Standing with your left foot on the grooved brass sill, you try in vain with your right shoulder to push the sliding door a little wider open.

You edge your way in through the narrow opening, then you lift up your suitcase of bottle-green grained leather, the smallish suitcase of a man used to making long journeys, grasping the sticky handle with fingers that are hot from having carried even so light a weight so far, and you feel the muscles and tendons tense not only in your finger-joints, the palm of your hand, your wrist and your arm, but in your shoulder too, all down one side of your back along your vertebrae from neck to loins.

No, it’s not merely the comparative earliness of the hour that makes you feel so unusually feeble, it’s age, already trying to convince you of its domination over your body, although you have only just passed your forty-fifth birthday.

Your eyes are half-closed and blurred with a faint haze, your eyelids tender and stiff, the skin over your temples drawn and puckered, your hair, which is growing thinner and greyer, imperceptibly to others but not to you, not to Henriette or Cécile nor, nowadays, to the children, is somewhat dishevelled, and your whole body feels ill at ease, constricted and weighed down by your clothes, and seems, in its half-awakened state, to be steeped in some frothing water full of suspended animalculae.

You have chosen this compartment because the corner seat facing the engine and next to the corridor is vacant, the very seat you would have got Marnal to reserve for you if there had still been time, no, the seat you would have asked for yourself over the telephone since nobody at Scabelli’s must know that it’s to Rome you are escaping for these few days.