List Of Contents | Contents of The New Book Of Martyrs, by Georges Duhamel
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"Quite so," added the Sergeant; "with Mariette he will caress his
good lady, so to speak."

Auger and the Sergeant crack jokes like two old cronies. The
embarrassed orderly, failing to find a retort, goes away laughing

I sat down by Auger, and we were left alone.

"I am a basket-maker," he said gravely. "I shall be able to take
up my trade again more or less. But think of workers on the land,
like Groult, who has lost a hand, and Lerondeau, with his useless
leg! ... That's really terrible!"

Auger rolls his r's in a way that gives piquancy and vigour to his
conversation. He talks of others with a natural magnanimity which
comes from the heart, like the expression of his eyes, and rings
true, like the sound of his voice. And then again, he really need
not envy any one. Have I not said it! He is a prince.

"I have had some very grand visitors," he says. "Look, another
lady came a little while ago, and left me this big box of sweets.
Do take one, Monsieur, it would be a pleasure to me. And please,
will you hand them round to the others, from me?"

He adds in a lower tone:

"Look under my bed. I put everything I am given there. Really,
there's too much. I'm ashamed. There are some chaps here who never
get anything, and they were brave fellows who did their duty just
as well as I did."

It is true, there are many brave soldiers in the ward, but only
one Military Medal was given among them, and it came to Auger. Its
arrival was the occasion of a regular little fete; his comrades
all took part in it cordially, for strange to say, no one is
jealous of Auger. A miracle indeed! Did you ever hear of any other
prince of whom no one was jealous?

"Are you going?" said Auger. "Please just say a few words to
Groult. He is a bit of a grouser, but he likes a talk."

 Auger has given me a lesson. I will go and smoke a cigarette with
Groult, and above all, I will go and see Gregoire.

Groult, indeed, is not altogether neglected. He is an original, a
perverse fellow. He is pointed out as a curious animal. He gets
his share of presents and attention.

But no one knows anything about Gregoire; he lies staring at the
wall, and growing thinner every day, and Death seems the only
person who is interested in him.

You shall not die, Gregoire! I vow to keep hold of you, to suffer
with you, and to endure your ill-temper humbly. You, who seem to
be bearing the misery of an entire world, shall not be miserable
all alone.

Kind ladies who come to see our wounded and give them picture-
books, tri-coloured caps and sweetmeats, do not forget Gregoire,
who is wretched. Above all, give him your sweetest smiles.

You go away well pleased with yourselves because you have been
generous to Auger. But there is no merit in being kind to Auger.
With a single story, a single clasp of his hand, he gives you much
more than he received from you. He gives you confidence; he
restores your peace of mind.

Go and see Gregoire who has nothing but his suffering to give, and
who very nearly gave his life.

If you go away without a smile for Gregoire, you may fear that you
have not fulfilled your task. And don't expect him to return your
smile, for where would your liberality be in that case?

It is easy to pity Auger, who needs no pity. It is difficult to
pity Gregoire, and yet he is so pitiable.

Do not forget; Auger is touched with grace; but Gregoire will be
damned if you do not hold out your hand to him.

God Himself, who has withheld grace from the damned, must feel
pity for them.

It is a very artless desire for equality which makes us say that
all men are equal in the presence of suffering. No! no! they are
not. And as we know nothing of Death but that which precedes and
determines it, men are not even equal in the presence of Death.



One more glance into the dark ward, in which something begins to
reign which is not sleep, but merely a kind of nocturnal stupor.

The billiard-table has been pushed into a corner; it is loaded
with an incoherent mass of linen, bottles, and articles of
furniture. A smell of soup and excrements circulates between the
stretchers, and seems to insult the slender onyx vases that
surmount the cabinet.

And now, quickly! quickly! Let us escape on tiptoe into the open

The night is clear and cold, without a breath of wind: a vast
block of transparent ice between the snow and the stars. Will it
suffice to cleanse throat and lungs, nauseated by the close
effluvium of suppurating wounds?

The snow clings and balls under our sabots. How good it would be
to have a game. ... But we are overwhelmed by a fatigue that has
become a kind of exasperation. We will go to the end of the lawn.

Here is the great trench in which the refuse of the dressing-ward,
all the residuum of infection, steams and rots. Further on we come
to the musical pines, which Dalcour the miner visits every night,
lantern in hand, to catch sparrows, Dalcour, the formidable
Zouave, whom no one can persuade not to carry about his stiff leg
and the gaping wound in his bandaged skull in the rain.

Let us go as far as the wall of the graveyard, which time has
caused to swell like a protuberance on the side of the park, and
which is so providentially close at hand.

The old Chateau looms, a stately mass, through the shadows. To-
night, lamps are gleaming softly in every window. It looks like a
silent, illuminated ship, the prow of which is cutting through an
ice-bank. Nothing emerges from it but this quiet light. Nothing
reveals the nature of its terrible freight.

We know that in every room, in every storey, on the level of every
floor, young mutilated bodies are ranged side by side. A hundred
hearts send the over-heated blood in swift pulsations towards the
suffering limbs. Through all these bodies the projectile in its
furious course made its way, crushing delicate mechanisms, rending
the precious organs which make us take pleasure in walking,
breathing, drinking....

Up there, this innocent joy of order no longer exists; and in
order to recapture it, a hundred bodies are performing labours so
slow and hard that they call forth tears and sighs from the

But how the murmurs of this centre of suffering are muffled by the
walls! How silently and darkly it broods in space!

Like a dressing on a large inflamed wound, the Chateau covers its
contents closely, and one sees nothing but these lamps, just such
lamps as might illuminate a studious solitude, or a conversation
between intimate friends at evening, or a love lost in self-

We are now walking through thickets of spindle-wood, resplendent
under the snow, and the indifference of these living things to the
monstrous misery round them makes the impotent soul that is
strangling me seem odious and even ridiculous to me. In spite of
all protestations of sympathy, the mortal must always suffer alone
in his flesh, and this indeed is why war is possible. ...

Philippe here thinks perhaps as I do; but he and I have these
thoughts thrust on us in the same pressing fashion. Men who are
sleeping twenty paces from this spot would be wakened by a cry;
yet they are undisturbed by this formidable presence, inarticulate
as a mollusc in the depths of the sea.

In despair, I stamp on the soft snow with my sabot. The winter
grass it covers subsists obstinately, and has no solidarity with
anything else on earth. Let the pain of man wear itself out; the
grass will not wither. Sleep, good folks of the whole world. Those
who suffer here will not disturb your rest.

And suddenly, beyond the woods a rocket rises and bursts against
the sky, brilliant as a meteor. It means something most certainly,
and it warns some one; but its coarse ingenuity does not deceive
me. No barbarous signal such as this could give me back confidence
in my soul to-night.


The little room adjoining the closet where I sleep has been set
apart for those whose cries or effluvia make them intolerable to
the rest. As it is small and encumbered, it will only admit a
single stretcher, and men are brought in there to die in turn.

But lately, when the Chateau was reigning gracefully in the midst
of verdure, the centre of the great star of alleys piercing its
groves of limes and beeches, its owners occasionally entertained a
brilliant society; and if they had under their roof some gay and
lovely milk-white maiden, they gave her this little room at the
summit of the right wing, whence the sun may be seen rising above
the forests, to dream, and sleep, and adorn herself in.

To-day, the facade of the Chateau seems to be listening, strained
and anxious, to the cannonade; and the little room has become a

Madelan was the first we put there. He was raving in such a brutal
and disturbing manner, in spite of the immobility of his long,
paralysed limbs, that his companions implored us to remove him. I
think Madelan neither understood nor noticed this isolation, for
he was already given over to a deeper solitude; but his incessant
vociferation, after he was deprived of listeners, took on a
strange and terrible character.

For four days and four nights, he never ceased talking vehemently;
and listening to him, one began to think that all the life of the
big body that was already dead, had fled in frenzy to his throat.
For four nights I heard him shouting incoherent, elusive things,
which seemed to be replies to some mysterious interlocutor.

At dawn, and from hour to hour throughout the day, I went to see
him where he sprawled on a paillasse on the floor, like some red-
haired stricken beast, with out-stretched limbs, convulsed by
spasms which displaced the dirty blanket that covered him.

He lost flesh with such incredible rapidity that he seemed to be
evaporating through the gaping wound in the nape of his neck.

Then I would speak to him, saying things that were kindly meant
but futile, because conversation is impossible between a man who
is being whirled along by the waters of a torrent, and one who is

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