Excerpt of Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
(Page 4 of 9)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
Madame Péricand saw the questioning, hopeful stares directed
towards her. "It doesn't seem absolutely awful to me!" she said
confidently. Not that she believed it; she just felt it was her
duty to keep up morale.
Maria and Madeleine let out a sigh.
"You think so, Madame?"
Hubert, the second-eldest son, a boy of seventeen with chubby
pink cheeks, seemed the only one struck with despair and
amazement. He dabbed nervously at his neck with a crumpled-up
handkerchief and shouted in a voice that was so piercing it made
him hoarse, "It isn't possible! It isn't possible that it's come
to this! But, Mummy, what has to happen before they call
everyone up? Right awayevery man between sixteen and sixty!
That's what they should do, don't you think so, Mummy?"
He ran into the study and came back with a large map, which he
spread out on the table, frantically measuring the distances.
"We're finished, I'm telling you, finished, unless . . ."
Hope was restored. "I see what they're going to do," he
finally announced, with a big happy smile that revealed his
white teeth. "I can see it very well. We'll let them advance,
advance, and then we'll be waiting for them there and there,
look, see, Mummy! Or even . . ."
"Yes, yes," said his mother. "Go and wash your hands now, and
push back that bit of hair that keeps falling into your eyes.
Just look at you."
Fury in his heart, Hubert folded up his map. Only Philippe took
him seriously, only Philippe spoke to him as an equal. "How I
hate this family," he said to himself and kicked violently at
his little brother's toys as he left the drawing room. Bernard
began to cry. "That'll teach him about life," Hubert thought.
The nanny hurried to take Bernard and Jacqueline out of the
room; the baby, Emmanuel, was already asleep over her shoulder.
Holding Bernard's hand, she strode through the door, crying for
her three sons whom she imagined already dead, all of them.
"Misery and misfortune, misery and misfortune!" she said
quietly, over and over again, shaking her grey head. She
continued muttering as she started running the bath and warmed
the children's pyjamas: "Misery and misfortune." To her, those
words embodied not only the political situation but, more
particularly, her own life: working on the farm in her youth,
her widowhood, her unpleasant daughters-in-law, living in other
people's houses since she was sixteen.
Auguste, the valet, shuffled back into the kitchen. On his
solemn face was an expression of great contempt that was aimed
at many things.
The energetic Madame Péricand went to her rooms and used the
available fifteen minutes between the children's bath time and
dinner to listen to Jacqueline and Bernard recite their school
lessons. Bright little voices rose up: "The earth is a sphere
which sits on absolutely nothing."
Only the elder Monsieur Péricand and Albert the cat remained in
the drawing room. It had been a lovely day. The evening light
softly illuminated the thick chestnut trees; Albert, a small
grey tomcat who belonged to the children, seemed ecstatic. He
rolled around on his back on the carpet. He jumped up on to the
mantelpiece, nibbled at the edge of a peony in a large
midnight-blue vase, delicately pawed at a snapdragon etched into
the bronze corner-mount of a console table, then in one leap
perched on the old man's wheelchair and miaowed in his ear. The
elder Monsieur Péricand stretched a hand towards him; his hand
was always freezing cold, purple and shaking. The cat was afraid
and ran off. Dinner was about to be served. Auguste appeared and
pushed the invalid into the dining room.
Excerpted from Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
Copyright © 2006 by Irene Nemirovsky. Excerpted by
permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All
rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced
or reprinted without permission in writing from the