List Of Contents | Contents of The New Book Of Martyrs, by Georges Duhamel
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him with the same mournful gravity:

"No, I won't, Monsieur, I would rather die."

We go down into the garden, and the chief says a strange thing to

"Try to convince him. I begin at last to feel ashamed of demanding
such a sacrifice from him."

And I too ... am I not ashamed?

I consult the warm, star-decked night; I am quite sure now that he
is wrong, but I don't know how to tell him so. What can I offer
him in exchange for the thing I am about to ask him? Where shall I
find the words that induce a man to live? Oh you, all things
around me, tell me, repeat to me that it is sweet to live, even
with a body so grievously mutilated.

This morning I extracted a little projectile from one of his
wounds. He secretly concluded that this would perhaps make the
great operation unnecessary, and it hurt me to see his joy. I
could not leave him this satisfaction.

The struggle began again; this time it was desperate. For we have
no time to lose. Every hour of delay exhausts our man further. A
few days more, and there will be no choice open to him: only
death, after a long ordeal. ...

He repeats:

"I am not afraid, but I would rather die."

Then I talk to him as if I were the advocate of Life. Who gave me
this right? Who gave me eloquence? The things I said were just the
right things, and they came so readily that now and then I was
afraid of holding out so sure a promise of a life I am not certain
I can preserve, of guaranteeing a future that is not in man's

Gradually, I feel his resistance weakening. There is something in
Leglise which involuntarily sides with me and pleads with me.
There are moments when he does not know what to say, and
formulates trivial objections, just because there are others so
much weightier.

"I live with my mother," he says. "I am twenty years old. What
work is there for a cripple? Ought I to live to suffer poverty and

"Leglise, all France owes you too much, she would blush not to pay
her debt."

And I promise again, in the name of our country, sure that she
will never fall short of what I undertake for her. The whole
French nation is behind me at this moment, silently ratifying my

We are at the edge of the terrace; evening has come. I hold his
burning wrist in which the feeble pulse beats with exhausted fury.
The night is so beautiful, so beautiful! Rockets rise above the
hills, and fall slowly bathing the horizon in silvery rays. The
lightning of the guns flashes furtively, like a winking eye. In
spite of all this, in spite of war, the night is like waters dark
and divine. Leglise breathes it in to his wasted breast in long
draughts, and says:

"Oh, I don't know, I don't know! ... Wait another day, please,
please. ..."

We waited three whole days, and then Leglise gave in. "Well, do
what you must. Do what you like."

On the morning of the operation, he asked to be carried down to
the ward by the steps into the park. I went with him, and I saw
him looking at all things round him, as if taking them to witness.

If only, only it is not too late!

Again he was laid on the table. Again we cut through flesh and
bones. The second leg was amputated at the thigh.

I took him in my arms to lay him on his bed, and he was so light,
so light....

This time when he woke he asked no question. But I saw his hands
groping to feel where his body ended.

A few days have passed since the operation. We have done all it
was humanly possible to do, and Leglise comes back to life with a
kind of bewilderment.

"I thought I should have died," he said to me this morning, while
I was encouraging him to eat.

He added:

"When I went down to the operation-ward, I looked well at
everything, and I thought it was for the last time."

"Look, dear boy. Everything is just the same, just as beautiful as

"Oh!" he says, going back to his memories, "I had made up my mind
to die."

To make up one's mind to die is to take a certain resolution, in
the hope of becoming quieter, calmer, and less unhappy. The man
who makes up his mind to die severs a good many ties, and indeed
actually dies to some extent.

With secret anxiety, I say gently, as if I were asking a question:

"It is always good to eat, to drink, to breathe, to see the light.

He does not answer. He is dreaming. I spoke too soon. I go away,
still anxious.

We have some bad moments yet, but the fever gradually abates. I
have an impression that Leglise bears his pain more resolutely,
like one who has given all he had to give, and fears nothing

When I have finished the dressing, I turned him over on his side,
to ease his sore back. He smiled for the first time this morning,

"I have already gained something by getting rid of my legs. I can
lie on my side now."

But he cannot balance himself well; he is afraid of falling.

Think of him, and you will be afraid with him and for him.

Sometimes he goes to sleep in broad daylight and dozes for a few
minutes. He has shrunk to the size of a child. I lay a piece of
gauze over his face, as one does to a child, to keep the flies
off. I bring him a little bottle of Eau de Cologne and a fan, they
help him to bear the final assaults of the fever.

He begins to smoke again. We smoke together on the terrace, where
I have had his bed brought. I show him the garden and say: "In a
few days, I will carry you down into the garden."

 He is anxious about his neighbours, asks their names, and
inquires about their wounds. For each one he has a compassionate
word that comes from the depths of his being. He says to me:

"I hear that little Camus is dead. Poor Camus!"

His eyes fill with tears. I was almost glad to see them. He had
not cried for so long. He adds:

"Excuse me, I used to see Camus sometimes. It's so sad."

He becomes extraordinarily sensitive. He is touched by all he sees
around him, by the sufferings of others, by their individual
misfortunes. He vibrates like an elect soul, exalted by a great

When he speaks of his own case, it is always to make light of his

"Dumont got it in the belly. Ah, it's lucky for me that none of my
organs are touched; I can't complain."

I watch him with admiration, but I am waiting for something more,
something more. ...

His chief crony is Legrand.

Legrand is a stonemason with a face like a young girl. He has lost
a big piece of his skull. He has also lost the use of language,
and we teach him words, as to a baby. He is beginning to get up
now, and he hovers round Leglise's bed to perform little services
for him. He tries to master his rebellious tongue, but failing in
the attempt, he smiles, and expresses himself with a limpid
glance, full of intelligence.

Leglise pities him too:

"It must be wretched not to be able to speak."

To-day we laughed, yes, indeed, we laughed heartily, Leglise, the
orderlies and I.

We were talking of his future pension while the dressings were
being prepared, and someone said to him:

"You will live like a little man of means."

Leglise looked at his body and answered:

"Oh, yes, a little man, a very little man."

The dressing went off very well. To make our task easier, Leglise
suggested that he should hold on to the head of the bed with both
hands and throw himself back on his shoulders, holding his stumps
up in the air. It was a terrible, an unimaginable sight; but he
began to laugh, and the spectacle became comic. We all laughed.
But the dressing was easy and was quickly finished.

The stumps are healing healthily. In the afternoon, he sits up in
bed. He begins to read and to smoke, chatting to his companions.

I explain to him how he will be able to walk with artificial legs.
He jokes again:

"I was rather short before; but now I can be just the height I

I bring him some cigarettes that had been sent me for him, some
sweets and dainties. He makes a sign that he wants to whisper to
me, and says very softly:

"I have far too many things. But Legrand is very badly off; his
home is in the invaded district, and he has nothing, they can't
send him anything."

I understand. I come back presently with a packet in which there
are tobacco, some good cigarettes, and also a little note. ...

"Here is something for Legrand. You must give it to him. I'm off."

In the afternoon I find Leglise troubled and perplexed.

"I can't give all this to Legrand myself, he would be offended."

So then we have to devise a discreet method of presentation.

It takes some minutes. He invents romantic possibilities. He
becomes flushed, animated, interested.

"Think," I say, "find a way. Give it to him yourself, from some
one or other."

But Leglise is too much afraid of wounding Legrand's
susceptibilities. He ruminates on the matter till evening.

The little parcel is at the head of Legrand's bed. Leglise calls
my attention to it with his chin, and whispers:

"I found some one to give it to him. He doesn't know who sent it.
He has made all sorts of guesses; it is very amusing!" Oh,
Leglise, can it be that there is still something amusing, and that
it is to be kind? Isn't this alone enough to make it worth while
to live?

So now we have a great secret between us. All the morning, as I
come and go in the ward, he looks at me meaningly, and smiles to
himself. Legrand gravely offers me a cigarette; Leglise finds it
hard not to burst out laughing. But he keeps his counsel.

The orderlies have put him on a neighbouring bed while they make
his. He stays there very quietly, his bandaged stumps in view, and
sings a little song, like a child's cradle-song. Then, all of a
sudden, he begins to cry, sobbing aloud.

I put my arm round him and ask anxiously: "Why? What is the

Then he answers in a broken voice: "I am crying with joy and

Oh! I did not expect so much. But I am very happy, much comforted.
I kiss him, he kisses me, and I think I cried a little too.

I have wrapped him in a flannel dressing-gown, and I carry him in
my arms. I go down the steps to the park very carefully, like a

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