Chapter 1: The Fitting Poem
André Chénier was working on a new quatrain. No more politics, thank you – after nearly getting guillotined by his former brothers-at-arms, he was done with it. From now on, his poetry was going be sweet and harmless and non-incriminating.
Love would not serve at Reason’s court – oh fie!
The path of Love! Who knows where it may end?
He twirled the quill in his fingers, thinking of finishing it on some grand romantic note, Reason paying obedience to Love after all, Love rebelling against Reason and bringing a new order into the world, something like this… It all had been done before, though. Drawing away from modern politics didn’t mean he should start blandly repeating after his predecessors.
Suddenly, a mischievous gleam appeared in his eyes. Why try to be grand and flowery, when you could be truthful instead? Chuckling to himself, André wrote:
Two lovers with each other long to die,
But living with each other they can't stand!
André reread the result and sighed with some sadness – though that sadness was natural, just the usual feeling one had when thinking of the past. He had no regrets. That’s what essentially happened between him and Madeleine de Coigny.
They were already reaching the guillotine, ready to leave this world, united in love forever, when suddenly Charles Gérard, breathless and sweating all over, ran in the wagon's way. He was waving a small piece of paper, which he shortly revealed to be an official pardon personally signed by Robespierre. The wagon's driver and the officers examined the paper once, and twice, and several times more, they smelled it, they held it against the light, until Gérard grew bored with it and implied that if they didn't obey the new orders this instant, the guillotine would get their own selves instead.
Gérard had a unique ability to be extremely convincing, and this time his talent was aided by Robespierre's signature. Before they could process what was happening, André and Madeleine were practically shoved out of the wagon and told to thank their luck and disappear. Gérard was quick to leave as well – André couldn't even catch him to thank him.
It's hard to find a man with a more generous heart! he thought for the hundredth time. He did suspect that Gérard played some part in his arrest, it could have hardly been otherwise, but whatever this part had been, Gérard clearly regretted it. André wondered what strings he had had to pull to secure the pardon. Of course, he knew he would never find it out.
The shadow of execution no longer looming over both of them, André and Madeleine suddenly found themselves facing a future on earth. They were giddy with happiness. Even though both were still impoverished, even though they knew they had to escape Paris as fast as possible (of course, neither of them was naive enough to think Robespierre's one-time pardon meant eternal security from his government!), in their bliss, they barely cared for anything of that in truth.
And then, there came the Thermidor.
Another salvation for them in more than one way.
First, Robespierre himself met his end on his own favorite guillotine – André noticed that even Madeleine's eyes, despite her kind heart, brightened at the news. Second, the new government included Gérard, who rose to an even higher position. Some said that it was him who did all the real ruling.
Third, there was a blessing in heavy disguise for André and Madeleine personally. During the fights that ensued after the Thermidorian Reaction, André was shot in the leg and had a long and tedious recovery.
During said recovery, Madeleine never left his side. By the time he was back on his feet again, they knew for certain that they were not destined for each other in life. Madeleine had a vivacious nature, André was melancholic. She looked for the best in the current world, he looked (in vain) for the better world. It went on and on, down to the merest trifles: Madeleine adored hot chocolate and André only recognized coffee.
When André was able to move by himself, only using a cane, Madeleine moved back to Bersi's little house.
At first, he missed her. While he was bedridden, she had become a constant presence in his rooms, after all. But very quickly he realized how his home was quiet and peaceful again and how he wasn't obliged to smile back at her when she smiled at him (which she did much too often for his liking). Life went back to normal, only now André and Madeleine sometimes paid visits to each other, and André assured her he was ready to help if anything happened.
But one day, early in the morning, he heard a furious knock at the door and opened it to see an outraged Charles Gérard.
"What's happened to Countess de Coigny?" he snarled without preludes. "Where have you lost her?"
That got André rather by surprise. He thought that somehow, one of his poems had been dubbed political after all. Or that someone had framed him for some plot. He never suspected that Gérard would be interested in the whereabouts of his former mistress.
"Calm down!" he said. "I haven't lost her anywhere, she's long been back in Bersi's house where she lives!"
"You mean she doesn't live with you?"
Gérard's eyes lit up, and his face reddened – but not with fury this time. André gaped at him, mouth open, as it dawned on him what the matter was.
"You and her?" he whispered. The head revolutionary in love with an aristocrat, whom he had served in the past, no less!
"No!" Gérard was so vehement that André's last doubts vanished.
"Is it why you rescued us? Because of Madeleine?"
"The woman I have loved all my life..." Gérard said feverishly; he must have seen it was no use to deny it. "It was the worst of torments when I thought I sent her to death. But when she came to plead for you..."
"She came to plead for me? She never told me."
"Of course she didn't. When she came to plead for you, I realized I would lose both her and one of my greatest friends and allies."
André was touched. As he had long suspected Gérard's involvement in his arrest, he wasn't shocked by that, but the depth of Gérard's remorse astonished him.
"I just... I want nothing now... I only wished to ask you both for forgiveness," the fierce Thermidorian leader suddenly seemed lost and helpless, tears shimmering in his usually calm eyes.
You both. It wasn't hard to figure out the details.
"Did you order my arrest to get Madeleine for yourself?"
"Yes," Gérard breathed.
"Did she reject you when she learned?"
Despite everything, André was struck by the irony. It's usually me who's sensitive and tearful and him who's doing the interrogation!
"Did you... hurt her?"
I'm ready to forgive the arrest, but if you laid a finger on that sweet, innocent girl...
"If by hurt you mean forcing her, then no. Just barely, but no. She looked... like a lamb in a slaughterhouse, but her gaze was like steel. I've never loved her before as much as at that moment. I realized I wouldn't... couldn't bring her any more harm."
André sighed with relief. For a moment, he was sorry he had revealed Madeleine's location. Bersi was often away, and Madeleine stayed alone. Gérard could do anything... But then, André had another look at his friend-turned-foe-and-back. Gérard was looking utterly crushed and repentant. Nobody could pretend like this. André knew for sure that now the man wouldn't hurt Madeleine.
"I forgive you entirely," he said. "I really do."
"For what I did back then – and for how I lunged at you today?"
André still felt the painful memory of his arrest, trial and death sentence, and in all honesty, he seriously doubted that his former friendship with Gérard could ever be mended. But even if he hadn't fully forgiven the man, he felt sorry for him. Refused forgiveness, Gérard could go literally mad with despair and guilt.
"But," he added hurriedly, "I can't answer for Madeleine. After all, she suffered more."
"I know," Gérard nodded. "I will go and ask her... try to ask her."
"I can tell her of your visit beforehand. I will say you truly regret everything..."
"No – André, please don't do that. Thank you, don't mistake my meaning, I'm very grateful, but she will be polite with me for your sake, and I don't want that. I'd rather she slams the door in my face."
As he got ready to leave, he paused:
"Er... if it's not a secret and if I dare to ask, why have you separated? I am sure she loves you with all her heart."
There was a laced warning in Gérard's voice. As in: had it been your fault, had you harmed the girl in any way?
"Oh," André smiled, "it was pretty inevitable with the two of us. Wait a moment, I've just written a poem that fits the occasion."
He went into his study and fetched the quatrain.
Gérard read it, and his eyebrows rose:
"This is true?"
"Absolutely. Ours was a love in the face of death. It wasn't suited for life – we weren't suited for living together."
"Oh," said Gérard uncertainly. "I see. I'll be going, then. If you need anything, Monsieur Chénier, don't hesitate to ask. As long as I have my position in the government..."
"Yes, for sure," André smiled. To himself, he added: Only as a last resort! I will not be begging anyone – much less the government! – for anything! Besides, I have a suspicion that, with Robespierre gone, my literary career might go upwards again.
Chapter 2: An Awkward Dinner
Madeleine was sewing. She didn’t want to be a burden to her poor friend who had already sacrificed enough. Thankfully, the nuns at Mary's Annunciation Convent, as well as her old governess Madame Resmond, had taught her handiwork. She didn't earn much, but it was a relief to know she wasn't a dead weight in Bersi's household anymore.
Suddenly, she heard a knock on the door. At first she thought it was one of Bersi's friends – her clever former maid had a wide circle of those, and Madeleine never asked who they actually were. Bersi had quit working as a prostitute and switched to other ways of making money, Madeleine had a definite suspicion these "ways" were less humiliating but also even less legal.
However, this time, it wasn't a friend of Bersi's at the door. To her shock, Madeleine saw Gérard, who wrapped himself in a simple dark cape to hide his noticeable uniform coat.
For a while, they stood silently, with no idea on how to address each other.
"I wanted to ask you to forgive me, yet again, Mademoiselle de Coigny," Gérard said in a strangled voice at last. "And... just to see how you're faring. Do you need anything, maybe? Money, a better house?"
"Thank you, we have enough to live on, and we don't want to stand out in a crowd in times like these," Madeleine, embarrassed, stared at her hands. "Um... Would you like to stay for dinner? I was going to lay the table."
"With pleasure, thank you so much."
They tried to behave as if they were ordinary acquaintances, since they didn't know what else to do, but the strained atmosphere didn't go away. They collided with each other on the tiny kitchen's doorstep – Madeleine wanted to let her guest pass ahead of her while Gérard automatically went to open the door for her. The same continued at dinner: Gérard constantly moved to put the plates on the table.
"I'm not a mistress anymore and you're not a servant," Madeleine said gently. "Moreover, it's hardly like the dinners we used to have, with twenty courses and all. I think I can manage four plates myself."
As they ate, she finally asked:
"I'm sorry, but how did it happen that you found me here?"
"I learned that André Chénier lives alone," Gérard explained, "and I was afraid something... something's happened to you."
He blushed and put his spoon away:
"Forgive me if I troubled you. Thank you for your hospitality, I don't want to exploit it. If you ever need anything, you... you know where to find me."
He stood up and put his cape back on:
"Come again, if you want and if you've got the time," said Madeleine, surprising even herself.
Gérard gave her a gloomy look:
"You saved us from the guillotine."
"After sending you there. Madeleine, listen," he burst out, "I can't help it, the thought of you still drives me crazy..."
"I... I didn't mean to tease you."
"Tease? What are you talking about? After that horrible day it's enough for me to see you alive and well. But why do you need to ask me to visit, you know we both hate playing out this Good Old Friends' Polite Meeting comedy, you know what I did to get you..."
"Almost did," she corrected. "I'm terribly lonely. I keep in touch with André, of course, but it's a bit different, he only really knows the present me, what I became after the revolution, it's harder for him to understand... Bersi is rarely home... Please, Monsieur Gérard, if it's not too difficult for you, I will be glad to see you again."
"Charles," he said.
"Madeleine, either we both address each other politely, which we can't do, as it seems, or we both use given names. When you call me Monsieur Gérard and I call you Madeleine, I feel like the worst of beasts once more."
Chapter 3: The Gauze Curtain
The golden specks slowly moved on the yellowish-white wallpaper, turning from golden to carrot red, then to ruby red. Madeleine edged towards the windowsill – she wanted to finish the commission before dark. Again and again, she silently thanked Madame Resmond and the nuns from the convent: they had taught her not just to weave lace or to frieze, but also to work with simpler materials. It would have been impossible for her to earn her keep without what she had learned back then.
The needle flashed scarlet in the last rays of the sunset when Madeleine finally put it away. Just then, she heard somebody knock.
It was late, and Madeleine took a kitchen knife with her, just in case, as she walked to the door. She and Bersi had been successfully hiding the fact they were living alone – Bersi always made it seem as if one or more of her many friends were staying with them – but someone could still find it out.
"Hello, Madeleine," Charles Gérard smiled shyly, taking off his hooded cloak.
"Charles!" relieved, she put the knife away.
"Are you busy?"
"No, not at all. I've just got the commission done. Do come in, please."
Madeleine put a pot with water to boil. The awkwardness that had hung over their previous meeting came back again, and for a moment she doubted whether it was even wise to invite Charles to visit.
"They gave me a packet of chocolate," said Charles, sitting at the table. "Do you want some?"
She was glad her back was turned to him and he didn't see her licking her lips. She had always loved hot chocolate, but for five years she hadn't even seen it, let alone having a taste.
"Yes, thank you," she turned to Charles and instantly bit her tongue. Why did she have to say it? Neither she nor Bersi ever wanted to take donations... but, well, it was hardly a donation, just a little bit of chocolate, it was a matter of politeness...
Madeleine poured out the hot water, and Charles took a tiny paper cone full of dark powder from somewhere and emptied it into her cup.
"Didn't you leave anything for yourself?" she exclaimed when he threw the cone into the oven.
"I drank it already," said Charles and added, after thinking over for a while:
"I drank three cups. Full to the brim."
She realized that he hadn't drunk a drop of that chocolate, that he had brought it only for her and that he would refuse it even if she offered to share.
She took the tiniest sip from the cup, just enough to feel the taste on her tongue, and smiled with delight:
"Thyme! My God, it feels just like home! Charles, how on earth did you manage to get it? How... how do you even know how I love chocolate with thyme? I only had it for breakfast, and Bersi always made it for me..."
Even in the dusk and the dim light of the lamp she saw Charles blush with shame.
As she remembered some details of that horrible evening when she came to him to plead for André, Madeleine understood what the matter was.
"Did you watch me while I was having breakfast?" she whispered, flattening herself against the chair's back.
"Your bedroom door was never locked, there was only a gauze curtain over the doorstep. You had asked for it personally," Charles lowered his eyes.
Madeleine could hardly breathe with horror. Forgetting the chocolate, she jumped up and ran to the door:
"How... how could you! Even a husband can't... couldn't watch his wife without her permission when she was undressed!"
She recalled the memories of these carefree years. There she was, sitting on the windowsill on an autumn morning and watching the leaves fall. With Bersi on a cloudy winter morning, laughing at the pompous guests of yesterday's ball. With Mother on a rainy spring morning, complaining of a nightmare, and Mother comforting her. Oh, and so many times, when it was too hot, Madeleine had untied the collar of her nightdress, when (she thought) nobody could see her...
"Forgive me, Madeleine, please, I am so sorry," Charles repeated in a choked voice.
She covered her face with her hands. There had been so many times when she was certain that she was alone, when she asked not to be disturbed...
"Why?" she whispered, trembling all over. "Why did you do it? Do you think this is love?"
"Of course not!" cried Charles. "If only you knew how I dreamed to talk to you like an equal, just once, instead of watching you from a dark corner!"
"To talk?" she repeated sarcastically.
"Yes, to talk! In the same easy way we used to talk when we were small kids. To laugh together at the silly wigs and dresses, to discuss new books, to comfort you when you were sad. But who would allow it back then?"
He sighed heavily:
"Although I wouldn't pretend to be noble. I have had other sorts of dreams, too."
Gulping down the rest of the hot water, he stood up:
"I shall go, then... I believe?"
"How odd... I thought I've forgiven you... well, almost forgiven... for what you almost did to Andre, and now..." Madeleine whispered, as if in a delirium, leaning against the door frame. "It's just that I never guessed the extent of your..."
"Madeleine, don't excuse yourself, no fault lies with you," Charles said quietly. He put on his cloak:
"If you need help, don't be afraid to ask."
In the first moment, she really wanted him to leave forever and herself to forget about it all.
So I'm ready to forgive him for André but not for myself? Even though André almost died because of him?
"Charles, now I do need to be alone, but..." she hesitated. "I'm not sure I want to cut off our, er, acquaintance for good. In two days, say... let's talk it over calmly. Oh, and no more sending spies after me!" she reminded him. "Especially since you can just come here and ask me if I'm all right."
"Please, don't invite me over because you feel obliged to do it!" he begged. "You don't owe me anything – anything, you hear me? – and you have every right not to want to see me."
"I told you the last time, it's not the case," she assured him. "You... a long time ago we were friends, and though you have done many shameful things since then... I want to repair at least a bit of the past."
"Madeleine, you are an angel," Charles blurted out. He clearly wanted to add something else – something just as passionate – but bethought himself in time. "I'm sorry... I didn't keep myself in check again. Goodbye, say hello to Bersi."
"Goodbye," she breathed out.
Pulling the hood over his face, he nodded slightly for the last time, opened the door and seemed to fade in the darkness of the evening.
Madeleine sat down, trying to catch her breath. She drank the chocolate, hardly registering its taste. She closed the shutters, just as a precaution – though she understood that Charles wouldn't hide under the windows to watch her, especially not now.
"Madeleine!" the key croaked in the lock, and Bersi burst into the house. "I managed to find two wonderful light mantles, we don't want fur capes in summer, do we?.. oh, what's the matter?"
"Everything's fine, Bersi," Madeleine came to meet her. Her sharp-eyed friend instantly noticed the table:
"Two cups? Did André come to visit?"
"No, um, not exactly," Madeleine, who had only just calmed down, felt her cheeks grow warmer again. "Bersi, I can see you are agog with curiosity, but, please, let me tell you the full story later. It's... a complex one."
Bersi's eyes gleamed with interest, but nevertheless she didn't question her former mistress further.
In the night it became foggy outdoors. The fog leaked through the cracks in the tiny house's walls, and to the half-slumbering Madeleine it looked like a transparent gauze curtain over the door.
Chapter 4: Thoughts and Reality
Charles was sitting at his desk, his forehead propped on his hands, and looking at the wad of papers in front of him. He couldn’t see the letters now – the candle had almost completely burned down. Not that he was trying to read or anything.
He had planned to make a pleasant surprise for Madeleine. By sheer miracle he had managed to find the chocolate she liked so much, and tried to give it to her in a way that wouldn’t embarrass her. However, he had perfectly forgotten that there was no way he could have known about her preference for chocolate with thyme… unless he had watched her having breakfast.
Madeleine was quick to realize it. The horror and painful disappointment in her eyes reminded him of that dreadful night when she came to him to plead for André.
She wanted to try and forgive him, too!
In two days, she’ll come to her senses and tell me to never come near her again.
He took a sip from the cup at his side. The water had long grown cold and had a disgusting papery aftertaste.
Unwanted memories from the life at the de Coignys’ flashed before his eyes. Back then, Charles hadn’t even thought that watching Madeleine from dark corners and from behind curtains was improper, to say the least. Sooner or later, he had figured, she’d get married and leave, and he’d remain to open doors for her mother and to gather the dancers at balls for the rest of his life. Madeleine would have never suspected a thing.
While after the Revolution… when he had found her at all, he was so much beside himself with passion that he barely felt a prick of conscience when he sent the Incroyable after her.
I have never been able to express my feelings properly – not then, not now. If Madeleine and I had been equals… but, who knows, even then I probably would have messed up everything.
There was a quiet knock on the door.
“You owe me for the chocolate,” the Incroyable reminded him as he slipped into the room. Charles took his purse and gloomily counted out the money.
“Bad luck again, isn’t it?” asked the Incroyable, biting one of the francs. “Wasn’t your golden-haired beauty impressed by the treat?”
“Shut up, I don’t need more of that advice of yours.”
When it came to any news concerning Madeleine, the Incroyable was always very interested, most likely, because the whole situation amused him. Indeed, he seemed to be the only one in Paris (except for André and Madeleine herself) who knew that Charles Gérard was secretly tormented with love for a countess!
“You pulled her practically right from the guillotine,” said the Incroyable. “I’m astonished she isn’t at your feet yet.”
Charles instantly imagined Madeleine in a breezy nightgown, leaning against his knees. Her loosened curls would almost be reaching the floor, like a waterfall of gold, and her eyes would be shining with love and joy… She would reach for him when he leaned towards her, she would respond to his kiss, caressing his shoulders, she would breathe a shuddering sigh of delight when he pressed his lips to her tender neck…
I’ll run outside, shout my name, and death shall rescue me! Her trembling voice seemed real in his ears.
He came to his senses, shook his head to get rid of the alluring fantasy, and glared at the Incroyable. Thankfully, the latter decided not to tempt his luck, gave a courteous bow and vanished behind the door, silent as a cat on a hunt.
I’ve got to lie down if I don’t want to fully lose my mind… Madeleine, my love, if only I could turn back and correct everything I have done to you… or something, at least…
The sleep granted him nothing but a bit of physical rest. For the whole night, he was plagued by nightmares. In some of them, he was too late to save André and Madeleine and, petrified, watched their heads fall off. In some other ones, he wasn’t able to control his lust and took Madeleine by force, and she sank down in his arms like a lifeless doll, crying silently. In yet other ones, images from the past and the present were chaotically mixed together, Robespierre was somehow at the ball at the de Coignys’, André was reading his poems in front of the tribunal, Madeleine was dancing in the garden at her home, but she was dressed plainly and had dark circles under her eyes…
The morning was just dawning outside when Charles woke up in cold sweat. At first, he couldn’t even understand what had been a dream and what hadn’t. Taking deep breaths, he sat up on the bed to calm down.
I’ve got to act. If tomorrow Madeleine refuses to see me for good, I’ll leave. I’ll go anywhere away from Paris. It’s sheer torture, knowing she is so close and yet so far from me. If I stay, sooner or later, I’ll either really go mad or start some new intrigue to get her…
In the evening of the next day Charles appeared at the door of the small house in the city’s outskirts again. This time, though, he was met by another woman, whom he recognized easily. Bersi looked just the same as back at the estate – she even wore the bright clothes she had always preferred.
Her hands on her waist, she blocked his way:
“Don’t you even dare, Gérard! You have caused Madeleine enough suffering!”
“Let him in, Bersi,” Madeleine appeared behind her back.
"Listen," the former maid's face softened the moment she turned to Madeleine, "I've told you several times: you have lived through many horrors, and I don't want anything to happen now, when life has just barely grown stable. Gérard, get out of here!" she bellowed, turning back to him. "If you try and come even close to our house again... do you know what kind of friends I have?"
"Please, Bersi, stop it," Madeleine managed to slip past her. "I have also explained to you: I want to rebuild my former friendship with Charles..."
"Friendship? Don't make me laugh! He only wants to get you into his bed!"
"If it were the only reason, he wouldn't have needed a lot of effort," said Madeleine, soothingly taking Bersi's hand. "He could have just threatened you or André with arrest or something worse, and I would have agreed to anything."
Charles felt his face burn with shame. This was exactly what had nearly happened.
"But it's not like this. Truly. He has come today because I invited him."
"Silly girl, that is exactly what he's counting on! He knows how kind-hearted you are and wants to manipulate your pity!"
"Not at all!" Charles decided it was time to interrupt it. "When I organized Chénier's arrest – that was manipulation. But this time it isn't. I would be... would be happy to do everything and behave normally, but I... Bersi, you know I have never even had friends after Madeleine left to study at the convent."
Grunting something to herself, Bersi moved aside. Her threats didn’t frighten him: he knew that whatever shadowy friends she had, they wouldn’t dare to attack him just at her request.
"It won’t be easy to talk calmly after such a prelude,” he sighed when Madeleine invited him to the table and poured him water with a pinch of herbal tea.
"Oh, don't take it too hard," she said. "Bersi is simply very worried for me."
"And she has never liked me even at the estate."
"How do you kn... oh, sorry... I mean, she told me so as well."
"Well, there was nothing to like me for. Besides, Bersi had almost caught me by your room's door several times."
For a while, they were silently drinking tea, until Madeleine seemed to make up her mind and looked straight at him:
"Charles, let's be frank now. You know that I... before that evening, I had no idea about your feelings. I thought you hated me or maybe didn't particularly remember me. Wait, please, hear me out. I'm still disgusted that you spied on me like this, and I will need a lot of time to forget your behavior after André's arrest. You see, I used to wonder whether this was possible... to forgive but not to forget... and now I know."
She took another sip and continued:
"But I will also always remember how you defended André at the trial... how you brought me to the prison... how you ran to us with the pardon in hand. I see what you're trying to say – no, I'm not talking now about my gratitude. There's a different matter. All of this... it makes me hope that there is still something remaining of the Charles I knew in my childhood."
"You see only good in others," he murmured. Despite Madeleine's smile and her gentle tone, he felt horrible.
"I haven't changed my decision. I want... if we can... to continue our friendship. If you have nothing against it..."
"Of course not! After what I've done, I'm amazed you want to have any dealings with me at all."
"I remember you said that you still... still love me," Madeleine blushed. "Er, Charles, you've got to understand... André and I – we... we had that feeling in the face of death. We have since realized we can't live after the same roof, but back then, especially when he was sentenced, naturally, we weren't thinking of any sort of a future together. What future was there? We hardly had any present to speak of. But now that life has grown somewhat calmer, I... I don't want to fall in love in a rush, to cling to it like a drowning man to a straw..."
Charles's breath caught in his throat, and his mouth grew dry.
Is she really hinting that a bit later she might... but no, fiddlesticks, she just want to put it politely so that I won't be offended...
There was a knock on the door.
"Bersi?" he asked.
"No, Bersi left soon after you came here and said she won't be back until tomorrow, and she's got a key anyway."
Madeleine went to answer, and Charles felt the pistol at his belt. Just in case.
Luckily, there turned out to be no need for a pistol.
"Afternoon, Madeleine... oh," André came in and saw Charles. "Am I interrupting something?"
Charles and Madeleine replied almost in unison:
"Not in the least."
"I won't bother you, then," Charles started to get up to leave.
"Nonsense," said Madeleine. "Bersi sometimes invites two dozen friends here at the same time. André, you want some tea?"
André nodded reflexively and took the cup, but his thoughts were clearly full of something much less prosaic.
"Let me guess: you've written a new sonnet," Madeleine smiled.
"A large poem," he corrected her, radiant. "In a single night! I've already given it to the publisher."
"Will you let me read it?" asked Charles. André's poems seemed a bit boring to him, to tell the truth, but he felt acutely guilty when it came to his friend, so he carefully bought and read everything the latter published.
"When it's printed, certainly," said André. "I'm afraid I'll have to do many revisions. At six in the morning, without a single grain of coffee, you begin to think that red rhymes with black. Oh, by the way!" he exclaimed. "Some admirers from Spain gave it to me. Just enough for the two of you, you know I hate this stuff."
He put a big bag on the table, and a tangy, nose-tickling smell spread across the room.
"Madeleine, I remember you love spiced chocolate, right?"
Charles choked on his tea and went into a coughing fit.
"André, thank you ever so much," said Madeleine, but her cheeks grew red. "I'm not very thirsty for now, after the tea, and you, Charles?" as he nodded, she smiled and looked back at André:
"You'd better tell us a bit more about your poem. I'd love to hear about it!"
"I would as well," Charles added, who finally managed to clear his throat.
André was a bit surprised at Madeleine's indifferent reaction to her favorite treat, but (as he later said) he attributed it to the awkwardness the girl felt in the company of both Gérard and himself. As for the poem, he didn't need to be asked twice and happily started to explain it in full detail.