List Of Contents | Contents of The New Book Of Martyrs, by Georges Duhamel
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pallor of those who have lost much blood.

"Oh! how tired I am!" he said.

He held on to the stretcher with both hands as he was carried up
the steps. He raised his head a little, gave a glance full of
astonishment, distress, and lassitude at the green trees, the
smiling hills, the glowing horizon, and then he found himself
inside the house.

Here begins the story of Gaston Leglise. It is a modest story and
a very sad story; but indeed, are there any stories now in the
world that are not sad?

I will tell it day by day, as we lived it, as it is graven in my
memory, and as it is graven in your memory and in your flesh, my
friend Leglise.

Leglise only had a whiff of chloroform, and he fell at once into a
sleep closely akin to death.

"Let us make haste," said the head doctor. "We shall have the poor
boy dying on the table."

Then he shook his head, adding:

"Both knees! Both knees! What a future!"

The burden of experience is a sorrowful one. It is always
sorrowful to have sufficient memory to discern the future.

Small splinters from a grenade make very little wounds in a man's
legs; but great disorders may enter by way of those little wounds,
and the knee is such a complicated, delicate marvel!

Corporal Leglise is in bed now. He breathes with difficulty, and
catches his breath now and again like a person who has been
sobbing. He looks about him languidly, and hardly seems to have
made up his mind to live. He contemplates the bottle of serum, the
tubes, the needles, all the apparatus set in motion to revive his
fluttering heart, and he seems bowed down by grief. He wants
something to drink, but he must not have anything yet; he wants to
sleep, but we have to deny sleep to those who need it most; he
wants to die perhaps, and we will not let him.

He sees again the listening post where he spent the night, in
advance of all his comrades. He sees again the narrow doorway
bordered by sandbags through which he came out at dawn to breathe
the cold air and look at the sky from the bottom of the
communication-trench. All was quiet, and the early summer morning
was sweet even in the depths of the trench. But some one was
watching and listening for the faint sound of his footsteps. An
invisible hand hurled a bomb. He rushed back to the door; but his
pack was on his back, and he was caught in the aperture like a rat
in a trap. The air was rent by the detonation, and his legs were
rent, like the pure air, like the summer morning, like the lovely

The days pass, and once more, the coursing blood begins to make
the vessels of the neck throb, to tinge the lips, and give depth
and brilliance to the eye.

Death, which had overrun the whole body like an invader, retired,
yielding ground by degrees; but it has halted now, and makes a
stand at the legs; these it will not relinquish; it demands
something by way of spoil; it will not be baulked of its prey

We fight for the portion Death has chosen. The wounded Corporal
looks on at our labours and our efforts, like a poor man who has
placed his cause in the hands of a knight, and who can only be a
spectator of the combat, can only pray and wait.

We shall have to give the monster a share; one of the legs must
go. Now another struggle begins with the man himself. Several
times a day I go and sit by his bed. All our attempts at
conversation break down one by one. We always end in the same
silence and anxiety. To-day Leglise said to me:

"Oh! I know quite well what you're thinking about!"

As I made no answer, he intreated:

"Perhaps we could wait a little longer? Perhaps to-morrow I may be
better ..."

Then suddenly, in great confusion:

"Forgive me. I do trust you all. I know what you do is necessary.
But perhaps it will not be too late in two or three days. ..."

Two or three days! We will see to-morrow.

The nights are terribly hot; I suffer for his sake.

I come to see him in the evening for the last time, and encourage
him to sleep. But his eyes are wide open in the night and I feel
that they are anxiously fixed on mine.

Fever makes his voice tremble.

"How can I sleep with all the things I am thinking about?"

Then he adds faintly:

"Must you? Must you?"

The darkness gives me courage, and I nod my head: "Yes!"

As I finish his dressings, I speak from the depths of my heart:

"Leglise, we will put you to sleep to-morrow. We will make an
examination without letting you suffer, and we will do what is

"I know quite well that you will take it off."

"We shall do what we must do."

I divine that the corners of his mouth are drawn down a little,
and that his lips are quivering. He thinks aloud:

"If only the other leg was all right!"

I have been thinking of that too, but I pretend not to have heard.
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

I spend part of the afternoon sewing pieces of waterproof stuff
together. He asks me:

"What are you doing?"

"I am making you a mask, to give you ether."

"Thank you; I can't bear the smell of chloroform."

I answer "Yes, that's why." The real reason is that we are not
sure he could bear the brutal chloroform, in his present state.

Leglise's leg was taken off at the thigh this morning. He was
still unconscious when we carried him into the dark room to
examine his other leg under the X-rays.

He was already beginning to moan and to open his eyes, and the
radiographer was not hurrying. I did all I could to hasten the
business, and to get him back into his bed. Thus he regained
consciousness in bright sunshine.

What would he, who once again was so close to the dark kingdom,
have thought if he had awakened in a gloom peopled by shadows,
full of whisperings, sparks and flashes of light?

As soon as he could speak, he said to me:

"You have cut off my leg?"

I made a sign. His eyes filled, and as his head was low, the great
tears trickled on to the pillow.

To-day he is calmer. The first dressings were very painful. He
looked at the raw, bloody, oozing stump, trembling, and said:

"It looks pretty horrible!"

We took so many precautions that now he is refreshed for a few

"They say you are to have the Military Medal," the head doctor
told him.

Leglise confided to me later, with some hesitation:

"I don't suppose they would really give me the medal!"

"And why not?"

"I was punished; one of my men had some buttons off his overcoat."

Oh, my friend, scrupulous lad, could I love my countrymen if they
could remember those wretched buttons for an instant?

"My men!" he said gravely. I look at his narrow chest, his thin
face, his boyish forehead with the serious furrow on it of one who
accepts all responsibilities, and I do not know how to show him my
respect and affection.

Leglise's fears were baseless. General G----arrived just now. I
met him on the terrace. His face pleased me. It was refined and

"I have come to see Corporal Leglise," he said.

I took him into the ward, full of wounded men, and he at once went
towards Leglise unhesitatingly, as if he knew him perfectly.

"How are you?" he asked, taking the young man's hand.

"Mon General, they've cut off my leg ..."

"Yes, yes, I know, my poor fellow. And I have brought you the
Military Medal."

He pinned it on to Leglise's shirt, and kissed my friend on both
cheeks, simply and affectionately.

Then he talked to him again for a few minutes.

I was greatly pleased. Really, this General is one of the right

The medal has been wrapped in a bit of muslin, so that the flies
may not soil it, and hung on the wall over the bed. It seems to be
watching over the wounded man, to be looking on at what is
happening. Unfortunately, what it sees is sad enough. The right
leg, the only leg, is giving us trouble now. The knee is diseased,
it is in a very bad state, and all we have done to save it seems
to have been in vain. Then a sore has appeared on the back, and
then another sore. Every morning, we pass from one misery to
another, telling the beads of suffering in due order.

So a man does not die of pain, or Leglise would certainly be dead.
I see him still, opening his eyes desperately and checking the
scream that rises to his lips. Oh! I thought indeed that he was
going to die. But his agony demands full endurance; it does not
even stupefy those it assails.

I call on every one for help.

"Genest, Barrassin, Prevot, come, all of you."

Yes, let ten of us do our best if necessary, to support Leglise,
to hold him, to soothe him. A minute of his endurance is equal to
ten years of such effort as ours.

Alas! were there a hundred of us he would still have to bear the
heaviest burden alone.

All humanity at this hour is bearing a very cruel burden. Every
minute aggravates its sufferings, and will no one, no one come to
its aid?

We made an examination of the wounded man, together with our
chief, who muttered almost inaudibly between his teeth:

"He must be prepared for another sacrifice."

Yes, the sacrifice is not yet entirely consummated.

But Leglise understood. He no longer weeps. He has the weary and
somewhat bewildered look of the man who is rowing against the
storm. I steal a look at him, and he says at once in a clear,
calm, resolute voice:

"I would much rather die."

I go into the garden. It is a brilliant morning, but I can see
nothing, I want to see nothing. I repeat as I walk to and fro:

"He would much rather die."

And I ask despairingly whether he is not right perhaps.

All the poplars rustle softly. With one voice, the voice of Summer
itself, they say: "No! No! He is not right!"

A little beetle crosses the path before me. I step on it
unintentionally, but it flies away in desperate haste. It too has
answered in its own way: "No, really, your friend is not right."

"Tell him he is wrong," sing the swarm of insects that buzz about
the lime-tree.

And even a loud roar from the guns that travels across the
landscape seems to say gruffly: "He is wrong! He is wrong!"

During the evening the chief came back to see Leglise, who said to

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