List Of Contents | Contents of The New Book Of Martyrs, by Georges Duhamel
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From the French of GEORGES DUHAMEL






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
whole world.

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.


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
Marie Lerondeau.

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
called Carre.

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

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