Isabelle Azaire Quotes in Birdsong
“This morning I was out doing some errands in the town. There was a window open in a house near the cathedral and someone was playing the piano.”
Madame Azaire’s voice was cool and low […].
Monsieur and Madame Bérard looked startled. It was evidently not the kind of thing they had expected. Azaire spoke with the soothing voice of one use to such fancies. “And what was the tune, my dear?”
“I don’t know. I had never heard it before. It was just a tune like Beethoven or Chopin.”
“I doubt it was Beethoven if you failed to recognize it, Madame,” said Bérard
gallantly. “It was one of those folksongs, I’ll bet you anything.”
“Madame,” said Azaire, “I assure you that Isabelle has no fever. She is a woman of a nervous temperament. She suffers from headaches and various minor maladies. It signifies nothing. Believe me, I know her very well and I have learned how to live with her little ways.” He gave a glace of complicity toward Bérard who chuckled. “You yourself are fortunate in having a robust constitution.”
Yet despite her formality toward him and her punctilious ease of manner, Stephen sensed some other element in what he had termed the pulse of her. It was impossible to say through which sense he had the impression, but somehow, perhaps only in the tiny white hairs on the skin of her bare arm or the blood he had seen rise beneath the light freckles of her cheekbones, he felt certain there was some keener physical life than she was actually living in the calm, restrictive rooms of her husband’s house with its oval door handles of polished china and its neatly inlaid parquet floors.
Azaire’s gaze had filled with something like amusement. “I don’t’ like to think of you having some kind of fit. I could easily—.”
“For goodness’ sake, René,” said Madame Azaire. “He’s told you there’s nothing to worry about. Why don’t you just leave him alone?”
Azaire’s fork made a loud clatter as he laid it down on his plate. For a moment his face had an expression of panic, like that of the schoolboy who suffers a sudden reverse and can’t understand the rules of behaviour by which his rival has won approval. Then he began to smile sardonically, as though to indicate that really he knew best and that his decision not to argue further was temporary indulgence he was granting his juniors. He turned to his wife with a teasing lightness of manner.
“And have you heard your minstrel again in your wanderings in the town, my dear?”
She looked down at her plate. “I was not wandering, René. I was doing errands.”
“Of course, my dear. My wife is a mysterious creature, Monsieur,” he said to Stephen. “No one knows—like the little stream in the song—whither she flows or where her end will be.”
She was the only one who did not respond to Bérard’s promptings. She barely contributed when he invited her to do so, but would speak, unbidden, on a subject of her own choice. This appeared to leave Bérard no choice but to cut her off. He would apologize with a small bow of his head, though not for some minutes, and not until he had taken the conversation safely down the path he wanted. Madame Azaire would shrug lightly or smile at his belated apology as though to suggest that what she had been about to say was unimportant.
Sometimes from the safety of the sitting room he would fix his eyes on the group and the vital, unspeaking figure of Madame Azaire. He didn’t ask himself if she was beautiful, because the physical effect of her presence made the question insignificant. Perhaps in the harshest judgement of the term she was not. While everything was feminine about her face, her nose was slightly larger than fashion prescribed; her hair had more different shades of brown and gold and red than most women would have wanted. For all the lightness of her face, its obvious strength of character overpowered conventional prettiness. But Stephen made no judgements; he was motivated by compulsion.
[René] saw the production of further children as important proof of his standing in society and a confirmation that this was a balanced match in which his age and the difference in tastes were not important. He approached his wife in a businesslike and predatory manner; she reacted with the submissive indifference which was the only response he left open to her. He made love to her each night, though, once embarked on it, he seemed to want it to be over quickly. Afterward he never referred to what they had done together. Madame Azaire, who was initially frightened and ashamed, slowly became frustrated by her husband’s attitude; she could not understand why this aspect of their lives, which seemed to mean so much to him, was something he would not talk about, nor why the startling intimacy of the act opened no doors in her mind, made no connections with the deeper feelings and aspirations that had grown in her since childhood.
René Azaire had no suspicions of what was happening in his house. He had allowed his feelings toward Isabelle to become dominated by anger and frustration at his physical impotence and by what he subsequently experienced as a kind of emotional powerlessness toward her. He did not love her, but he wanted her to more responsive toward him. He sensed that she felt sorry for him and this infuriated him further; if she could not love him then at least she should be frightened of him.
[René] remembered the pleasure he had taken in being the first man to invade that body, much younger than him, and the thrill he could not deny himself when she had cried out in pain. He remembered the puzzled look in her eyes when she gazed up at him. He could feel that she, more than his first wife, had the capacity to respond to the physical act, but when he saw the bewildered expression in her face he was determined to subdue it rather than to win her by patience. At that time Isabelle, though too willful for the father’s taste, was still docile and innocent enough to have been won over by a man who showed consideration and love, but with Azaire these things were not forthcoming. Her emotional and physical appetites were awakened but then left suspended as her husband turned his energy toward a long, unnecessary battle with his own shortcomings.
“I don’t want this.” Isabelle shook her head. The words came from her mouth without thought or calculation in their purity of feeling. “I don’t know what to do or how to behave now. I could be happy in the simplest way, like any other woman with a family of her own, without this terrible pain I’ve caused. I won’t listen to ether of you. Why should I? How do I know that you love me, Stephen? How can I tell?” Her voice fell to the low, soft note Stephen had heard when she spoke on his first evening in the house. It was a beautiful sound to his ears: pleading and vulnerable, but with a sense of strength in its own rightness. “And you, René, why should I trust you when you have given me so little reason even to like you?”