_____Downstairs, "There was a great deal of excitement about a croix de guerre which had been found on the floor: nobody knew who had lost it and to whom it should be returned to prevent the owner's being punished." The narrator listens to the men who are there and learns more about them, including Maurice, "who obviously performed his terrible fustigations of the Baron only out of mechanical habit, a neglected education, need of money and a preference for getting it in a way that was meant to be less trouble than working, but which may in fact have been worse." There is some conversation among the men about Charlus and his pessimistic attitude toward the war.
While he is waiting there, he begins to get a better sense of the clientele, which appears to be very upper-crust:
Clients could be heard asking the manager whether he couldn't introduce them to a footman, a choirboy or a black chauffeur. Every occupation interested these old maniacs, as well as troops from every branch of the services, and from all the Allied nations.... [O]ne old man, whose curiosity had doubtless been assuaged on every other front, was insistently asking whether it might be possible for him to meet a disabled soldier.Jupien comes downstairs, and is startled to see the narrator there. He orders the men in the room to leave, but the narrator suggests that he and Jupien should talk outside. When Jupien realizes that the Baron is coming down he puts the narrator in an adjacent bedroom where he can listen and not be seen. So the narrator watches as Charlus demonstrates his familiarity with the men who are waiting for clients. The narrator realizes that the men have been passed off as various sorts of criminals and unsavory characters, designed to heighten the Baron's pleasure, but that some of them don't know what Jupien has told him. Charlus says to Maurice, "You never told me that you'd knifed an old concierge in Belleville." Maurice is surprised and denies it: "Either the story was in fact false, or, if it were true, its perpetrator none the less thought it abominable and something to be denied." This throws cold water on the Baron's arousal. The narrator learns that "Jupien did sometimes warn them that they ought to be more perverse," and as the Baron is leaving, says, "He really is a crook, he told you all that stuff to mislead you, you're too gullible," which the narrator notes "only hurt M. de Charlus's pride."
After another client, a priest, has left, Jupien talks to the narrator about his establishment, explaining that he set it up "simply as a way of helping the Baron and amusing him in his old age." The place caters to men who, like the Baron, "enjoyed being with working-class people who exploited him. Low-life snobbery is no more difficult to understand than the other sort." He tells the narrator about a hotel bellboy whom the Baron propositioned who was afraid Charlus was a spy. "He felt a lot more comfortable when he realized he was not being asked to hand over his country, just his body, which may not be any more moral, but is less dangerous, and certainly easier."
Listening to Jupien, I said to myself, "What a pity it is that M. de Charlus is not a novelist or a poet! Not so much in order to describe what he sees, but because the position in which somebody like Charlus finds himself in relation to desire gives rise to scandals around him, forces him to take life seriously, prevents him from separating emotions and pleasure, and from getting stuck in an ironic and externalized view of things, by constantly reopening a stream of pain within him. Almost every time he propositions somebody, he suffers a humiliation, if not the risk of being sent to prison.Jupien goes on to defend his establishment because it caters to "the most intelligent, the most sensitive and the pleasantest in their professions. The house could easily, I assure you, be turned into a school of wit or a news agency." The narrator, however, "was still preoccupied with the memory of the blows I had seen M. de Charlus receiving."
As the narrator is leaving, an aerial bombardment starts up, and he runs through the darkened streets until the flames from a burning building let him see his way. He wonders if a bomb has hit Jupien's house, "on which M. de Charlus might prophetically have written 'Sodoma' as had, with no less prescience or perhaps as the volcano was starting to erupt and the catastrophe had begun, the unknown inhabitant of Pompeii." He reflects on the clientele, and how they have given up the society to which they once belonged, "so that while their names were known to society hostesses, these had gradually lost sight of their faces, and never any longer had a opportunity to receive them as visitors." And he thinks about the men who service their desires, "whom one might have thought ... fundamentally bad, but not only were they wonderful soldiers during the war, true 'heroes,' they had just as often been kind and generous in civilian life, even model citizens. They had long ceased to pay any heed to the moral or immoral implications of the life they led, because it was the life that everybody around them led."
I know few men, ... indeed I may even say I knew nobody, who in terms of intelligence and sensibility was as gifted as Jupien, for that wonderful "accumulated wisdom" which provided the intellectual framework of his remarks was not the produce of the school education or university training which might have made him a truly exceptional man, while so many fashionable young men derive no profit from it.... The profession he followed, however, might justifiably be regarded, admittedly as one of the most lucrative, but as the worst there is.
And he reflects on how people are controlled by their "dreams," by the unconscious forces "which we cannot always perceive but which [haunt] us. It was my belief in Bergotte and in Swann which had made me love Gilberte, my belief in Gilbert the Bad which had made me love Mme de Guermantes. And what a great expanse of sea had been hidden away in that most painful, jealous, and seemingly most individual love of mine, for Albertine!" Charlus's is a "dream of virility" which, though it manifests itself in a desire to be chained and beaten, betrays "a dream just as poetic as other men's desire to go to Venice or to keep a mistress."
And then he goes home, where Françoise tells him "that Saint-Loup had dropped in, with apologies, to see whether, during the visit he had paid me that morning, he might have dropped his croix de guerre."