"No fear!" "Monsieur Bassin, I tell you you're killing me." "Just a second more." "Monsieur Bassin, you're driving nails into my head, it's a shame." "I've almost finished." "Monsieur Bassin, I can't stand any more." "It's all over now," said the surgeon, laying down his instruments. Gautreau's head was swathed with cotton wool and he left the ward. "The old chap means well," he said, laughing, "but fancy knocking like that ... with a hammer! It's not that it hurts so much; the pain was no great matter. But it kills one, that sort of thing, and I'm not going to stand that." XXI There is only one man in the world who can hold Hourticq's leg, and that is Monet. Hourticq, who is a Southerner, cries despairingly: "Oh, cette jammbe, cette jammbe!" And his anxious eyes look eagerly round for some one: not his doctor, but his orderly, Monet. Whatever happens, the doctor will always do those things which doctors do. Monet is the only person who can take the heel and then the foot in both hands, raise the leg gently, and hold it in the air as long as it is necessary. There are people, it seems, who think this notion ridiculous. They are all jealous persons who envy Monet's position and would like to show that they too know how to hold Hourticq's leg properly. But it is not my business to show favour to the ambitious. As soon as Hourticq is brought in, I call Monet. If Monet is engaged, well, I wait. He comes, lays hold of the leg, and Hourticq ceases to lament. It is sometimes a long business, very long; big drops of sweat come out on Monet's forehead. But I know that he would not give up his place for anything in the world. When Mazy arrived at the hospital, Hourticq, who is no egoist, said to him at once in a low tone: "Yours is a leg too, isn't it? You must try to get Monet to hold it for you." XXII If Bouchard were not so bored, he would not be very wretched, for he is very courageous, and he has a good temper. But he is terribly bored, in his gentle, uncomplaining fashion. He is too ill to talk or play games. He cannot sleep; he can only contemplate the wall, and his own thoughts which creep slowly along it, like caterpillars. In the morning, I bring a catheter with me, and when Bouchard's wounds are dressed, I apply it, for unfortunately, he can no longer perform certain functions independently. Bouchard has crossed his hands behind the nape of his neck, and watches the process with a certain interest. I ask: "Did I hurt you? Is it very unpleasant?" Bouchard gives a melancholy smile and shakes his head: "Oh, no, not at all! In fact it rather amuses me. It makes a few minutes pass. The day is so long. ..." XXIII THOUGHTS OF PROSPER RUFFIN ... God! How awful it is in this carriage! Who is it who is groaning like that? It's maddening! And then, all this would never have happened if they had only brought the coffee at the right time. Well now, a wretched 77 ... oh, no! Who is it who is groaning like that? God, another jolt! No, no, man, we are not salad. Take care there. My kidneys are all smashed. Ah! now something is dripping on my nose. Hi! You up there, what's happening? He doesn't answer. I suppose it's blood, all this mess. Now again, some one is beginning to squeal like a pig. By the way, can it be me? What! it was I who was groaning! Upon my word, it's a little too strong, that! It was I myself who was making all the row, and I did not know it. It's odd to hear oneself screaming. Ah! now it's stopping, their beastly motor. Look, there's the sun! What's that tree over there? I know, it's a Japanese pine. Well, you see, I'm a gardener, old chap. Oh, oh, oh! My back! What will Felicie say to me? Look, there's Felicie coming down to the washing trough. She pretends not to see me. ... I will steal behind the elder hedge. Felicie! Felicie! I have a piece of a 77 in my kidneys. I like her best in her blue bodice. What are you putting over my nose, you people? It stinks horribly. I am choking, I tell you. Felicie, Felicie. Put on your blue bodice with the white spots, my little Feli ... Oh, but ... oh, but ...! Oh, the Whitsuntide bells already! God--the bells already ... the Whitsun bells ... the bells. ... XXIV I remember him very well, although he was not long with us. Indeed I think that I shall never forget him, and yet he stayed such a short time. ... When he arrived, we told him that an operation was necessary, and he made a movement with his head, as if to say that it was our business, not his. We operated, and as soon as he recovered consciousness, he went off again into a dream which was like a glorious delirium, silent and haughty. His breathing was so impeded by blood that it sounded like groaning; but his eyes were full of a strange serenity. That look was never with us. I had to uncover and dress his wounds several times; and THOSE WOUNDS MUST HAVE SUFFERED. But to the last, he himself seemed aloof from everything, even his own sufferings. XXV "Come in here. You can see him once more." I open the door, and push the big fair artilleryman into the room where his brother has just died. I turn back the sheet and uncover the face of the corpse. The flesh is still warm. The big fellow looks like a peasant. He holds his helmet in both hands, and stares at his brother's face with eyes full of horror and amazement. Then suddenly, he begins to cry out: "Poor Andre! Poor Andre!" This cry of the rough man is unexpected, and grandiose as the voice of ancient tragedians chanting the threnody of a hero. Then he drops his helmet, throws himself on his knees beside the death-bed, takes the dead face between his hands and kisses it gently and slowly with a little sound of the lips, as one kisses a baby's hand. I take him by the arm and lead him away. His sturdy body is shaken by sobs which are like the neighing of a horse; he is blinded by his tears, and knocks against all the furniture. He can do nothing but lament in a broken voice: "Poor Andre! Poor Andre!" XXVI La Gloriette is amongst the pine-trees. I lift up a corner of the canvas and he is there. In spite of the livid patches on the skin, in spite of the rigidity of the features, and the absence for all time of the glance, it is undoubtedly the familiar face. What a long time he suffered to win the right to be at last this thing which suffers no more! I draw back the winding-sheet. The body is as yet but little touched by corruption. The dressings are in place, as before. And as before, I think, as I draw back the sheet, of the look he will turn on me at the moment of suffering. But there is no longer any look, no longer any suffering, no longer even any movements. Only, only unimaginable eternity. For whom is the damp autumn breeze which flutters the canvas hung before the door? For whom the billowy murmur of the pine-trees and the rays of light crossed by a flight of insects? For whom this growling of cannon mingling now with the landscape like one of the sounds of nature? For me only, for me, alone here with the dead. The corpse is still so near to the living man that I cannot make up my mind that I am alone, that I cannot make up my mind to think as when I am alone. For indeed we spent too many days hoping together, enduring together, and if you will allow me to say so, my comrade, suffering together. We spent too many days wishing for the end of the fever, examining the wound, searching after the deeply rooted cause of the disaster--both tremulous, you from the effort to bear your pain, I sometimes from having inflicted it. We spent so many days, do you remember, oh, body without a soul ... so many days fondly expecting the medal you had deserved. But it seems that one must have given an eye or a limb to be put on the list, and you, all of a sudden, you gave your life. The medal had not come, for it does not travel so quickly as death. So many days! And now we are together again, for the last time. Well! I came for a certain purpose. I came to learn certain things at last that your body can tell me now. I open the case. As before, I cut the dressings with the shining scissors. And I was just about to say to you, as before: "If I hurt you, call out." XXVII At the edge of the beetroot field, a few paces from the road, in the white sand of Champagne, there is a burial-ground. Branches of young beech encircle it, making a rustic barrier that shuts out nothing, but allows the eyes and the winds to wander at will. There is a porch like those of Norman gardens. Near the entrance four pine-trees were planted, and these have died standing at their posts, like soldiers. It is a burial-ground of men. In the villages, round the churches, or on the fair hill-sides, among vines and flowers, there are ancient graveyards which the centuries filled slowly, and where woman sleeps beside man, and the child beside the grandfather. But this burial-ground owes nothing to old age or sickness. It is the burial-ground of young, strong men. We may read their names on the hundreds of little crosses which repeat daily in speechless unison: "There must be something more precious than life, more necessary than life ... since we are here." THE DEATH OF MERCIER Mercier is dead, and I saw his corpse weep. ... I did not think such a thing possible. The orderly had just washed his face and combed his grey hair. I said: "You are not forty yet, my poor Mercier, and your hair is almost white already." "It is because my life has been a very hard one, and I have had so many sorrows. I have worked so hard ... so hard! And I have had so little luck." There are pitiful little wrinkles all over his face; a thousand disappointments have left indelible traces there. And yet his eyes are always smiling; from out his faded features they shine, bright with an artless candour and radiant with hope. "You will cure me, and perhaps I shall be luckier in the future." I say "yes," and I think, "Alas! No, no."
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