It's not true, I thought. I'm not one of them... Half-hidden behind a column, I watched them dancing. Verdier's hand was touching Marianne's and at times their bodies brushed against each other; he was breathing in the fragrant scent of her hair. She was wearing a flaring, blue dress which left bare her delicate shoulders and revealed the cleft of her fully, womanly bosom. I wanted to press that fragile body against mine, but I felt paralyzed. Your flesh is of another kind. My hands and my lips were granite; I was unable to touch her, I was unable to laugh as they were laughing, with that easy lustfulness. They were her kind, and I was a stranger among them. I walked toward the door, but as I was about to leave, Marianne's voice stopped me.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm returning to Crécy," I answered.
"Without saying goodbye to me?"
"I didn't want to bother you."
She looked at me in surprise. "What happened?" she asked. "Why are you leaving so early?"
"You know I'm not the sociable kind."
"But I wanted to speak to you for a few minutes."
"If you like."
We crossed the marble hall and she pushed open the door to the library. The large room was empty. The muted sounds of the violins penetrated through the book-lined walls.
"I wanted to tell you that all of us would be deeply sorry if you really refused to take part in our charity committee. Why don't you want to?" she asked.
"I'd be more of a handicap than a help," I replied.
"i'd do everything wrong," I said, "I'd burn old people instead of building homes for them. I'd set lunatics free and imprison your philosophers in cages."
She shook her head. "I don't understand you. It was only because of you that we were able to found the university. Your inaugural address was magnificent. And yet there are times when you appear convinced that our efforts are useless." I remained silent and she said somewhat impatiently, "What do you really believe?"
"Truthfully," I said, "I don't believe in progress."
"Yet it's quite evident that we're closer now to truth and even to justice than ever before."
"Are you so sure that your truth and your justice are worth more than the truths and justices of other centuries?"
"Well, I'm certain you'll agree that science is preferable to ignorance, tolerance to fanaticism, freedom to slavery."
The naive ardor with which she spoke irritated me. It was their language she was speaking.
"A man," I said, "once told me that there is only one good: to act according to one's conscience. I think he was right and that all we pretend to do for others is worthless."
"Ah!" she said in a triumphant voice. "And what if my conscience commands me to fight for tolerance, reason, and freedom?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "Then do it," I said. "As for me, my conscience never orders me to do anything."
"If that's the case, why did you help us?"
She looked at me with such obviously sincere anxiety that once again I felt an almost uncontrollable desire to confide myself in her without reserve. Only then would I become truly alive again; only then would I become myself. We would be able to talk without lying. But I suddenly remembered Carlier's tortured face.
"To kill time," I replied.
"That's not true!" she exclaimed.
In her eyes there was gratitude, tenderness, faith. There was nothing I wanted more than to be the person she saw. But my whole being was a lie; every word, every silence, every gesture, even my face lied to her. I could not tell her the truth and I hated deceiving her. The only thing left for me was to leave.
"It is true. And now I'm going back to my retorts."
She forced herself to smile. "All of a sudden? Just like that?" She put her hand on the doorknob and asked, "When will we see each other again?"
There was a long silence. She was leaning against the door, very close to me; her bare shoulders were shining in the semidarkness and I smelled the sweet scent of her hair.. Her eyes were beckoning to me; just a word, just a gesture, and she would have been mine. But it would all be a lie. Her happiness, her life, our love would be nothing but lies. My kisses would only deceive her.
"I don't believe you need me any more," I said.
Her face suddenly relaxed. "What's bothering you, Fosca? What is it that's gnawing at you? Aren't we friends?"
"But you have so many friends."
She made no attempt to restrain her laughter. "Would you be jealous, by any chance?"
"Why not?" Again I lied; it was not a human jealousy I had in mind.
"That's stupid," she said.
"I'm not made to live in society," I said lightly.
"You're not made to live alone."
Alone. I smelled the odor of the garden around the mound teeming with ants, and once again I felt the taste of death in my mouth. The sky was bare, the plains deserted; suddenly, my heart was empty. And the words I did not want to speak formed on my lips.
"Come with me."
"Come with you?" she said. "For how long?"
I held out my arms. Everything would be a lie. Even the desire that was swelling my heart, and my arms which were holding her mortal body tightly against me, were lies. But I no longer had the strength to fight; I pressed her against me as if I were no different than any other man holding a woman in his arms.
"For a lifetime," I answered. "Could you pass a lifetime beside me?"
"I could pass eternity beside you."
"Ah!" Bompard exclaimed. "You want to get rid of me." There was a contemptible smile on his face.
"Yes," I said. "I'm going to marry Marianne de Sinclair. I don't care to have you around her."
Bompard dunked another piece of bread in his cup. "I'm getting old," he said. "I don't feel much like traveling any more."
A lump formed in my throat and suddenly I realized that I had become vulnerable. "Take care," I warned. "If you turn down my offer, I'll simply tell Marianne the truth and chase you out of here without further ado. It won't be easy for you to find another job."
He could not guess the price I would have paid to keep my secret. And then, he was old and tired.
"It will be very hard for me to leave you," he said. "But I'm counting on your generosity to soften the rigors of exile."
"I hope you'll be happy in Russia and that you'll spend the rest of your days there."
"Oh, I wouldn't want to die without seeing you again."
There was a menacing tone in his voice and I thought, I have something to fear now, something to defend. I'm in love and I can suffer. At last, I'm a man again!
—Simone de Beauvoir, All Men Are Mortal, p. 261