List Of Contents | Contents of The New Book Of Martyrs, by Georges Duhamel
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seated among the rushes on the bank. Madelan did not listen to me,
and he continued his strange colloquy with the other. He did not
want us or any one else; he had ceased to eat or to drink, and
relieved himself as he lay, asking neither help nor tendance.

One day, the wind blew the door of the room to, and there was no
key to open it. A long ladder was put up to the window, and a pane
of glass was broken to effect an entrance. Directly this was done,
Madelan was heard, continuing his dream aloud.

He died, and was at once replaced by the man with his skull
battered in, of whom we knew nothing, because when he came to us
he could neither see nor speak, and had nothing by way of history
but a red and white ticket, as large as the palm of a child's

This man spent only one night in the room, filling the silence
with painful eructations, and thumping on the partition which
separated him from my bed.

Listening alertly, with the cold air from the open window blowing
on my face, I heard in turn the crowing of the cocks in the
village, the irregular breathing of Philippe, sleeping the sleep
of exhaustion not far from me, and the blows and the death-rattle
of the man who took so long to die. He became silent, however, in
the morning, when the wind began to drop, and the first detonation
of the day boomed through the vault-like quiet of the darkness.

Then we had as our neighbour the hospital orderly, Sergeant Gidel,
who was nearing his end, and whose cruel hiccough we had been
unable to alleviate for a week past. This man knew his business,
he knew the meaning of probe, of fever, of hardened abdomen. He
knew too that he had a bullet in the spinal cord. He never asked
us for anything, and as we dared not tell him lies, we were
overcome by a kind of shame in his presence. He stayed barely two
days in the room, looking with dim eyes at the engravings on the
walls, and the Empire bureau on which vases were piled.

But what need is there to tell of all those whom this unhappy room
swallowed up and ejected?


We have no lights this evening. ... We must learn to do without
them. ... I grope my way along the passages, where the wind is
muttering, to the great staircase. Here there is a fitful lamp
which makes one prefer the darkness. I see the steps, which are
white and smeared with mud, pictures and tapestries, a sumptuous
scheme of decoration flooded at the bottom by filth and
desolation. As I approach the room where the wounded are lying, I
hear the calm sound of their conversation. I go in quietly. They
cease talking; then they begin to chat again, for now they know

At first one can only distinguish long forms ranged upon the
ground. The stretchers seem to be holding forth with human voices.
One of these is narrating:

"We were all three sitting side by side ... though I had told the
adjutant that corner was not a good place. ... They had just
brought us a ration of soup with a little bit of meat that was all
covered with white frost. Then bullets began to arrive by the
dozen, and we avoided them as well as we could, and the earth flew
about, and we were laughing, because we had an idea that among all
those bullets there was not one that would find its billet. And
then they stopped firing, and we came back to sit on the ledge.
There were Chagniol and Duc and I, and I had them both to the
right of me. We began to talk about Giromagny, and about
Danjoutin, because that's the district we all came from, and this
went on for about half an hour. And then, all of a sudden, a
bullet came, just a single one, but this time it was a good one.
It went through Chagniol's head, then through Duc's, and as I was
a little taller than they, it only passed through my neck. ..."

"And then?"

"Then it went off to the devil! Chagniol fell forward on his face.
Duc got up, and ran along on all fours as far as the bend in the
trench, and there he began to scratch out the earth like a rabbit,
and then he died. The blood was pouring down me right and left,
and I thought it was time for me to go. I set off running, holding
a finger to each side of my neck, because of the blood. I was
thinking: just a single bullet! It's too much! It was really a
mighty good one! And then I saw the adjutant. So I said to him: 'I
warned you, mon adjutant, that that corner was not a good place!'
But the blood rushed up into my mouth, and I began to run again."

There was a silence, and I heard a voice murmur with conviction:

"YOU were jolly lucky, weren't you?"

Mulet, too, tells his story:

"They had taken our fire ... 'That's not your fire,' I said to
him. 'Not our fire?' he said. Then the other came up and he said:
'Hold your jaw about the fire ...' 'It's not yours,' I said. Then
he said: 'You don't know who you're talking to.' And he turned his
cap, which had been inside out ... 'Ah! I beg your pardon,' I
said, 'but I could not tell ...' And so they kept our fire. ..."

Maville remarks calmly: "Yes, things like that will happen

Silence again. The tempest shakes the windows with a furious hand.
The room is faintly illuminated by a candle which has St. Vitus'
dance. Rousselot, our little orderly, knits away industriously in
the circle of light. I smoke a pipe at once acrid and consoling,
like this minute itself in the midst of the infernal adventure.

Before going away, I think of Croquelet, the silent, whose long
silhouette I see at the end of the room. "He sleeps all the time,"
says Mulet, "he sleeps all day." I approach the stretcher, I bend
over it, and I see two large open eyes, which look at me gravely
and steadily in the gloom. And this look is so sad, so poignant,
that I am filled with impotent distress.

"You sleep too much, my poor Croquelet."

He answers me with his rugged accent, but in a feeble voice:

"Don't listen to him; it's not true. You know quite well that I
can't sleep, and that you won't give me a draught to let me get a
real nap. This afternoon, I read a little. ... But it wasn't very
interesting. ... If I could have another book. ..."

"Show me your book, Croquelet."

He thrusts out his chin towards a little tract. I strike a match,
and I read on the grey cover: "Of the Quality of Prayers addressed
to God."

"All right, Croquelet, I'll try to get you a book with pictures in
it. How do you feel this evening?"

"Ah! bad! very bad! They're thawing now. ..."

He has had frost-bite in his feet, and is beginning to suffer so
much from them that he forgets the wound in his side, which is
mortal, but less active.


I have come to take refuge among my wounded to smoke in peace, and
meditate in the shadow. Here, the moral atmosphere is pure. These
men are so wretched, so utterly humiliated, so absorbed in their
relentless sufferings that they seem to have relinquished the
burden of the passions in order to concentrate their powers on the
one endeavour: to live.

In spite of their solidarity they are for the time isolated by
their individual sufferings. Later on, they will communicate; but
this is the moment when each one contemplates his own anguish, and
fights his own battle, with cries of pain. ...

They are all my friends. I will stay among them, associating
myself with all my soul in their ordeal.

Perhaps here I shall find peace. Perhaps all ignoble discord will
call a truce on the threshold of this empire.

But a short distance from us the battle-field has thundered
unceasingly for days. Like a noisy, complicated mechanism which
turns out the products of its internal activity, the stupid
machine of war throws out, from minute to minute, bleeding men. We
pick them up, and here they are, swathed in bandages. They have
been crushed in the twinkling of an eye; and now we shall have to
ask months and years to repair or palliate the damage.

How silent they are this evening! And how it makes one's heart
ache to look at them! Here is Bourreau, with the brutal name and
the gentle nature, who never utters a complaint, and whom a single
bullet has deprived of sight for ever. Here is Bride, whom we fear
to touch, so covered is he with bandages, but who looks at us with
touching, liquid eyes, his mind already wandering. Here is
Lerouet, who will not see next morning dawn over the pine-trees,
and who has a gangrened wound near his heart. And the others, all
of whom I know by their individual misfortunes.

How difficult it is to realise what they were, all these men who a
year ago, were walking in streets, tilling the land, or writing in
an office. Their present is too poignant. Here they lie on the
ground, like some fair work of art defaced. Behold them! The
creature par excellence has received a great outrage, an outrage
it has wrought upon itself.

We are ignorant of their past. But have they a future? I consider
these innocent victims in the tragic majesty of the hour, and I
feel ashamed of living and breathing freely among them.

Poor, poor brothers! What could one do for you which would not be
insufficient, unworthy, mediocre? We can at least give up
everything and devote ourselves heart and soul to our holy and
exacting work.

But no! round the beds on which your solitary drama is enacted,
men are still taking part in a sinister comedy. Every kind of
folly, the most ignoble and also the most imbecile passions,
pursue their enterprises and their satisfactions over your heads.

Neither the four corpses we buried this morning, nor your daily
agonies will disarm these appetites, suspend these calculations,
and destroy these ambitions the development and fruition of which
even your martyrdom, may be made to serve.

I will spend the whole evening among my wounded, and we will talk
together, gently, of their misery; it will please them, and they
will make me forget the horrible atmosphere of discussion that
reigns here.

Alas! during the outburst of the great catastrophe, seeing the
volume of blood and fire, listening to the uproar, smelling the
stench of the vast gangrene, we thought that all passions would be
laid aside, like cumbersome weapons, and that we should give

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