"A dazzlingly clever and immensely entertaining novel." --New York Times
Gripping and complex, The Scapegoat is a masterful exploration of doubling and identity, and of the dark side of the self.
Release date: December 17, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Print pages: 384
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Daphne du Maurier
Outside Le Mans, the depression that had grown upon me during the past twenty-four hours had intensified. It was inevitable, always, during the last days of holiday; but this time, more than ever before, I was aware of time having passed too swiftly, not because the days had been over full but because I had achieved nothing. The notes I had written for the lectures I was to give during the coming autumn were scholarly, precise, with dates and facts that I should afterwards dress up in language designed to strike a spark in the dull minds of inattentive students. But even if I held their flagging interest for a brief half hour, I should know, when I had finished, that nothing I had said to them was of any value, that I had only given them images of history brightly colored—waxwork models, puppet figures strutting through a charade. The real meaning of history would have escaped me, because I had never been close enough to people.
It was all too easy to lose oneself in a past half real, half imaginary, and so be blind to the present. In the cities that I knew best, Tours, Blois, Orléans, I lost myself in fantasy, seeing other walls, older streets, the crumbling corners of once glittering façades, and they were more live to me than any real structure before my eyes, for in their shadows lay security; but in the hard light of reality there was only doubt and apprehension.
In Blois, in the château, feeling the smoke-blackened walls with my hands, a thousand people might ache and suffer a few hundred yards away but I saw none of them. For there beside me would be Henri III, perfumed and bejeweled, touching my shoulder with a velvet glove, a lapdog in the crook of his arm as though he nursed a child; and the false charm of his crafty feminine face was plainer to me than the mask of the gaping tourist at my side, fumbling for a sweet in a paper-bag, while I waited for a footstep, for a cry, and for the Duc de Guise to die. In Orléans I rode beside the Maid, or, like the Bastard, held her stirrup when she mounted, hearing as he did the clamor and the shouting and the deep peal of the bells. Or I might even kneel with her in prayer, awaiting the Voices that sometimes hovered within the fringe of my experience but never came. And I would stumble from the cathedral, watching my half-boy with her pure, fanatic’s eyes, close to her unseen world, and then be jolted out of time into the present, where she was nothing but a statue, and I an indifferent historian, and the France she had died to save a country filled with living men and women whom I had never even tried to understand.
As I drove out of Tours, on the last morning, my dissatisfaction with the lectures I should give in London, and my realization that all I had ever done in life, not only in France but in England also, was to watch people, never to partake in their happiness or pain, brought such a sense of overwhelming depression, deepened by the rain stinging the windows of the car, that, when I came to Le Mans, although I had not intended to stop there and lunch, I changed my mind, hoping to change my mood.
It was market day, and in the Place des Jacobins lorries and carts with green tarpaulins stood parked close to the steps below the cathedral, and the rows of stalls were crowded one beside another. It must have been one of the big market days, for the Place was full of country people, and there was an unmistakable smell in the air, half vegetable, half beast, that could come only from the soil, muddied, ruddy-brown and wet, and from the steaming pens where huddled cattle moved in uneasy comradeship. Three men were prodding a bullock towards the lorry beside me. The poor brute bellowed, turning his roped head from side to side, backing away from the lorry, which was already packed with his snorting, frightened fellows. I could see the red flecks in his bewildered eyes as one of the men pricked his flanks with a hay-fork.
Two black-shawled women argued beside an open cart, one of them holding by the feet a squawking hen, whose fluttering, protesting wings brushed the wide wicker basket, heaped with apples, on which the woman leaned; while towards them came a great hulking fellow in a nut-brown velvet coat, his face purple with good cheer from a near-by bistro, his eyes blurred, his walk unsteady. He grumbled to himself as he peered down at the coins in his open hand, fewer than he had expected, too few—he must somehow have miscalculated in that vanished hour of heat and sweat and tobacco, whence he now came to quarrel with his mother and his wife. I could picture the farmstead which was his home and had been his father’s before him, two kilometers from the road up a sand-track full of pot-holes, the low house a pale lemon wash, the roof tiled, the farm and out-buildings a smudge amidst the flat brown fields heaped now with line upon line of pumpkins, lime-green or salmon-pink, rounded and firm, left to dry before they were fed to the beasts for winter fodder or to the farm people themselves as soup.
I walked past the lorry and across the Place to the brasserie at the corner; and suddenly the pale sun shone from the fitful sky, and the people thronging the Place, who had seemed black smudges in the rain, crow-like, bent, impersonal, became animated blobs of color, smiling, gesticulating, strolling about their business with new leisure as the sky fell apart, turning the dull day to gold.
The brasserie was crowded, the atmosphere thick with the good smell of food, soupy and pungent—of cheese upon sauce-tipped knives, spilt wine, the bitter dregs of coffee—and rank, too, with the wet cloth of coats heavily rained upon, now drying, the whole scene framed in a blue smoke-cloud of Gauloise cigarettes.
I found a seat in the far corner near the service door, and as I ate my omelet, the herb juice splaying the plate, satisfying, warm, the swing door kept bursting backwards, forwards, pushed impatiently by waiters heavily laden with trays piled high with food. At first the sight was an apéritif to my own hunger, but later, when my meal was over, it became somehow a deterrent to digestion—too many fried potatoes, too many pork chops. The woman who ate beside me was still forking beans into her mouth as I called for coffee, and she expostulated to her sister upon the cost of living, ignoring the pallid little girl who sat on the husband’s knee and demanded to be taken to the toilettes. The conversation never ceased, and as I listened—for this sort of thing was my one relaxation when preoccupation with history left me free—my former depression returned to nag beneath the surface of enjoyment. I was an alien, I was not one of them. Years of study, years of training, the fluency with which I spoke their language, taught their history, described their culture, had never brought me closer to the people themselves. I was too diffident, too conscious of my own reserve. My knowledge was library knowledge, and my day-by-day experience no deeper than a tourist’s gleanings. The urge to know was with me, and the ache. The smell of the soil, the gleam of the wet roads, the faded paint of shutters masking windows through which I should never look, the gray faces of houses whose doors I should never enter, were to me an everlasting reproach, a reminder of distance, of nationality. Others could force an entrance and break the barrier down: not I. I should never be a Frenchman, never be one of them.
The family sitting beside me got up and left, the clatter ceased, the smoke thinned, and the patron and his wife sat down to eat behind the counter. I paid, and went out, and walked aimlessly along the streets, my lack of purpose, my shifting gaze, my very clothes—gray flannel bags, tweed jacket too well worn over a span of years—betraying me as an Englishman in this jostling crowd of provincials on market day, who sought bargains among the nailed boots hanging upon strings, the aprons spotted black and white, the plaited slippers, the saucepans and umbrellas. Young girls laughing with linked arms, their hair newly frizzed from the coiffeur; old women pausing, reckoning, shaking their heads at the price of checked tablecloths, moving on, not buying; youths with blue-gray chins and purple suits, eyeing the girls, nudging one another, the inevitable cigarette dangling from their lips: all of them, when the day was done, would return to some familiar plot they knew as home. The silent fields were theirs, and the lowing of cattle, the mist rising from the sodden ground, a fly-blown kitchen, a cat lapping milk beside a cradle, while the scolding voice of the old grandmother went on and on and her son clumped out into the muddy yard swinging a pail.
Meanwhile I, time no object, would check in at yet another strange hotel, and be accepted as one of them until I produced my British passport; then the bow, the smile, the genuine show of politeness, and the little shrug of regret. “We have very few people at the moment. The season is over. Monsieur has the place to himself,” the implication being that surely I must want to plunge into a bunch of hearty compatriots, carrying Kodaks, exchanging snapshots, lending Penguins, borrowing each other’s Daily Mail. Nor would they ever know, these people of the hotel where I passed a night, anymore than those whom I now jostled in the street, that I wanted neither my compatriots nor my own company, but instead the happiness, which could never be mine, of feeling myself one of them, bred and schooled among them, bound by some tie of family and blood that they would recognize and understand; so that, living with them, I might share their laughter, fathom their sorrow, eat their bread, no longer stranger’s bread but mine and theirs.
I went on walking and the rain came spattering down again, sending the crowd to huddle in the shops, or to seek the shelter of cars and lorries. For no one promenades in the rain unless he is on business bent, like the serious men in broad-brimmed trilby hats who hurried into the Préfecture with brief-cases under their arms, while I stood uncertainly on the corner of the Place Aristide Briand. I went into Notre-Dame-de-la-Couture beside the Préfecture. It was empty, save for an old woman praying, tears like pearls in each corner of her wide staring eyes, and later a girl with high pattering heels came briskly up the hollow aisle to burn a candle before a blue-washed statue. Then, like a gulf of darkness swamping reason, I knew that later on I must get drunk, or die. How much did failure matter? Not, perhaps, to my small outside world, not to the few friends who thought they knew me well, not to the persons who employed me nor the students who listened to my lectures, not to the officials at the British Museum, who, benign and courteous, gave me good morning or good afternoon, not to the smooth, dull, kindly London shadows among whom I lived and breathed and had my being as a law-abiding, quiet, donnish individual of thirty-eight. But to the self who clamored for release, the man within? How did my poor record seem to him?
Who he was and whence he sprang, what urges and what longings he might possess, I could not tell. I was so used to denying him expression that his ways were unknown to me; but he might have had a mocking laugh, a casual heart, a swift-roused temper, and a ribald tongue. He did not inhabit a solitary book-lined apartment; he did not wake every morning to the certain knowledge of no family, no ties, no entanglements, no friends or interests infinitely precious to him, nothing to serve as goal and anchor save a preoccupation with French history and the French language which somehow, by good fortune, enabled him to earn his daily bread.
Perhaps, if I had not kept him locked within me, he might have laughed, roistered, fought and lied. Perhaps he suffered, perhaps he hated, perhaps he lived by cruelty alone. He might have murdered, stolen—or spent himself in lost causes, loved humanity, embraced a faith that believed in the divinity of both God and Man. Whatever his nature, he always hovered beneath the insignificant facade of that pale self who now sat in the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Couture waiting for the rain to cease, for the day to fold, for the holiday to come to its appointed end, for autumn to set in, for the day-by-day routine of his normal, uneventful London life to close upon him for another year, another span of time. The question was, how to unlock the door? What lever would set the other free? There was no answer—except, of course, the blurred and temporary ease which a bottle of wine at a café might bring me before I climbed into the car again and drove north. Here, in the empty church, prayer was the alternative; but prayer for what? To complete the half-formed decision in my mind to go to the Abbaye and hope to discover there what to do with failure? I watched the old woman gather herself together and depart, thrusting her rosary into her skirts. Her tears had gone, but whether from consolation or because they had dried upon her cheek I could not tell. I thought of my carte Michelin back in the car, and the blue circle with which I had marked the Abbaye de la Grande-Trappe. Why had I done so? What did I expect to gain from going there? Should I have the courage to ring the bell of the building where they lodged their guests? They might have my answer, and the answer to the man within…
I followed the old woman out of church. I had a sudden desire to ask her if she was ill, or lately widowed, or had a dying son, and whether she had new hope since she had prayed; but when I passed through the door and came upon her, still muttering, outside, she mistook my anxious glance for tourist charity, and with a sidelong glance held out her hand for alms. I gave her two hundred francs, despising my own mean spirit, and fled from her, disenchanted.
It was no longer raining. Red ribbons spanned the sky and the wet streets glistened. People were going home from work on bicycles. The dark smoke from the factory chimneys of the industrial quarter looked black and sullen against the new-washed sky.
I lost any sense of direction, walking away from the shops and boulevards along streets that seemed to lead nowhere, converging upon themselves, frowned upon by factory walls and tall gray buildings, and I knew that what I was doing was without reason: I should either go and fetch the car and book a room for the night in one of the hotels in the center of the town, or leave Le Mans altogether and drive through Mortagne to la Grande-Trappe. I was surprised to see the station ahead of me, and I remembered that the car and the cathedral were at the other end of the town. The obvious thing to do was to take a taxi back, but first of all I would have a drink at the station buffet, and come to some decision about la Grande-Trappe. I crossed the road, and a car swerved to avoid me and then stopped. The driver leaned out of the window and shouted in French, “Hullo, Jean, when did you return?”
The fact that my own name was John confused me. I thought for a moment that he must be someone I had met somewhere, whom I ought to recognize, and I called back, also in French, “I’m only passing through—I go back tonight,” wondering who the devil he was.
“A wasted visit, I suppose,” he said, “but you’ll bluff them all at home it’s been a success.”
The remark was offensive. What made him think my holiday had been wasted? And how on earth could he know about my own deep personal sense of failure?
Then I realized he was a stranger. I had never seen him before. I bowed politely, excusing myself. “I beg your pardon,” I said, “I’m afraid we have both made a mistake.”
To my astonishment he laughed, winked broadly, and said, “All right, pretend I haven’t seen you. But why do here in Le Mans what could be better done in Paris? I’ll ask you when we meet again next Sunday.” He let in the clutch and, laughing, drove away.
I watched his car disappear, and turned into the station buffet. If he was drunk, and in a mellow mood, I saw his point. I might follow his example. The buffet was full. People were either boarding trains or leaving them. Chattering travelers elbowed me from the counter. Luggage barked my shins. Whistles blew, the deafening screech of an approaching express merged into the choking gasp of a local train, dogs on leashes yapped, a child wailed. I thought longingly of my car parked beside the cathedral, and how I would sit there in peace, and open my Michelin map, and smoke a cigarette.
Someone jolted my elbow as I drank and said, “Je vous demande pardon,” and as I moved to give him space he turned and stared at me and I at him, and I realized, with a strange sense of shock and fear and nausea all combined, that his face and voice were known to me too well.
I was looking at myself.
We did not speak: we went on staring at one another. I had heard of these things happening, of people who meet casually and turn out to be long-lost cousins, or twins parted at birth; and the idea is amusing, or perhaps fraught with tragedy, like the Man in the Iron Mask.
This was not funny: nor was it tragic. The resemblance made me slightly sick, reminding me of moments when, passing a shop window, I had suddenly seen my own reflection, and the man in the mirror had been a grotesque caricature of what, conceitedly, I had believed myself to be. Such incidents left me chastened, sore, with ego deflated, but they never gave me a chill down the spine, as this encounter did, nor the desire to turn and run.
He was the first to break the silence. “You don’t happen to be the devil, by any chance?”
“I might ask you the same question,” I replied.
“Here a moment…”
He took me by the arm and pulled me closer to the counter, and although the mirror behind the bar was steamy, and partly hidden by glasses and bottles, and confusing because of the many reflections of the other heads, it showed us plainly enough to be standing together, straining, anxious, searching the mirrored surface as though our lives depended upon what it had to tell. And the answer was no chance resemblance, no superficial likeness to be confounded by the different color of hair or eyes, by the dissimilarity of feature, expression, height, or breadth of shoulder: it was as though one man stood there.
He said—and even the intonation sounded, in my ears, like my own—“I make it a rule never to be surprised by anything in life; there is no reason to make an exception now. What will you drink?”
I was too shaken to care. He asked for two fines, and we moved with one accord to the further end of the counter, where the mirror was less steamy and the pushing crowd less dense.
We might have been two actors studying our make-up as we glanced from the looking-glass back to one another. He smiled and I smiled too; and then he frowned and I copied him, or rather copied myself; and he arranged his tie and I arranged mine; and we both drank our brandy at one gulp to see what we looked like drinking.
“Are you a man of fortune?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “Why?”
“We might do an act at a circus, or make a million in a cabaret. If you haven’t got to take a train immediately, I suggest we go on drinking.” He ordered two more fines. Nobody seemed surprised at the resemblance. “They think you’re my twin brother here at the station to meet me,” he said. “Perhaps you are. Where are you from?”
“London,” I told him.
“Are you in business there?”
“No, I live there. And I work there too.”
“What I mean is, where is your home, what part of France do you come from?”
I realized then that he had taken me for a Frenchman like himself. “I’m English,” I said. “I happen to have made a study of your language.”
He raised his eyebrows. “My compliments,” he said. “I wouldn’t have known you for a foreigner. What are you doing in Le Mans?”
I explained that I was in the last few days of holiday, and gave him a brief account of my tour. I told him I was a historian and gave lectures in England about his country and its past.
He looked amused. “Is that how you earn a living?”
“Incredible,” he said, and offered me a cigarette.
“You have historians over here doing the same thing,” I argued. “In fact, your country takes learning much more seriously than mine. There are thousands of professors giving lectures on history all over France.”
“Naturally,” he said, “but they are all Frenchmen talking about France. They are not Frenchmen who cross the Channel to spend their holidays, and then return here to talk about England. I don’t understand why you should be so interested in my country. Are you well paid?”
“No. I have no family at all. I live alone.”
“You’re lucky.” He spoke with emphasis, and raised his glass. “To your most fortunate freedom,” he said. “Long may it last.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“Me?” he said. “Oh, I can call myself a family man. Very much so, in fact. I was caught long ago. I might even say I have never escaped. Except during the war.”
“Are you a man of business too?”
“I own some property. I live about thirty kilometers from here. Do you know Sarthe?”
“I know the country better south of the Loire. I should like to explore Sarthe too, but I’m on my way north. I’ll have to leave it for another time.”
“A pity. It might have been amusing…” He did not finish his sentence, but stared at his glass. “You have a car?”
“Yes, I left it at the cathedral. I lost my bearings, walking, that’s why I’m here at the station.”
“Are you stopping in Le Mans overnight?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t planned. As a matter of fact…” I paused. The brandy had given me a comfortable glow inside, and I had the impression that it would not matter what I said to this man; it would be like talking to myself. “As a matter of fact, I was thinking of spending a few days in la Grande-Trappe.”
“La Grande-Trappe?” he said. “Do you mean the Cistercian monastery near Mortagne?”
“Yes,” I said. “It can’t be much more than eighty kilometers from here.”
“For the love of God, why do you want to go there?”
His phrase was apt. The reason why men went to la Grande-Trappe was to find the love of God. Or so I supposed.
“I thought if I went,” I said, “and stayed there before returning to England, I might find the courage to go on living.”
He looked at me thoughtfully as he drank his fine.
“What’s the trouble?” he asked. “A woman?”
“No,” I said.
“You are in some sort of scrape?”
“You have cancer?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps you’re a drunkard,” he said, “or a homosexual. Or enjoy discomfort for its own sake. There must be something seriously wrong if you want to go to la Grande-Trappe.”
I glanced beyond him to the mirror once again. And now, for the first time, I could see the difference between us. It was not the clothes, his dark travelling suit and my tweed jacket, which distinguished us; it was his ease of manner that made a contrast to my sober mood. He looked, and spoke, and smiled as I had never done.
“There’s nothing wrong,” I said. “It’s just that, as an individual, I’ve failed in life.”
“So have we all,” he said, “you, I, all the people here in the station buffet. We are every one of us failures. The secret of life is to recognize the fact early on, and become reconciled. Then it no longer matters.”
“It does matter,” I said, “and I am not reconciled.”
He finished his drink and glanced at the clock on the wall.
“There is no need,” he observed, “to go to la Grande-Trappe immediately. The good monks are waiting upon eternity, they can wait a few more hours for you. Let us go where we can drink in greater comfort, and perhaps dine, because, being a family man, I am in no great hurry to go home.”
It was then that I remembered the man in the car who had spoken to me outside. “Are you called Jean?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “Jean de Gué. Why?”
“Someone mistook me for you, then, outside the station. Some fellow in a car shouted, ‘Hullo, Jean,’ and when I told him he was mistaken he seemed amused, and obviously thought I, or rather you, didn’t want to be recognized.”
“That wouldn’t surprise me. What did you do?”
“I did nothing. He drove off laughing, calling out something about seeing me on Sunday.”
“Oh yes. La chasse…”
My words must have started a new train of thought, for his expression changed, and I wished I could have read his mind. The blue eyes clouded, and I wondered if I looked as he did when a problem, not easy to solve, thrust its way to the surface of my mind.
He beckoned to a porter who was waiting patiently with a couple of valises outside the swing-door of the buffet.
“Did you say you left your car by the cathedral?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Then if you don’t mind giving room to my valises, we might fetch it and drive somewhere for dinner?”
“Certainly. Anywhere you say.”
He tipped the porter, summoned a taxi and we drove away. It was odd, and like a dream. So often, dreaming, I was the shadow, watching myself take part in the action of the dream. Now it was happening, and I had the same lack of substance, the same lack of will.
“So he was quite deceived, then?”
His voice, almost like the voice of conscience, startled me, for we had not spoken since getting into the taxi.
“The man who hailed you outside the station,” he said.
“Oh yes, completely. He will probably accuse you when you meet. I remember now—he knew you had been away, because he suggested your trip had been unsuccessful. Does that convey anything?”
“Only too well.”
I did not pursue the subject. It was none of my business. After a moment I glanced at him, half furtively, and saw that he was looking as furtively at me. Our eyes met, and instead of smiling instinctively, because of the bond of likeness, the sensation was unpleasant, like contact with danger. I turned away from him to gaze out of the window, and, as the taxi swerved and pulled up by the cathedral, the deep, solemn bells sounded for the Angelus. It was a moment that never failed to move me. The summons was always unexpected, and in a strange way touched a nerve. Tonight the bells rang like a challenge, loud and compelling, as we climbed from the taxi. Then the clanging softened to a murmur, and the murmur to a sigh, and the sigh to a reproach. Two or three people passed through the doors into the cathedral. I went and unlocked the car. My companion waited, looking at the car with interest.
“A Ford Consul,” he said. “What year is it?”
“I’ve had it two years. Done about fifteen thousand.”
“You are satisfied with it?”
“Very. I don’t get much use out of it except at week-ends.”
As I stowed away his two valises in the boot he asked me all sorts of questions about the car with the interest of a schoolboy trying out a new machine. He fingered the switches, felt the seats to test the springs, fiddled with the gears and the indicators, and finally asked, with a burst of enthusiasm, whether he might drive her.
“Certainly,” I said. “You know this town better than I do. Go ahead.”
He settled himself with assurance behind the wheel and I climbed in beside him. As he turned the car away from the cathedral, and so out to the rue Voltaire, he continued to enthuse in schoolboy fashion, murmuring, “Magnificent, excellent!” under his breath, obviously enjoying every moment of what soon turned out to be, from my own rather cautious standard, a hair-raising ride. When we had jumped one set of lights, and sent an old man leaping for his life, and forced a large Buick driven by an infuriated American into the side of the street, he proceeded to circle the town in order, so he explained, to try the car’s pace. “You know,” he said, “it amuses me enormously to use other people’s possessions. It is one of life’s greatest pleasures.” I closed my eyes as we took a corner like a bob-sleigh.
“Meanwhile,” he said, “you are probably dying of hunger?”
“Not at all,” I murmured. “I’m at your disposal.” It struck me, as I spoke, that the French language was too fine, too polite.
“I was thinking of taking you to the only restaurant where it is possible to eat superbly,” he said, “but I have changed my mind. I am known there, and somehow I feel that tonight I want to be without identity. It isn’t every day that one comes face to face with oneself.”
His words gave me the same sense of discomfort that I had experienced in the taxi. The likeness between us was not something that either of us wanted to show off in public. I realized suddenly that I did not wish to be seen with him. I did not want waiters to look at us. I felt in some way furtive and ashamed. The sensation was peculiar. He began to slow down as we approached the center of the town.
“Possibly,” he said, “I won’t go home tonight after all, but take a room at a hotel.” He seemed to be thinking aloud. I don’t believe he expected a reply. “After a
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