Amor Vincit Omnia
(Love Conquers All)

"It is with true love as it is with ghosts;
everyone talks about it, but few have seen it."

La Rochefoucauld

from The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

In this scene, Willie has just returned from combat service
with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Ocean to see his old girlfriend May
whose heart he had broken a few months before.
Returning an older and wiser man from war,
he now wants to make her his wife.
May is hesitant.

Man and Woman kiss during VJ Day in New York
Photo of VJ Day celebration in New York's Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

      "May listen, I love you, and I always will. Every name you call me I deserve. Everything that's happened is my fault. We might have had a perfect love, the springtime thing that's in all the books. I wrecked that. But you and I belong to each other, I know that." He took her hand. "If you love me, May, marry me."

      May didn't take her hand away. He thought he felt a little pressure. The blond hair troubled him very much. He tried not to see it. "What changed you, Willie? You're different, really you are."

      "I almost died, and I realized all I regretted was you." He knew it was a good speech, but to himself he was wondering whether he really wanted her after all. But the momentum of his emotions was impossible to arrest. May was inside this creature somewhere and he was going to have May.

      She said wearily, "Willie, what do you want me to do? Come to a college with you on the GI bill and make chops on the electric grill for you and wash diapers and talk about books? I'm making two-fifty a week steady."

      He leaned to her and kissed her. Her lips smiled under the kiss. He jumped to his feet, pulled her up, and kissed her passionately, and this time she responded in the old way. She leaned back in his arms, and said huskily, "Amazing. That still works."

      "Then that's all --"

      "Not by a long shot. Sit down beautiful sailor." She pushed him into his chair and sat, and put her hand over her eyes. "However, it makes for confusion, a little bit, I'll say that. Surprises me --"

      "Do you love this man Feather you are with now?"

      "If you call love what we had, those things don't happen again. And thank God for that, I say."

      "He's old."

      "You're young. In many ways that's worse."

      "You can't kiss two people the way you just kissed me. You're not in love with him."

      "Sex takes up a very small part of the day, anyway."

      "It makes the rest of the day worth living."

      "You could always talk fast. Be honest, Willie, what's the point of coming back out of nowhere like this? It's all dirty and broken and finished. It was wonderful but you ruined it."

      "It isn't all sex. Our minds run the same way. We're talking just as we always did. Even these painful things we're saying are alive and worth hearing and exciting, because we're saying them to each other --"

      "I've gotten so I like money."

      "Then I'll give you money."

      "Your mother's."

      "No, I'll go into business if you really want it. I can make a go of whatever I put my hand to --"

      "I thought you wanted to teach --"

      "I do, and I think you're talking through your hat about money. You're stalling."

      May looked bewildered and desperate. "Don't you know what a horrible beating I took from you? I thought our love was good and dead. I was glad of it --"

      "It's not dead. It's our life, still --"

      She scrutinized his face coldly. "Okay, since you're being so noble I feel like telling you something. I don't care if you believe it and I don't intend to change anything. Just so's you know there are two noble people in this deal. I haven't slept with Walter. So there's no question of rescuing the poor lost waif." She grinned sarcastically at his stunned look. "Too much for you to swallow, no doubt. I told you, I don't care --"

      "Christ, May, of course I believe you --"

      "Not that he didn't try. God knows, or doesn't keep trying in his nice way. But there's a catch. He really wants to marry me. And he's not a grabbing college boy. Seems he isn't divorced yet. And I have this coarse Catholic prejudice against getting into bed with a married man. Nobody else would believe this, no reason why you should --"

      "May, can I see you tonight after the show?"

      "No, Walter's having a party --"

      "Tomorrow morning?"

      "Good God, morning!


      "You're still thinking in Navy terms. What can civilized people do in the afternoon?"

      "Make love."

      She suddenly laughed aloud, richly and deeply. "You fool. I said civilized people, not Frenchmen." She looked at him with a flash of gaiety that had been their way together. "You know, you're still Willie, after all. You looked so damn forbidding there for awhile --"

      "It was the hair, May. It threw me completely. You had the most beautiful hair in the world --"

      "I know you liked it. It was Walter's idea. He's cold-blooded about it. He's taken surveys and everything. The dopes like their singers blond, that's all." She put her hands to her hair. "Is it really so awful? Do I look like a tramp or something?"

      "Sweetheart, my love, stay blond the rest of your life, I don't even know what you look like, I love you."

      "Willie, how did you almost get killed? What happened?"

      He told her the story of the Kamikaze, watching her eyes. The look in them was familiar. He thought May was glancing out through the windows of the singer. She was still there.

      "And - and then you wrote that letter?"

      "Same night."

      "Didn't you want to take it all back in the morning?"

      "Here I am, May. I even tried to phone you from Pearl Harbor --"

      "It feels funny to hear you call me May. I'm getting used to Marie."

      "I got this for my colossal heroism." He pulled the Bronze Star out of his pocket, opened the box, and showed it to her. May's eyes gleamed in admiration. "Here take it."

      "Who, me? Don't be crazy."

      "I want you to have it. That's the only good I'll ever get out of it --"

      "No, Willie, no --"

      "Please --"

      "Not now. Put it away. I don't know, maybe another time - it's - Thanks, but put it in your pocket."

      He did, and they looked at each other. She said after a while, "You don't know what I'm thinking."

      "I hope for the best."

      "We might try for another kiss. As long as you're a hero." She stood, pushed aside his coat, and clung to him, kissing hard. With her face against his shoulder she said faintly, "I always did think I would like to have your kids - before. I - I don't feel that way about Walter, it's different-- Willie, this thing would need an iron lung and - and then I don't know - you'd never forget Walter - neither would I - honestly, you're being hard on me. I was all back in one piece until an hour ago--"

      "Were you happy?"

      "Happy? Happy is when you don't have a broken leg, so far as I know." She began to cry.

      "I swear you're wrong, May--"

      She pushed herself away from him suddenly and pulled a mirror out her coat pocket. "God, if Walter sees me in this condition, things will really start popping." She began to work hurriedly at her make-up. "Willie, you devil, you've never been anything but trouble for me, you're my haunt." Powder flew in little clouds from the puff. "Imagine you wanting to raise the kids Catholic! That's the point in the letter where I started to cry - it was so absurd, talking about the kids. What kids? . . . Look at those eyes. Burnt holes--" Some musicians came strolling through the curtains on the stage. May glanced at them over her shoulder. Her smile faded and her face set in a businesslike look. She put her make-up away. Willie said quickly, "I'll see you tomorrow."

      "Oh, sure, why not? I'll have lunch with you. But I have to make records at three-thirty."

      "And tomorrow night?"

      "Willie, don't start pressing me. And don't start building things in your head. This talking has gone all wrong - I feel drunk - it proves nothing.- Look, do me a favor and wipe off that lipstick.- "She looked uneasily at the musicians again.

      He stepped to her side and said in a low voice, "I love you. We'll be happy. Not comfortable. Happy. Not two-fifty a week. Happy. Happy in love."

      "So you say. I'll see you tomorrow."

      Willie said, "I also like your eyes and your face and your voice and your mouth. I don't want to leave you. Make it breakfast instead of lunch, breakfast at 7 o'clock. I'll check into this hotel so I can be within a few floors of you--"

      "No, not breakfast. Don't check in. Don't be crazy. The war's over, there's time, all kinds of time. Willie, get that look off your face, and go away, for God's sake, I still have to work--" She turned away abruptly, trembling, and walked toward the stage, hugging her coat about her.

      The door opened and Walter Feather came in. "Hi, Lieutenant. If you want to see the Navy parade, it's coming down Fifth Avenue now. You can hear the drums in the street."

      They faced each other for a moment, and there was something in the bandleader's face that unaccountably reminded Willie of Tom Keefer - the mocking condescension perhaps, or perhaps a softness under the brightness. He felt encouraged. He had matched Keefer.

      "Thanks, Feather. I guess I'll go have a look at it." He glanced at the stage. May was watching them, holding a sheet of music. He gestured good-by to her, and she barely nodded. He went out into the street.

      Brass-band music was echoing down the side-streets. He hurried to Fifth Avenue, worked to the front of the crowd, and watched the Navy's blue ranks marching by. The music made him straighten up in his heavy bridge coat. But he felt no regret at being on the sidelines. His mind was full of the fight that lay ahead. He was going to make May his wife. He did not know what manner of life they could find together, he did not even know whether they would be happy, and he did not care now. He was going to make May his wife.

      Torn paper was flying in the air over the victorious marchers; and now then a scrap drifted down and brushed the face of the last captain of the Caine.