The Solitude of Compassion

The Solitude of Compassion by Jean Giono

Book: The Solitude of Compassion by Jean Giono Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jean Giono
legs. From a hole in the roof the glances we shoot would appear more deadly than the inescapable arrows of Apollo.
    On the horizon is a grey pimple: Fort B. A hump of the gentle hill descends and disappears in the woods.
    I take out my binoculars. Everything seems just as dead as it does with the naked eye; on the wavy carpet of earth, a spot moves. Pride from my discovery. I hold my breath.
    â€œHello, battery?”
    At the exit of the woods of B., the head of a convoy. The spot moves slowly towards the fort. Through the opening in the water tank, they must already see the postern of the opposite slope. Let’s move on, another difficult task accomplished.
    A trail of smoke appears on the crest: two, three, three pale mushrooms; like my own land in the summer when it thunders beyond the hills. The smoke blows in the wind. Through the binoculars I see the spot again; it has stopped; around it three black points are spread. It seems to me that one of them is making for the woods, an illusion; it is so far…
    Kossiakoff laughs. That is how it is all day long.

    But towards evening Kossiakoff finds something interesting in the sector of the Russian batteries. I have already noticed this yellow splotch which seems to be panting in the wind. It’s a field of grain. On the border two reapers hurry to gather in the horses’ rations. They came out a little too early; the evening is not yet thick enough to hide them; a little regular flash betrays them. And Kossiakoff rests his hand on the leather box where the telephone sleeps.
    I stop him. Why kill? Today we have already wiped out the water tanks. It is beautiful, a reaper in the open. They must cast furtive glances at the fresh shell holes around them. Kossiakoff insists. It is his duty. They told him: anything that moves. He does have his secret pleasure of being a watchdog. So I speak and speak. Kossiakoff yawns while listening to my dead words. An anguish torments me, he does not understand; he does not understand. Yes, he has seen my eyes, his arm falls again, a light smile tugs at his lips. He caresses my knee. No more duty: friendship. Duty yes, but happiness given to a friend is something tender, and I would like to tell him, but I am unable. There are steppes between us. Then I make with my hand the same gesture as the man-woman, a bit like the wing of a dove.
    I do not understand right away since the man-woman has such a thin voice.
    â€œWhat, Monsieur?”
    â€œYour company is moving for good this evening. You will continue service until tomorrow morning’s connection. You will rejoin Champfleury. You tell your captain that I am very pleased with you.”
    I ask:
    â€œYou don’t think that I could come back?”

    â€œNo. The sector will be entirely maintained by our artillery which has moved into position. I thank you Monsieur, farewell.”
    He shakes my hand.
    Before he leaves:
    â€œWould you, Monsieur, tell all that to my comrade Kossiakoff? I can never make him understand my gestures.”
    He turns towards Kossiakoff fixed at his guard post. He speaks. In the entire length of my friend, only his eyes move. As the words reach him, his glance falls slowly on me.
    â€œThere, he knows.”
    The man-woman presses my hand again then—he shows Kossiakoff still stiff—“You have made yourself an excellent friend there. Ah! The Russians, Monsieur…” He is going to tell me… No, he salutes, turns on his heels, and goes out.
    A beautiful morning with larks and a little sun. On the glacis of the fort Easter daisies have bloomed; I had not noticed them before.
    Kossiakoff carries my bag. Our walk over the fine gravel is the only sound of the morning with the loud rustling of the larks. His step, my step; his step mingled with mine, mine alone. I turn my head: Kossiakoff stops and plucks an Easter daisy.
    He has given me that blond tobacco which I do not like, a packet of tea

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