Sober again, the narrator resumes his obsession with his "group of girls," but also finds time to make more trips with Saint-Loup to Rivebelle, where they notice "a tall man, very well built, with regular features and a beard turning gray." The owner informs them that this is "the famous painter Elstir," whom the narrator remembers as having been mentioned by Swann. The narrator and Saint-Loup send a note to Elstir's table. The artist comes and sits with them, "but he did not pursue any of the allusions I made to Swann. I could easily have believed he did not know him." He invites the narrator to visit his studio in Balbec.
But the narrator's obsession with the group of girls is such that he puts the visit off after, out for a walk with his grandmother, he sees one of the group "hanging her head, like an animal being forced back to the stable," with "an authoritative-looking personage," perhaps her governess. "From that moment on, although until then I had been thinking mostly about the tall one, it was once more the girl with the golf clubs, whom I assumed to be Mlle Simonet, who preoccupied me." He takes every opportunity he can to be on the esplanade or wherever he might catch sight of the girls.
Then my initial uncertainty about whether I would see them or not on a particular day was aggravated by another, much more serious one, whether I would see them ever again -- for all I knew, they might be leaving for America or returning to Paris. This was enough to make me begin to fall in love with them. ... Loving them all, I was in love with none of them; and yet the possibility of meeting them was the only element of delight in my days.
His grandmother is irritated at his failure to visit Elstir, and eventually he gives in and makes the visit. His mood changes when he sees the works in the artist's studio, "for I glimpsed in them the possibility that I might rise to a poetic awareness, rich in fulfilling thoughts for me, of many forms that I had hitherto never distinguished in reality's composite spectacle."