List Of Contents | Contents of The New Book Of Martyrs, by Georges Duhamel
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your boot."

Then Mouchon, red and confused, objects:

"But if you take off the boot, I'm afraid my foot will smell...."

I have often thought of this answer. And believe me, Mouchon, I
have not yet met the prince who is worthy to take off your boots
and wash your humble feet.


With his forceps the doctor lays hold carefully of a mass of
bloody dressings, and draws them gently out of a gaping wound in
the abdomen. A ray of sunshine lights him at his work, and the
whole of the frail shed trembles to the roar of the cannon.

"I am a big china-dealer," murmurs the patient. "You come from
Paris, and I do, too. Save me, and you shall see.... I'll give you
a fine piece of china."

The plugs are coming out by degrees; the forceps glitter, and the
ray of sunshine seems to tremble under the cannonade, as do the
floor, the walls, the light roof, the whole earth, the whole
universe, drunk with fatigue.

Suddenly, from the depths of space, a whining sound arises,
swells, rends the air above the shed, and the shell bursts a few
yards off, with the sound of a cracked object breaking.

The thin walls seem to quiver under the pressure of the air. The
doctor makes a slight movement of his head, as if to see, after
all, where the thing fell.

Then the china-dealer, who noted the movement, says in a quiet

"Don't take any notice of those small things, they don't do any
harm. Only save me, and I will give you a beautiful piece of china
or earthenware, whichever you like."


The root of the evil is not so much the shattered leg, as the
little wound in the arm, from which so much good blood was lost.

With his livid lips, no longer distinguishable from the rest of
his face, and the immense black pupils of his eyes, the man shows
a countenance irradiated by a steadfast soul, which will not give
in till the last moment. He contemplates the ravages of his body
almost severely, and without illusion, and watching the surgeons
as they scrub their hands, he says in a grave voice:

"Tell my wife that my last thoughts were of her and our children."

Ah! it was not a veiled question, for, without a moment's
hesitation, he allows us to put the mask over his face.

The solemn words seem still to echo through the ward:

"Tell my wife..."

That manly face is not the face of one who could be deceived by
soft words and consoling phrases. The white blouse turns away. The
surgeon's eyes grow dim behind his spectacles, and in solemn tones
he replies:

"We will not fail to do so, friend."

The patient's eyelids flutter--as one waves a handkerchief from
the deck of a departing steamer--then, breathing in the ether
steadily, he falls into a dark slumber.

He never wakes, and we keep our promise to him.


A few days before the death of Tricot, a very annoying thing
happened to him; a small excrescence, a kind of pimpel, appeared
on the side of his nose.

Tricot had suffered greatly; only some fragments of his hands
remained; but, above all, he had a great opening in his side, a
kind of fetid mouth, through which the will to live seemed to

Coughing, spitting, looking about with wide, agonised eyes in
search of elusive breath, having no hands to scratch oneself with,
being unable to eat unaided, and further, never having the
smallest desire to eat--could this be called living? And yet
Tricot never gave in. He waged his own war with the divine
patience of a man who had waged the great world war, and who knows
that victory will not come right away.

But Tricot had neither allies nor reserves; he was all alone, so
wasted and so exhausted that the day came when he passed almost
imperceptibly from the state of a wounded to that of a dying man.

And it was just at this moment that the pimple appeared.

Tricot had borne the greatest sufferings courageously; but he
seemed to have no strength to bear this slight addition to his

"Monsieur," stammered the orderly who had charge of him, utterly
dejected, "I tell you, that pimple is the spark that makes the cup

And in truth the cup overflowed. This misfortune was too much.
Tricot began to complain, and from that moment I felt that he was

I asked him several times a day, thinking of all his wounds: "How
are you, old fellow?" And he, thinking of nothing but the pimple,
answered always:

"Very bad, very bad! The pimple is getting bigger."

It was true. The pimple had come to a head, and I wanted to prick

Tricot, who had allowed us to cut into his chest without an
anaesthetic, exclaimed with tears:

"No, no more operations! I won't have any more operations."

All day long he lamented about his pimple, and the following night
he died.

"It was a bad pimple," said the orderly; "it was that which killed

Alas! It was not a very "bad pimple," but no doubt it killed him.


Mehay was nearly killed, but he did not die; so no great harm was

The bullet went through his helmet, and only touched the bone. The
brain is all right. So much the better.

No sooner had Mehay come to, and hiccoughed a little in memory of
the chloroform, than he began to look round with interest at all
that was happening about him.

Three days after the operation, Mehay got up. It would have been
useless to forbid this proceeding. Mehay would have disobeyed
orders for the first time in his life. We could not even think of
taking away his clothes. The brave man never lacks clothes.

Mehay accordingly got up, and his illness was a thing of the past.

Every morning, Mehay rises before day-break and seizes a broom.
Rapidly and thoroughly, he makes the ward as dean as his own
heart. He never forgets any corner, and he manages to pass the
brush gently under the beds without waking his sleeping comrades,
and without disturbing those who are in pain. Sometimes Mehay
hands basins or towels, and he is as gentle as a woman when he
helps to dress Vossaert, whose limbs are numb and painful.

At eight o'clock, the ward is in perfect order, and as the
dressings are about to begin, Mehay suddenly appears in a fine
clean apron. He watches my hands carefully as they come and go,
and he is always in the right place to hand the dressing to the
forceps, to pour out the spirit, or to lend a hand with a bandage,
for he very soon learned to bandage skilfully.

He does not say a word; he just looks. The bit of his forehead
that shows under his own bandages is wrinkled with the earnestness
of his attention--and he has those blue marks by which we
recognise the miner.

Sometimes it is his turn to have a dressing. But scarcely is it
completed when he is up again with his apron before him, silently

At eleven o'clock, Mehay disappears. He has gone, perhaps, to get
a breath of fresh air? Oh, no! Here he is back again with a
trayful of bowls. And he hands round the soup.

In the evening he hands the thermometer. He helps the orderlies so
much that he leaves them very little to do.

All this time the bones of his skull are at work under his
bandages, and the red flesh is growing. But we are not to trouble
about that: it will manage all alone. The man, however, cannot be
idle. He works, and trusts to his blood, "which is healthy."

In the evening, when the ward is lighted by a night-light, and I
come in on tiptoe to give a last look round, I hear a voice
laboriously spelling: "B-O, Bo; B-I, Bi; N-E, Ne, Bobine." It is
Mehay, learning to read before going to bed.


A lamp has been left alight, because the men are not asleep yet,
and they are allowed to smoke for a while. It would be no fun to
smoke, unless one could see the smoke.

The former bedroom of the mistress of the house makes a very
light, very clean ward. Under the draperies which have been
fastened up to the ceiling and covered with sheets, old Louarn
lies motionless, waiting for his three shattered limbs to mend. He
is smoking a cigarette, the ash from which falls upon his breast.
Apologising for the little heaps of dirt that make his bed the
despair of the orderlies, he says to me:

"You know, a Breton ought to be a bit dirty."

I touch the weight attached to his thigh, and he exclaims:

"Ma doue! Ma doue! Caste! Caste!"

These are oaths of a kind, of his own coining, which make every
one laugh, and himself the first. He adds, as he does every day:

"Doctor, you never hurt me so much before as you have done this

Then he laughs again.

Lens is not asleep yet, but he is as silent as usual. He has
scarcely uttered twenty words in three weeks.

In a corner, Mehay patiently repeats: "P-A, Pa," and the orderly
who is teaching him to read presses his forefinger on the soiled

I make my way towards Croin, Octave. I sit down by the bed in

Croin turns a face half hidden by bandages to me, and puts a leg
damp with sweat out from under the blankets, for fever runs high
just at this time. He too, is silent; he knows as well as I do
that he is not going on well; but all the same, he hopes I shall
go away without speaking to him.

No. I must tell him. I bend over him and murmur certain things.

He listens, and his chin begins to tremble, his boyish chin, which
is covered with a soft, fair down.

Then, with the accent of his province, he says in a tearful,
hesitating voice:

"I have already given an eye, must I give a hand too?"

His one remaining eye fills with tears. And seeing the sound hand,
I press it gently before I go.


When I put my fingers near his injured eye, Croin recoils a

"Don't be afraid," I say to him.

"Oh, I'm not afraid!"

And he adds proudly:

"When a chap has lived on Hill 108, he can't ever be afraid of
anything again."

"Then why do you wince?"

"It's just my head moving back of its own accord. I never think of

And it is true; the man is not afraid, but his flesh recoils.

When the bandage is properly adjusted, what remains visible of
Groin's face is young, agreeable, charming. I note this with
satisfaction, and say to him:

"There's not much damage done on this side. We'll patch you up so

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