Pierre and Luce/10

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The big brother had come back again on furlough for a few days. During the first evening at home he perceived that there was something changed in the family atmosphere. What? He could not tell; but he was vexed. The mind possesses antennae which perceive at a distance before consciousness is able to touch and consider the object. And the finest of all antennae are those of vanity. Philip's agitated themselves, searched about and were surprised; they missed something. . . . Did he not have his circle of affection which rendered unto him the customary homage—the attentive audience to which in miserly fashion he doled out his stories—his parents who brooded him under their touched admiration—the young brother? . . . Stop there! It was he, exactly he who was missing to the appeal.

He was present of course but he did not exert himself about his big brother; he did not beg for confidences as was his wont, which the other used to take pleasure in denying. Pitiful vanity! Philip, who on former occasions affected in regard of the ardent questions of his younger brother a sort of protective and bantering lackadaisicalness, was hurt that he did not put them this time. It was he who tried to provoke them: he became more loquacious and he looked at Pierre as if he wished him to feel that his talk was meant for him. At another time Pierre would have thrilled with joy and caught on the fly the handkerchief that was tossed him. But he quietly permitted Philip to pick it up for himself if he had any desire to do so. Philip, feeling piqued, tried irony. Instead of being troubled, Pierre answered with composure in the same detached tone. Philip wanted to discuss, became agitated, harangued. After a few minutes he found that he was haranguing all by himself. Pierre looked on at his efforts wearing an air of saying:

"Go ahead, my dear boy! If that is any pleasure to you! Continue! I'm listening. . . ."

That insolent little smile! . . . Their rôles were reversed.

Philip stopped talking, much mortified, and observed his young brother more attentively, who, however, did not occupy himself further with him. How he had changed! The parents, who saw him every day, had not noticed anything; but the penetrating and moreover jealous eyes of Philip did not find any more the well known expression after several months of absence. Pierre had a happy, languid, thoughtless, torpid air, indifferent as to persons, inattentive to what is about them, floating in an atmosphere of voluptuous dream, like a young girl. And Philip felt that he counted for nothing in the little brother's thoughts.

Since he was no less expert in analyzing himself than in observing others, he was quick to recover consciousness of his own vexation and laugh at it. Vanity thrust aside, he interested himself in Pierre and searched for the secret of his metamorphosis. He would have liked well to have solicited his confidence, but that was a business to which he was not habituated, and besides, little brother did not seem to have any need of confiding; with a careless and chaffing unconstraint he looked on while Philip attempted awkwardly to spread the net; and with his hands in his pockets, smiling, his thoughts elsewhere, whistling a little air, he answered vaguely, without listening carefully to what he was being asked—then, all of a sudden, turned off to his own regions. Good night! And he was no longer there. One caught only at his reflection in the water, which escaped from between one's fingers.—And Philip, like a lover disdained, felt all his value now and experienced the attraction of the mystery in this heart which he had lost.

The key to the enigma came to him by pure chance. As he was coming home in the evening by Boulevard Montparnasse, in the dark he passed Pierre and Luce. He was afraid they might have noticed him. But they cared little for what surrounded them. Closely pressed together, Pierre supporting his arm on the arm of Luce and holding her hand with fingers interlaced, they strolled along with short steps immersed in the hungry and gluttonous tenderness of Eros and Psyche as they lie at length on the nuptial couch in the Farnesina. The close embrace of their gaze fused them into a single being like a waxen group. Philip, leaning against a tree, looked upon them as they passed, stopped, went on and disappeared in the dark. And his heart was full of pity for the two children. He thought:

"My life is sacrificed. So be it! But it is not right to take those also. If at the least I could pay for their happiness!"

The next morning, in spite of his polite inattention, Pierre noticed vaguely—in actual fact not at once, but after some reflection—the affectionate tone of his brother with him. And, getting half awake, he perceived his kind eyes which he had not noticed before. Philip looked at him with such clarity that Pierre had an impression that this gaze was scrutinizing him; and awkwardly he hastened at once to push the shutter over his secret. But Philip smiled, rose, and putting his hand on his shoulder proposed that they should take a turn in the open. Pierre could not resist the new confidence which was tendered him and together they proceeded to the Luxembourg near at hand. The big brother had kept his hand on the shoulder of the younger and the latter felt himself proud of the re-established accord. His tongue was loosed. They talked animatedly of intellectual things, of books, their reflections on men, their new experiences—of everything except the subject both were thinking about. It was like a tacit convention. They were happy to feel themselves intimate, with a secret between them. While chatting Pierre inquired of himself:

"Does he know? But how could he know?"

Philip observed him as he chattered along and kept on smiling. Pierre ended by stopping short in the midst of a sentence.

"What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing. I'm just looking at you. I am delighted with you."

They shook hands. While they were returning Philip said:

"Are you happy?"

Without speaking Pierre nodded with his head—yes.

"You are right, my boy. A great, beautiful thing is happiness. Take my portion . . ."

In order not to trouble him, Philip during his furlough avoided making any allusion to the near incorporation of Pierre's class in the army. But on the day of his departure he could not prevent himself from expressing his anxiety at seeing his young brother exposed very soon to the trials which he knew only too well. Scarcely did a shadow cross the brow of the young lover. He drew his eyebrows a bit together, blinked with his eyes as if to drive off a troublesome vision, and said:

"Enough! Later on! Chi lo sa?"

"We know it only too well," said Philip.

"What in any case I do know," said Pierre, vexed that he should insist, "is that when I am down there I for my part shall do no killing."

Without contradicting him, Philip smiled sorrowfully, knowing well what the implacable power of the crowd does with weak souls and with their will.