_____The narrator makes a friend of one of Saint-Loup's fellow soldiers, "one of those instinctive likings between men that, when they are not based on physical attraction, are the only ones that are altogether mysterious." He likens it to the friendship that he and Saint-Loup share, "free from any physical attachment, invisible, and yet experienced by him as the inner presence of a sort of phlogiston, or gas, sufficient to bring a smile to his lips when he referred to it." And yet, oddly, the narrator doesn't tell us the name of his new friend.
As for Saint-Loup, when the narrator asks him about the rumored marriage to Mlle. d'Ambresac, "He made it quite clear that, not only was it not settled, but there had never been any question of such a thing, that he had never set eyes on her, that he did not know who she was." The denial contradicts not only Albertine's information about their betrothal, but also the belowstairs gossip about the engagement relayed by Françoise. Saint-Loup does reveal that only he and one other soldier in the group are among the supporters of Dreyfus.
The narrator is pleased, if a little embarrassed, by Saint-Loup's "delight ... in showing me off to his friends," calling him "the cleverest man I know" along with Elstir. The narrator's conversation reminds a soldier named Gibergue of Major Duroc, an officer whom Saint-Loup has previously praised. "Ah yes, Major Duroc, the man I was telling you about who lectures to us on military history. He's someone who, from all accounts , is deeply in support of our views [i.e., on Dreyfus]. I'd have been surprised to learn that he wasn't, because he's not only supremely intelligent but a Radical Socialist and a Freemason as well."
And so ensues a long discourse on military history, which Saint-Loup compares to art:
So that, if you know how to interpret military history, what is a jumbled account for the ordinary reader becomes a logical sequence, which is as rational as a painting is for a lover of pictures who knows how to look at what a person is wearing in a portrait, what he is holding in his hands, whereas the ordinary visitor to an art gallery is bewildered and develops a headache amid the dizzying blur of color.The narrator (perhaps more than the reader) is fascinated by the topic, and especially by the analogy to art, which causes him to ask if "the genius of the commander" -- the artist -- really plays a role in the art of war. Saint-Loup replies, "But of course! You find Napoleon not attacking when all the rules said he should, but some vague intuition warned him not to."
Saint-Loup also adds, "You remember that philosophy book we read together in Balbec, the richness of the world of possibility compared with the real world." The enthusiasm that Saint-Loup and the narrator share here for "the art of war" had a deep irony for the first readers of the novel, who had just been through the nightmare of World War I. Proust reinforces this note when he has Saint-Loup say, "With the amazing advances in artillery, the wars of the future, if there are any, will be so short that peace will have been declared before there is time to put our lessons into practice."