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The Warp

La Ronde

And has Nell arrived back in London from her Paris convent?

I’d remembered her name as Liz. I got her sister Serena on the other end of the line when I rang, and ‘Oh, you mean Nell?’ Serena said.

I agreed that, yes, it was Nell I wanted to talk to. I arranged to pick her up from Eaton Square. ‘I’ve got lots of news,’ Nell promised me.

Leaving my Frazer Nash by the pavement, I climbed stone steps into a huge handsome pillared porch surfaced with yellow stucco. I rang the bell and soon, peering through the small glass windows at the side of the heavy front door, saw Nell approaching.

‘Do you mind if I don’t ask you in?’ she said, ‘My father is in rather a funny mood.’

There was light pink phosphorescent lipstick on Nell’s beautiful slightly pouting lips. Beneath her golden hair as fine as gossamer, her eyes looked out with a gaze at the same time voluptuous and innocent.

Nell was wearing a lengthy light coloured fur coat. It was not possible to see what else she was wearing except that at pavement level she had on a pair of very delicate golden shoes.

Later I wrote rather pompously in my journal, ‘Nell’s fair face brings back to me, the image of a more lively Paganism and truth.’ More lively than what? I wonder, reading it now.

‘My Dad tried to stop me coming out with you,’ Nell says, ‘But Serena, that’s my sister, took my side and painted a picture of me never meeting anyone and never marrying or leading an ‘ordinary life’ if he went on being like that, and so he said I could.’

We arrived at the basement apartment of Michel Molinaire, a photographer. I think I’d expected a party but, as it turned out, there was only Michel, Nell and me.

There was a curved cyclorama, our host pressed a switch and a screen of a hundred light bulbs blossomed into light. As he went to get a bottle of Beaujolais, Nell intrigued me by saying, ‘I think that man once put up a microphone in our house.’ I asked him when he came back and he agreed that he had once helped with the loudspeaker system for a band at a dance at Nell’s.

Nell and I went on to another cellar, a dance club in Gerard Street where there was ‘music of the olé, olé type’, and where ‘negresses jived in low dresses’. The club smelled of stale beer and Nell, rising to dance, threw off her coat to show a lovely neck and shoulders garnished with jewellery. ‘Metals and precious stones in the form of those lampreys and molluscs that you pick up from the bottom of seaside pools rested between her breasts,’ I wrote next morning.

After the club closed we wandered round the streets, she prancing in her golden shoes that seemed too delicate for walking. Asking at the door of a nightclub called ‘Le Pigalle’ we discovered we could not afford it, and were advised to try a club called ‘La Ronde’ down the road. The lowest price, the doorkeeper told us, is twelve and six for a sandwich. He added, to Nell, ‘If I may say so, young lady, you are a very pretty young lady.’

La Ronde had purple couches round the walls, smelled of champagne and had a circular glass dance floor lit from below in blue and red. Nell yielded herself to my arms with a look of voluptitude and innocence, like a child sharing its pillow with a favourite toy.

Sitting back on the purple upholstery in one of the alcoves, we looked across the room to a party of folk who, we felt, were sad but were straining to be gay. I mentioned to Nell, and I feel in retrospect that this was rather an arrogant assumption, that there was something forced about their gaiety.

How few people are happy!’ said Nell. ‘We’re the only people in the room who are really enjoying ourselves. But are we to pity or despise them?’

Nell told me later that at that moment she was filled with a great thankfulness. A couple of members of the band, knowing the music by heart, were following Nell’s sensuous movements with yearning glances. There came for me a moment of truth, the more powerful because Nell and I hardly knew each other. Fronds of her hair, long streams of it, were between my lips. I felt I was now breathing a purer, diviner air; the decor of the nightclub had been especially laid out for our happiness.

Her black dress fell partly from her shoulders and I mentioned my appreciation and wondered to myself if it would perhaps fall further so that she would step naked from its debris, naked like truth itself. When the music came to an end, we ended our long embrace and smiled at each other.

La Ronde closed, and Nell and I walked on to a club called the Sunset. A huge crowd of black men stood in the derelict rubbishy space that was in front of the entrance and a vast man bulging out of his coat and trousers was searching people for drinks or other objects that he suspected they might be hiding about their persons. By the toilets, bouncers were closely scrutinising each young woman as she came in, over solicitously helping them take off their coats, winking, then scrutinising again.

We danced. Nell’s face began to assume that innocently debauched expression that I later grew to love, the look of the lily gently crushed and happy to be crushed. On the red plush seat at the side of the dance floor, langourously, she lay back her head onto my lap and clasped my hand to her neck.

A very tall black man in a smart grey suit approached and asked me to tell Nell to move her head. ‘It is very irregular,’ he said.

When he had moved on, Nell put her head on my knee behind the white tablecloth. With Nell asleep, her head on my lap, I watched the cabaret. It was a Nigerian conjurer, dark and fine, with a deep impassivity on his face. ‘Now I show you how to make breakfast,’ he says. ‘Watch my hand.’

The audience say ‘watch my nother hand,’ and he smiles and repeats, ‘Watch my nother hand. I never keep eggs in my hand or bacons up my sleeve. Now I show you how to make moneys.’

In my car, on our way home, Nell says thoughtfully; ‘I’m afraid I’m rather an irregular person really.’

Then later, even more happily; ‘The trouble about me is that I have no idea how to behave.’


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