I went to speak to him several times. He looked so exhausted, his black beard was so mournful that I kept on telling him: “Sergeant, your wound is not serious.”
Each time he shook his head as if to say that he took but little interest in the matter, and tried to close his eyes.
Lecolle is too nervous; he was not able to close his eyes, and he saw Delporte dead, and he had been obliged to witness all Delporte’s death agony; for when one has a wound in the right shoulder, one can only lie upon the left shoulder.
The ward was full, I could not change the sergeant’s place, and yet I should have liked to let him be alone all day with his own pain.
Now Lecolle is better; he feels better without much exuberance, with a seriousness which knows and foresees the bufferings of Fate.
Lecolle was a stenographer “in life.” We are no longer “in life,” but the good stenographer retains his principles. When his wounds are dressed, he looks carefully at the little watch on his wrist. He moans at intervals, and stops suddenly to say:
“It has taken fifty seconds to-day to loosen the dressings. Yesterday, you took sixty-two seconds.”
His first words after the operation were:
“Will you please tell me how many minutes I was unconscious?”
I first saw Derancourt in the room adjoining the chapel. A band of crippled men, returning from Germany after a long captivity, had just been brought in there.
There were some fifty of them, all looking with delighted eyes at the walls, the benches, the telephone, all the modest objects in this waiting-room, objects which are so much more attractive under the light of France than in harsh exile.
The waiting-room seemed to have been transformed into a museum of misery: there were blind men, legless and armless men, paralysed men, their faces ravaged by fire and powder.
A big fellow said, lifting his deformed arm with an effort:
“I tricked them; they thought to the end that I was really paralysed. I look well, but that’s because they sent us to Constance for the last week, to fatten us up.”
A dark, thin man was walking to and fro, towing his useless foot after him by the help of a string which ran down his trouser leg; and he laughed:
“I walk more with my fist than with my foot. Gentlemen, gentlemen, who would like to pull Punch’s string?”
All wore strange costumes, made up of military clothing and patched civilian garments.
On a bench sat fifteen or twenty men with about a dozen legs between them. It was among these that I saw Derancourt. He was holding his crutches in one hand and looking round him, stroking his long fair moustache absently.
Derancourt became my friend.
His leg had been cut off at the thigh, and this had not yet healed; he had, further, a number of other wounds which had closed more or less during his captivity.