Philippe here thinks perhaps as I do; but he and I have these thoughts thrust on us in the same pressing fashion. Men who are sleeping twenty paces from this spot would be wakened by a cry; yet they are undisturbed by this formidable presence, inarticulate as a mollusc in the depths of the sea.
In despair, I stamp on the soft snow with my sabot. The winter grass it covers subsists obstinately, and has no solidarity with anything else on earth. Let the pain of man wear itself out; the grass will not wither. Sleep, good folks of the whole world. Those who suffer here will not disturb your rest.
And suddenly, beyond the woods a rocket rises and bursts against the sky, brilliant as a meteor. It means something most certainly, and it warns some one; but its coarse ingenuity does not deceive me. No barbarous signal such as this could give me back confidence in my soul to-night.
The little room adjoining the closet where I sleep has been set apart for those whose cries or effluvia make them intolerable to the rest. As it is small and encumbered, it will only admit a single stretcher, and men are brought in there to die in turn.
But lately, when the Chateau was reigning gracefully in the midst of verdure, the centre of the great star of alleys piercing its groves of limes and beeches, its owners occasionally entertained a brilliant society; and if they had under their roof some gay and lovely milk-white maiden, they gave her this little room at the summit of the right wing, whence the sun may be seen rising above the forests, to dream, and sleep, and adorn herself in.
To-day, the facade of the Chateau seems to be listening, strained and anxious, to the cannonade; and the little room has become a death-chamber.
Madelan was the first we put there. He was raving in such a brutal and disturbing manner, in spite of the immobility of his long, paralysed limbs, that his companions implored us to remove him. I think Madelan neither understood nor noticed this isolation, for he was already given over to a deeper solitude; but his incessant vociferation, after he was deprived of listeners, took on a strange and terrible character.
For four days and four nights, he never ceased talking vehemently; and listening to him, one began to think that all the life of the big body that was already dead, had fled in frenzy to his throat. For four nights I heard him shouting incoherent, elusive things, which seemed to be replies to some mysterious interlocutor.
At dawn, and from hour to hour throughout the day, I went to see him where he sprawled on a paillasse on the floor, like some red-haired stricken beast, with out-stretched limbs, convulsed by spasms which displaced the dirty blanket that covered him.
He lost flesh with such incredible rapidity that he seemed to be evaporating through the gaping wound in the nape of his neck.