Monet puts away his pipe, and goes off noiselessly.
As to me, I go and wander about outside. On the poplar-lined road, in company with the furious rain and the darkness, I shall perhaps be able to master the flood of bitterness that sweeps over me.
At the end of an hour, my anxiety brings me back to Rochet’s bedside. The candle is burning away with a steady flame. Monet is reading in a little book with a clasp. The profile of the wounded man has still the pitiful austerity of a tortured saint.
“Is he quieter now?”
Monet lifts his fine dark eyes to my face, and drops his book.
“Yes. He is dead.”
Why has Hell been painted as a place of hopeless torture and eternal lamentation?
I believe that even in the lowest depths of Hell, the damned sing, jest, and play cards. I am led to imagine this after seeing these men rowing in their galleys, chained to them by fever and wounds.
Blaireau, who has only lost a hand, preludes in an undertone:
Si tu veux fair’ mon bonheur....
This timid breath kindles the dormant flame. Houdebine, who has a fractured knee, but who now expects to be fairly comfortable till the morning, at once responds and continues:
The two sing in unison, with delighted smiles:
Si tu veux fair’ mon
Maville joins in at the second verse, and even Legras, whose two legs are broken, and the Chasseur Alpin, who has a hole in his skull.
Panchat, the man who had a bullet through his neck, beats time with his finger, because he is forbidden to speak.
All this goes on in low tones; but faces light up, and flush, as if a bottle of brandy had been passed round.
Then Houdebine turns to Panchat and says: “Will you have a game of dummy manilla, Panchat?”
Dummy manilla is a game for two; and they have to be content with games for two, because no one in this ward can get up, and communication is only easy for those in adjacent beds.
Panchat makes a sign of consent. Why should he not play dummy manilla, which is a silent game. A chair is put between the two beds, and he shuffles the cards.
The cards are so worn at the corners that they have almost become ovals. The court cards smile through a fog of dirt; and to deal, one has to wet one’s thumb copiously, because a thick, tenacious grease makes the cards stick together in an evil-smelling mass.
But a good deal of amusement is still to be got out of these precious bits of old paste-board.
Panchat supports himself on his elbow, Houdebine has to keep on his back, because of his knee. He holds his cards against his chin, and throws them down energetically on the chair with his right hand.