We are ignorant of their past. But have they a future? I consider these innocent victims in the tragic majesty of the hour, and I feel ashamed of living and breathing freely among them.
Poor, poor brothers! What could one do for you which would not be insufficient, unworthy, mediocre? We can at least give up everything and devote ourselves heart and soul to our holy and exacting work.
But no! round the beds on which your solitary drama is enacted, men are still taking part in a sinister comedy. Every kind of folly, the most ignoble and also the most imbecile passions, pursue their enterprises and their satisfactions over your heads.
Neither the four corpses we buried this morning, nor your daily agonies will disarm these appetites, suspend these calculations, and destroy these ambitions the development and fruition of which even your martyrdom, may be made to serve.
I will spend the whole evening among my wounded, and we will talk together, gently, of their misery; it will please them, and they will make me forget the horrible atmosphere of discussion that reigns here.
Alas! during the outburst of the great catastrophe, seeing the volume of blood and fire, listening to the uproar, smelling the stench of the vast gangrene, we thought that all passions would be laid aside, like cumbersome weapons, and that we should give ourselves up with clean hearts and empty hands to battle against the fiery nightmare. He who fights and defends himself needs a pure heart: so does he who wanders among charnel houses, gives drink to parched lips, washes fevered faces and bathes wounds. We thought there would be a great forgetfulness of self and of former hopes, and of the whole world. O Union of pure hearts to meet the ordeal!
But no! The first explosion was tremendous, yet hardly had its echoes died away when the rag-pickers were already at work among the ruins, in quest of cutlet-bones and waste paper.
And yet, think of the sacred anguish of those first hours!
Well, so be it! For my part, I will stay here, between these stretchers with their burdens of anguish.
At this hour one is inclined to distrust everything, man and the universe, and the future of Right. But we cannot have any doubts as to the suffering of man. It is the one certain thing at this moment.
So I will stay and drink in this sinister testimony. And each time that Beal, who has a gaping wound in the stomach, holds out his hands to me with a little smile, I will get up and hold his hands in mine, for he is feverish, and he knows that my hands are always icy.
Bride is dead. We had been working all day, and in the evening we had to find time to go and bury Bride.
It is not a very long ceremony. The burial-ground is near. About a dozen of us follow the lantern, slipping in the mud, and stumbling over the graves. Here we are at the wall, and here is the long ditch, always open, which every day is prolonged a little to the right, and filled in a little to the left. Here is the line of white crosses, and the flickering shadows on the wall caused by the lantern.