List Of Contents | Contents of The New Book Of Martyrs, by Georges Duhamel
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

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
within himself.

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
of indifference.

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
his bed.

"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
inanimate flesh.

"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
great staircase.

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
rival gods.

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
of language.

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:

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: