Excerpt of Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
(Page 5 of 9)
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They were just sitting down at the table when the mistress of
the house stopped suddenly, Jacqueline's spoon of tonic
suspended in mid-air. "It's your father, children," she said as
the key turned in the lock.
It was indeed Monsieur Péricand, a short, stocky man with a
gentle and slightly awkward manner. His normally well-fed,
relaxed and rosy-cheeked face looked, not frightened or worried,
but extraordinarily shocked. He wore the expression found on
people who have died in an accident, in a matter of seconds,
without having had time to be afraid or suffer. They would be
reading a book or looking out of a car window, thinking about
things, or making their way along a train to the restaurant car
when, all of a sudden, there they were in hell.
Madame Péricand rose quietly from her chair. "Adrien?" she
called out, her voice anguished.
"It's nothing. Nothing," he muttered hastily, glancing furtively
at the children, his father and the servants.
Madame Péricand understood. She nodded at the servants to
continue serving dinner. She forced herself to swallow her food,
but each mouthful seemed as hard and bland as a stone and stuck
in her throat. Nevertheless, she repeated the phrases that had
become ritual at mealtimes for the past thirty years. "Don't
drink before starting your soup," she told the children.
"Darling, your knife . . ."
She cut the elderly Monsieur Péricand's filet of sole into small
strips. He was on a complicated diet that allowed him to eat
only the lightest food and Madame Péricand always served him
herself, pouring his water, buttering his bread, tying his
napkin round his neck, for he always started drooling when he
saw food he liked. "I don't think poor elderly invalids can bear
to be touched by servants," she would say to her friends.
"We must show grandfather how much we love him, my darlings,"
she instructed the children, looking at the old man with
In his later years, Monsieur Péricand had endowed various
philanthropic projects, one of which was especially dear to his
heart: the Penitent Children of the 16th Arrondissement, a
venerable institution whose goal was to instil morals in
delinquent minors. It had always been understood that the elder
Monsieur Péricand would leave a certain sum of money to this
organisation, but he had a rather irritating way of never
revealing exactly how much. If he hadn't enjoyed his meal, or if
the children made too much noise, he would suddenly emerge from
his stupor and say in a weak but clear voice, "I'm going to
leave them five million."
A painful silence would follow.
On the other hand, if he'd had a lovely meal and a good sleep in
his chair by the window, in the sunshine, he would look up at
his daughter-in-law with the pale, distant eyes of a small
child, or a newborn puppy.
Charlotte was very tactful. She never replied, as others might,
"You're absolutely right, Father." Instead, she would say
sweetly, "Good Lord, you have plenty of time to think about
The Péricand fortune was considerable, but it would be unjust to
accuse them of coveting the elder Monsieur Péricand's
inheritance. They didn't care about money, not at all, but money
cared about them, so to speak! There were certain things that
they deserved, including the Maltête-Lyonnais millions; they
would never manage to spend it all but they would save it for
their children's children. As for the Penitent Children of the
16th Arrondissement, they were so involved with this charity
that, twice a year, Madame Péricand organised classical music
concerts for the unfortunate children; she would play the harp
and was gratified to notice that, at certain passages, sobbing
could be heard in the darkened concert hall.
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