Excerpt of Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
(Page 6 of 9)
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Monsieur Péricand followed his daughter-in-law's hands
attentively. She was so distracted and upset that she forgot his
sauce. His white beard waved about alarmingly. Madame Péricand
came back to reality and quickly poured the parsley butter over
the ivory flesh of the fish, but it was only after she placed a
slice of lemon at the side of his plate that the old man was
Hubert leaned towards his brother and muttered, "It's not going
well, is it?"
"No," he replied with a gesture and a look. Hubert dropped his
trembling hands on to his lap. He was lost in thought, vividly
imagining scenes of battle and victory. He was a Boy Scout. He
and his friends would form a group of volunteers, sharpshooters
who would defend their country to the end. In a flash, his mind
raced through time and space. He and his friends: a small group
bound by honour and loyalty. They would fight, they would fight
all night long; they would save their bombed-out, burning Paris.
What an exciting, wonderful life! His heart leapt. And yet, war
was such a savage and horrifying thing. He was intoxicated by
his imaginings. He clutched his knife so tightly in his hand
that the piece of roast beef he was cutting fell on to the
"Clumsy oaf," whispered Bernard. He and Jacqueline were eight
and nine years old, respectively, and were both thin, blond and
stuck-up. The two of them were sent to bed after dessert and the
elder Monsieur Péricand fell asleep at his usual place by the
open window. The tender June day persisted, refusing to die.
Each pulse of light was fainter and more exquisite than the
last, as if bidding farewell to the earth, full of love and
regret. The cat sat on the window ledge and looked nostalgically
towards an horizon that was the colour of green crystal.
Monsieur Péricand paced up and down the room. "In a few days,
maybe even tomorrow, the Germans will be on our doorstep. I've
heard the High Command has decided to fight outside Paris, in
Paris, beyond Paris. No one knows it yet, thank goodness,
because after tomorrow there will be a stampede on the roads and
at the train stations. You must leave for your mother's house in
Burgundy as early as possible tomorrow morning, Charlotte. As
for me," Monsieur Péricand said rather proudly, "I will share
the fate of the treasures entrusted to my care."
"I thought everything in the museum had been moved out in
September," said Hubert.
"Yes, but the temporary hiding place they chose in Brittany
isn't suitable; it turns out it's as damp as a cellar. I just
don't understand it. A Committee was organised to safeguard
national treasures. It had three sections and seven subsections,
each of which was supposed to appoint a panel of experts
responsible for hiding works of art during the war, yet just
last month an attendant in the provisional museum points out
that suspicious stains are appearing on the canvases. Yes, a
wonderful portrait of Mignard with his hands rotting away from a
kind of green leprosy. They quickly sent the valuable packing
cases back to Paris and now I'm waiting for an order to rush
them off to somewhere even further away."
"But what about us? How will we travel? By ourselves?"
"You'll leave tomorrow morning, calmly, with the children and
the two cars, and any furniture and luggage you can carry, of
course. We can't pretend that, by the end of the week, Paris
might not be destroyed, burned down and thoroughly pillaged."
"You are amazing!" exclaimed Charlotte. "You talk about it so
Monsieur Péricand turned towards his wife, his face gradually
returning to its normal pinkish coloura matte pink, the colour
of pigs who have been recently slaughtered. "That's because I
can't really believe it," he explained quietly. "Here I am,
speaking to you, listening to you; we've decided to flee, to
leave our home, yet I cannot believe that it is all real.
Do you understand? Now go and get everything ready, Charlotte.
Everything must be ready by tomorrow morning; you could be at
your mother's in time for dinner. I'll join you as soon as I
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