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Authors: Francoise Sagan

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BOOK: La Chamade
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'What are we doing tonight?' she asked.

'There's Diane's dinner,' said Charles. 'Have you forgotten about it?'

His voice was incredulous but delighted. She guessed why and blushed. If she had answered yes, it would be true and yet at the same time, mislead him. She really could not say: 'I had forgotten the dinner, but not Antoine. I've just been with him. We were both in such a bewildered state that we forgot about seeing each other tonight and made an appointment for tomorrow.'

'I hadn't forgotten it,' she replied, 'but I didn't know if the dinner was to be at her house. What dress would you like me to wear?'

She felt surprised not to be more pleased at the thought of seeing Antoine again in a few hours. On the contrary, she was vaguely annoyed. They had reached such a pitch of emotion that afternoon that it seemed, if the term could be applied to sentiment, that her cup was brimming over. She would have preferred dining quietly with Charles. She opened her mouth to say so, but stopped: it would give him too much pleasure, a false pleasure, and she did not want to lie to him.

'What were you going to say?'

'I don't remember.'

'Your metaphysical reflections make you look even more muddled than usual.'

'Do I usually look muddled?' she asked, laughing.

'Very. I would never dare allow you to travel alone, for instance. A week later, I should find you in a waiting-room, Lord knows where, surrounded by stacks of pocket books, with a thorough knowledge of the barmen's lives.'

He seemed almost worried by such a possibility and she burst out laughing. He really considered her incapable of coping with life and, in a flash, she realised that this was what attached him to her, far more than any feeling of security. He accepted her irresponsibility, he confirmed the choice she had unconsciously made, fifteen years earlier, to never quit her adolescence. The same decision that probably exasperated Antoine. And, perhaps, the character she wanted to be and the one Charles imagined agreed so perfectly that this would prove more powerful than any love that might force her to disown them.

'Meanwhile, let's have a drink,' said Charles. 'I'm dead tired.'

'Pauline doesn't want me to drink' said Lucile. 'Ask her for a double whisky and I'll have some out of your glass.'

Charles smiled and rang for Pauline. 'I'm beginning to act like a little girl,' thought Lucile, 'almost in spite of myself, and before long I'll have a collection of plush animals on my bed.' She stretched, went to her room and, looking at her bed, wondered if one day she would wake up with Antoine by her side.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Diane's flat on the Rue Cambon was lovely, filled with flowers and, in spite of the mild weather, the opened french windows, two large wood fires blazed in hearths at either end of the drawing-room. A delighted Lucile at one moment breathed in the smell from the street that announced already the approaching summer, a languid, dusty, hot summer, and at another moment the burning logs that recalled last autumn's bitter cold, linked for ever in her mind with the woods in Sologne where Charles had taken her hunting.

'How wonderful,' she said to Diane, 'to have combined two seasons in a single evening.'

'Yes,' said Diane, 'but it gives one the feeling of wearing the wrong clothes.'

Lucile began to laugh. She had a quiet, infectious laugh, she spoke without a shade of constraint and Diane wondered if her own jealousy was not absurd. All things considered, Lucile behaved well; of course, she had that absent-minded, vague attitude that recalled Antoine, but perhaps that was their only affinity. Blassans-Lignières seemed relaxed, Antoine had never been in such good humour, surely she must be mistaken. She made a gesture of friendliness, almost of gratitude toward Lucile.

'Come with me, I'll show you the rest of the flat. Would it amuse you?'

Lucile gravely inspected a bathroom tiled with Italian ceramics, admired the convenient wardrobes and followed Diane into her bedroom.

It's rather a mess,' said Diane, 'don't look at it too closely.' Antoine had come in late and changed for dinner in her room. The shirt and tie he had worn that afternoon lay on the floor. Diane glanced quickly at Lucile and detected nothing more than a faint sign of disapproval. But something urged Diane, something she was ashamed of and yet could not repress, to pick up his clothing, put them on an armchair and then face Lucile with a little smile of complicity. 'Men are so untidy.' She looked Lucile in the eye. 'Charles is very neat,' replied Lucile affably. She wanted to laugh. 'What next?' she thought. 'Is she going to explain that Antoine never replaces the cap on his tube of toothpaste?' She felt no jealousy, the tie had appeared to her like an old schoolfriend met by some miracle at the foot of the Pyramids. At the same time, she thought Diane very beautiful and that it was strange that Antoine should neglect such beauty for her sake. She felt objective, astute, and benevolent, as she always did after drinking a little too much.

'We must go back to the guests,' said Diane. 'I don't know why I feel obliged to give parties from time to time. It's exhausting for a hostess and I don't believe people enjoy themselves much.'

'The party seems very gay,' said Lucile with conviction. 'Anyway, Clare is pouting a little, which is always a good sign.'

'So you've noticed that?' Diane smiled. 'I shouldn't have thought it of you. You always seem a trifle... er...'

'Muddled,' said Lucile.

'That's it, exactly.'

'Charles told me the same thing this evening at seven o'clock. I shall soon be believing it's true.' They both laughed and Lucile suddenly felt a certain affection for Diane. In their little group, she was one of the few women to possess a little moral distinction, she had never heard her make a vulgar or commonplace remark. Charles spoke well of her and he was extremely particular regarding a generally prevalent form of baseness. It was a pity not to be able to make a friend of her. Perhaps some day, if Diane were really intelligent, everything could be settled for the best. Lucile mistook her own crazy optimism for wisdom and if Antoine had not come in at that moment, nothing would have prevented her from beginning an explanation to Diane that could only have proved disastrous.

'Destret is looking for you everywhere,' said Antoine. 'He's furious.' Troubled, he looked at Diane and Lucile.

'He must imagine that I'm jealous and searching for proof,' thought Diane, reassured by Lucile's unmistakable gaiety. 'Poor Antoine...'

'We weren't up to anything, I was just showing Lucile the flat. She had never seen it.'

And Lucile, amused by Antoine's confused expression, laughed with her. They gave the impression of conspiracy, and a masculine anger flared up in Antoine: 'What! I've just left the arms of one, I'm going to sleep with the other, and together they're making fun of me! It's really too much!'

'Just what did I say that was so funny?' he asked.

'But not a thing,' answered Diane. 'You seem to show an elaborate concern for Destret's bad temper, when you know as well as I that he's always in a rage. It amuses us, that's all.'

She walked out first and Lucile followed, making a contemptuous and disgusted grimace for Antoine's benefit. He hesitated, then smiled. She had said, 'I love you for keeps' only two hours earlier and he remembered her voice when she said it. She could be as impertinent as she pleased now.

In the drawing-room, Lucile fell upon Johnny who was feeling bored and, consequently, hurried up to her with a drink and guided her toward the window.

'I adore you, Lucile,' he said. 'With you, at least, I'm at ease. I know you won't tell me what you think of the guests' morals, or rant about the latest play.'

'You tell me that every time.'

'Be careful,' he said brusquely. 'You look insolently happy.'

She absently ran her hand over her face, as though happiness were a mask that she had forgotten to remove. For indeed, that day she had said 'I love you' to someone who had answered 'I do, too'. Did it show so much? All of a sudden, she felt that she was the centre of attraction, that every eye was fixed on her. She blushed, gulped down the almost undiluted whisky that Johnny had given her.

'It's just that I'm in a good humour,' she said feebly, 'and think that these people are charming.'

And Lucile, who so seldom made an effort at parties, suddenly decided to apologise for her beaming face, just as certainly ugly women talk unceasingly in order to make people forget their plainness. Lucile went from group to group, amiably, confused, going so far as to congratulate the astonished Claire on her wonderful dress. Charles' eyes followed her, intrigued, and he had almost decided to take her home when Diane took him by the arm.

'This is the first nice evening of spring, Charles. We're going dancing. No one feels sleepy, and Lucile least of all.'

She gave Lucile a kindly, amused glance and Charles, who knew her jealousy and who, besides, had seen her draw Lucile aside for a few minutes, suddenly felt reassured. Lucile must have forgotten Antoine. And without saying so, it was a sort of gala, a festivity in honour of peace, that Diana had offered him. He accepted.

They were all to meet in a night club. Charles and Lucile were the first to appear, they danced, they talked gaily, for Lucile, once started, chattered like a magpie. All of a sudden she stopped. She saw in the doorway a tall man, a little taller than the others, with a dark blue suit and his eyes were yellow. She knew that man's face by heart, every scar under the dark blue suit and the shape of his shoulders. He came up to them and sat down. Diane was downstairs making-up her face and he asked Lucile to dance. The pressure of his hand on her shoulder, the touch of his palm against hers and the strange distance he kept between his cheek and Lucile's, a distance that Lucile recognised to be that of desire, stirred her so deeply that she even pretended to look slightly bored in order to deceive a public that took no notice of her. This was the first time that she had danced with Antoine, and they danced to one of the lilting, sentimental tunes played everywhere that spring.

He took her back to her table. Diane had returned and was dancing with Charles. They sat on the banquette, at some distance from each other.

'Did you have a nice time?' Antoine asked, looking furious.

'Why, yes,' answered Lucile, surprised. 'Didn't you?'

'Not at all,' he said. 'I never have a good time at that sort of party and, unlike you, I have a horror of false situations.'

The truth was that he had been unable to talk to Lucile during the whole evening and he wanted her. The idea that she would leave with Charles in a few minutes filled him with bitterness. He lapsed into a kind of virtuous exclusiveness that is so often caused by frustrated desire.

'You're made for this sort of life,' he said.

'What about you?'

'I'm not. Some men exhibit their virility by navigating between two women. My virility prevents me from having pleasure in making them suffer.'

'If you had seen yourself in Diane's room!' exclaimed Lucile. 'You looked so sheepish...'

She began to laugh.

'Don't laugh,' said Antoine, controlling his voice. 'In ten minutes you'll be in Charles' arms, or alone. In either case, far from me...'

'But tomorrow...'

I've had enough of tomorrows,' he replied. 'You must understand that.'

Lucile was silent. She tried unsuccessfully to look grave. Alcohol made her feel unreasonably happy. An unknown young man asked her to dance but Antoine curtly sent him away, much to her annoyance. She would have been glad to dance, talk, or even run away with someone else, she felt freed of every obligation, except that of enjoying herself.

I've had a little too much to drink,' she said plaintively.

'That's obvious,' answered Antoine.

'Perhaps you should have done the same, you're surely not amusing.'

This was their first quarrel. She looked at his childlike, obstinate profile and softened.

'Antoine, you know very well...'

'Yes, yes, that you love me for keeps.'

And he got up. Diane came back to their table. Charles seemed tired. He gave Lucile an imploring glance and asked Diane to excuse them: he had to be up early the next morning and the place was really too noisy for him. Lucile did not protest and followed him. But in the car, and for the first time since she had met Charles, she felt like a prisoner.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Diane was removing her make-up in the bathroom. Antoine had turned on the pick-up, sat down on the floor and listened, without hearing, a Beethoven concerto. Diane saw him in a mirror and smiled. Antoine always sat in front of the pick-up, as he might have before a pagan image or a wood fire. She had wasted her time in explaining to him that the sound from the new loud speakers came from both sides of the room, converging in the centre on a level with her bed, he always settled down in front of the apparatus, as though fascinated by the record's black, shining rotation. She carefully took off her day time make-up then applied another for the night, specially prepared to conceal wrinkles without deepening them. It was out of the question to let her skin breathe (as advised by women's magazines) any more than she could allow her heart to breathe. She hadn't the time now. She considered her beauty indispensable in holding Antoine, and for that reason, she did not try to save it for a future without interest. Some characters, the most generous ones, concentrate only on the present and burn the rest. Diane was among them.

Antoine stiffened as he heard faint noises in the bathroom: the tearing Kleenex and the swish of a hairbrush more than covered the violins and brasses of the concerto. Another five minutes and he would have to get up, undress and slip into those so soft sheets, next to that so exquisitely groomed woman, in this so lovely room. But he wanted Lucile. Lucile had come to his room and fallen on the landlady's rickety bed, Lucile had undressed at top speed and vanished as quickly, she was elusive, his little thief, his guest. She would never settle down, he would never wake at her side, she was a transitory being. What was more, he had ruined her evening; he felt his throat tighten with an adolescent despair.

BOOK: La Chamade
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