Pierre and Luce/14

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Pierre and Luce by Romain Rolland, translated by Charles De Kay
Chapter XIV
1922

During Passion Week they saw one another every day. Pierre went to see Luce in her isolated house. The thin and hungry garden was waking up. They passed the afternoon there. They felt now an antipathy toward Paris and the crowd, against life also. At certain moments even, a moral paralysis kept them silent, immovable, one close to the other, without a wish to stir. A strange feeling was at work in both of them. They were afraid! Fear—in the measure that the day approached when they should give themselves the one to the other—fear through excess of love, through the purification of soul which the ugly things, the cruelties, the shameful facts of life frightened, and which, in an intoxication of passion and melancholy, dreamed of being delivered from it all. . . . They said nothing about it to each other.

The most of their time they passed in babbling gently about their future lodgings, their work in common, their little household. They arranged in advance, down to the smallest item of their installation, the furniture, the wall papers, the spot for each object. A true woman, the evocation of these tender nothings, intimate and familiar images of daily life, moved Luce sometimes to tears. They tasted the exquisite small joys of the hearth of the future. . . . They knew that nothing of that sort would occur Pierre—through the presentiment of his native pessimism—Luce through the clairvoyance of love which understood the practical impossibility of the marriage. . . . That is why they hasted to enjoy it in their dream. And each concealed from the other the certainty felt that it would not be anything else but a dream. Each one believed that this secret was personal and watched, deeply touched, over the other's illusion.

When they had exhausted the mournful delights of the impossible future they were overcome with fatigue, as if they had lived through all of it. Then they rested selves, seated under the arbor with the dried-up vines, while the sun melted the congealed sap; and, Pierre's head on Luce's shoulder, they listened dreamily to the humming of the earth. Behind the passing clouds the young sun of March played bo-peep, laughed and disappeared. Clear sunrays, somber shadows ran across the plain as in a soul run joys and sorrows.

"Luce," said Pierre abruptly, "don't you recollect? . . . It was long, long ago. . . . Even then we were like this. . . ."

"Yes," said Luce, "that's true. All of it, I remember all. . . . But where were we? . . ."

They amused themselves by trying to recall under what shapes they had known one another before. Already as human beings? Perhaps. But certainly at that time Pierre was the girl and Luce the lover. . . . Birds in the air? When she was a small child her mother told Luce that she had been a little wild goose that had fallen down the chimney; ah! she had thoroughly broken Her wings! . . . But where particularly they enjoyed finding themselves again was in the elementary fluid forms that penetrate one another, twist about and untwist like the volutes of a dream or else of smoke: white clouds that dissolve in the gulf of the sky, little waves that play about, the rain on the soil, the dew on the bush, seeds of dandelion that swim at the beck of the air. . . . But the wind carries them away. Provided it does not begin to blow again and that we shall not lose each other any more for all eternity! . . .

But he decided:

"As for me, I believe that we never did quit one another; we were together just as we are now, lying against each other; only, we were asleep and we dreamed dreams. From time to time we awake. . . . With difficulty. . . . I feel your breath, your cheek against mine. . . . One makes a great effort; we bring our mouths together. . . . One falls back asleep. . . . Darling, darling, I am here, I hold your hand, don't let me go! . . . Now it is not quite yet the hour, spring hardly shows the end of his icy nose. . . ."

"Like yours," said Luce.

"Very soon we shall awake on a fine summer's day. . . ."

"We ourselves shall be that fine day of summer," says Luce.

"The warm shade of the limetrees, the sun through the branches, the bees that sing. . . ."

"The peach on the warm wall and its perfumed pulp. . . ."

"The noon spell of the harvesters and their golden sheaves. . . ."

"The lazy cattle that chew their cud. . . ."

"And at evensong, by the sunset like a flowerset pool, the liquid light that runs across the tops of the fields. . . ."

"Yes, we shall be everything," quoth Luce, "everything that is good and sweet to see and to have, to kiss and to eat, to touch and inhale. . . . What's left over we shall leave to them," she added, pointing to the city and its smoke wreaths.

She laughed. Then, kissing her friend, she said:

"We have chanted our little duet well. What do you say, my friend Pierrot?"

"Yea, verily, Jessica," he replied.

"My poor Pierrot," she returned, "we are none too well equipped for this world, where people know how to sing nothing else but the Marseillaise! . . ."

"Good enough if they even knew how to sing that!"

"We have got off at the wrong station, we left the train too early."

"I'm afraid," said Pierre, "that the next station would have been still worse. Can you see us, my darling, in the social fabric of the future—the hive they promise us, where none will have the right to live except for the queen bee's service or for the republic?"

"Laying eggs from morning to night like a mitrailleuse or from morning to night licking the eggs of others. . . . Thank you for that choice! " said Luce.

"Oh, Luce, little ugly one, how ugly you talk," said Pierre laughing.

"Yes, it's very bad, I know it. I am good for nothing. Nor you either, my friend. You are just as ill fitted for killing or maiming men as I am for sewing them up again, like those wretched horses when they are ripped up at the bullfights, so that they can serve again at the next affray. We two are useless beings and dangerous, who have the ridiculous, criminal pretention to live only in order to love those we do love, likewise my little lover lad and my friends, honest people and little children, the good light of the day, also good white bread and everything that is pretty and right for me to put in my mouth. It's shameful, it's shameful! Blush for me, Pierrot! . . . But we shall be well punished! There is going to be no place for us in that factory of the State, without rest and without truce, which the earth will be soon. . . . Luckily we shall not be here!"

"Yes, what happiness!" quoth Pierre.

"If in thine arms, O Lady of my heart,
 I die, to greater fame I'll not aspire.
 Content upon thy bosom to expire
 Whilst kissing thee and thus from living part. . . ."

"Well, little darling, what sort of a fashion is that?"

"Nevertheless it is after a good old French mode. It's by Ronsard," said Pierre:

". . . else I would only claim
A century hence, sans glory and sans fame
Slothful to die upon thy lap, Cassandra. . . ."

"A hundred years!" sighed Luce. "He doesn't ask much! . . ."

"Or I mistake, or more delights are heaped
In death like that than all the honors reaped
By Caesar great or firebolt Alexander."

"Naughty, naughty, naughty little scamp! have you no shame? In this epoch of heroes!"

"There are too many," said Pierre. "I would rather be a little fellow who loves, a babe of a man."

"The babe of a woman who still has on his lips the milk from my breast," cried Luce, seizing him round the neck. "My babe, my own!"