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Lover for eternity

Chapter Text

The road skirted the Mediterranean. The massifs of bougainvillea colored the coast of purple velvet. The blue of the waves mingled with the white of the sand, with the sun-drenched facades. The coastal villages succeeded the coastal villages in a patchwork of colors crushed by the heat of a vibrant late-season sun.
We were already in autumn but the temperature had hardly fallen.
At the wheel of his car, Louise drove cautiously. The road was winding and narrow, the careless inhabitants ignored the few cars that borrowed it. Her bronzed eyes sometimes left the long black ribbon on which she rolled, to lose herself in the bluish horizon, where the sea and the pure sky were united. Her hair, cut off Louise Brooks's hairstyle, framed a determined and laughing face, studded with freckles. As she approached the frontier, the road was rising, the car struggled to cross the hairpin bends. Louise felt a cramp start in her calves, her feet danced on the pedals, brake, accelerator, disengagement and disengagement, deceleration, brake, in a ballet that did not want to stop.
She suddenly saw the imposing hood of a luxury car in her rear-view mirror. The wind in her convertible slapped her face gently and rustled in her ears, mitigating the noise of the powerful engine. She saw the accelerations the driver imposed on his formidable machine. He drew dangerously close to the rear of his car to touch his bumper and then slowed down just as suddenly. The impatience of the driver, his determination, his imprudence on this narrow road, panicked Louise. Her heart beat harder in her chest and in a survival reflex,she increases the weight of its foot on the accelerator increasing the distance with this formidable pursuer. She guessed in the rear-view mirror the discontent of the man, his gesture of anger.
The road continued to climb, the turns were linked. They would soon be at Menton, where they would have to pass the customs. She suddenly saw the old building and the men in uniform. She decided, exhausted, to stop on a area reserved for this purpose.
What a surprise it was to see the luxurious automobile that followed her stops also a few yards and a young man elegant to get off. He lit a cigarette, thin, athletic, and he advanced towards her with a supple step. Louise woke up her friend Monica who was sleeping in the passenger seat since she had passed the wheel.
''You drive like a snail it's annoying, madam.''
''And you are driving too fast, Sir, you are a real public danger, you have frightened me.''
The young man stood there amazed. He looked at her intently. Her chestnut hair, with coppery reflections under the sun, her hazel eyes in golden shades, her adorable warm face, her frank, direct look, brought him back to his past. The attention of the man in front of her ends up embarrassing the young woman. She was about to lecture him when:
''Louise?''
''Yes indeed. Do we know each other, sir?''
Louise sought in her memory who might be that elegant young dandy in the manners of a man of the world, and then a doubt was insinuated into her mind. She had not forgotten those almond-shaped eyes, lying on his temples, that magnetic gaze, enveloping, in which one loses oneself with pleasure, those long fine hands and the look of a young, arrogant and modest god. But Louise refused with all her strength to consider that it could be him, whom she had so much loved, he who had betrayed her.
Her lips parted, however, and in a breath she heard herself pronounce that name which she had shut up in the depths of her heart
''Rodolfo !!''.
She took a step back to find the helping support of her door. In her head a storm of emotion swept away everything in its path. Of course, despite his silence and the war, there was no evidence that he was dead. Of course, by settling in Italy, she had undoubtedly sought to get closer to him. Of course, this encounter, in the absolute, could produce. But 10 years had passed, 10 too long years. There was no longer any hope in her for a long time, only memories, such sweet memories, remained.
Then, in the features of the man before her, the face of the teenager whom she had loved re-emerged. Life suffers from painful shortcuts, ending up on the roadside after 10 years of silence, 10 years of absence, 10 years that another life has filled in ignorance of the other.
''Yes Louise, it's me Rodolfo, it's wonderful, you're there in front of me, it's been so long''.
''10 years old'', says Louise
''10 years yes'', and after a heavy silence,'' how are Paul and Thomas?''
''Thomas is well. We're going to join him in Paris. Paul is dead, like many others, the war has mowed him in full youth. It was tragic for Thomas and myself''
''I'm sorry, Louise, he was your best friend''
Louise raised her head and says defiantly
''He was my husband, Rodolfo, and my son's father''
He stared at Louise's face, so she had married Paul, but what was to be said, jealousy was no longer allowed, even though he was astonished at its bite.
Their eyes did never leave. Everyone silently evoked his memories, those wonderful days when love was shared with carelessness, those days when, pure and innocent, they had discovered the body of the other in his dazzling youth. She, in the revolt against this society which crushed her womanhood, he, in a blissful admiration for this free girl who blew the last taboos by taking him in her arms to give herself. They had conjugated the verb to love to the present and the future, for them no past. They lived the passion of teenage love, when love rhymes with always. I would always love you Louise, I would still love you Rodolfo and they loved a few days, a few weeks, an eternity.
But reality was watching them, Rodolfo's money had melted away. He had to leave, it was the tearing of two lives. "I'll come back," said one, "I'll wait for you," said the other. Life is cruel for children who love each other. They promised one letter a day, promised themselves an eternal return, they promised themselves a future. But there was no letter, no return and no future. Absence, silence, and despair triumphed. And ten years later, they were there, one in front of the other. Their paths crossed again. But chance now united two adults, now two strangers whom their common past made too intimate for their present life. They were disturbed, not daring to look in each other eyes.
A customs officer apostrophized them,'' You could not stay there''. Papers, passports were examined, everything was in order "Circulation" ordered the man in uniform.
''Louise meet us in Menton, we can not leave ourselves like that, we must talk.''
Rodolfo lowered his voice and almost whispered in his ear "we have things to speak"
Louise nodded. What he had to tell her was the reasons for his silence. She believed that she had put this story in the archives of her heart, but she discovered at that moment that the pain of abandonment still tore her. Decidedly, he was right, they had things to say to each other.
Monica had watched them in silence, she had perceived the trouble of her friend and then felt a dull anger arise in her. She knew nothing of Louise's history save her marriage with Paul. She had not known him when she had met Louise. Paul had already succumbed under the enemy's grapeshot. When she talked about her past, Louise was talking about Paul, about their common childhood, about his presence on her side, his unalterable support. Louise's world revolved around Paul, her husband, her almost brother. As the man came between Paul and Louise, Monica was worried, she knew the fragile balance that Louise had finally managed to establish in her life. Monica thought, "Who's that damn guy who displays his manhood with this improbable machine?" And Louise seems to know him. "Monica decided to be on her guard and protect her friend from the ineffable charm of this young man, arising from a past she knew nothing about. Everyone went back to the appointed place of rendezvous.

The hotel was chic and comfortable. Louise and Monica entered the living room and saw Rodolfo sitting in front of a cafe. As they passed the bar, the young women ordered a tea, and then they took their places opposite the young man. Louise detailed him, she recognized his lips so perfectly drawn, his black eyes with long lashes. She found a young man, elegant, perfectly correct, with a face of antique beauty. The childish roundness had disappeared, leaving room for a natural distinction.
''Rodolfo, I present you Monica a very dear friend. We met during the war, I have no secret for her, Monica I present you a friend from the past Rodolfo Guglielmi.''
Monica wanted to shake his hand, but the young man took it and turned it lightly and presented its back to his lips. They touched him while his bust bowed. "A perfect hand kiss in the rules of art," Monica thought, and even if it clashed with her feminist beliefs, she appreciated the gesture.
The silence of this improvised reunion was hard to break. The young man watched Louise attentively. She had changed, she was no longer the wild cat that he had known, the age had brought to her sensual forms that he did not know. He noticed her breasts tightening the white cloth of his man's shirt. It was new to him, but he appreciated the voluptuous curve with interest. She kept her confident, mocking look, but he discovered a cloud of powder that tried to hide her spots of redness, a veil of rose on his cheeks, a fringe of black lashes and red lips. She had become a modern woman, short hair, wearing pants.
It was finally he who began the dialogue, the questions were very general. He smiled as he asked them, and Louise observed the two adorable dimples that were born in the hollow of his cheeks. He lit a cigarette, she fixed his thin hands to the long fingers, an uncontrolled blush flamed her cheeks, his hands, an echo of the past, caresses shared, those still hesitant hands that explored her body. Her mind escaped, she felt more than she heard the flood of words interrupted. Rodolfo was waiting with eyes fixed on her. What had he said, that he had asked, little mattered to her, a single sentence turned in her head until the obsession. Her gaze plunged into his and
''You did not write''
That was all, everything was said, the summary of months of disappointed expectation, days of despair, the burning of treason, the bruise of abandonment and the suffering that leads to the gates of madness
The young man frowned, his eyes narrowed, a metallic luster lit his dark eyes, his jaws clenched.
''You never answered my letters''
''There have never been any letters''
The tension between them became palpable then Rodolfo's face relaxed, his eyes again enveloped Louise with tenderness and he spoke again
''We have a problem, Louise, I wrote every day. Maria, my sister, was posting the letters for me, because I was closed in my uncle's house. But this does not concern your friend. This discussion will soon tire her, let's change the subject!''
Louise was loosing control.
''Monica is my friend, my sister, she can hear everything including your lies!''
''Well it's as you like, so we'll have a witness''
He fell silent and resumed, the voice throaty and the eyes burning
''I tell you and I repeat it, I wrote every day!''
Louise watched him, time changed nothing, she knew that frank look. Rodolfo did not lie, it was not in his nature
''But I waited every day, and nothing, nothing, you hear me, no letters, no news of you, you had disappeared and I did not know where to join you. I became mad at this waiting. Rodolfo, swear! Swear to me that you wrote, my heart believes you but my reason curses you.''
''Believe your heart, Louise, I wrote every day, even after my departure for America, I posted at New York all the letters written on the boat. Louise, there was never any answer, my letters had not even returned to me. What could I think, that you had forgotten me or that you had played with me ...''
Louise's cheeks flushed, she almost cried.
''How could you believe that? .....''
Then slowly
''You were my first love Rodolfo, my first lover. I loved you without restraint and without lies.''
Tears perished in Louise's eyes, Rodolfo leaned over, grasped his hands in hers, and kept them more than conveniences dictated.
''There is a mystery in this whole story. I'm sure of Maria, she was my confidante. She became my accomplice, with the agreement of my mother who knew for both of us. She was delighted to see her child in love with a French girl. She was covering me, never my uncle, my father's brother, never suspected this relationship. She knew he would have opposed it. But you on your side there is no one who could have wanted to separate us ?''
Louise thinks ...She was thinking from the moment she realized that the letters were leaving Italy but did not arrive in Paris. Paul knew for them, he suffered, it is true, but Louise knew his righteousness. He would never have lowered himself to steal letters. On the other hand, there was someone who knew or had guessed, no matter, Thomas, Paul's elder brother, to whom they lived. He worked in the world of spectacle, more at the time he worked in the world of the night and the day only he stayed in the apartment that they shared. He picked up the mail. Thomas and his need to protect those he loved, his little brother first and then she, whom he loved like a little sister, he alone could. She went back to Paris, had to live with him and her son, she would have a clear heart, a discussion was needed.
''There may be somebody in fact but I can not accuse him without proof and then ....''
Louise knew that the words she was about to pronounce would put an end to their story by projecting it into a bygone past. This devouring love had faded over time.
"Let it die," she thought.''10 years have passed, Rodolfo, we have changed, our lives have continued despite everything. It's ancient story now.''
Monica had perceived in the voice of Louise a slight vibrato "of the ancient story". Was her friend persuaded by her speech, or was she trying to persuade herself of it? Monica knew the sensibility of the young woman, she was not insensitive to the Latin charm of this perfect stranger, for Louise reality had to be quite different, she had to evacuate many memories to keep her control.
Monica pulled a cigarette out of her case, saw Rodolfo take the golden lighter on the table, he presented the flame to her, she approached and lit her cigarette, blowing between her lips swirls of smoke. Rodolfo, in his turn, took out his elegant cigarette case in shagreen, and a fragrant smoke of tobacco blanched them all three. The conversation was extinguished, each one plunged into deep reflections. A waiter walked over to their table, bowed before Rodolfo and asked if Mr. Valentino still wanted a coffee. Louise saw with surprise Rodolfo ordering for another coffee and two other teas.
''How did he call you? Mr. Valentino, but it's not your name?''
''It's my name now Valentino, Rudolph Valentino''
Monica bent over to Louise and whispered "like the actor Louise, like the American actor"
Louise looked at Monica with wide-eyed eyes and looked back at Rodolfo
'' like the actor ?'' she repeated ''but what idea Rodolfo ,why change of name ? Would you be wanted? To take the name of an actor it is not very discreet you know ....''
Rodolfo's fingers slumped on the cheeks of the two dimples. Louise received a kick from Monica on her ankle, apparently the situation amused the young man very much. Monica tried in vain to attract the attention of Louise
''Not like the actor, I'm Rudolph Valentino, this is my stage name''.
Since the intervention of the waiter, a doubt had insinuated itself in the head of Monica. She was a great film amateur, she read a lot of magazines and went to see movies as often as possible. Only Louise did not share this taste of the dark rooms. She stared at their interlocutor, her eyes did not deceive.
Certainly the films of Valentino were distributed rather confidentially, in Italy. He had not thought fit to join the Party or to recognize the Duce, a grave fault if it were for the master of the peninsula. Monica however had been able to see the Sheikh and Blood and Sand.
At the end of her examination, she no longer doubted "Rudolph Valentino" sat in front of her. "How to warn Louise" she thought "well, she knew his name, the case was not totally desperate" but for Monica the hardest was still to do: make her understand the situation.
Louise's eyes passed from Monica to Rodolfo, incredulous, her friend's embarrassment, the young man's amusement gradually brought him on the road to reality
''Rodolfo, Rudolph Valentino... but how is that possible?''
He crushed his cigarette and bowed to Monica, apologizing for it. He slipped his hand under Louise's elbow and helped her stand up and gently dragged her out of the hotel.
''Want to walk? We have 10 years of absence to fill and your friend can not hear everything. Sorry Monica''

Chapter Text

Louise and Rodolfo walked along the seafront promenade, the noise of the waves on the pebbles accompanied each one of their steps.
He spoke first, and told her of his sadness when he had to leave her.
He never doubted that it had to be temporary. Arriving at his house in Tarentum, he had entrusted everything to his mother, their meeting, their love and their hopes. French by birth, she was delighted with this idyll and she encouraged Rodolfo to write. As always, their complicity protected him, they both knew that his uncle, the head of the family, since the death of his father would not approve. His mother had often been treated as a stranger by his paternal family.
As he promised, he wrote a long letter every day. Having been kept in his house for bad conduct, he begged his sister Maria to post the couriers. She loved him, and she ran to the post every day.
But time passed and no letter. He was watching for the return of his sister, her empty hands carried him to the height of despair. He was wasting away, shutting himself up in his room, refusing to get out of it, and not eating. His mother was worried about his condition. One day he joined her in the library and begged her on his knees to send him back to France for his beloved.
He stormed, sulked, wept but nothing did.
His mother explained that his uncle managed the affairs of the family and that she no longer had free access to her money, including her dowry.
Rodolfo returned to his solitude. The absence and the silence destroyed him slowly. He felt abandoned and then betrayed. Then the distress gave way before the anger, and the wrath turned into rage.
His uncle summoned him to his office, Rodolfo would soon be of age, he had an agronomy degree, and he ordered him to exploit one of the family estates.
The young man refused a quarrel, and his uncle could no longer contain the insulte "good-for-nothing, sluggard, parasite."
Rodolfo fled, and wandered for two days in the country on dusty roads.
On his return, his decision was made, he was going to leave for America like many of his compatriots. He declared to his brother "Italy is too small for me." This decision despaired his mother who saw his favorite son go away again. As for his uncle he approved. Finally, he got rid of this rebellious soul.
He uncorked the notary's inheritance money back to Rodolfo and handed him a boat ticket on the USS Cleveland.
The farewells with his mother were heartbreaking, in the arms of one another, they wept a lot but he had to leave. He took the boat in second class and in December 1913 he arrived in New York like many other Italian immigrants.
Louise understood during this account that Rodolfo had suffered as much as she had from that separation which had been imposed upon them.
In her turn she told her story. She had at first refused to believe it, she waited every day for a letter.
At first, she thought that the post was responsible for this delay, and then the days succeeded the days, without more news. She lived only for this envelope that was surely waiting for her return from college. But nothing, only a few letters from her family that she did not even read.
Doubt insinuated itself insidiously. A frightful sensation of abandonment consumed her heart. Poor heart clenched in the jaws of steel in a vice of despair. If the day she was obliged to do good, the night brought so much sobbing. Days passed then weeks to months. Certainly she was not alone, Paul was there, attentive and protective. How many times she collapsed into tears in his arms. He never had a word against Rodolfo because he had decided that this relationship did not concern him. Only the happiness of Louise mattered to him and he surrounded her with love, asking nothing in return. He already had her friendship, he seemed to be content with it.
He was present, reliable, solid. Then, finally her America to her was called Paul. Beyond all hope, Louise finally understood this silent love.
When he asked her to marry him, she said yes. Gabriel was born and she tried to be happy. She led her studies, her life as a woman and a mother.
But the war broke out and Paul was mobilized despite his status as a young father. Until 1916, their lives were punctuated by permissions, a few days of happiness followed by months of anguish. And then one day a telegram, Paul was missing, not one more word, not one less. Then she made the siege of the offices of the Ministry of War, everyday without respite. An official, more sensitive than the others, pointed out to her the last known affectation of her husband. It was the Marne, of course, that great purveyor of widows. The battle had been won and the enemy rejected. So she borrowed a car and took the road of misfortune towards the Marne, the last place where Paul had been seen alive. After several hours, exhausted, she went to a country hospital, set up in a castle. Suddenly she saw in the hall in a white coat a fellow-student of the faculty's benches. She hailed him:
''Marcel, Marcel Lafontaine''
The officer returned.
"Louise, but what are you doing here?" You're a civilian, it's forbidden. "
''Marcel, it's Paul, he's missing. I knew in the ministry that he was quartered near here, Marcel, he may be simply wounded, amnesiac, I must know!''
''Come on Louise, we'll be more calm in my office.''
She followed the man in white, and entered an office with austere decoration
''Louise, you must understand, many men disappear under artillery fire. It was a butchery here, we do not necessarily find the bodies, they are scattered, shredded. And then we give priority to the wounded. Louise, the dead can wait, we take care of them afterwards.''
Louise was dazed with grief, a dazzling pain rummaged through her entrails. She breathed deeply to fight nausea.
''I must find him, Marcel, I shall die of it, if not."
The man got up, took a box on a wooden table and put it on the desk. He pushed it towards Louise.
''See, I collect personal items on the battlefields on unidentified or unidentifiable bodies. I am sure that these objects will be important, one day, for a family, to mourn. So far nobody has examined these objects, jewelry or others. Do it, see if you find an answer.''
Silence fell into the room, Louise raised the lid of the box with a trembling hand. She discovered a bloody bric-a-brac combining religious medals, small crosses, chains, pictures, rings, pipes and others.
She pushed aside some of them, pulled out the others, then suddenly saw it, a modest alliance half-wrapped in a dried-up black earthen matrix.
She took it between two fingers, cleared the clay and could read "Paul & Louise 22 december 1913". Always fixing the ring, her eyes bulging, she swayed silently back and forth, then a wounded animal cry came from her mouth, she stood up, threw the jewel and fainted.
Rodolfo, moved, took Louise in his arms, and, she was leaning against him as in the past. He murmured in his warm, melodious voice "Sono spiaciente cara, je suis si triste pour toi".
Louise found forgotten sensations, the warmth of the body she had loved so much, the protection of these athletic arms with solid muscles.
Rodolfo mixed Italian and French at will in a singing phrasing so charming.
Louise drew back a little too abruptly to finish her story.
To honor Paul's memory, she had volunteered as a volunteer nurse. Her medical knowledge was greatly appreciated by military surgeons. She was decorated at the end of the war. But she was alone.
So, she decided to leave, to leave France. Too many friends had disappeared during the conflict and her vocation as a doctor had died in the trenches.
In 17, she had met Monica, a nurse and widow like herself, the fact that she was Italian certainly attracted her. They had become friends under the bombardments. Daily fear and horror had solidified their ties. In 1919, no one expected them in France, so they took the road to Italy with Gabriel, her son, and some luggage.
They lived happily in Tuscany, widows and therefore free. They practiced the profession of bookseller. Monica was an advocate for women's rights and had rallied Louise to her cause. Through strange detours, Louise had begun to write, a few letters at first. She dared to send them to newspapers, which, to her astonishment, were interested in her ideas. They had therefore asked her to write articles.
But Mussolini came to power, the ideas they displayed were poorly seen there. Then they had to take the way back to France.
In Paris, Louise was to join the editorial team of a women 's militant newspaper La France.
Louise saw two wrinkles mark the front of Rodolfo, after a hesitation he asked:
''Louise, Monica and you ... well ... it's not easy ... how to say ...''
She had guessed the question. Of course, two women living together, what man would not have had this reaction? She decided to let him wade "yes Monica and me? Clarify your thoughts ... "
''Are you both a couple?'' Rodolfo threw himself in a breath
Louise laughs heartily.
''No Rodolfo, it's a very dear friend, the sister I've never had. But I still like the men's company.''
Louise observed a pink color on her friend's cheeks. Thus, the great seducer who held in his arms the most beautiful actresses of the moment, had kept a modesty of young man for the things of the sex.
Rodolfo was pensive, his smart fingers arising a cigarette that he lit elegantly:
''My mother, too, was a nurse during the war. She joined France, her native country. She died in 18. Louise, we have not seen each other since I left Taranto. It is an open wound that I have in my heart. She is buried here in this country she loved so much. I passed close by from Paris. I stopped but I could not go to her grave, it was too hard. There was between us more than love, an invisible thread connected us. She felt what I felt When she died, I dreamed of her. She came to reassure me, she promised to always accompany me. I know she is there, Louise, that she watches over me.''
Louise knew the deep conviction that animated Rodolfo, he believed in reincarnation. Louise had often teased him about this subject, but she had been troubled on many occasions by his very great intuition.
''I'm sorry she died so soon. I remember how close you were, and you must have felt even more orphaned, so alone, in this remote country.''
''I was devastated. Living, fighting seemed so vain. There was even a day....''
Louise looked at her friend, his face had broken down, a living image of despair. His eyes, so expressive, did not return the light as overwhelmed with darkness.
''Rodolfo, I'm here, it's all over. Tell me the rest of your story.''
He seemed to re-enter his body with a shudder, he smiled at the young woman.
''Well my career did not start right away but the cinema saved me ... Meanwhile the tango fed me. Do you remember the tango lessons with Thomas? When I had to go back to Italy, I was doing pretty well. In fact, in New York, when I arrived, I did thirty-six jobs: landscaper, diver in a restaurant, leaf collector, taxi-dancer ...''
''Taxi-dancer, what do you mean?''
He blushed again.
''Oh nothing very glorious! I made women dance in a dancing tea, most of them were old and ugly, but at least I could eat to my hunger''
''You were a gigolo!'' Louise was horrified.
''No, Louise! I was hungry, often wandered the streets, day and night. I sometimes slept under the stars and even on a bench in Central Park. But never, you hear me, I never sold myself. These women, I made them forget their present the time of a tango that's all. I will not deny that more than one tried to enjoy it, they offered me money, of course. The other taxi-dancers encouraged me to accept but my name, my family, my ancestors, I would not have endured, rather starve.''
Rodolfo, son of an officer, had received a rigorous education. His father had imposed a strictly military discipline on his sons, honor was a sacred thing, and even though the young man had often transgressed the paternal rules, this notion was deeply rooted in him.
Louise stealthily watched, ''these women'', she imagined them, laying their greedy hands on that youthful body with an angel's face. She guessed the pleasure they had taken to capsize in those firm arms, to caress that neck, that aristocratic neck. Louise enraged inwardly.
''No,'' he continued,'' I did not yield. As I had become an excellent dancer, I was noticed by a famous female dancer, Bonnie Glass. She presented demonstrations of tangos in upscale New York clubs. Her partner had just let her go, my nascent reputation did the rest. She hired me and we performed in fashionable establishments. I began to make myself known and soon, in addition to exhibitions, I gave tango lessons. I could finally live on my art: dance.''
''That was in New York. You still live there?''
''No, I had to leave.''
''You have to leave ?, but what happened?''
Rodolfo felt the curiosity which animated Louise. How could he tell her what had happened in his life, how to confess to her that he had been arrested, accused, abused?
She guessed his hesitation, his embarrassment too. He lowered his head and looked at the floor while continuing to smoke. She respected his silence
''I went to prison!''
Louise was astonished: he had a rebellious, unruly spirit, but was nonetheless fundamentally honest.
''You in prison! what did you do ?''
''At the time I was teaching dance classes. I had as a student a rich Chilean heiress, Bianca. But money does not buy happiness. Although she was married, she was lonely. Her husband made her live a hell, he was brutal, he left her for other women, a true bounder! At first I used to drive her downstairs. In the cab, she confided to me her misfortunes, her humiliations. She wanted to divorce but her husband was opposed. Her sick nerves often let her go and she found herself sobbing in my arms.''
''You fell in love!''
''Yes, no, maybe. At first we were friends and I wanted to save her. I was the valiant knight, she, the princess in distress. Then we became lovers, I was madly in love with her. Just mad, by the way. She was a rich heiress and I, less than nothing. Our love had no future, but I wanted to offer her the most beautiful thing on earth: freedom.
At that moment I had changed my partner. Bonnie had gone to marry, and then I danced with a pretty young woman, Joan Saywer, whose morality was a little doubtful.
A crazy idea then crossed my mind.
If Bianca's husband, Jack, was caught in the middle of adultery, she could apply for divorce for her profit''

Chapter Text

Jack de Saulles, Bianca's husband was a collector, he wanted all the beautiful girls who passed in his field of vision.
He had never met Joan, my partner, and I was convinced that he would not resist her charm. For her part, to have a relationship with a married man did not bother her absolutely. They were made to get along: two predators.
So Jack needed to get to know her. Chance gave us a golden opportunity. We had agreed to a demonstration at a charity gala. The greatest fortunes of New York were invited, the De Saulles were part of it.
Bianca was exhausted, nervously exhausted by the attitude of her husband who inflicted humiliations on humiliations. He openly displayed himself in the arms of his mistresses and it was relayed in the press.
We no longer even made love. She passed the little hour when we saw each other sobbing in my arms. I tried to give her as much attention and tenderness as possible, just to dry her tears, and the height of my pleasure resided in the timid smile she managed to address me. She was mad with grief and my madness grew with her own.
I convinced her, who did not want to go into the world, to attend this gala and especially to come with her husband.
She looked at me incredulously, so I revealed my plan. Putting her husband and my partner together and let destiny do it, helping it a little all the same.
Everything went according to plan, we danced, applauded. Knowing Bianca, I went to greet her with Joan. The look they exchanged proved to me that I had seen right. They recognized each other and the love parade began immediately.
''Would you have become Machiavelli?''
''I thought I loved.''
''And be loved?''
''I'll never know ...''
Before the end of the gala, they emptied champagne on champagne. Bianca went home alone that night.
A few weeks later, Joan appeared on Jack's arm. The trap closed again. We switched to action, my partner was unaware of my ties with Bianca and she loved to perorate. I was soon acquainted with the details of his affair, and at length learned the address of the bachelor flat of Bianca's husband.
---One day, at one o'clock, Joan and her lover had to meet. Bianca, who had made an appointment with a bailiff, found adultery and was able to initiate a divorce procedure to her advantage.
We had planned that as a partner of Joan I would be called to testify. I gave a lot of details about this affair, appointments, jewelery, restaurants. I described the presence of the husband in our rehearsals and their attitude which left no doubt as to the nature of their relationship. My testimony was decisive and Bianca was finally free. For the first time, she was radiant and it suited her so well!
''Nostalgic ? You loved her so much?''
''There was you and her. The others were only shooting stars.''
Louise gently caressed his cheek, he smiled and then continued his story.
''What I did not know at the time was that Jack had put private investigators on my trail. This guy had relationships and he had sworn my loss ... figlio de putana !!!''

Rodolfo's hands began to tremble, they did not hold in place, veins appeared on his forehead and neck, he tilted from one foot to the other. His gaze became murderous. He gritted his teeth and his voice was hard, sharp.
It was full of anger that he continued his narrative.
''He accused me of blackmail, you hear blackmail. And besides, he claimed I was customary in the fact. I was arrested, I found myself with handcuffs on my wrists, in front of many people. No ero solo io he disonarato ma tutti noi mia casa". He spat it! ''The judge ordered an investigation. This story was based only on the words of this bastard but I was still incarcerated.''
During this narrative all his muscles had stretched, his fists clenched, his breathing accelerated, a violent anger darkened his eyes again, he fulminated; Louise put her hand on his arm and whispered
''Calmati, stai tranquillo''
''It was hell, Louise, the screws beat me up, they had been paid for it. I was thrown into a filthy and stinking cell. She was occupied by a brute who tried to rape me, I defended myself as if my life depended on it. I was saved by the change of team, the new guards separated us. I had the eyebrow open, my lip slit, I was bleeding. After a short visit to the infirmary, I was put in solitary confinement. Three days, all this lasted three days. When finally they took me out of this filthy hole, the judge rendered his sentence: "acquitted for lack of proof".
I was free but always at the mercy of the revenge of Bianca's husband.
Bianca finally killed Jack because he refused her custody of her children. I wanted to join her, to fight by her side. She was on the run to Chile with her children. The scandal was enormous. I was then visited by her lawyer who made me understand that being helped by a tango dancer, a foreigner in addition, could not help her client. He urged me to leave New York. I joined an operetta troupe heading west. That's how I got to Los Angeles, the city of cinema.''
''Did you hear from her?''
''Never again, she disappeared without a word, without a farewell!''
''But now, here you are Rudolph Valentino, the great star!''
''A rising star, rather.''
''And is your life away from cameras happy?''
''I'm married, actually it's my third wedding but the first two do not count.''
Rodolfo laughed and then became serious again
''Only this one is important, I'm in love, I'm crazy about her.''
''Three weddings!''
''Yes, we could say that, the first, it was a tragicomedy; Jean was pretty, delicious. It was she who approached me. We met on the plateaus, it was a little unknown actress who made her debut. I had just heard of my mother's death, I had collapsed. I felt alone in the world, lost. I have confused her solicitude with love. I needed so much human presence, a loved presence. There were many rumors in the studios that she was the title favorite of Alla Nazimova, "the high priestess of Sapphic love affairs". I did not want to hear. She was so good to me, so sweet and understanding. I was very naive about that one.''
''What happened ?''
The amused tone of Louise scarcely escaped Rodolfo.
''Amuse you, mock me, I deserve it. When I introduced myself for our wedding night, she ... well ... she screamed, a real crisis of nerves, I could not calm her. She threw me out of her room and besides I was almost naked ...''
Louise burst out laughing. She put her hands on Rodolfo's chest.
''Sorry, I'm sorry!''
She giggled again. He stiffened in an indignant attitude that the flash of malice in his eyes denied.
''In short we divorced, she accused me of mental cruelty, you realize!''
''Yes I have some memories, in those moments there you can be a deliciously "cruel" feline or an adorable matou claiming caresses.'' she ironized.
Rodolfo blushed, Louise thought it adorable.
''Hum! My second marriage, it's even more crazy : I married my wife ...''
He paused.
''Yes, and then ?''
''So you figure that these fools of lawyers of the studio have forgotten a detail. In California, it takes at least one year after a divorce to have the right to remarry.''
''Sacred detail indeed, I suppose you had not waited a year?''
''Effectively. On my way back from Mexico where I got married, the rozzers were waiting for me at the descent of the train and I was arrested for bigamie!''
''But you're a dangerous recidivist !!!''
''Louise, please a little compassion. In short, our marriage was not legal, we were adulterers and I bigame. I had to prove that we had no sexual relations either before or on the evening of the ceremony. For the evening of the wedding, it was easy. In fact, we did not have time, on the other hand, it had been a while that we had consumed.''
''It seemed to me that in Paris, you had taken a taste for it. All that remained was to improve the technique, beautiful country, America, to train! But how could you prove the improbable?''
''I have very good friends who have not been afraid of perjury.''
''And it worked ?''
''Yes and no ! No, for our marriage was invalidated, and yes, for I was neither adulterous nor bigamed! However, Natacha and I had to live apart until we could get married again. She moved to her parents' home, I stayed in Los Angeles. I was making secret returnees to see her. But her parents were watching. If the police caught me, I would go back to prison!''
''But you're famous! Rodolfo. Your employers did not help you?''
''My dear, the world of cinema is harder than you think. I wanted to revise my original contract upwards following the success of my films. This story came at the right time for the boss of the studio.
A few days' imprisonment should have served me as a lesson. Besides, it was not the studio that freed me on the night of my arrest. I was released on bail thanks to a very dear friend: June Mathis. It was she who raised the money to pay for my release.''
''But it is ignoble, you have protested, I hope! You give them money and they try to sully your reputation. This damn capitalism!''
''It makes me live, Louise, I benefit too. I protested but I could not get the breach of contract. That's why there is no recent film by Rudolph Valentino.''
''How is it going to end?''
''My lawyer takes care of it, I trust him.''
''And your wife ?''
''We were able to get married legally in the spring and decided to go on a honeymoon: heading for Europe and Italy. I wanted so much to see my family again!''
''Are you happy ?''
''It's wonderful, Louise, I love her. She's my soul mate.''
The young woman had a little pinch in her heart.
''You know, she's a famous Hollywood designer. She draws sets and film costumes. What she does is fabulous. I had a real love at first sight when we were introduced. She is so beautiful, elegant. She has the grace of the ballerina that she was, her strength and apparent fragility. Oh Louise, I'll be damned for her.''
She put her hand on the tanned cheek of the young man:
''Still as romantic, caro''
''You would hear her,'' he continued enthusiastically,'' she has plenty of ideas for my career, she wants me to play other roles less vulgar, higher. She wants to show me, I think she understood my aspiration to play the roles of great men who counted for Humanity. I like historical roles. Finally an American who appreciates my education Old Europe.''
''American ? but did not you tell me her name was Natacha? I'm stupid, I thought she was Russian.''
''Natacha is her stage name. It's funny, she did not tell me right away that she was American. I discovered it at the time of the wedding. Her real name is Winnifred but she prefers Natacha and me too.''
'A love story that starts on a lie' Louise winced.
''But where is she?''
''At her relatives in Juan les pins, they have a castle there. The journey from Paris exhausted her, poor thing. When we reached Rome, she wished to turn around and I finished the journey alone. I wanted so much to see my native village again. Oh, you know, I understand, all those miles, the dust, the heat, she's so delicate. But I miss her and I can not wait to see her again.''

Louise was skeptical 'Madame did not finish her honeymoon, she let her husband go alone to visit his family! Oh' she thought 'you see evil everywhere'.
''And to think I waste your time, ''said the young woman,'' you must go, if you are expected.''
''No hurry. You know, I often imagined this meeting, I did not know if I had to fear it or hope it.''
''Well... ?''
''I loved seeing you again ... no, I like to be able to see you there, in front of me. I do not want it to stop right away. I do not want to lose you yet. We could not save our love but we can build a solid friendship. You agree ?''
Louise hesitated, she had suffered so much because of him. But the temptation was so strong.
''We could write, "they said in chorus, and their two laughs mixed their notes into an improvised duet.
Rodolfo rummaged in the inside pocket of his light jacket, he pulled out a business card and handed it to the one he did not want to see disappearing from his life.
She took it, slipped it in her pocket. She pulled out a little notebook and formed the words with elegance, wrote her address on a pale blue sheet. She handed him the sheet folded in half. The young man took it, carried it to his lips, and placed it against his heart.
''I will live with Thomas and I will watch the mail this time! Come on, let's go back to Monica, you have to leave and we too.''
He took her hands in his and kissed them tenderly. They returned to the hotel, Monica had filled the ashtrays waiting for them.
They said goodbye to each other in the hotel's hall. Monica noticed that Louise's kisses were a little leaning, but the man gave them back with almost as much warmth. When her turn came, Monica expected a very formal hand kiss. What was not her surprise to see "Monsieur Valentino" take her cordially in his arms and stick her two sonic kisses on each cheek. "To bad for the autograph," thought Monica.
The two young women, standing on the sidewalk, saw his slim silhouette fly away. He turned around, gave them a sign of farewell and then disappeared from their sight.
He will get into his car and still get away. Tears blinked Louise's eyes.
She felt the pressure of her friend's hand and heard her pronounce "Come, we must leave too, we still have a lot of road to do. I take the wheel, so you can think of your knight in his superb car. "

Chapter Text

Silence reigned in the car.
''So, you make love with Valentino, the Great Lover?
''No Monica, I had a first love, a first lover. His name was Rodolfo Guglielmi, he was 17 and I was 18.
When he arrived in Paris, he had a room in a small boarding house and Thomas was his neighbor. At that time, Paul and I decided to leave the province, we ''went up" to Paris as they say. Thomas lodged us in the early days. This is how we have known Rodolfo. He disembarked from his native Italy, young, shy but speaking faultless French. I later learned that his mother was French. One evening, Thomas was partying in his room with friends. You know Thomas! Paul and I took refuge in the staircase, quiet ... well, almost. Rodolfo was returning, and we were barring his passage. He was standing before us on the steps, stunned, his eyes fixed on the door of Thomas. A music of hell came from a gramophone greeted with laughter and song. Before his disconcerted air, we laughed, he laughed too. Three teenagers laughing stupidly. We have fraternized there on the wooden steps. We told each other our lives, our hopes. He had wanted to be a soldier like his father, who died when he was young, but he had been retaliated. His uncle then sent him to study agronomy, but he did not like it. He excelled in sports, in dance and spoke three languages correctly. He loved the music hall too. And most of all, he looked at the girls and the worst thing was that the girls liked him, not only the girls, even the women, even married. His uncle was afraid of the scandal. You know, he comes from a notable family a bit stiff. His father had already transgressed family rules by marrying a Frenchwoman. That Rodolfo, a slingman, a brawler, had been dismissed from his college for insubordination, he had already badly supported it. But if all the women made him glances! The uncle had a cold sweat. He convinced Rodolfo's mother to grant him "holidays" abroad. For these, she chose Paris, it was all her youth. Money in his pocket, not too much, he landed in the capital and became Thomas's neighbor.''
''And you, what were you doing in Paris?''
''Me, I was just a bachelor, of the same promotion as Paul. At that time, he was like a brother to me, my best friend. He probably had other feelings but I had not guessed it. We trained each other, we wanted to be doctors and cure all diseases. My family was against it. As a girl, my mother was planning only one future for me, a beautiful marriage. My father did not take sides, he was proud of my high school results but I was none the less a girl ... and medicine a male environment. But Paul believed in me, so we organized my fugue. He almost kidnapped me, you know. I prepared a bag, some things and got the money given by my grandparents. Paul bought two tickets and sent Thomas a telegram. This one was delighted, you know, his nose quivered at the perfume of the scandal. We have dared to shake up the good old bourgeois rules of the provinces. He was exulting at the station and was always kissing us.''
''My lambs, my heroes,'' he cried, squeezing us to choke.
Knowing Thomas's extravagance, Monica burst out laughing.
''Yes I see very well,'' she said,'' especially not to go unnoticed, to attract the crowd, to make the show, what a phenomenon! But you then lived together with Paul!''
''Not quite,'' said Louise,'' you think that the landlady of Thomas would not have accepted, especially without being married. She's been through a lot with Paul's brother: dancers, theaters, men as women, women as men, but having an illegitimate couple under her roof, never! In fact, Thomas rented two interconnecting rooms, the two boys slept in one of the rooms and left me the other. Except that it was in my room that Thomas had installed his bar and gramophone. The staircase of the hotel has hosted us more than once, Paul and me. Then I found another refuge from which Paul was excluded.''
There was silence. Louise rummaged through Monica's bag and pulled out a silver cigarette case, lit two cigarettes, handed one to her friend, and smoked the other.
''I thought you did not smoke, that it was a bad habit.''
''Oh, stop it! I do not smoke, this one is exceptional.''
''Then this other refuge ... let me guess, the room of the beautiful Italian with velvet eyes!''
''Of course,'' said Louise, blowing the smoke from her cigarette.'' At first we were inseparable, Rodolfo, Paul and me. We discovered Paris. We were shopping and Rodolfo improvised himself as a cook. He was good at it.
In the evening we went out. Thomas had his entries everywhere, and all three took advantage of it. Certainly, Paul was not a merry fellow but he was a pleasant journey companion. My other accomplice had the sense of celebration. Jaunty and funny, he bewitched all those he met. By turns, mundane or popular, he always displayed refined manners. He pleased the bourgeoisie as well as the seamstresses.''
''You were not jealous?''
''A little but he always came back to me and there he described the attitude of his partners with such a droll that laughter carried away everything.
And then Thomas discovered Rodolfo and he joined us. He found him "bellissimo". Paul and I were laughing. Rodolfo had not grasped the kind of feeling he gave rise to in our friend. He liked Thomas, that's all. But Rodolfo loved dancing, he was made for that besides, thin, tall, slender, feline. Thomas had a complete crush on him. The last trendy dance was the tango. Thomas, who evolved in the night environment, knew perfectly how to dance. So he baited Rodolfo like that, with dance lessons. During the day, we would all go to Thomas in the establishment where he was working, and then the lessons began. I must say that he was a gifted student, the dancers often stopped to watch this unlikely pair evolve on the track. But one day, it was almost a drama. Thomas had drunk champagne too early in the day. With cheeks on fire and bright eyes, he began to stick to his young partner. Paul and I knew the attraction Thomas had for our friend. We should have intervened instead we are entertained by the blind insistence of one and the embarrassment of the other. Thomas was repulsed gently. But his hand slid down his back and landed on his partner's buttocks. Rodolfo instantly backed away, furious. I saw his eyes narrow and I felt he was going to raise his fist, so I shouted, "Stop Thomas, he loves girls !" Paul, on the other hand, shouted at the same time: "Do not touch him, he loves boys !" ". Everyone looked at each other. These three men, standing up, ready to fight, I do not know why but I burst out laughing. Thomas then laughed and then Rodolfo. Paul has remained serious, but I have already spoken to you of the unconditional love he bore to his older brother.''
''So what ?''
''Then Thomas took out another bottle of champagne and invited us to toast. It was the first time I drank champagne, Rodolfo too. Quickly we both had bright eyes and every time we looked at each other, we laughed. I took Rodolfo's hand, dragged him into a remote corner to give him explanations. Our hands and eyes never left each other. He decreed that Paul and I we had behaved like idiots. He went to Thomas and slapped him on the back, said to him with a sad look: "I love girls." Thomas replied, "nobody's perfect, honey." Rodolfo has a lot of humor, at least the one I knew, exuberant sometimes, often mischievous.''
''And he gave up the lessons?''
''No, things were clear between them. Thomas eventually interested in a new dancer but he took his role as a teacher very seriously.''
''You think he forgot Rodolfo? You know, Valentino is the maestro of the tango, you think Thomas does not know who he really is, that your Rodolfo became Rudolph Valentino?''
''He would have talked to me, I think ... I do not know, Thomas changed after Paul's death. He became very protective of my son and me. He suffered when we left with you but there was no word of reproach in his letters, always a lot of love. Paul became my husband, Thomas my eldest brother, attentive to our well being. He is great with Gabriel, more than an uncle, he is like a second father.''
Monica smiled as she thought of Thomas:
"You mean a second mother."
Louise grumbled: "Little pest!'' and the two women laughed in the wind.
''Finally, how did your family react to your departure?''
''To avoid the scandal, my family proclaimed loud and clear that I had their approval, that my departure was planned. Paul and I registered in faculty, but I was a minority. There are few women in the ''carabins''. Obviously, I had not considered falling in love, terribly in love. The friendship between Rodolfo and me has become a free and passionate love. My rebellious soul and his romantic soul became inflamed. An hour of separation was an eternity. Where Rodolfo was seen, I was seen, where I was going, he followed me, a fusional but chaste couple. Yes, all in the name of our education, we only feed this love with kisses and caresses. It was sweet, intense, wonderful. Paul was growing darker, he was isolating himself but I did not see him. There was only Rodolfo.''
''And you remained chaste of course,'' Monica said ironically.
''No. I wanted to prove to myself that I was a free woman without hypocrisy. One night at Thomas's party, Paul was not there. I took refuge at Rodolfo's. The faculty had imposed an entrance examination because I did not have the right sex, I thought I had a rematch to take on the males. I see again Rodolfo confused, courteous, exemplary. I kissed him. At first, worried by the brilliance of my eyes, he kept me at a distance. Then his kisses answered my kisses. I tasted his mouth, I melted under the sweetness of his lips.
''Louise, it becomes racy, even indecent.''
''I'm sorry.''
''Not at all, continue!''
The two young ladies chuckled.
''I pushed him on the bed. We fell over each other. I felt his firm muscles tighten, his breath panting. He was trying to resist the wave of desire that was rising in him. He pushed me gently, tenderly. So I started unbuttoning his shirt. I saw the storm in his eyes, his virility under my belly protested against his efforts to control himself. I was crazy with love and desire. I kissed his neck, his chest and his navel. His body stiffened under my kisses in a last effort not to yield. Then his Latin blood took over. No more control, a wave of desire carried us away. He was dominating, ardent, passionate. We did not know anything about sex, but we then have learned. We discovered the body of the other, the fear of hurting and the fear of being hurt, then the astonishment of pleasure, the intensity of two bodies vibrating in unison.
''Stop Louise, behave yourself! ... So is he a great lover?''
''Monica, how far goes your curiosity? I can not talk to you about "Rudolph Valentino", I do not know him.''
''Fine. And then?''
''Enchanted days! I was living in secret in Rodolfo's room. We loved each other carelessly. We were still children. We thought we were reinventing the world. But his money was diminishing, he could no longer remain in Paris. He wrote home but he was turned down. He has to return to Italy. The rest, you know it now, you've heard what was said at the hotel.''
''Yes, fate has played you a nasty trick!''
''Fate may be called Thomas. I intend to find out. I'll have a discussion with him once arrived home.''
''You never saw each other again?''
''Never, I was desperate. I felt flouted and I had no explanation for this silence. Fortunately, there was Paul. He was present, considerate. He finally dared to reveal his love. I poured all my despair into his arms. I soaked his chest with my sobs. He was loving, he consoled me. He really brought me back to life. In the end, his love was so protective, so reassuring that I married him. I have never regretted it. After all my beautiful Italian had disappeared in a cloud of smoke on a station platform.''
''And now that you've seen each other again?''
''Monica, life alleviates many scars!''
''You want me to say what I saw? You know the play of glances? I saw surprise, joy and anger.''
''Yes and so, ?''
''There was something else, Louise, in your eyes and his. A spark of love! The link is not broken, it is still there.''
''You ramble, darling! In addition to this I do not know what you could see in his eyes, Rodolfo is very myopic, it must be the secret of the magnetism of his eyes.'' She said smiling.'' No, we decided to be friends, it's already a lot after all these years.''
''You two will see each other again!''
''If he comes back to France, why not? I can receive them, he and his wife.''
''He and his wife, do not make me laugh!''
''Monica, look at the road and drive us safely, that's all. We're done with Mr. Valentino for today.''

Chapter Text

Meanwhile, Rudy was rushing to Juan Les Pins, eager to find Natacha. Ever since she had returned to her parents' home, he had been languishing of her. His meeting with Louise had awakened his desires as a man and he wanted to find himself in his wife's arms. Rudy remembers with delight all the vertigo discovered with his first love, the one that's never forgotten, the wonder of their first night together. Until then, they had been as chaste as their education required. They exchanged long languishing kisses and caresses less and less bashful. Louise, at that time, was thin, a small scallop. No breasts, little buttocks, she had everything of a tomboy but a sensuality to damn all the saints of Italy, of course. When she tilted her head and looked at you with her honey eyes and opened her luscious lips, an electric current was running through the spine. Paul and he were permanently connected to this voltage. In hindsight, Rodolfo had understood what feelings animated his unlucky rival. But Paul had been Louise's best friend, before falling madly in love with her, revealing his feelings seemed to him displaced. At the games of love and rivalry, Rodolfo took the advantage. The silence of Paul, his retreats more and more frequent, this had given the young Italian plenty of room. Despite all the dismay he felt in his friend, the attraction he had for Louise outweighed the spirit of camaraderie. When she gave herself, he almost shouted "no," the sexual desire that the young girl showed for him frightened him at first. Rudy smiled at the memory. When she pushed him on the bed and unfastened the buttons of his shirt, a vertigo took him but his body no longer obeyed him. His cock swelled against Louise's belly, Rodolfo stupidly thought "damn she'll notice." When she slid her hand over his lower abdomen, he remembered moaning. He also remembered Louise's body, naked on the whiteness of the sheets. She put her legs around his waist, they both panting, eyes in each other eyes; Then Rodolfo bent and penetrated her. These two children quickly reached the paroxysm and were filled with love, collapsed each on one side of the bed. They ended the night in each other's arms. The pale glow of dawn surprised them, entwined, on the morning of their first day as a man and a woman. Rodolfo, amazed, awaited the awakening of his companion. When Louise opened her eyes, his dark, almond-like eyes stared at her. Rudy remembered telling her in an emotional voice "buongiorno amore mio". The image of Louise at Menton came superimposed in his head. No more tomboy, he had found a young woman with sensual curves: well-shaped breasts, round buttocks, a thin waist but wider hips, no doubt due to motherhood. He had guessed under the trousers thin ankles and long legs. Decidedly, she had changed, she was resplendent of femininity, smiling, warm. He told himself that he liked the new Louise, and then he classed this feeling in a corner of his head.
The one that mattered, which he venerated, awaited him not far from there, next to Nice. He accelerated, wanting to see her again as soon as possible. Ah Natacha! From their first meeting on a film set, he had felt an alchemy born between them. Slender, cold and haughty, she seemed to him the most marvelous of the citadels to conquer. But the woman who was nicknamed "the ice lady" quickly fell into his arms. The place was not as impregnable as her reputation suggested. When she surrendered, he believed in love. Cultivated, esthete, her interest in him was fascinated him. She believed in his talent, she spoke to him of the great classical texts and described to him the future elites subjugated by his art of the comedy. She saw him serving literature in the cinema in order to educate the uneducated masses. These discourses bewitched his romantic soul. Natacha could only be his soul-mate, the woman destined to sublimate him, who was still mocked in spite of his success. But the spirit of old Europe still lived in him, the pater familias disputed with the conqueror of the seventh art. He hid deep within him the irrepressible urge to start a family. He wanted to bequeath a name, to continue his lineage and that live on the new continent some Valentini of Antonguolla coming from his own blood. Natacha abstained from speaking "child". When he frankly approached the subject with her, her answer was clear: "Not yet. For the time being I want to create, be recognized for my work. My films will be my children. ". Rudy took the shock out of love, and he persuaded himself that he understood her. However, his Mediterranean blood told him that motherhood would tempt her one day like all women.
In the meantime, he was eager and in love. His wife was a witch and he his apprentice. She was the master and he was the disciple. He was the worshiper of this new goddess, ethereal and distant, who deigned to accept him by his side.
Rudy finally arrived at Juan les Pins, which became the holiday home of the wealthy aristocrats and a place where one could see artists and writers, in short all the shakers of the Belle Époque and the jazz age. Richard Hudnut, the father-in-law of Natacha, the cosmetic magnate, had acquired a magnificent property before the war from a ruined Russian prince at the Casino, the "chateau des croutons" named after the road that served the property. This residence had long been used as a resort for the businessman and his whole family. But the year before, after he retired, he decided to settle there permanently. It was there that Natacha had taken refuge after her return from Italy. She enjoyed the castle's domesticity, in the afternoon, a long walk in the park followed by the traditional five-hour tea. She was cajoled, surrounded by a family, whom she had striven to deny. Fugitive at fifteen, sought in vain by the police, still a minor, she fled with a married Russian ballet master, the scandal should have paid for the newspapers. But the money of his father-in-law arranged many things, except the brutality of her lover. But it belonged to the past and everything would have been for the best in the best of the worlds if the parents of Natacha did not strive to call her Winifred which was one of her red buttons and put her in a very bad mood. Rudy was walking down the ''Chemin des Croûtons'', a shaded street between the sumptuous residences, he could see the ornate grille of the domain in the distance and guessed through the trees the clear silhouette of the magnificent villa. He was going to meet Natacha, his wife, his adored wife. His heart swelled with joy, he could take her in his arms and kiss her. And tonight! Ah tonight, he promised to offer her an ocean of pleasure. He would make himself a lion and then be a lamb. He wanted to hear in his ear the long groans that would escape from Natacha's lips to the rhythm of his kidney strokes. The grille opened by a servant, the long convertible entered the gravel driveway and Rudy parked in the shade of the tall trees. With an impatient step he made his way to the imposing exterior staircase when he heard joyous barking and saw a mass of black fur, Kabar, leaping all around him. Rudy turned on himself, eliciting the young dog's playful growlings. Laughter and yelping mingled, the man and the beast redoubled demonstrations of cheerful complicity. But a servant appeared at the top of the steps, reminding the young man of his obligations to his guests by his reproving air. Rudy crossed the dark, cool hall of the large mansion to advance on the sunny terrace overlooking the gardens. There waited for him Winnie and Dick, Natacha's parents, the young man greeted them, his mother-in-law with a respectful kiss, his father-in-law with a frank and cordial handshake. His eyes circled the large terrace, not Natasha, he felt the worry squeezing his heart. Would she go away without him? It is true that he had insisted on finishing his trip to Italy, 10 years that he had not seen his family and even if his wife had not opposed it, he had perceived that she did not approve his project.
Natacha was resting in her room, the shutters half closed to preserve the room from the heat of this autumn. She had heard the sound of the engine and the cheerful barking of Kabar. Rudy was there, he had returned from his journey to southern Italy. Soon they would take the boat, return to America and he would be all to her again. She could not bear to have to share her husband, the women who were fluttering around him, his band of friends, and the family that had taken him away for a few weeks. They diverted him from her influence, and interfered in her great projects. Rudy was her, and her alone! She saw him as a rough diamond which she alone could cut.
She heard his voice, he went up to find her. A doubt entered her mind: could she resist this warm body, burnt by the sun ? He had awakened in her a sensuality that she did not suspect. In a bed he was the victor and even if the defeat was sweet, this self-abandonment terrified her. She prepared herself, he would soon be there by her side. She composed an expression of icy indifference as she felt the emotion of desire rise in her womb. She closed her eyes, the door opened and she heard footsteps, and sat down on one side of the bed.
''Natasha honey, I'm here''; She heard his slightly rocky voice with harmonious modulations.
She opened her eyes: a ray of sunshine rippled Rudy's head, a veil of anxiety darkened his gaze, he took her hand, which she gave up. He carried it to his mouth and Natacha felt the warmth of his lips on her palm. A shiver ran through her as she mastered as quickly as possible:
''Here you are, has the road been good?''
''I missed you, love, without you the end of the journey was sad. Did you think about me ? You have occupied my mind day and night.''
''I did not have a minute to myself, I worked on our film, about the script, the sets and the costumes. I have made good progress on the project, I have called the studios, we will have to discuss the budget again ...''
''Honey, a kiss!''
Natacha stood up and held out her cheek. Rudy imprisoned his wife's chin, kissed her lips, with his tongue he opened them and took her mouth. She closed her eyes and thought "resist, do not yield" and softly pushed him away.
''Rudy, this heat makes me tired and you're all covered with dust; We must change ourselves for dinner, we'll see each other again in the living room.''
''You're right, I'm going to shower, I'll meet you downstairs.''
This coldness do no longer offend Rudy. As a good Mediterranean, he put it on the account of a certain Anglo-Saxon modesty.
The evening had ended calmly. After having had a last drink on the terrace, everyone had returned to his room. The maid had just helped Natacha undress and put a kimono on her long silk shirt. Sitting in front of her hairdresser, she examined her face without blushes and her long hair unfastened. She heard Rudy in his room, he too undressed. He would join her tonight, she did not doubt it. Since his arrival, he had been eager, looking for her lips as soon as they were alone. She did not appreciate these demonstrations : what attracted her to her husband was his ease in front of a camera and that popularity that bound him to his public. But he was in love, passionately in love and at the beginning of their relationship, she had considered this statement of fact as a inconvenience with which to compose. Yes, but she had not taken into account his charm and the culture of love that he knew so well magnify. She refused to put words on her feelings, she wanted to be free in body and mind. To love was to renounce this freedom, an unconditional surrender. So to survive this relationship, she allowed herself no weakness. But the body has its reasons that her reason did not want to know, she yielded to temptation several times and in his arms felt an indescribable pleasure, the strong and simple pleasure of a woman unconditionally loved.
The connecting door opened, Natacha saw him in the mirror advancing towards her, she did not move. He took a brush on the dressing table and slowly smoothed her long hair. Natacha no longer saw his face above her, the mirror in front of her only reflecting the image of his long, thin hands moving slowly to the rhythm of brushing. She closed her eyes and heard his warm voice speak to her in Italian. She loved the musicality of his words. She let herself to be lulled, her mind escaped, floated and all her muscles relaxed. She put her head against Rudy's stomach, she was full of well-being. He kissed her hair, her nape and her neck. His parted lips brushed against her skin. She stiffened again. He whispered "come" to her ear and in spite of herself, she stood up and faced him. She stood motionless. The light from the electric lamp lit a fire in the black eyes of her husband. She had the answer to her question, tonight she could not resist him. He unfastened her kimono, which slid to the ground, touched her face with his fingertips and placing his hand on her neck, he pulled her to him. He looked into her eyes and pressed his lips to her mouth sliding his tongue between her own. It was a long kiss, Rudy's hands caressed her back. The warmth of his palms burned her skin through the softness of the silk. She hung her arms around her husband's neck and at last responded to his wooing. Natacha untied Rudy's girdle, he was bare-chested; She put her hands on his bronzed skin and kissed him in the neck, under his ear. This kiss electrified him and he took off her shirt. She was naked in front of him, slender, graceful. He imprisoned one of her nipples between his lips and she heard herself moan. Her head was turning, her belly throbbing. The expectation of ecstasy inundated her sex. "How weak you are!" She would say to herself afterward, a feeling of guilt would invade her, she experienced it every time, but now, in his arms, she was a woman, only a woman, desired, loved and fulfilled. He still intimidated her so much, she would have liked to be able to get rid of this frightened virtue and do what he loved. They kissed again, in an even more sensual way. He slid his hands over her skin, they slowly married the curve of his hips and then clasped her waist. He whispered in her ear a few more crude words, promising her a thousand delicious outrages. Hesitant, she began to stroke his cock through the pants, and surprised he did not have the will to stop it.
He carried her to the bed and denuded himself. For Natacha, Rudy was never more beautiful than naked. She remained confused with admiration for the infinite charm, the melancholy seduction of this beauty. He placed himself above her and made love to her in a mixture of sweetness and strength. His hands held her hips firmly, his mouth wandered over her wet sex and then explored her body, every inch of her skin. Finally, he merged into her, their two impatient bodies were welded together. The slow waltz was fast, impetuous. When she felt the paroxysm come, she planted her nails on his back. Their breathing accelerated, from groans to little complaints, they repeated a syncopated dance. Rudy's body tensed with a last surge, all his muscles were protruding. A magnificent grunt tore the silence, soon joined by a cry of ecstasy.
The senses full of love, he crumbled next to her, happy. A smile of fullness creased dimples on his face. Emotion invaded Natacha, waves of pleasure still flooded into her in languorous spasms.
He took her in his arms, kissed her forehead, her lips with tenderness. They remained like that for a long time, his hands caressed her and she, fragile, coiled up against his body, happy and languid. Why did she have to struggle against such a gentle surrender, what demon inhabited her, which made her despise the pleasure he gave her?
Natacha pulled out of Rudy's arms and pushed him away slowly. He knew that it was over, she no longer belonged to him, she regained her senses.
Rudy stood up, kissed her tenderly and walked back to his room. He ran a bath and relaxed in the hot water. He whistled softly a Neapolitan air. He had feared their reunion, for he strolled through his native lands without her. His wife could sometimes be intransigent in their relationships, but tonight, no compromise, no concessions, his love had vanquished the smallest opposition. She had abandoned herself like the first days of their encounter. The young man began to dream, and if, and if ... If that night had been propitious then in nine months, maybe ...
Natacha got up in turn, numb with pleasure. She went to her own bathroom, she heard her husband whistle in the adjoining room. She made the water flow and listened, Rudy was all about his ablutions, she had time. She breathed deeply, made some movement to relax her pelvis and then took the position taught by a famous New York gynecologist and with two fingers searched in her intimacy to remove a diaphragm. The great physician had assured her, she would have no child except if she really want to. Rudy was unaware of these visits to the man of art and the use by his wife of this last ways of contraception.

Chapter Text

It was Madame, as she liked to be called, dear Alla, who had initiated her. Natacha, distraught, had one day debouled in the elegant house of the Russian star, her mentor, the great Nazimova. She was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with tears in her eyes and incoherent words. She confessed to "Madame" in a sob that she thought she was pregnant.
''Natacha, my honeycomb, calm down. So you had sex with him! I warned you, ninotchka, he's a dangerous man, too handsome, too elegant, too courteous. He should only have the right to kiss your feet, this moujik! So you're late!''
''Yes Alla, I'm scared, I do not want children. How to become a producer with a nipper in my paws! I want to have the same power as the men. A child is the end of my ambition, the ruin of all my dreams!''
''And I suppose that Italian can not restrain himself, always in rut no doubt.''
''Alla, he's gentle, patient but if I want to keep him ...''
''Da, da, you must satiate his low instincts of sobaka. Well, stay with me, we'll call Dutchka, she can say. If the damage is done, you will stay here. Duchka is a good abortionist, you will not suffer, I promise you. We will call this man to tell him that I invite you to my house. If everything is normal, you will go to New York for a few days, I know a great gynecologist, I will accompany you. Science has made progress, you know, there are now ways to protect us women.''
''Madam, my friend, you are saving me.''
''Dorogaya, I'll always be there for you.''
Nazimova took her in her arms and rocked her like a child. Duchka, the midwife arrived at nightfall. Natacha had rested in one of the rooms of the immense house and she had cried to her heart's content throughout the day. The examination was rapid, she was not pregnant, a mere delay in menstruation. Madame wished to celebrate the good news, and a bottle of champagne was opened, which they finished at dinner. The tension had subsided, the two women settled in the drawing-room:
''My darling, we have to organize our journey, your Rudy knows that you are with me tonight, officially I have held you to supper. Tomorrow I call him, we're on a new movie, are we not ? and you're my art director, well we have to go to New York, that's all.''
''It's just ...''
''Yes, speak, my sunshine''
''Alla, he's suspicious of you. Jean, his wife, was one of your regulars and I work for you. He dreads this proximity especially when he thinks about his marriage.''
''Jean was a little cretin, no talent, she left me, so much better. So without knowing it, he was my rival and I do not like competition.''
Alla laughed and resumed :
''I do not like men in general, but he ... he annoys me, he has too much instinct for the woman, he knows our mysteries. I told you he's dangerous. A man to trigger passions.''
''He is not like that, I assure you. He is not an uneducated brute, he is cultivated, refined ...''
''Attention, my dear, you fall stupidly in love. Remember your first lover, what you endured, the yoke of a man did not suffice you? Well-educated or not, he is a man, European and Mediterranean in addition. Little love, you will never be in the headlining, he will be in the light and you in the shadows. Your gifts, your talents will never be for him but pleasant entertainments which he will force you to abandon for his sole glory.''
''Oh Alla, I do not know if I love him but I like him, we have long discussions, many common interests, we complement each other so well. He brings me the lightness that I lack and I calm his anxiety.''
''By the way, we still have not found a performer for "Armand"?''
''No, madame, why that?''
''He is half French, this dourak, and I still do not have my leading man ...''
''But, madam, I thought we were looking for a blond actor with clear eyes ...''
''Bah, Natacha, all the French are not blond and he intrigues me, your prince charming. Bring him to me, I eat men like him for breakfast!''
A great laugh broke out as Natacha paled.
''Do not be afraid, I'm a professional, do not forget it. According to rumors, he has finished shooting the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" and his director is full of praise for him, quite surprising, for a tango dancer. Moreover, June is completely bewitched, for her, he is the new star of our job. She wants to write him full of other scenarios. And June has flair. We share the same circles and I have great respect for her. The shooting of "Camille" drags on because we do not have an Armand Duval, if not too bad your "little marquis" could help us.''
''Alla, he's someone sensitive, do not push him too much?'' Says Natacha in a worried voice.
''You know me !''
The sonorous laugh of this tiny little woman still rang out.
''Come on, first New York, after we'll see.''
The journey went on admirably, Madame took the appointment for her protegee, her name removed all obstacles. As if by magic, the doctor's more than complete schedule revealed free appointments time windows Natacha was thus received quickly and there, in the wealthy cabinet of the gynecologist, she received her first lesson of sex education. She discovered that she was not the only one to refuse an unwanted pregnancy, that many other women revolted against the injustice of too many maternities or the "accidents" that led to forced marriage. Women wanted to acquire their freedom and science was beginning to find answers to their questions. Thus she was presented with a small instrument that would meet her desire: the diaphragm. Still had to know how to use it. A new appointment was agreed upon to learn how to handle it. The next day, Natacha discovered her body, she explored it under the advice of the professional. The hardest part was the insertion of the diaphragm, its effectiveness depended on it. Guided by the doctor, she learned, she repeated her gesture to perfection. When she shook the gynecologist's hand when she left, she knew she would not have a child and she felt more free, more woman. In the street, she smiled, it seemed to her that her life cleared up, she could keep this man and realize her plans. But everything had a price, for her, it was the price of lying.
Back in Los Angeles, Natacha invited Rudy for a romantic dinner, she took the opportunity to inform him of Alla's proposal. The young man frowned:
''She's a great artist but I do not like her.''
''Rudy, don't be childish, she is powerful in the studios. If you have the role, it can open you many doors ...''
He got up suddenly, feverish
''Jean ... my wife ... well so to speak ... my wife, was her mistress but you know it, don't you?''
Anger obscured his eyes, she had never seen him like that, hot-tempered, furious, the look feverish.
''Rudy, calm down, nothing is proven, these are just rumors, gossip. And then, no, I'm not aware of anything. I work for her and she gave me my chance. Thanks to her, I am artistic director but that's all, Rudy, that's all. I do not know anything about her intimate life, believe me ...''
''She threw me out, Natacha, my wedding night, out. She belittled me, she has blackened my name ... I do not care who she has sex with, I do not care if she prefers women. If she had been frank with me, I could have understood! If she wanted a screen, she should have told me about it, I do not know what I would have done but that, marry me ... take my name ... and ridicule me, humiliate me, I'll never forgive her! And you ask me to work with Nazimova! She was surely aware of everything, she must think that one can easily deceive me, that I am a dullard …''
The silence that followed was heavy and weighty. Natacha had just discovered that it was not Jean's lesbians lovers who wounded Rudy but deceit and lies, and this reality troubled her. She formulated in her head a fast prayer, "My God, make him never to discover what I conceal from him, I do not want to lose him."
''Rudy, you chose this job and I believe in you. Think, Alla is a great professional, she is enraged at not being able to start her film. You have a card to play. I'll tell you the story ...''
The young man calmed down and cut off her speech.
''Useless, dear, I read the book, my mother adored Alexandre Dumas, father and son. For my part, as a child, I preferred the three musketeers and of course I was D'Artagnan.''
''Oh, I forgot that your mother was French but we changed the story. It takes place nowadays, we want to make this story a timeless story, that of a woman subjected to the good will of men and betrayed by them to end abandoned. Regardless of the time, as long as women are not independent, men will treat them as toys they can get tired of.''
Rudy looked at her and asked her
''Is that how you see me?''
''Not at last! Honey, this is just a movie.''
The man, sitting in front of her, remained silent, "quick, reassure him" thought Natacha. She took his hands in hers.
''Rudy, I am an independent woman and you respect me, you see me as your equal, you talk to me like an equal, you listen to my advice, my opinion counts for you, for all these reasons you are not like them and ... I love you only more.''
He drew her to him, put his lips on hers and the two young people exchanged a long, languorous kiss.
Rudolph had given in and an appointment had been made with the direction of the film, Nazimova in the lead. But at the appointed hour, not Valentino; the team was waiting. Knowing the actor a man of his word, Natacha was worried: "he drives like a madman, hope he didn't had an accident."
The great Russian actress was not in the same state of mind, she boiled inwardly: "How does this little tango dancer dare? This peasant, this rustic. "
The screenwriter, June Mathis, Rudy's professional godmother, stood in the background. Sure of her and of him, she whispered in Natacha's ear: "He will come, I am sure. He had a shoot this morning, it will have lasted longer than expected.''
Alla was pacing, furious and her rage finally burst
''Where is he gone, this gigolo! ...''
A soft, loud voice answered her
''Right here''
Everyone turned, and standing before them stood a sort of Eskimo, covered with fur from head to foot.
''Excuse me, the director wanted to shoot the last scene again. I did not take the time to undress, I rushed as soon as he shouted "cut, it's OK".
''I waited, young man. That does not happen again!. I'm called Madame here and how would I know if you're suitable for this role with all these hairs! Go change and come back when you get dressed.''
A few moments later, Rudy returned dressed in his evening dress of Armand Duval. Nazimova began to observe him, the young man stood perfectly on his guard. Immobile, his gaze straight and fixed, he waited for the verdict of this little woman so powerful.
''He has gummed hair. Go wash your head: Armand Duval is a provincial not a gominated tango dancer ...''
The actor took a deep breath and replied calmly.
''Yes, Madame.''
''You learn quickly, young man!'' Alla said, a smile of contentment on her lips.
Natacha rushed into the lodges, she had to help her lover. She found Rudy in his bathing suit, washing his hair to remove the ointment from which he coated them every morning. His hair, a raven's wing, curled like that of an angel. He looked so young like that, a romantic hero lost in the modern world. Moved, the young woman rushed and kissed him passionately despite the water running down their faces.
''Honey, quickly, find me what to dry my hair and then I have to smooth them ... oh flute, my makeup ran, I will remove it. Natacha, a dryer please or the old woman will kill me ...''
The young woman turned, offended
''Do not call her like that, she's a great lady!''
''Not by the size anyway!''
Natacha glared at him, and he answered with a disarming smile.
''All right, I surrender: "Madame" is going to kill me. Go honey, hurry up if you want me to be presentable.''
Second inspection, Rudy stood again on his guard. Alla was turning around him, silent, he felt her gaze on his back and shivered inwardly. "Strega," he thought.
''Well, it is far from perfect but with some effort ... first, the jacket's pulling, it is a bit small''
Then Natacha spoke up
''It will be mended, madam, and put to his measurement.''
''Not at all, my dear, this young man will lose weight, it will not hurt him. He will stop the "pasta", is not it ?''
''Yes Madam.'' The young man's voice became hoarse
''And then what is that caveman's head! Who makes you up?''
''Me.''
''Well, you do not know! Natacha, ninotchka, note: we must clear his eyes. You tell my makeup artist to depilate his eyebrows, we must see his eyes. They are very expressive, and one reads in them, as in an open book, the reprobation and anger contained.'' Alla burst out laughing and Rudy blushed.
He had the role but he could not shoot two films at the same time. The lawyers came in and by mutual agreement, it was decided to delay the shooting of "Camille" until the end of the film he was playing. He took advantage of this to intensify his sports training. Racing, swimming, horseback riding became daily. He lightened his diet, he who loved to cook, suppressed pasta and dishes in sauce. Natacha revived, she who did not like to eat. Quickly, Rudy was able to return to his costume, which was perfect for him. Then came the day of waxing. He undergoes this torture with strength and courage, his lips clenched and his eyes red with tears.

Chapter Text

Nazimova discovered in him a hard worker, the first in the studios, the last gone off. He knew his text and invested his character. She had thought to crush him with this role that she judged above his abilities but he was brilliant. Alla hated to be mistaken and even more to recognize qualities to a man. She then sought to destabilize him, changing dialogues or scenes unexpectedly, accumulating whims. He supported everything and adapted. He brought on the stage such a joy of life, such good-nature that he became the darling of all the technicians. Alla pushed the game even further, this kid began to annoy her. At their first kissing scene, she really kissed him. Clutching his hair, she tilted her face toward his and took real possession of his mouth. She saw in his eyes surprise and dismay. She had expected a reaction of triumph all male. He displayed the melancholy face of his wounded sensibility. He began to isolate himself between two scenes, looking for a place where he could sleep for a few minutes. He no longer sought Natacha's presence, she was astonished, but her duties as artistic director took her all her time. She had to solve the problems of costumes and decorations and she kept running from one end of the film set to the other. The scenes from outside saw a funny ballet unfold, Alla was constantly looking for the mouth of the young actor who arranged to offer only his cheek to kiss. The director, unaware of the match that was unfolding before his eyes, found the actors' play perfect. Armand's modesty facing Marguerite's experience. The shooting progressed rather well, few scenes to retake. Nazimova regularly saw what had been shot and she was satisfied. Finally, this little Italian did not do so badly. His Armand Duval was fine, elegant, more moving than she would have liked but it gave the film a softer vision than the original scenario provide. One day a new actress joined the troupe, blond, petite. She was to play the new mistress of Armand, a kept women without any attraction but a rather vulgar beauty. Natacha had drawn for the needs a pretty daring dress, covering little the actress's breasts and she had given indications for a flashy make-up. Rudy slipped into her office unexpectedly and took her in his arms.
''She wants my scalp, this old witch!''
''Do not say nonsense, dear, everything has gone well so far. You surprised her, she told me. Alla is stingy with compliments, you know, those few words are already formidable.''
''She told the director that she would direct me today. She's going to do anything for me to crack, I feel it.''
''Do not see her any more wicked than she is. She's demanding, it's true, but she appreciates you, I'm sure.''
''I'd like her to like me a little less, "he mumbled.
''I beg your pardon ?''
''Nothing, I groan, I have stage fright, that's all.''
''This is the characteristic of great artists, dear.''
The ringtone that called the actors on the set sounds. After a quick kiss, Rudy rushed. He warmly welcomed his new partner, spotted his marks on the floor and placed himself in the casino setting that was the scene of the day. Nazimova made a shocking entrance, 'toutes voiles dehors'. She stared at the young man, a strange smile on her lips. He shuddered.
''If Mr. Valentino wants to set up, we can start.''
''I'm on my marks, madam!''
''Not the news, sir, you have to read the dashboard from time to time. I made changes ...''
''Oh, rage! Oh, desespoir!''(**) Whispered Rudy.
''Sorry sir ?''
Her foghorn of a voice sprang up from nothingness, Alla had settled behind a projector and he could only see her silhouette against the light.
''There are no other marks, madam.'' He shouted to make himself heard.
''Ah, well, forgetfulness no doubt, Bill, go and show this young man where he must be.''
The actor saw the technician advance towards him with a beaten dog's air and low shoulders. He drew new marks on the ground with chalk, and, turning his back to the spotlight, whispered to Valentino's intention:
''She's perkier than usual, we're all as good as dead!''
''Do not worry, it's Saint Rudy today.''
And Alla had a field day, everything went wrong. She had almost all the scenes remade, and her remonstrances were addressed to only one person: Monsieur Valentino. She reserved for him harsh remarks and unfounded reproaches. He bent but did not break. Not a complaint came from his mouth. He changed his way of playing over and over again. Then the ringing of the lunch break. He needed to smoke. He darted out into the open air, away from the stifling atmosphere of the set. He was on his third cigarette when he saw the little new girl coming towards him.
''Hey, tell me, she's mad at you?''
''No, she likes me!'' Said Rudy with a bright smile.
''If you say so...! You give me a cigarette?''
''Oh, sorry, of course, I'm sorry, I should have offered it to you.''
''Well, you could not know.'' The young girl deeply looked at Rudy, her false eyelashes began to flutter.
''Have you seen, I know how to make rounds of smoke.'' And she took advantage of it to round her lips carmine into a lascivious pout.
He loved to please, he allowed himself to be courted, amused by her audacity. She took a step towards him, he stepped back a step but remained there, charming with his smiling face. One of the photographers of the film then went out with his camera, he also wanted to smoke. He joined them. Laughter bursted out, insignificant remarks, jokes and gossip were exchanged. This was the first relaxing moment of the day for Rudy.
''What if we made a picture?'' Said the young woman,'' as a souvenir, come on, Rudy, we're going to take the pose."
She stuck in his arms, against him, her face turned towards the goal. He laughed and then clenched his waist. She shivered under his fingers, he found it very seductive. The time of one or two pictures and the ringing resounded again. The nightmare would resume.
''We were only waiting for you, Monsieur Valentino!'' He heard as soon as he set foot on the set.
''The best is always for the end, madam!''
A diffuse laughter passed through the assembly.
''Silence, ladies and gentlemen, Consuelo, my little one, you are Armand's new mistress, so be immodest, awaken his low instincts ... do you agree with Monsieur Valentino?
''With you always, madame!''
The filming began, Consuelo took her partner's arm and pressed her body to his. Natacha, who had just arrived on the stage, hated what she saw in the little actress's eyes. A desire too obvious. Yet Rudy remained very professional and ignored the movements of the young woman's hips.
''It's too soft ! Consuelo, touch him, caress him, he is winning; The money excites you, he excites you, be excited my little one...''
They repeated the scene six times that day, not enough lubricity in the looks, the bodies too distant.
''Closer ! Closer, but it will take a shoehorn to separate us soon!'' The young man said on the fly, not too strong not to be heard from Nazimova.
Several actors chuckled. Natacha was impervious to humor, Rudy was trying to initiate her but in vain up to now. So she felt the situation painfully. The proximity of the bodies of the two young poeple wounded her, a new feeling seized upon her: jealousy. However, when the Lady arrived on the scene, the director resumed the orders while a sigh of relief would die on the lips of all the participants.
Ringtone, end of shooting. Rudy went to the dressing-rooms, the day had been rough for him, he was tired. If Natacha wanted to go out, he would naturally refuse, he dreamed of a shower and a bed. As she left the dressing-rooms, she was waiting for him, ready to leave. In the car, she put her head on his shoulder
''How about a romantic dinner somewhere! For tonight, just the two of us?''
''Honey, I'm sorry, I'll take you to your house and I'll go home. I'm tired, I would not be a pleasant companion tonight and I might fall asleep at the restaurant. I already see the headlines tomorrow 'Rudolph Valentino snores at the Brown Derby or the Kawafuku.(*) ''' He laughed and recovered himself. ''Let's avoid a scandal, I'll take you tomorrow, we'll go to the studio together, if you want.''
''Oh no, I'm going out with friends anyway, Norma and Carla had invited me to a vernissage I'm going tonight. Tomorrow, you're still going to get up at dawn, I prefer to go to work alone. Kiss me, homebody! See you tomorrow.''
''Good evening, my bird of night, greet the girls for me and especially behave yourself!.''
They parted, each one resuming his way. Arriving in his apartment, Rudy poured himself a glass of Bordeaux and collapsed on the sofa. No sooner had he settled himself than he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
The next day, in great form, he arrived as usual early on the stage, greeted the technicians who had already arrived and shared with them cigarettes and coffee in a joyful atmosphere. The silhouette of Nazimova slipped to the bottom of the studio towards the dressing-rooms.
''Hey ! Rudy, you play together today!''
''Yes, the great scene between Marguerite and Armand, love and hate ... for hatred, I hold the character well, for love, it will be a role of composition''
The little circle burst out laughing when suddenly the bell rang. The young man took the precaution to see the changes on the dashboard, none, it might be a quiet day. The beginning of filming comforted him in this illusion, Alla was affable and very professional. Change of scenery, in the next scene, they played in duet. The young man saw again the smile so feared illuminate the face of Nazimova.
''So, ugly little toad, you think you can play at my level ''... whispered Alla back to the camera
''I doubt it, Madame has a TOO long career ... behind her.''
''Look at that, he has hardly hair on his chin that he wants to play men ''
''And too many hairs over the eyes that I must depilate them''
Nazimova got closer to Valentino.
''And below the belt, you know how to use it? Your wife did not have time to know ... what they say!''
Rudy's jaw clenched, all the muscles in his face froze, and his almond eyes only passed through a slit, the incandescent glow of two burning coals. He suddenly released a virile force whose savagery overwhelmed Alla. He grabbed her by the wrists, put her arms back on her back, she was at his mercy. He muttered between his teeth: "It may be what she saw that frightened her!'' And he plunged his head into his partner's neck to kiss her as the scenario provides. This gesture of gross domination so unusual in him had deeply disturbed the Russian actress. She came to her senses when she heard her director shout: "It's okay, cut it, it's in the box." The young man turned his heels and without waiting for the bell, came out smoking, his face closed. Thus Natacha found him, and she listened in silence to the story of the shooting. She decided to go and see Nazimova. The little woman was alone in her dressing-room:
''Come in, ninotchka, I have to talk to you''
''Me too, madam, he's out, furious''
''I know, but the fury suits him well, listen, Natacha, I lied for Jean. I loved her, and this idiot was in love with another woman, Grace, I could not bear it, I had my rival fired. Jean knew it, she flew into a rage, she told me that she would make me suffer, that she was going to ridicule me.''
''I do not understand, Alla, what does Rudy do in this story?''
''Jean had an actor friend with whom she got along well. She explained her plan to me, her eyes filled with hatred. That friend, this man, she was going to marry him. She pretended to have had lovers and that with him, it would be nice to ... make love, that he was young, virile and beautiful, that it would be a pleasure to come in his arms. She said I was old and I made her feel sick. I challenged her to do it, I told her the worst horrors about him: ladies' man, gigolo, prostitute, blackmailer. But she laughed with rage.''
''And this friend was Rudy.''
''Yes, but she could not go all the way, of course she married him but the manly desire of her husband frightened her. I was avenged.''
Silence fell, Alla resumed:
''He's made for this job, you know. Where others have seen talent, I have seen arrogance. I was wrong. I wanted to play with him and I lost. He has something in him ... ah I can not find my words. A force, no, a power and I think he is not aware of it, it may be the most dangerous. You will have to channel an untamed power to this day. Beware, be always on your guard, it is a man who can trigger passions, do not let yourself be carried away. You want to play the Pygmalion, why not, but watch your creature, Natacha, or he will escape you and climb so high that you will never catch him. Tell him I want peace, I will not provoke him anymore. We will finish this film and it will be a success.''
For Valentino, it came before the end of the film. The four horsemen of the apocalypse had just come out and it was a triumph. The critics were enthusiastic for this young actor almost unknown who gave the first masterful representation of his talent.
Madame wanted to celebrate the event and organized a big party at her house, caviar and champagne. She approached the young man and said, handing him a cup:
''If I did not like women so much, Mr. Valentino, I could have enjoyed you!''
Smiling, he replied:
''If I did not love women so much, Madame, I could have hated you!''
The thundering laughter of the little woman invaded the room, peace was made.
It was on this shoot that Natacha decided to marry Rudy and tie their destinies. It took her two years to fulfill the promise she had made: a divorce procedure, an invalid marriage and finally a real marriage in early spring. And here they are both on that October night, husband and wife on the Riviera, head full of plans for their return to America after a long journey in Europe. Rudy came to Natacha in her bed and he fell asleep on her shoulder. The young woman took some time to sleep. She wondered about the future, she had set up between the love of her husband and her a wall and this new found intimacy opened breaches on it. She saw only one solution: to resist again and again and to remain mistress of her heart.

Chapter Text

Louise and Monica traveled back to Paris. They took turns driving to get to their goal as quickly as possible. But the fatigue was cruelly felt, the eyes burned and sometimes closed for a few seconds. After a larger yaw than the others, the two young women decided to stop for dinner and sleep. It was late, not yet the middle of the night but they were afraid to find door closed. As they passed through Auxerre, they saw the lamps outside a hostelry still lit. Monica, who was driving at that time, parked without stopping the engine. Louise get off the car, disappeared inside the establishment, and very soon after came out, accompanied by a lad. The latter took their luggage and the two women sought a place to park their vehicle.
'The restaurant is closed but they will prepare us a snack in the room. I asked for a twin room, they do not know so we slept together that night.'
- As long as you do not snore, it's okay! Monica laughs
- What a sharp tongue ! I do not snore, however I spotted a phone; I'll try to reach Thomas.
- 23 hours, it's a bit early for him no ?
- Yes, you are right, the revue started at Folies, he still has to watch everything and after Mr. soup ... but he did not leave Gabriel alone ... my god I'm stupid, there is Madame Bouturin, well Nanie.
- Nanie?
- Yes, the nurse of Thomas and Paul, she serves as a governess at Thomas since my in-laws died.
- She'll know how to answer the phone, Nanie ?
- In my opinion, with Thomas, she had to learn, between friends, acquaintances and connections, she will need a standard soon. Come on quickly, I can not wait to call, I want to hear my baby's voice.
The two friends entered the lobby of the hotel. They were told at the reception that a cold supper was waiting for them in their room, Louise pointing to the telephone set asked if she could make a call to Paris. The receptionist at night put the line at his disposal. Louise gave the operator the desired number, and a few seconds later she heard the gruff voice of Madame Bouturin called Nanie.
'Yes it's me Louise, I know Nanie, it's late, we will not arrive tonight, we're too tired. We are in Auxerre, we will be there tomorrow in the morning. What he does not sleep ! He wanted to wait for Mom, the little love. Put him on the phone quickly and after bed ... Hello, my angel, how you missed me, my heart ! It goes well with uncle Tom, he took you to see his work ? Well well and you saw a lot of ladies very beautiful and very nice, but it is wonderful my darling. I will talk with uncle when returning... angry? But not at all beloved, tired, that's all. I embrace you my angel, you will follow Nanie and fall asleep very quickly. Tomorrow we will be together, kisses, kisses, love.'
Monica giggled in a corner,
'Thomas took Gabriel to the Folies Bergères and you find it funny, immoral girl.'
The two friends rejoined their room, comfortable and clear. A snack was waiting for them on a small table with a long tablecloth. They ate willingly but silently because they were hungry. A pitcher of wine accompanied this supper, the two young women enjoyed and drank while relaxing before the fireplace already lit.
'Tomorrow I find my son, you can not know how happy I am. Ah Monica I'll stifle him with kisses.'
- You're overprotective with this child, he will soon become a man, you know!
- Killjoy, I still have time ...
- Less than you think ... By the way, Lou, how was your husband?
- Paul ?! But why are you asking me this question tonight?
- Answer me and I'll tell you.
- Well, Paul was very much like Thomas but smaller, more stocky. They had in common those same green eyes that you can see at Tom. Paul had light brown hair pulling on the roux, when I wanted to tease him I called him "my redhead," he hated. Of course, he had clear skin and was very afraid of the sun. When I could drag him on a beach, he remained with his hat and dressed; The only one on the beach: it was funny. He made me laugh, at least he tried because by his temperament, he was rather taciturn, friendly but shy and reserved. As a child, he had to suffer from Thomas's exuberance, I think. There's so much to say, you want more or this is enough ? So tell me now why this question?
- Louise, you're like my sister, more you're my sister and I love you very much. You know everything about me and I thought I knew everything about you ...
Louise turned pale.
'What's the matter, Monica? Why all these oratorical precautions?'
- My dear Lou, I know your son since he was three years old, he was baptized in Italy and I am his godmother, do not forget it. He is handsome, has fine features and matt skin, a rather slender body, black hair and eyes, I continue?
After a silence, Louise, tense, answered.
'I do not know where you're going, Monica, Gabriel is my son and Paul's.'
- Lou, I respect your secrets but this is too obvious, Thomas knows, I think, but Gabriel ignores it. How do you want me to protect you if you put me aside? Growing up, he will ask questions, Mom to whom I resemble? To Daddy? To Mom ? And the other, if he sees your son, do you think he's blind? That's his portrait!
- He will never see him!
- You can't be sure, then?
- You guessed well, Gabriel is the son of Rodolfo. When he left, I was pregnant. I only discovered it after his departure. Paul ... Paul quickly understood, he was great, he supported me, Thomas and he took care of me. Time passed, it was soon to be seen and I had no news of the father. Paul took me on the banks of the Marne and confessed to me his love, he wanted to marry me and recognize the child. He told me that it would be his greatest happiness. I cried but I refused. I think I was still waiting for Rodolfo and I did not want Paul to sacrifice himself for me.
- And ?
- My stomach was rounded, I had dropped out of class and stayed cloistered in my room. Every evening, Paul had me review what he had seen in college during the day. The months went by quickly. I was prostrate, I did not react, I did not feed. One day, Paul got angry, he who always kept his cool, he shouted that I was going to die and that I was going to kill my baby. The same evening, Thomas and he put me in a car, we rolled into the night. The next day a man came to the house where we had stopped. Paul tried to talk to me, he shook me and I heard through the fog where I was, his voice saying "Louise, I'm marrying you, you're going to be my wife and your child, our child. I can not prevent you from committing suicide if you want, but my love, fight, for him and for me. " The stranger came into the room, it was a friend of Thomas, deputy mayor of I do not know what small commune. For a few weeks, before my state of daze and fearing for my life, they had organized my marriage with the complicity of this man. He started to read the text, I vaguely understood that he stopped, all three looked at me. There in front of me, I saw Paul's face full of tears, I had never seen him cry so I said "yes" in a breath and I fainted.
- You always had the sense of tragedy, you! So you're married and Gabriel?
- I was almost at the end, I gave birth in the morning with three men completely mad! A midwife from the village came and everything went very well, Gabriel was born without problem. I was exhausted and he was in perfect health. That's when I met Nanie, Madame Bouturin, she came to keep Gabriel and me. I was too skinny, I did not have enough milk, Nanie went to collect from a nanny not far from home. In fact, she was a little nanny to me too.
- Rodolfo knows nothing, is he?
- He came out of my life long before my son was born and before yesterday I had not seen him again.
- He must not see Gabriel.
- I know, when I saw him yesterday, their resemblance struck me.
- Come in my arms, grosse bête, so far we have always stand side by side, even against the henchmen of Mussolini. We'll protect the bambino, like two lionesses!
Louise threw herself into Monica's arms. After a long moment of emotion, they decided to go to bed and sleep, there was still road to be made to reach Paris.
They woke up at dawn, checked that they had hot water and one after the other did a morning toilet. Louise and Monica abandoned the wearing of trousers and opted for jersey skirts, made fashionable by Mademoiselle Chanel. The garment remained practical to drive and was fairly conventional for their arrival in the capital.
They went down to the dining room for breakfast, their table overlooking the small square where their car was parked.
'We'll have to go up the hood, Louise, the sky is covered, it's going to rain.'
- Autumn is well installed here, farewell sun, farewell sweetness of life!
- Wait, it's me the Italian and it is you that laments ? Que dice?
- You are right, long live the Parisian life!
Capote installed, both dressed in a raincoat, the two young women took the road to Paris, impatient to arrive. They suddenly passed through black suburbs of coal, dark and filthy. The linen hung at the windows, very young children played in the streets with dogs without race. No apparent misery but no affluence either. They get deeper into a maze of small arteries. Louise was driving, she knew the way. Soon wide avenues replaced the narrow streets, the suburb of Zola gave way to the Paris of Baron Haussmann. Large straight avenues drained the traffic, half cars half hippomobiles. Louise doubled the ones and avoided the others. Monica saw the beautiful facade of the "Bon Marché"(*), her friend confirmed that they were not far away. She entered a lane parallel to an elegant boulevard, and stopped before a large wooden double-leafed portal.
'Help me to open, Monica, we'll park the car in the yard.'
The two young women leaned forward to remove the two heavy doors, the passage cleared, they rolled on the curb and entered the gravelled courtyard. At the bottom stood a pleasant two-storey house surmounted by what seemed to be an artist's studio. Two series of three french windows pierced the bleached facade. A large canopy delimited the studio to the third, the other part of the floor consisted of a large terrace. Trees shaded the courtyard. Although in the heart of the Ville-lumière, there reigned on this place a restful calm and a lot of serenity.
'Is this house Thomas' house?'
- Yes, he lived with a friend painter hence the workshop. It was above all the house of Klaus, but Thomas invested in it at the time all his meager savings. He did not want to be a kept man, you know. Klaus was tuberculous, Thomas treated him with great devotion and self-denial. When Klaus died, he was wasting away, he was no more than the shadow of himself. But Klaus had given him a gift before leaving him, he had put the house in his name, a last gesture of love. The story ends badly but there has been a lot of happiness and love in this house, we can feels it, it has a soft and warm soul.
The glass door of the ground floor opened on a small woman with gray hair, all rounded off, wearing cap and white apron.
'Madame Louise! How happy I am to see you at last!'
- Nanie, it's you, it's sweet to see you again!
The two women fell into each other's arms, hugging each other with tears of joy.
'Nanie, I must introduce you Monica, my friend, Gabriel's godmother, Madame Renoux, I present Madame Bouturin, known as Nanie.'
- Gabriel's godmother! Then you ended up baptizing him that poor little one! It's good ! There's no madame here, I'm Nanie.
And Madame Bouturin pasted two sonorous kisses on Monica's cheeks.
'Loulou, Monsieur Thomas is still asleep, you know what it is: dinner, supper, and short supper he has returned to the aurora. The boy is in school, Nestor drove him this morning.'
- Nestor?
- Yes, it is new, he is the driver-secretary-butler of Mr. Thomas, he's a little snooty but deep down he is nice, on the other side he never smiles; Oh but it's raining, come in, my quails, to the pantry, I'll prepare hot chocolate.
Installed in the cozy kitchen, Nanie's territory, the two young women enjoyed an excellent hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. The governess returned soon.
'I installed you both in the workshop, there are two large beds, a small kitchen and all the comforts, so you are independent. Mr. Thomas and Mr. Gabriel have their room underneath. Poor little thing, he was not used to sleep alone, he cried at first but now it's okay. It's a mistake, Loulou, to still nurse him like that. This year, he entered middle school, he is a real young man now, so no more short pants. Do not make that head, Madame Louise, he still sucks his thumb to fall asleep and I pretend to see nothing.
They were talking about it when a falsetto sounded on the stairs:
'They are there, my birds, and no one tells me anything, the whip ... the whip for everyone.'
The silhouette of Thomas was framed in the door of the office, he did as usual the precious, the graceful. He stretched out his waist, arched himself, acting superior, and cast murderous glances.
Emulsions of roses accompanied all his gestures, draped in a yellow Chinese silk gown embroidered with gold and silver, he generously embraced the two young women, each taking a hand, went to the drawing-room. Without turning around, he shouted to the office
'Nanie, quickly a bowl of coffee, toast, jam and my medicine for the liver, I still drunk too much last night.'
He had, in fact, a puffy face, swollen eyes, and the pasty mouth of the man who had been celebrating much of the night.
'Tell me everything, girls, I want to know everything!'
Louise spoke and told him of their journey from Florence to the Italian Riviera and then to Menton and Nice with amusing anecdotes.
'Guess who we met at the border?'
- Does I know ? Let's see, the De la Feuillade, you know Emile and Alphonsine, they spent a few days in Rome, could it be that it is them??
- No Thomas, I've only seen them once, I think I would not recognize them. No, this is someone we knew well in the past, before the war, but we have lost sight of each other since ...
- Someone from the past? Before 1914? You surprise me !
- You gave him tango lessons …
- But, my sweet, I only did that before the war, I was the best dancer on the Place de Paris(**), they all wanted me to show them the latest fashionable dance. Let's see, Henri Dutilleul, the industrialist ? Or Prince Romanesco?
- Thomas, I did not frequent these people at the time.
- My God, it is true, what was I thinking ? Nanie, my coffee !! Louise tortures me, I need munitions, well I refuse to answer before my coffee. Nanie !!!
Madame Bouturin brought to the drawing-room a tray loaded with a huge breakfast.
'Well Loulou, you will put your question again after the second cup! Go girls, eat, you do not know who will eat you !! He said, laughing.

Chapter Text

Louise and Monica allowed themselves only a cup of coffee. The latter, sensing the combative soul of her friend announced to the impromptu, that she wished to refresh and unpack her luggage.
''Nanie, Monica wants to go up; show her her apartments, come back soon Bella Dona! And you, you do not want to follow her to refresh yourself too?''
- In fact, my dear Thomas, it is your memory that I would like to refresh.''Ah yes, your border encounter, "he said, biting into a huge slice of jam," well we eliminated the top of the basket. With whom have I been able to compromise myself in those years of my wild youth?'' He took a thoughtful look, miming perfectly an intense reflection.
Unable to restrain herself, the young woman threw the name of the unknown into his face.
''Rudolph Valentino'', she announced.
Thomas spat out some of his bread and almost choked with the other. He could only say,
''ha''.
- Like you say, ah !
- They says he's very handsome!
- You always found him attractive!
- But, I never met him, I missed him when he came to France! During his stay in Paris, I was on the move. When he went to the Follies, it was the boss who received him! How do you want me to know if he is in to my taste, the little sheikh of these ladies?
- Thomas, stop, you know Rudolph Valentino because the real name of Rudolph Valentino is actually Rodolfo Guglielmi! ...
The man in front of her decomposed. His tone changed.
''Oh I see, you talked.''
Yes, long enough to understand that letters had disappeared. The both of you tricked me ! Whose idea was it ? Look at me : is that you or Paul?
His interlocutor remained mute.
I do not know why I'm asking this question. Paul would never have done that and he would never have wanted you to. Why Thomas?
Still this silence, Louise gesticulated, red with rage. She took Thomas by the shoulders and shook him shouting : ''Answer me ! Asshole, you bastard, answer or I'll slap you! Have balls for once!''
Head down, his friend began to speak in a low voice.
''Stronger ! I want to hear you ! I want to hear how you ruined my life! Scumball!''
Paul had loved you for so long, silently, of course. And then you lose your mind for an angel's face and a velvet look.
Thomas raised his head, his eyes filled with tears, he sought the gaze of Louise, Louise's kindness, her sweetness. But he had nothing but a mask of disgust, the shock of that vision tore him.
''Keep on going !''
When he left, the little Italian, I thought it was over. No more talk about him. And then the first letter arrived, it was too much for Paul.
A white voice shouted : ''What have you done !''
I tore it, myself, all alone and the following ones too. Paul did not know, he was not aware of the letters, I swear.
The young woman nodded her head encouraging the man to continue.
When you learned for your pregnancy, you were desperate. But for the first time, Paul dared to speak to you of love. He was happy, you know, he could finally show you his feelings. Oh, and the rest is history. I have ruined your life, no doubt. Will you forgive me, darling?
Thomas's attitude exasperated Louise. There, before her, eyes in eyes, he tried to justify the unjustifiable.
''How could you? You lied to me, you manipulated my life and your only justification is: Paul loved you. Do not involve my husband with this sordid affair. Because of you, I approached the abyss, I no longer had the will to live! I almost died and Gabriel with me! And why ?...
Thomas thought it prudent not to answer. The young woman raised her voice which was flat when she said :
''That's all you have to say! She cried out. You sacrificed two lives, almost three to please your brother !! but in your egocentric vision you did not understand the evil you were doing. Paul also suffered from this depression, this improvised marriage. He did not dare touch me for months thinking I did not like him. All your schemes did not make him happy, they undermined his confidence. It took my second pregnancy for him to realize that my feelings had changed.''
- A second child but ...
- Oh, but of course, you did not see anything, too busy listening to you, loving you. I lost the child when I learned of the death of Paul on the Marne. To whom did you delight in taking us apart, Rodolfo and I! To Paul or to you?
- Louise, you're going too far! It was the happiness of Paul that I wanted above all things and it passed through you!
Pale, her jaws clenched, the young woman tried to calm down. This great hangman sitting before her, had given her so much love and attention. She could not sweep 10 years of affection on a whim. She gradually regained control of herself.
''Thomas, I never regretted having married Paul. He was a wonderful husband and father. It was probably not written for Rodolfo and me. I have two things to ask you, the first is : until when was he writing?''
- Long time after the birth of Gabriel.
- Thank you, the second thing, we decided to be friends and therefore to stay in touch.
A heavy silence hovered in the living room.
''That does not make me happy.''
- I'm not asking you permission, Thomas. It's like that, that's all. Even if you have behaved like the worst of the bastards, you are my whole family and that of my son ... I love you but I am no longer a girl, I am a woman, no longer directs my life anymore .
In front of the young woman's unhappy mood, he did not dare anything effeminate that a rapid movement of the palm, from left to right, accompanied by a small nod of the head.
''You grew too fast, sweet.''
Suddenly, the door of the entrance slammed and a noise of hurried steps was heard.
''Mom ! Mom, where are you? Mom !''
Louise abandoned Thomas and ran to meet the child.
''I am here, my love, how I missed you, my little darling !''
The young woman took her son in her arms and covered him with kisses.
''Mom, stop, you choke me. Oh Mom I'm so happy, Mom, I was a man, you know, I did not cry.''
- It's true that you grew up, but where did your curls go?
- Mom I went to Middle School, I could no longer look like a baby. There is a hairdresser who came here and he cut my hair.'' Gabriel lowered his voice, "but I kept you a strand, a beautiful curl, just for you. You will put it in the pendant, eh Mom; with that of Papa. "
- Yes darling, and you will both be on my heart. Come help me Gabriel, unpack my luggage. Monica is already up, she can not wait to see you too!
The mother and son, hand in hand, rushed on the stairs, laughing and skylarking.
Thomas smiled at the sight of these two. Life had not spared them, and yet they spread the joy of living around them. Then he thought of the young Rodolfo, who had so much troubled his senses, and there was already ten years. He had lied to Louise, and they had seen each other briefly between rooms. When he had come to the Follies, the director had introduced them. Rudy had recognized him and before the personalities present, had given him a friendly embrace. He had introduced Thomas as his first dance teacher, a tango specialist. The young man was smiling, very at ease. Thomas had admired his distinction and style. He had to admit that he had class and always as much charm. On the other hand, his wife was cold, haughty, a strange beauty as if disembodied. 'What a funny couple' he had thought! Fire and ice! Then he went even further back into his memory. Was she right? Wanting to hurt him, had she opened the Pandora's box? He had wondered so many times, had he only thought of Paul by breaking the bond that united Louise and Rodolfo? A small voice in his head reminded him of the mortifying feeling of jealousy that seized him when he saw them together. Of course, the young man had rejected his advances and he quickly realized that he loved women, more, he loved the world of women. Surrounded by men, our young Italian showed himself reserved, on the defensive and a little bit arrogant. In the boxes, with the girls, he was quite different, cheerful, talkative, playful, in a word, charming. The girls had nicknamed him "lover boy". And Thomas's desire turned into love. He loved that grace which he wandered nimbly through the streets of Paris. He love this moving body that brushed against his when they danced. The thought that he would never have him was a torture. Against him, his body remained of marble, only the women gave rise in his look that air of adulation which crucified him. Then, while continuing to give him lessons in dance, he had chained the one-night stands to forget in the arms of other men, that young athletic body which he desired so much. And then one day Rodolfo announced that he had to return to Italy. Penniless, he counted to coax his family and then come back. Thomas proposed to go, all four of them, to a soirée in a tavern. The evening dress was demanded, he announced to them with a laugh. On that day, he divided the roles: afternoon devoted to costume rental, two groups, the three boys he would lead on one side, Louise and one of the club's girl on the other. Goal ? Find their outfit! The two groups separated: meet at the room in the early evening, light meal and departure for the cabaret. Thomas knew the addresses, and he led his little company to the best tailor who rented clothes. Paul went out first of the fitting room, looking gloomy. The art of dressing mattered little to him. His brother had to rectify a lot of mistakes in taste and the tailor adapted the clothes to his stocky silhouette. Finally Paul was presentable. Meanwhile, Rodolfo had made his choice and changed in his turn. When he appeared in his coat, Thomas held his breath. The clothes emphasized his body elegantly. His marked size and tapered legs were perfectly enhanced. No retouching was necessary. The young men returned to the hotel, skylarking in the streets of Paris. The atmosphere was festive, the music was put and the bottles were released. Although saddened by his future departure, the young Italian refused to drink. A noise in the other room announced the return of Louise, who soon joined them. The young man took his young mistress in his arms and began to twirl in the narrow space of the room. They both laughed, their cheeks flushed. The program of the evening proceeded without incident, and the hour of departure finally arrived. The young woman retired to her room, and their landlady had agreed to help her get dressed and combed. Rodolfo reinstated his room to change.
The two brothers did the same. The three young men in uniform had to wait for their friend. She finally appeared, corsetted, radiant in a robe of raw silk. An egret of a feather sprang from her hair, which was hoisted in her nape. The little wild cat was ravishing as well civilized. A cab was called, and Thomas gave the coachman the address of the Trianon. When they entered the room, a waiter led them to a table near the dance floor. An orchestra played a waltz. Without waiting, Rodolfo took Louise's hand and dragged her on the dance floor. They were young, beautiful and in love. An aura of sensuality enveloped them and isolated them from the rest of the world. Paul, taciturn, grew more and more gloomy. Thomas ordered champagne and the orchestra started the first steps of a One Step.
''Go ahead, I taught you to dance it, go and invite Louise.''
After a hesitation, he stood up, joined the couple who separated. Rodolfo left graciously his place, and rejoined Thomas at table.
''Paul knows how to dance the One Step?''
- This is pretty much the only dance he has mastered, I had trouble but I did it.
- You're an excellent teacher, Tom!'' Said the young man, placing his hand on the forearm of Thomas.
At this contact he shuddered, took the bottle and filled two flutes of Champagne.
''Let's drink, signore, not at your departure but on your return!''
- I'll come back soon, my mother loves me too much to refuse me her help.
- How cute, listen to the little mama's boy!
- Do not laugh, I'll soon be 18, I'm a man.
With the back of his hand, Thomas stroked Rodolfo's cheek.
''Have you been shaving for a long time? Well you want to play men so we have to drink like men, Boy, 2 rums planter per favore!
- Rum planter ? What is it ?
- A drink from the islands! It is the great fashion, rum, cane syrup, you're gonna love it I'm sure.
Two glasses were placed on the table.
''Go taste and let me know how you find it.''
The two young men drank a sip of their drink, it was strong in alcohol. It was the reputation of the establishment to spike their mixes. Thomas sipped his glass, Rodolfo, unaccustomed, swallowed it faster. The orchestra continued with a new One Step. Louise and Paul remained on the dance floor. The conversation grew tired. Thomas, in despair, watched in silence the beautiful profile of his companion, his lips full and fleshy. In the dim light he could see the scar that barred the young man's cheek, and a mad desire took him to put his fingers on it to follow the course with gentleness. He closed his eyes, his heart pounding. Unconscious of the outburst of passion that took hold of his friend, Rodolfo, under the effect of alcohol, was agitated on the bench.

Chapter Text

After a new glass, the young Italian's cheeks flared, his black eyes darkened, and his lips shone, wet with the melted sugar of the drink. He began a long speech which his friend revived regularly with clever questions. The couple of dancers came back to the table and tried to mingle in the conversation. But under the effect of alcohol, Rodolfo monopolized the word and giggled without reason. He felt his heart accelerate and felt a pleasant sensation of warmth. Very relaxed, he was cheerful, witty and expansive. Louise found him odd but could not determine the origin of this exuberance. It was then that a man in tailcoat, somewhat solemn, came forward to their table. He greeted them with a nod.
''Monsieur Verniere, what a pleasure to find you here. I saw you from my table, so I had to greet you!''
''The pleasure is shared, Monsieur de Mareuil. Allow me to introduce my brother Paul and two of his friends, Mademoiselle Louise de Montignac and Signor Rodolfo Guglielmi''.
The man bent his bust.
''Thomas, I must speak to you, you must save me''.
The two men moved away from the table for an aside. Several times they turned and stared at Rodolfo. Thomas suddenly signed the young man to join them.
''Monsieur de Mareuil is very annoyed: the person who accompanies him is South American and wishes to dance the tango, but Antoine does not know this dance. He wanted me to do it, but I had a better idea. You have been attending my classes for months, I think you are ready to enter the milonga. Antoine's acquaintance is called Magdalena Cruz, the wife of an Argentine diplomat. At the first notes of a tango, you will advance to their table - Antoine will make the presentations - and you will invite her. Then it's up to you to play!''
The two young men resumed their place at the table and Louise was very surprised to see her companion drink a new alocool bottoms up. The first fateful notes rang out, and the young man stood up like an automaton, his step stiff.
He heard a sharp voice in his back murmuring "more supple, think of the tango".
He bowed before the senorita and issued his invitation, which was accepted.
Clasping the bust of the young woman, Rodolfo's right arm established, as he had learned, the distance and the necessary contact between their two bodies. They then began to discover themselves, they fled, faded. They tried to adapt to each other. Then they waited until the notes passed from ear to head and then reached the heart. Then the music was transmitted to their feet and the dance began. The two dancers complemented and merged into one being. He led his partner in voluptuous arabesques. In search of each other, in this interlacing, he mimed the invulnerable man and she, the docile woman. The music awakened and tormented their senses. The Tango concentrated all their emotions. Each listened to the body of the other, capturing its anxiety, its surprise. They hardly looked at each other or spoke to each other. In this subtle equilibrium, none dominated the other. A mystery of bodies in harmony, the tango led them to ecstasy, an intense and total emotion of body and soul. They would have liked that this dance would last forever and that nothing would interrupt this enchantment.
When the last note was extinguished, they remained entwined for a few more moments; then they looked at each other with modesty, shaken, almost frightened, before such a seizure of the soul.
The three friends at the table had not take their eyes off the dancefloor. Louise was enraged to see the man she loved in the arms of a stranger and in postures that she considered indecent.
''But it's immoral! That's what you learned to Rodolfo, are not you ashamed? She cried, green with envy.
-He did well, Paul said.
-Yes little brother, he was perfect. I am finally the best teacher! Said Thomas laughing.
But he had goose bumps. While his student danced with confidence the tango, he had sensed his sensitivity, his great capacity for love and his fragility. He had seen him protect his modesty behind his technique and impose his mastery of the lascivious figures of the tango without losing anything of his innocence. The desire he felt for the young man exploded in him and blurred his reason. He saw him accompany his partner to her table, hesitate to finally sit down. The diplomat's wife laughed heartily at the young man's words while a waiter placed glasses in front of them. Rodolfo turned his back on them, Thomas could see Magdalena Cruz's languorous eyes. The conversation had fallen, at their table, Paul had retired into an inner world and Louise was sulking. Her lover was in full social representation. She did not take her eyes off his back and nervously clapped her foot under the table.
''He drinks too much! She said, he's not used to it''.
-Let him live, sweet, he will soon leave and find his Italian province. Let him enjoy the Parisian life.
Time passed, dances also: castle walk or turkey trot. Then the orchestra replayed a waltz and Rodolfo finally left his guests. He returned to their table and wished to drag Louise into the whirlwind of the waltzers. But the young woman did not have the head nor the heart to dance. In a sad mood, she visibly poured all her anger on her partner. The face of the young man closed under the waves of reproaches, his features hardened and he pinched his lips whitening. At the last note he shanked the young woman on the dancefloor and came back to the table without a word, not without raising his arm to order a drink.
The young woman, livid, approached in her turn.
''Paul, come, we dance!''
-But it's a waltz!
-I give you permission to crush my feet, you are less good dancer than certain but at least you are my friend!
She grabbed Paul's hand, raised her chin haughtily, and dragged on the dancefloor a reluctant partner.
''We have a falling-out, my young friend!''
-Why does she react like that? I danced and afterwards I was polite, that's all!
-My dear, women, you know, a whole mystery ... let's go to cognac, the great classic for late after-hours.
Louise and Paul remained on the dancefloor, the latter displaying the air of a martyr. He sometimes forgot his steps or walked on the clear shoes of the girl who was wincing. He lost even once the balance, narrowly catching up on his partner's wrist. Rodolfo looked at them with fixed glance.
In the second cognac he sank down on the bench. The show amused him, he giggled and then laughed loudly. On the third, Thomas wished to prevent him from drinking; with a large gesture, he pushed back his arm and toppled a vase on the table. His face grew purple, his pupils dilated.
''You've drunk enough, I think.''
-Not at all, sir, I feel very well ... then he began to declaim a poem when he got up. Thomas forced him to sit down again -Rodolfo began to giggle- and waved an arm to attract the attention of the two dancers.
Louise and Paul left the dancefloor to the relief of the latter.
''What is happening ? Why do you call us?''
-I believe that our young friend has reached otherwise exceeded his limits, it is better to return.
-I hate you, it was our evening, my evening. We'll be separated weeks, months maybe. Did you enjoy having him drink?
-He was very willing, you know.
Rodolfo, misty with alcohol, stuttered and stammered :
''It was very gggood this ppparrty! I love you all! You are my friends!'' He said taking them by the neck for a hug.
They recovered their cloaks and went out in the cool of the night. After the heat of the cabaret, the cold seized them and made them all shudder, all except Rodolfo. Bewildered by alcohol, he decreed that he was warm and took off his coat. In the middle of the street, he took a deep breath and began to shout "I love you Paris." He then lost his balance and managed to remain standing at the cost of a terrible effort. Paul spoke:
''Well, we'll walk a bit to the square where we'll find a cab. Louise! come with me, let Tom take care of our young friend. He's in the habit of handling this kind of situation.''
Paul took the girl's arm and they began to walk talking, leaving their two companions behind.
''Well, little pretty-boy, I have to take care of you!''
He slipped his arm under the young man's arms, clasped his torso and helped him take a few steps. Rodolfo pitched, slowing down their march.
''Why did she leave Louise?''
-She's angry, try to move straight!
-Ang- ang-, angry it's not fair, it's me who's angry na!
-That's it, you're both angry. No, do not stop, small one!
-I am not small, I am a man, tall! Thomas, you are a friend, my friend. My friend !
The two young men stood face to face in the street, the vulnerability of Rodolfo awoke the desire of his friend. He was there in front of him thin, elegant, fine waist and arched back.
Thomas' mind and body warmed up. He opened his arms, unconsciously, and was surprised to see the young Italian rush into it. They intertwined.
''Thomas you are a real friend, I will kiss you, in my country you kiss the people you love and I love you'' ... and the young man put his lips on his cheek in a friendly and sonorous kiss.
Thomas's senses panicked, he felt the warmth of his young, athletic body against his legs, his firm thighs. He put his hands on Rodolfo's hips and glued his belly against his. Through the fabric, he felt the bulge of his sex. Imperceptibly, very slowly so as not to frighten his companion, he impressed his pelvis with a swinging motion.
Rodolfo seemed to abandon himself, then suddenly snorted.
''You're tightening me too hard, I'm not going to fall, see.''
And with a stroke of his hips, he disengaged himself but he has presumed too much of his lucidity.
''Why does it tilt, this street and why the ground moves?''
In order to prevent his fall, Thomas caught him in the air and pushed him against the door leaf.
''You are my savior !'' Rodolfo wrapped his friend's shoulders and pressed him against him.
The desire consumed Thomas, this accolade made him lose his head. He gently pushed the young man against the wooden door, took him by the waist and put his lips on his. He felt him jump but he did not push him away. He recognized on his lips the taste of cognac mixed with rum. He gathered a languorous breath from his lips. Then he slipped a hand under his neck and stuck their two mouths. But tight lips still resisted the assault of his tongue. At last, however, they opened and Thomas could finally take possession of his mouth. His kiss was long and damp. With his other hand, placed in the hollows of his loins, he pressed against him. He wanted to awaken this much desired sex and cause the erection of the penis that he guessed under the cloth of the pants. Alas the fabric did not tense. Crazed with despair, he took through the stuff, the sex of his friend in his palm and began to caress it, giving his gesture a steady back and forth. The young Italian moaned suddenly against his shoulder, his eyes closed. A few seconds passed and suddenly Rodolfo began to move. He had suddenly opened his eyes and tried to extricate himself from this embrace. His body convulsed against that of Thomas. He released his mouth and gasped. Then he pushed it violently to rush over the gutter and vomit.
Thomas, anxious, came to the rescue of the young man to prevent him from falling. Rodolfo, between two hiccups, whispered, "I think I've drunk too much."
The light from a lamppost illuminated the young man's face, and Thomas realized that, lost in his alcoholic mists, Rodolfo had not realized what had happened. Anger then darkened his mind and he had a moment the desire to force the body he wanted so much.
And there, ten years later, comfortably installed in his living room, he still felt the delicious warmth that had inflamed his lower abdomen when he had held in his arms the object of his love.

Chapter Text

On the Riviera it was still hot. Rudy woke up still exhausted by the conduct of the day before. Louise's furtive image crossed his mind and he smiled. Life seemed to him radiant, the young woman had not betrayed him and their love had not been an illusion. This simple idea reconciled him with the whole world. He turned to take his wife in his arms but she had already deserted the bed. He sighed, disappointed, and rang for his tray. He then gave himself an hour of gymnastics. To keep fit was important to him. He had been a reckless and adventurous child, his clumsiness at that time had earned him some scars during memorable falls. Then he failed to enter the Italian Navy for 1 cm of chest. From what he considered his worst humiliation, he trained his body every day. Sport and dance had modeled it: harmonious musculature and feline gait assured its success on the dance floor as on the screen. Rudy, clean and fresh-shaven, chose to dress in white. He knew that it would make his coppery complexion valuable and he wanted to please. He was scheduled to meet with journalists in the afternoon. He looked for Natacha in the house, and a young maid told him that Madame was in the office. He found his wife writing, she wanted to make a scenario for her husband. He knew that the complicity that bound him to June Mathis, the screenwriter of his films, irritated her. Natacha, obsessed with her work, showed herself distant, no cajolery, no cuddling managed to catch her attention. Her husband drew back from the wall of indifference which she then erected between them. He called his doberman and decided to take a long walk with him. His dog japped with joy when he saw his master take his leash. Rudy took the direction of a pine forest and strode for some time, playing, running with his four-legged friend. He had always had a special relationship with animals especially with dogs and horses. As a child, when he spent his holidays in the farm of one of his uncles, he loved to lead the animals to the watering-place. He still remembered the astonishment laced with admiration of the farm boys when he had succeeded in taming a horse reputed to be particularly reticent. But he was expected for lunch so the young man quickened his pace to go home.
At the end of the meal, Muzzie and Dick, his in-laws, chose to have coffee on the terrace. The shade of the great trees agreeably softened the temperature, the roses fragrant the air with their sweet perfume. It was the dolce vita, an art of living that Rudy tasted far from the hectic crowds of the new world and the collective hysteria that reigned in the studios. He closed his eyes, turned his head, offering his face to the sun. This interview repelled him, he did not like journalists, this new breed of journalist who chased the sensational. He knew in advance what would interest them: love, women and his marriage. One day he thought they would dare to ask you about your sexuality! He found them vulgar.
Rudy had not been spared by these rags at a hundred bucks. His trial for bigamy had spread out on the front page. "It's a great publicity stunt," the director of the studio had told him. He screamed all he wants, nothing was done. All had treated him like a puppet, a beast of fair that is exhibited for a few pieces. If his boss had thought of making him go straight with this affair, he had misled himself. He wanted to get his contract broken at all costs and he would finally be free. Meanwhile, he warmed himself in the sun, for once relaxed and confident in the future. His attorney attended to his affairs in Los Angeles, already the intransigence of the studios was mollifying.
He suddenly felt two hands resting on his shoulders and soft lips kissing him. He surrendered. The hands slid into his half-open collar and stroked his bust, touching his skin. They were alone on the terrace, Rudy knew it. Natasha would never let herself go before her parents.
Without opening his eyes, he whispered, "Let's go to our room!" ". Unfortunately!, he had broken the charm.
He felt Natacha's body stiffen, she pulled her hands away quickly. Then she talked about the afternoon appointment, his career and of course the expectations of his audience. What he just wanted at that time was to make love with his wife and then bathe and swim; Lie down and let his body dry in the sun. Being only flesh and blood, emptying his mind of all evil thoughts, he wanted to live the present moment, being simply him, with man's desires, the pleasures of man. He wanted to be Rodolfo, coming in the arms of the woman he loves, Rodolfo plunging in the foam of the waves, salty skin studded with drops of water. There, exactly, on this terrace, Rudolph Valentino bored him enormously.
He smiled at Natacha:
''I will be very professional, do not worry.''
- I know, darling. And she kissed him on the forehead.
Rudy finally took a book, sank into the park and sat down under a gazebo. He loved this isolated place, nobody could see him, he was only disturbed by the song of the birds. He did not open the book, his mind wandered and he thought about his life, his couple. For Natacha, he had confronted the shame of divorce and the humiliation of an infectious trial. He had faced accusations and insinuations, rumors and gossip. During this period when his life was spread on the headlines, he had felt sick. They had had to ask their friends for false testimony. Out of friendship, they had sworn that there had been no intimate relationship between him and Natacha. After the trial, they had lived separately under the constant supervision of justice. He had lived his love in hiding, without sex. He had accepted everything to live with her, his feminine ideal. Then why was he so morose, sad and dissatisfied. They had remarried legally, lived together, had a marvelous honeymoon, and there they were ready to go home. His affairs were arranged; The last telegram from his lawyer was optimistic. Life smiled at him and yet melancholy prevailed. Natacha? His heart hesitated but his reason shouted no, it was not her fault, was she not perfect? They had lots of common interests, she was beautiful, cultivated, sophisticated. Was not that what he was looking for in a companion? He thought of his mother, also in her time she had been beautiful, cultivated and refined but she had also given him much tenderness, love, understanding and indulgence. For now, Natasha was giving orders. She was authoritative as his father had been. But if he had suffered from paternal rigidity, he had finally admired the man. He knew he was fanciful, reverent and romantic, but his mother had always been able to bring him back to the realities of things with a velvet glove. He could not imagine that Natasha would be only an iron hand. Suddenly she called, the appointment had to be arrived. He breathed deeply to relax and jump.
''Let's go to the bear cage'' he thought.
He found his interlocutors installed on the terrace now in the shade. The office had prepared lemonade pitchers in the early afternoon. As a perfect hostess, his wife made the presentations. The atmosphere seemed relaxed, Rudy settled in front of the reporters, smiling.
''Mr. Valentino, thank you for receiving us!''
- It is always a pleasure to be able to speak to his audience.
- Your tour was triumphant, after these long holidays are you ready to go home?
- Quite, the reservations are made, we go back in a fortnight.
- Do you already have projects?
- I am waiting for my lawyer to fix with the Paramount the final terms of the breach of my contract. I know that scenarios are waiting for me, I will see all this when I return.
Another journalist spoke
''During this trip to Europe, have you danced much, how much demonstration? Was the audience enthusiastic?''
Rudy looked at Natacha, who nodded. But what did all these paper-eaters believe? This trip represented their first vacation after seven weeks of touring in all states of America. It was their honeymoon and the opportunity for him to see his family again after ten years. No, they had not made shows, the dances had been reserved for his wife during private evenings, in love. But there was the career, he smiled and answered pleasantly.
''Some of them and all were successful.''
- You are a professional dancer of tango, you train a lot, I suppose, to keep your technique?
- You know dance is not a matter of technique, it's an emotion! The dancer must live the music. I prefer a less experienced partner but who will follow the rhythm by instinct. If the heart vibrates then the body will accompany it. My favorite dance is the waltz! Well the sensations are the strongest while waltzing. Elderly women like this dance a lot, they project their memories as a young girl. Then their soul expresses itself and it is a magical moment.
- But what about the tango?
- In waltzing, two souls tell a story together, tango, it is solitude. It is the nostalgia of the native country that we left. One wants to forget in the arms of the other. Then we get drunk with the lanking rhythm of music.
A silence hovered over the group for a few seconds.
''Mr. Valentino, Let's talking about women ! What is your feminine ideal?''
- My wife of course!'' Rudy sent a kiss from the tips of his fingers to his wife who blushed, she did not like these demonstrations of sentimentality even less in public.
''Woman is a chest in which man encloses what he has most precious. In my country, man is the master in the couple and woman is the mistress of the home. She reigns over the house and the family, she is sovereign. Her role is very important alongside her husband. It is my education, very old Europe, you represent a young nation, our ideals differ.''
- But is she submissive?
- Submissive? It is not submission, it is devotion, a gift of self to his family.
- Does your couple work like this?
- Rudy, the pitchers are empty, would you like to go to the office to order more, please!
- You see, gentlemen, how my wife is submissive!
All the presents laughed heartily as the young actor moved away inside the villa.
The interview was over, Rudy relaxed. It had not lasted too long in the end, Natacha had accompanied the journalists. The house regained its calm. The young man ran up the stairs, the afternoon was not over. The sun was still high and warm. He quickly put on a bathing suit and covered himself with a bathrobe. He walked down the stairs as fast as he could, ran to his car and started. The porter just had time to open the two large gates of the estate. A voice echoed in his back, half covered by the sound of the engine. Natacha called him and his voice became more and more acute as he moved away. '' Free, finally free '', with his messy hair, disheveled by the wind of speed, he headed for the nearest beach. As soon as he arrived, he undid his robe and ran over the pebbles. When he felt the water on his thighs, he plunged and began to swim. Energetic and efficient, he advanced quickly through the wavelets covered with foam. Suddenly alone, he stopped and stretched himself on his back. He was floating, his arms and legs stretched, his face facing the sky. His gaze was lost in the clouds. No noise, only in the distance the hubbub of the city reached him at times. His body was lightening, his mind diluted in the azurean blue. An inner peace invaded him and he closed his eyes to better taste the serenity of the moment. Then, as a spur, he began to move again. Abandoning the open sea, he returned to the earth and, when he arrived, stretched out on the beach, offering his body to the last rays of sunshine, filled with tranquility. He forgot time and space. His life was then summed up by the sounds of small waves crashing on the pebbles and the heat that dried his skin.
Long after, the sun descended towards the other hemisphere, and the darkness began to chase the light of day. He shuddered and felt the imperious invitation to return to the present. He opened his eyes and re-entered the life of Rudolph Valentino. Then leaving the beach, he said goodbye to Rodolfo, the wild and rash child he had been.
The inhabitants of the chateau des croutons were waiting for his return for dinner. Gathered in the salon, the conversations were going well, in a falsely relaxed atmosphere. Rudy managed to sneak into his room to change clothes. He enjoyed the stream of warm water from the shower which cleared him of salt crystals. Naked, the muscles loose, he inundated every inch of his skin with this sweet and beneficent water. After being dried, he perfumed, the effusions of tuberose floated in the room. His smocking was on the bed. He no longer had time to call a valet and he dressed himself. The reflection sent back by the mirror pleased him. Rudy was conscious that his face and body were his success. Since childhood, he charmed his entourage. This attraction seemed to him so natural that he could draw no vanity from it.
Then, suddenly, in America, the women had swooned before him. The press praised his physique. All this seemed so artificial in his eyes. He knew he was elegant but handsome, no. All the men of his native Italy could compare to him, he did not see the difference. What the American public loved in him, he thought, was summed up in one word: exoticism. He therefore maintained his body as a good craftsman his tools. He had the pride of well-done work but no personal arrogance.
As he went down the stairs, he arranged his wallet and corrected the position of his bow tie. When he opened the door of the drawing-room, all eyes were turned towards him. But he saw only ones, the furious ones of his wife. The butler announced almost at the same time "Madame is served." The quarrel will have to wait, he said to himself. In the depths of him, he was relieved, Rudy could not bear the marriage squabbles. He sacralised so much his love for Natacha that he abandoned in her name any spirit of repartee. One day, no doubt, he would no longer be able to endure all these little cowardice committed in loyalty to an ever more exacting wife.
The meal proceeded calmly, the guests entertained each other in banal and artificial conversations. Only Natacha remained silent. Her face closed, her back straight, her racy hands beat the measure on the tablecloth. Rudy carefully avoided looking at her. He nourished the discussions, sprinkling his words of his usual humor. He displayed futile and carefree behavior. Only a wise eye could have guessed his nervousness at the number of cigarettes smoked. As soon as the meal was over, he rose, apologized to his parents-in-law, and strode towards the terrace. He intended to disappear some time in the park. But on the slabs of the vestibule, suddenly the clacking of little heels resounded.
''Rudy, wait!''
A mask of annoyance appeared on the face of the young man and then he turned with a magnificent charming smile.
''Honey, come with me to the park, it's so sweet tonight.''
The couple advanced silently under the foliage, in the distance a dog barked.
''Where were you all afternoon?''
- With you of course, for the interview!
- Do not laugh, after the meeting with journalists.
- Oh after that, I went swimming. I needed to release the tension. You know I do not like this game with the press. You have to watch and control yourself. To be careful what one says or what one hides, all these simpers irritate me.
- Rudy, don't act like a child! Speaking to the press is essential for our work. It is the journalists who make and defeat the stars.
- It is a pity, only the talent and the opinion of the public should count.
- But the public is influenced by newspapers, let's see, he reads these magazines. And he's fond of knowing what you like or what you hate.
- But that's not interesting! I'm not interesting, only my movies are. Journalists should write about my films, not about me. While we were on tour, Paramount came out in theaters all my old movies, even those where I did not star. And the audience liked it, he went to the cinema to see them, that's important to me. Knowing if I prefer tango or waltz and how I love women, it's rubbish.
- To be a star, you have to be known and to be known, you need the support of the press.
- I'd rather be recognized!
- Do not be naive, Rudy, it's your name in the press that pays our bills!
The young man scowled, lit his umpteenth cigarette and smoked, suddenly mute. Natacha knew he was upset. Her husband of an actor did not like the spotlight outside the film sets.
''Let's go back ! It's getting late.''
- One last cigarette and I'll join you.
His wife gone, Rudy sat down under the gazebo. It was no longer the hour for the songs of birds, but the roses exhaled their most powerful perfume at the end of the night.
His eyes were lost in the starry sky, his wandering spirit led him to Paris in 1912. As everything was simple then, there were Louise and their little mornings in love. Their two closely entwined bodies warmed each other, and the future had the rosy color of dawn.

Chapter Text

Natasha was not sleeping, she was waiting for Rudy. A book was on her legs but she was not reading. "How could he be so thoughtless," she thought! She thought of her husband's career as her father-in-law thought the launch of his cosmetics: advertising campaign and press voices. To hang the barge, the product had to be chic, it had to be expensive, it had to be fashionable. Thanks to her genius, Rudy would be all that. But she could only succeed if her husband was malleable. She heard the door of her room open and close. He was going to appear there on the threshold of the communication door. But nothing happens, only the sound of the bathtub that fills up answered to silence. Natasha wondered, Rudy never sulked, displeased, he exploded in an eruptive anger that subsided very quickly. Why this attitude tonight? And if he did not come, what to do? She was motionless, watching for noises coming from the adjoining room. The water had stopped flowing, again the silence disturbed by the lapping of the water and she heard the light rubbing of the bare feet on the tiles. The minutes went by like molten steel on her chest. A dull anguish twisted her plexus, she was running out of patience. She got up, crossed her room and despite one last hesitation before the closed door, entered her husband's room.
Only a bedside lamp lit the room, Rudy was lying naked on the floor. Eyes closed, motionless, he breathed deeply. The vision of this languid body moved Natasha. Shadow and light played on his coppery skin in golden reflections, decoupling his musculature. His cock rested gushing out of a brown fleece. This self-abandonment troubled her. She felt in the depths of her belly a gentle warmth invade her. Her saliva became scarce, her throat was dry. The beatings of her heart drummed at her temples. How she dreaded these expressions of desire! Should she leave or stay, she could not think anymore. She was hypnotized by this body offered to her eyes. She approached with muffled steps, lay down beside him. Hesitating, she suddenly put her hand on the smooth chest of her husband, she felt under her palm a shiver run through his body. But he did not move or open his eyes. Natacha caressed his bust and she wanted to scratch his skin. Rudy showed no reaction. She let go of the bridle to her desire and began to lick his neck, feeling, under her lips, his chinstrap throbbing. Her tongue then brushed his nipples that pointed under this assault while his skin picketed of goosebumps. Natasha's mouth then explored his belly, his navel by tasting every square inch of it then ventured on his pubis. She heard a discreet moan as she grabs his cock in her palm. She began to masturbate slowly. With each coming and going, his cock grew, swelled, gorging on the pleasure that these movements gave him. Then a powerful hand rested on hers. She jumped, turned around and saw that he was watching her, his eyes flaming. She decided to step over her lover while he was bringing up the silk clothes on her thighs, exposing her to the waist. Vigorously, he grabbed her hips and guided her body to his lower abdomen. She suddenly felt his member hardened at the entrance of her sex. Little by little, he empaled her, slipped slowly between his hot and wet vaginal lips. His powerful hands on her hips gave rhythm. In turn, coming and going in rhythm, his erect penis dipped into her delicate flesh. Their two bodies tuned in rhythm quickly, she straddling him, him arching his back to penetrate the depths of her femininity. Sweat beaded on their forehead, ran in rills over their skin. In an unbridled search for pleasure, they accelerated the pace. He was panting, she was moaning. Then tightening his grip on her hips, he imposed his pace. His cock throbbed, the veins on his penis swelled. His lower abdomen became painful. In a supreme effort, he gave a few more thrusts before letting his pleasure spurt out, in a cry of pleasure. Natasha reached paroxysm shortly after, the pulsation of pleasure leading her to the limits of consciousness. She then uttered a long silent cry of ecstasy. Then she collapsed on her husband's body. Everyone was trying to catch their breath. Rudy gloated in his heart, he had brought his wife where he wanted. Opposing and ignoring Natacha had caused her such anxiety that she had initiated this relationship. The young man smiled as he stroked her long hair. He knew how to shake the certainties of his wife. He fell asleep with his head on her breasts. He began to dream, Natasha on the doorstep of their house saying goodbye with adorable chubby child in the arms.
Her smile no longer had that forced side he hated. It was natural, bright and he was happy.
In the morning, lying on the white sheets, in a state of half sleep, Rudy listened to the sounds of the house. The family was reunited on the terrace for breakfast, from time to time he perceived an isolated word in the hubbub of conversation. He reveled in the fact of having no professional obligation on this sunny day. He craved for sea, for walk and he sighed with pleasure stretching. Suddenly the bell of the portal tinkled, it was too early for a visit and the mail was distributed later in the morning. Intrigued, he sat in his bed, trying to catch what was said in the hall. A little cry of surprise then a step hurried up the stairs, his wife opened his door on the fly.
''We must go home!''
- What is going on ?
- It's a telegram from Williams, he's waiting for us at Cherbourg, to board the Leviathan, he apologizes for getting us back sooner but he says it's important!
If his lawyer begged him to meet him at Cherbourg, it was because he had news to communicate to him. An agreement with Paramount was perhaps about to conclude and then he could formalize the breach of his contract.
''When does the boat leave?''
- I do not know but we'll have to cut short our stay, oh Rudy! It may be the news that we are waiting for, you will be free, free to play with whoever you want, free to shoot the film you want!
- Honey, call the offices of the transatlantic company while I get dressed. Ask them the expected departure date for the boat, I'll meet you and we'll organize our return.
His ablutions finished, Rudy dressed in speed, tweed knockerbocker, gray sweater and immaculate shirt. He hurried down to the galley where he gave himself a cup of hot coffee. Natacha's voice echoed under the high ceilings. He joined her, impatient.
''On the 5th, we must be the 5th at Cherbourg, the boarding takes place at 18 hours!''
- Very well, we pack, we send the luggage today by train to Cherbourg and we join the city by car. We are leaving this afternoon, I am ready.
- How are you ready?
- Yeah, I'm rested, ready to get behind the wheel again.
Natacha paled, her hands trembled.
''No not You !''
- How is it not me?
- Rudy, I do not want to relive what I lived in Italy, I do not want you to drive, I will not stand it!
Rudy, thunderstruck, looked at his wife. His voice became harder and sharper and he almost screamed.
''Explain to me ?''
- I am scared ! She finally blurted out. ''I tremble with fear when you drive.''
- What !! I have been driving since I was 17 before I even came to America and you do not want me to drive because you ..... are scared by car !!
- I'm not afraid by car, I'm afraid when you drive.
- Sorry?
The young man's face was congested and turned scarlet.
''Porca miseria !! would you try to tell me that you're scared with me driving? That's why you wanted to go back instead of continuing our trip to Italy !!''
- You roll too fast and your sight is too bad, be reasonable, please!
- Basta cosi! Do what you want !!!
Dejected and furious, Rudy took refuge in the office, slamming the door. He had to smoke. At the first whiff, he managed to relax his muscles but his head was still boiling with anger. The first cigarette was used to light the second which lit the third. The young man was circling in mumbling in Italian so he expressed his resentment in his native language. He kicked into a saddle, which, overturning, threw the phone under a chair. The sight of this object lying on the ground gave him an idea: to call Louise. And this idea had the knack for calming him.
He picked up the receiver and gave the operator the phone number Louise had sent her. He hung up and waited for the call, feverish. The loud ringing of the device made him jump, he carried the receiver to his ear and heard the voice of the operator asking him to wait the time of the setting on line. A thunderous "allo" rattled his eardrum.
''Hello, is it the home Vernière?''
- Yes Thomas Vernière speaking!
- Ah, Thomas, it's Rudy, hello, I do not call too soon I hope? Can I talk to Louise?
- Rudy, he più bello, it did not take long, I see. Still in France?
- Yes on the Riviera.
- Louise told me your meeting, it's amazing after all this time! Who would have thought you would find each other on the side of a road.
- Yes fate plays funny tricks on us sometimes! But it was a happy twist of fate this time.
- And you talked about the past, good old memories?
- But of course, what's this about, Thomas?
- It's not good to digging up the past, Louise managed to find her balance, she's happy I'm afraid your return ...
- My return what!
- will upset everyone, Lou was out of whack when coming home, she flew into a rage. It's the first time !
- And why she flew into a rage?
- Uh, nothing, well... I do not know, trifles! Still, she was odious to me and I consider it your fault!
- Why would Louise cause a scene because of me? A scene such as she was odious? And I was at the center of this argument! Would you have talked about letters by chance?
Thomas bit his lip and cursed himself so much that his voice hit that high note.
''Letters ! Which letters?''
- The ones I wrote to Louise and she never received!
The voice this time quavering, Thomas replied.
- But what do you both have with these letters! I do not know anything about those damn letters, I've never seen letters, I do not know what they look like. Don't you think I would remember if I had seen letters written in green ink ?
Silence was at each end of the line.
''Pezzo di merda, stronzo, my quanto sei coglione, it is you who took the mails, admits pompinaro, it is you who destroyed our life, why! WHY !! You fucking moron !!''
- Calm down, honey, I ... I thought I did well, you went back to Italy and then Paul loved Louise.
- But I, too, loved her, cazzo, and your clumsy brother, he knew, did you plot that together?
- Paul did not know and he never knew anything about it. Rudy, we can not go back to the past, forget all this history, think about the present and the harm you are going to do to Louise.
- What harm? Explain yourself ?
Rudy was no longer in control, he screamed in the receiver. Thomas sighed on the phone.
''Easy, my big stud! do you understand nothing?''
- Speak quickly or I promise you that the next time I see you, I strangle you!
- Hola! said Thomas in a flute voice; you reappeared in her life, crowned with glory, handsome as a Greek god...
- Snap out of it ! What are you going to imagine in your little rat's head !!
- With that magnetic look and body still feline and so much more muscular, oh and this elegance, you think she will resist, my Apollo ?!
- She has resisted so far well, believe me, she is a strong woman. I only wish her friendship and so does she. Things are clear between us, stronzo. Know that I am married and that I love my wife. Do not interfere with that! Did you hear me!
- Oh yes, you big lug! Mumbled Thomas.
- Sorry ?
- I said I wish you good luck!
- You exhaust me, I would like to speak to Louise. Are you decided to pass her to me, yes or no ?
- I would rather exhaust you in an other way but well I'll get her! susurra Thomas
Silence came, seconds of an exceptional slowness passed. Then suddenly, a melodious voice echoed in the device.
''Louise Vernière, who is speaking?''
- Rudy, Louise, it's me Rudy!
- What a surprise ! Is it nice to call me, always on the coast?
- We leave tomorrow and I wanted to hear you.
The answer took a few seconds too long to not be embarrassed.
''Hear one last time a voice from the past!''
- No, a voice of the present, a voice I want to hear as often as possible. Whenever I am on the mainland and I come there often.
- This is what you want ?
- Yes if you want it too!
- Of course! I want it too, give birth to a beautiful friendship.
- I've found you again, I do not want to lose you anymore!
- Hum! You are leaving tomorrow, are you ready?
- Not at all, it's a hasty departure, we join our lawyer in Cherbourg and we will embark for New York. He sent a cable, it seems imperative that we find him on the 5th. He probably has information to communicate to me about the breach of my contract.
- You do not stop the cinema, do you?
The young man could not help laughing.
''Not at all, I change the producer that's all. How are you since our meeting?''
- Well I think ! It is true that seeing you again was a shock but hey it happened. The routine of life has got over it. I take care of Gabriel, I restore some rules that his dear uncle forgot... Oh and then I explained myself with Thomas, he was the person responsible for the letters.
- I know, he unintentionally revealed it to me a few minutes ago. I think I found my vocabulary of young thug, I insulted him properly.
- In French ?
- No in Italian!
- Oh then you must be really beside yourself!
They laughed together.
''With reason I believe!''
- Yes, but the case is closed now. Thomas thought he did well for Paul and me, and then I told you, it's old story. Let bygones be bygones.
- Cara, you have become such a sensual woman. Where did my little skinny cat go?
- Motherhood sculpts women's bodies, you know!
A silence. Rudy thought of Natasha, may motherhood soften her body and her heart.
''How I would like to be a father!''
- That will come, trust in life. You are newlyweds after all!
The young man's thoughts twirled.
''Have you thought of me, Louise? Of our meeting?''
His voice had become hoarse, unsettling. Louise did not like the turn of their conversation, but the words in that warm voice hit her in the heart.
''It was indeed an unusual meeting. We talked a lot with Monica. You see, we thought of you!''
- And without Monica?
- Without Monica?
- Did you think about me ? Did I change for better or for worse? Am I as in your memories? Have you been disappointed?
- What are these all about? You changed of course, I remembered a boy a little lanky and I find a young athletic and confident man.
- You are disappointed ?
- So, I'll be the only woman in the world to be disappointed by Rudolph Valentino!
- I do not care about Rudolph Valentino. Did I, Rodolfo, disappoint you?
The tone of the young man showed his apprehension.
''No, I found my Rodolfo, with a little more gravity in the look but with the same fire in him. I found his kindness and his wonderful sensitivity.''
- Thank you, cara, I'm so afraid of losing myself in this illusionist world. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in representation 24 hours a day.
- Who hurt you, Rudy?
- Life ! Be my sister, my friend, my confidante, do you want?
- I will always tell you the truth, my friend, the one you fear and the one you hope for. Are you reassured?
- Yes I am ! I must abandon you. I have lots of things to prepare. Do not forget you promised to write to me.
- And you, to answer me! I kiss you, my dear, dear friend!
- Louise, I'm very happy to have found you, I kiss you.

Chapter Text

They hung up at the same time. Rudy felt light, soothed, ready to face all the inconveniences of this departure. And there were many in this day of madness.
Maison Voisin could not put a driver at their disposal until the next day. In the absence of a direct line, their many pieces of luggage left for Paris and were then rerouted to Cherbourg. Getting the tickets for the sea journey proved to be a real Way of the Cross. The company had sold everything whether it was first or second class. Rudy did not admit defeat, using his charm, he got the list of passengers. A name caught his attention, Mr. and Mrs. Astor, Bob and Elvina Astor. Rudy had received an invitation for their marriage which he had declined being in Europe on that date. He thought the young couple had to come home from their honeymoon. An idea popped into his mind, he called back the operator and asked for the Ritz in Paris. It was the favorite palace of Americans on a spree on the old continent. He was right, the concierge confirmed their presence and handed him the newlyweds' room. A female voice answered him.
''Elvina? Hello it's Rudolph Valentino.''
- Rudy! What a surprise! I should scold you, naughty you are, you did not come to my wedding. I could not dance the tango because of you!
- I'm sorry, Elvina, but I was not in America at that time.
- I know, all the newspapers talk about your trip to Europe, so I forgive you, a little!
A crystalline laugh sounded in the earpiece. Rudy was getting impatient.
''Elvina, my dear, you can save me. I must imperatively find my lawyer on the Leviathan on the 5th at Cherbourg. Unfortunately there is no more ticket to sell but I learned that you were on the passenger list. We even have tickets for crossing the 10th, would you agree to exchange your tickets?
- Rudy, 5 more days in Paris but it's wonderful. Stay online, dear, I run to talk to Bob!
While waiting for the answer, he lit a cigarette and pulled nervously on it. With each puff, two ribbons of thick smoke escaped from his nostrils. He crushed his second cigarette when the device sizzled. A male voice, this time resumed the conversation.
''Rudy, what a pleasure to talk to you! Elvina told me everything, everything is arranged, I called the company, your tickets will be waiting for you to board. They have already made the transfer, you will leave your current tickets to the office by leaving.
- Bob, you've bailed me out.
- So, will it work out with Paramount? Did you make good old grouchy Zukor yield? They were beneath contempt in this case, the way they treated you is unjustifiable!
- Thank you, Bob, but I know almost nothing, only that I have to join my lawyer on the Leviathan on the 5th.
- My dear Rudolph, I will be at the premiere of your next film with pleasure but you must be in a hurry. Pay my respects to your lovely wife, we'll see you in New York.
- I certainly will, Robert, thanks again for this exchange of tickets.
'That's it', thought Rudy hanging up, 'we have solved the biggest problem.' He found Natasha in the rooms, busy with a maid arranging the last things. There were clothes everywhere, some spread out on the bed, others rolled into a ball, left on the carpet. The show that was offered to him highlighted the excitement and nervousness of his wife. Thus, she was not of marble and could also manifest some very human weaknesses.
''Everything is arranged, darling, we have tickets for the 5th. I convinced the Astor to stay a few days longer in Paris, they give us their tickets and will return with ours.''
His wife sighed with relief and feeling her legs give way under her, quickly sat down on the bed.
''You are all pale, honey, you know that I can be obstinate when I have to, you doubted me?''
- I do not know, I could not think anymore. I do not like the unexpected, you know, I feel safe only if I control things.
- Life is not controlled, honey, it is lived with all its risks. That's what's stimulating. Trust me to tame the unexpected, I am the master of improvisation!
And with that, he improvised in the room a delicious step of minuet.
''The driver arrives when?''
- Tomorrow, at the earliest, he took the train in Paris and is on his way to join us.
- Let's finish the bags, they must leave quickly if we want to find them in Cherbourg.
They was packing their belongings each on their own, the luggage was piling up. They had taken advantage of this trip to Europe to go on a shopping spree, Rudy in London at the best tailors, Natacha in Paris. She had attended many fashion shows and frequented the salons of Paul Poiret or Jeanne Lanvin.
She had covered her body with the latest novelties of French fashion and her man, who could'nt say no to her, had fulfilled all her desires. This now resulted in a dozen extra suitcases and as many hatboxes. This return was more and more like a real move. The evening advanced, the atmosphere that reigned in the Chateau des Croutons was exalted and electric. The dinner conversations were cut short, the two travelers wishing to retire early. Everyone joined his room hoping to sleep to recover before the test of tomorrow. Sleep was fleeing Rudy, after turning and turning in his bed, he got up and went to look at the garden lit by a generous full moon. Some ghostly shadows loomed on the lawn at the feet of tall trees. He lit a cigarette and stood motionless in contemplating the shadowy spectacle the park offered him. Soon the butts filled the ashtray, he had exhausted his cigarette case and looked in the drawer of the office of his room for a saving package. The hours were fading into a cloud of gray, light smoke. He would have a hoarse voice tomorrow, vocal cords irritated by tobacco. He saw the dawn break when sleep took him. He lay down knowing that in a short time he would have to get up.
It was the sound of the engine of his car that woke him up, someone was throwing the cylinders by pressing the accelerator. Rudy was ready in record time, he passed into the room of his wife who was still sleeping.
''Nat, the driver is here. Get ready, we will not be long in leaving.''
His wife emerged from a heavy, deep sleep but she got the message and got up quickly. The young man tumbled down the stairs and the few steps of the stoop. The gravel crunching under his feet warns the driver of his presence.
''Hello Sir, my name is Marcel, the house Voisin sent me to drive you.''
- We were waiting for you, when can we leave?
- I checked the fuel levels and looked at the engine, the mechanics are ready. We'll leave whenever you want, sir.
- Well then as soon as possible, we must be in Cherbourg on the 5th for embarkation.
- I will do my best, sir.
Then began the charivari of departure, it was necessary to tie the luggage containing the necessary for the next few days. Kabar, sensing that an unusual event was happening, was jumping around his master, yelling happily. The sharp voice of Natasha burst inside the villa in reproaches and reprimands. It was a hubbub of various sounds and dissonant cries. The preparations finally came to an end. Rudy put on his trench and donned a cap. Natasha appeared dressed in black, and a veil of the same color protected her face. The farewells were precipitated and we promised ourselves to spend the holidays at the end of the year together. The young couple settled in the back, Kabar between them with his head on his master's lap. The engine snored, the driver smoothly maneuvered the powerful vehicle that entered the castle path.
Start of the challenge, be the 5 to Cherbourg to take the boat.
They put 22 hours to reach their goal, almost a record. Marcel, their driver was exhausted. Despite Natacha's protests, Rudy had relayed him at the first signs of fatigue. Marcel could have fallen asleep while Rudy pressed the accelerator. A deep anguish inhabited him, what did this convocation mean? What was happening ? It must be said that he, the little Italian actor had dared, he had challenged a Major of Hollywood, with his courage and tenacity or unconsciousness.
Since the judgment forbidding him the scene, he had received thousands of letters from his audience, all asking him why he had stopped making films and when he would resume shooting.
The studio had organized several press campaigns against him and the newspapers had laid on this story articles that were mostly unfair and ridiculous. Under the heel of the industrialists of the cinema, they had presented him as a capricious being and greedy for money. What had hurt him.
It was the public who made him and not the studios and it was for him that he was fighting, not for the money. When he had played Julio in the Four horsemen of the apocalypse, no one at Paramount expected him to become a star. And he did not expect such a thing at the time. But the success was at the rendezvous, after that everything was just so quick, too quick maybe. Paramount had offered him a contract, he was grateful to them. He had never worked under contract. He believed them, when they told him not to read the details, that everything would be arranged as he wished, he had signed without hesitation. He realized very quickly that he had become the property of the studio. He had the obligation to shoot only in Paramount's films and if financially, the studio found his advantage, he was lent to another firm, the time of a shoot. Prohibited from refusing, even if the film was bad, many times, he had thought that he had been forced to shoot these films without substance to give them interest, just because the public liked him.
He often repeated that "If he had been a painter, he could have chosen his own colors, musician, he could have played his own melodies. But he was only an actor and the studios did not allow him to choose his tools to exercise his art. He depended entirely on his producers. When he had opposed them, the Paramount leaders had thought of a question of money and proposed to increase it. He would have accepted their number if at the same time they had allowed him to make original films. But they continued to offer him cookie-cut scenarios, which could be copied, cut and re-edited to fit any movie.
"No, I'm not capricious," he whispered.
In fact, he had a deep respect for the art that was called seventh, a huge recognition for the public and a crushing and almost terrifying feeling that it was his responsibility to continue to appear in good movies to continue to deserve the love of the public.
When he had seen The young rajah, the last movie in which he had appeared, he had felt that he had made ''le film de trop''. He had been very disappointed and had fallen ill. Three or four such films would have killed him. The audience would have said, "We thought Valentino was awesome, he's not that good.'' A sudden, deep depression had taken hold of him.
He distanced himself from the studios and when they had offered him $ 7,000 a week if he returned to shoot their productions in series, he refused. Then he hesitated, if the studios allowed the scriptwriters and directors he trusted to have a right to watch his films or realize them in full, he would return to work. He gave them names of personalities recognized in the profession but all his proposals were rejected. The break was consumed. He tried to explain to the press that:
 "He had not claimed for money, he had left Hollywood well before getting used to it, no, he had claimed to be able to make creative films. He did not want to be a gear in a quality grinding machine to make profit. For him, art could not be measured in dollars and if the big studios came up with film productions, all of the same length and all having to work the same number of minutes and all supposed to be approximately the same, some could not to be as good as others. "
Since he had often doubted but if he had continued as before, he could not have been faithful to himself or to the public.
And it was a year since he was on the index of studios and the world of cinema, his world, his family.
He had been dragged to justice, tried and convicted, treated like the last of the last by obtuse financiers who only liked in the cinema the money he could bring back to them. He had begun to understand after The Sheik. He smiled, in fact he had the deepest contempt for this movie that had yet consecrated him star of the screen. This role of jester had hoisted him to the top of the ranking of actors, what irony! But it had opened many doors for him.
Then he could play with famous actresses, Dorothy in Moran and especially Gloria. What a dream ! Hold Gloria Swanson in his arms, see his name almost as big as hers on the poster! What a shoot! He fondly remembered their ride on the Hollywood Hills, their connivance, their discussions! Both of them spoke of their worries, often sentimental. Gloria was the first to gather his confidences on his liaison with Natasha. And above all, he took more and more fun to play and his acting improved, it was more fluid and more nuanced.
Night would fall quickly now, the sky was overcast and the air laden with rain. They were not very far from Cherbourg, Rudy tired in turn. He stopped the car on the side, a path started from there.
Everyone can stretch out, he thought, men and animals.
Kabar and Natacha's Pekingese took advantage of it, excited by the weather and the fresh grass. A chase ensued punctuated by joyful yapping. The young woman remained inside the vehicle, her dark eyes glaring at her husband through her veil. Thus, he had taken the wheel despite her disagreement, he behaved like a child braving her authority knowing how much it made her angry. He felt that reproachful look on him, and a sketch of a smile came to his lips. With a sweeping gesture, he opened the back door and slid to her side with the sulky look of the children caught at fault.
''Love do not glare at me with those black eyes! I am at fault but I have excuses.''
- Oh yes, which ones?
- Our driver was tired, we drove for more than 10 hours, he wouln't have been able to continue without taking a break and I'm too anxious about our appointment to take a break that may make us miss the boat.
Rudy looked at Natacha a hint of mockery in his eyes.
''And then you slept so well, I was sure you would not realize it! Not seen, not taken as my mother would have said.''
- How do you want me to trust you if you take advantage of my weaknesses to only have your own way!
- You were scared ?
- No but,...
He put a finger on his wife's lips.
''The discussion is over, darling, you were not afraid and we will soon be at the port to take the boat, that's the main thing.''
- You are a little scamp.
- I know and it's not new, but you love this naughty boy?
- I do not know, we'll talk about it again .....
- You're right, we have to leave, reassure you Marcel will drive. I'll be there very close to you to protect you from the jolts of the road.
Rudy placed a tender kiss on his wife's cheek but failed to snatch a smile from her. He called their driver and hissed the dogs. The little convoy could move on.
"The last kilometers," thought the anxious young man, his forehead barred by two small wrinkles.

Chapter Text

The storm suddenly burst, drowning them under torrents of water. Marcel's driving skills allowed not to slow down the pace. They finally saw the lights of the city, filtered by a dense curtain of rain. They stopped in front of the offices of the transatlantic company. As he got out of the car, Rudy did not see the Leviathan at the dock. His heart started racing, was it too late?
Running, he reached the reception reserved for the travelers and questioned the clerk. The embarkation of the passengers was finished but the boat was still there for the loading of the luggage and the mail.
'Well there is still a chance!' Rudy thought, 'we can get on board with the luggage, it may be hazardous but feasible.'
But an unpleasant surprise awaited our two travelers, no trace of their suitcases at the headquarters of the company. The employee checked, no trunk or suitcase in their name had been delivered. The man suggested that they may still be on deposit at the station. Rudy cursed between his teeth, there's no time to lose, they had to retrieve their belongings. Having inquired about the road leading to the station,, he led his little troop, Marcel and Natacha, into the night. The rain squalls slapped their faces making their movement difficult. Finally they arrived at the main square in front of the station. The lights off did not announce anything good. Everything was asleep. Rudy searched and finally found a bell on which he pressed mercilessly for several seconds. Swearings and insults came to his ear accompanied by a sound of a flap that was brutally opened.
''Are tou out of mind, waking people at this time ! There are honest people sleeping here, sir!''
- Excuse me, sir, but there is urgency. We have to take the Leviathan and our trunks have not been delivered to the counter of the company. Are they here and can we dispose of them ?
- Where are these trunks coming from and what's the name?
- From Paris on behalf of Guglielmi Valentino Rudolph.
- Yeah they are there in the deposit, wait I come to open you.
The stationmaster was a long time coming, no doubt Rudy had woken him up and he had to put his railway uniform on his pajamas. With a stink eye and shaggy hair, he accompanied them in front of the heap of trunks, chests and suitcases that awaited them.
''They will never get into the car'', Natacha suddenly discouraged.
- Monsieur le chef de gare*, do you have a cart to lend us, Marcel here will bring it back tomorrow.
- Okay, I agree for a day! Huh! No more
Rudy realized, given the railway employee's attitude, that he would not help them load the luggage. So they made three come and go between the order and the cart, Natacha was given the lightest packages, the two men reserving the heavier.
They soon made their way through the streets of Cherbourg to reach the port, the men pushing the heavily loaded cart with effort. The sky, mild, calmed the rain. No longer having to fight the downpour, they could move more easily, allowing them to reach the docks faster. But there, new disappointment, no more dinghy for loading baggage.
The young man's mind worked at full speed to find a solution, he could see the massive silhouette of the liner anchored in the harbor. What the company employee had told him ? That after the baggage, they were shipping the mail and if Rudy saw well, there was still a motor boat attached to the flanks of Leviathan. It was their last chance to board, he thought, with the mail, but for that it was necessary to get closer to the shadow that he guessed by the side of the liner.
He ran from one end of the wharf to the other and found a sailor berthing with a motorized boat. He rushed forward and proposed to the captain to rent his boat a good price if he could approach them from the post-boat in the middle of the harbor there. The price was agreed, Rudy did not bargain. The trunks were shipped, suitcases, cardboard hats and jewelry box that made up all their luggage. Two men in uniform, intrigued by all this commotion, invited themselves to their adventure.
''M'sieur dame* ! French customs! What are you doing here!''
- Gentlemen, we missed the boarding of Leviathan, and we must take this boat, I rented this dinghy to join the ship and get on board.
- So you are in a hurry? And where do you want to go?
- We are going home to the United States.
- Ah! American !
- Not me but my wife yes.
- Papers and tickets please?
The couple handed over their passports to the customs officers.
''Okay so Guglielmi alias Valentino Rodolfo. What's your name in all this ?''
- Rodolfo Guglielmi, Valentino is my stage name.
- Ah, and Mrs. Winnifred de Wolf Hudnut, married Guglielmi, where are you from?
- From Nice. Replied Natasha.
- Listen, gentlemen, we are in a hurry, if you want to see our trunks, they are on the boat at your disposal.
- In a hurry to leave France, as I see. We will check your identities. Alfred, watch them, I'm going to call the company's offices.
- Yes sir !
A few precious minutes passed, Rudy was all over the place, he wanted to scream. But he restrained himself, it was useless to want to discuss with a customs officer. This one finally came back and handed them their passports.
''Sorry M'sieur dame*! but somebody stole 2 precious tapestries from Versailles so we watch all the suspicious movements.''
- And our attitude seemed suspicious, I understand very well, gentlemen but we must try to join our boat if we want to have a chance to embark.
- Well you can go, but be careful the sea is rough tonight.
Rudy got down into the boat and reached out to Natacha to help her down. Once installed, the young man went to the front of the small motorboat. They had only gone a few meters, a magnificent flash of lightning flashed through Cherbourg's ink sky. The thunder sounded shortly afterwards and the nightmare began.
The rain fell more and more, the sky and the sea merged into a cold and hostile steelmelt. The little canoe, overloaded, advanced valiantly, fighting against the waves that shook him without mercy. They arrived near the boat of the post office. When he saw them, the sailor connecting with the steamer shouted, waving his arms.
''You are crazy, go! Go! You can not approach!''
- Sir, we must take this boat, let us get on board!
- Go away ! God, you're going to sink us both !!
The boat had managed to bend to the mail boat, the waves crashing against their hulls, printing on both boats a dangerous roll. They were suddenly isolated, it seemed to them to cross a black tunnel of water. In its anger, the sea mingled his salt with the downpours coming from the sky. The baggage, doubtless badly stowed, was suddenly catapulted against the flanks of the boat and against its occupants. For the first time, Rudy understood the temerity of his approach. He knew the sea well and knew that it was not something to be challenged without danger. Under the whip of a new wave, their boat began to pitch in a disturbing manner. The young man lost his balance, his body was partly thrown out of the boat. Was he going to end his life drowned or crushed between two hulls of ships? With a prodigious stroke of kidney, he manages to restore his balance on the deck. It was at this moment that he saw several suitcases fall into the water and then Natacha's jewelery box slowly sliding towards the liquid abyss. He caught it over the waves but this rescue had caused a new imbalance. Rudy felt snapped up by the swirling salt water. In a desperate gesture, he threw the box on the deck of the mail boat and his two arms free again, he clung to ropes. He was barely breathing again, kneeling on the deck when a grim noise came from the hatch of their boat where the engine was. The captain of the boat came out and howled in the storm.
''The engine is shutting down ! it's too dangerous, sir, I'm going back!''
- No no !! we must try again!
A hand rested on his arm, raising his eyes, he saw Natacha soaked and trembling with cold. Her hair was hanging in loose wicks and wet like seaweed on her face. The protective veil had long since disappeared and her makeup was flowing, drawing black tears on her cheeks. He lowered his eyes, he had to admit his failure. In a white voice, he screamed in his turn.
''Okay, we come back!''
They broke away from the mail boat and made their way to the wharves. Rudy, sitting on the floor, ruminating over his defeat. All the elements were leagued against him but what would happen to his career after this missed appointment ? Tears of rage muddled his eyes, camouflaged by all the water dripping from his hair. A shiver ran through him and he realized then that he did not have a single dry suit on him anymore. The return was hectic, the waves took them sideways, the boat pitched, rolled, causing the incessant fall of the luggage that they were trying to protect. The boat arrived somehow at its destination. The three of them were exhausted, but the luggage had to be put back on the pavement. The rain made the ground slippery and they nearly fell several times. The boat returned to the shipyard to examine the damage to the machinery. Rudy and Natacha were alone, face to face, soggy and chilled with cold. The young woman's teeth chattered. The young man saw a few yards away, the dim lights of a little cafe still open at this late hour. He took his wife by the arm and led him to the small establishment. Inside it was hot, some old insomniac sailors were drinking a glass of wine playing dominoes. Their entry did not disturb their game, since Cherbourg served as home port for the steamers that crossed the Atlantic, they had seen many of these fanciful tourists. And it was not this young couple soaked like a soup that would upset their habits. Rudy ordered two coffees and two cognacs. A place remained free next to the stove, they took place and curled up against each other. To reassure themself but also to exchange the little human heat that remained in them. They slowly drink their coffee, the hot cup in the palm of the hands. Calm returned to them. They swallowed their brandy dry, and the heat of the alcohol spread through their tired bodies. They had not exchanged a single word, their eyes spoke for them. They recounted all the sadness and destitution in which they were. Hours passed by the fire, silent, everyone lost in thought but hands tied to each other.
''M'sieur dame*, I'm going to close.'' Said the coffee boss.
- Yes of course, we leave, can you indicate us a correct hotel please, my wife and I need to rest.
- There is the casino hotel but it is full at this time! There's an official who comes to visit us! Un amerloque, a general, the one of the war, you see?
- Pershing?
- Yes that's it. Well after that, the Hotel de France is well run. For the place do not know. Must go there to see.
- Thank you ma'am, where is the Hotel de France?
- You walk along the docks, at the end on the left then straight, not far from the boats' offices.
- Very good I see, do you know how we can do for our luggage?
- You have to put them at the customs, there's nothing else to do, go, I will stay with your lady, elle tremble tout ce qu'elle peut, the poor thing. You ask Alfred, it's my nephew, you tell him that you come from the boss of the cafe of the port. He will help you, he's a good boy.
Rudy went to the customs and found the relative of the coffee boss. The customs officers had a handcart, Alfred put it at the disposal of the young man and helped him to transport his trunks, suitcases and others in the warehouse of the official building.
''You can pick them up tomorrow, no problem, I'm off duty but I have to do here.''
- That way, you can control them!
- Ah ! it was you just now? So you did not have your boat?
- No it failed, I missed my appointment.
- It was important?
- I think, it was my lawyer who gave it to me and according to him it was imperative that I board the Leviathan at Cherbourg on the 5th.
- Listen, the transatlantic does not leave until early morning and before the anchors heave, the customs must go one last time on board. Come tomorrow at 7 o'clock, I will arrange to be there, you will board our boat and we will transfer you to the steamer.
- You would do that ?! How to thank you?
- Well, Mr. Valentino, if you do not mind, maybe you could sign me an autograph.
Rudy, a second stunned, burst out laughing.
''So you recognized me earlier?''
- I like to go to the cinema with my girlfriend and must say we like your movies. But the chef is not the same, he prefers the music hall. He did not know you.
- Alfred, you may be saving my career, you will have all the autographs you want. We will be there tomorrow morning at 7 am, thank you again!
And the young man grabbed Alfred's hands for an enthusiastic handshake. Alfred blushed to the roots of his hair.
They finally arrived at the Hotel de France, the clothes dripping and the shoes muddy. Only a few lamps illuminated the entrance hall, at the reception, a young doorman dozing. Hearing some noise, he straightened up and smiled at these two funny travelers.
''Alas, sir, I have no room left for this night. Tomorrow we have many departures, I can book you a suite if you want.''
- Too bad for the room, do you have a lounge where we could rest ? We still have a chance to board but we have to be at the customs at seven.
- Yes of course, the green lounge is open all night, you will find armchairs and couches.
Rudy and Natacha settled for a short night. They took off their wet coats up to the weft, their heads heavy. Soon he was comfortably seated in an armchair and she was lying on a sofa and they could no longer resist the numbness that was invading them. Their crumpled muscles relaxed and they both plunged into a semblance of well-being after the harrowing events of the night. Their sleep was so deep that neither the daylight flooding the salon nor the sounds of the waking establishment could disturb them. A voice, however, suddenly pierced the veil.
''Sir Sir ! The boat is gone! SIR!''
It was like an electroshock, Rudy looked alternately at Alfred and the shy autumn sun that was shining through the bay window.
''Alfred, we missed boarding?''
- Yes sir, we waited for you, I even managed to delay my colleagues. But after that it was too late.
- But I do not understand, I programmed my alarm clock that night to not miss the start!
But as he examined the pocket clock, he understood. He had simply forgotten to postpone the object to the French time, the time difference with the United States had done the rest. He swore in Italian but the last resort had failed. He would not be on the ship, his lawyer had waited for him in vain.
He got up, heavy with all these emotions, opened his briefcase and wrote a pretty dedication on one of his photos. Alfred left, delighted. All they had left to do was rent a suite, to finally rest and buy tickets for the next departure. They settled soon, they had at their disposal two bedrooms, a living room, two bathrooms. Rudy had showered and shaved. What the audience never saw on the screen was that thick, black hair that was quickly filling his cheeks during the day. On filming, he had to shave several times a day to have that impeccable appearance that was one of the canons of the time. The makeup also helped to give him that hairless teenager side. In several films, he had been able to impose his unshaven face and what he had seen had pleased him. There he had found the corsair, the pirate or the adventurer of his childhood. Meanwhile, Natasha was relaxing in a scented bath, abandoning her body to the heat of the water. Her long hair floated gently over her surface, covering her with a cloak of modesty. He keeps going in a circle in his room, the cigarettes succeeding each other too quickly. He used the one that was burning to light the next. Thoughts jostled in his head, black thoughts or pink ideas, his brain was boiling.
''Honey, I'm going down to have coffee and see if the hotel concierge could change our tickets.'' Inarticulate sounds answered him, he grabbed his jacket and went down to the reception.
''Everything is in order, sir, the company has made the necessary, you embark tomorrow for London and from there you will take another boat to New York. We have collected your luggage at the customs, they are stored in our luggage room.
- Thank you, I will settle in the living room, could I have a coffee?
- Of course, sir, we bring it to you.
He sat down in a deep, comfortable leather chair. A cigarette and a black coffee finally managed to relax him. He began to observe what was around him. The travelers were few in this salon. Some men, obviously in business, smoked cigars while reading the newspapers. A mother and her daughter, in a corner, were drinking tea accompanied by a few sweets. They chatted in a low voice and the quick glances they gave him, made him understand that they had probably recognized him. He greeted them with a charming smile and a warm nod. The girl immediately flushed and the mother graciously saluted the young man. This was all said without words: "Are you ...?", "Yes, I am ...! I am honored, ladies," "We are charmed, gentleman ....". The two elegant girls continued their conciliabule above the teapot. He smiles sadly. Anonymous, incognito were words he did not know anymore. He sometimes dreamed of a piece of land, of a comfortable house, a young woman coming out a child in her arms and smiled at him. They were alone in cultivating their happiness of being together, of being two, and of giving birth to an adorable little love that resembled them. But he had chosen a completely different path, that of glory, and he was paying the price. How he had tasted it, at the beginning of his career, it intoxicated him like a strong alcohol. To see his image on a giant screen in a dark room, what enjoyment! The delirious crowds who shouted his name, it transcended him. Then he liked this job and he worked hard to improve himself, to give life to all the characters he embodied. So that the public wants to live the life of these heroes, which it identifies, and forgets its daily worries. He saw himself as an Alexandre Dumas or a Honoré de Balzac of modern times. He did not write, certainly, but he continued to tell stories made to dream. But they had been able to live their lives as they pleased, no searchlights, no existence becoming public record. A vague feeling of sadness invaded him. He crushed his cigarette and returned to the reception. He asked the concierge for a phone number in Paris. When communication was established, he rushed.
''Hello Louise?''
- No sir, it's the housekeeper, if you want to wait, I'll call madame.
- Yes, hello, Louise Vernière, who is speaking?
- Rodolfo.
- You're not gone?
- Not yet, I missed the boat, we arrived too late but we leave France tomorrow.
- I'm sorry for this setback but I'm sure it will not matter. You are a conquistador, a pirate, do not forget, you can not lose !!
- You remember it ?
- Of course, see, why should I have forgotten? Your voice is sad, my friend, what is it?
- Nothing, a bad night, that's all! Tell me about yourself, did you start your job?
- Yes, finally I made contact but ....
- But what.....
- I'll have a very small section, and not interesting. I wanted to make political articles, polemics even but the post is already filled. I write about savoir-vivre and good manners, it's boring as possible.
- It's quite you, le savoir-vivre*, me who knew you anti-conformist. They have chosen well, you will learn as much as your readers.
- You're making fun of me, it's not very generous!
- It's true, sorry, but I prefer Mademoiselle* rebel to Madame* good manners!
- I too, figure you, so I resigned, I have no work anymore. Monica and I want to open a bookstore as in Italy. We think about it seriously.
- Go on, believe in yourself, you are so strong.
- Strong ? I do not know, many sad events broke down my beautiful optimism, it's hard to become an adult.
- Yes, I often felt that. Want to make your voice heard despite everything. Wondering what will remain of us when we are no longer there.
- Your films, cinema is a bit of eternity, no?
- Not really, there are a lot of films that fall into oblivion, that disappear and a lot of actors we do not hear about anymore.
- That scares you, Rodolfo?
- I think so. Do not leave traces, memories, be absorbed by nothingness.
- But there are your friends, your family.
- In Hollywood, friendships can be artificial and my family is far away.
- Your wife...
- Who do you think will perpetuate your memory, Louise?
- My son, of course. He's my flesh, my life. Our bond is very strong, I am both his father and his mother. I love him so much that he captures all this love. And then when the time comes, I might be grandmother and my grandchildren will remember me because I would have made them a lot of cakes. But you too, you'll see, one day you'll be a father then grandfather with lots of little Guglielmi who will do a lot of nonsense as you told me! Green figs eater!
- What a memory! It's so good to talk to you, you're not dazzled by Valentino. If you knew how relaxing it is!
- But your wife ...
- She knows the actor, she married Rudolph Valentino and intends to manage the career of Rudolph Valentino. She does not know the history of green figs and I do not know if it would really interest her. She does not ask me about my past, only my future is important to her.
- You are way too harsh with her and with yourself. I do not like when you doubt, I have never loved this melancholy that sometimes invades you. I felt you were so far from me then, you did not see me anymore. I think that in those moments, I would have done anything to bring you back to my planet. Come back with us, Rodolfo, happiness is around us. You have to open your eyes and your heart to pick it. Look around you, I'm sure you'll find it.
- Oh my little sage! How many times have we had this conversation? A fear engulfs me at times, that of not realizing all my dreams as if time were running out.
- Trust in life, my lov..., my friend, let it guide you. Hey, do you know I saw one of your movies?
- Which ?
- The four horsemen of the apocalypse, the film was rebroadcast in Paris on the boulevards. Do not make fun, but I cried that you too could have died during this terrible war! You two gone, I would not have supported it.
- I volunteered, you know, but they did not want me!
- Let me guess ! Too bad eyesight, I bet. You would not have made the difference between friends and enemies. Or you should have been sent to Germany as a secret weapon.
- Very funny !! Madame* ironises! But you guessed well. I never reached the target in shooting tests. I insisted, for honor, for my officer of a father, but they reformed me.
- You know, there was no honor in doing this war! Pus, wounded, mutilated bodies, soldiers abandoned on the battlefield. Shrapnel and cholera decimated all armies. You love life too much, Rodolfo, there was only death for any companion over there. Being an actor, you work for the living, so that they forget and re-learn to live. It's your role and it's important too.
- You think ?
- Yes I believe it with all my heart!
Silence settled on the line. Rudy put his head on the chair's leather and closed his eyes. At the other end of the line he listened to Louise's calm, serene breathing. How many times had he listened to this breathing in the heart of the nights they had shared. And as then, a deep sense of peace invades him.
''You're still here ?'' Worried the young woman.
- Yes, I am here. Give me a promise!
- Which ?
- Above all do not go to see The sheik! all the others but not this one!
He heard Louise's crystalline laugh ring out.
''Too bad, Monica wanted to take me to see it, but I'll choose another I promise!''
- I'll come back, Louise.
- Of course, if your job is calling you in France.
- No, I'll be back on December. Will you be there for me?
- We can see each other if you are not too busy!
- No Louise, you do not understand. I'll be back in December in Paris and I want to see you again!
No answer, the silence this time carried a wave of tension. An irrational tremor waved Louise's hand on the handset. That voice so hot and that little crack in the tone brought her 10 years back. But time passed and convention demanded an answer.
''Well, okay! We can have lunch together but it is still a bit far. We will talk about it again together. I have to leave you, I go get my son, we have errands to run.''
- Your son ! How strange to hear you talk like that!
- I really have to go. Pay attention to yourself, my sweet friend. There are plenty of people here who think of you, do not forget them.
- I never forgot you. Come on, Mom, take care of your son ! We will meet again soon ! If there is an emergency, do not hesitate to send me a cable. I kiss you !
- Me too ! Goodbye, Rodolfo!
The young man did not hang up immediately and the interrupted ringing sounded in his ear. He got up and went to find Natacha.
The night soothed all tensions. It was impossible to go back to the past, Rodolfo simply hoped that this unfortunate adventure would not have serious consequences in the negotiations that were taking place across the Atlantic between the studios and his lawyers.
Early the next day he was out with Kabar for a long walk in a cool, clear morning that announced a sunny day. He inhaled the sea air watered with spray and felt all his vitality come back after the depression of the day before. Everything had not gone so badly, since the postman to whom the young man had thrown Natacha's jewelery box over the waves had very obligingly brought it back to the hotel. Finally, the sky was bright, the sea calm and a big smile lighted Rudy's face. On returning to the hotel, he met the two tea lovers of the day before. The mother and the daughter, he supposed, and he took off his hat gallantly by letting them pass. He was thanked for it by two big smiles to which the blinking of the eyelashes suddenly took off their innocent look.
''Ladies!''
- Thank you sir !'' Flapping eyelashes, one, two. ''Please excuse my daring, Sir, my daughter and I are great admirers and would love to have you at our table for tea.''
- My wife and I will be delighted!'' The smile froze on the faces of the two women.
- Well, then this afternoon in the first class lounge, we'll be at the Benson table. Good bye, sir.
- I'm looking forward to seeing you again, ladies.
"Mother and daughter, that would be funny, very elegant the both of them... god Rudy stop that, you're a married and respectable man. No more libertine thoughts, go see your wife instead "he thought smiling.
It was with a light step and a happy mood that he found Natasha in their suite.
''We are already invited for tea!''
- The news is going fast, we are dining at the commander's table tonight.
- There you go ! Rodolfo disappears and Rudolph comes on stage.
- Darling, there is only Rudolph Valentino who counts. He is in the light. He is the one I love and working very hard together, he will play the stars.
- And the little Italian, you do not like it?'' Rudy whispered in his wife's ear.
- Stop doing the child, see, we'll be late. We must collect all the baggage and present ourselves at the boarding.
He stared at his wife with a thoughtful and painful look, then got up, silent. Their honeymoon ended here in this room. In a few hours, the boat would leave the wharf. Tomorrow England and New York, Farewell sweet France, Hello the Statue of Liberty.
Valentino is back!