Read La Chamade Online

Authors: Francoise Sagan

La Chamade (5 page)

Johnny regarded this evidence with a mixture of envy and sadness. It was true that he liked Lucile, liked the way she kept silent, the way she looked bored, the way she laughed. And now he studied this new face of hers, younger, childlike, almost wild from wanting, and he remembered having wanted like that, long ago, wanting someone more than anything in the world. It was Roger. Yes, he had seen Roger enter, as Lucile had done, a drawing-room, and he had known the feeling of being dead, or of having returned to life at last. What was real, what was dreamed in these love affairs? Anyway, Antoine had not wasted any time. It was only the day before that he had asked for Lucile's telephone number. Calmly, like an ordinary question, man to man. Curiously, there was a sort of masculine complicity in their relations, and it had not even occurred to Johnny to mention the telephone call to Claire, to whom he usually told everything. There were still some things that Johnny would not do, and Heaven knows, life was expensive.

Diane had not noticed the behaviour of Antoine, her dress having miraculously hooked on a table at the very moment Lucile entered, and only William was surprised at the young man's flight when Scott Fitzgerald's name was mentioned.

Meanwhile, Antoine had rejoined them and was now helping Diane extricate her dress, not without the loss of some beading.

'Your hands are shaking,' whispered Diane.

She usually said
to him in public, now she used the more intimate
as if by accident, but these accidents happened a little too frequently. Antoine resented it. He resented everything about her during the past two days. He resented her sleep, her voice, her elegance, her gestures, the mere fact of her being alive, for being nothing more to him than a means of going to places where Lucile might be found. He resented, too, the fact that he had been unable to touch her since. She had become worried immediately. In their physical relations Antoine had always behaved with that perfect regularity resulting from a mixture of sensuality and indifference. He was unaware that this failing on his part gave Diane a little hope, so frightened was she at times of this lover, silent, efficient and unlyrical. Passion feeds on everything, even what seems to be the most contrary to its yearnings. Meanwhile, Antoine's eyes searched for Lucile. He knew she was there, he watched the door as attentively for fear of her leaving as he had when hoping for her appearance. Blassans-Lignières' voice startled him and he turned, cordially shook hands with Lucile, then with Charles. He met Lucile's eyes once more and a sense of triumph, of perfect happiness overwhelmed him with such violence that he began to cough in order to conceal his expression.

'Diane,' said Blassans-Lignières, 'the Boldini I was telling you about belongs to William. You must show it to her, William.'

Antoine's glance crossed his as Charles moved away, flanked by Diane and William. The look in Charles' blue eyes was anxious, honest. Was he unhappy? Did he suspect something? Antoine had not thought about Charles. He had concerned himself with Diane, and very little, at that. Since Sarah's death he had never questioned himself about anyone. Now he found himself alone, facing Lucile, and he mutely asked her 'Who are you? What do you want of me? What are you doing here? What am I to you?'

'I thought I would never get here,' said Lucile.

'I know nothing about him,' she thought, 'nothing except the way he makes love. What has stirred us to such a degree of passion? It's the fault of others. If we were free, unobserved, surely we should be calmer, less hot-blooded.' For an instant, she felt tempted to turn her back on him and join the small group in quest of the Boldini. What kind of future awaited her, with its lies and hurrying? She took the cigarette that Antoine offered, and she laid her hand on his. She immediately recognised the warmth, the contact of this hand and closed her eyes, twice, as though in secret agreement with herself.

'You'll come tomorrow?' asked Antoine hurriedly. 'At the same time?'

It seemed to him that he would not have a moment's rest until he knew exactly when he would be holding her in his arms again. She said yes. And like an ebbing tide, apprehension left Antoine, and he even asked himself if their appointment was really that important to him. Yet he had read enough to know that anxiety—perhaps more deeply than jealousy—is love's great accelerator. And too, he was certain that he had only to offer his hand, to draw Lucile to him in the middle of the drawing-room for the scandal to be bared, the irreparable accomplished; and this very certainty prevented him from making a move, and gave him an ambiguous, but keen, pleasure that he little knew: dissimulation.

'Well, children, what have you done with your friends?'

Claire's ringing voice made them jump. She placed a hand on Lucile's shoulder and looked appraisingly at Antoine as though trying to put herself in Lucile's place, and succeeding well. 'Here comes the feminine-conspirator act,' thought Lucile, and to her own surprise, did not feel in the least annoyed. It was true, Antoine was handsome now, his expression troubled, but determined. He was surely too absent-minded to succeed in lying for long, he was made for reading, long walks, love-making, for silence and not for social life. Even less so than she was: indifference and detachment provided her with an ideal diving suit for the abysmal waters that surrounded her.

'There's a Boldini somewhere belonging to the one named William,' said Antoine waggishly. 'Diane and Charles are contemplating it.'

He reflected that this was the first time he had called Blassans-Lignières by his christian name. For some unknown reason, the fact of deceiving a man led to a certain degree of familiarity.

Claire gave a small cry. 'A Boldini? It's new, isn't it? Where did William find it? I didn't know about it,' she added in the vexed tone she adopted when a fault was discovered in her network of information. 'Poor William must have been swindled as usual, no one but an American would buy a Boldini without consulting Santos.'

Calmed a little by the thought of poor William's imprudence, she turned her attention to Lucile. Perhaps the time had come at last to make this little upstart pay for her insolence, her silence, her refusal to play the game. Lucile smiled, her eyes raised to Antoine, and it was an easy smile, amused and reassured. That was the right term, 'reassured'. The kind of smile a woman could only have if she knew a man intimately. 'But when, when could they have met?' Claire's mind began to function at top speed. 'Let's see, the supper at Marnes was three days ago, nothing existed then. It must have been some afternoon, in Paris no one makes love in the evening anymore, everyone is too tired. What's more, they have Charles and Diane to cope with. Today?' She looked at them, her eyes shining, nostrils flared, trying to detect the traces of pleasure on them with the passionate interest that curiosity gives some women. Lucile understood and, in spite of herself, burst out laughing. Claire withdrew slightly, her fox-hound expression changed into something softer, more resigned, the 'all-understood, all-permitted' look, which passed without being noticed, unfortunately.

For Antoine was looking at Lucile, laughing confidentially with her, delighted to hear her laugh, delighted to know that she would tell him why next day in his bed, during the happy, weary period that follows love-making. So at present, he did not ask: 'What are you laughing about?' Many affairs are denounced in this way: by silence, the lack of questions, phrases left dangling, a password so commonplace as to become extravagant. In any case, a person who had heard Lucile and Antoine laugh, who had seen their expressions, could not be misled. They themselves felt this vaguely and took a sort of pride in seizing the opportunity offered by the Boldini incident to laugh together without causing alarm. Though they would never have admitted it, the presence of Claire and the other guests increased their pleasure. They felt young, almost like children who have been forbidden to do something, have done it just the same and not yet been punished.

Diane returned, cutting through the crowd, rapidly withdrawing her hand from a friend as he kissed it, neglecting to answer some question about her health or an enthusiastic remark praising her beauty. In a confused murmur of 'How are you, Diane? You're in wonderful shape, Diane, where did you get that divine dress?', she endeavoured to reach the dark, malevolent corner where she had left her lover, her true love, with a girl who intrigued him. She hated Charles for having dragged her away from the drawing-room, she hated Boldini, she hated William for having recounted that deadly, interminable story about his purchase. He had bought it for a song, of course, it was a great bargain, the wretched dealer had been completely hoodwinked. It was irritating, this mania that the ultra-rich had for always, always getting a bargain. To have a rebate from the dressmaker, a discount at Carrier's, and to be proud of it. She had escaped all that, thank Heaven, she was not one of the women of means who haggled with tradespeople. She must tell that to Antoine, it would amuse him. People amused him, he always quoted Proust on the subject, and on many others as well, which annoyed Diane somewhat, for she had very little time to read. Dear Lucile had certainly read Proust, she looked just the type and, of course, living with Charles, she must have plenty of time. Diane paused. 'My God,' she thought suddenly, 'I'm being vulgar. Really, can't one grow old without becoming vulgar?' Her heart ached, she smiled at Coco de Balileul, returned Maxime's mysterious wink, stumbled over a dozen smiling, friendly obstacles. She accomplished this nightmarish steeplechase to rejoin Antoine who was laughing over there, laughing his deep laugh; she must stop that laugh. She took another step and closed her eyes with relief: he was laughing with Claire Santré. Lucile had her back turned to them.


'What a noisy party,' said Charles. 'People drink more and more, don't they?'

The car glided gently over the quays, it was raining. As usual Lucile had leaned her head on the edge of the window, little raindrops sprinkled her face, she breathed in the smell of Paris, the April night, and thought of Antoine's tormented face when they had been obliged to say goodbye, half an hour earlier. Everything seemed wonderful.

'People are more and more frightened,' she replied gaily. 'Frightened of growing old, of losing what they have, of not being able to get what they want, of being bored, they live in a constant state of panic and greed.'

'That amuses you?' asked Charles.

'It amuses me sometimes, and sometimes it touches me. Doesn't it you?'

'I pay very little attention,' said Charles. 'As you know, I'm not much of a psychologist. All I notice is that more and more strangers fall into my arms and more and more of them stagger about drawing-rooms.'

He could not say: 'I'm only interested in you, I spend hours and hours prying into the workings of your mind, I am tormented by an
, I too am frightened as you say, frightened of losing what I have, I too live in a constant state of panic and greed.'

Lucile drew in her head and looked at him. She was filled with tenderness, she had never been fonder of him. She would have liked to share with him the wild happiness she felt in thinking of the next day. 'It's ten o'clock, only seventeen hours before I'll be in Antoine's arms. If only I can sleep late the time will pass without my noticing it.' She laid her hand on Charles'. It was a fine, well-kept hand, with a few small yellow spots that had begun to appear.

'How was the Boldini?'

'She's trying to please me,' thought Charles bitterly. 'She knows that I'm a man of taste as well as a businessman. She doesn't know that I'm fifty and wretchedly unhappy.'

'Rather pretty. In his best manner. William bought it for next to nothing.'

'William always gets everything for next to nothing,' laughed Lucile.

'That's exactly the reflection of Diane,' answered Charles.

There was a vague pause. 'I'm not going to be silent with embarrassment whenever he mentions Diane or Antoine,' thought Lucile. 'It's too silly. If only I could tell him the truth: I'm very much taken with Antoine, I feel like laughing with him, to be in his arms. What more dreadful thing could I say to a man who loves me? He might, perhaps, put up with my sleeping with Antoine, but not to my laughing with him. I know: to jealousy, nothing is more frightful than laughter.'

'Diane looked so strange,' she said. 'I was talking to Claire and Antoine when she returned to the drawing-room. Her face was tense, her expression searching ... she frightened me.'

She tried to laugh. Charles turned to her.

'Frightened? You mean that you felt sorry for her?'

'Yes,' she said quietly. 'I felt sorry for her, too. Growing old is no joke for a woman.'

'Or for a man,' replied Charles briskly. 'I can guarantee that.'

They laughed, a laugh that rang false and chilled their blood. 'So that's the way it is,' thought Lucile. 'Very well, we'll avoid the subject, we'll joke and do whatever pleases him, but tomorrow at five, I'll be in Antoine's arms.'

And she who detested ferocity felt delighted to discover that she was capable of it.

For nothing, no one, no amount of pleading could prevent her from meeting Antoine the next day, from knowing once more the body, the breath, the voice of Antoine. She was certain of it, and the relentlessness of this desire in her, whose every plan depended on a mood or the weather, surprised her even more than the perfect joy that had overcome her on meeting Antoine's eyes earlier that evening. Her only love affair, at twenty, had been unfortunate and she now considered passion with a curious mixture of respect and sadness, approaching what she felt for religion: a lost sentiment. She suddenly discovered love in all its force—requited, happy love—and it seemed as though her life, instead of being confined to one being, became immense, impossible to fill, triumphal. She, whose days passed nonchalantly, without a landmark, felt alarmed to see how little of life remained to her: she would never have enough time to love Antoine.

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