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.

A man on your right, his face level with your elbow, sitting opposite that place where you are going to settle down for this journey, a little younger than yourself, not over 40, taller than yourself, pale, with hair greyer than yours, with eyes blinking behind powerful lenses, with long restless hands, nails bitten and tobacco-stained, fingers crossing and uncrossing nervously as he waits impatiently for the train to start, the owner, in all probability, of that black briefcase crammed with files, a few coloured corners of which you notice peeping through a burst seam, and of the bound and probably boring books stacked above him like an emblem, like a legend whose explanatory or enigmatic character is not lessened by its being a thing, not a mere word but a possession, lying on that square-holed metal rack and propped up against the partition next the corridor, this man stares at you, irritated at your standing motionless and with your feet in the way of his feet; he would like to ask you to sit down, but his timid lips cannot even frame the words, and he turns towards the window, pushing aside with his forefinger the lowered blue blind with its woven initials s.n.c.f.

Sitting down, you stretch out your legs on either side of those of the intellectual, who now wears a look of relief and at last stops fidgeting with his fingers, you unbutton your thick, shaggy overcoat with its shot silk lining, fling it open to reveal your two knees in their sheaths of navy blue cloth, the creases of which, though pressed only yesterday, are already spoiled, you uncross and unwind with your right hand your scarf of mottled, loosely-woven wool, which with its nubbly texture of straw-colour and pearl reminds you of scrambled eggs, you fold it carelessly in three and thrust it into that ample pocket that already contains a packet of blue gauloises, a box of matches and, of course, shreds of dusty tobacco that have collected in the lining.