Read La Chamade Online

Authors: Francoise Sagan

La Chamade (3 page)

Charles assented and Lucile smiled at him:

'I'll join you at home.'

Their departure caused the sort of hubbub that follows a flare-up, everyone speaking of something else for several minutes before concentrating on the details, and Lucile and Antoine remained alone. She leaned on the balcony and looked at him pensively. He calmly smoked.

'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I should have controlled my temper.'

'Come,' he replied, 'I'll accompany you before it becomes dramatic.'

Claire, with an understanding expression, saw them to the door. They were quite right in leaving, but she remembered so well what it was to be young. They formed a charming couple. She could help them... but no, there was Charles; where was her mind tonight?

Paris was black, glowing, seductive, and they decided to walk home.

The relief they first felt on seeing the door shut on Claire's look of false conspiracy changed suddenly into a desire to leave, to know, in any case to finish with a sort of violence, this disjointed evening.

Lucile had no intention, not even for a second, of playing the rôle so tacitly insinuated in the expressions of the others when she had said goodbye: that of the young woman who deserts her ageing protector for a handsome young man. She had told Charles one day: I shall make you unhappy, perhaps, but never ridiculous.' And, in fact, the few times that she had been unfaithful to him he could have suspected nothing.

This evening was absurd. What was she doing in the street with this stranger? She turned to him and smiled.

'Don't look so gloomy,' he said. 'We'll stop for a drink on the way.'

But they had several. They stopped at five bars, avoiding two because it was obviously unbearable for Antoine to enter with someone other than Sarah, and they talked. They crossed and recrossed the Seine as they spoke, up the Rue de Rivoli as far as the Concorde, entered Harry's Bar and left again. The morning wind had begun. Lucile reeled from sleepiness, whisky and his kindness.

'She was unfaithful to me,' said Antoine. 'The poor thing thought that to sleep with producers or journalists was the thing to do. She lied to me continually, and I despised her as I played the proud, the ironic, the judge. By what right, dear God? She loved me, yes, she must have loved me, because she had nothing to gain ...'

'That night, the eve of her death, she almost begged me to stop her from leaving for Deauville. But I told her: "Go ahead, go if it amuses you !" What an ass, what a conceited ass I was?'

They crossed a bridge. He questioned her.

'I've never understood anything about anything,' said Lucile. 'Life seemed logical enough until I left my parents. I wanted to take a degree in Paris. I dreamed. Since then, I'm looking for parents everywhere, in my lovers, in my friends. I'm content having nothing of my own, not the smallest plan, not the tiniest worry. I'm in tune with life. It's strange, I don't know why, something in me harmonises with life the moment I awaken. I shall never change. What can I do? Work? I'm not talented. I must fall in love, perhaps, like you. Antoine, Antoine, what are you doing with Diane?'

'She loves me,' said Antoine. 'And I like women tall and slim. Sarah was short and fat and it made me weep with sympathy. Can you understand that? And what's more, she bored me.'

Fatigue became him. They walked slowly up the Rue du Bac and entered a brightly-lit café. They gazed at each other frankly, without a smile, without a frown. The juke box played an old Strauss waltz, and a drunkard attempted, lurchingly, to dance at the other end of the bar. 'It's late, it's so late,' whined a small voice inside Lucile. 'Charles must be mad with anxiety. Go home, you aren't even interested in this boy.'

And suddenly she felt her cheek against Antoine's coat. He held her against him with one arm, his head touching her hair, and he said nothing. She felt a strange tranquillity steal over them. The proprietor, the drunkard, the music, the lights had always existed; or, perhaps, she had never existed herself. She didn't understand anything anymore. They took a taxi to her door and they said goodbye politely, without another word.


But they were soon to see each other again. Diane had made a scene, and after that not a woman present at the dinner would have imagined inviting Diane without Charles, or more exactly, Antoine without Lucile. Diane had changed camps: she had left the tyrant's camp, where she had played such an able part for twenty years, to join the victims. She was jealous, she had shown it, she was lost. Quiet rumours of the kill floated on the spring air. By one of the curious turnabouts so typical of her set, the things that had contributed to her force and her prestige had now become liabilities: her beauty 'not like when she was young', her jewels not 'enough' (when the least among them would have been more than enough for any one of her friends the week before), down to her Rolls-Royce 'at least she has that'. Poor Diane: envy had turned itself inside out like a glove; she would wear out her face with cosmetics, bruise her heart against her diamonds, go riding with her Pekingese in the Rolls. At last, at last she could be pitied.

She was aware of all that. She knew Paris well and had had the good fortune, at thirty, to have married an intelligent writer who had pointed out the workings of the machinery before fleeing, horrified himself. Diane had a certain courage that was due to her Irish ancestry, a sadistic nurse who had brought her up, and a private fortune that permitted her to do as she pleased without bending to anyone. Say what you like, adversity humbles the spirit, especially of a woman. And Diane, who had more or less escaped all passion, had never looked at a man except in the measure that he looked at her, now saw herself with horror spying on Antoine. And already she was thinking of other means than passion to bind him to her.

What did he want? He wasn't interested in money. His publisher paid him a ridiculous salary and he flatly refused to take her out when he couldn't afford it. That meant that they often had dinner, the two of them, at her flat, an idea that would have been unthinkable only six months earlier. Fortunately there were the first nights, suppers and dinners, the festivities offered gratuitously to the rich in Paris. Antoine sometimes said vaguely that books were his only interest, and that one day he would succeed in the publishing business. And, in fact, at the dinners he only came alive if he found someone willing to discuss, rather gravely, literature with him. As literary lovers were the fashion that year, Diane, stimulated slightly, had spoken to him of the Prix Goncourt, but he had insisted that he didn't know how to write and, more important, that the contrary was indispensable in producing a book. She had been persistent just the same: I'm sure that if you really wanted ...' 'Think of that young X ...' 'Oh, no, no!' had cried Antoine, who never raised his voice. No, he would finish his life as a reader at Renoard's, with two hundred thousand francs a month and would still be mourning Sarah fifty years later. Meanwhile, Diane loved him.

She had spent a sleepless night after Claire's dinner: Antoine
had returned at dawn, probably drunk, and gone straight to his room. She had telephoned him every hour, ready to hang up at the sound of his voice. She only wanted to know where he was. At six-thirty he had answered at last, murmuring simply: 'I'm sleepy' without even asking who it was. He must have made the round of bars at Saint-Germain, perhaps with Lucile. She wouldn't speak to him of Lucile; one must never give a name to that of which one is afraid.

The next day she telephoned Claire to apologise for having left so abruptly: she had had such a terrible headache all the evening.

'I noticed that you didn't look very well,' said Claire, always understanding and affable.

'I'm not getting any younger,' replied Diane coldly. 'And young men are so exhausting.'

Claire laughed knowingly. She adored allusions, or more exactly, intimate details, and no one could be more precise in describing the technical qualities of a lover than two women-of the-world talking together. It was as if the constant use of passionate adjectives for their dressmakers had left only the dry terms of weights and measures for their lovers. Claire grew restless, Diane's conversation was leading nowhere. She made the first move:

'Our little Lucile is a bit irritating with her schoolgirl giggling. She's nearing thirty, isn't she?'

'She has pretty grey eyes,' said Diane, 'and if it amuses Charles ...'

'Nevertheless, two years with her must seem long,' sighed Claire.

'With him, too, my dear, don't forget that.' And with this kindly remark they said goodbye, delighted. Diane thought that she had arranged the incident. And Claire could say that dear, flighty Diane had phoned at noon to excuse herself. She had forgotten a fundamental principle of Parisians, that one must never apologise and that anything is permitted provided that it is done gaily.

So Johnny, at Claire's request, had an invitation sent to
Charles Blassans-Lignières
night performance
to which
had also been asked. It was agreed that they would have supper somewhere afterward, 'only friends'. Apart from the amusement to be had in the meeting of
and Lucile, Claire had the assurance that Charles would automatically pick up the bill. Very convenient: Johnny was near ruin at the moment, Diane could not be allowed to settle the bill, and Claire didn't remember if she had thought to invite an extra wealthy man. The species had become precious and extremely rare at a time when only homosexuals were kept on a really grand scale. Anyway, the play was certain to be amusing because it was by Bijou Dubois and there was nothing about the theatre that Bijou Dubois didn't know.

'You can say what you like, my pet,' she remarked to Johnny in the taxi that drove them to the
, 'I've had enough of your modern theatre. To see the actors sitting in armchairs on stage, to listen to their flat recitations of the facts of life bores me to death. I prefer vaudeville. Johnny are you listening?'

Johnny, to whom she was making this speech for the tenth time this season, nodded his head. Claire was charming but her vitality exhausted him, and he had a sudden urge to get out of the car and walk up the Boulevard de Clichy swarming with people, to eat French-fried potatoes out of a paper sack, to be beaten by a tough. Claire's intrigues seemed too simple and he was always surprised to see them succeed.

The theatre guests were milling about the Place Dancourt exchanging greetings and banal remarks, assuring one another that this was the prettiest theatre in Paris and that the little square was too provincial for words. Lucile came out of a café, escorted by Charles, sat down on a park bench and began to eat an enormous sandwich. After a moment's hesitation, several others followed suit. Diane's car drove up noiselessly and, by chance, came to a stop just in front of the bench. Antoine stepped out, helped Diane and turned, to see Lucile with her mouth full, happy, and Charles, embarrassed, rise to greet Diane.

'My word, you're picnicking? What a good idea,' said Diane.

She had seen out of the corner of her eye that on other benches Edmée de Guilt, Doudou Wilson and Madame Bert were doing the same thing.

It's nine, the play won't begin for another fifteen minutes. Antoine, be an angel and run get me a sandwich, I'm famished,' she continued.

Antoine hesitated. Lucile saw him look at the café, then at Diane, and finally, with a vague gesture of resignation, he crossed the street and pushed open the door of the café. She could see the proprietor get quickly to his feet, come from behind the counter and, with a pained expression, shake Antoine's hand. The waiter did the same. All she could see of Antoine was his back, she had the impression that he was retreating, floundering under a hail of blows. Then she remembered: Sarah. The same theatre, the rehearsals, the café where Antoine must have waited. Where he had never returned.

'But what can Antoine be doing?' asked Diane. 'Has he taken to solitary drinking?'

'Sarah,' said Lucile without looking at her.

The name bothered her but she couldn't have questioned Antoine, or even mentioned it. He came toward them, expressionless, like a blind man. Diane understood suddenly, and turned toward her so briskly that Lucile recoiled, startled.

And, in fact, Diane had almost slapped her: so Lucile knew about Sarah, too. She had no right to know. Antoine belonged to her, Antoine's laughter and Antoine's sorrow. It was on her shoulder that he dreamed of Sarah each night. It was Diane that he preferred to the memory of Sarah. The bell rang for the first act. She took Antoine's arm, leading him. He followed, dazed. He greeted several critics politely, some friends of Diane's, and helped her to her seat. The curtain went up and in the dark she leaned toward him.

'You poor darling,' she said ...

And she took his hand in hers.


During the interval, they split into two groups. Lucile and Antoine smiled from a distance and, for the first time, with feeling. He watched her as she talked, absently leaning against Charles' shoulder, and the curve of her neck, the faintly amused line of her mouth attracted him. He wanted to push his way through the crowd and take her in his arms. It had been a long time since he had felt desire, simple desire for an unknown woman. She turned at that precise moment, met Antoine's eyes and, sensing the meaning in them, stood motionless before giving a small embarrassed smile. She had never really thought of Antoine physically, it took this look of desire to make her appreciate his beauty. All her life it had been like that; by some happy chance or an almost pathological dislike of difficulties, she only took an interest in those who were interested in her. And now, her back turned to him, she saw again Antoine's handsome mouth, the golden colour of his eyes, and she asked herself by what extraordinary coincidence they had not kissed that first night. Charles felt her head move from his shoulder, glanced at her and immediately recognised the thoughtful, gentle, almost resigned expression she always had when she took a liking to a man. He turned and saw Antoine.

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