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A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sorrow. The idea of sorrow has always appealed to me, but now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I have known boredom, regret, and occasionally remorse, but never sorrow. Today it envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, and sets me apart from everybody else.
That summer, I was seventeen and perfectly happy. At that time "everybody else" was my father and his mistress, Elsa. I must explain this situation at once, or it might give a false impression. My father was forty, and had been a widower for fifteen years. He was young for his age, full of vitality and liveliness. When I left my convent school two years before and came to Paris to live with him, I soon realized that he was living with a woman. But I was slower in accepting the fact that his fancy changed every six months! But gradually his charm, my new easy life, and my own disposition, led me to fall in readily with his ways. He was a frivolous man, clever at business, always curious, quickly bored, and very attractive to women. It was easy for me to love him, for he was kind, generous, gay and fond of me. I cannot imagine a better or a more amusing companion. At the beginning of the summer I am concerned with now, he even asked me whether I would object to having Elsa along on our summer vacation. She was his mistress of the moment, a tall, red-headed girl, sensual and worldly, kindly, rather simple-minded, and unpretentious. One might have come across her any day in the studios and bars of the Champs-Elysées. I readilyconsented, for I knew his need of a woman, and I knew, too, that Elsa would not get in our way. Besides, my father and I were so delighted at the prospect of going away that I was in no mood to object to anything. He had rented a large white villa on the Mediterranean, for which we bad been longing since the spring. It was remote and beautiful, standing on a headland jutting over the sea, hidden from the road by pine woods. A goat path led down to a small, sunny cove where the sea lapped against rust-colored rocks.
The first days were dazzling. We spent hours on the beach giving ourselves up to the hot sun, gradually assuming a healthy golden tan except for Elsa, whose skin reddened and peeled, causing her intense agony. My father performed all sorts of complicated exercises to reduce a rounding stomach unsuitable for a Don Juan. From dawn onward I was in the water. It was cool and transparent, and I plunged wildly about in my efforts to wash away the shadows and dust of Paris. I lay stretched out on the sand, took up a handful and let it run through my fingers in soft, yellow streams. I told myself that it ran out like time. It was an idle thought, and it was pleasant to have idle thoughts, for it was summer.
On the sixth day I saw Cyril for the first time. He was hugging the coast in a small sailboat and capsized in front of our cove. I had a wonderful time helping him to rescue his things, during which he told me his name, that he was studying law, and was spending his vacation with his mother in a neighboring villa. He had a typically Latin face very dark and very frank. There was something responsible and protective about him which I liked at once. Usually I avoided college students, whom I considered brutal, wrapped up in themselves, particularly in their youth, in which they found material for drama, or an excuse for their own boredom. I did not care for young people; I much preferred my father's friends, men of forty, who spoke to me courteously and tenderly treated me with the gentleness of a father or a lover. But Cyril was different. He was tall and almost beautiful, with the kind of good looks that immediately inspires one with confidence. Although I did not share my father's intense aversion to ugliness which often led us to associate with stupid people I did feel vaguely uncomfortable in the presence of anyone completely devoid of physical charm. Their resignation to the fact that they were unattractive seemed to me somehow indecent. For what are we looking for if not to please? I do not know if the desire to attract others comes from a superabundance of vitality, possessiveness, or the hidden, unspoken need to be reassured.
When Cyril left he offered to teach me to sail. I went up to dinner absorbed in my thoughts of him, and hardly spoke during the meal or noticed my father's nervousness. After dinner we stretched out in chairs on the terrace as usual. The sky was studded with stars. I gazed upward, vaguely hoping to see a sudden, exciting flash across the heavens, but it was early in July and too soon for shooting stars. On the terrace the crickets were chirping. There must have been thousands of them, drunk with heat and moonlight, pouring out their song all night long. I had been told they made the sound by rubbing their legs together, but I preferred to believe that it came from the throat, guttural, instinctive like the howls of cats in heat.
We were very comfortable. A few tiny grains of sand between my skin and my shirt kept me from dropping off to sleep. Suddenly my father coughed apologetically and sat up.
"Someone is coming to stay with us," he announced.
I shut my eyes in disappointment. We had been too happy; it just couldn't last!
"Hurry up and tell us who it is!" cried Elsa, always avid for gossip.
Bonjour Tristesse. Copyright © by Francoise Sagan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.