which is being caulked and made seaworthy, and cries out,
although he has not yet caught sight of it, "The Sea!"

And then I returned to my hawthorns, and stood before them as one stands
before those masterpieces of painting which, one imagines, one will be
better able to 'take in' when one has looked away, for a moment, at
something else; but in vain did I shape my fingers into a frame, so as to
have nothing but the hawthorns before my eyes; the sentiment which they
aroused in me remained obscure and vague, struggling and failing to free
itself, to float across and become one with the flowers. They themselves
offered me no enlightenment, and I could not call upon any other flowers
to satisfy this mysterious longing. And then, inspiring me with that
rapture which we feel on seeing a work by our favourite painter quite
different from any of those that we already know, or, better still, when
some one has taken us and set us down in front of a picture of which we
have hitherto seen no more than a pencilled sketch, or when a piece of
music which we have heard played over on the piano bursts out again in our
ears with all the splendour and fullness of an orchestra, my grandfather
called me to him, and, pointing to the hedge of Tansonville, said: "You
are fond of hawthorns; just look at this pink one; isn't it pretty?"

And it was indeed a hawthorn, but one whose flowers were pink, and
lovelier even than the white. It, too, was in holiday attire, for one of
those days which are the only true holidays, the holy days of religion,
because they are not appointed by any capricious accident, as secular
holidays are appointed, upon days which are not specially ordained for
such observances, which have nothing about them that is essentially
festal--but it was attired even more richly than the rest, for the flowers
which clung to its branches, one above another, so thickly as to leave no
part of the tree undecorated, like the tassels wreathed about the crook of
a rococo shepherdess, were every one of them 'in colour,' and consequently
of a superior quality, by the aesthetic standards of Combray, to the
'plain,' if one was to judge by the scale of prices at the 'stores' in the
Square, or at Camus's, where the most expensive biscuits were those whose
sugar was pink. And for my own part I set a higher value on cream cheese
when it was pink, when I had been allowed to tinge it with crushed
strawberries. And these flowers had chosen precisely the colour of some
edible and delicious thing, or of some exquisite addition to one's costume
for a great festival, which colours, inasmuch as they make plain the
reason for their superiority, are those whose beauty is most evident to
the eyes of children, and for that reason must always seem more vivid and
more natural than any other tints, even after the child's mind has
realised that they offer no gratification to the appetite, and have not
been selected by the dressmaker. And, indeed, I had felt at once, as I had
felt before the white blossom, but now still more marvelling, that it was
in no artificial manner, by no device of human construction, that the
festal intention of these flowers was revealed, but that it was Nature
herself who had spontaneously expressed it (with the simplicity of a woman
from a village shop, labouring at the decoration of a street altar for
some procession) by burying the bush in these little rosettes, almost too
ravishing in colour, this rustic 'pompadour.' High up on the branches,
like so many of those tiny rose-trees, their pots concealed in jackets of
paper lace, whose slender stems rise in a forest from the altar on the
greater festivals, a thousand buds were swelling and opening, paler in
colour, but each disclosing as it burst, as at the bottom of a cup of pink
marble, its blood-red stain, and suggesting even more strongly than the
full-blown flowers the special, irresistible quality of the hawthorn-tree,
which, wherever it budded, wherever it was about to blossom, could bud and
blossom in pink flowers alone. Taking its place in the hedge, but as
different from the rest as a young girl in holiday attire among a crowd of
dowdy women in everyday clothes, who are staying at home, equipped and
ready for the 'Month of Mary,' of which it seemed already to form a part,
it shone and smiled in its cool, rosy garments, a Catholic bush indeed,
and altogether delightful.

The hedge allowed us a glimpse, inside the park, of an alley bordered with
jasmine, pansies, and verbenas, among which the stocks held open their
fresh plump purses, of a pink as fragrant and as faded as old Spanish
leather, while on the gravel-path a long watering-pipe, painted green,
coiling across the ground, poured, where its holes were, over the flowers
whose perfume those holes inhaled, a vertical and prismatic fan of
infinitesimal, rainbow-coloured drops. Suddenly I stood still, unable to
move, as happens when something appears that requires not only our eyes to
take it in, but involves a deeper kind of perception and takes possession
of the whole of our being. A little girl, with fair, reddish hair, who
appeared to be returning from a walk, and held a trowel in her hand, was
looking at us, raising towards us a face powdered with pinkish freckles.
Her black eyes gleamed, and as I did not at that time know, and indeed
have never since learned how to reduce to its objective elements any
strong impression, since I had not, as they say, enough 'power of
observation' to isolate the sense of their colour, for a long time
afterwards, whenever I thought of her, the memory of those bright eyes
would at once present itself to me as a vivid azure, since her complexion
was fair; so much so that, perhaps, if her eyes had not been quite so
black--which was what struck one most forcibly on first meeting her--I
should not have been, as I was, especially enamoured of their imagined

I gazed at her, at first with that gaze which is not merely a messenger
from the eyes, but in whose window all the senses assemble and lean out,
petrified and anxious, that gaze which would fain reach, touch, capture,
bear off in triumph the body at which it is aimed, and the soul with the
body; then (so frightened was I lest at any moment my grandfather and
father, catching sight of the girl, might tear me away from her, by making
me run on in front of them) with another, an unconsciously appealing look,
whose object was to force her to pay attention to me, to see, to know me.
She cast a glance forwards and sideways, so as to take stock of my
grandfather and father, and doubtless the impression she formed of them
was that we were all absurd people, for she turned away with an
indifferent and contemptuous air, withdrew herself so as to spare her face
the indignity of remaining within their field of vision; and while they,
continuing to walk on without noticing her, had overtaken and passed me,
she allowed her eyes to wander, over the space that lay between us, in my
direction, without any particular expression, without appearing to have
seen me, but with an intensity, a half-hidden smile which I was unable to
interpret, according to the instruction I had received in the ways of good
breeding, save as a mark of infinite disgust; and her hand, at the same
time, sketched in the air an indelicate gesture, for which, when it was
addressed in public to a person whom one did not know, the little
dictionary of manners which I carried in my mind supplied only one
meaning, namely, a deliberate insult.

"Gilberte, come along; what are you doing?" called out in a piercing tone
of authority a lady in white, whom I had not seen until that moment,
while, a little way beyond her, a gentleman in a suit of linen 'ducks,'
whom I did not know either, stared at me with eyes which seemed to be
starting from his head; the little girl's smile abruptly faded, and,
seizing her trowel, she made off without turning to look again hi my
direction, with an air of obedience, inscrutable and sly.

And so was wafted to my ears the name of Gilberte, bestowed on me like a
talisman which might, perhaps, enable me some day to rediscover her whom
its syllables had just endowed with a definite personality, whereas, a
moment earlier, she had been only something vaguely seen. So it came to
me, uttered across the heads of the stocks and jasmines, pungent and cool
as the drops which fell from the green watering-pipe; impregnating and
irradiating the zone of pure air through which it had passed, which it set
apart and isolated from all other air, with the mystery of the life of her
whom its syllables designated to the happy creatures that lived and walked
and travelled in her company; unfolding through the arch of the pink
hawthorn, which opened at the height of my shoulder, the quintessence of
their familiarity--so exquisitely painful to myself--with her, and with
all that unknown world of her existence, into which I should never

For a moment (while we moved away, and my grandfather murmured: "Poor
Swann, what a life they are leading him; fancy sending him away so that
she can be left alone with her Charlus--for that was Charlus: I recognised
him at once! And the child, too; at her age, to be mixed up in all that!")
the impression left on me by the despotic tone in which Gilberte's mother
had spoken to her, without her replying, by exhibiting her to me as being
obliged to yield obedience to some one else, as not being indeed superior
to the whole world, calmed my sufferings somewhat, revived some hope in
me, and cooled the ardour of my love. But very soon that love surged up
again in me like a reaction by which my humiliated heart was endeavouring
to rise to Gilberte's level, or to draw her down to its own. I loved her;
I was sorry not to have had the time and the inspiration to insult her, to
do her some injury, to force her to keep some memory of me. I knew her to
be so beautiful that I should have liked to be able to retrace my steps so
as to shake my fist at her and shout, "I think you are hideous, grotesque;
you are utterly disgusting!" However, I walked away, carrying with me,
then and for ever afterwards, as the first illustration of a type of
happiness rendered inaccessible to a little boy of my kind by certain laws
of nature which it was impossible to transgress, the picture of a little
girl with reddish hair, and a skin freckled with tiny pink marks, who held
a trowel in her hand, and smiled as she directed towards me a long and
subtle and inexpressive stare. And already the charm with which her name,
like a cloud of incense, had filled that archway in the pink hawthorn
through which she and I had, together, heard its sound, was beginning to
conquer, to cover, to embalm, to beautify everything with which it had any
association: her grandparents, whom my own had been so unspeakably
fortunate as to know, the glorious profession of a stockholder, even the
melancholy neighbourhood of the Champs-Elysées, where she lived in Paris.

"Léonie," said my grandfather on our return, "I wish we had had you with
us this afternoon. You would never have known Tansonville. If I had had
the courage I would have cut you a branch of that pink hawthorn you used
to like so much." And so my grandfather told her the story of our walk,
either just to amuse her, or perhaps because there was still some hope
that she might be stimulated to rise from her bed and to go out of doors.
For in earlier days she had been very fond of Tansonville, and, moreover,
Swann's visits had been the last that she had continued to receive, at a
time when she had already closed her doors to all the world. And just as,
when he called, in these later days, to inquire for her (and she was still
the only person in our household whom he would ask to see), she would send
down to say that she was tired at the moment and resting, but that she
would be happy to see him another time, so, this evening, she said to my
grandfather, "Yes, some day when the weather is fine I shall go for a
drive as far as the gate of the park." And in saying this she was quite
sincere. She would have liked to see Swann and Tansonville again; but the
mere wish to do so sufficed for all that remained of her strength, which
its fulfilment would have more than exhausted. Sometimes a spell of fine
weather made her a little more energetic, she would rise and put on her
clothes; but before she had reached the outer room she would be 'tired'
again, and would insist on returning to her bed. The process which had
begun in her--and in her a little earlier only than it must come to all of
us--was the great and general renunciation which old age makes in
preparation for death, the chrysalis stage of life, which may be observed
wherever life has been unduly prolonged; even in old lovers who have lived
for one another with the utmost intensity of passion, and in old friends
bound by the closest ties of mental sympathy, who, after a certain year,
cease to make, the necessary journey, or even to cross the street to see
one another, cease to correspond, and know well that they will communicate
no more in this world. My aunt must have been perfectly well aware that
she would not see Swann again, that she would never leave her own house
any more, but this ultimate seclusion seemed to be accepted by her with
all the more readiness for the very reason which, to our minds, ought to
have made it more unbearable; namely, that such a seclusion was forced
upon her by the gradual and steady diminution in her strength which she
was able to measure daily, which, by making every action, every movement
'tiring' to her if not actually painful, gave to inaction, isolation and
silence the blessed, strengthening and refreshing charm of repose.

My aunt did not go to see the pink hawthorn in the hedge, but at all hours
of the day I would ask the rest of my family whether she was not going to
go, whether she used not, at one time, to go often to Tansonville, trying
to make them speak of Mile. Swann's parents and grandparents, who appeared
to me to be as great and glorious as gods. The name, which had for me
become almost mythological, of Swann--when I talked with my family I would
grow sick with longing to hear them utter it; I dared not pronounce it
myself, but I would draw them into a discussion of matters which led
naturally to Gilberte and her family, in which she was involved, in
speaking of which I would feel myself not too remotely banished from her
company; and I would suddenly force my father (by pretending, for
instance, to believe that my grandfather's business had been in our family
before his day, or that the hedge with the pink hawthorn which my aunt
Léonie wished to visit was on common ground) to correct my statements, to
say, as though in opposition to me and of his own accord: "No, no, the
business belonged to _Swann's_ father, that hedge is part of _Swann's_
park." And then I would be obliged to pause for breath; so stifling was
the pressure, upon that part of me where it was for ever inscribed, of
that name which, at the moment when I heard it, seemed to me fuller, more
portentous than any other name, because it was burdened with the weight of
all the occasions on which I had secretly uttered it in my mind. It caused
me a pleasure which I was ashamed to have dared to demand from my parents,
for so great was it that to have procured it for me must have involved
them in an immensity of effort, and with no recompense, since for them
there was no pleasure in the sound. And so I would prudently turn the
conversation. And by a scruple of conscience, also. All the singular
seductions which I had stored up in the sound of that word Swann, I found
again as soon as it was uttered. And then it occurred to me suddenly that
my parents could not fail to experience the same emotions, that they must
find themselves sharing my point of view, that they perceived in their
turn, that they condoned, that they even embraced my visionary longings,
and I was as wretched as though I had ravished and corrupted the innocence
of their hearts.

That year my family fixed the day of their return to Paris rather earlier
than usual. On the morning of our departure I had had my hair curled, to
be ready to face the photographer, had had a new hat carefully set upon my
head, and had been buttoned into a velvet jacket; a little later my
mother, after searching everywhere for me, found me standing in tears on
that steep little hillside close to Tansonville, bidding a long farewell
to my hawthorns, clasping their sharp branches to my bosom, and (like a
princess in a tragedy, oppressed by the weight of all her senseless
jewellery) with no gratitude towards the officious hand which had, in
curling those ringlets, been at pains to collect all my hair upon my
forehead; trampling underfoot the curl-papers which I had torn from my
head, and my new hat with them. My mother was not at all moved by my
tears, but she could not suppress a cry at the sight of my battered
headgear and my ruined jacket. I did not, however, hear her. "Oh, my poor
little hawthorns," I was assuring them through my sobs, "it is not you
that want to make me unhappy, to force me to leave you. You, you have
never done me any harm. So I shall always love you." And, drying my eyes,
I promised them that, when I grew up, I would never copy the foolish
example of other men, but that even in Paris, on fine spring days, instead
of paying calls and listening to silly talk, I would make excursions into
the country to see the first hawthorn-trees in bloom.

Once in the fields we never left them again during the rest of our
Méséglise walk. They were perpetually crossed, as though by invisible
streams of traffic, by the wind, which was to me the tutelary genius of
Combray. Every year, on the day of our arrival, in order to feel that I
really was at Combray, I would climb the hill to find it running again
through my clothing, and setting me running in its wake. One always had
the wind for companion when one went the 'Méséglise way,' on that swelling
plain which stretched, mile beyond mile, without any disturbance of its
gentle contour. I knew that Mlle. Swann used often to go and spend a few
days at Laon, and, for all that it was many miles away, the distance was
obviated by the absence of any intervening obstacle; when, on hot
afternoons, I would see a breath of wind emerge from the farthest horizon,
bowing the heads of the corn in distant fields, pouring like a flood over
all that vast expanse, and finally settling down, warm and rustling, among
the clover and sainfoin at my feet, that plain which was common to us both
seemed then to draw us together, to unite us; I would imagine that the
same breath had passed by her also, that there was some message from her
in what it was whispering to me, without my being able to understand it,
and I would catch and kiss it as it passed. On my left was a village
called Champieu (_Campus Pagani_, according to the Curé). On my right I
could see across the cornfields the two crocketed, rustic spires of
Saint-André-des-Champs, themselves as tapering, scaly, plated,
honeycombed, yellowed, and roughened as two ears of wheat.

At regular intervals, among the inimitable ornamentation of their leaves,
which can be mistaken for those of no other fruit-tree, the apple-trees
were exposing their broad petals of white satin, or hanging in shy bunches
their unopened, blushing buds. It was while going the 'Méséglise way' that
I first noticed the circular shadow which apple-trees cast upon the sunlit
ground, and also those impalpable threads of golden silk which the setting
sun weaves slantingly downwards from beneath their leaves, and which I
would see my father slash through with his stick without ever making them
swerve from their straight path.

Sometimes in the afternoon sky a white moon would creep up like a little
cloud, furtive, without display, suggesting an actress who does not have
to 'come on' for a while, and so goes 'in front' in her ordinary clothes
to watch the rest of the company for a moment, but keeps in the
background, not wishing to attract attention to herself. I was glad to
find her image reproduced in books and paintings, though these works of
art were very different--at least in my earlier years, before Bloch had
attuned my eyes and mind to more subtle harmonies--from those in which the
moon seems fair to me to-day, but in which I should not have recognised
her then. It might be, for instance, some novel by Saintine, some
landscape by Gleyre, in which she is cut out sharply against the sky, in
the form of a silver sickle, some work as unsophisticated and as
incomplete as were, at that date, my own impressions, and which it enraged
my grandmother's sisters to see me admire. They held that one ought to set
before children, and that children shewed their own innate good taste in
admiring, only such books and pictures as they would continue to admire
when their minds were developed and mature. No doubt they regarded
aesthetic values as material objects which an unclouded vision could not
fail to discern, without needing to have their equivalent in experience of
life stored up and slowly ripening in one's heart.

It was along the 'Méséglise way,' at Montjouvain, a house built on the
edge of a large pond, and overlooked by a steep, shrub-grown hill, that M.
Vinteuil lived. And so we used often to meet his daughter driving her
dogcart at full speed along the road. After a certain year we never saw
her alone, but always accompanied by a friend, a girl older than herself,
with an evil reputation in the neighbourhood, who in the end installed
herself permanently, one day, at Montjouvain. People said: "That poor M.
Vinteuil must be blinded by love not to see what everyone is talking
about, and to let his daughter--a man who is horrified if you use a word
in the wrong sense--bring a woman like that to live under his roof. He
says that she is a most superior woman, with a heart of gold, and that she
would have shewn extraordinary musical talent if she had only been
trained. He may be sure it is not music that she is teaching his
daughter." But M. Vinteuil assured them that it was, and indeed it is
remarkable that people never fail to arouse admiration of their normal
qualities in the relatives of anyone with whom they are in physical
intercourse. Bodily passion, which has been so unjustly decried, compels
its victims to display every vestige that is in them of unselfishness and
generosity, and so effectively that they shine resplendent in the eyes of
all beholders. Dr. Percepied, whose loud voice and bushy eyebrows enabled
him to play to his heart's content the part of 'double-dealer,' a part to
which he was not, otherwise, adapted, without in the least degree
compromising his unassailable and quite unmerited reputation of being a
kind-hearted old curmudgeon, could make the Curé and everyone else laugh
until they cried by saying in a harsh voice: "What d'ye say to this, now?
It seems that she plays music with her friend, Mile. Vinteuil. That
surprises you, does it? Oh, I know nothing, nothing at all. It was Papa
Vinteuil who told me all about it yesterday. After all, she has every
right to be fond of music, that girl. I should never dream of thwarting
the artistic vocation of a child; nor Vinteuil either, it seems. And then
he plays music too, with his daughter's friend. Why, gracious heavens, it
must be a regular musical box, that house out there! What are you laughing
at? I say they've been playing too much music, those people. I met Papa
Vinteuil the other day, by the cemetery. It was all he could do to keep on
his feet."

Anyone who, like ourselves, had seen M. Vinteuil, about this time,
avoiding people whom he knew, and turning away as soon as he caught sight
of them, changed in a few months into an old man, engulfed in a sea of
sorrows, incapable of any effort not directly aimed at promoting his
daughter's happiness, spending whole days beside his wife's grave, could
hardly have failed to realise that he was gradually dying of a broken
heart, could hardly have supposed that he paid no attention to the rumours
which were going about. He knew, perhaps he even believed, what his
neighbours were saying. There is probably no one, however rigid his
virtue, who is not liable to find himself, by the complexity of
circumstances, living at close quarters with the very vice which he
himself has been most outspoken in condemning, without at first
recognising it beneath the disguise which it assumes on entering his
presence, so as to wound him and to make him suffer; the odd words, the
unaccountable attitude, one evening, of a person whom he has a thousand
reasons for loving. But for a man of M. Vinteuil's sensibility it must
have been far more painful than for a hardened man of the world to have to
resign himself to one of those situations which are wrongly supposed to
occur in Bohemian circles only; for they are produced whenever there needs
to establish itself in the security necessary to its development a vice
which Nature herself has planted in the soul of a child, perhaps by no
more than blending the virtues of its father and mother, as she might
blend the colours of their eyes. And yet however much M. Vinteuil may have
known of his daughter's conduct it did not follow that his adoration of
her grew any less. The facts of life do not penetrate to the sphere in
which our beliefs are cherished; as it was not they that engendered those
beliefs, so they are powerless to destroy them; they can aim at them
continual blows of contradiction and disproof without weakening them; and
an avalanche of miseries and maladies coming, one after another, without
interruption into the bosom of a family, will not make it lose faith in
either the clemency of its God or the capacity of its physician. But when
M. Vinteuil regarded his daughter and himself from the point of view of
the world, and of their reputation, when he attempted to place himself by
her side in the rank which they occupied in the general estimation of
their neighbours, then he was bound to give judgment, to utter his own and
her social condemnation in precisely the terms which the inhabitant of
Combray most hostile to him and his daughter would have employed; he saw
himself and her in 'low,' in the very 'lowest water,' inextricably
stranded; and his manners had of late been tinged with that humility, that
respect for persons who ranked above him and to whom he must now look up
(however far beneath him they might hitherto have been), that tendency to
search for some means of rising again to their level, which is an almost
mechanical result of any human misfortune.

One day, when we were walking with Swann in one of the streets of Combray,
M. Vinteuil, turning out of another street, found himself so suddenly face
to face with us all that he had not time to escape; and Swann, with that
almost arrogant charity of a man of the world who, amid the dissolution of
all his own moral prejudices, finds in another's shame merely a reason for
treating him with a friendly benevolence, the outward signs of which serve
to enhance and gratify the self-esteem of the bestower because he feels
that they are all the more precious to him upon whom they are bestowed,
conversed at great length with M. Vinteuil, with whom for a long time he
had been barely on speaking terms, and invited him, before leaving us, to
send his daughter over, one day, to play at Tansonville. It was an
invitation which, two years earlier, would have enraged M. Vinteuil, but
which now filled him with so much gratitude that he felt himself obliged
to refrain from the indiscretion of accepting. Swann's friendly regard for
his daughter seemed to him to be in itself so honourable, so precious a
support for his cause that he felt it would perhaps be better to make no
use of it, so as to have the wholly Platonic satisfaction of keeping it in

"What a charming man!" he said to us, after Swann had gone, with the same
enthusiasm and veneration which make clever and pretty women of the middle
classes fall victims to the physical and intellectual charms of a duchess,
even though she be ugly and a fool. "What a charming man! What a pity
that he should have made such a deplorable marriage!"

And then, so strong an element of hypocrisy is there in even the most
sincere of men, who cast off, while they are talking to anyone, the
opinion they actually hold of him and will express when he is no longer
there, my family joined with M. Vinteuil in deploring Swann's marriage,
invoking principles and conventions which (all the more because they
invoked them in common with him, as though we were all thorough good
fellows of the same sort) they appeared to suggest were in no way
infringed at Montjouvain. M. Vinteuil did not send his daughter to visit
Swann, an omission which Swann was the first to regret. For constantly,
after meeting M. Vinteuil, he would remember that he had been meaning for
a long time to ask him about some one of the same name as himself, one of
his relatives, Swann supposed. And on this occasion he determined that he
would not forget what he had to say to him when M. Vinteuil should appear
with his daughter at Tansonville.

Since the 'Méséglise way' was the shorter of the two that we used to take
for our walks round Combray, and for that reason was reserved for days of
uncertain weather, it followed that the climate of Méséglise shewed an
unduly high rainfall, and we would never lose sight of the fringe of
Roussainville wood, so that we could, at any moment, run for shelter
beneath its dense thatch of leaves.

Often the sun would disappear behind a cloud, which impinged on its
roundness, but whose edge the sun gilded in return. The brightness, though
not the light of day, would then be shut off from a landscape in which all
life appeared to be suspended, while the little village of Roussainville
carved in relief upon the sky the white mass of its gables, with a
startling precision of detail. A gust of wind blew from its perch a rook,
which floated away and settled in the distance, while beneath a paling sky
the woods on the horizon assumed a deeper tone of blue, as though they
were painted in one of those cameos which you still find decorating the
walls of old houses.

But on other days would begin to fall the rain, of which we had had due
warning from the little barometer-figure which the spectacle-maker hung
out in his doorway. Its drops, like migrating birds which fly off in a
body at a given moment, would come down out of the sky in close marching
order. They would never drift apart, would make no movement at random in
their rapid course, but each one, keeping in its place, would draw after
it the drop which was following, and the sky would be as greatly darkened
as by the swallows flying south. We would take refuge among the trees. And
when it seemed that their flight was accomplished, a few last drops,
feebler and slower than the rest, would still come down. But we would
emerge from our shelter, for the rain was playing a game, now, among the
branches, and, even when it was almost dry again underfoot, a stray drop
or two, lingering in the hollow of a leaf, would run down and hang
glistening from the point of it until suddenly it splashed plump upon our
upturned faces from the whole height of the tree.

Often, too, we would hurry for shelter, tumbling in among all its stony
saints and patriarchs, into the porch of Saint-André-des-Champs, How
typically French that church was! Over its door the saints, the kings of
chivalry with lilies in their hands, the wedding scenes and funerals were
carved as they might have been in the mind of Françoise. The sculptor had
also recorded certain anecdotes of Aristotle and Virgil, precisely as
Françoise in her kitchen would break into speech about Saint Louis as
though she herself had known him, generally in order to depreciate, by
contrast with him, my grandparents, whom she considered less 'righteous.'
One could see that the ideas which the mediaeval artist and the mediaeval
peasant (who had survived to cook for us in the nineteenth century) had of
classical and of early Christian history, ideas whose inaccuracy was
atoned for by their honest simplicity, were derived not from books, but
from a tradition at once ancient and direct, unbroken, oral, degraded,
unrecognisable, and alive. Another Combray person whom I could discern
also, potential and typified, in the gothic sculptures of
Saint-André-des-Champs was young Théodore, the assistant in Camus's shop.
And, indeed, Françoise herself was well aware that she had in him a
countryman and contemporary, for when my aunt was too ill for Françoise to
be able, unaided, to lift her in her bed or to carry her to her chair,
rather than let the kitchen-maid come upstairs and, perhaps, 'make an
impression' on my aunt, she would send out for Théodore. And this lad, who
was regarded, and quite rightly, in the town as a 'bad character,' was so
abounding in that spirit which had served to decorate the porch of
Saint-André-des-Champs, and particularly in the feelings of respect due,
in Franchise's eyes, to all 'poor invalids,' and, above all, to her own
'poor mistress,' that he had, when he bent down to raise my aunt's head
from her pillow, the same air of préraphaélite simplicity and zeal which
the little angels in the has-reliefs wear, who throng, with tapers in
their hands, about the deathbed of Our Lady, as though those carved faces
of stone, naked and grey like trees in winter, were, like them, asleep
only, storing up life and waiting to flower again in countless plebeian
faces, reverend and cunning as the face of Théodore, and glowing with the
ruddy brilliance of ripe apples.

There, too, not fastened to the wall like the little angels, but detached
from the porch, of more than human stature, erect upon her pedestal as
upon a footstool, which had been placed there to save her feet from
contact with the wet ground, stood a saint with the full cheeks, the firm
breasts which swelled out inside her draperies like a cluster of ripe
grapes inside a bag, the narrow forehead, short and stubborn nose,
deep-set eyes, and strong, thick-skinned, courageous expression of the
country-women of those parts. This similarity, which imparted to the
statue itself a kindliness that I had not looked to find in it, was
corroborated often by the arrival of some girl from the fields, come, like
ourselves, for shelter beneath the porch, whose presence there--as when
the leaves of a climbing plant have grown up beside leaves carved in
stone--seemed intended by fate to allow us, by confronting it with its
type in nature, to form a critical estimate of the truth of the work of
art. Before our eyes, in the distance, a promised or an accursed land,
Roussainville, within whose walls I had never penetrated, Roussainville
was now, when the rain had ceased for us, still being chastised, like a
village in the Old Testament, by all the innumerable spears and arrows of
the storm, which beat down obliquely upon the dwellings of its
inhabitants, or else had already received the forgiveness of the Almighty,
Who had restored to it the light of His sun, which fell upon it in rays of
uneven length, like the rays of a monstrance upon an altar.

Sometimes, when the weather had completely broken, we were obliged to go
home and to remain shut up indoors. Here and there, in the distance, in a
landscape which, what with the failing light and saturated atmosphere,
resembled a seascape rather, a few solitary houses clinging to the lower
slopes of a hill whose heights were buried in a cloudy darkness shone out
like little boats which had folded their sails and would ride at anchor,
all night, upon the sea. But what mattered rain or storm? In summer, bad
weather is no more than a passing fit of superficial ill-temper expressed
by the permanent, underlying fine weather; a very different thing from the
fluid and unstable 'fine weather' of winter, its very opposite, in fact;
for has it not (firmly established in the soil, on which it has taken
solid form in dense masses of foliage over which the rain may pour in
torrents without weakening the resistance offered by their real and
lasting happiness) hoisted, to keep them flying throughout the season, in
the village streets, on the walls of the houses and in their gardens, its
silken banners, violet and white. Sitting in the little parlour, where I
would pass the time until dinner with a book, I might hear the water
dripping from our chestnut-trees, but I would know that the shower would
only glaze and brighten the greenness of their thick, crumpled leaves, and
that they themselves had undertaken to remain there, like pledges of
summer, all through the rainy night, to assure me of the fine weather's
continuing; it might rain as it pleased, but to-morrow, over the white
fence of Tansonville, there would surge and flow, numerous as ever, a sea
of little heart-shaped leaves; and without the least anxiety I could watch
the poplar in the Rue des Perchamps praying for mercy, bowing in
desperation before the storm; without the least anxiety I could hear, at
the far end of the garden, the last peals of thunder growling among our

If the weather was bad all morning, my family would abandon the idea of a
walk, and I would remain at home. But, later on, I formed the habit of
going out by myself on such days, and walking towards
Méséglise-la-Vineuse, during that autumn when we had to come to Combray to
settle the division of my aunt Léonie's estate; for she had died at last,
leaving both parties among her neighbours triumphant in the fact of her
demise--those who had insisted that her mode of life was enfeebling and
must ultimately kill her, and, equally, those who had always maintained
that she suffered from some disease not imaginary, but organic, by the
visible proof of which the most sceptical would be obliged to own
themselves convinced, once she had succumbed to it; causing no intense
grief to any save one of her survivors, but to that one a grief savage in
its violence. During the long fortnight of my aunt's last illness
Françoise never went out of her room for an instant, never took off her
clothes, allowed no one else to do anything for my aunt, and did not leave
her body until it was actually in its grave. Then, at last, we understood
that the sort of terror in which Françoise had lived of my aunt's harsh
words, her suspicions and her anger, had developed in her a sentiment
which we had mistaken for hatred, and which was really veneration and
love. Her true mistress, whose decisions it had been impossible to
foresee, from whose stratagems it had been so hard to escape, of whose
good nature it had been so easy to take advantage, her sovereign, her
mysterious and omnipotent monarch was no more. Compared with such a
mistress we counted for very little. The time had long passed when, on our
first coming to spend our holidays at Combray, we had been of equal
importance, in Franchise's eyes, with my aunt.

During that autumn my parents, finding the days so fully occupied with the
legal formalities that had to be gone through, and discussions with
solicitors and farmers, that they had little time for walks which, as it
happened, the weather made precarious, began to let me go, without them,
along the 'Méséglise way,' wrapped up in a huge Highland plaid which
protected me from the rain, and which I was all the more ready to throw
over my shoulders because I felt that the stripes of its gaudy tartan
scandalised Françoise, whom it was impossible to convince that the colour
of one's clothes had nothing whatever to do with one's mourning for the
dead, and to whom the grief which we had shewn on my aunt's death was
wholly unsatisfactory, since we had not entertained the neighbours to a
great funeral banquet, and did not adopt a special tone when we spoke of
her, while I at times might be heard humming a tune. I am sure that in a
book--and to that extent my feelings were closely akin to those of
Françoise--such a conception of mourning, in the manner of the _Chanson de
Roland_ and of the porch of Saint-André-des-Champs, would have seemed most
attractive. But the moment that Françoise herself approached, some evil


Back to Full Books