Pierre and Luce/4

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

In ordinary times, no doubt, this wordless fascination would not have persisted. At that period of upgrowth when one is a lover of love, one sees love in every eye; the greedy and uncertain heart gathers it flitting from one to the other, and nothing forces it to settle down; the heart is just beginning its day.

But the day at the present period will be a short one: it is necessary to hurry up.

The heart of this young fellow was in a hurry all the greater because it was so much behindhand. Great cities which from a distance appear like the smoking solfataras of sensuality really harbor fresh souls and ingenuous bodies. How many young men and young girls there are who respect love and keep their senses virgin up to the marriage day! Even in the refined circles where mental curiosity is precociously excited, what singular ignorances conceal themselves under the free talk of some young worldly girl or of some student who knows everything and understands nothing! In the heart of Paris there are provinces most naïve, little gardens as of cloisters, pure existences as of springs. Paris permits herself to be betrayed by her literature. Those who speak in her name are the most soiled of all. And besides, one only knows too well that a false human consideration often prevents the pure from avowing their innocence.—Pierre did not yet understand love; and he was delivered up to the first appeal love made.

This also added to the enchantment of his thought: that love had been born under the wing of death. In that moment of emotion when they felt the menace of the bombs pass over their heads, when the bloodstained apparition of the wounded man contracted their hearts, then it was their fingers groped toward each other; and both of them had read therein, at the same time with the quivering of the flesh that was frightened, the loving consolation of an unknown friend. Fleeting pressure ! One of the two hands, that of the man, says: "Lean upon me!" And the other, the maternal one, pushes aside her own fear in order to say: "My little dear!"

Nothing of all this was uttered or heard. But that inward murmur filled the soul far better than words, that curtain of foliage which masks our thought. Pierre allowed himself to be cradled by this humming. Such the song of a golden wasp that floats through the chiaroscuro of one's thought. His days became numb things in this new languor. That solitary and naked heart dreamed of the warmth of a nest.

During these first weeks of February, Paris was counting her ruins from the last raid and licking her wounds. The press, locked up in its kennel, was barking for reprisals. And, according to the statement of "the Man who put the fetters on," the government was making war on the French. The open season for suits at law for treasonable acts commenced. The spectacle of a wretched creature who was defending his own head, bitterly demanded by the public accuser, was a matter of amusement for Tout-Paris, whose appetite for the theatre had not yet been satisfied by four years of war and ten millions of dead men dissolving behind the flies.

But the youth remained completely and solely absorbed in the mysterious guest who had just come to make him a visit. Strange intensity of these visions of love printed on the very floor of his thought and nevertheless lacking in contour! Pierre would have been incapable of saying what was the form of her features or what the color of her eyes or the modeling of her lips. All he could bring back was the emotion already in himself. All his attempts to give precision to the image merely ended in deforming it. He was no more successful when he went to work to find her in the streets of Paris. At every turn he believed he had seen her. It was either a smile or a white young neck or a gleam in some eyes. And then the blood shook in his heart. There was no resemblance, none whatever, between these flying images and the real image which he sought and which he believed he loved. Well, then, he did not love her? Surely he loved her; and that is why he saw her everywhere and under every shape. For she just is every smile, each radiance, all life. And the exact form would be a limitation.—But one longs for that limitation in order to clasp love and to possess it.

Though he might never see her again he knew that she existed, she existed, and that she was the nest. In the hurricane a port. A lighthouse in the night. Stella Maris, Amor. Oh, Love, watch over us at the hour of death! . . .