_____The narrator decides to make his move on Albertine, but as usual he keeps overthinking things, devising oblique strategies to win her over.
He joins the gang, plus some extras recruited for the game, to play ring-on-a-string. (A ring is threaded onto a long piece of string, which is then tied together to form a circle. The player who is "it" stands in the middle of the circle while the other players pass the ring along the string. "It" tries to find the ring, and if he or she succeeds, the one who was holding the ring becomes "it.") The narrator is ticked off because another boy is next to Albertine, which deprives him of the opportunity to touch her hand.
A squeeze from the hand of Albertine had a sensual softness which seemed at one with the slightly mauve pink of her skin: it made you feel as though you were penetrating her, entering the privacy of her senses, an impression one had too from her resounding laugh, which was as suggestive of indecency as any throaty murmur of invitation, or as certain cries.He lets himself get caught with the ring and, when he takes his position in the center, succeeds in finding the ring as it passes into the hand of the boy next to Albertine, so he can take the boy's place. But he's so preoccupied with touching her hand, and so convinced that she is returning his ardor, that he's shocked when she whispers, "Take the thing, would you! I've been trying to pass it to you for about half an hour!"
Embarrassed, he leaves the game in the company of Andrée to walk to the cliffs at Les Creuniers, which Elstir had painted. Andrée is clearly flirting with the narrator, but he doesn't notice, trying to say nice things about Albertine that Andrée would repeat to her: "Andrée said she was also very fond of Albertine and thought she was a dear; but the complimentary things I said about her friend did not seem to please her very much."
Along the way he sees a hawthorn bush, which is associated with his first sighting of Gilberte -- "just as Gilberte had been my first sweetheart among the girls, they had been my first among the flowers." He falls into an imaginary conversation with the bush about its vanished blossoms, and when he returns to Andrée resumes his praises of Albertine, about which he naively reports, "Despite this, I was never to learn whether Albertine heard a word of what I said about her." He also maintains his ignorance of Andrée's jealousy of his infatuation with Albertine when he recalls, "If it was suggested that Albertine's marriage prospects might not be as bad as was supposed, Andrée scotched the notion and repeated in a furious tone, 'Of course the girl's unmarriageable! I don't ned to be told -- I think it's terrible!'"
And so he wanders into another set of self-made barriers that prevent him from achieving his ostensible goal with Albertine, which he might have accomplished with a more direct approach.
I knew now that I loved Albertine, but I was in no hurry, alas, to tell her: the fact was that, since the time when I had played at the Champs-Élysées, my notion of love had undergone a change, while those to whom my love was addressed, though they were consecutive, remained unchanged. For one thing, the confession of love, the declaration of my tenderness to her whom I loved, no longer seemed to be one of love's classic and indispensable scenes; and for another, love itself, instead of appearing to be a reality eternal to me, now seemed a subjective pleasure. I sensed that the less Albertine knew about this pleasure of mine, the more she would be likely to let me go on enjoying it.The course of true love never did run smooth, but this is ridiculous.
Meanwhile, he goes on flirting with Rosemonde and poor Andrée. When he hears that Albertine's aunt, Mme. Bontemps, is arriving for a visit, he desperately wants an introduction to her. So of course he pretends he doesn't, repeatedly scorning Mme. Bontemps to Andrée, while in the meantime arranging an introduction through Elstir. When he tells Andrée that he is invited to meet Albertine's aunt, though he really doesn't want to, she reacts as one might expect her to: "'I knew it all along!' Andrée exclaimed bitterly, gazing away at some invisible point, her eyes enlarged and flawed by displeasure."