Leglise listens, shaking his head. He does not venture to say “No.”
Leglise has not only the Military Medal, but also the War Cross. The notice has just come. He reads it with blushes.
“I shall never dare to show this,” he says; “it is a good deal exaggerated.”
He hands me the paper, which states, in substance, that Corporal Leglise behaved with great gallantry under a hail of bombs, and that his left leg has been amputated.
“I didn’t behave with great gallantry,” he says; “I was at my post, that’s all. As to the bombs, I only got one.”
I reject this point of view summarily.
“Wasn’t it a gallant act to go to that advanced post, so near the enemy, all alone, at the head of all the Frenchmen? Weren’t they all behind you, to the very end of the country, right away to the Pyrenees? Did they not all rely on your coolness, your keen sight, your vigilance? You were only hit by one bomb, but I think you might have had several, and still be with us. And besides, the notice, far from being exaggerated, is really insufficient; it says you have lost a leg, whereas you have lost two! It seems to me that this fully compensates for anything excessive with regard to the bombs.”
“That’s true!” agrees Leglise, laughing. “But I don’t want to be made out a hero.”
“My good lad, people won’t ask what you think before they appreciate and honour you. It will be quite enough to look at your body.”
Then we had to part, for the war goes on, and every day there are fresh wounded.
Leglise left us nearly cured. He left with some comrades, and he was not the least lively of the group.
“I was the most severely wounded man in the train,” he wrote to me, not without a certain pride.
Since then, Leglise has written to me often. His letters breathe a contented calm. I receive them among the vicissitudes of the campaign; on the highways, in wards where other wounded men are moaning, in fields scoured by the gallop of the cannonade.
And always something beside me murmurs, mutely:
“You see, you see, he was wrong when he said he would rather die.”
I am convinced of it, and this is why I have told your story. You will forgive me, won’t you, Leglise, my friend?
Every morning the stretcher-bearers brought Vize-Feldwebel Spat down to the dressing ward, and his appearance always introduced a certain chill in the atmosphere.
There are some German wounded whom kind treatment, suffering, or some more obscure agency move to composition with the enemy, and who receive what we do for them with a certain amount of gratitude. Spat was not one of these. For weeks we had made strenuous efforts to snatch him from death, and then to alleviate his sufferings, without eliciting the slightest sign of satisfaction from him, or receiving the least word of thanks.