Authors: Francoise Sagan
'Do you swear that?'
He looked sincerely surprised. 'But, my God, of course I swear it. You still have a mania for putting people under oath? It's been a long time since I've had to swear to something.'
He began to laugh gently and she laughed with him.
'Johnny led me to believe that you had cancer, no less.'
He stopped laughing at once.
'And that's why you telephoned me? You didn't want me to die alone?' She shook her head:
'I wanted to see you again, too.' And to her great surprise, she realised that it was true.
'I'm alive, my dear Lucile, deplorably alive, although the dead must have more sensations than I have. I still work and as I don't have enough courage to live alone at home, I go out.' He paused, then continued in a lower voice: 'Your hair is still as black, your eyes as grey. You're very beautiful.'
She realised that it had been a long time since anyone had mentioned her colouring, or even her physical aspect. Antoine probably thought that his lust excluded the necessity of explanations. Yet, it was very pleasant, this middle-aged man facing her, who contemplated her as an inaccessible object and not as a desire that could be gratified within the hour.
'I was wondering,' said Charles, 'if you would be free Thursday evening. The La Molls are having a very fine concert at their house on the Ile Saint-Louis. They're to play the Mozart concerto for flute and harp that you like so much, and Louise Vermer herself has agreed to play. But doubtless that would be too difficult for you?'
'I don't know if Antoine likes music and, especially, if an invitation coming through me won't irritate him.'
It was so like Charles, this invitation. He invited her with Antoine because, above all, he was polite, he preferred to see her with Antoine than not to see her at all. He would wait for her and he would get her out of all her troubles, whatever happened. And she had forgotten him for six months, and it had been necessary that she think he was at death's door for her to make herself known. From where did it come, how could he support this terrible disparity in their relations, where did he find enough substance to nourish this love, his generosity, his tenderness so poorly repaid. She leaned toward him.
'Why do you still love me? Why?'
She spoke harshly, almost grudgingly, and he hesitated for a moment.
'I could say that it's because you don't love me and which, incidentally, would be a very good reason, although incomprehensible by you, with your determination for happiness. But there's something else in you that attracted me. It is ...' he hesitated a little, 'I don't know what. An impulse, the impression of someone on the move and Heaven knows you don't want to go anywhere. A kind of greediness, and Heaven knows you don't want to own anything. A kind of perpetual gaiety and you rarely laugh. You know, people always look as though they were overpowered by their lives, you look as though you overpowered yours. There you are. I explain things badly. Will you have a lemon sherbet?'
'It's surely very good for one's health,' she said dreamily. 'Antoine has a publishers' dinner next Thursday,' she added, and it was true. 'I'll come alone, if you want.'
He did want it, he wanted nothing but that. They agreed to meet at eight-thirty and when he suggested 'at home', she did not for an instant think of the Rue de Poitiers. The Rue de Poitiers was a room, it was not, it had never been a home even though it had been heaven and hell combined.
The La Moll house had once belonged to a state minister of some sort in the eighteenth century. The rooms were immense, the panelling superb and the candlelight, at the same time gentle and relentless (relentless because it brought out the humour—or lack of humour—of every face, gentle because it smoothed away the age), augmented the size, the charm of the drawing-room. The orchestra was at the end of the room, on a kind of small stage and, by leaning forward and avoiding the reflection of the candles in the window panes, Lucile could see the Seine, shining and black, twenty yards below. There was something unreal about this evening for her, so perfect was the view, the setting, the music. A year earlier she might have yawned, wished that one of the guests would slip and fall, or that a glass would break noisily, but something in her, on that evening, desperately appreciated the calm, order, and beauty that, by dint of trafficking in the colonies, the respectable La Molls afforded themselves.
'Here is your concerto,' murmured Charles.
He was sitting next to her and she could distinguish the gleam of his white shirt, his perfectly groomed hair, his long, well-kept hand holding a glass of whisky that he would offer her the moment she showed the desire. He was handsome like this, in the flickering light, he looked sure of himself and a little childlike, he looked happy. Johnny had smiled on seeing them arrive together and she had not asked him why he had lied. The old lady bent over her harp now, she smiled faintly, the young flutist looked at her inquiringly and one could see his throat throb. There was a very fine crowd and it must have intimidated him. It was decidedly an evening after Proust: one was at the Verdurins', young Morel was making his debut and Charles was the nostalgic Swann. But there was no rôle for Lucile in the magnificent comedy, any more than there had been at
, in that frigid office three months earlier, any more than she would find one in all her life. She was neither a courtesan, nor an intellectual, nor the mother of a family, she was nothing. And the first notes gently plucked from the harp by Louise Vermer brought tears to Lucile's eyes. It was music that would become increasingly tender, she knew, increasing melancholy, increasing irreparable, even if the last adjective could not give the idea of more or less. It was music rather inhuman when one has tried to be happy, to be kind, but has made two men suffer, and who no longer knew who she was. The old lady no longer smiled and the harp became so cruel that suddenly Lucile held out her hand to the nearest person, which was Charles, and seized his hand. That hand, that warmth, temporary surely, but living, that contact of skin, that was all that stood between herself and death, herself and solitude, herself and the fearful expectancy of that which lashed out or united over there, the flute and the harp, the timid young man and the old woman, suddenly equal before the blinding contempt for time of Mozart's music. Charles kept her hand in his. From time to time, with his free hand, he picked up a glass and placed it in Lucile's other hand. And she drank much. And there was much music. Charles' hand, long, narrow, and warm in her own, was more and more reassuring. And who was that young blond who sent her in the rain to film libraries, who wanted her to work, to have an abortion by a semi-butcher? Who was this Antoine who called rotten these pleasant people, the exquisite candlelight, the depth of the sofas and Mozart's music? He did not say it, of course, at least of the sofas, the candles and Mozart, but he said it of those who, at the moment, offered all that to her, plus the golden, icy, glowing liquid that ran like water down her throat. She was drunk, immobile and overwhelmingly happy, clinging to Charles' hand. She loved Charles, she loved this tender and silent man, she had always loved him, she did not wish to leave him again and was surprised by his distressed laugh when she told him so, in the car.
'I'd give anything to believe you,' he said, 'but you've been drinking. It's not I whom you love.'
And of course, when she saw Antoine's hair on the pillow, his long arm stretched across her place in the bed, she knew that Charles was right. But she felt a strange regret. For the first time...
There were many other occasions, she still loved Antoine, doubtless, but she no longer loved loving him, she no longer cared for their life together, the missing extravangances that the lack of money imposed, the monotonous days. He felt it and increased his outside activities, he almost neglected her. The empty hours that she had spent so happily in waiting, had now become truly empty, because she no longer expected him as a miracle, but as a habit. She saw Charles occasionally, she did not mention it to Antoine, it was useless to add jealousy to the resigned torment in his yellow eyes. And at night, it was more a combat than an act of love to which they gave themselves. The art each had shown so long in sustaining the pleasure of the other gradually turned into a brutal technique to end things more quickly. They fell asleep reassured by their moans, they forgot that at first they had been overwhelmed.
One evening, when she had been drinking, for she drank a great deal at present, she went home with Charles. She scarcely realised what had happened. She simply thought that it was inevitable and that she must tell Antoine. She returned at dawn and woke him. Six months before, he had been in this same room, madly in love with her, whom he thought he had lost, and it was not she, but Diane who had said goodbye. He had lost Lucile for good now, he must have lacked authority, or strength, or something he ignored, but he did not even try to find out what it was. For too many days he had been obstinately chewing this taste of defeat, suffering from this feeling of being powerless. He almost told her that her act was of no importance, that in any case, she had always deceived him, with Charles, with life, with her proper nature. But he relived that summer month, he remembered the taste of the tears she shed on his shoulder that August, and he said nothing. For over a month, since Geneva, he had expected her to leave. Perhaps, after all, there are things which cannot happen between a man and woman without permanently wounding them, no matter how free they are, and maybe the trip to Geneva was one of them. Or perhaps things had been so ordained from the start, since their fit of laughter at Claire Santré's dinner party. It would take a long time for him to recover; he realised it, looking at her drawn face, her tired grey eyes, her hand lying on the sheet. He knew every angle of that face, every curve of that body, it was geometry not easy to forget. They exchanged banal remarks. She was ashamed, she was devoid of feelings and, doubtless, it would have sufficed that he cry out, for her to stay. But he did not make a sound.
'Anyway, you were no longer happy,' he said.
'You neither,' she replied.
They exchanged a curious, apologetic smile, distressed, but almost formal. She got up and left and it was only when the door closed behind her that he began to sob her name: 'Lucile, Lucile', and to be angry with himself. She walked back toward the flat, toward Charles, toward solitude, she knew that she was rejected for ever from any life worthy of that name and she thought that she truly deserved it.
They saw each other again two years later, at Claire Santré's. Lucile had finally married Charles; Antoine had been made director of a new group of publishers, and it was because of this that he had been invited. His work absorbed him and he was slightly inclined to listen to himself talk. Lucile still had charm, her happy expression, and a young Englishman called Soames smiled at her repeatedly. Antoine was seated next to her at the table, either it was chance, or a last bit of malice on Claire's part, and they gravely discussed books.
'There's a French expression,
: what does it mean exactly?' asked the young Englishman at the other end of the table.
'According to Littré, it's a roll on the drums to announce defeat,' answered an erudite guest.
'How madly poetic,' cried Claire Santré, clasping her hands. 'I know that you have more words than we do, my dear Soames, but you must admit, that where poetry is concerned, France reigns supreme.'
Antoine and Lucile were only a yard from each other. But just as
no longer reminded them of anything, Claire's statement no longer prompted the least bit of laughter.