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Chapter 26

THE WOUNDED MAN


The torchbearers had come up and a group, picturesque and terrible, was formed, by the bright light of the burning resin. Karl had not been plundered like the other corpses, the dog had guarded his body and prevented this. Helen was stretched upon him, her lips to his, weeping and groaning. Benedict was on his knees beside her, with the dog's paws on his shoulders. The surgeon stood, his arms folded, like a man accustomed to death and its sadness. Fritz had thrust his head through the leaves of a thorn-tree. Every one was silent and motionless for a moment.

Suddenly Helen cried out, she sprang up, covered with Karl's blood, her face haggard and her hair wild. They all looked at her.

"Ah!" she cried. "I am going mad." Then, falling on her knees, "Karl! Karl! Karl!" she cried.

"What is it?" asked Benedict.

"Oh! have pity on me," said Helen. "But I thought I felt a breath on my face. Did he wait for me, to give his last sigh?"

"Excuse me, madam," said the surgeon, "but if he whom you call Karl is not dead, there is no time to be lost in looking to him."

"Oh! come and look, sir," said Helen, moving quickly to one side.

The surgeon knelt down, the soldiers brought the torches near, and Karl's pale, but still handsome face was seen. A wound in his head had covered his left cheek with blood, and he would have been unrecognizable if the dog had not licked the blood away from his face as it flowed.

The surgeon loosened his collar; then he raised him to undo his tunic. The wound was terrible, for the back of his tunic was red with blood. The surgeon undid his coat, and with the swiftness of habit cut his coat up the back; then he called for water.

"Water," repeated Helen in an automatic voice that sounded like an echo.

The river was only fifty paces away, Fritz ran to it and brought back the wooden shoe, with which he was accustomed to bail out the boat, full of water. Helen gave her handkerchief.

The surgeon dipped into the water and began to wash the wounded man's chest, while Benedict supported his body across his knees. It was only then that they saw a clot of blood on his arm, this was a third wound. That on his head was insignificant. That in his chest seemed the most serious at first, but an artery had been cut in his right arm, and the great loss of blood had led to a fainting fit during which the blood had ceased to flow.

Helen, during this sad examination, had not ceased asking.

"Is he dead? is he dead?"

"We are going to see," said the surgeon. And on examination it proved that his blood still flowed. Karl was not dead.

"He lives!" said the surgeon.

Helen cried out and fell on her knees.

"What must we do to bring him to life?" she asked.

"The artery must be tied," said the surgeon, "will you let me take him to the ambulance?"

"Oh, no, no!" cried Helen. "I cannot be parted from him. Do you think he will bear being taken to Frankfort?"

"By water, yes. And I confess to you that considering the interest you take in this young man, I would rather some one else performed this operation. Now, if you have any way of taking him quickly by water—"

"I have my boat," said Fritz, "and if this gentleman" (he pointed to Benedict) "will give me a helping hand we will be in Frankfort in three hours."

"It remains to be seen," said the surgeon, "considering his great loss of blood, whether he will live three hours."

"My God, my God!" cried Helen.

"I don't dare to ask you to look, madam, but the earth is soaked with his blood!"

Helen gave a cry of dismay, and put her hand before her eyes.

While talking, while reassuring, while frightening Helen with the terrible cold-bloodedness of a man used to death, the surgeon was binding up the wound in Karl's chest.

"You say you fear that he has lost too much blood? How much blood can one lose without dying?" asked Helen.

"It depends, madam."

"What have I to fear or hope for?" asked Helen.

"You have to hope that he will live to reach Frankfort, that he has not lost as much blood as I fear he has, and that a clever surgeon will tie up the artery. You have to fear that he will have a second haemorrhage to-day, or in eight or ten days, when the wound is healed."

"But we can save him, can't we?"

"Nature has so many resources, that we must always hope, madam."

"Well," said Helen, "do not let us lose an instant."

Benedict and the surgeon took the torches, the two soldiers carried the wounded man to the bank. They laid him in the stern of the boat on a mattress and blanket fetched from Aschaffenburg.

"May I try to rouse him?" asked Helen, "or ought I to leave him in his present state?"

"Do not do anything to bring him back to consciousness, madam it is this which stops the haemorrhage, and if the artery is tied before he wakes, all may be well."

They all took their places in the boat, the two Prussians stood holding the torches; Helen was kneeling, the surgeon supported the wounded man; Benedict and Fritz rowed. Frisk, who did not seem to feel pride in having played such a splendid part, was sitting in the prow. This time, well ballasted, pulled by four arms, vigorous and accustomed to the exercise, the boat sped like a swallow over the surface of the water.

Karl remained unconscious. The doctor had thought that the air, cooler on the water than on the land, would rouse him, but it did not. He remained motionless, and gave no sign of life.

They arrived at Dettingen. Benedict gave a handsome reward to the two Prussian soldiers, and asked the surgeon, whom Helen could only thank by pressing his hands, to tell Frederic all the details of the expedition.

Benedict called Lenhart, who was sleeping on the box of his carriage, and told him to go to Frankfort as fast as possible, and tell some porters to wait with a litter on the banks of the Main at Frankfort. As for him, with Helen and Earl, he continued his journey by water, that being the smoothest road that one can find for a sick man.

Towards Hanau the sky began to get light; a great band of rosy silver stretched itself above the Bavarian mountains.

It seemed to Helen that the wounded man shuddered. She gave a cry that made the two rowers turn, then without another movement, Karl opened his eyes, murmured the name of Helen, and closed them again. All this was so rapid, that if Fritz and Benedict had not seen it with her, she would have doubted it. That opened eye, that gently murmured word did not seem a return to life, but the dream of a dying man.

The sun in rising sometimes has this effect on the dying, and before closing for ever their eyes look for the last time upon the sun. This idea came to Helen.

"Oh, Heaven!" she murmured, with sobs. "Is he breathing his last sigh?"

Benedict left the oar for a moment and went to Karl. He took his hand, felt his pulse; and found it imperceptible. He listened to his heart; it seemed to be still.

At each test Helen murmured: "Oh, Heaven!"

At the last test he shared her doubts. He took out a lancet, which he always carried, and pricked the shoulder of the wounded man, who did not feel or move; but a feeble drop of blood appeared.

"Be of good courage, he is still alive," he said, and again took up his oar.

Helen began to pray.

Since the evening, no one had eaten but Fritz. Benedict broke a piece of bread and gave it to Helen. She refused it with a smile.

They reached Offenbach, and could see Frankfort in the distance silhouetted against the sky. They were due there at about eight o'clock. At eight o'clock, in fact, the boat stopped at the landing-place by the bridge. Soon they saw Lenhart and his carriage, and close to him a litter. They raised the wounded man with the same precautions as before, put him in the litter, and drew the curtains round him.

Benedict wished Helen to go in Lenhart's carriage; the bodice of her dress was stained with blood. She wrapped herself in a large shawl and walked beside the litter. To save time she asked Benedict to go and seek for the same doctor who had attended the Baron von Bülow, Doctor Bodemacker. She herself crossed all the town from the Sachsenhausen Strasse to her mother's house, following the litter which bore Karl. People watched her pass with astonishment, and went to question Fritz who walked behind. And when he said it was a fiancée who was following the body of her lover, and as every one knew that Fräulein Helen von Chandroz was engaged to Count Karl von Freyberg, they recognized the beautiful young lady, and stepped back bowing respectfully.

When they reached the house the door was already open. Her grandmother and sister were waiting on each side of the door, and as she passed Helen took a hand of each.

"To my room!" she said.

The wounded man was taken to her room and laid on her bed. At that moment Doctor Bodemacker arrived with Benedict.

The doctor examined Karl, and Benedict looked on with anxiety almost equal to Helen's.

"Who saw this man before me?" asked, the doctor. "Who bound his wounds?"

"A regimental surgeon," answered Helen.

"Why did he not tie the artery?"

"It was at night, by torchlight, in the open air; he did not dare. He told me to get a cleverer man, and I came to you."

The surgeon looked at Karl uneasily. "He has lost a quarter of his blood," he murmured.

"Well?" asked Helen.

The doctor bent his head.

"Doctor," cried Helen, "don't tell me there is no hope: it is always said that people quickly recover lost blood."

"Yes," replied the doctor, "when he can eat. But never mind, a doctor must do all he can. Can you help me?" he asked Benedict.

"Yes," he answered, "I have some idea of surgery."

"You will leave the room, won't you?" the surgeon asked Helen.

"Not for the world!" she cried, "no, no, I will stay to the end."

The operation on the arm was finished with a cleverness which astonished Benedict.

"Now," said the doctor, "ice water must be slowly dropped on that arm!"

Some ice was procured and in five minutes was upon the arm.

"Now," said the doctor, "we shall see."

"What shall we see?" asked Helen anxiously.

"We shall see the effect of the ice water."

All three were standing by the bed, and it would be difficult to say which was the most interested in its success: the doctor, from professional pride; Helen, from her great love of the wounded man; or Benedict, from his friendship with Karl and Helen.

At the first drops of ice water which fell on the arm, Karl shuddered visibly. Then his eyelids trembled, his eyes opened, and he looked round him with surprise until they became fixed on Helen. A faint smile appeared on his lips and the corners of his eyes. He tried to speak and breathed the name of Helen.

"He must not speak," said the doctor, "until to-morrow at least."

"Enough, my beloved," said Helen. "To-morrow you can tell me you love me."

Alexandre Dumas pere