Pierre and Luce/9

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For the past fortnight they had been unaware of anything that was going on in the world. In Paris people might make arrests and issue condemnations as hard as they could. Germany might make treaties and tear up those she had signed. Governments might lie, the press denounce and armies kill. They did not read the papers. They knew there was the war somewhere all about them, just as there is typhus or else influenza; but that did not touch them; they did not want to think about it.

The war recalled itself to them that night. They had already gone to bed (they spent their hearts so freely in those days that when evening came they were worn out). They heard the alarm signals, each in his or her respective quarter, and declined to get up. They hid their heads in their beds under the bedclothes as a child will during a thunderstorm—not at all from fear (they were positive that nothing could happen to them) but in order to dream. Listening to the air rumbling in the night, Luce thought:

"It would be delightful to listen to the storm as it passes, in his arms."

Pierre stopped his ears. Let nothing trouble his thoughts! He insisted on picking out on the piano of memory the song of the day passed, the melodious thread of the hours, from the first minute that he entered Luce's house, the slightest inflections of her voice and her gestures, the successive images which his eyes had hastily snapped up—a shadow under the eyelids, a wave of emotion that passed beneath the skin like a shiver across the water, a smile just brushing against the lips like a sun ray, and his palm pressed on, nestled against the nude softness of the two extended hands—these precious fragments that endeavored to reunite the magic fantasy of love in a single close embrace. He would not permit that noises from without should enter there. The outside was for him a tiresome visitor. The war? Oh, I know, I know. Has it come? Let it wait. . . . And the war did wait at the door, patiently. War knew that it would have its turn. He knew that also; that is why he had no shame in his egotism. The rising billow of death was about to seize him. So he owed death nothing in advance. Nothing. Let death come back again at the date of the contract! Up to that day let death be silent! Ah, up to then at least he did not want to lose anything of this marvelous time; each second was a golden grain and he the miser who paws over his treasure. It's mine, it's my property. Don't you dare touch my peace, my love! It's my own up to the hour. . . . And when will the hour come? Perhaps it will not come at all! A miracle? Why not? . . .

Meantime the stream of hours and days kept on flowing. At each new bend of the channel the roaring of the rapids drew nearer. Stretched out in their barque Pierre and Luce listened and heard. But they had no more fear. Even that enormous voice like the bass notes of an organ cradled their amorous dream. When the gulf should be there they would close their eyes, press closer together and all would be over in one blow. The gulf spared them the trouble of thinking about the life that was to be, that might possibly be, afterward, about the future without an issue. For Luce foresaw the obstacles that Pierre would have to encounter if he wished to marry her; and Pierre less clearly (he had less taste for clearness) feared them also. Let us not look so far ahead! Life beyond the gulf was like that "other life" they talked about in church. They tell you that we shall find each other again; but they are not so very sure. One sole thing is sure: the present. Our own present. Let's pour into it without any taking of stock the whole of our part in eternity!

Even less than Pierre did Luce inform herself about the news. The war did not interest her in the least. It was only one misery more amongst all the various miseries which form the web and woof of social existence. Those who can be astonished about it are those only who stand sheltered from naked realties. And the little girl with her precocious experience who understood the struggle for one's daily bread—panem quotidianum . . . (God does not grant it for nothing!)—revealed to her bourgeois friend the murderous war which, for poor folks and particularly for women, reigns cunningly deep and without a truce below the lie of peace. She did not talk too much about it, however, for fear of depressing him: on seeing the excitement into which her accounts threw him, she had an affectionate feeling of her own superiority. Like most women she did not entertain with regard to certain ugly facts of life the physical and moral disgust which upset the young fellow. There was nothing of the rebel in her. In still worse circumstances she would have been able to accept repugnant tasks without repugnance and quit them quite calm and natty, without a stain. Today she could not do that any more, for since she had come to know Pierre her love had caused her to be filled with the tastes and distastes of her friend; but that was not her fundamental nature. Calm and smiling by reason of her race, not pessimistic at all. Melancholy, and the grand detached airs of life were not her business. Life is as it is. Let us take it as it is! It might have been worse! The hazards of an existence which Luce had always known to be precarious, on the lookout for expedients—and particularly since the war—had taught her to be careless of the morrow. Add to this that every preoccupation concerning the beyond was a stranger to this free little French girl. Life was enough for her. Luce found life delightful, but it all hangs by a thread and it takes so little to make the thread break that really it is not worth the trouble to torment oneself about what may turn up tomorrow. Eyes of mine, drink in the daylight that bathes you as you pass! As to what may come after, O, my heart, abandon yourself in confidence to the stream! . . . And since anyhow we can not do otherwise! . . . And now that we love each other, isn't it just delicious? Luce well knew that it could not be for long. But neither her life nor she herself, either, would be for long. . . .

She did not resemble much that little fellow who loved her and whom she loved, tender, ardent and nervous, happy and miserable, who always enjoyed and suffered to excess, who gave himself, who flew into a rage, always with passion, and who was dear to her just because he resembled her hardly at all. But both of them were in accord as to a mute resolve not to look into the future: the girl through the carelessness of the resigned rivulet that sings on its way—the other through that exalted negation which plunges into the gulf of the present and never desires to emerge again.