„The street sprinkler went past and, as its rasping rotary broom spread water over the tarmac, half the pavement looked as if it had been painted with a dark stain. A big yellow dog had mounted a tiny white bitch who stood quite still.
In the fashion of colonials the old gentleman wore a light jacket, almost white, and a straw hat.
Everything held its position in space as if prepared for an apotheosis. In the sky the towers of Notre-Dame gathered about themselves a nimbus of heat, and the sparrows – minor actors almost invisible from the street – made themselves at home high up among the gargoyles. A string of barges drawn by a tug with a white and red pennant had crossed the breadth of Paris and the tug lowered its funnel, either in salute or to pass under the Pont Saint-Louis.
Sunlight poured down rich and luxuriant, fluid and gilded as oil, picking out highlights on the Seine, on the pavement dampened by the sprinkler, on a dormer window, and on a tile roof on the Île Saint-Louis. A mute, overbrimming life flowed from each inanimate thing, shadows were violet as in impressionist canvases, taxis redder on the white bridge, buses greener.
A faint breeze set the leaves of a chestnut tree trembling, and all down the length of the quai there rose a palpitation which drew voluptuously nearer and nearer to become a refreshing breath fluttering the engravings pinned to the booksellers’ stalls.
People had come from far away, from the four corners of the earth, to live that one moment. Sightseeing cars were lined up on the parvis of Notre-Dame, and an agitated little man was talking through a megaphone.
Nearer to the old gentleman, to the bookseller dressed in black, an American student contemplated the universe through the view-finder of his Leica.
Paris was immense and calm, almost silent, with her sheaves of light, her expanses of shadow in just the right places, her sounds which penetrated the silence at just the right moment.
The old gentleman with the light-coloured jacket had opened a portfolio filled with coloured prints and, the better to look at them, propped up the portfolio on the stone parapet.
The American student wore a red checked shirt and was coatless.
The bookseller on her folding chair moved her lips without looking at her customer, to whom she was speaking in a tireless stream. That was all doubtless part of the symphony. She was knitting. Red wool slipped through her fingers.
The white bitch’s spine sagged beneath the weight of the big male, whose tongue was hanging out.
And then when everything was in its place, when the perfection of that particular morning reached an almost frightening point, the old gentleman died without saying a word, without a cry, without a contortion while he was looking at his coloured prints, listening to the voice of the bookseller as it ran on and on, to the cheeping of the sparrows, the occasional horns of taxis.
He must have died standing up, one elbow on the stone ledge, a total lack of astonishment in his blue eyes. He swayed and fell to the pavement, dragging along with him the portfolio with all its prints scattered about him.
The male dog wasn’t at all frightened, never stopped. The woman let her ball of wool fall from her lap and stood up suddenly, crying out: