"YOU'RE all right. We've done the business for YOU!" he would not commit himself. "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." XVI 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 possible." 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." XVII 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 alleviation. 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 man lay. 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. XVIII 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 Territorial. 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, dear Doctor." 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- rubber tubes. 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!" XIX 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 "Bouia! Bouia!" XX 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, saying: "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 see." 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 exclaimed: "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."
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