Read La Chamade Online

Authors: Francoise Sagan

La Chamade (9 page)

'What is it?'

He refused to tell her and they joked affectionately until they reached the flat. Pauline cried with relief on seeing them, to her any journey by plane was a mortal risk, and they unpacked Charles' bags together. He had brought her a mink coat, the same colour as her light grey eyes, soft and shining, and he laughed like a child when she tried it on. That afternoon, she telephoned Antoine, told him that she must see him and that she had not had the courage to talk to Charles.

'I won't see you until you do,' said Antoine simply.

His voice sounded very strange.

She did not see him for four days and, carried away by anger, did not suffer from his absence. She felt vindictive because he had spoken so curtly when she telephoned: she detested all forms of rudeness. Anyway, she was almost sure that he would call her up again. They had been too closely united that last evening, had journeyed too far in love, they had become two celebrants of the same devotion and this devotion now remained, in spite of the caprices of one or the other. Even if Antoine's attitude was hostile, her body knew his body, needed it, regretted it. Their bodies were like two horses temporarily separated by their masters' estrangement, finally meeting again to gallop off together in a country sunny with pleasure. The contrary seemed impossible, she did not imagine that one could resist her wishes, she had never seen a necessity or justification for opposing them. And in the fretful,
France of today, she could find no better principles than those instigated by hot and spirited young blood.

What she resented most in Antoine was that he had refused to allow her to explain. She would have told him that the plane was late, of her worry, and she would have proved her sincerity. Doubtless, she could have maintained her decision and told Charles that evening, but she had tried so hard to put herself in a dramatic situation that it had seemed to be a mysterious omen. A certain form of disloyalty leads easily enough to superstitition. Meanwhile, Antoine did not telephone and she was bored.

Summer arrived, people began holding open air receptions and Charles took her to an unpromising dinner at the
Diane and Antoine stood under a tree, the centre of a very animated group and Lucile heard Antoine's laugh before she saw him. She thought quickly: 'so he laughs when I'm not there,' but nevertheless a movement of joy swept her toward him. She held out her hand with a smile, but he did not return her smile, bowed quickly and turned away. Then the fresh, green park, the brilliantly illuminated
seemed dismal and she suddenly saw people's futility, their mental indigence, the desperate tedium of this place, of her set, of her own life. If there had not been Antoine, his yellow eyes, his room and the several hours of truth that she knew in his arms three times a week, every detail of this confused and restless, though somewhat gay, world would have become the hideous invention of a bad decorator. Clair Santré seemed repulsively ugly, Johnny ridiculous and Diane half-dead. She drew back.

'Lucile,' called Diane in her imperious voice, 'don't run away like that. You're wearing a very pretty dress.'

At present, Diane was very fond of showering sweet nothings on Lucile. Thinking thus to prove her absolute security. It made Johnny smile, and even more so Claire to whom he had finally confessed. Their little set knew all about the affair, of course, and it was now, as Lucile and Antoine stood side by side, pale, irresolute and tormented, that they received the half-envious, half-sarcastic glances reserved for new lovers. Lucile moved closer.

The dress was new yesterday,' she said mechanically, 'but I'm afraid it's a bit too chilly this evening for it.'

'It's easier to catch bronchitis in Coco Dourède's dress than in yours,' said Johnny. 'I've never seen so little silk cover so large a surface. What's more, she told me that it could be washed like a handkerchief. It must take even less time.'

Lucile glanced at Coco Dourède who was walking about half-naked under the garlands of electric lights. A deep, delicious smell of earth rose from the Bois de Boulogne.

'You don't seem very cheerful, my dear,' said Claire. Her eyes sparkled, her hand rested on Johnny's arm and he too watched Lucile. Intrigued by her silence, Diane also looked at her. 'They're like dogs,' thought Lucile, 'dogs so full of curiosity that they would tear me to pieces if they could.' She smiled feebly.

'I feel really cold. I'm going to ask Charles for my coat'

'I'll go,' said Johnny, 'the young man in charge of the cloak room is superb.'

He came back running. Lucile had not yet looked at Antoine, although she watched him in profile, as do certain birds.

'Why, it's a new coat!' cried Claire. That pastel grey is divine, I've never seen you wear it.'

'Charles brought it to me from New York,' said Lucile.

At that moment, her eyes met Antoine's and what she read in them made her want to slap him. She turned brusquely and left the group.

'When I was young, mink coats made one look more joyful,' said Claire.

But Diane frowned. Antoine, who stood by her, had assumed what she called his blind expression. Motionless, his face a blank.

'Get me a whisky,' she said.

Not daring to ask him questions, she gave him orders.

Neither made a move toward the other during that evening. But around midnight, they found themselves at opposite ends of the table, alone, the others having gone to dance. He could not, without being rude, avoid joining her, and yet he did not want to be near her. He was crushed by the suffering he had endured for the last two days. He had pictured her in Charles' arms, embracing, saying the things that she had said to him. And above all, he had imagined her expression, an expression that was open and at the same time enclosed some passionately wild secret, an expression that he had obtained, and that was now his sole ambition. He was mortally jealous. Walking around the table, he sat down by her.

She did not look at him and, suddenly, he went to pieces and leaned forward. No it was impossible, unbearable to be with this unconcerned stranger, this woman who had lain naked with him in the sun less than a week ago.

'Lucile,' he asked, 'what are you doing to us?'

'And you?' she asked. 'You have a whim, and I'm to break with Charles in twenty-four hours. It was impossible.'

She felt thoroughly desperate, thoroughly calm. Emptied.

'It's not a whim,' he said jerkily. 'I'm jealous and can't help it. I can't support lying any longer, it's killing me. I mean it. The idea that... that...' He paused, ran his hand over his face and continued: 'Tell me, since Charles has come back, have you...'

She turned violently toward him:

'Slept with him? Of course. He brought me a mink, didn't he?'

'You don't really believe what you're saying,' said Antoine.

'No, but you believed it. I read it in your face a moment ago. I detest you for it.'

A couple returned to the table and Antoine rose quickly.

'Let's dance,' he said. 'I must talk to you.'

'No,' answered Lucile. 'I've told you the truth, haven't I?'

'Perhaps... one can have unfortunate reflexes.'

'But not vulgar reflexes,' she replied, turning away.

'She's putting me in the wrong,' he thought, 'she's unfaithful, and she's putting me in the wrong.' A wave of anger invaded him, he seized her wrist and drew her to him so roughly that several heads turned and looked at them.

'Come and dance.'

She resisted, her eyes filled with tears of rage and pain. 'I don't feel like dancing.'

was his own prisoner, as incapable of letting her go as he was of dragging her away by force. At the same time he was fascinated by her tears, he thought quickly: 'I've never seen her cry, how I wish she would cry on my shoulder some night over an old childhood grief, I should like so much to comfort her.'

'Antoine, let me go,' she said in a low voice.

It was becoming grotesque. He was far stronger than Lucile who had half-risen from her chair, incapable of smiling foolishly, unconcernedly, as though the scene were a joke. People were staring at them. He was mad, mad and unkind, he frightened her and she still found him attractive.

'It's what's called a hesitation waltz,' said Charles, behind Antoine.

Antoine suddenly released Lucile and turned. He would give the old fellow a big punch on the nose and leave all these people for ever. But next to Charles there was Diane, smiling, impeccable, slightly intrigued and, it seemed, distant.

'Are you trying to force Lucile to dance?' she asked.

'Yes,' replied Antoine, staring at her. He was going to leave Diane that very evening, he realised it and a feeling of calm came over him. And compassion, too. She counted for so little in this affair, she had never interested him.

'You're too old to play at being a teenager,' she said.

She had already sat down. Charles, smiling, but with a grim face, leaned toward Lucile and asked her what had happened. Lucile returned his smile and, as she did not lack imagination, answered something or other. Anyway, everyone present had enough imagination to get out of a tight spot, to conceal, nourish and sustain a little secret. Everyone but Antoine. He hesitated, made a curious half-turn, almost an
, and strode away.


It was raining, she could hear the drops splash on the pavement, it must be one of the soft, sad summer rains, more like a gardener's desultory watering than the fury of the elements. Daylight was already stealing over the carpet, she was in bed and unable to sleep. Her heart thumped with excitement, she felt its agitation as the frenzied pulsations sent the blood to her body's extremities, coursing through the blue vein at her temple. She could not quiet her heart, she supported it with a mixture of irony and despair for the past two hours. Since they had returned from the
, soon after she had become aware of Antoine's disappearance, Diane's pallor, and the general rejoicing over the little scandal.

She was no longer angry, she even wondered what could have caused it. Antoine's expression during the mink coat incident had seemed insulting. He seemed to have concluded that she was venal. But, in a certain way, wasn't she? She was supported by Charles, accepted and appreciated his presents— more because of his intention than their value, doubtless—but still, she accepted them. She could not deny it nor did she think of doing so, for it seemed so natural to be kept by a man who could afford it, and, moreover, a man she held in esteem. Antoine had grossly misinterpreted the situation: he thought that she stayed with Charles for mercenary reasons, that she had given him up for that, he believed her to be calculating, judged and no doubt despised her. She already knew that jealousy almost invariably leads to base arguments, actions and judgments, but she could not bear that from Antoine, no matter how jealous he was. She had faith in him, believed that there existed a sort of family relationship, a moral complicity between them, and she felt as if she had received a low blow.

What could she say to him? 'Of course Charles brought me a mink coat and I was delighted. Of course I have shared his bed since he came back, as we do from time to time. Of course that has nothing to do with what happens between you and me, because with us it's passion, and passion resembles nothing else. My body only has imagination, intelligence when it's with yours, and you should know that.' But he did not understand that. It was a commonplace a thousand times quoted and a thousand times verified that men did not understand that kind of thing in a woman. She felt herself falling into the philosophy of a suffragette, and it vexed her. 'Do I mention his relations with Diane? I am not jealous, does that mean I am a monster? And if I am a monster, what can I do about it? Nothing.' But if she did not change she would lose Antoine, and the idea made her shiver and turn over in her bed like a fish gasping on the grass. It was four o'clock in the morning.

Charles entered the bedroom. He sat down softly on the bed, his features drawn in the stark morning light, he really did look fifty and the rather sporty foulard robe he wore did not help the impression. He laid his hand on Lucile's shoulder and remained motionless for a moment.

'So you aren't asleep either?'

She vaguely gestured no, tried to smile, to blame the
cooking. But she was too exhausted. She shut her eyes.

'Perhaps we should...' began Charles... (He stopped, then continued in a firmer voice:) 'Could you leave? Alone or with me, for the South of France? You've always said that the sea cures everything.'

It was useless to ask to what cure he was alluding, and something about his questioning clearly pointed out the fact.

'The South of France,' she repeated dreamily, 'The South of France?'

And her eyes still obstinately closed, she pictured the sea breaking on the beach, the colour of the sand when the sun abandoned it at dusk. What she loved most and, doubtless, what she missed the most.

'I shall go with you as soon as you can leave,' she said.

She opened her eyes to look at him but he had turned his head. And she was astounded for a moment before feeling, with a sort of horror, the warmth of her own tears on her cheeks.

The Mediterranean coast was not very crowded early in May, and the only hotel, the only restaurant open belonged to them. After a week Charles began to have hope. Lucile spent hours in the sun, hours in the water, read a lot, talked to him about the books she read, ate broiled fish, played cards with the few couples on the beach, seemed happy. Content, at least. But she drank a great deal in the evening, and she had made love with him one night in such a violent way, almost aggressively that he didn't recognise her. He did not know that her acts sprang from hope, the hope of seeing Antoine again. She became tanned to please him, ate to avoid looking starved, read books published by his firm in order to discuss them with him; she drank to forget him and to induce sleep. She did not, of course, admit to herself this hope, she lived like an animal resigned to being cut in two, but sometimes, in a heedless moment, when she ceased to cling desperately to the elements, when she forgot to notice the warmth of the sun, the freshness of the water, the softness of the sand, the memory of Antoine fell down on her like a stone, and she bore it with a mixture of happiness and despair, lying with arms outstretched, crucified, not through the palms by nails, but through the heart by the terrible lances of remembrance. And it amazed her then to feel her heart turn over, emptied by the shock, emptied and yet horribly cumbersome. What did she care about the sun, the sea and even the purely physical well-being of her body, what did she care about things that had once been sufficient to make her happy if Antoine was not there to share them with her? She could have gone swimming with him, clutched at his dripping blond hair, made even blonder by the sea water, kissed him between two waves, loved him on the dunes behind the now deserted cabins, only a few feet away, sat motionless with him in the evening to watch the swallows dip down on the pink roofs. In the past, time had not only been something to kill, time had been a thing to coddle, cherish, to stop from passing. When her thoughts became unbearable, she would get up absently and go to the far end of the bar, where Charles, in his deck-chair, could not see her. She drank quickly one, two cocktails under the barman's vaguely sardonic eye. He took her for an alcoholic, but what did it matter, she would no doubt end by becoming one. She returned to the beach, lay down at Charles' feet and shut her eyes: the sun was white, she could no longer distinguish the heat on her skin from that of the alcohol that raced beneath it, she only saw a weak and hazy Antoine, no longer strong enough to hurt her. It allowed her to breathe freely for a few hours, to recover a kind of animal, almost vegative independence. Charles seemed happy, which was the important thing, and when she saw him walking toward her wearing flannel trousers, a carefully knotted scarf tucked inside his shirt collar, a dark blue blazer, and moccasins, she pushed away the vision of Antoine in a shirt open to the waist, his narrow hips and long legs covered by old linen trousers, barefoot, hair straggling over his eyes. She had known many young men and, doubtless, it was not his youth that she loved. She had loved them much older. She loved him for being his own age, just as she loved him for being blond, as she loved him for being puritanical, as she loved him for being sensual, as she loved him for having loved her, and as she loved him for, no doubt, no longer loving her. That was the way it was. Her love was there, fixed, like a wall between herself and the sunshine and the facility, even the taste for living. And she was truly ashamed. Her only rule was happiness, and self-inflicted grief seemed inexcusable (which had assured the incomprehension, the almost perpetual reproaches, of other members of society all her life).

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