Read The Scapegoat Online

Authors: Daphne du Maurier

The Scapegoat (2 page)

BOOK: The Scapegoat
4.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

In a letter written the year of the publication of
The Scapegoat
, du Maurier notes of herself and her husband, ‘We are both doubles. So is everyone. Every one of us has his or her dark side. Which is to overcome the other?’

In du Maurier’s case, there are not only dark doubles, but sexual doubles too, male vying with female in role and desire. She always talked of the ‘boy-in-the-box’ she contained inside herself, a boy who loved women, while she also loved men.

But perhaps the idea of the double, which has so preoccupied artists, is the ultimate image for the writer herself. Du Maurier’s marriage was in difficulty at the time she wrote
The Scapegoat
, and it would hardly be surprising if she felt the always uneasy split between loving, engaged wife and coolly observant, disengaged writer as more than usually troubling.

As Margaret Atwood has noted: ‘There has been a widespread suspicion among writers … that there are two of him sharing the same body, with a hard-to-predict and difficult-to-pinpoint moment during which one turns into the other. When writers have spoken consciously of their own double natures, they’re likely to say that one half does the living, the other half the writing, and … that each is parasitic upon the other…. The double may be shadowy, but it is also indispensable.’

For du Maurier, throughout her life, doubling was indispensable. The force of her understanding of what it meant is perhaps what gives
The Scapegoat
, a mature novel, its power.

Neither part of me could put it down.

Lisa Appignanesi, 2003


left the car by the side of the cathedral, and then walked down the steps into the Place des Jacobins. It was still raining hard. It had not once let up since Tours, and all I had seen of the countryside I loved was the gleaming surface of the
route nationale
, rhythmically cut by the monotonous swing of the windscreen-wiper.

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 coloured – 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 bejewelled, 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 clamour 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 leant; 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 kilometres from the road up a sand-track full of pot-holes, the low house a pale lemon wash, the roof tiled, the farm and outbuildings 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 colour, 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 omelette, 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
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
. 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 grey 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
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 – grey 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-grey 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, any more 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 amongst 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 amongst whom I lived and breathed and had my being as a law-abiding, quiet, donnish individual of thirty-eight. But to the self who clamoured 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 …

BOOK: The Scapegoat
4.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Remedy is None by William McIlvanney
Transience by Mena, Stevan
Cindy's Doctor Charming by Teresa Southwick
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
A History of the Roman World by Scullard, H. H.
Sky Strike by James Rouch
Last Dance by Linda Joy Singleton