Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Robert Rowe, Charles Franks
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THE NEW BOOK OF MARTYRS
From the French of GEORGES DUHAMEL
BY FLORENCE SIMMONDS
THROUGHOUT OUR LAND
THE STORY OF CARRE AND LERONDEAU
MEMORIES OF THE MARTYRS
THE DEATH OF MERCIER
THE THIRD SYMPHONY
NIGHTS IN ARTOIS
THE NEW BOOK OF MARTYRS
THROUGHOUT OUR LAND
From the disfigured regions where the cannon reigns supreme, to
the mountains of the South, to the ocean, to the glittering shores
of the inland sea, the cry of wounded men echoes throughout the
land, and a vast kindred cry seems to rise responsive from the
There is no French town in which the wounds inflicted on the
battle-field are not bleeding. Not one which has not accepted the
duty of assuaging something of the sum of suffering, just as it
bears its part in the sum of mourning; not one which may not hear
within its own walls an echo of the greater lamentation swelling
and muttering where the conflict seems to rage unceasingly. The
waves of war break upon the whole surface of the country, and like
the incoming tide, strew it with wreckage.
In the beds which the piety of the public has prepared on every
side, stricken men await the verdict of fate. The beds are white,
the bandages are spotless; many faces smile until the hour when
they are flushed with fever, and until that same fever makes a
whole nation of wounded tremble on the Continent.
Some one who had been visiting the wounded said to me: "The beds
are really very white, the dressings are clean, all the patients
seem to be playing cards, reading the papers, eating dainties;
they are simple, often very gentle, they don't look very unhappy.
They all tell the same story ... The war has not changed them
much. One can recognise them all."
Are you sure that you recognise them? You have just been looking
at them, are you sure that you have seen them?
Under their bandages are wounds you cannot imagine. Below the
wounds, in the depths of the mutilated flesh, a soul, strange and
furtive, is stirring in feverish exaltation, a soul which does not
readily reveal itself, which expresses itself artlessly, but which
I would fain make you understand.
In these days, when nothing retains its former semblance, all
these men are no longer those you so lately knew. Suffering has
roused them from the sleep of gentle life, and every day fills
them with a terrible intoxication. They are now something more
than themselves; those we loved were merely happy shadows.
Let us lose none of their humble words, let us note their
slightest gestures, and tell me, tell me that we will think of
them together, now and later, when we realise the misery of the
times and the magnitude of their sacrifice.
THE STORY OF CARRE AND LERONDEAU
They came in like two parcels dispatched by the same post, two
clumsy, squalid parcels, badly packed, and damaged in transit. Two
human forms rolled up in linens and woollens, strapped into
strange instruments, one of which enclosed the whole man, like a
coffin of zinc and wire.
They seemed to be of no particular age; or rather, each might have
been a thousand and more, the age of swaddled mummies in the
depths of sarcophagi.
We washed, combed, and peeled them, and laid them very cautiously
between clean sheets; then we found that one had the look of an
old man, and that the other was still a boy.
Their beds face each other in the same grey room. All who enter it
notice them at once; their infinite misery gives them an air of
kinship. Compared with them, the other wounded seem well and
happy. And in this abode of suffering, they are kings; their
couches are encircled by the respect and silence due to majesty.
I approach the younger man and bend over him.
"What is your name?"
The answer is a murmur accompanied by an imploring look. What I
hear sounds like: Mahihehondo. It is a sigh with modulations.
It takes me a week to discover that the boyish patient is called
The bed opposite is less confused. I see a little toothless head.
From out the ragged beard comes a peasant voice, broken in tone,
but touching and almost melodious. The man who lies there is
They did not come from the same battlefield, but they were hit
almost at the same time, and they have the same wound. Each has a
fractured thigh. Chance brought them together in the same distant
ambulance, where their wounds festered side by side. Since then
they have kept together, till now they lie enfolded by the blue
radiance of the Master's gaze.
He looks at both, and shakes his head silently; truly, a bad
business! He can but ask himself which of the two will die first,
so great are the odds against the survival of either.
The white-bearded man considers them in silence, turning in his
hand the cunning knife.
We can know nothing till after this grave debate. The soul must
withdraw, for this is not its hour. Now the knife must divide the
flesh, and lay the ravage bare, and do its work completely.
So the two comrades go to sleep, in that dreadful slumber wherein
each man resembles his own corpse. Henceforth we enter upon the
struggle. We have laid our grasp upon these two bodies; we shall
not let them be snatched from us easily.
The nausea of the awakening, the sharp agony of the first hours
are over, and I begin to discover my new friends.
This requires time and patience. The dressing hour is propitious.
The man lies naked on the table. One sees him as a whole, as also
those great gaping wounds, the objects of so many hopes and fears.
The afternoon is no less favourable to communion, but that is
another matter. Calm has come to them, and these two creatures
have ceased to be nothing but a tortured leg and a screaming
Carre went ahead at once. He made a veritable bound. Whereas
Lerondeau seemed still wrapped in a kind of plaintive stupor,
Carre was already enfolding me in a deep affectionate gaze. He
"You must do all that is necessary."
Lerondeau can as yet only murmur a half articulate phrase:
"Mustn't hurt me."
As soon as I could distinguish and understand the boy's words, I
called him by his Christian name. I would say:
"How are you, Marie?" or "I am pleased with you, Marie."
This familiarity suits him, as does my use of "thee" and "thou" in
talking to him. He very soon guessed that I speak thus only to
those who suffer most, and for whom I have a special tenderness.
So I say to him: "Marie, the wound looks very well today." And
every one in the hospital calls him Marie as I do.
When he is not behaving well, I say:
"Come, be sensible, Lerondeau."
His eyes fill with tears at once. One day I was obliged to try
"Monsieur Lerondeau," and he was so hurt that I had to retract on
the spot. However, he now refrains from grumbling at his orderly,
and screaming too loudly during the dressing of his wound, for he
knows that the day I say to him "Be quiet, Monsiuer"--just
Monsiuer--our relations will be exceedingly strained.
From the first, Carre bore himself like a man. When I entered the
dressing ward, I found the two lying side by side on stretchers
which had been placed on the floor. Carre's emaciated arm emerged
from under his blanket, and he began to lecture Marie on the
subject of hope and courage.... I listened to the quavering voice,
I looked at the toothless face, lit up by a smile, and I felt a
curious choking in my throat, while Lerondeau blinked like a child
who is being scolded. Then I went out of the room, because this
was a matter between those two lying on the ground, and had
nothing to do with me, a robust person, standing on my feet.
Since then, Carre has proved that he had a right to preach courage
to young Lerondeau.
While the dressing is being prepared, he lies on the ground with
the others, waiting his turn, and says very little. He looks
gravely round him, and smiles when his eyes meet mine. He is not
proud, but he is not one of those who are ready to chatter to
every one. One does not come into this ward to talk, but to
suffer, and Carre is bracing himself to suffer as decently as
When he is not quite sure of himself, he warns me, saying:
"I am not as strong as usual to-day."
Nine times, out of ten, he is "as strong as usual," but he is so
thin, so wasted, so reduced by his mighty task, that he is
sometimes obliged to beat a retreat. He does it with honour, with
dignity. He has just said: "My knee is terribly painful," and the
sentence almost ends in a scream. Then, feeling that he is about
to howl like the others, Carre begins to sing.
The first time this happened I did not quite understand what was
going on. He repeated the one phrase again and again: "Oh, the
pain in my knee!" And gradually I became aware that this lament
was becoming a real melody, and for five long minutes Carre
improvised a terrible, wonderful, heart-rending song on "the pain
in his knee." Since then this has become a habit, and he begins to
sing suddenly as soon as he feels that he can no longer keep
Among his improvisations he will introduce old airs. I prefer not
to look at his face when he begins: "Il n'est ni beau ni grand mon
verre." Indeed, I have a good excuse for not looking at it, for I
am very busy with his poor leg, which gives me much anxiety, and
has to be handled with infinite precautions.
I do "all that is necessary," introducing the burning tincture of
iodine several times. Carre feels the sting; and when, passing by
his corner an hour later, I listen for a moment, I hear him slowly
chanting in a trembling but melodious voice the theme: "He gave me
tincture of iodine."
Carre is proud of showing courage.
This morning he seemed so weak that I tried to be as quick as
possible and to keep my ears shut. But presently a stranger came
into the ward. Carre turned his head slightly, saw the visitor,
and frowning, began to sing:
"Il n'est ni beau ni grand mon verre."
The stranger looked at him with tears in his eyes but the more he
looked, the more resolutely Carre smiled, clutching the edges of
the table with his two quivering hands.
Lerondeau has good strong teeth. Carre has nothing but black
stumps. This distresses me, for a man with a fractured thigh needs
Lerondeau is still at death's door, but though moribund, he can
eat. He attacks his meat with a well-armed jaw; he bites with
animal energy, and seems to fasten upon anything substantial.
Carre, for his part, is well-inclined to eat; but what can he do
with his old stumps?
"Besides," he says, "I was never very carnivorous."
Accordingly, he prefers to smoke. In view of lying perpetually
upon his back, he arranged the cover of a cardboard box upon his
chest; the cigarette ash falls into this, and Carre smokes without
moving, in cleanly fashion.
I look at the ash, the smoke, the yellow, emaciated face, and
reflect sadly that it is not enough to have the will to live; one
must have teeth.
Not every one knows how to suffer, and even when we know, we must
set about it the right way, if we are to come off with honour. As
soon as he is on the table, Carre looks round him and asks:
"Isn't there any one to squeeze my head to-day?"
If there is no answer, he repeats anxiously:
"Who is going to squeeze my head to-day?"
Then a nurse approaches, takes his head between her hands and
presses.... I can begin; as soon as some one is "squeezing his
head" Carre is good.
Lerondeau's method is different. He wants some one to hold his
hands. When there is no one to do this, he shrieks: "I shall
It is no use to tell him that he is on a solid table, and that he
need not be afraid. He gropes about for the helpful hands, and
cries, the sweat breaking out on his brow: "I know I shall fall."
Then I get some one to come and hold his hands, for suffering, at
any rate, is a reality....
Each sufferer has his characteristic cry when the dressing is
going on. The poor have only one, a simple cry that does service
for them all. It makes one think of the women who, when they are
bringing a child into the world, repeat, at every pain, the one
complaint they have adopted.
Carre has a great many varied cries, and he does not say the same
thing when the dressing is removed, and when the forceps are
At the supreme moment he exclaims: "Oh, the pain in my knee!"
Then, when the anguish abates, he shakes his head and repeats:
"Oh, that wretched knee!"
When it is the turn of the thigh, he is exasperated.
"Now it's this thigh again!"
And he repeats this incessantly, from second to second. Then we go
on to the wound under his heel, and Carre begins:
"Well, what is wrong with the poor heel?"
Finally, when he is tired of singing, he murmurs softly and
"They don't know how that wretched knee hurts me... they don't
know how it hurts me."
Lerondeau, who is, and always will be, a little boy compared with
Carre, is very poor in the matter of cries. But when he hears his
complaints, he checks his own cries, Borrows them. Accordingly, I
hear him beginning:
"Oh, my poor knee! ... They don't know it hurts!"
One morning when he was shouting this at the top of his voice, I
asked him gravely:
"Why do you make the same complaints as Carre?"
Marie is only a peasant, but he showed me a face that was really
"It's not true. I don't say the same things."
I said no more, for there are no souls so rugged that they cannot
feel certain stings.
Marie has told me the story of his life and of his campaign. As he
is not very eloquent, It was for the most part a confused murmur
with an ever-recurring protestation:
"I was a good one to work, you know, strong as a horse."
Yet I can hardly imagine that there was once a Marie Lerondeau who
was a robust young fellow, standing firm and erect between the
handles of a plough. I know him only as a man lying on his back,
and I even find it difficult to picture to myself what his shape
and aspect will be when we get him on his feet again.
Marie did his duty bravely under fire. "He stayed alone with the
wagons and when he was wounded, the Germans kicked him with their
heavy boots." These are the salient points of the interrogatory.
Now and again Lerondeau's babble ceases, and he looks up to the
ceiling, for this takes the place of distance and horizon to those
who lie upon their backs. After a long, light silence, he looks at
me again, and repeats:
"I must have been pretty brave to stay alone with the wagons!"
True enough, Lerondeau was brave, and I take care to let people
know it. When strangers come in during the dressings, I show them
Marie, who is making ready to groan, and say:
"This is Marie--Marie Lerondeau, you know. He has a fractured
thigh, but he is a very brave fellow. He stayed alone with the
The visitors nod their heads admiringly, and Marie controls
himself. He blushes a little, and the muscles of his neck swell
with pride. He makes a sign with his eyes as if to say: "Yes,
indeed, alone, all alone with the wagons." And meanwhile, the
dressing has been nearly finished.
The whole world must know that Marie stayed alone with the wagons.
I intend to pin a report of this on the Government pension
Carre was only under fire once, and was hit almost immediately. He
is much annoyed at this, for he had a good stock of courage, and
now he has to waste it within the walls of a hospital.
He advanced through a huge beetroot field, and he ran with the
others towards a fine white mist. All of a sudden, crack, he fell!
His thigh was fractured. He fell among the thick leaves, on the
Shortly afterwards his sergeant passed again, and said to him:
"We are going back to our trench, they shall come and fetch you
Carre merely said:
"Put my haversack under my head."
Evening was coming on; he prepared, gravely, to spend the night
among the beetroots. And there he spent it, alone with a cold
drizzling rain, meditating seriously until morning.
It was fortunate that Carre brought such a stock of courage into
hospital, for he needs it all. Successive operations and dressings
make large drafts upon the most generous supplies.
They put Carre upon the table, and I note an almost joyful
resolution in his look. To-day he has "all his strength, to the
But just to-day, I have but little to do, not much suffering to
inflict. He has scarcely knitted his brows, when I begin to fasten
up the apparatus again.
Then Carre's haggard face breaks into a smile, and he exclaims:
"Finished already? Put some more ether on, make it sting a bit at
Carre knows that the courage of which there was no need to-day
will not, perhaps, be available to-morrow.
And to-morrow, and for many days after, Carre will have to be
constantly calling up those reserves of the soul which help the
body to suffer while it waits for the good offices of Nature.
The swimmer adrift on the open seas measures his strength, and
strives with all his muscles to keep himself afloat. But what is
he to do when there is no land on the horizon, and none beyond it?
This leg, infected to the very marrow, seems to be slowly
devouring the man to whom it belongs; we look at it anxiously, and
the white-haired Master fixes two small light-blue eyes upon it,
eyes accustomed to appraise the things of life, yet, for the
I speak to Carre in veiled words of the troublesome, gangrenous
leg. He gives a toothless laugh, and settles the question at once.
"Well, if the wretched thing is a nuisance, we shall have to get
rid of it."
After this consent, we shall no doubt make up our minds to do so.
Meanwhile Lerondeau is creeping steadily towards healing.
Lying on his back, bound up in bandages and a zinc trough, and
imprisoned by cushions, he nevertheless looks like a ship which
the tide will set afloat at dawn.
He is putting on flesh, yet, strange to say, he seems to get
lighter and lighter. He is learning not to groan, not because his
frail soul is gaining strength, but because the animal is better
fed and more robust.
His ideas of strength of mind are indeed very elementary. As soon
as I hear his first cry, in the warm room where his wound is
dressed, I give him an encouraging look, and say:
"Be brave, Marie! Try to be strong!"
Then he knits his brows, makes a grimace, and asks:
"Ought I to say 'By God!'?"
The zinc trough in which Marie's shattered leg has been lying has
lost its shape; it has become oxydised and is split at the edges;
so I have decided to change it.
I take it away, look at it, and throw it into a corner. Marie
follows my movements with a scared glance. While I am adjusting
the new trough, a solid, comfortable one, but rather different in
appearance, he casts an eloquent glance at the discarded one, and
his eyes fill with copious tears.
This change is a small matter; but in the lives of the sick, there
are no small things.
Lerondeau will weep for the old zinc fragment for two days, and it
will be a long time before he ceases to look distrustfully at the
new trough, and to criticise it in those minute and bitter terms
which only a connoisseur can understand or invent.
Carre, on the other hand, cannot succeed in carrying along his
body by the generous impulse of his soul. Everything about him
save his eyes and his liquid voice foreshadow the corpse.
Throughout the winter days and the long sleepless nights, he looks
as if he were dragging along a derelict.
He strains at it ... with his poignant songs and his brave words
which falter now, and often die away in a moan.
I had to do his dressing in the presence of Marie. The amount of
work to be got through, and the cramped quarters made this
necessary. Marie was grave and attentive as if he were taking a
lesson, and, indeed, it was a lesson in patience and courage. But
all at once, the teacher broke down. In the middle of the
dressing, Carre opened his lips, and in spite of himself, began to
complain without restraint or measure, giving up the struggle in
Lerondeau listened, anxious and uneasy; and Carre, knowing that
Marie was listening, continued to lament, like one who has lost
all sense of shame.
Lerondeau called me by a motion of his eyelids. He said:
And he added:
"I saw his slough. Lord! he is bad."
Lerondeau has a good memory for medical terms. Yes, he saw Carre's
slough. He himself has the like on his posterior and on his heel;
but the tear that trembles in the corner of his eye is certainly
And then, he knows, he feels that HIS wounds are going to heal.
But it is bad for Marie to hear another complaining before his own
He comes to the table very ill-disposed. His nerves have been
shaken and are unusually irritable.
At the first movement, he begins with sighs and those "Poor
devils!" which are his artless and habitual expressions of self-
pity. And then, all at once, he begins to scream, as I had not
heard him scream for a long time. He screams in a sort of frenzy,
opening his mouth widely, and shrieking with all the strength of
his lungs, and with all the strength of his face, it would seem,
for it is flushed and bathed in sweat. He screams unreasonably at
the lightest touch, in an incoherent and disorderly fashion.
Then, ceasing to exhort him to be calm with gentle and
compassionate words, I raise my voice suddenly and order the boy
to be quiet, in a severe tone that admits of no parleying...
Marie's agitation subsides at once, like a bubble at the touch of
a finger. The ward still rings with my imperious order. A good
lady who does not understand at once, stares at me in
But Marie, red and frightened, controls his unreasonable emotion.
And as long as the dressing lasts, I dominate his soul strenuously
to prevent him from suffering in vain, just as others hold and
grasp his wrists.
Then, presently, it is all over. I give him a fraternal smile that
relaxes the tension of his brow as a bow is unbent.
A lady, who is a duchess at the least, came to visit the wounded.
She exhaled such a strong, sweet perfume that she cannot have
distinguished the odour of suffering that pervades this place.
Carre was shown to her as one of the most interesting specimens of
the house. She looked at him with a curious, faded smile, which,
thanks to paint and powder, still had a certain beauty.
She made some patriotic remarks to Carre full of allusions to his
conduct under fire. And Carre ceased staring out of the window to
look at the lady with eyes full of respectful astonishment.
And then she asked Carre what she could send him that he would
like, with a gesture that seemed to offer the kingdoms of the
earth and the glory of them.
Carre, in return, gave her a radiant smile; he considered for a
moment and then said modestly:
"A little bit of veal with new potatoes."
The handsome lady thought it tactful to laugh. And I felt
instinctively that her interest in Carre was suddenly quenched.
An old man sometimes comes to visit Carre. He stops before the
bed, and with a stony face pronounces words full of an overflowing
"Give him anything he asks for.... Send a telegram to his family."
Carre protests timidly: "Why a telegram? I have no one but my poor
old mother; it would frighten her."
The little old gentleman emerges from his varnished boots like a
variegated plant from a double vase.
Carre coughs--first, to keep himself in countenance, and,
secondly, because his cruel bronchitis takes this opportunity to
give him a shaking.
Then the old gentleman stoops, and all his medals hang out from
his tunic like little dried-up breasts. He bends down, puffing and
pouting, without removing his gold-trimmed KEPI, and lays a deaf
ear on Carre's chest with an air of authority.
Carre's leg has been sacrificed. The whole limb has gone, leaving
a huge and dreadful wound level with the trunk.
It is very surprising that the rest of Carre did not go with the
He had a pretty hard day.
O life! O soul! How you cling to this battered carcase! O little
gleam on the surface of the eye! Twenty times I saw it die down
and kindle again. And it seemed too suffering, too weak, too
despairing ever to reflect anything again save suffering,
weakness, and despair.
During the long afternoon, I go and sit between two beds beside
Lerondeau. I offer him cigarettes, and we talk. This means that we
say nothing, or very little.... But it is not necessary to speak
when one has a talk with Lerondeau.
Marie is very fond of cigarettes, but what he likes still better
is that I should come and sit by him for a bit. When I pass
through the ward, he taps coaxingly upon his sheet, as one taps
upon a bench to invite a friend to a seat.
Since he told me about his life at home and his campaign, he has
not found much to say to me. He takes the cakes with which his
little shelf is laden, and crunches them with an air of enjoyment.
"As for me," he says, "I just eat all the time," and he laughs.
If he stops eating to smoke, he laughs again. Then there is an
agreeable silence. Marie looks at me, and begins to laugh again.
And when I get up to go, he says: "Oh, you are not in such a great
hurry, we can chat a little longer!"
Lerondeau's leg was such a bad business that it is now permanently
shorter than the other by a good twelve centimetres. So at least
it seems to us, looking down on it from above.
But Lerondeau, who has only seen it from afar by raising his head
a little above the table while his wounds are being dressed, has
noticed only a very slight difference in length between his two
He said philosophically:
"It is shorter, but with a good thick sole...."
When Marie was better, he raised himself on his elbow, and he
understood the extent of his injury more clearly.
"I shall want a VERY thick sole," he remarked.
Now that Lerondeau can sit up, he, too, can estimate the extent of
the damage from above; but he is happy to feel life welling up
once more in him, and he concludes gaily:
"What I shall want is not a sole, but a little bench."
But Carre is ill, terribly ill.
That valiant soul of his seems destined to be left alone, for all
else is failing.
He had one sound leg. Now it is stiff and swollen.
He had healthy, vigorous arms. Now one of them is covered with
The joy of breathing no longer exists for Carre, for his cough
shakes him savagely in his bed.
The back, by means of which we rest, has also betrayed him. Here
and there it is ulcerated; for man was not meant to lie
perpetually on his back, but only to lie and sleep on it after a
day of toil.
For man was not really intended to suffer with his miserable,
And his heart beats laboriously.
There was mischief in the bowel too. So much so, that one day
Carre was unable to control himself, before a good many people who
had come in.
In spite of our care, in spite of our friendly assurances, Carre
was so ashamed that he wept. He who always said that a man ought
not to cry, he who never shed a tear in the most atrocious
suffering, sobbed with shame on account of this accident. And I
could not console him.
He no longer listens to all we say to him. He no longer answers
our questions. He has mysterious fits of absence.
He who was so dignified in his language, expresses himself and
complains with the words of a child.
Sometimes he comes up out of the depths and speaks.
He talks of death with an imaginative lucidity which sounds like
Sometimes he sees it ... And as he gazes, his pupils suddenly
But he will not, he cannot make up his mind....
He wants to suffer a little longer.
I draw near to his bed in the gathering darkness. His breathing is
so light that suddenly, I stop and listen open-mouthed, full of
Then Carre suddenly opens his eyes.
Will he sigh and groan? No. He smiles and says:
"What white teeth you have!"
Then he dreams, as if he were dying.
Could you have imagined such a martyrdom, my brother, when you
were driving the plough into your little plot of brown earth?
Here you are, enduring a death-agony of five months swathed in
these livid wrappings, without even the rewards that are given to
Your breast, your shroud must be bare of even the humblest of the
rewards of valour, Carre.
It was written that you should suffer without purpose and without
But I will not let all your sufferings be lost in the abyss. And
so I record them thus at length.
Lerondeau has been brought down into the garden. I find him there,
stretched out on a cane chair, with a little kepi pulled down over
his eyes, to shade them from the first spring sunshine.
He talks a little, smokes a good deal, and laughs more.
I look at his leg, but he hardly ever looks at it himself; he no
longer feels it.
He will forget it even more utterly after a while, and he will
live as if it were natural enough for a man to live with a stiff,
Forget your leg, forget your sufferings, Lerondeau. But the world
must not forget them.
And I leave Marie sitting in the sun, with a fine new pink colour
in his freckled cheeks.
Carre died early this morning. Lerondeau leaves us to-morrow.
MEMORIES OF THE MARTYRS
Were modesty banished from the rest of the earth, it would no
doubt find a refuge in Mouchon's heart.
I see him still as he arrived, on a stretcher full of little
pebbles, with his mud be-plastered coat, and his handsome, honest
face, like that of a well-behaved child.
"You must excuse me," he said; "we can't keep ourselves very
"Have you any lice?" asks the orderly, as he undresses him.
Mouchon flushes and looks uneasy.
"Well, if I have, they don't really belong to me."
He has none, but he has a broken leg, "due to a torpedo."
The orderly cuts open his trouser, and I tell him to take off the
boot. Mouchon puts out his hand, and says diffidently:
"Never mind the boot."
"But, my good fellow, we can't dress your leg without taking off
Then Mouchon, red and confused, objects:
"But if you take off the boot, I'm afraid my foot will smell...."
I have often thought of this answer. And believe me, Mouchon, I
have not yet met the prince who is worthy to take off your boots
and wash your humble feet.
With his forceps the doctor lays hold carefully of a mass of
bloody dressings, and draws them gently out of a gaping wound in
the abdomen. A ray of sunshine lights him at his work, and the
whole of the frail shed trembles to the roar of the cannon.
"I am a big china-dealer," murmurs the patient. "You come from
Paris, and I do, too. Save me, and you shall see.... I'll give you
a fine piece of china."
The plugs are coming out by degrees; the forceps glitter, and the
ray of sunshine seems to tremble under the cannonade, as do the
floor, the walls, the light roof, the whole earth, the whole
universe, drunk with fatigue.
Suddenly, from the depths of space, a whining sound arises,
swells, rends the air above the shed, and the shell bursts a few
yards off, with the sound of a cracked object breaking.
The thin walls seem to quiver under the pressure of the air. The
doctor makes a slight movement of his head, as if to see, after
all, where the thing fell.
Then the china-dealer, who noted the movement, says in a quiet
"Don't take any notice of those small things, they don't do any
harm. Only save me, and I will give you a beautiful piece of china
or earthenware, whichever you like."
The root of the evil is not so much the shattered leg, as the
little wound in the arm, from which so much good blood was lost.
With his livid lips, no longer distinguishable from the rest of
his face, and the immense black pupils of his eyes, the man shows
a countenance irradiated by a steadfast soul, which will not give
in till the last moment. He contemplates the ravages of his body
almost severely, and without illusion, and watching the surgeons
as they scrub their hands, he says in a grave voice:
"Tell my wife that my last thoughts were of her and our children."
Ah! it was not a veiled question, for, without a moment's
hesitation, he allows us to put the mask over his face.
The solemn words seem still to echo through the ward:
"Tell my wife..."
That manly face is not the face of one who could be deceived by
soft words and consoling phrases. The white blouse turns away. The
surgeon's eyes grow dim behind his spectacles, and in solemn tones
"We will not fail to do so, friend."
The patient's eyelids flutter--as one waves a handkerchief from
the deck of a departing steamer--then, breathing in the ether
steadily, he falls into a dark slumber.
He never wakes, and we keep our promise to him.
A few days before the death of Tricot, a very annoying thing
happened to him; a small excrescence, a kind of pimpel, appeared
on the side of his nose.
Tricot had suffered greatly; only some fragments of his hands
remained; but, above all, he had a great opening in his side, a
kind of fetid mouth, through which the will to live seemed to
Coughing, spitting, looking about with wide, agonised eyes in
search of elusive breath, having no hands to scratch oneself with,
being unable to eat unaided, and further, never having the
smallest desire to eat--could this be called living? And yet
Tricot never gave in. He waged his own war with the divine
patience of a man who had waged the great world war, and who knows
that victory will not come right away.
But Tricot had neither allies nor reserves; he was all alone, so
wasted and so exhausted that the day came when he passed almost
imperceptibly from the state of a wounded to that of a dying man.
And it was just at this moment that the pimple appeared.
Tricot had borne the greatest sufferings courageously; but he
seemed to have no strength to bear this slight addition to his
"Monsieur," stammered the orderly who had charge of him, utterly
dejected, "I tell you, that pimple is the spark that makes the cup
And in truth the cup overflowed. This misfortune was too much.
Tricot began to complain, and from that moment I felt that he was
I asked him several times a day, thinking of all his wounds: "How
are you, old fellow?" And he, thinking of nothing but the pimple,
"Very bad, very bad! The pimple is getting bigger."
It was true. The pimple had come to a head, and I wanted to prick
Tricot, who had allowed us to cut into his chest without an
anaesthetic, exclaimed with tears:
"No, no more operations! I won't have any more operations."
All day long he lamented about his pimple, and the following night
"It was a bad pimple," said the orderly; "it was that which killed
Alas! It was not a very "bad pimple," but no doubt it killed him.
Mehay was nearly killed, but he did not die; so no great harm was
The bullet went through his helmet, and only touched the bone. The
brain is all right. So much the better.
No sooner had Mehay come to, and hiccoughed a little in memory of
the chloroform, than he began to look round with interest at all
that was happening about him.
Three days after the operation, Mehay got up. It would have been
useless to forbid this proceeding. Mehay would have disobeyed
orders for the first time in his life. We could not even think of
taking away his clothes. The brave man never lacks clothes.
Mehay accordingly got up, and his illness was a thing of the past.
Every morning, Mehay rises before day-break and seizes a broom.
Rapidly and thoroughly, he makes the ward as dean as his own
heart. He never forgets any corner, and he manages to pass the
brush gently under the beds without waking his sleeping comrades,
and without disturbing those who are in pain. Sometimes Mehay
hands basins or towels, and he is as gentle as a woman when he
helps to dress Vossaert, whose limbs are numb and painful.
At eight o'clock, the ward is in perfect order, and as the
dressings are about to begin, Mehay suddenly appears in a fine
clean apron. He watches my hands carefully as they come and go,
and he is always in the right place to hand the dressing to the
forceps, to pour out the spirit, or to lend a hand with a bandage,
for he very soon learned to bandage skilfully.
He does not say a word; he just looks. The bit of his forehead
that shows under his own bandages is wrinkled with the earnestness
of his attention--and he has those blue marks by which we
recognise the miner.
Sometimes it is his turn to have a dressing. But scarcely is it
completed when he is up again with his apron before him, silently
At eleven o'clock, Mehay disappears. He has gone, perhaps, to get
a breath of fresh air? Oh, no! Here he is back again with a
trayful of bowls. And he hands round the soup.
In the evening he hands the thermometer. He helps the orderlies so
much that he leaves them very little to do.
All this time the bones of his skull are at work under his
bandages, and the red flesh is growing. But we are not to trouble
about that: it will manage all alone. The man, however, cannot be
idle. He works, and trusts to his blood, "which is healthy."
In the evening, when the ward is lighted by a night-light, and I
come in on tiptoe to give a last look round, I hear a voice
laboriously spelling: "B-O, Bo; B-I, Bi; N-E, Ne, Bobine." It is
Mehay, learning to read before going to bed.
A lamp has been left alight, because the men are not asleep yet,
and they are allowed to smoke for a while. It would be no fun to
smoke, unless one could see the smoke.
The former bedroom of the mistress of the house makes a very
light, very clean ward. Under the draperies which have been
fastened up to the ceiling and covered with sheets, old Louarn
lies motionless, waiting for his three shattered limbs to mend. He
is smoking a cigarette, the ash from which falls upon his breast.
Apologising for the little heaps of dirt that make his bed the
despair of the orderlies, he says to me:
"You know, a Breton ought to be a bit dirty."
I touch the weight attached to his thigh, and he exclaims:
"Ma doue! Ma doue! Caste! Caste!"
These are oaths of a kind, of his own coining, which make every
one laugh, and himself the first. He adds, as he does every day:
"Doctor, you never hurt me so much before as you have done this
Then he laughs again.
Lens is not asleep yet, but he is as silent as usual. He has
scarcely uttered twenty words in three weeks.
In a corner, Mehay patiently repeats: "P-A, Pa," and the orderly
who is teaching him to read presses his forefinger on the soiled
I make my way towards Croin, Octave. I sit down by the bed in
Croin turns a face half hidden by bandages to me, and puts a leg
damp with sweat out from under the blankets, for fever runs high
just at this time. He too, is silent; he knows as well as I do
that he is not going on well; but all the same, he hopes I shall
go away without speaking to him.
No. I must tell him. I bend over him and murmur certain things.
He listens, and his chin begins to tremble, his boyish chin, which
is covered with a soft, fair down.
Then, with the accent of his province, he says in a tearful,
"I have already given an eye, must I give a hand too?"
His one remaining eye fills with tears. And seeing the sound hand,
I press it gently before I go.
When I put my fingers near his injured eye, Croin recoils a
"Don't be afraid," I say to him.
"Oh, I'm not afraid!"
And he adds proudly:
"When a chap has lived on Hill 108, he can't ever be afraid of
"Then why do you wince?"
"It's just my head moving back of its own accord. I never think of
And it is true; the man is not afraid, but his flesh recoils.
When the bandage is properly adjusted, what remains visible of
Groin's face is young, agreeable, charming. I note this with
satisfaction, and say to him:
"There's not much damage done on this side. We'll patch you up so
well that you will still be able to make conquests."
He smiles, touches his bandage, looks at his mutilated arm, seems
to lose himself for a while in memories, and murmurs:
"May be. But the girls will never come after me again as they used
"The skin is beginning to form over the new flesh. A few weeks
more, and then a wooden leg. You will run along like a rabbit."
Plaquet essays a little dry laugh which means neither yes nor no,
but which reveals a great timidity, and something else, a great
"For Sundays, you can have an artificial leg. You put a boot on
it. The trouser hides it all. It won't show a bit."
The wounded man shakes his head slightly, and listens with a
gentle, incredulous smile.
"With an artificial leg, Plaquet, you will, of course, be able to
go out. It will be almost as it was before."
Plaquet shakes his head again, and says in a low voice:
"Oh, I shall never go out!"
"But with a good artificial leg, Plaquet, you will be able to walk
almost as well as before. Why shouldn't you go out?"
Plaquet hesitates and remains silent.
Then in an almost inaudible voice he replies:
"I will never go out. I should be ashamed."
Plaquet will wear a medal on his breast. He is a brave soldier,
and by no means a fool. But there are very complex feelings which
we must not judge too hastily.
In the corner of the ward there is a little plank bed which is
like all the other little beds. But buried between its sheets
there is the smile of Mathouillet, which is like no other smile.
Mathouillet, after throwing a good many bombs, at last got one
himself. In this disastrous adventure, he lost part of his thigh,
received several wounds, and gradually became deaf. Such is the
fate of bombardier-grenadier Mathouillet.
The bombardier-grenadier has a gentle, beardless face, which for
many weeks must have expressed great suffering, and, which is now
beginning to show a little satisfaction.
But Mathouillet hears so badly that when one speaks to him he only
smiles in answer.
If I come into the ward, Mathouillet's smile awaits and welcomes
me. When the dressing is over, Mathouillet thanks me with a smile.
If I look at the temperature chart, Mathouillet's smile follows
me, but not questioningly; Mathouillet has faith in me, but his
smile says a number of unspoken things that I understand
perfectly. Conversation is difficult, on account of this
unfortunate deafness--that is to say, conversation as usually
carried on. But we two, happily, have no need of words. For some
time past, certain smiles have been enough for us. And Mathouillet
smiles, not only with his eyes or with his lips, but with his
nose, his beardless chin, his broad, smooth forehead, crowned by
the pale hair of the North, with all his gentle, boyish face.
Now that Mathouillet can get up, he eats at the table, with his
comrades. To call him to meals, Baraffe utters a piercing cry,
which reaches the ear of the bombardier-grenadier.
He arrives, shuffling his slippers along the floor, and examines
all the laughing faces. As he cannot hear, he hesitates to sit
down, and this time his smile betrays embarrassment and confusion.
Coming very close to him, I say loudly:
"Your comrades are calling you to dinner, my boy."
"Yes, yes," he replies, "but because they know I am deaf, they
sometimes try to play tricks on me."
His cheeks flush warmly as he makes this impromptu confidence.
Then he makes up his mind to sit down, after interrogating me with
his most affectionate smile.
Once upon a time, Paga would have been called un type; now he is
un numero. This means that he is an original, that his ways of
considering and practising life are unusual; and as life here is
reduced entirely to terms of suffering, it means that his manner
of suffering differs from that of other people.
From the very beginning, during those hard moments when the
wounded man lies plunged in stupor and self-forgetfulness, Paga
distinguished himself by some remarkable eccentricities.
Left leg broken, right foot injured, such was the report on Paga's
Now the leg was not doing at all well. Every morning, the good
head doctor stared at the swollen flesh with his little round
discoloured eyes and said: "Come, we must just wait till to-
morrow." But Paga did not want to wait.
Flushed with fever, his hands trembling, his southern accent
exaggerated by approaching delirium, he said, as soon as we came
to see him.
"My wish, my wish! You know my wish, doctor."
Then, lower, with a kind of passion:
"I want you to cut it off, you know. I want you to cut this leg.
Oh! I shan't be happy till it is done. Doctor, cut it, cut it
We didn't cut it at all, and Paga's business was very successfully
arranged. I even feel sure that this leg became quite a
respectable limb again.
I am bound to say Paga understood that he had meddled with things
which did not concern him. He nevertheless continued to offer
imperative advice as to the manner in which he wished to be
"Don't pull off the dressings! I won't have it. Do you hear,
doctor? Don't pull. I won't have it."
Then he would begin to tremble nervously all over his body and to
"I am quite calm! Oh, I am really calm. See, Michelet, see,
Brugneau, I am calm. Doctor, see, I am quite calm."
Meantime the dressings were gradually loosening under a trickle of
water, and Paga muttered between his teeth:
"He's pulling, he's pulling. ... Oh, the cruel man! I won't have
it, I won't have it."
Then suddenly, with flaming cheeks:
"That's right. That's right! See, Michelet, see, Brugneau: the
dressings have come away. Sergeant, Sergeant, the dressings are
He clapped his hands, possessed by a furtive joy; then he suddenly
became conscious, and with a deep furrow between his brows, he
began to give orders again.
"Not any tincture of iodine to-day, doctor. Take away those
forceps, doctor, take them away."
Meanwhile the implacable forceps did their work, the tincture of
iodine performed its chilly function; then Paga yelled:
"Quickly, quickly. Kiss me, kiss me."
With his arms thrown out like tentacles, he beat upon the air, and
seized haphazard upon the first blouse that passed. Then he would
embrace it frantically.
Thus it happened that he once showered kisses on Michelet's hands,
objects by no means suitable for such a demonstration. Michelet
"Come, stop it; my hands are dirty."
And then poor Paga began to kiss Michelet's bare, hairy arms,
"If your hands are dirty, your arms are all right."
Alas, what has become of all those who, during days and nights of
patient labour, I saw gradually shaking off the dark empire of the
night and coming back again to joy? What has become of the
smouldering faggot which an ardent breath finally kindled into
What became of you, precious lives, poor wonderful souls, for whom
I fought so many obscure great battles, and who went off again
into the realm of adventure?
You, Paga, little fellow, where are you? Do you remember the time
when I used to dress your two wounds alternately, and when you
said to me with great severity:
"The leg to-day, only the leg. It's not the day for the foot."
Sergeant Lecolle is distinguished by a huge black beard, which
fails to give a ferocious expression to the gentlest face in the
He arrived the day little Delporte died, and scarcely had he
emerged from the dark sleep when, opening his eyes, he saw
I went to speak to him several times. He looked so exhausted, his
black beard was so mournful that I kept on telling him: "Sergeant,
your wound is not serious."
Each time he shook his head as if to say that he took but little
interest in the matter, and tried to close his eyes.
Lecolle is too nervous; he was not able to close his eyes, and he
saw Delporte dead, and he had been obliged to witness all
Delporte's death agony; for when one has a wound in the right
shoulder, one can only lie upon the left shoulder.
The ward was full, I could not change the sergeant's place, and
yet I should have liked to let him be alone all day with his own
Now Lecolle is better; he feels better without much exuberance,
with a seriousness which knows and foresees the bufferings of
Lecolle was a stenographer "in life." We are no longer "in life,"
but the good stenographer retains his principles. When his wounds
are dressed, he looks carefully at the little watch on his wrist.
He moans at intervals, and stops suddenly to say:
"It has taken fifty seconds to-day to loosen the dressings.
Yesterday, you took sixty-two seconds."
His first words after the operation were:
"Will you please tell me how many minutes I was unconscious?"
I first saw Derancourt in the room adjoining the chapel. A band of
crippled men, returning from Germany after a long captivity, had
just been brought in there.
There were some fifty of them, all looking with delighted eyes at
the walls, the benches, the telephone, all the modest objects in
this waiting-room, objects which are so much more attractive under
the light of France than in harsh exile.
The waiting-room seemed to have been transformed into a museum of
misery: there were blind men, legless and armless men, paralysed
men, their faces ravaged by fire and powder.
A big fellow said, lifting his deformed arm with an effort:
"I tricked them; they thought to the end that I was really
paralysed. I look well, but that's because they sent us to
Constance for the last week, to fatten us up."
A dark, thin man was walking to and fro, towing his useless foot
after him by the help of a string which ran down his trouser leg;
and he laughed:
"I walk more with my fist than with my foot. Gentlemen, gentlemen,
who would like to pull Punch's string?"
All wore strange costumes, made up of military clothing and
patched civilian garments.
On a bench sat fifteen or twenty men with about a dozen legs
between them. It was among these that I saw Derancourt. He was
holding his crutches in one hand and looking round him, stroking
his long fair moustache absently.
Derancourt became my friend.
His leg had been cut off at the thigh, and this had not yet
healed; he had, further, a number of other wounds which had closed
more or less during his captivity.
Derancourt never talked of himself, much less of his misfortune. I
knew from his comrades that he had fought near Longwy, his native
town, and that he had lain grievously wounded for nine days on the
battlefield. He had seen his father, who had come to succour him,
killed at his side; then he had lain beside the corpse, tortured
by a delirious dream in which nine days and nine nights had
followed one upon the other, like a dizziness of alternate
darkness and dazzling light. In the mornings, he sucked the wet
grass he clutched when he stretched out his hands.
Afterwards he had suffered in Germany, and finally he had come
back to France, mutilated, covered with wounds, and knowing that
his wife and children were left without help and without resources
in the invaded territory.
Of all this Derancourt said not a word. He apparently did not know
how to complain, and he contemplated the surrounding wretchedness
with a grave look, full of experience, which would have seemed a
little cold but for the tremulous mobility of his features.
Derancourt never played, never laughed. He sought solitude, and
spent hours, turning his head slowly from side to side,
contemplating the walls and the ceiling like one who sees things
The day came when we had to operate on Derancourt, to make his
stump of a thigh serviceable.
He was laid on the table. He remained calm and self-controlled as
always, looking at the preparations for the operation with a kind
We put the chloroform pad under his nose; he drew two or three
deep breaths, and then a strange thing happened: Derancourt began
to sob in a terrible manner, and to talk of all those things he
had never mentioned. The grief he had suppressed for months
overflowed, or rather, rushed out in desperate, heartrending
It was not the disorderly intoxication, the muscular, animal
rebellion of those who are thrown into this artificial sleep. It
was the sudden break-up of an overstrained will under a slight
shock. For months Derancourt had braced himself against despair,
and now, all of a sudden, he gave way, and abandoned himself to
poignant words and tears. The flood withdrew suddenly, leaving the
horrible, chaotic depths beneath the sea visible.
We ceased scrubbing our hands, and stood aghast and deeply moved,
full of sadness and respect.
Then some one exclaimed:
"Quick! quick! More chloroform! Stupefy him outright, let him
"But a man can't be paralysed by a little hole in his back! I
tell you it was only a bullet. You must take it out, doctor. Take
it out, and I shall be all right."
Thus said a Zouave, who had been lying helpless for three days on
"If you knew how strong I am! Look at my arms! No one could unhook
a bag like me, and heave it over my shoulder--tock! A hundred
kilos--with one jerk!"
The doctor looked at the muscular torso, and his face expressed
pity, regret, embarrassment, and, perhaps, a certain wish to go
"But this wretched bullet prevents me from moving my legs. You
must take it out, doctor, you must take it out!"
The doctor glances at the paralysed legs, and the swollen belly,
already lifeless. He knows that the bullet broke the spine, and
cut through the marrow which sent law and order into all this now
"Operate, doctor. Look you, a healthy chap like me would soon get
The doctor stammers vague sentences: the operation would be too
serious for the present ... better wait. ...
"No, no. Never fear. My health is first-rate. Don't be afraid, the
operation is bound to be a success."
His rugged face is contracted by his fixed idea. His voice
softens; blind confidence and supplication give it an unusual
tone. His heavy eyebrows meet and mingle under the stress of his
indomitable will; his soul makes such an effort that the
immobility of his legs seems suddenly intolerable. Heavens! Can a
man WILL so intensely, and yet be powerless to control his own
"Oh, operate, operate! You will see how pleased I shall be!"
The doctor twists the sheet round his forefinger; then, hearing a
wounded man groaning in the next ward, he gets up, says he will
come back presently, and escapes.
The colloquy between the rival gods took place at the foot of the
The Arab soldier had just died. It was the Arab one used to see
under a shed, seated gravely on the ground in the midst of other
magnificent Arabs. In those days they had boots of crimson
leather, and majestic red mantles. They used to sit in a circle,
contemplating from under their turbans the vast expanse of mud
watered by the skies of Artois. To-day, they wear the ochre
helmet, and show the profiles of Saracen warriors.
The Algerian has just been killed, kicked in the belly by his
beautiful white horse.
In the ambulance there was a Mussulman orderly, a well-to-do
tradesman, who had volunteered for the work. He, on the other
hand, was extremely European, nay, Parisian; but a plump,
malicious smile showed itself in the midst of his crisp grey
beard, and he had the look in the eyes peculiar to those who come
from the other side of the Mediterranean.
Rashid "behaved very well." He had found native words when tending
the dying man, and had lavished on him the consolations necessary
to those of his country.
When the Algerian was dead, he arranged the winding-sheet himself,
in his own fashion; then he lighted a cigarette, and set out in
search of Monet and Renaud.
For lack of space, we had no mortuary at the time in the
ambulance. Corpses were placed in the chapel of the cemetery while
awaiting burial. The military burial-ground had been established
within the precincts of the church, close by the civilian
cemetery, and in a few weeks it had invaded it like a cancer and
threatened to devour it.
Rashid had thought of everything, and this was why he went in
search of Monet and Renaud, Catholic priests and ambulance
orderlies of the second class.
The meeting took place at the foot of the great staircase. Leaning
over the balustrade, I listened, and watched the colloquy of the
Monet was thirty years old; he had fine, sombre eyes, and a stiff
beard, from which a pipe emerged. Renaud carried the thin face of
a seminarist a little on one side.
Monet and Renaud listened gravely, as became people who were
deciding in the Name of the Father. Rashid was pleading for his
dead Arab with supple eloquence, wrapped in a cloud of tobacco-
"We cannot leave the Arab's corpse under a wagon, in the storm.
... This man died for France, at his post. ... He had a right to
all honours, and it was hard enough as it was that he could not
have the obsequies he would surely have had in his own country."
Monet nodded approvingly, and Renaud, his mouth half open, was
seeking some formula.
It came, and this was it:
"Very well, Monsieur Rashid, take him into the church; that is
God's house for every one."
Rashid bowed with perfect deference, and went back to his dead.
Oh, he arranged everything very well! He had made this funeral a
personal matter. He was the family, the master of the ceremonies,
almost the priest.
The Algerian's body accordingly lay in the chapel, covered with
the old faded flag and a handful of chrysanthemums.
It was here the bearers came to take it, and carry it to
CONSECRATED GROUND, to lie among the other comrades.
Monet and Renaud were with us when it was lowered into the grave.
Rashid represented the dead man's kindred with much dignity. He
held something in his hand which he planted in the ground before
going away. It was that crescent of plain deal at the end of a
stick which is still to be seen in the midst of the worm-eaten
crosses, in the shadow of the belfry of L----.
There the same decay works towards the intermingling and the
reconciliation of ancient symbols and ancient dogmas.
Nogue is courageous, but Norman; this gives to courage a special
form, which excludes neither reserve, nor prudence, nor moderation
On the day when he was wounded, he bore a preliminary operation
with perfect calm. Lifting up his shattered arm, I said:
"Are you suffering very much?" And he barely opened his lips to
"Well ... perhaps a bit."
Fever came the following days, and with it a certain discomfort.
Nogue could not eat, and when asked if he did not feel rather
hungry, he shook his head:
"I don't think so."
Well, the arm was broken very high up, the wound looked unhealthy,
the fever ran high, and we made up our minds that it was necessary
to come to a decision.
"My poor Nogue," I said, "we really can't do anything with that
arm of yours. Be sensible. Let us take it off."
If we had waited for his answer, Nogue would have been dead by
now. His face expressed great dissatisfaction, but he said neither
yes nor no.
"Don't be afraid, Nogue. I will guarantee the success of the
Then he asked to make his will. When the will had been made, Nogue
was laid upon the table and operated upon, without having
formulated either consent or refusal.
When the first dressing was made, Nogue looked at his bleeding
shoulder, and said:
"I suppose you couldn't have managed to leave just a little bit of
After a few days the patient was able to sit up in an arm-chair.
His whole being bore witness to a positive resurrection, but his
tongue remained cautious.
"Well, now, you see, you're getting on capitally."
"Hum ... might be better."
Never could he make up his mind to give his whole-hearted
approval, even after the event, to the decision which had saved
his life. When we said to him:
"YOU'RE all right. We've done the business for YOU!" he would not
"We shall see, we shall see."
He got quite well, and we sent him into the interior. Since then,
he has written to us, "business letters," prudent letters which he
signs "a poor mutilated fellow."
Lapointe and Ropiteau always meet in the dressing ward. Ropiteau
is brought in on a stretcher, and Lapointe arrives on foot,
jauntily, holding up his elbow, which is going on "as well as
Lying on the table, the dressings removed from his thigh, Ropiteau
waits to be tended, looking at a winter fly walking slowly along
the ceiling, like an old man bowed down with sorrow. As soon as
Ropiteau's wounds are laid bare, Lapointe, who is versed in these
matters, opens the conversation.
"What do they put on it?"
"Well, only yellow spirit."
"That's the strongest of all. It stings, but it is first-rate for
strengthening the flesh. I always get ether."
"Ether stinks so!"
"Yes, it stinks, but one gets used to it. It warms the blood.
Don't you have tubes any longer?"
"They took out the last on Tuesday."
"Mine have been taken away, too. Wait a minute, old chap, let me
look at it. Does it itch?"
"Yes, it feels like rats gnawing at me."
"If it feels like rats, it's all right. Mine feels like rats, too.
Don't you want to scratch?"
"Yes, but they say I mustn't."
"No, of course, you mustn't. ... But you can always tap on the
dressing a little with your finger. That is a relief."
Lapointe leans over and examines Ropiteau's large wound.
"Old chap, it's getting on jolly well. Same here; I'll show you
presently. It's red, the skin is beginning to grow again. But it
is thin, very thin."
Lapointe sits down to have his dressing cut away, then he makes a
half turn towards Ropiteau.
"You see--getting on famously."
Ropiteau admires unreservedly.
"Yes, you're right. It looks first-rate."
"And you know ... such a beastly mess came out of it."
At this moment, the busy forceps cover up the wounds with the
dressing, and the operation comes to an end.
"So long!" says Lapointe to his elbow, casting a farewell glance
at it. And he adds, as he gets to the door:
"Now there are only the damned fingers that won't get on. But I
don't care. I've made up my mind to be a postman."
Bouchenton was not very communicative. We knew nothing of his
past history. As to his future plans, he revealed them by one day
presenting to the head doctor for his signature a paper asking
leave to open a Moorish cafe at Medea after his recovery, a
request the head doctor felt himself unable to endorse.
Bouchenton had undergone a long martyrdom in order to preserve an
arm from which the bone had been partially removed, but from which
a certain amount of work might still be expected. He screamed like
the others, and his cry was "Mohabdi! Mohabdi!" When the forceps
came near, he cried: "Don't put them in!" And after this he
maintained a silence made up of dignity and indolence. During the
day he was to be seen wandering about the wards, holding up his
ghostly muffled arm with his sound hand. In the evening, he
learned to play draughts, because it is a serious, silent game,
and requires consideration.
Now one day when Bouchenton, seated on a chair, was waiting for
his wound to be dressed, the poor adjutant Figuet began to
complain in a voice that was no more than the shadow of a voice,
just as his body was no more than the shadow of a body.
Figuet was crawling at the time up the slopes of a Calvary where
he was soon to fall once more, never to rise again.
The most stupendous courage and endurance foundered then in a
despair for which there seemed henceforth to be no possible
Figuet, I say, began to complain, and every one in the ward
feigned to be engrossed in his occupation, and to hear nothing,
because when such a man began to groan, the rest felt that the end
of all things had come.
Bouchenton turned his head, looked at the adjutant, seized his
flabby arm carefully with his right hand, and set out. Walking
with little short steps he came to the table where the suffering
Stretching out his neck, his great bowed body straining in an
effort of attention, he looked at the wounds, the pus, the soiled
bandages, the worn, thin face, and his own wooden visage laboured
under the stress of all kinds of feelings.
Then Bouchenton did a very simple thing; he relaxed his hold on
his own boneless arm, held out his right hand to Figuet, seized
his transparent fingers and held them tightly clasped.
The adjutant ceased groaning. As long as the silent pressure
lasted, he ceased to complain, ceased perhaps to suffer.
Bouchenton kept his right hand there as long as it was necessary.
I saw this, Bouchenton, my brother. I will not forget it. And I
saw, too, your aching, useless left arm, which you had been
obliged to abandon in order to have a hand to give, hanging by
your side like a limp rag.
To be over forty years old, to be a tradesman of repute, well
known throughout one's quarter, to be at the head of a prosperous
provision-dealer's business, and to get two fragments of shell--in
the back and the left buttock respectively--is really a great
misfortune; yet this is what happened to M. Levy, infantryman and
I never spoke familiarly to M. Levy, because of his age and his
air of respectability; and perhaps, too, because, in his case, I
felt a great and special need to preserve my authority.
Monsieur Levy was not always "a good patient." When I first
approached him, he implored me not to touch him "at any price."
I disregarded these injunctions, and did what was necessary.
Throughout the process, Monsieur Levy was snoring, be it said. But
he woke up at last, uttered one or two piercing cries, and
stigmatised me as a "brute." All right.
Then I showed him the big pieces of cast-iron I had removed from
his back and his buttock respectively. Monsieur Levy's eyes at
once filled with tears; he murmured a few feeling words about his
family, and then pressed my hands warmly: "Thank you, thank you,
Since then, Monsieur Levy has suffered a good deal, I must admit.
There are the plugs! And those abominable india-rubber tubes we
push into the wounds! Monsieur Levy, kneeling and prostrating
himself, his head in his bolster, suffered every day and for
several days without stoicism or resignation. I was called an
"assassin" and also on several occasions, a "brute." All right.
However, as I was determined that Monsieur Levy should get well, I
renewed the plugs, and looked sharply after the famous india-
The time came when my hands were warmly pressed and my patient
said: "Thank you, thank you, dear Doctor," every day.
At last Monsieur Levy ceased to suffer, and confined himself to
the peevish murmurs of a spoilt beauty or a child that has been
scolded. But now no one takes him seriously. He has become the
delight of the ward; he laughs so heartily when the dressing is
over, he is naturally so gay and playful, that I am rather at a
loss as to the proper expression to assume when, alluding to the
past, he says, with a look in which good nature, pride,
simplicity, and a large proportion of playful malice are mingled:
"I suffered so much! so much!"
He was no grave, handsome Arab, looking as if he had stepped from
the pages of the "Arabian Nights," but a kind of little brown
monster with an overhanging forehead and ugly, scanty hair.
He lay upon the table, screaming, because his abdomen was very
painful and his hip was all tumefied. What could we say to him? He
could understand nothing; he was strange, terrified, pitiable. ...
At my wits' ends, I took out a cigarette and placed it between his
lips. His whole face changed. He took hold of the cigarette
delicately between two bony fingers; he had a way of holding it
which was a marvel of aristocratic elegance.
While we finished the dressing, the poor fellow smoked slowly and
gravely, with all the distinction of an Oriental prince; then,
with a negligent gesture, he threw away the cigarette, of which he
had only smoked half.
Presently, suddenly becoming an animal, he spit upon my apron, and
kissed my hand like a dog, repeating something which sounded like
Gautreau looked like a beast of burden. He was heavy, square,
solid of base and majestic of neck and throat. What he could carry
on his back would have crushed an ordinary man; he had big bones,
so hard that the fragment of shell which struck him on the skull
only cracked it, and got no further into it. Gautreau arrived at
the hospital alone, on foot; he sat down on a chair in the corner,
"No need to hurry; it's only a scratch."
We gave him a cup of tea with rum in it, and he began to hum:
En courant par les epeignes
Je m'etios fait un ecourchon,
Et en courant par les epeignes
Et en courant apres not' couchon.
"Ah!" said Monsieur Boissin, "you are a man! Come here, let me
Gautreau went into the operating ward saying:
"It feels queer to be walking on dry ground when you've just come
off the slime. You see: it's only a scratch. But one never knows:
there may be some bits left in it."
Dr. Boussin probed the wound, and felt the cracked bone. He was an
old surgeon who had his own ideas about courage and pain. He made
up his mind.
"I am in a hurry; you are a man. There is just a little something
to be done to you. Kneel down there and don't stir."
A few minutes later, Gautreau was on his knees, holding on to the
leg of the table. His head was covered with blood-stained
bandages, and Dr. Boussin, chisel in hand, was tapping on his
skull with the help of a little mallet, like a sculptor. Gautreau
"Monsieur Bassin, Monsieur Bassin, you're hurting me."
"Not Bassin, but Boussin," replied the old man calmly.
"Well, Boussin, if you like."
There was a silence, and then Gautreau suddenly added:
"Monsieur Bassin, you are killing me with these antics."
"Monsieur Bassin, I tell you you're killing me."
"Just a second more."
"Monsieur Bassin, you're driving nails into my head, it's a
"I've almost finished."
"Monsieur Bassin, I can't stand any more."
"It's all over now," said the surgeon, laying down his
Gautreau's head was swathed with cotton wool and he left the ward.
"The old chap means well," he said, laughing, "but fancy knocking
like that ... with a hammer! It's not that it hurts so much; the
pain was no great matter. But it kills one, that sort of thing,
and I'm not going to stand that."
There is only one man in the world who can hold Hourticq's leg,
and that is Monet.
Hourticq, who is a Southerner, cries despairingly: "Oh, cette
jammbe, cette jammbe!" And his anxious eyes look eagerly round for
some one: not his doctor, but his orderly, Monet. Whatever
happens, the doctor will always do those things which doctors do.
Monet is the only person who can take the heel and then the foot
in both hands, raise the leg gently, and hold it in the air as
long as it is necessary.
There are people, it seems, who think this notion ridiculous. They
are all jealous persons who envy Monet's position and would like
to show that they too know how to hold Hourticq's leg properly.
But it is not my business to show favour to the ambitious. As soon
as Hourticq is brought in, I call Monet. If Monet is engaged,
well, I wait. He comes, lays hold of the leg, and Hourticq ceases
to lament. It is sometimes a long business, very long; big drops
of sweat come out on Monet's forehead. But I know that he would
not give up his place for anything in the world.
When Mazy arrived at the hospital, Hourticq, who is no egoist,
said to him at once in a low tone:
"Yours is a leg too, isn't it? You must try to get Monet to hold
it for you."
If Bouchard were not so bored, he would not be very wretched, for
he is very courageous, and he has a good temper. But he is
terribly bored, in his gentle, uncomplaining fashion. He is too
ill to talk or play games. He cannot sleep; he can only
contemplate the wall, and his own thoughts which creep slowly
along it, like caterpillars.
In the morning, I bring a catheter with me, and when Bouchard's
wounds are dressed, I apply it, for unfortunately, he can no
longer perform certain functions independently.
Bouchard has crossed his hands behind the nape of his neck, and