He adds in a lower tone:
“Look under my bed. I put everything I am given there. Really, there’s too much. I’m ashamed. There are some chaps here who never get anything, and they were brave fellows who did their duty just as well as I did.”
It is true, there are many brave soldiers in the ward, but only one Military Medal was given among them, and it came to Auger. Its arrival was the occasion of a regular little fete; his comrades all took part in it cordially, for strange to say, no one is jealous of Auger. A miracle indeed! Did you ever hear of any other prince of whom no one was jealous?
“Are you going?” said Auger. “Please just say a few words to Groult. He is a bit of a grouser, but he likes a talk.”
Auger has given me a lesson. I will go and smoke a cigarette with Groult, and above all, I will go and see Gregoire.
Groult, indeed, is not altogether neglected. He is an original, a perverse fellow. He is pointed out as a curious animal. He gets his share of presents and attention.
But no one knows anything about Gregoire; he lies staring at the wall, and growing thinner every day, and Death seems the only person who is interested in him.
You shall not die, Gregoire! I vow to keep hold of you, to suffer with you, and to endure your ill-temper humbly. You, who seem to be bearing the misery of an entire world, shall not be miserable all alone.
Kind ladies who come to see our wounded and give them picture-books, tri-coloured caps and sweetmeats, do not forget Gregoire, who is wretched. Above all, give him your sweetest smiles.
You go away well pleased with yourselves because you have been generous to Auger. But there is no merit in being kind to Auger. With a single story, a single clasp of his hand, he gives you much more than he received from you. He gives you confidence; he restores your peace of mind.
Go and see Gregoire who has nothing but his suffering to give, and who very nearly gave his life.
If you go away without a smile for Gregoire, you may fear that you have not fulfilled your task. And don’t expect him to return your smile, for where would your liberality be in that case?
It is easy to pity Auger, who needs no pity. It is difficult to pity Gregoire, and yet he is so pitiable.
Do not forget; Auger is touched with grace; but Gregoire will be damned if you do not hold out your hand to him.
God Himself, who has withheld grace from the damned, must feel pity for them.
It is a very artless desire for equality which makes us say that all men are equal in the presence of suffering. No! no! they are not. And as we know nothing of Death but that which precedes and determines it, men are not even equal in the presence of Death.