I looked at the man sleeping and breathing heavily, and I almost envied his forgetfulness of all things, the dissolution of his being in a darkness so akin to liberating death. My task completed, I went out to view the damage.
A shell had fallen on an angle of the building, blowing in the windows of three wards, scattering stones in all directions, and riddling walls and ceilings with large fragments of metal. The wounded were moaning, shrouded in acrid smoke. They were lying so close to the ground that they had been struck only by plaster and splinters of glass; but the shock had been so great that nearly all of them died within the following hour.
The next day it was decided that we should change our domicile, and we made ready to carry off our wounded and remove our hospital to a point rather more distant. It was a very clear day. In front of us, the main road was covered with men, whom motor vehicles were depositing in groups every minute. We were finishing our final operations and looking out occasionally at these men gathered in the sun, on the slopes and in the ditches. At about one o’clock in the afternoon the air was rent by the shriek of high explosives and some shells fell in the midst of the groups. We saw them disperse through the yellowish smoke, and go to lie down a little farther off in the fields. Some did not even stir. Stretcher-bearers came up at once, running across the meadow, and brought us two dead men, and nine wounded, who were laid on the operating-table.
As we tended them during the following hour we looked anxiously at the knots of men who remained in the open, and gradually increased, and we asked whether they would not soon go. But there they stayed, and again we heard the dull growl of the discharge, then the whistling overhead, and the explosions of some dozen shells falling upon the men. Crowding to the window, we watched the massacre, and waited to receive the victims. My colleague M—— drew my attention to a soldier who was running up the grassy slope on the other side of the road, and whom the shells seemed to be pursuing.
These were the last wounded we received in the suburb of G——. Three hours afterwards, we took up the same life and the same labours again, some way off, for many weeks more. ...
Thus things went on, until the day when we, in our turn, were carried off by the automobiles of the Grand’ Route, and landed on the banks of a fair river in a village where there were trees in blossom, and where the next morning we were awakened by the sound of bells and the voices of women.
We had had all the windows opened. From their beds, the wounded could see, through the dancing waves of heat, the heights of Berru and Nogent l’Abbesse, the towers of the Cathedral, still crouching like a dying lion in the middle of the plain of Reims, and the chalky lines of the trenches intersecting the landscape.