And indeed at the hotel where I was to meet Saint-Loup and his friends the beginning of the festive season was attracting a great many people from near and far; as I hastened across the courtyard with its glimpses of glowing kitchens in which chickens were turning on spits, pigs were roasting, and lobsters were being flung alive into what the landlord called the ‘everlasting fire’, I discovered an influx of new arrivals (worthy of some Census of the People at Bethlehem such as the Old Flemish Masters painted), gathering there in groups, asking the landlord or one of his staff (who, if they did not like the look of them; would recommend accommodation elsewhere in the town) for board and lodging, while a kitchen-boy passed by holding a struggling fowl by its neck. Similarly, in the big dining-room, which I had passed through on my first day here on my way to the small room where my friend awaited me, one was again reminded of some Biblical feast, portrayed with the naïvety of former times and with Flemish exaggeration, because of the quantity of fish, chickens, grouse, woodcock, pigeons, brought in garnished and piping hot by breathless waiters who slid along the floor in their haste to set them down on the huge sideboard where they were carved immediately, but where – for many of the diners were finishing their meal as I arrived – they piled up untouched; it was as if their profusion and the haste of those who carried them in were prompted far less by the demands of those eating than by respect for the sacred text, scrupulously followed to the letter but naïvely illustrated by real details taken from local custom, and by a concern, both aesthetic and devotional, to make visible the splendour of the feast through the profusion of its victuals and the bustling attentiveness of those who served it. One of them stood lost in thought by a sideboard at the end of the room; and in order to find out from him, who alone appeared calm enough to give me an answer, where our table had been laid, I made my way forward through the various chafing-dishes that had been lit to keep warm the plates of latecomers (which did not prevent the desserts, in the centre of the room, from being displayed in the hands of a huge mannikin, sometimes supported on the wings of a duck, apparently made of crystal but actually of ice, carved each day with a hot iron by a sculptor-cook, in a truly Flemish manner), and, at the risk of being knocked down by the other waiters, went straight towards the calm one in whom I seemed to recognize a character traditionally present in these sacred subjects, since he reproduced with scrupulous accuracy the snub-nosed features, simple and badly drawn, and the dreamy expression of such a figure, already dimly aware of the miracle of a divine presence which the others have not yet begun to suspect. In addition, and doubtless in view of the approaching festive season, the tableau was reinforced by a celestial element recruited entirely from a personnel of cherubim and seraphim. A young angel musician, his fair hair framing a fourteen-year-old face, was not playing any instrument, it is true, but stood dreaming in front of a gong or a stack of plates, while less infantile angels were dancing attendance through the boundless expanse of the room, beating the air with the ceaseless flutter of the napkins, which hung from their bodies like the wings in primitive paintings, with pointed ends. Taking flight from these ill-defined regions, screened by a curtain of palms, from which the angelic waiters looked, from a distance, as if they had descended from the empyrean, I squeezed my way through to the small dining-room and to Saint-Loup’s table.