Pierre and Luce/3

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

Nevertheless nothing had changed. There he was in his own room littered with papers and books. All about the familiar sounds. In the street the trumpet sounding the close of the warning against airbombs. On the house stairs the reassured gossip of the tenants coming up from the cellar. In the story overhead the crazy marching to and fro of the old neighbor who for months had been waiting for his vanished son.

But here in his own chamber lay no longer those cares of his in ambush which he had left there. . . .

Sometimes it happens that an incomplete accord in music sounds raucous in a way; it leaves the mind disquieted, up to the moment when some note is added which procures a fusion of the hostile or coldly alien elements, like visitors who do not know one another and wait to be introduced. At once the ice is broken and harmony spreads from one member of the group to another. This moral chemistry had just been put in operation by a warm and furtive contact of hands. Pierre was not conscious of the reason for the change; he never dreamed of analyzing. But he felt that the habitual hostility of things in general had suddenly softened. A shooting pain takes possession of your head for hours; of a sudden you perceive it is no longer there: how was it that it went? Scarcely a feeling of buzzing about the temples to recall it. . . . Pierre was a bit suspicious of this new-found calm. He suspected that it concealed under a passing truce a much worse return of the pain which was merely taking breath. Already was he acquainted with the respites that are obtained through the arts. When into our eyes penetrate the divine proportions of lines and colors, or into the voluptuous windings of the sonorous ear-shell the lovely, varied play of accords which combine and interlock in obedience to the laws of harmonious numbers, peace takes possession of us and joy inundates our souls. But that is a radiance which comes from outside; one would say from a sun, the distant fires of which hold us in suspense fascinated, lifted high above our life. It endures only a moment and then one falls again. Art is never more than a passing forgetfulness of the actual, the real. Pierre was afraid and fully expected the same deception.—But this time the radiation came from within. Nothing that belongs to life was forgot. But everything fell into harmony. His recollections, his new thoughts. Even to the familiar objects about him: the books and papers in his chamber sprang alive and took on an interest which they had lost.

For months past his intellectual growth had been compressed like a young tree which is struck in full blossoming by the "saints of the ice." He did not belong to those practical boys who profit by the indulgence offered at universities to the younger classes just about to be called to the colors in order to pull out hastily a diploma from under the indulgent eyes of the examiners. Nor was he one to feel the despairing eagerness of the young man who sees death approaching and so takes double mouthfuls and devours the arts and sciences which he will never have a chance to test and verify in life. That perpetual feeling of emptiness at the end, emptiness that is underneath and everywhere hidden beneath the cruel and absurd illusion of the world—this it was that swept aside all his enthusiasms. He would throw himself on a book, on a thought—then he stopped, discouraged. Whither would that lead? What the use of learning? What is the point of getting riches if it be necessary to lose everything, leave everything, if nothing really belongs to you? In order that activity, in order that science should have any sense, it is necessary that life should have some. This sense no effort of the mind, no supplication from the heart had been able to produce for him.—And yet, lo and behold, all of itself, this sense had come. . . . Life had some sense. . . .

What then?—And seeking to find whence came this inner smile—he beheld the parted lips upon which his mouth was burning to press itself.