List Of Contents | Contents of The New Book Of Martyrs, by Georges Duhamel
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been killed in action, and he had snatched a few minutes of

"Monet," I say, "I think Rochet is a believer. Well, go to him. He
may want you."

Monet puts away his pipe, and goes off noiselessly.

As to me, I go and wander about outside. On the poplar-lined road,
in company with the furious rain and the darkness, I shall perhaps
be able to master the flood of bitterness that sweeps over me.

At the end of an hour, my anxiety brings me back to Rochet's
bedside. The candle is burning away with a steady flame. Monet is
reading in a little book with a clasp. The profile of the wounded
man has still the pitiful austerity of a tortured saint.

"Is he quieter now?"

Monet lifts his fine dark eyes to my face, and drops his book.

"Yes. He is dead."


Why has Hell been painted as a place of hopeless torture and
eternal lamentation?

I believe that even in the lowest depths of Hell, the damned sing,
jest, and play cards. I am led to imagine this after seeing these
men rowing in their galleys, chained to them by fever and wounds.

Blaireau, who has only lost a hand, preludes in an undertone:

    Si tu veux fair' mon bonheur....

This timid breath kindles the dormant flame. Houdebine, who has a
fractured knee, but who now expects to be fairly comfortable till
the morning, at once responds and continues:

    Marguerite! Marguerite!

The two sing in unison, with delighted smiles:

    Si tu veux fair' mon bonheur
    Marguerite! Marguerite!

Maville joins in at the second verse, and even Legras, whose two
legs are broken, and the Chasseur Alpin, who has a hole in his

Panchat, the man who had a bullet through his neck, beats time
with his finger, because he is forbidden to speak.

All this goes on in low tones; but faces light up, and flush, as
if a bottle of brandy had been passed round.

Then Houdebine turns to Panchat and says: "Will you have a game of
dummy manilla, Panchat?"

Dummy manilla is a game for two; and they have to be content with
games for two, because no one in this ward can get up, and
communication is only easy for those in adjacent beds.

Panchat makes a sign of consent. Why should he not play dummy
manilla, which is a silent game. A chair is put between the two
beds, and he shuffles the cards.

The cards are so worn at the corners that they have almost become
ovals. The court cards smile through a fog of dirt; and to deal,
one has to wet one's thumb copiously, because a thick, tenacious
grease makes the cards stick together in an evil-smelling mass.

But a good deal of amusement is still to be got out of these
precious bits of old paste-board.

Panchat supports himself on his elbow, Houdebine has to keep on
his back, because of his knee. He holds his cards against his
chin, and throws them down energetically on the chair with his
right hand.

The chair is rather far off, the cards are dirty, and sometimes
Houdebine asks his silent adversary: "What's that?"

Panchat takes the card and holds it out at arm's length.

Houdebine laughs gaily.

He plays his cards one after the other, and dummy's hand also:

"Trump! Trump! Trump! And ace of hearts!"

Even those who cannot see anything laugh too.

Panchat is vexed, but he too laughs noiselessly. Then he takes out
the lost sou from under his straw pillow.

Meanwhile, Mulet is telling a story. It is always the same story,
but it is always interesting.

An almost imperceptible voice, perhaps Legras', hums slowly:

    Si tu veux fair' mon bonheur.

Who talks of happiness here?

I recognise the accents of obstinate, generous life. I recognise
thine accents, artless flesh! Only thou couldst dare to speak of
happiness between the pain of the morning and that of the evening,
between the man who is groaning on the right, and the man who is
dying on the left.

Truly, in the utmost depths of Hell, the damned must mistake their
need of joy for joy itself.

I know quite well that there is hope here.

So that in hell too there must be hope.


But lately, Death was the cruel stranger, the stealthy-footed
visitor.... Now, it is the romping dog of the house.

Do you remember the days when the human body seemed made for joy,
when each of its organs represented a function and a delight? Now,
each part of the body evokes the evil that threatens it, and the
special suffering it engenders.

Apart from this, it is well adapted for its part in the laborious
drama: the foot to carry a man to the attack; the arm to work the
cannon; the eye to watch the adversary or adjust the weapon.

But lately, Death was no part of life. We talked of it covertly.
Its image was at once painful and indecent, calculated to upset
the plans and projects of existence. It worked as far as possible
in obscurity, silence and retirement. We disguised it with
symbols; we announced it in laborious paraphrases, marked by a
kind of shame.

To-day Death is closely bound up with the things of life. And this
is true, not so much because its daily operations are on a vast
scale, because it chooses the youngest and the healthiest among
us, because it has become a kind of sacred institution, but more
especially because it has become a thing so ordinary that it no
longer causes us to suspend our usual activities, as it used to
do: we eat and drink beside the dead, we sleep amidst the dying,
we laugh and sing in the company of corpses.

And how, indeed, can it be otherwise? You know quite well that man
cannot live without eating, drinking, and sleeping, nor without
laughing and singing.

Ask all those who are suffering their hard Calvary here. They are
gentle and courageous, they sympathise with the pain of others;
but they must eat when the soup comes round, sleep, if they can,
during the long night; and try to laugh again when the ward is
quiet, and the corpse of the morning has been carried out.

Death remains a great thing, but one with which one's relations
have become frequent and intimate. Like the king who shows himself
at his toilet, Death is still powerful, but it has become familiar
and slightly degraded.

Lerouet died just now. We closed his eyes, tied up his chin, then
pulled out the sheet to cover the corpse while it was waiting for
the stretcher-bearers.

"Can't you eat anything?" said Mulet to Maville. Maville, who is
very young and shy, hesitates: "I can't get it down."

And after a pause, he adds: "I can't bear to see such things."

Mulet wipes his plate calmly and says: "Yes, sometimes it used to
take away my appetite too, so much so that I used to be sick. But
I have got accustomed to it now."

Pouchet gulps down his coffee with a sort of feverish eagerness.

"One feels glad to get off with the loss of a leg when one sees

"One must live," adds Mulet.

"Well, for all the pleasure one gets out of life...."

Beliard is the speaker. He had a bullet in the bowel, yet we hope
to get him well soon. But his whole attitude betrays indifference.
He smokes a great deal, and rarely speaks. He has no reason to
despair, and he knows that he can resume his ordinary life. But
familiarity with Death, which sometimes makes life seem so
precious, occasionally ends by producing a distaste for it, or
rather a deep weariness of it.


A whole nation, ten whole nations are learning to live in Death's
company. Humanity has entered the wild beast's cage, and sits
there with the patient courage of the lion-tamer.

Men of my country, I learn to know you better every day, and from
having looked you in the face at the height of your sufferings, I
have conceived a religious hope for the future of our race. It is
mainly owing to my admiration for your resignation, your native
goodness, your serene confidence in better times to come that I
can still believe in the moral future of the world.

At the very hour when the most natural instinct inclines the world
to ferocity, you preserve, on your beds of suffering, a beauty, a
purity of outlook which goes far to atone for the monstrous crime.
Men of France, your simple grandeur of soul redeems humanity from
its greatest crime, and raises it from its deep abyss.

We are told how you bear the misery of the battle-field, how in
the discouraging cold and mud, you await the hour of your cruel
duty, how you rush forward to meet the mortal blow, through the
unimaginable tumult of peril.

But when you come here, there are further sufferings in store for
you; and I know with what courage you endure them.

The doors of the Chateau close on a new life for you, a life that
is also one of perpetual peril and contest. I help you in this
contest, and I see how gallantly you wage it.

Not a wrinkle in your faces escapes me. Not one of your pains, not
one of the tremors of your lacerated flesh. And I write them all
down, just as I note your simple words, your cries, your sighs of
hope, as I also note the expression of your faces at the solemn
hour when man speaks no more.

Not one of your words leaves me unmoved; there is not one of your
actions which is not worthy of record. All must contribute to the
history of our great ordeal.

For it is not enough to give oneself up to the sacred duty of
succour. It is not enough to apply the beneficent knife to the
wound, or to change the dressings skilfully and carefully.

It is also my mission to record the history of those who have been
the sacrificial victims of the race, without gloss, in all its
truth and simplicity; the history of the men you have shown
yourselves to be in suffering.

If I left this undone, you would, no doubt, be cured as perfectly,
or would perish none the less; but the essence of the majestic
lesson would be lost, the most splendid elements of your courage
would remain barren.

And I invite all the world to bow before you with the same

Union of pure hearts to meet the ordeal! Union of pure hearts that
our country may know and respect herself! Union of pure hearts for
the redemption of the stricken world!

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