Jacques was talking, Mathieu looked at him, it was all so tedious, the bureau in the half-light, the snatches of band-music from beyond the pines, the curls of butter in the little dish, the empty bowls on the tray: so futile an eternity. He too wanted to speak: not to say anything in particular, but merely to break that eternal silence on which his brother’s voice made no impression. And he said: ‘Don’t worry. War, or peace – it’s all the same.’
‘All the same?’ said Jacques in astonishment. ‘Go and tell that to the millions of men who are preparing to be killed.’
‘And what then?’ said Mathieu genially. ‘They have carried their death within them since the day they were born. And even if they are massacred to a man, humanity will still be up to strength: not an empty place, not one person missing.’
‘Except for the loss of twelve to fifteen millions,’ said Jacques.
‘It isn’t a question of numbers,’ said Mathieu. ‘Humanity replenishes itself, none are missed and none awaited. Humanity will continue on its futile journey, the usual people will ask themselves the usual questions, and wreck their lives in the usual way.’
Jacques eyed him with a knowing smile.
‘And what does it all come to?’
‘Well, just to nothing,’ said Mathieu.