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AT the end of the yard of the Muets farm, among the outbuildings, the barn gapes like a cavern. It is always caverns for us, even in houses! When you have crossed the yard, where the manure yields underfoot with a spongy sound or have gone round it instead on the narrow paved path of difficult equilibrium, and when you have arrived at the entrance to the barn, you can see nothing at all.
Then, if you persist, you make out a misty hollow where equally misty and dark lumps are asquat or prone or wandering from one corner to another. At the back, on the right and on the left, the pale gleams of two candles, each with the round halo of a distant moon allow you at last to make out the human shape of these masses, whose mouths emit either steam or thick smoke.
Our hazy retreat, which I allow carefully to swallow me whole, is a scene of excitement this evening. We leave for the trenches to-morrow morning, and the nebulous tenants of the barn are beginning to pack up.
Although darkness falls on my eyes and chokes them as I come in from the pallid evening, I still dodge the snares spread over the ground by water-bottles, mess-tins and weapons, but I butt full into the loaves that are packed together exactly in the middle, like the paving of a yard. I reach my corner. Something alive is there with a huge back, fleecy and rounded, squatting and stooping over a collection of little things that glitter on the ground, and I tap the shoulder upholstered in sheepskin. The being turns round, and by the dull and fitful gleam of a candle which a bayonet stuck in the ground upholds, I see one half of a face, an eye, the end of a mustache, and the corner of a half-open mouth. It growls in a friendly way, and resumes the inspection of its possessions.
"What are you doing there?"
"I'm fixing things, and clearing up."
The quasi-brigand who appears to be checking his booty, is my comrade Volpatte. He has folded his tent-cloth in four and placed it on his bed--that is, on the truss of straw assigned to him--and on this carpet he has emptied and displayed the contents of his pockets.
And it is quite a shop that he broods over with a housewife's solicitous eyes, watchful and jealous, lest some one walks over him. With my eye I tick off his copious exhibition.
Alongside his handkerchief, pipe, tobacco-pouch (which also contains a note-book), knife, purse, and pocket pipe-lighter, which comprise the necessary and indispensable groundwork, here are two leather laces twisted like earthworms round a watch enclosed in a case of transparent celluloid, which has curiously dulled and blanched with age. Then a little round mirror, and another square one; this last, though broken, is of better quality, and bevel-edged. A flask of essence of turpentine, a flask of mineral oil nearly empty, and a third flask, empty. A German belt-plate, bearing the device, "Gott mit uns"; a dragoon's tassel of similar origin; half wrapped in paper, an aviator's arrow in the form of a steel pencil and pointed like a needle; folding scissors and a combined knife and fork of similar pliancy; a stump of pencil and one of candle; a tube of aspirin, also containing opium tablets, and several tin boxes.
Observing that my inspection of his personal possessions is detailed, Volpatte helps me to identify certain items--
"That, that's a leather officer's glove. I cut the fingers off to stop up the mouth of my blunderbuss with; that, that's telephone wire, the only thing to fasten buttons on your greatcoat with if you want 'em to stay there; and here, inside here, d'you know what that is? White thread, good stuff, not what you're put off with when they give you new things, a sort of macaroni au fromage that you pull out with a fork; and there's a set of needles on a post-card. The safety-pins, they're there, separate."
"And here, that's the paper department. Quite a library."
There is indeed a surprising collection of papers among the things disgorged by Volpatte's pockets--the violet packet of writing-paper, whose unworthy printed envelope is out at heels; an Army squad-book, of which the dirty and desiccated binding, like the skin of an old tramp, has perished and shrunk all over: a note-book with a chafed moleskin cover, and packed with papers and photographs, those of his wife and children enthroned in the middle.
Out of this bundle of yellowed and darkened papers Volpatte extracts this photograph and shows it to me once more. I renew acquaintance with Madame Volpatte and her generous bosom, her mild and mellow features; and with the two little boys in white collars, the elder slender, the younger round as a ball.
"I've only got photos of old people," says Biquet, who is twenty years old. He shows us a portrait holding it close to the candle, of two aged people who look at us with the same well-behaved air as Volpatte's children.
"I've got mine with me, too," says another; "I always stick to the photo of the nestlings."
"Course! Every man carries his crowd along," adds another.
"It's funny," Barque declares, "a portrait wears itself out just with being looked at. You haven't got to gape at it too often, or be too long about it; in the long run, I don't know what happens, but the likeness mizzles."
"You're right," says Blaire, "I've found it like that too, exactly.''
"I've got a map of the district as well, among my papers," Volpatte continues. He unfolds it to the light. Illegible and transparent at the creases, it looks like one of those window-blinds made of squares sewn together.
"I've some newspaper too'--he unfolds a newspaper article upon poilus--"and a book"--a twopence-half-penny novel, called Twice a Maid--"Tiens, another newspaper cutting from the Etampes Bee. Don't know why I've kept that, but there must be a reason somewhere. I'll think about it when I have time. And then, my pack of cards, and a set of draughts, with a paper board and the pieces made of sealing-wax."
Barque comes up, regards the scene, and says, "I've a lot more things than that in my pockets." He addresses himself to Volpatte. "Have you got a Boche pay-book, louse-head, some phials of iodine, and a Browning? I've all that, and two knives."
"I've no revolver," says Volpatte, "nor a Boche pay-book, but I could have had two knives or even ten knives; but I only need one."
"That depends," says Barque. "And have you any mechanical buttons, fathead?"
"I haven't any," cries Bécuwe.
"The private can't do without 'em," Lamuse asserts. "Without them, to make your braces stick to your breeches, the game's up."
"And I've always got in my pocket," says Blaire, "so's they're within reach, my case of rings." He brings it cut, wrapped up in a gas-mask bag, and shakes it. The files ring inside, and we hear the jingle of aluminium rings in the rough.
"I've always got string," says Biquet, "that's the useful stuff!"
"Not so useful as nails," says Pépin, and he shows three in his hand, big, little, and average.
One by one the others come to join in the conversation. to chaffer and cadge. We are getting used to the half-darkness. But Corporal Salavert, who has a well-earned reputation for dexterity, makes a banging lamp with a candle and a tray, the latter contrived from a Camembert box and some wire. We light up, and around its illumination each man tells what he has in his pockets, with parental preferences and bias.
"To begin with, how many have we?"
"How many pockets? Eighteen," says some one--Cocon, of course, the man of figures.
"Eighteen pockets! You're codding, rat-nose," says big Lamuse.
"Exactly eighteen," replies Cocon. "Count them, if you're as clever as all that."
Lamuse is willing to be guided by reason in the matter, and putting his two hands near the light so as to count accurately, he tells off his great brick-red fingers: Two pockets in the back of the greatcoat; one for the first-aid packet, which is used for tobacco; two inside the greatcoat in front; two outside it on each side, with flaps; three in the trousers, and even three and a half, counting the little one in front.
"I'll bet a compass on it," says Farfadet.
'And I, my bits of tinder."
"I," says Tirloir, "I'll bet a teeny whistle that my wife sent me when she said, 'If you're wounded in the battle you must whistle, so that your comrades will come and save your life.' "
We laugh at the artless words. Tulacque intervenes, and says indulgently to Tiloir, "They don't know what war is back there; and if you started talking about the rear, it'd be you that'd talk rot."
"We won't count that pocket," says Salavert, "it's too small. That makes ten."
"In the jacket, four. That only makes fourteen after all."
"There are the two cartridge pockets, the two new ones that fasten with straps."
"Sixteen," says Salavert.
"Now, blockhead and son of misery, turn my jacket back. You haven't counted those two pockets. Now then, what more do you want? And yet they're just in the usual place. They're your civilian pockets, where you shoved your nose-rag, your tobacco, and the address where you'd got to deliver your parcel when you were a messenger."
"Eighteen!" says Salavert, as grave as a judge. "There are eighteen, and no mistake; that's done it."
At this point in the conversation, some one makes a series of noisy stumbles on the stones of the threshold with the sound of a horse pawing the ground--and blaspheming. Then, after a silence, the barking of a sonorous and authoritative voice--"Hey, inside there! Getting ready? Everything must be fixed up this evening and packed tight and solid, you know. Going into the first line this time, and we may have a hot time of it."
"Right you are, right you are, mon adjutant." heedless voices answer.
"How do you write 'Arnesse'?" asks Benech, who is on all fours, at work with a pencil and an envelope. While Cocon spells "Ernest" for him and the voice of the vanished adjutant is heard afar repeating his harangue, Blaire picks up the thread, and says--
"You should always, my children--listen to what I'm telling you--put your drinking-cup in your pocket. I've tried to stick it everywhere else, but only the pocket's really practical, you take my word. If you're in marching order, or if you've doffed your kit to navigate the trenches either, you've always got it under your fist when chances come, like when a pal who's got some gargle, and feels good towards you says, 'Lend us your cup,' or a peddling wine-seller, either. My young bucks, listen to what I tell you; you'll always find it good--put your cup in your pocket."
"No fear," says Lamuse, "you won't see me put my cup in my pocket; damned silly idea, no more or less. I'd a sight sooner sling it on a strap with a hook."
"Fasten it on a greatcoat button, like the gas-helmet bag, that's a lot better; for suppose you take off your accouterments and there's any wine passing, you look soft."
"I've got a Boche drinking-cup," says Barque; "it's flat, so it goes into a side pocket if you like, or it goes very well into a cartridge-pouch, once you've fired the damn things off or pitched them into a bag."
"A Boche cup's nothing special," says Pépin; "it won't stand up, it's just lumber."
"You wait and see, maggot-snout," says Tirette, who is something of a psychologist. "If we attack this time, same as the adjutant seemed to hint, perhaps you'll find a Boche cup, and then it'll be something special!"
"The adjutant may have said that," Eudore observes. "but he doesn't know."
"It holds more than a half-pint, the Boche cup," remarks Cocon, "seeing that the exact capacity of the half-pint is marked in the cup three-quarters way up; and it's always good for you to have a big one, for if you've got a cup that only just holds a half-pint, then so that you can get your half-pint of coffee or wine or holy water or what not, it's get to he filled right up, and they don't ever do it at serving-out, and if they do, you spill it."
"I believe you that they don't fill it," says Paradis, exasperated by the recollection of that ceremony. "The quartermaster-sergeant, he pours it with his blasted finger in your cup and gives it two raps on its bottom. Result, you get a third, and your cup's in mourning with three black bands on top of each other."
"Yes," says Barque, "that's true; but you shouldn't have a cup too big either, because the chap that's pouring it out for you, he suspects you, and let's it go in damned drops, and so as not to give you more than your measure he gives you less, and you can whistle for it. with your tureen in your fists."
Volpatte puts back in his pockets, one by one, the items of his display. When he came to the purse, he looked at it with an air of deep compassion.
"He's damnably flat, poor chap!" He counted the contents. "Three francs! My boy, I most set about feathering this nest again or I shall be stony when we get back."
"You're not the only one that's broken-backed in the treasury."
"The soldier spends more than he earns, and don't you forget it. I wonder what'd become of a man that only had his pay?"
Paradis replies with concise simplicity, "He'd kick the bucket."
"And see here, look what I've got in my pocket and never let go of"--Pépin, with merry eyes, shows us some silver table-things. "They belonged," he says, "to the ugly trollop where we were quartered at Grand-Rozoy."
"Perhaps they still belong to her?"
Pépin made an uncertain gesture, in which pride mingled with modesty; then, growing bolder, he smiled and said, "I knew her, the old sneak. Certainly, she'll spend the rest of her life looking in every corner for her silver things."
"For my part," says Volpatte, "I've never been able to rake in more than a pair of scissors. Some people have the luck. I haven't. So naturally I watch 'em close, though I admit I've no use for 'em."
"I've pinched a few bits of things here and there, but what of it? The sappers have always left me behind in the matter of pinching; so what about it?"
"You can do what you like, you're always got at by some one in your turn, eh, my boy? Don't fret about it."
"I keep my wife's letters," says Blaire.
"And I send mine back to her."
"And I keep them, too. Here they are." Eudore exposes a packet of worn and shiny paper, whose grimy condition the twilight modestly veils. "I keep them. Sometimes I read them again. When I'm cold and humpy, I read 'em again. It doesn't actually warm you up, but it seems to."
There must be a deep significance in the curious expression, for several men raise their heads and say, "Yes, that's so."
By fits and starts the conversation goes on in the bosom of this fantastic barn and the great moving shadows that cross it; night is heaped up in its corners, and pointed by a few scattered and sickly candles.
I watch these busy and burdened flitters come and go, outline themselves strangely, then stoop and slide down to the ground; they talk to themselves and to each other. their feet are encumbered by the litter. They are showing their riches to each other. "Tiens, look!"--"Great!" they reply enviously.
What they have not got they want. There are treasures among the squad long coveted by all; the two-liter water-bottle, for instance, preserved by Barque, that a skillful rifle-shot with a blank cartridge has stretched to the capacity of two and a half liters; and Bertrand's famous great knife with the horn handle.
Among the heaving swarm there are sidelong glances that skim these curiosities, and then each man resumes "eyes right," devotes himself to his belongings, and concentrates upon getting it in order.
They are mournful belongings, indeed. Everything made for the soldier is commonplace, ugly, and of bad quality; from his cardboard boots, attached to the uppers by a criss-cross of worthless thread, to his badly cut, badly shaped, and badly sewn clothes, made of shoddy and transparent cloth--blotting-paper--that one day of sunshine fades and an hour of rain wets through, to his emaciated leathers, brittle as shavings and torn by the buckle spikes, to his flannel underwear that is thinner than cotton, to his straw-like tobacco.
Marthereau is beside me, and he points to our comrades: "Look at them, these poor chaps gaping into their bags o' tricks. You'd say it was a mothers' meeting, ogling their kids. Hark to 'em. They're calling for their knick-knacks. Tiens, that one, the times he says 'My knife!' same as if be was calling 'Lon,' or 'Charles,' or 'Dolphus.' And you know it's impossible for them to make their load any less. Can't be did. It isn't that they don't want--our job isn't one that makes us any stronger, eh? But they can't. Too proud of 'em."
The burdens to be borne are formidable, and one knows well enough, parbleu, that every item makes them more severe, each little addition is one bruise more.
For it is not merely a matter of what one buries in his pockets and pouches. To complete the burden there is what one carries on his back. The knapsack is the trunk and even the cupboard; and the old soldier is familiar with the art of enlarging it almost miraculously by the judicious disposal of his household goods and provisions. Besides the regulation and obligatory contents--two tins of pressed beef, a dozen biscuits, two tablets of coffee and two packets of dried soup, the bag of sugar, fatigue smock, and spare boots--we find a way of getting in some pots of jam, tobacco, chocolate, candles, soft-soled shoes; and even soap, a spirit lamp, some solidified spirit, and some woolen things. With the blanket, sheet, tentcloth, trenching-tool, water-bottle, and an item of the field-cooking kit, [note 1] the burden gets heavier and taller and wider, monumental and crushing. And my neighbor says truly that every time he reaches his goal after some miles of highway and communication trenches, the poilu swears hard that the next time he'll leave a heap of things behind and give his shoulders a little relief from the yoke of the knapsack. But every time he is preparing for departure, he assumes again the same overbearing and almost superhuman load; he never lets it go, though he curses it always.
"There are some bad boys," says Lamuse, "among the shirkers, that find a way of keeping something in the company wagon or the medical van. I know one that's got two shirts and a pair of drawers in an adjutant's canteen [note 2] --but, you see, there's two hundred and fifty chaps in the company, and they're all up to the dodge and not many of 'em can profit by it; it's chiefly the non-coms.; the more stripes they've got, the easier it is to plant their luggage, not forgetting that the commandant visits the wagons sometimes without warning and fires your things into the middle of the road if he finds 'em in a horse-box where they've no business--Be off with you!--not to mention the bully-ragging and the clink."
"In the early days it was all right, my boy. There were some chaps--I've seen 'em--who stuck their bags and even their knapsacks in baby-carts and pushed 'em along the road."
"Ah, not half! Those were the good times of the war. But all that's changed."
Volpatte, deaf to all the talk, muffled in his blanket as if in a shawl which makes him look like an old witch, revolves round an object that lies on the ground. "I'm wondering," lie says, addressing no one, "whether to take away this damned tin stove. It's the only one in the squad and I've always carried it. Oui, but it leaks like a cullender." He cannot decide, and makes a really pathetic picture of separation.
Barque watches him obliquely, and makes fun of him. We hear him say, "Senile dodderer!" But he pauses in his chaffing to say, "After all, if we were in his shoes we should be equally fatheaded."
Volpatte postpones his decision till later. "I'll see about it in the morning, when I'm loading the camel's back."
After the inspection and recharging of pockets, it is the turn of the bags, and then of the cartridge-pouches, and Barque holds forth on the way to make the regulation two hundred cartridges go into the three pouches. In the lump it is impossible. They must be unpacked and placed side by side upright, head against foot. Thus can one cram each pouch without leaving any space, and make himself a waistband that weighs over twelve pounds.
Rifles have been cleaned already. One looks to the swathing of the breech and the plugging of the muzzle, precautions which trench-dirt renders indispensable.
How every rifle can easily be recognized is discussed. "I've made some nicks in the sling. See, I've cut into the edge."
"I've twisted a bootlace round the top of the sling, and that way, I can tell it by touch as well as seeing."
"I use a mechanical button. No mistake about that. In the dark I can find it at once and say, 'That's my pea-shooter. Because, you know, there are some boys that don't bother themselves; they just roll around while the pals are cleaning theirs, and then they're devilish quick at putting a quiet fist on a popgun that's been cleaned; and then after they've even the cheek to go and say, 'Mon capitaine, I've got a rifle that's a bit of all right.' I'm not on in that act. It's the D system, my old wonder--a damned dirty dodge, and there are times when I'm fed up with it, and more."
And thus, though their rifles are all alike, they are as different as their handwriting.
* * * * * *
"It's curious and funny," says Marthereau to me "we're going up to the trenches to-morrow, and there's nobody drunk yet, nor that way inclined. Ah, I don't say," he concedes at once, "but what those two there aren't a bit fresh, nor a little elevated; without being absolutely blind, they're somewhat boozed, pr'aps--"
"lt's Poitron and Poilpot, of Broyer's squad."
They are lying down and talking in a low voice. We can make out the round nose of one, which stands out equally with his mouth, close by a candle, and with his hand, whose lifted finger makes little explanatory signs, faithfully followed by the shadow it casts.
"I know how to light a fire, but I don't know how to light it again when it's gone out," declares Poitron.
"Ass!" says Poilpot, "if you know how to light it you know how to relight it, seeing that if you light it, it's because it's gone out, and you might say that you're relighting it when you're lighting it."
"That's all rot. I'm not mathematical, and to hell with the gibberish you talk. I tell you and I tell you again that when it comes to lighting a fire, I'm there, but to light it again when it's gone out, I'm no good. I can't speak any straighter than that."
I do not catch the insistent retort of Poilpot, but-- "But, you damned numskull," gurgles Poitron, "haven't I told you thirty times that I can't? You must have a pig's head, anyway!"
Marthereau confides to me, "I've heard about enough of that." Obviously he spoke too soon just now.
A sort of fever, provoked by farewell libations, prevails in the wretched straw-spread hole where our tribe--some upright and hesitant, others kneeling and hammering like colliers--is mending, stacking, and subduing its provisions, clothes, and tools. There is a wordy growling, a riot of gesture. From the smoky glimmers, rubicund faces start forth in relief, and dark hands move about in the shadows like marionettes. In the barn next to ours, and separated from it only by a wall of a man's height, arise tipsy shouts. Two men in there have fallen upon each other with fierce violence and anger. The air is vibrant with the coarsest expressions the human ear ever hears. But one of the disputants, a stranger from another squad, is ejected by the tenants, and the flow of curses from the other grows feebler and expires.
"Same as us," says Marthereau with a certain pride, "they hold themselves in!"
It is true. Thanks to Bertrand, who is possessed by a hatred of drunkenness, of the fatal poison that gambles with multitudes, our squad is one of the least befouled by wine and brandy.
They are shouting and singing and talking all around. And they laugh endlessly, for in the human mechanism laughter is the sound of wheels that work, of deeds that are done.
One tries to fathom certain faces that show up in provocative relief among this menagerie of shadows, this aviary of reflections. But one cannot. They are visible, but you can see nothing in the depth of them.
* * * * * *
"Ten o'clock already, friends," says Bertrand. "We'll finish the camel's humps off to-morrow. Time for by-by." Each one then slowly retires to rest, but the jabbering hardly pauses. Man takes all things easily when he is under no obligation to hurry. The men go to and fro, each with some object in his hand, and along the wall I watch Eudore's huge shadow gliding, as he passes in front of a candle with two little bags of camphor hanging from the end of his fingers.
Lamuse is throwing himself about in search of a good position; he seems ill at ease. To-day, obviously. and whatever his capacity may be, he has eaten too much.
"Some of us want to sleep! Shut them up, you lot of louts!" cries Mesnil Joseph from his litter.
This entreaty has a subduing effect for a moment, but does not stop the burble of voices nor the passing to and fro.
"We're going up to-morrow, it's true," says Paradis, "and in the evening we shall go into the first line. But nobody's thinking about it. We know it, and that's all."
Gradually each has regained his place. I have stretched myself on the straw, and Marthereau wraps himself up by my side.
Enter an enormous bulk, taking great pains not to make a noise. It is the field-hospital sergeant, a Marist Brother, a huge bearded simpleton in spectacles. When he has taken off his greatcoat and appears in his jacket, you are conscious that he feels awkward about showing his legs. We see that it hurries discreetly, this silhouette of a bearded hippopotamus. He blows, sighs, and mutters.
Marthereau indicates him with a nod of his bead, and says to me, "Look at him. Those chaps have always got to be talking fudge. When we ask him what he does in civil life, he won't say 'I'm a school teacher' he says, leering at you from under his specs with the half of his eyes, 'I'm a professor.' When he gets up very early to go to mass, he says, 'I've got belly-ache, I must go and take a turn round the corner and no mistake.' "
A little farther off, Papa Ramure is talking of his homeland: "Where I live, it's just a bit of a hamlet, no great shakes. There's my old man there, seasoning pipes all day long; whether he's working or resting, he blows his smoke up to the sky or into the smoke of the stove."
I listen to this rural idyll, and it takes suddenly a specialized and technical character: "That's why he makes a paillon. D'you know what a paillon is? You take a stalk of green corn and peel it. You split it in two and then in two again, and you have different sizes. Then with a thread and the four slips of straw, he goes round the stem of his pipe----"
The lesson ceases abruptly, there being no apparent audience.
There are only two candles alight. A wide wing of darkness overspreads the prostrate collection of men.
Private conversation still flickers along the primitive dormitory, and some fragments of it reach my ears. Just now, Papa Ramure is abusing the commandant.
"The commandant, old man, with his four bits of gold string, I've noticed he don't know how to smoke. He sucks all out at his pipes, and he burns 'em. It isn't a mouth he's got in his head, it's a snout. The wood splits and scorches, and instead of being wood, it's coal. Clay pipes, they'll stick it better, but he roasts 'em brown all the same. Talk about a snout! So, old man, mind what I'm telling you, he'll come to what doesn't ever happen often; through being forced to get white-hot and baked to the marrow, his pipe'll explode in his nose before everybody. You'll see."
Little by little, peace, silence, and darkness take possession of the barn and enshroud the hopes and the sighs of its occupants. The lines of identical bundles formed by these beings rolled up side by side in their blankets seem a sort of huge organ, which sends forth diversified snoring.
With his nose already in his blanket, I hear Marthereau talking to me about himself: "I'm a buyer of rags, you know," he says, "or to put it better, a rag merchant. But me, I'm wholesale; I buy from the little rag-and-bone men of the streets, and I have a shop--a warehouse mind you!--which I use as a depot. I deal in all kinds of rags, from linen to jam-pots, but principally brush-handles, sacks, and old shoes; and naturally, I make a specialty of rabbit-skins."
And a little later I still hear him: "As for me, little and queer-shaped as I am, all the same I can carry a bin of two hundred pounds' weight to the warehouse. up the steps, and my feet in sabots. Once I had a to-do with a person----"
"What I can't abide," cries Fouillade, all of a sudden. is the exercises and marches they give us when we're resting. My back's mincemeat, and I can't get a snooze even, I'm that cramped."
There is a metallic noise in Volpatte's direction. He has decided to take the stove, though he chides it constantly for the fatal fault of its perforations.
One who is but half asleep groans, "Oh, la, la! When will this war finish!"
A cry of stubborn and mysterious rebellion bursts forth--"They'd take the very skin off us!"
There follows a single, "Don't fret yourself!" as darkly inconsequent as the cry of revolt.
I wake up a long time afterwards, as two o'clock is striking; and in a pallor of light which doubtless comes from the moon, I see the agitated silhouette of Pinégal. A cock has crowed afar. Pinégal raises himself halfway to a sitting position, and I hear his husky voice: "Well now, it's the middle of the night, and there's a cock loosing his jaw. He's blind drunk, that cock." He laughs, and repeats, "He's blind, that cock," and he twists himself again into the woolens, and resumes his slumber with a gurgle in which snores are mingled with merriment.
Cocon has been wakened by Pinégal. The man of figures therefore thinks aloud, and says: "The squad had seventeen men when it set off for the war. It has seventeen also at present, with the stop-gaps. Each man has already worn out four greatcoats, one of the original blue, and three cigar-smoke blue, two pairs of trousers and six pairs of boots. One must count two rifles to each man, but one can't count the overalls. Our emergency rations have been renewed twenty-three times. Among us seventeen, we've been mentioned fourteen times in Army Orders, of which two were to the Brigade, four to the Division, and one to the Army. Once we stayed sixteen days in the trenches without relief. We've been quartered and lodged in forty-seven different villages up to now. Since the beginning of the campaign, twelve thousand men have passed through the regiment, which consists of two thousand."
A strange lisping noise interrupts him. It comes from Blaire, whose new ivories prevent him from talking as they also prevent him from eating. But he puts them in every evening, and retains them all night with fierce determination, for he was promised that in the end he would grow accustomed to the object they have put into his head.
I raise myself on my elbow, as on a battlefield, and look once more on the beings whom the scenes and happenings of the times have rolled up all together. I look at them all, plunged in the abyss of passive oblivion, some of them seeming still to be absorbed in their pitiful anxieties, their childish instincts, and their slave-like ignorance.
The intoxication of sleep masters me. But I recall what they have done and what they will do; and with that consummate picture of a sorry human night before me, a shroud that fills our cavern with darkness, I dream of some great unknown light.
[note 1] There is a complete set for each squad--stoves, canvas buckets, coffee-mill, pan, etc--and each man carries some item on march.--Tr.
[note 2] Cantine vivres, chest containing two days' rations and cooking utensils for four or five officers.--Tr.