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The question on the highlighted sentence in this passage from Camus's The Stranger.

Quand je l’ai rencontré dans l’escalier, Salamano était en train d’insulter son chien. Il lui disait : « Salaud ! Charogne ! » et le chien gémissait. J’ai dit : « Bonsoir », mais le vieux insultait toujours. Alors je lui ai demandé ce que le chien lui avait fait. Il ne m’a pas répondu. Il disait seulement : « Salaud ! Charogne ! » Je le devinais, penché sur son chien, en train d’arranger quelque chose sur le collier. J’ai parlé plus fort. Alors sans se retourner, il m’a répondu avec une sorte de rage rentrée : « Il est toujours là. » Puis il est parti en tirant la bête qui se laissait traîner sur ses quatre pattes, et gémissait.

Question

Am I right to understand the sentence as follows.

  1. le refers to Salamano.

  2. If we ignore penché sur son chien for now and focus on

Je le devinais en train d’arranger quelque chose sur le collier,

it means

I guessed him (to be) in the act of arranging something on the collar.

  1. penché sur son chien further modifies Salamano (perhaps not in a strictly grammatical sense but in terms of what is being perceived). So we get:

I guessed him (to be), bent over the dog, in the act of arranging something on the collar.

  1. In sum (and perhaps not strictly from the text but using also our general knowledge of the world), we may understand that Salamano's bent posture is what the narrator directly observes and Salamano's being in the act of arranging something on the collar is what the narrator guesses at. In other words, the guessing consists of a mental movementan inference from one observed fact (posture) to one "guessed" fact (arranging).

The other hypothesis I had was that le is a pronoun referring to what is to come, i.e. the whole phrase after devinais to the end of the sentence; but I hope this is not what's going on.

P.S. I have struck "mental movement" in response to comments received that its meaning was not clear.

4

So, in order :

  1. "le" indeed refers to Salamano. The context gives us enough hints to assert that.

  2. "Je le devinais" can be formulated as "Je l'apercevais", but you do not need to put "in the act". I would've said something like :

I could vaguely see him fixing something on the (dog's) collar.

Your sentence is correct anyway.

  1. Still true - it describes what the narrator can see from Salamano during his action. "bent over the dog" is valid.

  2. Not sure of what you mean by "mental movement", but the narrator is seeing Salamano doing something on the dog's collar. This has indeed happened, but the narrator does not know what Salamano was actually doing.

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