Read La Chamade Online

Authors: Francoise Sagan

La Chamade (4 page)

After the play, they again formed into a group. Claire was in ecstasy because of the performance, the lovely weather, the maharani's jewels, delirious with pleasure. They couldn't agree on a restaurant, as usual. Finally they decided to go to Marnes, for obviously the green grass and fresh air were just what Claire needed. Diane's chauffeur stood waiting.

'Diane,' said Charles suddenly, 'would you take me with you? We came here in Lucile's car, and I'm feeling old tonight and I have a cold. Can you do without Antoine?'

Diane did not turn a hair, but Claire rolled her eyes in amazement and disbelief.

'Why, of course,' said Diane. 'See you later, Antoine, and don't drive too fast.'

The four of them got into the Rolls-Royce. Lucile and Antoine were left on the sidewalk, slightly stunned. Neither Charles nor Diane looked back, but Claire's parting wink froze them though they pretended not to have seen it. Lucile was lost in thought. It was like Charles to inflict suffering on himself, but how had he suspected a desire of which she had only been conscious an hour before. She had never been unfaithful to Charles except with someone she was certain he would never meet. If there was anything in the world that she loathed it was the complicity of two lovers behind the back of a third, and the intrigued laughter of witnesses like Claire. None of that for her! Antoine laid his hand on her shoulder and she shook her head. After all, life was simple enough, the weather fine and she liked the young man. 'We'll see soon enough' she thought. During thirty years on earth the number of times she had thought 'we'll see soon enough', was staggering. She began to laugh. 'Why are you laughing?' asked Antoine. 'I'm laughing at myself. The car is a few steps away. What have I done with the keys? Will you drive?'

Antoine drove. They rode without speaking at first, breathing the night air in the open car, ill at ease. Antoine drove slowly. They had reached the Etoile when he turned to her. 'What made Charles do that?' he asked.

'I don't know.'

They realised at once that with these two sentences they admitted and ratified the furtive glance they had exchanged during the interval, that something existed between them that could no longer be removed. She would have replied, 'Do what?' and transformed Charles' suggestion into the prudent decision of a man with a cold. Too late. Her only desire was to reach the restaurant quickly. Or that Antoine would make some coarse gesture, some vulgar remark, so she could be finished with him. But Antoine said nothing. They drove through the Bois de Boulogne now; they followed the Seine, they must have looked like specimens of gilded youth, two sweethearts in a purring car: she, the daughter of Dupont Steel, he, the son of Dubois Sugar, they would marry next week in the cathedral, with the families' consent. They would have two children.

'Here's another bridge,' remarked Antoine, heading for Marnes. 'The number of bridges we've crossed together.'

This was the first allusion to the other evening. Lucile suddenly remembered how she had hidden her face in his coat in the little café. She had completely forgotten.

'So we have, yes, it's true ...'

She made a vague movement of her hand and Antoine took it in mid-air, squeezed it gently, kept it in his. They drove into the Parc de Saint-Cloud. 'Now come,' thought Lucile, 'he's holding my hand while we cross the park, it's spring, no cause for alarm, I'm no longer sixteen.' But her heart thumped, she felt the blood drain from her face and hands, rush to her throat, choke her. When he stopped the car, she felt dazed. He took her in his arms, kissed her furiously and she noticed that he trembled as much as she did. He sat back, he looked at her and she looked back at him, completely motionless, until he leaned toward her again. He kissed her slowly now, gravely. He kissed her temples, her cheeks, returned to her mouth; and seeing his face, calm, attentive over hers, she knew that she would often see it like that. There was nothing she could do to resist him. She had forgotten that one could want another so much. She must have dreamed. How long? Two years, three years? But she couldn't recall another face.

Antoine buried his face in Lucile's hair. 'What's come over me?' he said anxiously. 'What's come over me?'

She smiled, he could feel the movement of her cheek against his, and he smiled too.

'We must drive on,' she whispered.

'No,' said Antoine. After an instant he moved away from her, and in the anguish they so quickly felt, they understood.

Antoine started off hurriedly and Lucile haphazardly touched up her face. The Rolls was already there and they realised that their car might have passed it in Paris, and it could have arrived behind them in the park, surprising them with its headlights, like two night birds. But it was there reigning over the little square, the symbol of power, of luxury, of their bonds, and the sports car next to it seemed absurdly young and frail.

Lucile removed her make-up. She was totally exhausted and contemplated the tiny wrinkles that showed at her mouth and eyelids, wondered what they meant, who or what had caused them. They were not the lines of passion, of effort. They were probably the marks of facility, idleness, distraction, and for a moment she loathed herself. She ran her hand over her brow. She had felt disgust for herself frequently during the last year. She must see a doctor. A question of blood pressure, no doubt. She would take a few vitamins and she could gaily continue throwing, or dreaming, her life away. She heard herself call out rather angrily:

'Charles! Why did you leave me alone with Antoine?'

At the same time, she knew that what she really wanted was a scene, a scandal, anything but this quiet disgust. And it was Charles who would pay, Charles who would suffer. That she only liked extremes was one thing, that she made others support them was something else. But the question had already left, like a javelin, crossing her bedroom, the landing, to hit Charles as he undressed slowly in his own room. He was so tired that, for a second, he thought of dodging the query and replying: 'Really, Lucile, I had a cold.' She would not have been insistent: her search for truth never went very far. But he was too anxious to know, to suffer, he had lost forever the taste for security that had so skilfully closed his eyes to his mistresses' infidelities for the past twenty years. He answered:

'I thought you had a fancy for him.'

Instead of turning, he looked at himself in the mirror, and was surprised that he had not grown pale.

'Have you decided to throw me into the arms of all the men I fancy?'

'Don't be annoyed with me, Lucile. In this case, it's too bad a sign.'

But she had already crossed the room, she slipped her arms around his neck, murmuring
pardons
indistinctly. All he could see was the reflection of Lucile's dark hair on his shoulder, a long strand on his arm and he felt the same heartache, the same sorrow. 'She's all I love, she'll never really belong to me. She will leave me.' And at that moment, how could he possibly imagine loving another lock of hair, another human being? Love's strength probably lies in a sense of the irreparable.

'That's not what I meant,' said Lucile, 'but I wouldn't like it'.

'You wouldn't like me to be accommodating,' said Charles turning to her. 'Rest assured, I'm not. I just wanted to make sure of something, that's all.'

'What did you find?'

'Your expression as you entered the restaurant, your way of not looking at him. I know you. You're attracted to him.'

Lucile broke away from him.

'And so?' she asked. 'Is it really impossible to find a man attractive without making someone else suffer? Will I never be at peace? What are these laws? What have you done with liberty? With, with ...'

She was confused, she stammered, and she had the impression of having been misunderstood, as always.

'I've done nothing with my liberty,' said Charles with a smile, 'and you know that I'm in love with you. And it seems to me that you still have yours. As things stand, Antoine pleases you. It will turn into something or it won't, maybe I'll know and may be not. There's nothing I can do.'

He lay on the bed in his dressing-gown and Lucile stood facing him. He sat up on the edge of the bed.

'It's true,' she said dreamily. 'I think him attractive.'

They looked at each other.

'And if anything happens, will you be hurt?' asked Lucile.

'Yes,' said Charles. 'Why?'

'Because otherwise I'd leave you,' she said, half stretched on Charles' bed, head in hand, knees doubled up to her chin, her expression relaxed. Two minutes later, she was asleep and Charles Blassans-Lignières had trouble in giving each of them a fair share of the blankets.

CHAPTER SEVEN

He obtained her telephone number from Johnny and called her the next morning. They met at four o'clock in the semi-student, semi-junior executive room where he lived, Rue de Poitiers. She took no notice of the room at first, all she saw was Antoine who kissed her without a word, without a greeting, as if they had not been parted for a second since the park at Saint-Cloud. What happened to them is what happens when a man and woman are consumed by a flame. Soon they lose any recollection of former pleasure, they forget the limitations of their own bodies, and terms such as modesty or audacity become equally abstract. The idea of having to part in an hour or two seemed revoltingly immoral. They knew already that a gesture of the other could never be embarrassing, they rediscovered, whispered the crude, awkward, simple words of physical love, pride, gratitude for pleasure given, received. They knew, too, that this moment was exceptional in their lives and that nothing better could be afforded a human being than the discovery of his complement. Unplanned, but now inescapable, physical passion had turned what might have been a passing fancy into a real love affair.

The sky darkened, Lucile and Antoine refused to look at the clock. They smoked, heads thrown back, an odour of love, battle and perspiration that they breathed in together like two exhausted, but victorious, warriors. The sheets lay on the floor, Antoine's hand on Lucile's hip.

'I'll never be able to meet you without blushing,' said Lucile, 'or see you leave without feeling pain, or speak to you in public without turning my eyes away.'

She leaned on her elbow, looked at the room in disorder and its narrow window. Antoine laid his hand on her shoulder: she had a very straight smooth back; ten years and a whole lifetime separated her from Diane. As she turned, he closed his fingers and held the lower part of her face, almost fiercely for a second, her mouth pressed to his palm. Gazing at each other, they wordlessly promised to have thousands of such moments together, no matter what happened.

CHAPTER EIGHT

'Don't look so glum, my dear fellow,' said Johnny. This is a cocktail party, not a horror film.'

He slipped a drink into Antoine's hand, who smiled mechanically without taking his eyes from the door. They had been there for an hour, it was nine o'clock and no Lucile. What was she doing? She had promised to come. He remembered her voice as she said: Tomorrow, tomorrow,' on his threshold. He had not seen her since. Maybe she was trifling with him. After all, she was maintained by Blassan-Lignières' generosity, she was a kept woman, she could find young males like himself anywhere. Perhaps yesterday afternoon was only a dream, perhaps, to her, it was nothing more than an afternoon like many others spent with a young man. Perhaps he was idiotic and pretentious. Diane sailed toward him, accompanied by their host, an American 'mad about books'.

'William, you know Antoine,' she said emphatically (as though it was inconceivable that anyone should not know Antoine to be her lover).

'Why, of course,' said William, with an appraising smile.

'I wonder if he's going to open my mouth and examine my teeth,' thought Antoine furiously.

'William has been telling me the most amazing things about Scott Fitzgerald,' continued Diane. 'He was one of his father's friends. Antoine has a passion for Fitzgerald. You must tell him everything, William, absolutely everything ...'

The rest of her sentence was lost on Antoine. Lucile came in. She glanced about the drawing-room hurriedly and Antoine understood Johnny's comment of a moment before; she looked terrified, just as he had looked, doubtless, five minutes earlier. She saw him, stopped, and automatically he took a step toward her. A dizziness overcame Antoine: 'I shall go to her, put my arms around her, kiss her on the mouth, I don't care about the others.' Lucile guessed his intention and, for a second, almost let him carry it out. The night, the day had been too long, waiting for Charles had been too long, so that for two hours, she had been afraid of arriving at the party to find that Antoine was gone. They stood face to face, dead still, and brusquely Lucile turned away; turned away with a violent movement, a movement of futility. She could not do that, she tried to think that it was to spare Charles' feelings but she knew that fear was actually the reason.

Johnny stood near her. He smiled and examined her with a kind of strange concern. She returned his smile and he took her by the arm to lead her to the buffet.

'You frightened me,' he said.

'Why?'

She looked at him squarely. It could not begin already, not so soon: 'the accomplices, friends, busybodies, sneers.' Johnny shrugged his shoulders.

'I'm fond of you,' he said gently. 'Not that you care, but I'm fond of you.'

Somehow his voice moved Lucile. She stared at him. He must be very lonely.

'Why shouldn't I care?'

'Because you're only interested in things that please you. Everything else upsets you. Isn't it so? Anyway, it's not a bad thing in our small set. You'll rest in one piece a little longer.'

She listened to him without hearing a word. Antoine had disappeared behind a forest of heads at the other end of the drawing-room. Where was he? 'Where are you, my idiot, my lover, Antoine, where have you hidden your tall, bony frame, why do you have eyes, so yellow, if you can't see me, here, just ten yards from you, my idiot?', and a feeling of gentleness came over her. What was Johnny saying? It was obvious that she only cared for things which pleased her, and Antoine pleased her. It seemed that, for the first time in years, she was faced with the evidence.

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