He was no grave, handsome Arab, looking as if he had stepped from the pages of the “Arabian Nights,” but a kind of little brown monster with an overhanging forehead and ugly, scanty hair.
He lay upon the table, screaming, because his abdomen was very painful and his hip was all tumefied. What could we say to him? He could understand nothing; he was strange, terrified, pitiable. ...
At my wits’ ends, I took out a cigarette and placed it between his lips. His whole face changed. He took hold of the cigarette delicately between two bony fingers; he had a way of holding it which was a marvel of aristocratic elegance.
While we finished the dressing, the poor fellow smoked slowly and gravely, with all the distinction of an Oriental prince; then, with a negligent gesture, he threw away the cigarette, of which he had only smoked half.
Presently, suddenly becoming an animal, he spit upon my apron, and kissed my hand like a dog, repeating something which sounded like “Bouia! Bouia!”
Gautreau looked like a beast of burden. He was heavy, square, solid of base and majestic of neck and throat. What he could carry on his back would have crushed an ordinary man; he had big bones, so hard that the fragment of shell which struck him on the skull only cracked it, and got no further into it. Gautreau arrived at the hospital alone, on foot; he sat down on a chair in the corner, saying:
“No need to hurry; it’s only a scratch.”
We gave him a cup of tea with rum in it, and he began to hum:
En courant par les epeignes
Je m’etios fait un ecourchon,
Et en courant par les epeignes
Et en courant apres not’ couchon.
“Ah!” said Monsieur Boissin, “you are a man! Come here, let me see.”
Gautreau went into the operating ward saying:
“It feels queer to be walking on dry ground when you’ve just come off the slime. You see: it’s only a scratch. But one never knows: there may be some bits left in it.”
Dr. Boussin probed the wound, and felt the cracked bone. He was an old surgeon who had his own ideas about courage and pain. He made up his mind.
“I am in a hurry; you are a man. There is just a little something to be done to you. Kneel down there and don’t stir.”
A few minutes later, Gautreau was on his knees, holding on to the leg of the table. His head was covered with blood-stained bandages, and Dr. Boussin, chisel in hand, was tapping on his skull with the help of a little mallet, like a sculptor. Gautreau exclaimed:
“Monsieur Bassin, Monsieur Bassin, you’re hurting me.”
“Not Bassin, but Boussin,” replied the old man calmly.
“Well, Boussin, if you like.”
There was a silence, and then Gautreau suddenly added:
“Monsieur Bassin, you are killing me with these antics.”