Read La Chamade Online

Authors: Francoise Sagan

La Chamade (10 page)

'And now, I'm paying for it,' she thought with disgust. Disgust made all the greater as she did not believe in debts, and the present moral and social taboos exasperated her, and that an eagerness, so often observed in others, to spoil life, made her shrink back a little, as she might have before some shameful disease. She had contracted this disease, she suffered, and suffered without finding any pleasure in hearing herself say so, which is surely one of the most disagreeable ways of suffering.

Charles was obliged to return to Paris. She accompanied him to the station, was affectionate and promised to be good. He would return in six days, and that he would call her up every evening. He did. But on the fifth day late in the afternoon, when she absently picked up the telephone receiver, she heard Antoine's voice. She had not seen him for two weeks.


On leaving the
Antoine had walked through the Bois de Boulogne, talking to himself like a madman. Diane's chauffeur had run after him, offering his services, but to the man's amazement, Antoine had given him a five thousand franc note, muttering: 'Here, for all that time it's not much, but it's all I have with me.' So intense was his desire to finish with Diane that he no doubt imagined that everyone was aware of it. He had walked up the Avenue de la Grande Armée, explained to an insistent prostitute that he knew quite enough women of her sort, and then turned to apologise. She had vanished, probably consoled, and he spent a fruitless half-hour looking for her. Then he had entered a bar on the Champs Elysées, tried to get drunk, scuffled vaguely with another drinker over an obscure political issue, although the true reason was that the poor fellow obstinately played the juke-box, and Antoine himself had wanted to play a record over and over, a tune that he had danced to, listened to and hummed with Lucile. 'Ah, as long as I'm feeling miserable, I'm going to do it thoroughly,' he thought. Having won his boxing match with the drunkard, he played his record eight times, to everyone's dismay, and, being without enough money, he was obliged to leave his identity card with the barman. He reached home at three in the morning, exhausted and sobered by the fresh air. In short, he behaved like a young man. Sorrow sometimes gives a force, an enthusiasm, a vivacity equal to that given by exultation.

At his door was Diane, seated in the car. He recognised the Rolls-Royce from a distance and all but turned on his heel. Then, the thought of the chauffeur who must be waiting, haggard with sleepiness, for Madame's boy friend to be good enough to come home, made him decide. He opened the door of the car and Diane stepped out, without a word. She had touched up her face in the car and the dawn light, though it made her mouth look too red, gave her features, carefully indifferent, a new expression of youth, of bewilderment and error. And indeed, in her own eyes, she had made an error in pursuing her lover at dawn, as she had made an error two years ago in falling in love with him. Only this error, which until now had been like the background music to the film of her life, obstinate but discreet, now resounded like the relentless, cruel beating of a tom-tom. She saw herself leave the car, accept Antoine's helping hand, she saw herself make a final effort to maintain gracefully, for a few minutes more, the rôle of a beloved woman, before assuming the rôle, unknown and terrifying for her, of a woman scorned. And as she sent her chauffeur away, she smiled at him with a sort of strange intimacy, as though she knew that he was the last precious witness to her happiness.

'Am I disturbing you?' she asked.

Antoine shook his head. He opened the door of his room and stood aside to let her pass. This was the second time that she had come there. The first time, they had just met and it had amused Diane to spend their first night together in the room of this awkward and rather badly dressed young man. Afterward, she had offered him the large bed in the Rue Cambon flat, with all its pomp and luxury, because his room, after all, was really quite shabby and without comfort. And now she would have given all the world to sleep in that rickety bed and hang her clothes on the hideous chair next to it. Antoine drew the blinds, lit the red lamp and ran his hand over his face. He needed a shave and seemed to have grown thinner during the last few hours; in fact, he had the appearance of a tramp, the look that grief so often gives to a man. She no longer knew what she wanted to say to him. Ever since he had rushed away, she repeated the same sentence in her mind, over and over: 'He owes me an explanation.' But, actually, what did he owe her, what can one owe to another? Sitting up very straight on the bed, she was tempted to lie down, to say: 'Antoine, I simply wanted to see you, I was worried, now I'm drowsy, let's go to sleep,' But Antoine was standing in the middle of the room, he waited, and everything in his attitude indicated that he wished to make clear, which meant to shatter, their situation, and in doing so, make her wretchedly unhappy.

'You left in quite a hurry,' she said.

'I'm sorry.'

They spoke like two actors, he felt it, he waited to have enough force and breath to say to her—like the trite but indispensable line in a play—'It's all over between us.' He vaguely hoped for reproaches, that she would mention Lucile and that anger would give him the strength to be brutal. But she seemed gentle, resigned, almost frightened and for a moment he thought with horror that he did not know her and that he had never tried to know her. Perhaps she cared for him in other ways, not just as a lover and a baffling human being. He had always imagined that the principal reasons for her attachment to him were her gratified sensuality and wounded pride (she had never been able to force him to unconditional surrender, as had been the case with her other males). And if there were something else? If Diane suddenly began to cry? But that was inconceivable. Diane's legend, that of being invulnerable and unrestrained, was too well known in Paris and he had heard it told repeatedly. For a second, they just missed knowing each other. Then she opened her handbag, took out a gold vanity case and touched up her face. It was the gesture of a panic-stricken woman, but he mistook it for a gesture of indifference. 'Anyway, Lucile doesn't love me, so no one can,' he thought in conclusion, with a masochistic pessimism that came from his unhappiness, and he lit a cigarette.

He threw the match in the hearth with an irritated and impatient movement that she attributed to boredom and it rekindled her anger. She forgot Antoine, her passion for him, she thought only of herself, Diane Merbel, and the manner in which a man, her lover, had deserted her for no apparent reason in the midst of a party and in front of all her friends. She, in turn, took out a cigarette, her hand trembling, and he handed her a match. The smoke had an unpleasantly acrid taste, she had smoked too much and she suddenly realised that the confused, multifarious noise that had obsessed her for the last few minutes was from the birds in the street. Awake at dawn, crazy with joy, they joyously greeted the first rays of the sun. She looked at Antoine.

'May I ask why you ran away. Or perhaps it's none of my business.'

'You may,' replied Antoine (he looked squarely at her and a slight grimace, unfamiliar, deformed his mouth). 'I'm in love with Lucile... Lucile Saint-Léger,' he added stupidly, as if there could possibly be an error.

Diane looked down. The top of her handbag was torn, she must change it. She stared at the tear, obstinately, it was the only thing that she could see, she tried to think clearly: 'Where could I have torn it?' She waited, waited for her heart to start beating again, for daylight to burst into the room, for something to happen, no matter what, a telephone call, an atomic explosion, a shout from the street to drown her silent cry. But nothing happened. The birds went on chattering outside and it was odious, this frenzy and disorder.

'Well, well,' she said, 'you might perhaps have warned me of this sooner.'

'I didn't know,' he answered, 'I wasn't sure. I thought I was only jealous. But, you see, she doesn't love me, I know it now and I couldn't be unhappier...'

He could have gone on. In fact, this was the first time that he had ever mentioned Lucile to anyone. It gave him a kind of painful pleasure and he forgot, with a disregard so typically masculine, that he was talking to Diane. Anyway, she had only remembered the word 'jealous'.

'Why jealous? As you've so often explained, it's only possible to be jealous of what belongs to you. Have you been her lover?'

He did not reply. Anger surged up in Diane and freed her.

'You're jealous of Blassans-Lignières? Or has Lucile two or three other lovers? Anyway, if it can be of any comfort to you, my poor Antoine, you'll have a hard time to support her alone.'

'That's not the question,' said Antoine drily.

All of a sudden, he hated Diane for judging Lucile, as he himself had done four hours earlier. He would not allow her to scorn Lucile. He had told the truth, she should go away now and leave him alone with the memory of Lucile at the
, her eyes full of tears. Had she cried only because he had hurt her wrists, or because she loved him?

'Where did you have your meetings?' asked Diane's voice in the distance. 'Here?'

'Yes. In the afternoon.'

And he remembered Lucile's face when they made love, her body, her voice, all that he had lost through his own stupidity, his uncompromising attitude and felt like kicking himself. There would be no more of Lucile's steps on the staircase, no more burning, marvellous afternoons, no more red and black, no more of anything. The face he turned to Diane was so sad and passionate that she drew back.

'I never thought you loved me,' she said, 'but I imagined that you had a certain regard for me. I'm afraid ...'

He looked at her blindly and his eyes showed her an immutable masculine world, a world where a man could not have regard for a mistress he did not love. He probably thought her a flattering conquest, he perhaps had a certain respect for her, but deep down in his heart he considered her as the lowest of prostitutes. For she had consented to live with him for two years without exacting his love, or even his saying that he loved her, no more than she told him of her own love. And too late, she saw in Antoine's yellow eyes an absolute, brutal, sentimental child, eager for words, scenes and cries of love. Silence and elegance were not proof of love for the young. At the same time, she knew that if she rolled on the bed, pleaded with him, as she wanted to, he would be terrified and a little disgusted. He had become accustomed to the character she had personified for two years, to the profile she had obstinately turned to him for two years, and he would not recognise any other. Decidedly, she was paying dearly for her pride. But in this pride that made her sit up so straight on the bed at dawn, the pride so inseparable from the personage she had created that she almost ignored its existence, she now found her closest ally, the most intimate, the most precious. Just as a born horseman suddenly discovers that it is his thirty years of riding that had permitted him to pass unharmed under a bus, Diane thought with astonishment of her pride, this forgotten, or at least poorly used inheritance, that now spared her the worst: the worst would be to behave, Antoine no longer loving her, in such a manner as to be unbearable in her own eyes.

'Why tell me all this now?' she asked quietly. Things could have gone as they were for a long time. I had only the vaguest suspicion, or rather, I didn't believe it true any longer.'

And he realised with bewilderment that it was true, he could have lied to Diane all night, comforting and convincing her, if he had been sure of meeting Lucile the next day, or that she loved him. Happiness permits everything and, for a second, he understood Lucile, her facility, her capacity for dissimulation that he had so harshly criticised during the last weeks. lt was too late, too late, he had mortally wounded her, she would have nothing more to do with him. But what was this other woman doing in his room? Diane divined his thoughts and attacked blindly:

'And your dear Sarah? What happens to her in all of this?' she asked gently. 'Is she finally dead, for good and all?'

He did not answer. He looked at her with fury now but she preferred that to the friendly, distant expression he had shown her several moments before. She drifted straight toward the worst, toward the lack of understanding, cruelty, the unpardonable, and she felt relieved.

'I think you had better leave now,' he said at last. 'I shouldn't like us to part on bad terms. You have always been so good to me.'

'I've never been good to anyone,' said Diane, as she rose. 'Under certain circumstances, I thought you rather agreeable, that's all.'

Standing very straight, she looked him in the face. He could not know that a passing memory, a regretful expression would have sufficed for her to fall weeping into his arms. But he did not regret her, and she simply held out her hand and watched Antoine mechanically bow over it; the expression of uncontrolled grief which she had shown as she looked for this last time at Antoine's bent, blond nape had disappeared when he raised his head. She murmured: 'Goodbye', brushed through the doorway and started down the stairs. Antoine's flat was on the fourth floor, but it was only when she reached the first-floor landing that she paused, pressing close to the damp, dirty wall the celebrated face, the beautiful hands which were now so useless.


Antoine spent fifteen days alone. He took long walks, spoke to no one, and was not even surprised, when he met an acquaintance, a friend of Diane's, at being ignored. He knew the rules of the game: Diane had introduced him into a set which was not his, and he was automatically rejected from it when he left her. That was the rule and Claire's hasty graciousness when she met him by chance one evening, was the most he could expect. She informed him, however, that Charles and Lucile were at Saint-Tropez, without showing the least surprise that Antoine did not know it. It seemed obvious that by giving up one woman, he had also lost the other. The idea amused him faintly, although this was a time when he felt less and less inclined to laugh. One of Apollinaire's sentences obsessed him; it ran something like this: 'I wander about my lovely Paris without having the heart to die there. The herds of bellowing buses ...' He could not recall what followed and did not, for that matter, try to remember. It was true that Paris was breath-takingly beautiful, blue, blonde, languid, it was true that he had no more the heart to die there than to live there. All was for the best. Lucile was on the shores of the Mediterranean that she had told him she loved, she must be happy once again, since she was made for that, and perhaps she was deceiving Charles with one of the handsome local youths. Diane was seen about with a young Cuban diplomat, he had seen a charming photograph of the couple in a newspaper, taken at a first night performance of the ballet. As for himself, he had stopped drinking, he read, and sometimes at night, in bed, he twisted with fury thinking of Lucile. This was evidently his fate. He no longer hoped, his memory could give him no reason for that. His only memory was of Lucile's pleasure, of his own, a memory which ravaged without reassuring him, for one can never be entirely sure of the intensity of another's pleasure— nor, if such intensity could not be reached or even surpassed with a stranger. Although he knew that no one but Lucile could give him as much sensual pleasure, he could not imagine that this held true for her. At times, he remembered her hunted expression that day when he had arrived so late, he recalled that she had said: 'I love you for keeps, you know,' He thought that he had missed a chance that day, he should have devoted more time to Lucile's feelings and less to her body, and also, that if he had doubtless possessed her physically, he had totally failed to possess her spirit. Of course, they laughed together, and it was the laughter of love, but that was not enough. To understand, he only had to recall the strange melancholy that had overcome him, in the middle of his anger, on discovering the tears in Lucile's eyes at the
For a man and a woman to truly love, it is not enough that they offer each other pleasure, make each other laugh; they must also make each other suffer. She could well argue the contrary. But she would no longer argue anything with him, she had gone. He broke off the dialogue, the explanation he mentally had with her twenty times a day, jumped up suddenly from his chair or suddenly stopped walking. This went on endlessly.

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