Death remains a great thing, but one with which one’s relations have become frequent and intimate. Like the king who shows himself at his toilet, Death is still powerful, but it has become familiar and slightly degraded.
Lerouet died just now. We closed his eyes, tied up his chin, then pulled out the sheet to cover the corpse while it was waiting for the stretcher-bearers.
“Can’t you eat anything?” said Mulet to Maville. Maville, who is very young and shy, hesitates: “I can’t get it down.”
And after a pause, he adds: “I can’t bear to see such things.”
Mulet wipes his plate calmly and says: “Yes, sometimes it used to take away my appetite too, so much so that I used to be sick. But I have got accustomed to it now.”
Pouchet gulps down his coffee with a sort of feverish eagerness.
“One feels glad to get off with the loss of a leg when one sees that.”
“One must live,” adds Mulet.
“Well, for all the pleasure one gets out of life....”
Beliard is the speaker. He had a bullet in the bowel, yet we hope to get him well soon. But his whole attitude betrays indifference. He smokes a great deal, and rarely speaks. He has no reason to despair, and he knows that he can resume his ordinary life. But familiarity with Death, which sometimes makes life seem so precious, occasionally ends by producing a distaste for it, or rather a deep weariness of it.
A whole nation, ten whole nations are learning to live in Death’s company. Humanity has entered the wild beast’s cage, and sits there with the patient courage of the lion-tamer.
Men of my country, I learn to know you better every day, and from having looked you in the face at the height of your sufferings, I have conceived a religious hope for the future of our race. It is mainly owing to my admiration for your resignation, your native goodness, your serene confidence in better times to come that I can still believe in the moral future of the world.
At the very hour when the most natural instinct inclines the world to ferocity, you preserve, on your beds of suffering, a beauty, a purity of outlook which goes far to atone for the monstrous crime. Men of France, your simple grandeur of soul redeems humanity from its greatest crime, and raises it from its deep abyss.
We are told how you bear the misery of the battle-field, how in the discouraging cold and mud, you await the hour of your cruel duty, how you rush forward to meet the mortal blow, through the unimaginable tumult of peril.
But when you come here, there are further sufferings in store for you; and I know with what courage you endure them.
The doors of the Chateau close on a new life for you, a life that is also one of perpetual peril and contest. I help you in this contest, and I see how gallantly you wage it.