Pierre and Luce/5

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

Along the quay of the Seine beside the Institute he wandered, looking with little attention at the shelves of the few bouquinistes who had stuck to their posts. He found himself at the foot of the steps of the Pont des Arts. Raising his eyes he perceived her for whom he had waited. A portfolio of drawings under her arm, she came down the steps like a little doe. He did not reflect for the shadow of a second; he rushed forward to meet her and while he ascended toward her who was coming down, for the first time their gaze rested the one on the other and entered. Arrived in front of her and stopping short, he began to blush. Surprised, seeing that he blushed, she reddened too. Before he could get his breath again the little deerlike step had already gone beyond him. When strength returned and he was able to turn about her skirt was disappearing at the turning of the arcade which looks upon the Rue de Seine. He did not try to follow her. Leaning against the balustrade of the bridge, he saw her own look in the stream that flowed below. For some time his heart had a pasture new. . . . (Oh, dear, stupid children!) . . .

A week later he was loafing in the Luxembourg Gardens which the sun was filling with a golden softness. Such a radiant February in that funereal year! Dreaming with his eyes open and hardly knowing well whether he was dreaming what he saw, or saw what he was dreaming, steeped in a greedy languor obscurely happy, unhappy, in love, as much filled full of tenderness as with the sun, he smiled as he strolled with inattentive eyes, and without his knowing it his lips moved, reciting words without connection, a song of some kind. He looked down at the sandy path and, like the wingtip of a dove that passes, he had an impression that a smile had just passed along. He whirled about and saw that he had just crossed her path. And just at that moment, without stopping in her walk, she turned her head with a smile in order to observe him. Then he hesitated no longer and went toward her, his hands almost extended in so juvenile and naïve a rush that naïvely she waited for him. He made no excuses for himself. There was no awkwardness between them. It seemed to them they were continuing an interview already begun.

"You are laughing at me," said he; "you are quite right!"

"I'm not laughing at you"—(her voice like her step was lively and supple)—"you were laughing all to yourself; I merely laughed at seeing you."

"Was I laughing, really?"

"You are still laughing now."

"Now I know why."

She did not ask him what he meant. They walked side by side. They were happy.

"What a jolly little sun!" said she.

"Newly born springtide!"

"Was it to him just now you were sending that little smile?"

"Not to him alone. Perhaps to you, too."

"Little liar! Bad boy. You don't even know me."

"As if one could say such a thing! We have seen each other I don't know 'how often!"

"Thrice, counting this time."

"Ah—you remember, then ? You see that we are old acquaintances!"

"Let's talk about it."

"I'm agreed. That's all I want! . . . Oh, come, let us sit there! Just an instant, won't you please? It's so nice at the edge of the water!"

(They were near the Galathea Fountain, which the masons had covered over with tarpaulins to protect it from the bombs.)

"I really can not, I shall miss my train."

She gave him the hour. He showed her that she had more than twenty-five minutes.

Yes, but she wanted first to buy her lunch at the corner of Rue Racine, where they keep good little buns. He hauled one out of his pocket. "No better than this one. . . . Don't you really want to take it? . . ."

She laughed and hesitated. He put it in her hand and kept hold of her hand.

"You would give me such pleasure ! . . . Come now, come and sit down. . . ."

He led her to a bench in the middle of the walk that runs about the basin.

"I've something else. . . ."

He brought out of his pocket a chocolate tablet.

"Gourmand! . . . And what besides? . . ."

"Only—I'm ashamed. It's not in its wrapper."

"Give it me, give it ! It's just the war."

He looked on as she nibbled.

"It's the first time," said he, "that I've thought the war had any good in it."

"Oh, let's not talk of it! It is so completely overwhelming!"

"Yes," he said, enthusiastic, "we shall never speak of it."

(All of a sudden the atmosphere began to grow lighter.) "Look at those pierrots who are taking their tub."

(She pointed to the sparrows that were attending to their toilets on the edge of the basin.)

"But, then—the other night" (he followed her thought) "the other night in the subway tell me now, you did see me then?"

"Sure."

"But you never looked my way. All the time you stayed turned in the other direction. . . . See now, just as at present. . . ."

He gazed at her profile as she nibbled at her bun, looking straight ahead of her with roguish eyes.

"Do look at me a moment! . . . What are you gazing at off there?"

She did not turn her head. He took her right hand, the glove of which was torn at the index, and showed the end of the finger.

"What are you looking at?"

"And you examining my glove! . . . Will you be so kind as not to tear it more!"

[In a distracted fashion he was engaged in making the hole larger.] "Oh, forgive me! . . . But how were you able to see?"

She did not answer; but in that mocking profile he could see the corner of her eye and that was laughing.

"Oh, you slyboots!"

"It's very simple. Everybody can do that."

"I never could."

"Just try. . . . You simply squint."

"I never could, never. In order to see it's necessary for me to look right to the front, stupidly."

"Oh, no, not so stupidly!"

"At last! I see your eyes."

They looked at each other, gently laughing.

"What's your name?"

"Luce."

"That's a lovely name, lovely as this day!"

"And yours?"

"Pierre—rather worn out."

"A fine name that has honest and clear eyes." "Like mine."

"Well, yes, so far as clear goes they are."

"That's because they're looking at Luce."

"Luce? . . . People say 'Mademoiselle.'"

"No."

"No?"

(He shook his head.)

"You are not 'Mademoiselle.' You are just Luce and I am Pierre."

They were holding hands; and without looking at one another, their eyes fixed upon the tender blue of the sky between the branches of the leafless trees, they kept silence. The flood of their thoughts intermingled by way of their hands.

She said:

"The other night both of us were afraid."

"Yes," said he, "how good it was."

(Only later they smiled at having expressed, each one, what the other was dreaming of.)

She tore her hand away and suddenly sprang up, having heard the clock strike. "Oh, I have scarcely more than time left . . ."

Together they marched at that little quickstep the Parisian women take so prettily, so that seeing them trot, one scarcely thinks of their swiftness, so easy appears the gait.

"Do you pass here often?"

"Every day. But oftener on the other side of the terrace." (She pointed to the garden with its Watteau trees.) "I am just back from the Museum."

(He looked at the portfolio she carried.)

"Painter?" he asked.

"No," she replied, "that's too big a word. A little dauberette."

"Why? For your own pleasure?"

"Oh, no indeed! For money."

"For money?"

"It's horrid, isn't it? to make art for money?"

"It's particularly astonishing to make money if one cannot paint."

"It's just for that reason, you see. I'll explain it to you another time." "Another time, by the fountain, well have lunch again."

"We shall see. If it's good weather."

"But you will come earlier? Will you not? Say yes . . . Luce . . ."

(They were come to the station. She jumped on the running board of the tram car.)

"Answer, say yes, little light! . . ."

She did not answer; but when the tram was in motion she made a "yes" with her eyelids and he read on her lips without her having spoken:

"Yes, Pierre."

Both of them thought, as they went their way:

"It's amazing, this evening, what a happy look everybody has!"

And they kept smiling without taking heed of what had occurred. They knew only that they had it, that they possessed it and that it belonged to them. It? What? Nothing. We feel rich this evening! . . . On getting home they looked at themselves carefully in the mirror just as one looks at a friend, with loving eyes. They said to themselves: "That gaze of his, of hers, was fixed on you." They went to bed early, overcome—but wherefore?—by a delicious weariness. While they undressed they kept thinking:

"What's best of all at present is, that there's a tomorrow."