The Backwash of War by Ellen N. La Motte
THE HOLE IN THE
WOMEN AND WIVES
POUR LA PATRIE
AT THE TELEPHONE
This war has been described as Months of boredom, punctuated by
moments of intense fright. The writer of these sketches has
experienced many months of boredom, in a French military field
hospital, situated ten kilometres behind the lines, in Belgium. During
these months, the lines have not moved, either forward or backward, but
have remained dead-locked, in one position. Undoubtedly, up and down
the long-reaching kilometres of Front there has been action, and
moments of intense fright have produced glorious deeds of valour,
courage, devotion, and nobility. But when there is little or no action,
there is a stagnant place, and in a stagnant place there is much
ugliness. Much ugliness is churned up in the wake of mighty, moving
forces. We are witnessing a phase in the evolution of humanity, a phase
called Warand the slow, onward progress stirs up the slime in the
shallows, and this is the Backwash of War. It is very ugly. There are
many little lives foaming up in the backwash. They are loosened by the
sweeping current, and float to the surface, detached from their
environment, and one glimpses them, weak, hideous, repellent. After the
war, they will consolidate again into the condition called Peace.
After this war, there will be many other wars, and in the intervals
there will be peace. So it will alternate for many generations. By
examining the things cast up in the backwash, we can gauge the progress
of humanity. When clean little lives, when clean little souls boil up
in the backwash, they will consolidate, after the final war, into a
peace that shall endure. But not till then.
E. N. L. M.
When he could stand it no longer, he fired a revolver up through the
roof of his mouth, but he made a mess of it. The ball tore out his left
eye, and then lodged somewhere under his skull, so they bundled him
into an ambulance and carried him, cursing and screaming, to the
nearest field hospital. The journey was made in double-quick time, over
rough Belgian roads. To save his life, he must reach the hospital
without delay, and if he was bounced to death jolting along at
breakneck speed, it did not matter. That was understood. He was a
deserter, and discipline must be maintained. Since he had failed in the
job, his life must be saved, he must be nursed back to health, until he
was well enough to be stood up against a wall and shot. This is War.
Things like this also happen in peace time, but not so obviously.
At the hospital, he behaved abominably. The ambulance men declared
that he had tried to throw himself out of the back of the ambulance,
that he had yelled and hurled himself about, and spat blood all over
the floor and blanketsin short, he was very disagreeable. Upon the
operating table, he was no more reasonable. He shouted and screamed and
threw himself from side to side, and it took a dozen leather straps and
four or five orderlies to hold him in position, so that the surgeon
could examine him. During this commotion, his left eye rolled about
loosely upon his cheek, and from his bleeding mouth he shot great clots
of stagnant blood, caring not where they fell. One fell upon the
immaculate white uniform of the Directrice, and stained her, from
breast to shoes. It was disgusting. They told him it was La
Directrice, and that he must be careful. For an instant he stopped
his raving, and regarded her fixedly with his remaining eye, then took
aim afresh, and again covered her with his coward blood. Truly it was
To the Médecin Major it was incomprehensible, and he said so.
To attempt to kill oneself, when, in these days, it was so easy to die
with honour upon the battlefield, was something he could not
understand. So the Médecin Major stood patiently aside, his arms
crossed, his supple fingers pulling the long black hairs on his bare
arms, waiting. He had long to wait, for it was difficult to get the man
under the anæsthetic. Many cans of ether were used, which went to prove
that the patient was a drinking man. Whether he had acquired the habit
of hard drink before or since the war could not be ascertained; the war
had lasted a year now, and in that time many habits may be formed. As
the Médecin Major stood there, patiently fingering the hairs on
his hairy arms, he calculated the amount of ether that was
expendedfive cans of ether, at so many francs a canhowever, the
ether was a donation from America, so it did not matter. Even so, it
At last they said he was ready. He was quiet. During his struggles,
they had broken out two big teeth with the mouth gag, and that added a
little more blood to the blood already choking him. Then the Médecin
Major did a very skilful operation. He trephined the skull,
extracted the bullet that had lodged beneath it, and bound back in
place that erratic eye. After which the man was sent over to the ward,
while the surgeon returned hungrily to his dinner, long overdue.
In the ward, the man was a bad patient. He insisted upon tearing off
his bandages, although they told him that this meant bleeding to death.
His mind seemed fixed on death. He seemed to want to die, and was
thoroughly unreasonable, although quite conscious. All of which meant
that he required constant watching and was a perfect nuisance. He was
so different from the other patients, who wanted to live. It was a joy
to nurse them. This was the Salle of the Grands Blessés,
those most seriously wounded. By expert surgery, by expert nursing,
some of these were to be returned to their homes again, réformés, mutilated for life, a burden to themselves and to society; others were
to be nursed back to health, to a point at which they could again
shoulder eighty pounds of marching kit, and be torn to pieces again on
the firing line. It was a pleasure to nurse such as these. It called
forth all one's skill, all one's humanity. But to nurse back to health
a man who was to be court-martialled and shot, truly that seemed a
They dressed his wounds every day. Very many yards of gauze were
required, with gauze at so many francs a bolt. Very much ether, very
much iodoform, very many bandagesit was an expensive business,
considering. All this waste for a man who was to be shot, as soon as he
was well enough. How much better to expend this upon the hopeless
cripples, or those who were to face death again in the trenches.
The night nurse was given to reflection. One night, about midnight,
she took her candle and went down the ward, reflecting. Ten beds on the
right hand side, ten beds on the left hand side, all full. How pitiful
they were, these little soldiers, asleep. How irritating they were,
these little soldiers, awake. Yet how sternly they contrasted with the
man who had attempted suicide. Yet did they contrast, after all? Were
they finer, nobler, than he? The night nurse, given to reflection,
continued her rounds.
In bed number two, on the right, lay Alexandre, asleep. He had
received the Médaille Militaire for bravery. He was better now,
and that day had asked the Médecin Major for permission to
smoke. The Médecin Major had refused, saying that it would
disturb the other patients. Yet after the doctor had gone, Alexandre
had produced a cigarette and lighted it, defying them all from behind
his Médaille Militaire. The patient in the next bed had become
violently nauseated in consequence, yet Alexandre had smoked on, secure
in his Médaille Militaire. How much honour lay in that?
Here lay Félix, asleep. Poor, querulous, feeble-minded Félix, with a
foul fistula, which filled the whole ward with its odour. In one
sleeping hand lay his little round mirror, in the other, he clutched
his comb. With daylight, he would trim and comb his moustache, his
poor, little drooping moustache, and twirl the ends of it.
Beyond lay Alphonse, drugged with morphia, after an intolerable day.
That morning he had received a package from home, a dozen pears. He had
eaten them all, one after the other, though his companions in the beds
adjacent looked on with hungry, longing eyes. He offered not one, to
either side of him. After his gorge, he had become violently ill, and
demanded the basin in which to unload his surcharged stomach.
Here lay Hippolyte, who for eight months had jerked on the bar of a
captive balloon, until appendicitis had sent him into hospital. He was
not ill, and his dirty jokes filled the ward, provoking laughter, even
from dying Marius. How filthy had been his jokeshow they had been
matched and beaten by the jokes of others. How filthy they all were,
when they talked with each other, shouting down the length of the ward.
Wherein lay the difference? Was it not all a dead-end occupation,
nursing back to health men to be patched up and returned to the
trenches, or a man to be patched up, court-martialled and shot? The
difference lay in the Ideal.
One had no ideals. The others had ideals, and fought for them. Yet
had they? Poor selfish Alexandre, poor vain Félix, poor gluttonous
Alphonse, poor filthy Hippolytewas it possible that each cherished
ideals, hidden beneath? Courageous dreams of freedom and patriotism?
Yet if so, how could such beliefs fail to influence their daily lives?
Could one cherish standards so noble, yet be himself so ignoble, so
petty, so commonplace?
At this point her candle burned out, so the night nurse took another
one, and passed from bed to bed. It was very incomprehensible. Poor,
whining Félix, poor whining Alphonse, poor whining Hippolyte, poor
whining Alexandreall fighting for La Patrie. And against them
the man who had tried to desert La Patrie.
So the night nurse continued her rounds, up and down the ward,
reflecting. And suddenly she saw that these ideals were imposed from
withoutthat they were compulsory. That left to themselves, Félix, and
Hippolyte, and Alexandre, and Alphonse would have had no ideals.
Somewhere, higher up, a handful of men had been able to impose upon
Alphonse, and Hippolyte, and Félix, and Alexandre, and thousands like
them, a state of mind which was not in them, of themselves. Base metal,
gilded. And they were all harnessed to a great car, a Juggernaut,
ponderous and crushing, upon which was enthroned Mammon, or the Goddess
of Liberty, or Reason, as you like. Nothing further was demanded of
them than their collective physical strengthjust to tug the car
forward, to cut a wide swath, to leave behind a broad path along which
could follow, at some later date, the hordes of Progress and
Civilization. Individual nobility was superfluous. All the Idealists
demanded was physical endurance from the mass.
Dawn filtered in through the little square windows of the ward. Two
of the patients rolled on their sides, that they might talk to one
another. In the silence of early morning their voices rang clear.
Dost thou know, mon ami, that when we captured that German
battery a few days ago, we found the gunners chained to their guns?
PARIS, 18 December, 1915.
LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE
They brought him to the Poste de Secours, just behind the
lines, and laid the stretcher down gently, after which the bearers
stretched and restretched their stiffened arms, numb with his weight.
For he was a big man of forty, not one of the light striplings of the
young classes of this year or last. The wounded man opened his eyes,
flashing black eyes, that roved about restlessly for a moment, and then
rested vindictively first on one, then on the other of the two
Sales embusqués! (Dirty cowards) he cried angrily. How
long is it since I have been wounded? Ten hours! For ten hours have I
laid there, waiting for you! And then you come to fetch me, only when
it is safe! Safe for you! Safe to risk your precious, filthy skins!
Safe to come where I have stood for months! Safe to come where for ten
hours I have laid, my belly opened by a German shell! Safe! Safe! How
brave you are when night has fallen, when it is dark, when it is safe
to come for me, ten hours late!
He closed his eyes, jerked up his knees, and clasped both dirty
hands over his abdomen. From waist to knees the old blue trousers were
soaked with blood, black blood, stiff and wet. The brancardiers
looked at each other and shook their heads. One shrugged a shoulder.
Again the flashing eyes of the man on the stretcher opened.
Sales embusqués! he shouted again. How long have you been
engaged in this work of mercy? For twelve months, since the beginning
of the war! And for twelve months, since the beginning of the war, I
have stood in the first line trenches! Think of ittwelve months! And
for twelve months you have come for uswhen it was safe! How much
younger are you than I! Ten years, both of youten years, fifteen
years, or even more! Ah, Nom de Dieu, to have influence!
The flaming eyes closed again, and the bearers shuffled off,
lighting cheap cigarettes.
Then the surgeon came, impatiently. Ah, a grand blessé, to be
hastened to the rear at once. The surgeon tried to unbutton the soaking
trousers, but the man gave a scream of pain.
For the sake of God, cut them, Monsieur le Major! Cut them!
Do not economize. They are worn out in the service of the country! They
are torn and bloody, they can serve no one after me! Ah, the little
economies, the little, false economies! Cut them, Monsieur le Major!
An assistant, with heavy, blunt scissors, half cut, half tore the
trousers from the man in agony. Clouts of black blood rolled from the
wound, then a stream bright and scarlet, which was stopped by a handful
of white gauze, retained by tightly wrapped bands. The surgeon raised
himself from the task.
Mon pauvre vieux, he murmured tenderly. Once more? and
into the supine leg he shot a stream of morphia.
Two ambulance men came in, Americans in khaki, ruddy, well fed,
careless. They lifted the stretcher quickly, skilfully. Marius opened
his angry eyes and fixed them furiously.
Sales étrangers! he screamed. What are you here
for? To see me, with my bowels running on the ground? Did you come for
me ten hours ago, when I needed you? My head in mud, my blood warm
under me? Ah, not you! There was danger thenyou only come for me when
it is safe!
They shoved him into the ambulance, buckling down the brown canvas
curtains by the light of a lantern. One cranked the motor, then both
clambered to the seat in front, laughing. They drove swiftly but
carefully through the darkness, carrying no lights. Inside, the man
continued his imprecations, but they could not hear him.
Strangers! Sightseers! he sobbed in misery. Driving a motor, when
it is I who should drive the motor! Have I not conducted a Paris taxi
for these past ten years? Do I not know how to drive, to manage an
engine? What are they here forFrance? No, only themselves! To write a
bookto say what they have donewhen it was safe! If it was France,
there is the Foreign Legionwhere they would have been welcometo
stand in the trenches as I have done! But do they enlist? Ah no! It is
not safe! They take my place with the motor, and come to get mewhen
it is too late.
Then the morphia relieving him, he slept.
* * * * *
In a field hospital, some ten kilometres behind the lines, Marius
lay dying. For three days he had been dying and it was disturbing to
the other patients. The stench of his wounds filled the air, his curses
filled the ward. For Marius knew that he was dying and that he had
nothing to fear. He could express himself as he chose. There would be
no earthly court-martial for himhe was answerable to a higher court.
So Marius gave forth freely to the ward his philosophy of life, his
hard, bare, ugly life, as he had lived it, and his comments on La
Patrie as he understood it. For three days, night and day, he
screamed in his delirium, and no one paid much attention, thinking it
was delirium. The other patients were sometimes diverted and amused,
sometimes exceedingly annoyed, according to whether or not they were
sleepy or suffering. And all the while the wound in the abdomen gave
forth a terrible stench, filling the ward, for he had gas gangrene, the
odour of which is abominable.
Marius had been taken to the Salle of the abdominal wounds,
and on one side of him lay a man with a fæcal fistula, which smelled
atrociously. The man with the fistula, however, had got used to
himself, so he complained mightily of Marius. On the other side lay a
man who had been shot through the bladder, and the smell of urine was
heavy in the air round about. Yet this man had also got used to
himself, and he too complained of Marius, and the awful smell of
Marius. For Marius had gas gangrene, and gangrene is death, and it was
the smell of death that the others complained of.
Two beds farther down, lay a boy of twenty, who had been shot
through the liver. Also his hand had been amputated, and for this
reason he was to receive the Croix de Guerre. He had performed
no special act of bravery, but all mutilés are given the
Croix de Guerre, for they will recover and go back to Paris, and in
walking about the streets of Paris, with one leg gone, or an arm gone,
it is good for the morale of the country that they should have a
Croix de Guerre pinned on their breasts. So one night at about
eight o'clock, the General arrived to confer the Croix de Guerre
on the man two beds from Marius. The General was a beautiful man,
something like the Russian Grand Duke. He was tall and thin, with
beautiful slim legs encased in shining tall boots. As he entered the
ward, emerging from the rain and darkness without, he was very
imposing. A few rain drops sparkled upon the golden oak leaves of his
cap, for although he had driven up in a limousine, he was not able to
come quite up to the ward, but had been obliged to traverse some fifty
yards of darkness, in the rain. He was encircled in a sweeping black
cloak, which he cast off upon an empty bed, and then, surrounded by his
glittering staff, he conferred the medal upon the man two beds below
Marius. The little ceremony was touching in its dignity and simplicity.
Marius, in his delirium, watched the proceedings intently.
It was all over in five minutes. Then the General was gone, his
staff was gone, and the ward was left to its own reflections.
Opposite Marius, across the ward, lay a little joyeux. That
is to say, a soldier of the Bataillon d'Afrique, which is the
criminal regiment of France, in which regiment are placed those men who
would otherwise serve sentences in jail. Prisoners are sent to this
regiment in peace time, and in time of war, they fight in the trenches
as do the others, but with small chance of being decorated. Social
rehabilitation is their sole reward, as a rule. So Marius waxed forth,
taunting the little joyeux, whose feet lay opposite his feet, a
Tiens! My little friend! he shouted so that all might hear.
Thou canst never receive the Croix de Guerre, as François has
received it, because thou art of the Bataillon d'Afrique! And
why art thou there, my friend? Because, one night at a café, thou didst
drink more wine than was good for theeso much more than was good for
thee, that when an old boulevardier, with much money in his
pocket, proposed to take thy girl from thee, thou didst knock him down
and give him a black eye! Common brawler, disturber of the peace! It
was all due to the wine, the good wine, which made thee value the girl
far above her worth! It was the wine! The wine! And every time an
attempt is made in the Chamber to abolish drinking the good wine of
France, there is violent opposition. Opposition from whom? From the old
boulevardier whose money is invested in the vineyardsthe very man
who casts covetous eyes upon thy Mimi! So thou goest to jail, then to
the Bataillon d'Afrique, and the wine flows, and thy Mimiwhere
is she? Only never canst thou receive the Croix de Guerre, my
friendLa Patrie Reconnaissante sees to that!
Marius shouted with laughterhe knew himself so near death, and it
was good to be able to say all that was in his heart. An orderly
approached him, one of the six young men attached as male nurses to the
Ha! Thou bidst me be quiet, sale embusqué? he taunted. I
will shout louder than the guns! And hast thou ever heard the guns,
nearer than this safe point behind the lines? Thou art here doing
woman's work! Caring for me, nursing me! And what knowledge dost thou
bring to thy task, thou ignorant grocer's clerk? Surely thou hast some
powerful friend, who got thee mobilized as infirmiera woman's
taskinstead of a simple soldier like me, doing his duty in the
Marius raised himself in bed, which the infirmier knew,
because the doctor had told him, was not a right position for a man who
has a wound in his stomach, some thirty centimetres in length. Marius,
however, was strong in his delirium, so the infirmier called
another to help him throw the patient upon his back. Soon three were
called, to hold the struggling man down.
Marius resigned himself. Summon all six of you! he shouted. All
six of you! And what do you know about illness such as mine? You, a
grocer's clerk! You, barber! You, cultivateur! You, driver of
the boat train from Paris to Cherbourg! You, agent of the Gas Society
of Paris! You, driver of a Paris taxi, such as myself! Yet here you all
are, in your wisdom, your experience, to nurse me! Mobilized as nurses
because you are friend of a friend of a deputy! Whilst I, who know no
deputy, am mobilized in the first line trenches! Sales embusqués!
Sales embusqués! La Patrie Reconnaissante!
He laid upon his back a little while, quiet. He was very delirious,
and the end could not be far off. His black eyebrows were contracted
into a frown, the eyelids closed and quivering. The grey nostrils were
pinched and dilated, the grey lips snarling above yellow, crusted
teeth. The restless lips twitched constantly, mumbling fresh treason,
inaudibly. Upon the floor on one side lay a pile of coverlets, tossed
angrily from the bed, while on each side the bed dangled white,
muscular, hairy legs, the toes touching the floor. All the while he
fumbled to unloose the abdominal dressings, picking at the safety-pins
with weak, dirty fingers. The patients on each side turned their backs
to him, to escape the smell, the smell of death.
A woman nurse came down the ward. She was the only one, and she
tried to cover him with the fallen bedding. Marius attempted to clutch
her hand, to encircle her with his weak, delirious, amorous arms. She
dodged swiftly, and directed an orderly to cover him with the fallen
Marius laughed in glee, a fiendish, feeble, shrieking laugh. Have
nothing to do with a woman who is diseased! he shouted. Never! Never!
So they gave him more morphia, that he might be quiet and less
indecent, and not disturb the other patients. And all that night he
died, and all the next day he died, and all the night following he
died, for he was a very strong man and his vitality was wonderful. And
as he died, he continued to pour out to them his experience of life,
his summing up of life, as he had lived it and known it. And the sight
of the woman nurse evoked one train of thought, and the sight of the
men nurses evoked another, and the sight of the man who had the
Croix de Guerre evoked another, and the sight of the joyeux
evoked another. And he told the ward all about it, incessantly. He was
His was a filthy death. He died after three days' cursing and
raving. Before he died, that end of the ward smelled foully, and his
foul words, shouted at the top of his delirious voice, echoed foully.
Everyone was glad when it was over.
The end came suddenly. After very much raving it came, after
terrible abuse, terrible truths. One morning, very early, the night
nurse looked out of the window and saw a little procession making its
way out of the gates of the hospital enclosure, going towards the
cemetery of the village beyond. First came the priest, carrying a
wooden cross that the carpenter had just made. He was chanting
something in a minor key, while the sentry at the gates stood at
salute. The cortège passed through, numbering a dozen soldiers, four of
whom carried the bier on their shoulders. The bier was covered with the
glorious tricolour of France. She glanced instinctively back towards
Marius. It would be just like that when he died. Then her eyes fell
upon a Paris newspaper, lying on her table. There was a column headed,
Nos Héros! Morts aux Champs d'Honneur! La Patrie Reconnaissante.
It would be just like that.
Then Marius gave a last, sudden scream.
Vive la France! he shouted. Vive les sales embusqués!
Hoch le Kaiser!
The ward awoke, scandalized.
Vive la Patrie Reconnaissante! he yelled. Hoch le
Then he died.
PARIS, 19 December, 1915.
THE HOLE IN THE HEDGE
The field hospital stood in a field outside the village, surrounded
by a thick, high hedge of prickly material. Within, the enclosure was
filled by a dozen little wooden huts, painted green, connected with
each other by plank walks. What went on outside the hedge, nobody
within knew. War, presumably. War ten kilometres away, to judge by the
map, and by the noise of the guns, which on some days roared very
loudly, and made the wooden huts shake and tremble, although one got
used to that, after a fashion. The hospital was very close to the war,
so close that no one knew anything about the war, therefore it was very
dull inside the enclosure, with no news and no newspapers, and just
quarrels and monotonous work. As for the hedge, at such points as the
prickly thorn gave out or gave way, stout stakes and stout boarding
took its place, thus making it a veritable prison wall to those
confined within. There was but one recognized entrance, the big double
gates with a sentry box beside them, at which box or within it,
according to the weather, stood a sentry, night and day. By day, a
drooping French flag over the gates showed the ambulances where to
enter. By night, a lantern served the same purpose. The night sentry
was often asleep, the day sentry was often absent, and each wrote down
in a book, when they thought it important, the names of those who came
and went into the hospital grounds. The field ambulances came and went,
the hospital motors came and went, now and then the General's car came
and went, and the people attached to the hospital also came and went,
openly, through the gates. But the comings and goings through the hedge
Now and then holes were discovered in the hedge. Holes underneath
the prickly thorn, not more than a foot high, but sufficient to allow a
crawling body to wriggle through on its stomach. These holes persisted
for a day or two or three, and then were suddenly staked up, with
strong stakes and barbed wire. After which, a few days later, perhaps,
other holes like them would be discovered in the hedge a little further
along. After each hole was discovered, curious happenings would take
place amongst the hospital staff.
Certain men, orderlies or stretcher bearers, would be imprisoned.
For example, the nurse of Salle I., the ward of the grands
blessés, would come on duty some morning and discover that one of
her orderlies was missing. Fouquet, who swept the ward, who carried
basins, who gave the men their breakfasts, was absent. There was a
beastly hitch in the ward work, in consequence. The floor was filthy,
covered with cakes of mud tramped in by the stretcher bearers during
the night. The men screamed for attention they did not receive. The
wrong patients got the wrong food at meal times. And then the nurse
would look out of one of the little square windows of the ward, and see
Fouquet marching up and down the plank walks between the baracques, carrying his eighty pounds of marching kit, and smiling happily and
defiantly. He was in prison. The night before he had crawled through
a hole in the hedge, got blind drunk in a neighbouring estaminet, and had swaggered boldly through the gates in the morning, to be
imprisoned. He wanted to be. He just could not stand it any longer.
He was sick of it all. Sick of being infirmier, of sweeping the
floor, of carrying vessels, of cutting up tough meat for sullen,
one-armed men, with the Croix de Guerre pinned to their
coffee-streaked night shirts. Bah! The Croix de Guerre pinned to
a night shirt, egg-stained, smelling of sweat!
Long, long ago, before any one thought of waroh, long ago, that
is, about six yearsFouquet had known a deputy. Also his father had
known the deputy. And so, when it came time for his military service,
he had done it as infirmier. As nurse, not soldier. He had done
stretcher drill, with empty stretchers. He had swept wards, empty of
patients. He had done his two years military service, practising on
empty beds, on empty stretchers. He had had a snap, because of the
deputy. Then came the war, and still he had a snap, although now the
beds and the wards were all full. Still, there was no danger, no front
line trenches, for he was mobilized as infirmier, as nurse in a
military hospital. He stood six feet tall, which is big for a
Frenchman, and he was big in proportion, and he was twenty-five years
old, and ruddy and strong. Yet he was obliged to wait upon a little
screaming man, five feet two, whose nose had been shot away, exchanged
for the Médaille Militaire upon his breast, who screamed out to
him: Bring me the basin, embusqué! And he had brought it. If
he had not brought it, the little screaming man with no nose and the
flat bandage across his face would have reported him to the Médecin
Chef, and in time he might have been transferred to the front line
trenches. Anything is better than the front line trenches. Fouquet knew
this, because the wounded men were so bitter at his not being there.
The old men were very bitter. At the end of the summer, they changed
the troops in this sector, and the young Zouaves were replaced by old
men of forty and forty-five. They looked very much older than this when
they were wounded and brought into the hospital, for their hair and
beards were often quite white, and besides their wounds, they were
often sick from exposure to the cold, winter rains of Flanders. One of
these old men, who were nearly always querulous, had a son also serving
in the trenches. He was very rude to Fouquet, this old man. Old and
young, they called him embusqué. Which meant that they were
jealous of him, that they very much envied him for escaping the
trenches, and considered it very unjust that they knew no one with
influence who could have protected them in the same way. But Fouquet
was very sick of it all. Day in and day out, for eighteen months, or
since the beginning of the war, he had waited upon the wounded. He had
done as the commonest soldier had ordered him, clodding up and down the
ward in his heavy wooden sabots, knocking them against the beds,
eliciting curses for his intentional clumsiness. There were also many
priests in that hospital, likewise serving as infirmiers. They
too, fetched and carried, but they did not seem to resent it. Only
Fouquet and some others resented it. Fouquet resented the war, and the
first line trenches, and the field hospital, and the wounded men, and
everything connected with the war. He was utterly bored with the war.
The hole in the hedge and the estaminet beyond was all that
There was a priest with a yellow beard, who also used the hole in
the hedge. He used it almost every night, when it was open. He slipped
out, got his drink, and then slipped down to the village to spend the
night with a girl. Only he was crafty, and slipped back again through
the hole before daylight, and was always on duty again in the morning.
True, he was very cross and irritable, and the patients did without
things rather than ask him for them, and sometimes they suffered a
great deal, doing without things, on these mornings when he was so
But with Fouquet, it was different. He walked in boldly through the
gates in the morning, and said that he had been out all night without
leave, and that he was bored to the point of death. So the Médecin
Chef punished him. He imprisoned him, and as there was no prison,
he served his six days' sentence in the open air. He donned his eighty
pounds of marching kit, and tramped up and down the plank walks, and
round behind the baracques, in the mud, in full sight of all, so
that all might witness his humiliation. He did not go on duty again in
the ward, and in consequence, the ward suffered through lack of his
grudging, uncouth administration.
Sometimes he met the Directrice as he trudged up and down. He
was always afraid to meet her, because once she had gone to the
Médecin Chef and had him pardoned. Her gentle heart had been
touched at the sight of his public disgrace, so she had had his
sentence remitted, and he had been obliged to go back to the ward, to
the work he loathed, to the patients he despised, after only two hours'
freedom in a rare October sun. Since then, he had carefully avoided the
Directrice when he saw her blue cloak in the distance, coming down
the trottoir. Women were a nuisance at the Front.
He frequently encountered the man who picked up papers, and frankly
envied him, for this man had a very easy post. He was mobilized as a
member of the formation of Hospital Number , and his work
consisted in picking up scraps of paper scattered about the grounds
within the enclosure. He had a long stick with a nail in the end, and a
small basket because there wasn't much to pick up. With the nail, he
picked up what scraps there were, and did not even have to stoop over
to do it. He walked about in the clean, fresh air, and when it rained,
he cuddled up against the stove in the pharmacy. The present
paper-gatherer was a chemist; his predecessor had been a priest. It was
a very nice position for an able-bodied man with some education, and
Fouquet greatly desired it himself, only he feared he was not
sufficiently well educated, since in civil life he was only a farm
hand. So in his march up and down the trottoir he cast envious
glances at the man who picked up papers.
So, bearing his full-weight marching kit, he walked up and down,
between the baracques, dogged and defiant. The other orderlies
and stretcher bearers laughed at him, and said: There goes Fouquet,
punished! And the patients, who missed him, asked: Where is Fouquet?
Punished? And the nurse of that ward, who also missed Fouquet, said:
Poor Fouquet! Punished! But Fouquet, swaggering up and down in full
sight of all, was pleased because he had had a good drink the night
before, and did not have to wait upon the patients the day after, and
to him, the only sane thing about the war was the discipline of the
Rochard died to-day. He had gas gangrene. His thigh, from knee to
buttock, was torn out by a piece of German shell. It was an interesting
case, because the infection had developed so quickly. He had been
placed under treatment immediately too, reaching the hospital from the
trenches about six hours after he had been wounded. To have a thigh
torn off, and to reach first-class surgical care within six hours, is
practically immediately. Still, gas gangrene had developed, which
showed that the Germans were using very poisonous shells. At that field
hospital there had been established a surgical school, to which young
men, just graduated from medical schools, or old men, graduated long
ago from medical schools, were sent to learn how to take care of the
wounded. After they had received a two months' experience in this sort
of war surgery, they were to be placed in other hospitals, where they
could do the work themselves. So all those young men who did not know
much, and all those old men who had never known much, and had forgotten
most of that, were up here at this field hospital, learning. This had
to be done, because there were not enough good doctors to go round, so
in order to care for the wounded at all, it was necessary to furbish up
the immature and the senile. However, the Médecin Chef in charge
of the hospital and in charge of the surgical school, was a brilliant
surgeon and a good administrator, so he taught the students a good
deal. Therefore, when Rochard came into the operating room, all the
young students and the old students crowded round to see the case. It
was all torn away, the flesh from that right thigh, from knee to
buttock, down to the bone, and the stench was awful. The various
students came forward and timidly pressed the upper part of the thigh,
the remaining part, all that remained of it, with their fingers, and
little crackling noises came forth, like bubbles. Gas gangrene. Very
easy to diagnose. Also the bacteriologist from another hospital in the
region happened to be present, and he made a culture of the material
discharged from that wound, and afterwards told the Médecin Chef
that it was positively and absolutely gas gangrene. But the Médecin
Chef had already taught the students that gas gangrene may be
recognized by the crackling and the smell, and the fact that the
patient, as a rule, dies pretty soon.
They could not operate on Rochard and amputate his leg, as they
wanted to do. The infection was so high, into the hip, it could not be
done. Moreover, Rochard had a fractured skull as well. Another piece of
shell had pierced his ear, and broken into his brain, and lodged there.
Either wound would have been fatal, but it was the gas gangrene in his
torn-out thigh that would kill him first. The wound stank. It was foul.
The Médecin Chef took a curette, a little scoop, and scooped
away the dead flesh, the dead muscles, the dead nerves, the dead
blood-vessels. And so many blood-vessels being dead, being scooped away
by that sharp curette, how could the blood circulate in the top half of
that flaccid thigh? It couldn't. Afterwards, into the deep, yawning
wound, they put many compresses of gauze, soaked in carbolic acid,
which acid burned deep into the germs of the gas gangrene, and killed
them, and killed much good tissue besides. Then they covered the
burning, smoking gauze with absorbent cotton, then with clean, neat
bandages, after which they called the stretcher bearers, and Rochard
was carried from the operating table back to the ward.
The night nurse reported next morning that he had passed a night of
Cela pique! Cela brule! he cried all night, and turned from
side to side to find relief. Sometimes he lay on his good side;
sometimes he lay on his bad side, and the night nurse turned him from
side to side, according to his fancy, because she knew that on neither
one side nor the other would he find relief, except such mental relief
as he got by turning. She sent one of the orderlies, Fouquet, for the
Médecin Chef, and the Médecin Chef came to the ward, and
looked at Rochard, and ordered the night nurse to give him morphia, and
again morphia, as often as she thought best. For only death could bring
relief from such pain as that, and only morphia, a little in advance of
death, could bring partial relief.
So the night nurse took care of Rochard all that night, and turned
him and turned him, from one side to the other, and gave him morphia,
as the Médecin Chef had ordered. She listened to his cries all
night, for the morphia brought him no relief. Morphia gives a little
relief, at times, from the pain of life, but it is only death that
brings absolute relief.
When the day nurse came on duty next morning, there was Rochard in
agony. Cela pique! Cela brule! he cried. And again and again,
all the time, Cela pique! Cela brule!, meaning the pain in his
leg. And because of the piece of shell, which had penetrated his ear
and lodged in his brain somewhere, his wits were wandering. No one can
be fully conscious with an inch of German shell in his skull. And there
was a full inch of German shell in Rochard's skull, in his brain
somewhere, for the radiographist said so. He was a wonderful
radiographist and anatomist, and he worked accurately with a beautiful,
expensive machine, given him, or given the field hospital, by Madame
So all night Rochard screamed in agony, and turned and twisted,
first on the hip that was there, and then on the hip that was gone, and
on neither side, even with many ampoules of morphia, could he find
relief. Which shows that morphia, good as it is, is not as good as
death. So when the day nurse came on in the morning, there was Rochard
strong after a night of agony, strong after many picqures of
strychnia, which kept his heart beating and his lungs breathing, strong
after many picqures of morphia which did not relieve his pain.
Thus the science of healing stood baffled before the science of
Rochard died slowly. He stopped struggling. He gave up trying to
find relief by lying upon the hip that was there, or the hip that was
gone. He ceased to cry. His brain, in which was lodged a piece of
German shell, seemed to reason, to become reasonable, with break of
day. The evening before, after his return from the operating room, he
had been decorated with the Médaille Militaire, conferred upon
him, in extremis, by the General of the region. Upon one side of
the medal, which was pinned to the wall at the head of the bed, were
the words: Valeur et Discipline. Discipline had triumphed. He
was very good and quiet now, very obedient and disciplined, and no
longer disturbed the ward with his moanings.
Little Rochard! Little man, gardener by trade, aged thirty-nine,
widower, with one child! The piece of shell in his skull had made one
eye blind. There had been a hæmorrhage into the eyeball, which was all
red and sunken, and the eyelid would not close over it, so the red eye
stared and stared into space. And the other eye drooped and drooped,
and the white showed, and the eyelid drooped till nothing but the white
showed, and that showed that he was dying. But the blind, red eye
stared beyond. It stared fixedly, unwinkingly, into space. So always
the nurse watched the dull, white eye, which showed the approach of
No one in the ward was fond of Rochard. He had been there only a few
hours. He meant nothing to any one there. He was a dying man, in a
field hospital, that was all. Little stranger Rochard, with one blind,
red eye that stared into Hell, the Hell he had come from. And one
white, dying eye, that showed his hold on life, his brief, short hold.
The nurse cared for him very gently, very conscientiously, very
skilfully. The surgeon came many times to look at him, but he had done
for him all that could be done, so each time he turned away with a
shrug. Fouquet, the young orderly, stood at the foot of the bed, his
feet far apart, his hands on his hips, and regarded Rochard, and said:
Ah! La la! La la! And Simon, the other orderly, also stood at
the foot of the bed, from time to time, and regarded Rochard, and said:
Ah! C'est triste! C'est bien triste!
So Rochard died, a stranger among strangers. And there were many
people there to wait upon him, but there was no one there to love him.
There was no one there to see beyond the horror of the red, blind eye,
of the dull, white eye, of the vile, gangrene smell. And it seemed as
if the red, staring eye was looking for something the hospital could
not give. And it seemed as if the white, glazed eye was indifferent to
everything the hospital could give. And all about him was the vile
gangrene smell, which made an aura about him, and shut him into
himself, very completely. And there was nobody to love him, to forget
about that smell.
He sank into a stupor about ten o'clock in the morning, and was
unconscious from then till the time the nurse went to lunch. She went
to lunch reluctantly, but it is necessary to eat. She instructed
Fouquet, the orderly, to watch Rochard carefully, and to call her if
there was any change.
After a short time she came back from lunch, and hurried to see
Rochard, hurried behind the flamboyant, red, cheerful screens that shut
him off from the rest of the ward. Rochard was dead.
At the other end of the ward sat the two orderlies, drinking wine.
PARIS, April 15, 1915.
A BELGIAN CIVILIAN
A big English ambulance drove along the high road from Ypres, going
in the direction of a French field hospital, some ten miles from Ypres.
Ordinarily, it could have had no business with this French hospital,
since all English wounded are conveyed back to their own bases,
therefore an exceptional case must have determined its route. It was an
exceptional casefor the patient lying quietly within its yawning
body, sheltered by its brown canvas wings, was not an English soldier,
but only a small Belgian boy, a civilian, and Belgian civilians belong
neither to the French nor English services. It is true that there was a
hospital for Belgian civilians at the English base at Hazebrouck, and
it would have seemed reasonable to have taken the patient there, but it
was more reasonable to dump him at this French hospital, which was
nearer. Not from any humanitarian motives, but just to get rid of him
the sooner. In war, civilians are cheap things at best, and an immature
civilian, Belgian at that, is very cheap. So the heavy English
ambulance churned its way up a muddy hill, mashed through much mud at
the entrance gates of the hospital, and crunched to a halt on the
cinders before the Salle d'Attente, where it discharged its
burden and drove off again.
The surgeon of the French hospital said: What have we to do with
this? yet he regarded the patient thoughtfully. It was a very small
patient. Moreover, the big English ambulance had driven off again, so
there was no appeal. The small patient had been deposited upon one of
the beds in the Salle d'Attente, and the French surgeon looked
at him and wondered what he should do. The patient, now that he was
here, belonged as much to the French field hospital as to any other,
and as the big English ambulance from Ypres had driven off again, there
was not much use in protesting. The French surgeon was annoyed and
irritated. It was a characteristic English trick, he thought, this
getting other people to do their work. Why could they not have taken
the child to one of their own hospitals, since he had been wounded in
their lines, or else have taken him to the hospital provided for
Belgian civilians, where, full as it was, there was always room for
people as small as this. The surgeon worked himself up into quite a
temper. There is one thing about members of the Ententethey
understand each other. The French surgeon's thoughts travelled round
and round in an irritated circle, and always came back to the fact that
the English ambulance had gone, and here lay the patient, and something
must be done. So he stood considering.
A Belgian civilian, aged ten. Or thereabouts. Shot through the
abdomen, or thereabouts. And dying, obviously. As usual, the surgeon
pulled and twisted the long, black hairs on his hairy, bare arms, while
he considered what he should do. He considered for five minutes, and
then ordered the child to the operating room, and scrubbed and scrubbed
his hands and his hairy arms, preparatory to a major operation. For the
Belgian civilian, aged ten, had been shot through the abdomen by a
German shell, or piece of shell, and there was nothing to do but try to
remove it. It was a hopeless case, anyhow. The child would die without
an operation, or he would die during the operation, or he would die
after the operation. The French surgeon scrubbed his hands viciously,
for he was still greatly incensed over the English authorities who had
placed the case in his hands and then gone away again. They should have
taken him to one of the English bases, St. Omer, or Hazebrouckit was
an imposition to have dumped him so unceremoniously here simply because
here was so many kilometres nearer. Shirking, the surgeon called
it, and was much incensed.
After a most searching operation, the Belgian civilian was sent over
to the ward, to live or die as circumstances determined. As soon as he
came out of ether, he began to bawl for his mother. Being ten years of
age, he was unreasonable, and bawled for her incessantly and could not
be pacified. The patients were greatly annoyed by this disturbance, and
there was indignation that the welfare and comfort of useful soldiers
should be interfered with by the whims of a futile and useless
civilian, a Belgian child at that. The nurse of that ward also made a
fool of herself over this civilian, giving him far more attention than
she had ever bestowed upon a soldier. She was sentimental, and his
little age appealed to herher sense of proportion and standard of
values were all awrong. The Directrice appeared in the ward and
tried to comfort the civilian, to still his howls, and then, after an
hour of vain effort, she decided that his mother must be sent for. He
was obviously dying, and it was necessary to send for his mother, whom
alone of all the world he seemed to need. So a French ambulance, which
had nothing to do with Belgian civilians, nor with Ypres, was sent over
to Ypres late in the evening to fetch this mother for whom the Belgian
civilian, aged ten, bawled so persistently.
She arrived finally, and, it appeared, reluctantly. About ten
o'clock in the evening she arrived, and the moment she alighted from
the big ambulance sent to fetch her, she began complaining. She had
complained all the way over, said the chauffeur. She climbed down
backward from the front seat, perched for a moment on the hub, while
one heavy leg, with foot shod in slipping sabot, groped wildly
for the ground. A soldier with a lantern watched impassively, watched
her solid splash into a mud puddle that might have been avoided. So she
continued her complaints. She had been dragged away from her husband,
from her other children, and she seemed to have little interest in her
son, the Belgian civilian, said to be dying. However, now that she was
here, now that she had come all this way, she would go in to see him
for a moment, since the Directrice seemed to think it so
important. The Directrice of this French field hospital was an
American, by marriage a British subject, and she had curious,
antiquated ideas. She seemed to feel that a mother's place was with her
child, if that child was dying. The Directrice had three
children of her own whom she had left in England over a year ago, when
she came out to Flanders for the life and adventures of the Front. But
she would have returned to England immediately, without an instant's
hesitation, had she received word that one of these children was dying.
Which was a point of view opposed to that of this Belgian mother, who
seemed to feel that her place was back in Ypres, in her home, with her
husband and other children. In fact, this Belgian mother had been
rudely dragged away from her home, from her family, from certain duties
that she seemed to think important. So she complained bitterly, and
went into the ward most reluctantly, to see her son, said to be dying.
She saw her son, and kissed him, and then asked to be sent back to
Ypres. The Directrice explained that the child would not live
through the night. The Belgian mother accepted this statement, but
again asked to be sent back to Ypres. The Directrice again
assured the Belgian mother that her son would not live through the
night, and asked her to spend the night with him in the ward, to assist
at his passing. The Belgian woman protested.
If Madame la Directrice commands, if she insists, then I
must assuredly obey. I have come all this distance because she
commanded me, and if she insists that I spend the night at this place,
then I must do so. Only if she does not insist, then I prefer to return
to my home, to my other children at Ypres.
However, the Directrice, who had a strong sense of a mother's
duty to the dying, commanded and insisted, and the Belgian woman gave
way. She sat by her son all night, listening to his ravings and
bawlings, and was with him when he died, at three o'clock in the
morning. After which time, she requested to be taken back to Ypres. She
was moved by the death of her son, but her duty lay at home. Madame
la Directrice had promised to have a mass said at the burial of the
child, which promise having been given, the woman saw no necessity for
My husband, she explained, has a little estaminet, just
outside of Ypres. We have been very fortunate. Only yesterday, of all
the long days of the war, of the many days of bombardment, did a shell
fall into our kitchen, wounding our son, as you have seen. But we have
other children to consider, to provide for. And my husband is making
much money at present, selling drink to the English soldiers. I must
return to assist him.
So the Belgian civilian was buried in the cemetery of the French
soldiers, but many hours before this took place, the mother of the
civilian had departed for Ypres. The chauffeur of the ambulance which
was to convey her back to Ypres turned very white when given his
orders. Everyone dreaded Ypres, and the dangers of Ypres. It was the
place of death. Only the Belgian woman, whose husband kept an
estaminet, and made much money selling drink to the English
soldiers, did not dread it. She and her husband were making much money
out of the war, money which would give their children a start in life.
When the ambulance was ready she climbed into it with alacrity,
although with a feeling of gratitude because the Directrice had
promised a mass for her dead child.
These Belgians! said a French soldier. How prosperous they will
be after the war! How much money they will make from the Americans, and
from the others who come to see the ruins!
And as an afterthought, in an undertone, he added: Ces sales
As an orderly, Erard wasn't much good. He never waited upon the
patients if he could help it, and when he couldn't help it, he was so
disagreeable that they wished they had not asked him for things. The
newcomers, who had been in the hospital only a few days, used to think
he was deaf, since he failed to hear their requests, and they did not
like to yell at him, out of consideration for their comrades in the
adjoining beds. Nor was he a success at sweeping the ward, since he did
it with the broom in one hand and a copy of the Petit Parisien
in the otherin fact, when he sat down on a bed away at the end and
frankly gave himself up to a two-year-old copy of Le Rire, sent
out with a lot of old magazines for the patients, he was no less
effective than when he sulkily worked. There was just one thing he
liked and did well, and that was to watch for the Generals. He was an
expert in recognizing them when they were as yet a long way off. He
used to slouch against the window panes and keep a keen eye upon the
trottoir on such days or at such hours as the Generals were likely
to appear. Upon catching sight of the oak-leaves in the distance, he
would at once notify the ward, so that the orderlies and the nurse
could tidy up things before the General made rounds. He had a very keen
eye for oak-leavesthe golden oak-leaves on the General's képi
and he never by any chance gave a false alarm or mistook a colonel in
the distance, and so put us to tidying up unnecessarily. He did not
help with the work of course, but continued leaning against the window,
reporting the General's progress up the trottoirthat he had
now gone into Salle III.that he had left Salle III. and was
conversing outside Salle II.that he was now, positively, on his way
up the incline leading into Salle I., and would be upon us any minute.
Sometimes the General lingered unnecessarily long on the incline, the
wooden slope leading up to the ward, in which case he was not visible
from the window, and Erard would amuse us by regretting that he had no
periscope for the transom over the door.
There were two Generals who visited the hospital. The big General,
the important one, the Commander of the region, who was always
beautiful to look upon in his tight, well-fitting black jacket, trimmed
with astrakhan, who came from his limousine with a Normandy stick
dangling from his wrist, and who wore spotless, clean gloves. This, the
big General, came to decorate the men who were entitled to the Croix
de Guerre and the Médaille Militaire, and after he had
decorated one or two, as the case might be, he usually continued on
through the hospital, shaking hands here and there with the patients,
and chatting with the Directrice and with the doctors and
officers who followed in his wake. The other General was not nearly so
imposing. He was short and fat and dressed in a grey-blue uniform, of
the shade known as invisible, and his képi was hidden by a
grey-blue cover, with a little square hole cut out in front, so that an
inch of oak-leaves might be seen. He was much more formidable than the
big General, however, since he was the Médecin Inspecteur of the
region, and was responsible for all the hospitals thereabouts. He made
rather extensive rounds, closely questioning the surgeons as to the
wounds and treatment of each man, and as he was a doctor as well, he
knew how to judge of the replies. Whereas the big General was a soldier
and not a doctor, and was thus unable to ask any disconcerting
questions, so that his visits, while tedious, were never embarrassing.
When a General came on the place, it was a signal to down tools. The
surgeons would hurriedly finish their operations, or postpone them if
possible, and the dressings in the wards were also stopped or
postponed, while the surgeons would hurry after the General, whichever
one it was, and make deferential rounds with him, if it took all day.
And as it usually took at least two hours, the visits of the Generals,
one or both, meant considerable interruption to the hospital routine.
Sometimes, by chance, both Generals arrived at the same time, which
meant that there were double rounds, beginning at opposite ends of the
enclosure, and the surgeons were in a quandary as to whose suite they
should attach themselves. And the days when it was busiest, when the
work was hardest, when there was more work than double the staff could
accomplish in twenty-four hours, were the days that the Generals
There are some days when it is very bad in a field hospital, just as
there are some days when there is nothing to do, and the whole staff is
practically idle. The bad days are those when the endless roar of the
guns makes the little wooden baracques rock and rattle, and when
endless processions of ambulances drive in and deliver broken, ruined
men, and then drive off again, to return loaded with more wrecks. The
beds in the Salle d'Attente, where the ambulances unload, are
filled with heaps under blankets. Coarse, hobnailed boots stick out
from the blankets, and sometimes the heaps, which are men, moan or are
silent. On the floor lie piles of clothing, filthy, muddy,
blood-soaked, torn or cut from the silent bodies on the beds. The
stretcher bearers step over these piles of dirty clothing, or kick them
aside, as they lift the shrinking bodies to the brown stretchers, and
carry them across, one by one, to the operating room. The operating
room is filled with stretchers, lying in rows upon the floor, waiting
their turn to be emptied, to have their burdens lifted from them to the
high operating tables. And as fast as the stretchers are emptied, the
stretcher-bearers hurry back to the Salle d'Attente, where the
ambulances dump their loads, and come over to the operating room again,
with fresh lots. Three tables going in the operating room, and the
white-gowned surgeons stand so thick around the tables that you cannot
see what is on them. There are stretchers lying on the floor of the
corridor, and against the walls of the operating room, and more
ambulances are driving in all the time.
From the operating room they are brought into the wards, these
bandaged heaps from the operating tables, these heaps that once were
men. The clean beds of the ward are turned back to receive them, to
receive the motionless, bandaged heaps that are lifted, shoved, or
rolled from the stretchers to the beds. Again and again, all day long,
the procession of stretchers comes into the wards. The foremost bearer
kicks open the door with his knee, and lets in ahead of him a blast of
winter rain, which sets dancing the charts and papers lying on the
table, and blows out the alcohol lamp over which the syringe is
boiling. Someone bangs the door shut. The unconscious form is loaded on
the bed. He is heavy and the bed sags beneath his weight. The
brancardiers gather up their red blankets and shuffle off again,
leaving cakes of mud and streaks of muddy water on the green linoleum.
Outside the guns roar and inside the baracques shake, and again
and again the stretcher bearers come into the ward, carrying dying men
from the high tables in the operating room. They are all that stand
between us and the guns, these wrecks upon the beds. Others like them
are standing between us and the guns, others like them, who will reach
us before morning. Wrecks like these. They are old men, most of them.
The old troops, grey and bearded.
There is an attack going on. That does not mean that the Germans are
advancing. It just means that the ambulances are busy, for these old
troops, these old wrecks upon the beds, are holding up the Germans.
Otherwise, we should be swept out of existence. Our hospital,
ourselves, would be swept out of existence, were it not for these old
wrecks upon the beds. These filthy, bearded, dying men upon the beds,
who are holding back the Germans. More like them, in the trenches, are
holding back the Germans. By tomorrow these others, too, will be with
us, bleeding, dying. But there will be others like them in the
trenches, to hold back the Germans.
This is the day of an attack. Yesterday was the day of an attack.
The day before was the day of an attack. The guns are raising Hell,
seven kilometres beyond us, and our baracques shake and tremble
with their thunder. These men, grey and bearded, dying in our clean
beds, wetting our clean sheets with the blood that oozes from their
dressings, have been out there, moaning in the trenches. When they die,
we will pull off the bloody sheets, and replace them with fresh, clean
ones, and turn them back neatly, waiting for the next agonizing man. We
have many beds, and many fresh, clean sheets, and so we are always
ready for these old, hairy men, who are standing between us and the
They seem very weak and frail and thin. How can they do it, these
old men? Last summer the young boys did it. Now it is the turn of these
There are three dying in the ward today. It will be better when they
die. The German shells have made them ludicrous, repulsive. We see them
in this awful interval, between life and death. This interval when they
are gross, absurd, fantastic. Life is clean and death is clean, but
this interval between the two is gross, absurd, fantastic.
Over there, down at the end, is Rollin. He came in three days ago. A
piece of shell penetrated his right eyelid, a little wound so small
that it was not worth a dressing. Yet that little piece of obus
lodged somewhere inside his skull, above his left ear, so the
radiographist says, and he's paralyzed. Paralyzed all down the other
side, and one supine hand flops about, and one supine leg flops about,
in jerks. One bleary eye stays open, and the other eyelid stays shut,
over the other bleary eye. Meningitis has set in and it won't be long
now, before we'll have another empty bed. Yellow foam flows down his
nose, thick yellow foam, bubbles of it, bursting, bubbling yellow foam.
It humps up under his nose, up and up, in bubbles, and the bubbles
burst and run in turgid streams down upon his shaggy beard. On the
wall, above his bed, hang his medals. They are hung up, high up, so he
can see them. He can't see them today, because now he is unconscious,
but yesterday and the day before, before he got as bad as this, he
could see them and it made him cry. He knew he had been decorated in
extremis, because he was going to die, and he did not want to die.
So he sobbed and sobbed all the while the General decorated him, and
protested that he did not want to die. He'd saved three men from death,
earning those medals, and at the time he never thought of death
himself. Yet in the ward he sobbed and sobbed, and protested that he
did not want to die.
Back of those red screens is Henri. He is a priest, mobilized as
infirmier. A good one too, and very tender and gentle with the
patients. He comes from the ward next door, Salle II., and is giving
extreme unction to the man in that bed, back of the red screens. Peek
through the screens and you can see Henri, in his shirt sleeves, with a
little, crumpled, purple stole around his neck. No, the patient has
never regained consciousness since he's been here, but Henri says it's
all right. He may be a Catholic. Better to take chances. It can't hurt
him, anyway, if he isn't. I am glad Henri is back of those red screens.
A few minutes ago he came down the ward, in search of absorbent cotton
for the Holy Oils, and then he got so interested watching the doctors
doing dressings, stayed so long watching them, that I thought he would
not get back again, behind the screens, in time.
See that man in the bed next? He's dying too. They trepanned him
when he came. He can't speak, but we got his name and regiment from the
medal on his wrist. He wants to write. Isn't it funny! He has a block
of paper and a pencil, and all day long he writes, writes, on the
paper. Always and always, over and over again, he writes on the paper,
and he gives the paper to everyone who passes. He's got something on
his mind that he wants to get across, before he dies. But no one can
understand him. No one can read what he has writtenit is just
scrawls, scribbles, unintelligible. Day and night, for he never sleeps,
he writes on that block of paper, and tears off the sheets and gives
them to everyone who passes. And no one can understand, for it is just
illegible, unintelligible scribbles. Once we took the paper away to see
what he would do and then he wrote with his finger upon the wooden
frame of the screen. The same thing, scribbles, but they made no mark
on the screen, and he seemed so distressed because they made no mark
that we gave him back his paper again, and now he's happy. Or I suppose
he's happy. He seems content when we take this paper and pretend to
read it. He seems happy, scribbling those words that are words to him
but not to us. Careful! Don't stand too close! He spits. Yes, all the
time, at the end of every line he spits. Far too. Way across the ward.
Don't you see that his bed and the bed next are covered with rubber
sheets? That's because he spits. Big spits, too, far across the ward.
And always he writes, incessantly, day and night. He writes on that
block of paper and spits way across the ward at the end of every line.
He's got something on his mind that he wants to get across. Do you
think he's thinking of the Germans? He's dying though. He can't spit so
far today as he did yesterday.
Death is dignified and life is dignified, but the intervals are
awful. They are ludicrous, repulsive.
Is that Erard, calling? Calling that the Generals are coming, both
of them, together? Hurry! Tidy up the ward! Rub away the froth from
under Rollin's nose! Pull his sheets straight! Take that wet towel, and
clean the mackintosh upon that bed and the bed adjoining. See if
Henri's finished. Take away the screens. Pull the sheets straight. Tidy
up the wardtell the others not to budge! The Generals are coming!
PARIS, 9 May, 1916.
WOMEN AND WIVES
A bitter wind swept in from the North Sea. It swept in over many
miles of Flanders plains, driving gusts of rain before it. It was a
biting gale by the time it reached the little cluster of wooden huts
composing the field hospital, and rain and wind together dashed against
the huts, blew under them, blew through them, crashed to pieces a
swinging window down at the laundry, and loosened the roof of Salle I.
at the other end of the enclosure. It was just ordinary winter weather,
such as had lasted for months on end, and which the Belgians spoke of
as vile weather, while the French called it vile Belgian weather. The
drenching rain soaked into the long, green winter grass, and the
sweeping wind was bitter cold, and the howling of the wind was louder
than the guns, so that it was only when the wind paused for a moment,
between blasts, that the rolling of the guns could be heard.
In Salle I. the stove had gone out. It was a good little stove, but
somehow was unequal to struggling with the wind which blew down the
long, rocking stove pipe, and blew the fire out. So the little stove
grew cold, and the hot water jug on the stove grew cold, and all the
patients at that end of the ward likewise grew cold, and demanded hot
water bottles, and there wasn't any hot water with which to fill them.
So the patients complained and shivered, and in the pauses of the wind,
one heard the guns.
Then the roof of the ward lifted about an inch, and more wind beat
down, and as it beat down, so the roof lifted. The orderly remarked
that if this Belgian weather continued, by tomorrow the roof would be
clean offblown off into the German lines. So all laughed as Fouquet
said this, and wondered how they could lie abed with the roof of Salle
I., the Salle of the Grands Blessés, blown over into the German
lines. The ward did not present a neat appearance, for all the beds
were pushed about at queer angles, in from the wall, out from the wall,
some touching each other, some very far apart, and all to avoid the
little leaks of rain which streamed or dropped down from little holes
in the roof. This weary, weary war! These long days of boredom in the
hospital, these days of incessant wind and rain and cold.
Armand, the chief orderly, ordered Fouquet to rebuild the fire, and
Fouquet slipped on his sabots and clogged down the ward, away
outdoors in the wind, and returned finally with a box of coal on his
shoulders, which he dumped heavily on the floor. He was clumsy and
sullen, and the coal was wet and mostly slate, and the patients laughed
at his efforts to rebuild the fire. Finally, however, it was alight
again, and radiated out a faint warmth, which served to bring out the
smell of iodoform, and of draining wounds, and other smells which
loaded the cold, close air. Then, no one knows who began it, one of the
patients showed the nurse a photograph of his wife and child, and in a
moment every man in the twenty beds was fishing back of his bed, in his
musette, under his pillow, for photographs of his wife. They all
had wives, it seems, for remember, these were the old troops, who had
replaced the young Zouaves who had guarded this part of the Front all
summer. One by one they came out, these photographs, from weatherbeaten
sacks, from shabby boxes, from under pillows, and the nurse must see
them all. Pathetic little pictures they were, of common, working-class
women, some fat and work-worn, some thin and work-worn, some with
stodgy little children grouped about them, some without, but all were
practically the same. They were the wives of these men in the beds
here, the working-class wives of working-class menthe soldiers of the
trenches. Ah yes, France is democratic. It is the Nation's war, and all
the men of the Nation, regardless of rank, are serving. But some serve
in better places than others. The trenches are mostly reserved for men
of the working class, which is reasonable, as there are more of them.
The rain beat down, and the little stove glowed, and the afternoon
drew to a close, and the photographs of the wives continued to pass
from hand to hand. There was much talk of home, and much of it was
longing, and much of it was pathetic, and much of it was resigned. And
always the little, ugly wives, the stupid, ordinary wives, represented
home. And the words home and wife were interchangeable and stood for
the same thing. And the glories and heroisms of war seemed of less
interest, as a factor in life, than these stupid little wives.
Then Armand, the chief orderly, showed them all the photograph of
his wife. No one knew that he was married, but he said yes, and that he
received a letter from her every daysometimes it was a postcard. Also
that he wrote to her every day. We all knew how nervous he used to get,
about letter time, when the vaguemestre made his rounds, every
morning, distributing letters to all the wards. We all knew how
impatient he used to get, when the vaguemestre laid his letter
upon the table, and there it lay, on the table, while he was forced to
make rounds with the surgeon, and could not claim it until long
afterwards. So it was from his wife, that daily letter, so anxiously,
so nervously awaited!
Simon had a wife too. Simon, the young surgeon, German-looking in
appearance, six feet of blond brute. But not blond brute really.
Whatever his appearance, there was in him something finer, something
tenderer, something nobler, to distinguish him from the brute. About
three times a week he walked into the ward with his fountain pen
between his teethhe did not smoke, but he chewed his fountain
penand when the dressings were over, he would tell the nurse, shyly,
accidentally, as it were, some little news about his home. Some little
incident concerning his wife, some affectionate anecdote about his
three young children. Once when one of the staff went over to London on
vacation, Simon asked her to buy for his wife a leather coat, such as
English women wear, for motoring. Always he thought of his wife, spoke
of his wife, planned some thoughtful little surprise or gift for her.
You know, they won't let wives come to the Front. Women can come
into the War Zone, on various pretexts, but wives cannot. Wives, it
appears, are bad for the morale of the Army. They come with their
troubles, to talk of how business is failing, of how things are going
to the bad at home, because of the war; of how great the struggle, how
bitter the trials and the poverty and hardship. They establish the
connecting link between the soldier and his life at home, his life that
he is compelled to resign. Letters can be censored and all disturbing
items cut out, but if a wife is permitted to come to the War Zone, to
see her husband, there is no censoring the things she may tell him. The
disquieting, disturbing things. So she herself must be censored, not
permitted to come. So for long weary months men must remain at the
Front, on active inactivity, and their wives cannot come to see them.
Only other people's wives may come. It is not the woman but the wife
that is objected to. There is a difference. In war, it is very great.
There are many women at the Front. How do they get there, to the
Zone of the Armies? On various pretextsto see sick relatives, in such
and such hospitals, or to see other relatives, brothers, uncles,
cousins, other people's husbandsoh, there are many reasons which make
it possible for them to come. And always there are the Belgian women,
who live in the War Zone, for at present there is a little strip of
Belgium left, and all the civilians have not been evacuated from the
Army Zone. So there are plenty of women, first and last. Better ones
for the officers, naturally, just as the officers' mess is of better
quality than that of the common soldiers. But always there are plenty
of women. Never wives, who mean responsibility, but just women, who
only mean distraction and amusement, just as food and wine. So wives
are forbidden, because lowering to the morale, but women are winked at,
because they cheer and refresh the troops. After the war, it is hoped
that all unmarried soldiers will marry, but doubtless they will not
marry these women who have served and cheered them in the War Zone.
That, again, would be depressing to the country's morale. It is rather
paradoxical, but there are those who can explain it perfectly.
No, no, I don't understand. It's because everything has two sides.
You would be surprised to pick up a franc, and find Liberty, Equality,
and Fraternity on one side, and on the other, the image of the Sower
smoothed out. A rose is a fine rose because of the manure you put at
its roots. You don't get a medal for sustained nobility. You get it for
the impetuous action of the moment, an action quite out of keeping with
the trend of one's daily life. You speak of the young aviator who was
decorated for destroying a Zeppelin single-handed, and in the next
breath you add, and he killed himself, a few days later, by attempting
to fly when he was drunk. So it goes. There is a dirty sediment at the
bottom of most souls. War, superb as it is, is not necessarily a
filtering process, by which men and nations may be purified. Well,
there are many people to write you of the noble side, the heroic side,
the exalted side of war. I must write you of what I have seen, the
other side, the backwash. They are both true. In Spain, they bang their
silver coins upon a marble slab, accepting the stamp upon both sides,
and then decide whether as a whole they ring true.
Every now and then, Armand, the orderly, goes to the village to get
a bath. He comes back with very clean hands and nails, and says that it
has greatly solaced him, the warm water. Then later, that same evening,
he gets permission to be absent from the hospital, and he goes to our
village to a girl. But he is always as eager, as nervous for his wife's
letter as ever. It is the same with Simon, the young surgeon. Only
Simon keeps himself pretty clean at all times, as he has an orderly to
bring him pitchers of hot water every morning, as many as he wants. But
Simon has a girl in the village, to whom he goes every week. Only, why
does he talk so incessantly about his wife, and show her pictures to
me, to everyone about the place? Why should we all be bored with tales
of Simon's stupid wife, when that's all she means to him? Only perhaps
she means more. I told you I did not understand.
Then the Gestionnaire, the little fat man in khaki, who is
purveyor to the hospital. Every night he commandeers an ambulance, and
drives back into the country, to a village twelve miles away, to sleep
with a woman. And the old doctorhe is sixty-four and has
grandchildrenhe goes down to our village for a little girl of
fourteen. He was decorated with the Legion of Honour the other day. It
Oh yes, of course these were decent girls at the start, at the
beginning of the war. But you know women, how they run after men,
especially when the men wear uniforms, all gilt buttons and braid. It's
not the men's fault that most of the women in the War Zone are ruined.
Have you ever watched the village girls when a regiment comes through,
or stops for a night or two, en repos, on its way to the Front?
Have you seen the girls make fools of themselves over the men? Well,
that's why there are so many accessible for the troops. Of course the
professional prostitutes from Paris aren't admitted to the War Zone,
but the Belgian girls made such fools of themselves, the others weren't
Across the lines, back of the German lines, in the invaded
districts, it is different. The conquering armies just ruined all the
women they could get hold of. Any one will tell you that. Ces sales
Bosches! For it is inconceivable how any decent girl, even a
Belgian, could give herself up voluntarily to a Hun! They used force,
those brutes! That is the difference. It's all the difference in the
world. No, the women over there didn't make fools of themselves over
those menhow could they! No, no. Over there, in the invaded
districts, the Germans forced those girls. Here, on this side, the
girls cajoled the men till they gave in. Can't you see? You must be
pro-German! Any way, they are all ruined and not fit for any decent man
to mate with, after the war.
They are pretty dangerous, too, some of these women. No, I don't
mean in that way. But they act as spies for the Germans and get a lot
of information out of the men, and send it back, somehow, into the
German lines. The Germans stop at nothing, nothing is too dastardly,
too low, for them to attempt. There were two Belgian girls once, who
lived together in a room, in a little village back of our lines. They
were natives, and had always lived there, so of course they were not
turned out, and when the village was shelled from time to time, they
did not seem to mind and altogether they made a lot of money. They only
received officers. The common soldiers were just dirt to them, and they
refused to see them. Certain women get known in a place, as those who
receive soldiers and those who receive officers. These girls were
intelligent, too, and always asked a lot of intelligent, interested
questions, and you know a man when he is excited will answer
unsuspectingly any question put to him. The Germans took advantage of
that. It is easy to be a spy. Just know what questions you must ask,
and it is surprising how much information you can get. The thing is, to
know upon what point information is wanted. These girls knew that, it
seems, and so they asked a lot of intelligent questions, and as they
received only officers, they got a good lot of valuable information,
for as I say, when a man is excited he will answer many questions.
Besides, who could have suspected at first that these two girls were
spies? But they were, as they found out finally, after several months.
Their rooms were one day searched, and a mass of incriminating papers
were discovered. It seems the Germans had taken these girls from their
familiesheld their families as hostagesand had sent them across
into the English lines, with threats of vile reprisals upon their
families if they did not produce information of value. Wasn't it
beastly! Making these girls prostitutes and spies, upon pain of
reprisals upon their families. The Germans knew they were so attractive
that they would receive only officers. That they would receive many
clients, of high rank, of much information, who would readily fall
victims to their wiles. They are very vile themselves, these Germans.
The curious thing is, how well they understand how to bait a trap for
their enemies. In spite of having nothing in common with them, how well
they understand the nature of those who are fighting in the name of
Justice, of Liberty and Civilization.
PARIS, 4 May, 1916.
POUR LA PATRIE
This is how it was. It is pretty much always like this in a field
hospital. Just ambulances rolling in, and dirty, dying men, and guns
off there in the distance! Very monotonous, and the same, day after
day, till one gets so tired and bored. Big things may be going on over
there, on the other side of the captive balloons that we can see from a
distance, but we are always here, on this side of them, and here, on
this side of them, it is always the same. The weariness of itthe
sameness of it! The same ambulances, and dirty men, and groans, or
silence. The same hot operating rooms, the same beds, always full, in
the wards. This is war. But it goes on and on, over and over, day after
day, till it seems like life. Life in peace time. It might be life in a
big city hospital, so alike is the routine. Only the city hospitals are
bigger, and better equipped, and the ambulances are smarter, and the
patients don't always come in ambulancesthey walk in sometimes, or
come in street cars, or in limousines, and they are of both sexes, men
and women, and have ever so many things the matter with themthe
hospitals of peace time are not nearly so stupid, so monotonous, as the
hospitals of war. Bah! War's humane compared to peace! More
spectacular, I grant you, more acute,that's what interests us,but
for the sheer agony of lifeoh, peace is way ahead!
War is so clean. Peace is so dirty. There are so many foul diseases
in peace times. They drag on over so many years, too. No, war's clean!
I'd rather see a man die in prime of life, in war time, than see him
doddering along in peace time, broken hearted, broken spirited, life
broken, and very weary, having suffered many things,to die at last,
at a good, ripe age! How they have suffered, those who drive up to our
city hospitals in limousines, in peace time. What's been saved them,
those who die young, and clean and swiftly, here behind the guns. In
the long run it dots up just the same. Only war's spectacular, that's
Well, he came in like the rest, only older than most of them. A
shock of iron-grey hair, a mane of it, above heavy, black brows, and
the brows were contracted in pain. Shot, as usual, in the abdomen. He
spent three hours on the table after admissionthe operating
tableand when he came over to the ward, they said, not a dog's chance
for him. No more had he. When he came out of ether, he said he didn't
want to die. He said he wanted to live. Very much. He said he wanted to
see his wife again and his children. Over and over he insisted on this,
insisted on getting well. He caught hold of the doctor's hand and said
he must get well, that the doctor must get him well. Then the doctor
drew away his slim fingers from the rough, imploring grasp, and told
him to be good and patient.
Be good! Be patient! said the doctor, and that was all he could
say, for he was honest. What else could he say, knowing that there were
eighteen little holes, cut by the bullet, leaking poison into that
gashed, distended abdomen? When these little holes, that the doctor
could not stop, had leaked enough poison into his system, he would die.
Not today, no, but day after tomorrow. Three days more.
So all that first day, the man talked of getting well. He was
insistent on that. He was confident. Next day, the second of the three
days the doctor gave him, very much pain laid hold of him. His black
brows bent with pain and he grew puzzled. How could one live with such
pain as that?
That afternoon, about five o'clock, came the General. The one who
decorates the men. He had no sword, just a riding whip, so he tossed
the whip on the bed, for you can't do an accolade with anything but a
sword. Just the Médaille Militaire. Not the other one. But the
Médaille Militaire carries a pension of a hundred francs a year, so
that's something. So the General said, very briefly: In the name of
the Republic of France, I confer upon you the Médaille Militaire. Then he bent over and kissed the man on his forehead, pinned the
medal to the bedspread, and departed.
There you are! Just a brief little ceremony, and perfunctory. We all
got that impression. The General has decorated so many dying men. And
this one seemed so nearly dead. He seemed half-conscious. Yet the
General might have put a little more feeling into it, not made it quite
so perfunctory. Yet he's done this thing so many, many times before.
It's all right, he does it differently when there are people about, but
this time there was no one presentjust the doctor, the dying man, and
me. And so we four knew what it meantjust a widow's pension.
Therefore there wasn't any reason for the accolade, for the sonorous,
ringing phrases of a dress parade
We all knew what it meant. So did the man. When he got the medal, he
knew too. He knew there wasn't any hope. I held the medal before him,
after the General had gone, in its red plush case. It looked cheap,
somehow. The exchange didn't seem even. He pushed it aside with a
contemptuous hand sweep, a disgusted shrug.
I've seen these things before! he exclaimed. We all had seen them
too. We all knew about them, he and the doctor, and the General and I.
He knew and understood, most of all. And his tone was bitter.
After that, he knew the doctor couldn't save him, and that he should
not see his wife and children again. Whereupon he became angry with the
treatment, and protested against it. The picqures hurtthey
hurt very much, and he did not want them. Moreover, they did no good,
for his pain was now very intense, and he tossed and tossed to get away
So the third day dawned, and he was alive, and dying, and knew that
he was dying. Which is unusual and disconcerting. He turned over and
over, and black fluid vomited from his mouth into the white enamel
basin. From time to time, the orderly emptied the basin, but always
there was more, and always he choked and gasped and knit his brows in
pain. Once his face broke up as a child's breaks up when it cries. So
he cried in pain and loneliness and resentment.
He struggled hard to hold on. He wanted very much to live, but he
could not do it. He said: Je ne tiens plus.
Which was true. He couldn't hold on. The pain was too great. He
clenched his hands and writhed, and cried out for mercy. But what mercy
had we? We gave him morphia, but it did not help. So he continued to
cry to us for mercy, he cried to us and to God. Between us, we let him
suffer eight hours more like that, us and God.
Then I called the priest. We have three priests on the ward, as
orderlies, and I got one of them to give him the Sacrament. I thought
it would quiet him. We could not help him with drugs, and he had not
got it quite in his head that he must die, and when he said, I am
dying, he expected to be contradicted. So I asked Capolarde to give
him the Sacrament, and he said yes, and put a red screen around the
bed, to screen him from the ward. Then Capolarde turned to me and asked
me to leave. It was summer time. The window at the head of the bed was
open, the hay outside was new cut and piled into little haycocks. Over
in the distance the guns rolled. As I turned to go, I saw Capolarde
holding a tray of Holy Oils in one hand, while with the other he
emptied the basin containing black vomitus out the window.
No, it did not bring him comfort, or resignation. He fought against
it. He wanted to live, and he resented Death, very bitterly. Down at my
end of the wardit was a silent, summer afternoonI heard them very
clearly. I heard the low words from behind the screen.
Dites: 'Dieu je vous donne ma vie librement pour ma
patrie' (God, I give you my life freely for my country). The
priests usually say that to them, for death has more dignity that way.
It is not in the ritual, but it makes a soldier's death more noble. So
I suppose Capolarde said it. I could only judge by the response. I
could hear the heavy, laboured breath, the choking, wailing cry.
Oui! Oui! gasped out at intervals. Ah mon Dieu! Oui!
Again the mumbling, guiding whisper.
Ouioui! came sobbing, gasping, in response.
So I heard the whispers, the priest's whispers, and the stertorous
choke, the feeble, wailing, rebellious wailing in response. He was
being forced into it. Forced into acceptance. Beaten into submission,
beaten into resignation.
Oui, oui came the protesting moans. Ah, oui!
It must be dawning upon him now. Capolarde is making him see.
Oui! Oui! The choking sobs reach me. Ah, mon Dieu, oui!
Then very deep, panting, crying breaths:
Librement! Librement! Ah, oui! Oui! He was beaten at last.
The choking, dying, bewildered man had said the noble words.
God, I give you my life freely for my country!
After which came a volley of low toned Latin phrases, rattling in
the stillness like the popping of a mitrailleuse.
* * * * *
Two hours later he was still alive, restless, but no longer
resentful. It is difficult to go, he murmured, and then: Tonight, I
shall sleep well. A long pause followed, and he opened his eyes.
Without doubt, the next world is more chic than this, he
remarked smiling, and then:
I was mobilized against my inclination. Now I have won the
Médaille Militaire. My Captain won it for me. He made me brave. He
had a revolver in his hand.
Just inside the entrance gates a big, flat-topped tent was pitched,
which bore over the low door a signboard on which was painted,
Triage No. 1. Malades et Blessés Assis. This meant that those
assis, able to travel in the ambulances as sitters, were to be
deposited here for diagnosis and classification. Over beyond was the
Salle d'Attente, the hut for receiving the grands blessés,
but a tent was sufficient for sick men and those slightly wounded. It
was an old tent, weatherbeaten, a dull, dirty grey. Within the floor
was of earth, and along each side ran long, narrow, backless benches,
on which the sick men and the slightly wounded sat, waiting sorting. A
grey twilight pervaded the interior, and the everlasting Belgian rain
beat down upon the creaking canvas, beat down in gentle, dripping
patters, or in hard, noisy gusts, as it happened. It was always dry
inside, however, and the earth floor was dusty, except at the entrance,
where a triangle of mud projected almost to the doctor's table, in the
The Salle d'Attente was different. It was more comfortable.
The seriously wounded were unloaded carefully and placed upon beds
covered with rubber sheeting, and clean sacking, which protected the
thin mattresses from blood. The patients were afterwards covered with
red blankets, and stone hot water bottles were also given them,
sometimes. But in the sorting tent there were no such comforts. They
were not needed. The sick men and the slightly wounded could sit very
well on the backless benches till the Médecin Major had time to
come and examine them.
Quite a company of sitters were assembled here one morning, helped
out of two big ambulances that drove in within ten minutes of each
other. They were a dejected lot, and they stumbled into the tent
unsteadily, groping towards the benches, upon which they tried to pose
their weary, old, fevered bodies in comfortable attitudes. And as it
couldn't be done, there was a continual shifting movement, and unrest.
Heavy legs in heavy wet boots were shoved stiffly forward, then dragged
back again. Old, thin bodies bent forward, twisted sideways, coarse,
filthy hands hung supine between spread knees, and then again the hands
would change, and support whiskered, discouraged faces. They were all
uncouth, grotesque, dejected, and they smelt abominably, these
poilus, these hairy, unkempt soldiers. At their feet, their sacks
lay, bulging with their few possessions. They hadn't much, but all they
had lay there, at their feet. Old brown canvas sacks, bulging, muddy,
worn, worn-out, like their owners. Tied on the outside were water cans,
and extra boots, and bayonets, and inside were socks and writing paper
and photographs of ugly wives. Therefore the ungainly sacks were
precious, and they hugged them with their tired feet, afraid that they
might lose them.
Then finally the Major arrived, and began the business of
sorting them. He was brisk and alert, and he called them one by one to
stand before him. They shuffled up to his little table, wavering,
deprecating, humble, and answered his brief impatient questions. And on
the spot he made snap diagnoses, such as rheumatism, bronchitis, kicked
by a horse, knocked down by despatch rider, dysentery, and so ona
paltry, stupid lot of ailments and minor accidents, demanding a few
days' treatment. It was a dull service, this medical service, yet one
had to be always on guard against contagion, so the service was a
responsible one. But the Major worked quickly, sorted them out
hastily, and then one by one they disappeared behind a hanging sheet,
where the orderlies took off their old uniforms, washed the patients a
little, and then led them to the wards. It was a stupid service! So
different from that of the grands blessés! There was some
interest in that! But this éclopé business, these minor
ailments, this stream of petty sickness, petty accidents, dirty skin
diseases, and verminall war, if you like, but how banale!
* * * * *
Later, in the medical wards, the Major made his rounds, to
inspect more carefully the men upon whom he had made snap diagnoses, to
correct the diagnosis, if need be, and to order treatment. The chief
treatment they needed was a bath, a clean bed, and a week of sleep, but
the doctor, being fairly conscientious, thought to hurry things a
little, to hasten the return of these old, tired men to the trenches,
so that they might come back to the hospital again as grands blessés. In which event they would be interesting. So he ordered ventouses
or cupping, for the bronchitis cases. There is much bronchitis in
Flanders, in the trenches, because of the incessant Belgian rain. They
are sick with it too, poor devils. So said the Major to himself
as he made his rounds.
Five men here, lying in a row, all ptomaine poisoning, due to some
rank tinned stuff they'd been eating. Yonder there, three men with
itchfilthy business! Their hands all covered with it, tearing at
their bodies with their black, claw-like nails! The orderlies had not
washed them very thoroughlysmall blame to them! So the Major
made his rounds, walking slowly, very bored, but conscientious. These
dull wrecks were needed in the trenches. He must make them well.
At Bed 9, André stopped. Something different this time? He tried to
recall it. Oh yesin the sorting tent he'd noticed
Monsieur Major! A thin hand, clean and slim, rose to the
salute. The bed covers were very straight, sliding neither to this side
nor to that, as covers slide under restless pain.
I cannot walk, Monsieur Major.
So André stopped, attentive. The man continued.
I cannot walk, Monsieur Major. Because of that, from the
trenches I was removed a month ago. After that I was given a fourgon, a wagon in which to transport the loaves of bread. But soon it arrived
that I could not climb to the high seat of my wagon, nor could I mount
to the saddle of my horse. So I was obliged to lead my horses,
stumbling at their bridles. So I have stumbled for the past four weeks.
But now I cannot even do that. It is very painful.
André passed a hand over his short, thick, upright hair, and
smoothed his stiff brush reflectively. Then he put questions to the
man, confidentially, and at the answers continued to rub backward his
tight brush of hair. After which he disappeared from the ward for a
time, but returned presently, bringing with him a Paris surgeon who
happened to be visiting the Front that day. There also came with him
another little doctor of the hospital staff, who was interested in what
André had told him of the case. The three stood together at the foot of
the bed, stroking their beards and their hair meditatively, while they
plied the patient with questions. After which they directed Alphonse,
the swarthy, dark orderly, who looked like a brigand, and Henri, the
priest-orderly, to help the patient to rise.
They stood him barefoot upon the floor, supporting him slightly by
each elbow. To his knees, or just above them, fell a scant, gay, pink
flannel nightshirt, his sole garment. It was one of many warm, gay
nightshirts, pink and cheerful, that some women of America had sent
over to the wounded heroes of France. It made a bright spot of colour
in the sombre ward, and through the open window, one caught glimpses of
green hop fields, and a windmill in the distance, waving its slow arms.
Walk, commanded André. Walk to the door. Turn and return.
The man staggered between the beds, holding to them, half bent over,
fearful. Cool summer air blew in through the window, waving the pink
nightshirt, making goose flesh rise on the shapely white legs that
wavered. Then he moved down the ward, between the rows of beds, moving
with uncertain, running, halting steps. Upon the linoleum, his bare
feet flapped in soft thumps, groping wildly, interfering, knocking
against each other. The man, trying to control them, gazed in fright
from side to side. Down to the door he padded, rocked, swayed, turned
and almost fell. Then back again he flapped.
Dense stillness in the ward, broken only by the hard, unsteady
thumping of the bare feet. The feet masterless, as the spirit had been
masterless, years ago. The three judges in white blouses stood with
arms folded, motionless. The patients in the beds sat up and tittered.
The man who had been kicked by a horse raised himself and smiled. He
who had been knocked down by a despatch rider sat up, as did those with
bronchitis, and those with ptomaine poisoning. They sat up, looked, and
sniggered. They knew. So did André. So did the Paris surgeon, and the
little staff doctor, and the swarthy orderly and the priest-orderly.
They all knew. The patient knew too. The laughter of his comrades told
So he was to be released from the army, physically unfit. He could
no longer serve his country. For many months he had faced death under
the guns, a glorious death. Now he was to face death in another form.
Not glorious, shameful. Only he didn't know much about it, and couldn't
visualize itafter all, he might possibly escape. He who had so loved
life. So he was rather pleased to be released from service.
The patients in the surrounding beds ceased laughing. They had other
things to think about. As soon as they were cured of the dysentery and
of the itch, they were going back again to the trenches, under the
guns. So they pitied themselves, and they rather envied him, being
released from the army. They didn't know much about it, either. They
couldn't visualize an imbecile, degrading, lingering death. They could
only comprehend escape from sudden death, under the guns.
One way or another, it is about the same. Tragedy either way, and
death either way. But the tragedies of peace equal the tragedies of
war. The sum total of suffering is the same. They balance up pretty
PARIS, 18 June, 1916.
A SURGICAL TRIUMPH
In the Latin Quarter, somewhere about the intersection of the
Boulevard Montparnasse with the rue de Rennesit might have been even
a little way back of the Gare Montparnasse, or perhaps in the other
direction where the rue Vabin cuts into the rue
Notre-Dame-des-Champsany one who knows the Quarter will know about it
at oncethere lived a little hairdresser by the name of Antoine. Some
ten years ago Antoine had moved over from Montmartre, for he was a good
hairdresser and a thrifty soul, and he wanted to get on in life, and at
that time nothing seemed to him so profitable an investment as to set
up a shop in the neighbourhood patronized by Americans. American
students were always wanting their hair washed, so he was toldonce a
week at leastand in that they differed from the Russian and Polish
and Roumanian and other students of Paris, a fact which determined
Antoine to go into business at the Montparnasse end of the Quarter,
rather than at the lower end, say round the Pantheon and
Saint-Etienne-du-Mont. And as he determined to put his prices low, in
order to catch the trade, so later on when his business thrived
enormously, he continued to keep them low, in order to maintain his
clients. For if you once get used to having your hair washed for two
francs, and very well done at that, it is annoying to find that the
price has gone up over night to the prices one pays on the Boulevard
Capucines. Therefore for ten years Antoine continued to wash hair at
two francs a head, and at the same time he earned quite a reputation
for himself as a marvellous good person when it came to waves and
curls. So that when the war broke out, and his American clients broke
and ran, he had a neat, tidy sum saved up, and could be fairly
complacent about it all. Moreover, he was a lame man, one leg being
some three inches shorter than the other, due to an accident in
childhood, so he had never done his military service in his youth, and
while not over military age, even yet, there was no likelihood of his
ever being called upon to do it. So he stood in the doorway of his
deserted shop, for all his young assistants, his curlers and
shampooers, had been mobilized, and looked up and down the deserted
street, and congratulated himself that he was not in as bad a plight,
financially and otherwise, as some of his neighbours.
Next door to him was a restaurant where the students ate, many of
them. It had enjoyed a high reputation for cheapness, up to the war,
and twice a day had been thronged with a mixed crowd of sculptors and
painters and writers, and just dilettantes, which latter liked to
patronize it for what they were pleased to call local colour. Well,
look at it now, thought the thrifty Antoine. Everyone gone, except a
dozen stranded students who had not money enough to escape, and who, in
the kindness of their hearts, continued to eat here on credit, in
order to keep the proprietor going. Even such a fool as the proprietor
must see, sooner or later, that patronage of this sort could lead
nowhere, from the point of view of profitsin fact, it was ridiculous.
Antoine, lounging in his doorway, thought of his son. His only son,
who, thank God, was too young to enter the army. By the time he was old
enough for his military service, the war would all be overit could
not last, at the outside, more than six weeks or a couple of monthsso
Antoine had no cause for anxiety on that account. The lad was a fine,
husky youth, with a sprouting moustache, which made him look older than
his seventeen years. He was being taught the art of washing hair, and
of curling and dyeing the same, on the human head or aside from it, as
the case might be, and he could snap curling irons with a click to
inspire confidence in the minds of the most fastidious, so altogether,
thought Antoine, he had a good future before him. So the war had no
terrors for Antoine, and he was able to speculate freely upon the
future of his son, which seemed like a very bright, admirable future
indeed, in spite of the disturbances of the moment. Nor did he need to
close the doors of his establishment either, in spite of the loss of
his assistants, and the loss of his many customers who kept those
assistants as well as himself busy. For there still remained in Paris a
good many American heads to be washed, from time to timerather
foolhardy, adventurous heads, curious, sensation hunting heads, who had
remained in Paris to see the war, or as much of it as they could, in
order to enrich their own personal experience. With which point of view
Antoine had no quarrel, although there were certain of his countrymen
who wished these inquisitive foreigners would return to their native
land, for a variety of reasons.
As the months rolled along, however, he who had been so farseeing,
so thrifty a business man, seemed to have made a mistake. His
calculations as to the duration of the war all went wrong. It seemed to
be lasting an unconscionable time, and every day it seemed to present
new phases for which no immediate settlement offered itself. Thus a
year dragged away, and Antoine's son turned eighteen, and his moustache
grew to be so imposing that his father commanded him to shave it. At
the end of another two months, Antoine found it best to return his son
to short trousers, for although the boy was stout and fat, he was not
tall, and in short trousers he looked merely an overgrown fat boy, and
Antoine was growing rather worried as he saw the lads of the young
classes called to the colours. Somewhere, in one of the Mairies
of Parisover at Montmartre, perhaps, where he had come from, or at
the Préfecture de Police, or the CitéAntoine knew that
there a record of his son's age and attainments, which might be used
against him at any moment, and as the weeks grew into months, it seemed
certain that the class to which this precious son belonged would be
called on for military service. Then very hideous weeks followed for
Antoine, weeks of nervous suspense and dread. Day by day, as the lad
grew in proficiency and aptitude, as he became more and more expert in
the matters of his trade, as he learned a delicate, sure touch with the
most refractory hair, and could expend the minimum of gas on the drying
machine, and the minimum of soap lather, and withal attain the best
results in pleasing his customers, so grew the danger of his being
snatched away from this wide life spread out before him, of being
forced to fight for his glorious country. Poor fat boy! On Sundays he
used to parade the Raspail with a German shepherd dog at his
heelsbought two years ago as a German shepherd, but now called a
Belgian Police doghow could he lay aside his little trousers and
become a soldier of France! Yet every day that time drew nearer, till
finally one day the summons came, and the lad departed, and Antoine
closed his shutters for a whole week, mourning desperately. And he was
furious against England, which had not made her maximum effort, had not
mobilized her men, had continued with business as usual, had made no
attempt to end the warwouldn't do so, until France had become
exhausted. And he was furious against Russia, swamped in a bog of
political intrigue, which lacked organization and munitions and
leadership, and was totally unable to drawing off the Bosches on the
other frontier, and delivering a blow to smash them. In fact, Antoine
was far more furious against the Allies of France than against Germany
itself. And his rage and grief absolutely overbalanced his pride in his
son, or his ambitions as to his son's possible achievements. The boy
himself did not mind going, when he was called, for he was something of
a fatalist, being so young, and besides, he could not foresee things.
But Antoine, little lame man, had much imagination and foresaw a great
Mercifully, he could not foresee what actually happened. Thus it was
a shock to him. He learned that his son was wounded, and then followed
many long weeks while the boy lay in hospital, during which time many
kind-hearted Red Cross ladies wrote to Antoine, telling him to be of
brave heart and of good courage. And Antoine, being a rich man, in a
small hairdressing way, took quite large sums of money out of the bank
from time to time, and sent them to the Red Cross ladies, to buy for
his son whatever might be necessary to his recovery. He heard from the
hospital in the interiorfor they were taking most of the wounded to
the interior, at that time, for fear of upsetting Paris by the sight of
them in the streetsthat artificial legs were costly. Thus he steeled
himself to the fact that his son would be more hideously lame than he
himself. There was some further consultation about artificial arms,
rather vague, but Antoine was troubled. Then he learned that a
marvellous operation had been performed upon the boy, known as plastic
surgery, that is to say, the rebuilding, out of other parts of the
body, of certain features of the face that are missing. All this while
he heard nothing directly from the lad himself, and in every letter
from the Red Cross ladies, dictated to them, the boy begged that
neither his father nor his mother would make any attempt to visit him
at the hospital, in the interior, till he was ready.
Finally, the lad was ready. He had been four or five months in
hospital, and the best surgeons of the country had done for him the
best they knew. They had not only saved his life, but, thanks to his
father's money, he had been fitted out with certain artificial aids to
the human body which would go far towards making life supportable. In
fact, they expressed themselves as extremely gratified with what they
had been able to do for the poor young man, nay, they were even proud
of him. He was a surgical triumph, and as such they were returning him
to Paris, by such and such a train, upon such and such a day. Antoine
went to meet the train.
In a little room back of the hairdressing shop, Antoine looked down
upon the surgical triumph. This triumph was his son. The two were
pretty well mixed up. A passion of love and a passion of furious
resentment filled the breast of the little hairdresser. Two very
expensive, very good artificial legs lay on the sofa beside the boy.
They were nicely jointed and had cost several hundred francs. From the
same firm it would also be possible to obtain two very nice artificial
arms, light, easily adjustable, well hinged. A hideous flabby heap,
called a nose, fashioned by unique skill out of the flesh of his
breast, replaced the little snub nose that Antoine remembered. The
mouth they had done little with. All the front teeth were gone, but
these could doubtless be replaced, in time, by others. Across the lad's
forehead was a black silk bandage, which could be removed later, and in
his pocket there was an address from which artificial eyes might be
purchased. They would have fitted him out with eyes, in the provinces,
except that such were better obtainable in Paris. Antoine looked down
upon this wreck of his son that lay before him, and the wreck, not
appreciating that he was a surgical triumph, kept sobbing, kept weeping
out of his sightless eyes, kept jerking his four stumps in
supplication, kept begging in agony:
Kill me, Papa!
However, Antoine couldn't do this, for he was civilized.
AT THE TELEPHONE
As he hadn't died in the ambulance, coming from the Poste de
Secours, the surgeons concluded that they would give him another
chance, and risk it on the operating table. He was nearly dead, anyway,
so it didn't much matter, although the chance they proposed to give him
wasn't even a fighting chanceit was just one in a thousand, some of
them put it at one in ten thousand. Accordingly, they cut his clothes
off in the Salle d'Attente, and carried him, very dirty and
naked, to the operating room. Here they found that his ten-thousandth
chance would be diminished if they gave him a general anæsthetic, so
they dispensed with chloroform and gave him spinal anæsthesia, by
injecting something into his spinal canal, between two of the low
vertebræ. This completely relieved him of pain, but made him talkative,
and when they saw he was conscious like that, it was decided to hold a
sheet across the middle of him, so that he could not see what was going
on, on the other side of the sheet, below his waist.
The temperature in the operating room was stifling hot, and the
sweat poured in drops from the brows of the surgeons, so that it took
an orderly, with a piece of gauze, to swab them constantly. However,
for all the heat, the man was stone cold and ashen grey, and his
nostrils were pinched and dilated, while his breath came in gasps,
forty to the minute. Yet, as I say, he was talkative, and his stream of
little, vapid remarks, at his end of the sheet, did much to drown the
clicking and snapping of clamps on the other side of it, where the
surgeons were working to give him his one chance.
A nurse held the sheet on one side of the table, and a
priest-orderly held it at the other, and at his head stood a doctor,
and the Directrice and another nurse, answering the string of
vapid remarks and trying to sooth him. And three feet farther along,
hidden from him and the little clustering company of people trying to
distract his attention, stood the two surgeons, and the two young
students, and just the tops of their hair could be seen over the edge
of the sheet. They whispered a little from time to time, and worked
very rapidly, and there was quite animated talking when the bone saw
began to rasp.
The man babbled of his home, and of his wife. He said he wanted to
see her again, very much. And the priest-orderly, who wanted to drop
his end of the sheet and administer the last Sacrament at once, grew
very nervous and uneasy. So the man rambled on, gasping, and they
replied to him in soothing manner, and told him that there was a chance
that he might see her again. So he talked about her incessantly, and
with affection, and his whispered words and the cheery replies quite
drowned out the clicking and the snapping of the clamps. After a short
while, however, his remarks grew less coherent, and he seemed to find
himself back in the trenches, telephoning. He tried hard to telephone,
he tried hard to get the connection. The wires seemed to be cut,
however, and he grew puzzled, and knit his brows and swore, and tried
again and again, over and over. He had something to say over the
telephone, the trench communication wire, and his mind wandered, and he
tried very hard, in his wandering mind, to get the connection. A shell
had cut the line evidently. He grew annoyed and restless, and gazed
anxiously and perplexedly at the white sheet, held so steadily across
his middle. From the waist down he could not move, so all his
restlessness took place on the upper side of the sheet, and he was
unaware of what was going on on the other side of it, and so failed to
hear the incessant rattle of clamps and the subdued whispers from the
He struggled hard to get the connection, in his mind, over the
telephone. The wires seemed to be cut, and he cried out in anxiety and
distress. Then he grew more and more feeble, and gasped more and more,
and became almost inarticulate, in his efforts. He was distressed. But
suddenly he got it. He screamed out very loud, relieved, satisfied,
triumphant, startling them all.
Ça y est, maintenant! Ça y est! C'est le bon Dieu à l'appareil! (All right now! All right! It is the good God at the telephone!)
A drop of blood spotted the sheet, a sudden vivid drop which spread
rapidly, coming through. The surgeon raised himself.
Finished here! he exclaimed with satisfaction.
Finished here, repeated the Directrice.
PARIS, 26 June, 1916.
As a person, Grammont amounted to very little. In private life,
before the war broke out, he had been an acrobat in the streets of
Paris, and after that he became a hotel boy in some little fifth-rate
hotel over behind the Gare St. Lazare. That had proved his undoing, for
even the fifth-rate French travelling salesmen and sharpers and
adventurers who patronized the hotel had money enough for him to steal.
He stole a little, favoured by his position as garçon d'hôtel,
and the theft had landed him, not in jail, but in the Bataillon
d'Afrique. He had served in that for two years, doing his military
service in the Bataillon d'Afrique instead of jail, while
working off his five year sentence, and then war being declared, his
regiment was transferred from Morocco to France, to Flanders, to the
front line trenches, and in course of time he arrived one day at the
hospital with a piece of shell in his spleen.
He was pretty ill when brought in, and if he had died promptly, as
he should have done, it would have been better. But it happened at that
time that there was a surgeon connected with the hospital who was bent
on making a reputation for himself, and this consisted in trying to
prolong the lives of wounded men who ought normally and naturally to
have died. So this surgeon worked hard to save Grammont, and certainly
succeeded in prolonging his life, and in prolonging his suffering, over
a very considerable portion of time. He worked hard over him, and he
used on him everything he could think of, everything that money could
buy. Every time he had a new idea as to treatment, no matter how costly
it might be, he mentioned it to the Directrice, who sent to
Paris and got it. All the while Grammont remained in bed, in very great
agony, the surgeon making copious notes on the case, noting that under
such and such circumstances, under conditions such as the following,
such and such remedies and treatment proved futile and valueless.
Grammont had a hole in his abdomen, when he entered, about an inch
long. After about a month, this hole was scientifically increased to a
foot in length, rubber drains stuck out in all directions, and went
inwards as well, pretty deep, and his pain was enhanced a hundredfold,
while his chances of recovery were not bright. But Grammont had a good
constitution, and the surgeon worked hard over him, for if he got well,
it would be a wonderful case, and the surgeon's reputation would
benefit. Grammont bore it all very patiently, and did not ask to be
allowed to die, as many of them did, for since he was of the
Bataillon d'Afrique, such a request would be equivalent to asking
for a remission of sentencea sentence which the courts averred he
justly deserved and merited. They took no account of the fact that his
ethics were those of a wandering juggler, turning somersaults on a
carpet at the public fêtes of Paris, and had been polished off
by contact with the men and women he had encountered in his capacity of
garçon d'hôtel, in a fifth-rate hotel near Montmartre. On the
contrary, they rather expected of him the decencies and moralities that
come from careful nurture, and these not being forthcoming, they had
sent him to the Bataillon d'Afrique, where his eccentricities
would be of no danger to the public.
So Grammont continued to suffer, over a period of several long
months, and he was sufficiently cynical, owing to his short experience
of life, to realize that the surgeon, who worked over him so constantly
and solicitously, was not solely and entirely disinterested in his
efforts to make him well. Grammont had no life to return to, that was
the trouble. Everyone knew it. The surgeon knew it, and the orderlies
knew it, and his comrades in the adjoining beds knew ithe had
absolutely no future before him, and there was not much sense in trying
to make him well enough to return to Paris, a hopeless cripple. He lay
in hospital for several months, suffering greatly, but greatly patient.
During that time, he received no letters, for there was no one to write
to him. He was an apache, he belonged to a criminal regiment,
and he had no family anyhow, and his few friends, tattooed all over the
body like himself, were also members of the same regiment, and as such,
unable to do much for him in civil life after the war. Such it is to be
a joyeux, to belong to a regiment of criminals, and to have no
family to speak of.
Grammont knew that it would be better for him to die, but he did not
like to protest against this painful prolonging of his life. He was
pretty well sick of life, but he had to submit to the kind treatment
meted out to him, to twist his mouth into a wry smile when the
Directrice asked him each day if he was not better, and to accept
without wincing all the newest devices that the surgeon discovered for
him. There was some sense in saving other people's lives, but there was
no sense in saving his. But the surgeon, who was working for a
reputation, worked hand in hand with the Directrice who wanted
her hospital to make a reputation for saving the lives of the grands
blessés. Grammont was the victim of circumstances, as usual, but it
was all in his understanding of life, this being caught up in the
ambitions of others, so he had to submit.
After about three months of torture, during which time he grew
weaker and smelled worse every day, it finally dawned on the nurse that
perhaps this life-saving business was not wholly desirable. If he got
well, in the mildest acceptation of the term, he would be pretty well
disabled, and useless and good for nothing. And if he was never going
to get well, for which the prospects seemed bright enough, why force
him along through more weeks of suffering, just to try out new
remedies? Society did not want him, and he had no place in it. Besides,
he had done his share, in the trenches, in protecting its best
Then they all began to notice, suddenly, that in bed Grammont was
displaying rather nice qualities, such as you would not expect from a
joyeux, a social outcast. He appeared to be extremely patient, and
while his face twisted up into knots of pain, most of the time, he did
not cry out and disturb the ward as he might have done. This was nice
and considerate, and other good traits were discovered too. He was not
a nuisance, he was not exacting, he did not demand unreasonable things,
or refuse to submit to unreasonable things, when these were demanded of
him. In fact, he seemed to accept his pain as God-given, and with a
fatalism which in some ways was rather admirable. He could not help
smelling like that, for he was full of rubber drains and of gauze
drains, and if the doctor was too busy to dress his wounds that day,
and so put him off till the next, it was not his fault for smelling so
vilely. He did not raise any disturbance, nor make any complaint, on
certain days when he seemed to be neglected. Any extra discomfort that
he was obliged to bear, he bore stoically. Altogether, after some four
months of this, it was discovered that Grammont had rather a remarkable
character, a character which merited some sort of recognition. He
seemed to have rather heroic qualities of endurance, of bravery, of
discipline. Nor were they the heroic qualities that suddenly develop in
a moment of exaltation, but on the contrary, they were developed by
months of extreme agony, of extreme bodily pain. He could have been so
disagreeable, had he chosen. And as he cared so little to have his life
saved, his goodness could not have been due to that. It seemed that he
was merely very decent, very considerate of others, and wanted to give
as little trouble as he could, no matter what took place. Only he got
thinner and weaker, and more and more gentle, and at last after five
months of this, the Directrice was touched by his conduct and
suggested that here was a case of heroism as well worthy of the
Croix de Guerre as were the more spectacular movements on the
battlefield. It took a few weeks longer, of gentle suggestion on her
part, to convey this impression to the General, but at last the General
entered into correspondence with the officers of the regiment to which
Grammont belonged, and it then transpired that as a soldier Grammont
had displayed the same qualities of consideration for others and of
discipline, that he was now displaying in a hospital bed. Finally one
day, the news came that Grammont was to be decorated. Everyone else in
the ward, who deserved it, had been decorated long ago, naturally, for
they had not belonged to the Bataillon d'Afrique. Their services
had been recognized long ago. Now, however, after these many months of
suffering, Grammont was to receive the Croix de Guerre. He was
nearly dead by this time. When told the news, he smiled faintly. He did
not seem to care. It seemed to make very little impression upon him.
Yet it should have made an impression, for he was a convicted criminal,
and it was a condescension that he should be so honoured at all. He had
somehow won this honour, this token of forgiveness, by suffering so
long, so uncomplainingly. However, a long delay took place, although
finally his papers came, his citation, in which he was cited in the
orders of the regiment as having done a very brave deed, under fire. He
smiled a little at that. It had taken place so long ago, this time when
he had done the deed, received the wound that kept him suffering so
long. It seemed so little worth while to acknowledge it now, after all
these months, when he was just ready to leave.
Then more delay took place, and Grammont got weaker, and the
orderlies said among themselves that if the General was ever going to
decorate this man, that he had better hurry up. However, so long a time
had passed that it did not much matter. Grammont was pleased with his
citation. It seemed to make it all right for him, somehow. It seemed to
give him standing among his fellow patients. The hideous tattoo marks
on his arms and legs, chest and back, which proclaimed him an apache, which showed him such every time his wound was dressed, were about to
be overlaid with a decoration for bravery upon the field of battle. But
still the General did not come. Grammont grew very weak and feeble and
his patience became exhausted. He held on as long as he could. So he
died finally, after a long pull, just twenty minutes before the General
arrived with his medals.
PARIS, 27 June, 1916.
At the intersection of the rue du Bac and the Boulevard St. Germain
rises the statue of Claude Chappe, rising like a rock in the midst of
the stream of traffic, and like a rock splitting the stream and
diverting it into currents which flow east and west, north and south,
smoothly and without collision. In guiding the stream of traffic and
directing its orderly flow, the statue of Claude Chappe is greatly
assisted by the presence of an agent de police, with a
picturesque cape and a picturesque sword, and who controls the flow of
vehicles with as much precision as a London policeman, although there
are those who profess that a London policeman is the only one who
understands the business. Before the war, when the omnibuses ran, the
agent de police was always on duty; since the war, when the Paris
omnibuses are all at the Front, carrying meat to the soldiers, there
are certain times during the day when the whole responsibility for
traffic regulation falls upon the statue of Claude Chappe. It was at
one of these times, when Claude Chappe was standing head in air as
usual, and failed to regard the comings and goings of the street, that
this incident occurred.
Down on the Quai, an officer of the French army stepped into a
little victoria, a shabby little voiture de place, which trotted
him up the rue du Bac and then essayed to take him along the Boulevard
St. Germain to the Ministère de la Guerre. Coming along the
boulevard in the opposite direction, was a little lad of fifteen,
bending low over the handle bars of a tricycle delivery wagon, the box
of which contained enough kilos to have taxed a strong man or an old
horse. Men are scarce in Paris, however, and the little delivery boy,
who could not possibly have been available for the army for another
three years, was doing a man's work, or a horse's work, as you please.
The French are a thrifty race, and the possibilities being that the war
will all be over before that time, it mattered little whether this
particular boy developed a hernia, or tuberculosis, or any other malady
which might unfit him for future military service. At present he was
earning money for his patron, which was all that really
mattered. So the little boy on the tricycle, head down, ran squarely
into the horse of the shabby victoria, conveying the French officer,
and the agent de police was absent, and the statue of Claude
Chappe stood, as usual, head in air.
Quite a mêlée ensued. The old horse, which should long ago
have been in a butcher's shop, avoided the tricycle, with true French
thrift, but stepped squarely upon the face of the little boy sprawling
under its hoofs. Another hoof planted itself on the fingers of the
lad's right hand. War itself could not have been more disastrous. The
youth rose to his feet, screaming. The cabby cursed. A crowd collected,
and the officer in the little carriage leaned back and twirled the ends
of his neat moustache. The agent de police, who should have been
on duty at the statue, arrived hastily from a nearby café. He always
took two hours off for lunch, in good Parisian fashion, and he was
obliged on this occasion to cut his lunch hour short by fifteen
minutes. Everyone was frightfully annoyed, but no one was more annoyed
than the officer in the cab, on his way to the Minister of War.
He was so annoyed, so bored, that he sat imperturbable, one arm
lying negligently along the back of the seat, the fingers of the other
hand caressing the Cross of the Legion of Honour, upon his breast. His
eyes rolled upwards, as if seeking the aeroplane which was not, at that
moment, flying over Paris. The cabby got down from his seat, and with
much vociferation called upon the officer to witness that it was not
his fault. The crowd, who had not witnessed the accident, crowded round
the policeman, giving testimony to what they had not seen. The sobbing
boy was led into a chemist's. Still the people did not disperse. They
pressed round the cab, and began shouting to the disinterested officer.
The officer who cared not where the old horse had stepped. The officer
who continued to loll back against the shabby cushions, to look upward
at the sky, to remain indifferent to the taximeter, which skipped
briskly from eighty-five centimes to ninety-five centimes, and
continued ticking on. Women crowded round the cab, regarding its
occupant. Was this one who commanded their sons at the Front, who had
therefore seen so much, been through so much, that the sight of a
little boy stamped on meant nothing to him? Had he seen so much
suffering en gros that it meant nothing to him en detail?
Or was this his attitude to all suffering? Was this the Nation's
attitude to the suffering of their sons? Or was this officer one who
had never been to the Front, an embusqué, one of the protected
ones, who occupied soft snaps in the rear, safe places from which to
draw their pay? The crowd increased every minute. They speculated
volubly. They surrounded the cab, voicing their speculations. They
finally became so unbearable that the officer's boredom vanished. His
annoyance became such, his impatience at the delay became such that he
slid down from the shabby cushions, and without paying his fare,
disappeared in the direction of the Ministère de la Guerre.
* * * * *
A Selection from the
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
Complete Catalogue sent
* * * * *
The Night Cometh
Translated by Frederic Lees
Perhaps the most important work of imagination yet written under the
influence of the war. A French military hospital is the scene of the
story, and its chief characters are a famous Paris surgeon and a young
wounded officer, whose fervent Catholic piety is in sharp contrast with
the doctor's philosophic materialism. Death threatens both, and their
opposing theories with regard to it are displayed in their relation to
a drama of the most intense human passion.
G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York London
* * * * *
By the Author of
Aunt Sarah and the War
75 cents net. Postage additional
A volume comparable to Aunt Sarah and the War from the pen of
the author of that book. The scene is laid in a hospital, but the cases
recorded are those of men who, though wounded in body, are spiritually
whole. It is the ideals of England,the essential England that, when
the hour strikes, is all couragethat manifest themselves throughout.
And be it said that it is an epitome not only of the spirit of England
but of the United Kingdom, with the emphasis on the united. There is a
fine strain of kindness and broad sympathy running through the book,
and much of poignancy in the personal dramas glimpsed through its
G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York London
* * * * *
A TALL SHIP
ON OTHER NAVAL OCCASIONS
12°. PICTURE WRAPPER. $1.00
Tales descriptive of life in the British Navy under stress of
war-time conditionsthe life of the officers' mess, and the
stoke-holethe grime as well as the glory. Vivid pictures of the ache
of parting, of the strain of long waiting for the enemy, of sinking
ships and struggles in the wavesand also of the bright side that not
even war can extinguish.
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
NEW YORK LONDON
* * * * *
Author of The Romance of a Pro-Consul, etc.
12°. $1.50 net. Frontispiece
Many things seen, heard, and thought during travels at home, on sea
and oversea, in the war-time which we call 'Armageddon.' It is a
chronicle of war impressions gathered during travel, near and far, on
its edges red and jagged.
This indeed is a book of the war but it is not like the others.
There is in it nothing that is harsh, cruel, ugly, such as there must
be in nearly every other volume that is wrought about Armageddon. There
is sadness in it but it is a sweet sadness. There is an immensity of
pathos. There is much that is beautiful. And all of it is true.
The Daily Telegraph.
Great in spirit ... a book that will surely outlive the war.
G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York London