I am bound to say Paga understood that he had meddled with things which did not concern him. He nevertheless continued to offer imperative advice as to the manner in which he wished to be nursed.
“Don’t pull off the dressings! I won’t have it. Do you hear, doctor? Don’t pull. I won’t have it.”
Then he would begin to tremble nervously all over his body and to say:
“I am quite calm! Oh, I am really calm. See, Michelet, see, Brugneau, I am calm. Doctor, see, I am quite calm.”
Meantime the dressings were gradually loosening under a trickle of water, and Paga muttered between his teeth:
“He’s pulling, he’s pulling. ... Oh, the cruel man! I won’t have it, I won’t have it.”
Then suddenly, with flaming cheeks:
“That’s right. That’s right! See, Michelet, see, Brugneau: the dressings have come away. Sergeant, Sergeant, the dressings are loosened.”
He clapped his hands, possessed by a furtive joy; then he suddenly became conscious, and with a deep furrow between his brows, he began to give orders again.
“Not any tincture of iodine to-day, doctor. Take away those forceps, doctor, take them away.”
Meanwhile the implacable forceps did their work, the tincture of iodine performed its chilly function; then Paga yelled:
“Quickly, quickly. Kiss me, kiss me.”
With his arms thrown out like tentacles, he beat upon the air, and seized haphazard upon the first blouse that passed. Then he would embrace it frantically.
Thus it happened that he once showered kisses on Michelet’s hands, objects by no means suitable for such a demonstration. Michelet said, laughing:
“Come, stop it; my hands are dirty.”
And then poor Paga began to kiss Michelet’s bare, hairy arms, saying distractedly:
“If your hands are dirty, your arms are all right.”
Alas, what has become of all those who, during days and nights of patient labour, I saw gradually shaking off the dark empire of the night and coming back again to joy? What has become of the smouldering faggot which an ardent breath finally kindled into flame?
What became of you, precious lives, poor wonderful souls, for whom I fought so many obscure great battles, and who went off again into the realm of adventure?
You, Paga, little fellow, where are you? Do you remember the time when I used to dress your two wounds alternately, and when you said to me with great severity:
“The leg to-day, only the leg. It’s not the day for the foot.”
Sergeant Lecolle is distinguished by a huge black beard, which fails to give a ferocious expression to the gentlest face in the world.
He arrived the day little Delporte died, and scarcely had he emerged from the dark sleep when, opening his eyes, he saw Delporte die.