List Of Contents | Contents of The New Book Of Martyrs, by Georges Duhamel
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ourselves up with clean hearts and empty hands to battle against
the fiery nightmare. He who fights and defends himself needs a
pure heart: so does he who wanders among charnel houses, gives
drink to parched lips, washes fevered faces and bathes wounds. We
thought there would be a great forgetfulness of self and of former
hopes, and of the whole world. O Union of pure hearts to meet the

But no! The first explosion was tremendous, yet hardly had its
echoes died away when the rag-pickers were already at work among
the ruins, in quest of cutlet-bones and waste paper.

And yet, think of the sacred anguish of those first hours!

Well, so be it! For my part, I will stay here, between these
stretchers with their burdens of anguish.

At this hour one is inclined to distrust everything, man and the
universe, and the future of Right. But we cannot have any doubts
as to the suffering of man. It is the one certain thing at this

So I will stay and drink in this sinister testimony. And each time
that Beal, who has a gaping wound in the stomach, holds out his
hands to me with a little smile, I will get up and hold his hands
in mine, for he is feverish, and he knows that my hands are always


Bride is dead. We had been working all day, and in the evening we
had to find time to go and bury Bride.

It is not a very long ceremony. The burial-ground is near. About a
dozen of us follow the lantern, slipping in the mud, and stumbling
over the graves. Here we are at the wall, and here is the long
ditch, always open, which every day is prolonged a little to the
right, and filled in a little to the left. Here is the line of
white crosses, and the flickering shadows on the wall caused by
the lantern.

The men arrange the planks, slip the ropes, and lower the body,
disputing in undertones, for it is not so easy as one might think
to be a grave-digger. One must have the knack of it. And the night
is very dark and the mud very sticky.

At last the body is at the bottom of the trench, and the muddy
ropes are withdrawn. The little consumptive priest who stands at
the graveside murmurs the prayer for the dead. The rain beats in
our faces. The familiar demon of Artois, the wind, leaps among the
ancient trees. The little priest murmurs the terrible words: Dies
irae, dies illa. ...

And this present day is surely the day of wrath ... I too utter my
prayer: "In the name of the unhappy world, Bride, I remit all thy
sins, I absolve thee from all thy faults! Let this day, at least,
be a day of rest."

The little priest stands bare-headed in the blast. An orderly who
is an ecclesiastic holds the end of an apron over his head. A man
raises the lantern to the level of his eye. And the rain-drops
gleam and sparkle furtively.

Bride is dead. ...

Now we meet again in the little room where friendship reigns.

Pierre and Jacques, gallant fellows, I shall not forget your
beautiful, painful smile at the moment which brings discouragement
to the experienced man. I shall not forget.

The beef and rice, which one needs to be very hungry to swallow,
is distributed. And a gentle cheerfulness blossoms in the circle
of lamplight, a cheerfulness which tries to catch something of the
gaiety of the past. Man has such a deep-seated need of joy that he
improvises it everywhere, even in the heart of misery.

And suddenly, through the steam of the soup, I see Bride's look

It was no ordinary look. The extremity of suffering, the approach
of death, perhaps, and also the hidden riches of his soul, gave it
extraordinary light, sweetness, and gentleness. When one came to
his bedside, and bent over him, the look was there, a well-spring
of refreshment.

But Bride is dead: we saw his eyes transformed into dull,
meaningless membranes.

Where is that well-spring? Can it be quenched?

Bride is dead. Involuntarily, I repeat aloud: "Bride is dead."

Have I roused a responsive echo in these sympathetic souls? A
religious silence falls upon them. The oldest of all problems
comes and takes its place at the table like a familiar guest. It
breathes mysteriously into every ear: "Where is Bride? Where is
Bride's look?"


A lantern advances, swinging among the pines. Who is coming to
meet us?

Philippe recognises the figure of Monsieur Julien. Here is the
man, indeed, with his porter's livery, and his base air as of an
insolent slave. He waves a stable-lantern which throws grotesque
shadows upwards on his face; and he is obviously furious at having
been forced to render a service.

He brandishes the lantern angrily, and thrusts out his chin to
show us the advancing figures: two men are carrying a stretcher on
which lies a big body wrapped in a coarse winding sheet. The two
men are weary, and set the stretcher down carefully in the mud.

"Is it Fumat?"

"Yes. He has just died, very peacefully."

"Where are you going?"

"There is no place anywhere for a corpse. So we are taking him to
the chapel in the burial-ground. But he is heavy."

"We will give you a hand."

Philippe and I take hold of the stretcher. The men follow us in
silence. The body is heavy, very heavy. We drag our sabots out of
the clay laboriously. And we walk slowly, breathing hard.

How heavy he is! ... He was called Fumat ... He was a giant. He
came from the mountains of the Centre, leaving a red-tiled village
on a hill-side, among juniper-bushes and volcanic boulders. He
left his native place with its violet peaks and strong aromatic
scents and came to the war in Artois. He was past the age when men
can march to the attack, but he guarded the trenches and cooked.
He received his death-wound while he was cooking. The giant of
Auvergne was peppered with small missiles. He had no wound at all
proportionate to his huge body. Nothing but splinters of metal.
Once again, David has slain Goliath.

He was two days dying. He was asked: "Is there anything you would
like?" And he answered with white lips: "Nothing, thank you." When
we were anxious and asked him "How do you feel?" he was always
quite satisfied. "I am getting on very well." He died with a
discretion, a modesty, a self-forgetfulness which redeemed the
egotism of the universe.

How heavy he is! He was wounded as he was blowing up the fire for
the soup. He did not die fighting. He uttered no historic word. He
fell at his post as a cook. ... He was not a hero.

You are not a hero, Fumat. You are only a martyr. And we are going
to lay you in the earth of France, which has engulfed a noble and
innumerable army of martyrs.

The shadow of the trees sweeps like a huge sickle across space. An
acrid smell of cold decay rises on the night. The wind wails its
threnody for Fumat.

"Open the door, Monsieur Julien."

The lout pushes the door, grumbling to himself. We lay the body on
the pavement of the chapel.

Renaud covers the corpse carefully with a faded flag. And
suddenly, as if to celebrate the moment, the brutal roar of guns
comes to us from the depths of the woods, breaks violently into
the chapel, seizes and rattles the trembling window-panes. A
hundred times over, a whole nation of cannon yells in honour of
Fumat. And each time other Fumats fall in the mud yonder, in their
appointed places.


They ought not to have cut off all the light in this manner, and
it would not have been done, perhaps, if ...

There is a kind of mania for organisation which is the sworn enemy
of order; in its efforts to discover the best place for
everything, it ends by diverting everything from its right
function and locality, and making everything as inopportune as
itself. It was a mistake to cut off all the lights this evening,
on some pretext or the other. The rooms of the old mansion are not
packed with bales of cotton, but with men who have anxious minds
and tortured bodies.

A mournful darkness suddenly reigned; and outside, the incessant
storm that rages in this country swept along like a river in

Little Rochet was dreaming in the liquid light of the lamp, with
hands crossed on his breast, and the delicate profile of an
exhausted saint.

He was dreaming of vague and exquisite things, for cruel fever has
moments of generosity between two nightmares. He was dreaming so
sweetly that he forgot the abominable stench of his body, and that
a smile touched the two deep wrinkles at the corners of his mouth,
set there by a week of agony.

But all the lamps have been put out, and the noise of the
hurricane has become more insistent, and the wounded have ceased
talking, for darkness discourages conversation.

There are some places where the men with whom the shells have
dealt mercifully and whose wounds are only scratches congregate.
These have only the honour of wounds, and what may be called their
delights. ... But here, we have only the worst cases; and here
they have to await the supreme decision of death.

Little Rochet awoke to a reality full of darkness and despair. He
heard nothing but laboured breathing round him, and rising above
it all, the violent breath of the storm. He was suddenly conscious
of his lacerated stomach, of his lost leg, and he realised that
the fetid smell in the air was the smell of his flesh. And he
thought of the loving letter he had received in the morning from
his four big sisters with glossy hair, he thought of all his lost,
ravished happiness....

Renaud hurries up, groping his way among the dark ambushes of the

"Come, come quickly. Little Rochet has thrown himself out of bed."

Holding up a candle, I take in the melancholy scene. We have to
get Rochet into bed again, readjust his bandages, wipe up the
fetid liquid spilt on the floor.

Rochet's lips are compressed. I stoop to his ear and ask softly:

"Why did you do this?"

His face remains calm, and he answers gently, looking me full in
the eyes: "I want to die."

I leave the room, disarmed, my head bowed, and go in search of
Monet, who is a priest and an excellent orderly. He is smoking a
pipe in a corner. He has just had news that his young brother has

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