THOUGHTS OF PROSPER RUFFIN
... God! How awful it is in this carriage! Who is it who is groaning like that? It’s maddening! And then, all this would never have happened if they had only brought the coffee at the right time. Well now, a wretched 77 ... oh, no! Who is it who is groaning like that? God, another jolt! No, no, man, we are not salad. Take care there. My kidneys are all smashed.
Ah! now something is dripping on my nose. Hi! You up there, what’s happening? He doesn’t answer. I suppose it’s blood, all this mess.
Now again, some one is beginning to squeal like a pig. By the way, can it be me? What! it was I who was groaning! Upon my word, it’s a little too strong, that! It was I myself who was making all the row, and I did not know it. It’s odd to hear oneself screaming.
Ah! now it’s stopping, their beastly motor.
Look, there’s the sun! What’s that tree over there? I know, it’s a Japanese pine. Well, you see, I’m a gardener, old chap. Oh, oh, oh! My back! What will Felicie say to me?
Look, there’s Felicie coming down to the washing trough. She pretends not to see me. ... I will steal behind the elder hedge. Felicie! Felicie! I have a piece of a 77 in my kidneys. I like her best in her blue bodice.
What are you putting over my nose, you people? It stinks horribly. I am choking, I tell you. Felicie, Felicie. Put on your blue bodice with the white spots, my little Feli ... Oh, but ... oh, but ...!
Oh, the Whitsuntide bells already! God—the bells already ... the Whitsun bells ... the bells. ...
I remember him very well, although he was not long with us. Indeed I think that I shall never forget him, and yet he stayed such a short time. ...
When he arrived, we told him that an operation was necessary, and he made a movement with his head, as if to say that it was our business, not his.
We operated, and as soon as he recovered consciousness, he went off again into a dream which was like a glorious delirium, silent and haughty.
His breathing was so impeded by blood that it sounded like groaning; but his eyes were full of a strange serenity. That look was never with us.
I had to uncover and dress his wounds several times; and those wounds must have suffered. But to the last, he himself seemed aloof from everything, even his own sufferings.
“Come in here. You can see him once more.”
I open the door, and push the big fair artilleryman into the room where his brother has just died.
I turn back the sheet and uncover the face of the corpse. The flesh is still warm.
The big fellow looks like a peasant. He holds his helmet in both hands, and stares at his brother’s face with eyes full of horror and amazement. Then suddenly, he begins to cry out: