The men arrange the planks, slip the ropes, and lower the body, disputing in undertones, for it is not so easy as one might think to be a grave-digger. One must have the knack of it. And the night is very dark and the mud very sticky.
At last the body is at the bottom of the trench, and the muddy ropes are withdrawn. The little consumptive priest who stands at the graveside murmurs the prayer for the dead. The rain beats in our faces. The familiar demon of Artois, the wind, leaps among the ancient trees. The little priest murmurs the terrible words: Dies irae, dies illa. ...
And this present day is surely the day of wrath ... I too utter my prayer: “In the name of the unhappy world, Bride, I remit all thy sins, I absolve thee from all thy faults! Let this day, at least, be a day of rest.”
The little priest stands bare-headed in the blast. An orderly who is an ecclesiastic holds the end of an apron over his head. A man raises the lantern to the level of his eye. And the rain-drops gleam and sparkle furtively.
Bride is dead. ...
Now we meet again in the little room where friendship reigns.
Pierre and Jacques, gallant fellows, I shall not forget your beautiful, painful smile at the moment which brings discouragement to the experienced man. I shall not forget.
The beef and rice, which one needs to be very hungry to swallow, is distributed. And a gentle cheerfulness blossoms in the circle of lamplight, a cheerfulness which tries to catch something of the gaiety of the past. Man has such a deep-seated need of joy that he improvises it everywhere, even in the heart of misery.
And suddenly, through the steam of the soup, I see Bride’s look distinctly.
It was no ordinary look. The extremity of suffering, the approach of death, perhaps, and also the hidden riches of his soul, gave it extraordinary light, sweetness, and gentleness. When one came to his bedside, and bent over him, the look was there, a well-spring of refreshment.
But Bride is dead: we saw his eyes transformed into dull, meaningless membranes.
Where is that well-spring? Can it be quenched?
Bride is dead. Involuntarily, I repeat aloud: “Bride is dead.”
Have I roused a responsive echo in these sympathetic souls? A religious silence falls upon them. The oldest of all problems comes and takes its place at the table like a familiar guest. It breathes mysteriously into every ear: “Where is Bride? Where is Bride’s look?”
A lantern advances, swinging among the pines. Who is coming to meet us?
Philippe recognises the figure of Monsieur Julien. Here is the man, indeed, with his porter’s livery, and his base air as of an insolent slave. He waves a stable-lantern which throws grotesque shadows upwards on his face; and he is obviously furious at having been forced to render a service.