|◄ Ernest Hemingway|| A Farewell to Arms
written by Ernest Hemingway
|Book II ►|
|Jonathan Cape (pages 11-87)|
In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.
The plain was rich with crops; there were many orchards of fruit trees and beyond the plain the mountains were brown and bare. There was fighting in the mountains and at night we could see the flashes from the artillery. In the dark it was like summer lightning, but the nights were cool and there was not the feeling of a storm coming.
Sometimes in the dark we heard the troops marching under the window and guns going past pulled by motor-tractors. There was much traffic at night and many mules on the roads with boxes of ammunition on each side of their pack-saddles and gray motor trucks that carried men, and other trucks with loads covered with canvas that moved slower in the traffic. There were big guns too that passed in the day drawn by tractors, the long barrels of the guns covered with green branches and green leafy branches and vines laid over the tractors. To the north we could look across a valley and see a forest of chestnut trees and behind it another mountain on this side of the river. There was fighting for that mountain too, but it was not successful, and in the fall when the rains came the leaves all fell from the chestnut trees and the branches were bare and the trunks black with rain. The vineyards were thin and bare-branched too and all the country wet and brown and dead with the autumn. There were mists over the river and clouds on the mountain and the trucks splashed mud on the road and the troops were muddy and wet in their capes; their rifles were wet and under their capes the two leather cartridge-boxes on the front of the belts, gray leather boxes heavy with the packs of clips of thin, long 6.5 mm. cartridges, bulged forward under the capes so that the men, passing on the road, marched as though they were six months gone with child.
There were small gray motor cars that passed going very fast; usually there was an officer on the seat with the driver and more officers in the back seat. They splashed more mud than the camions even and if one of the officers in the back was very small and sitting between two generals, he himself so small that you could not see his face but only the top of his cap and his narrow back, and if the car went especially fast it was probably the King. He lived in Udine and came out in this way nearly every day to see how things were going, and things went very badly.
At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army.
The next year there were many victories. The mountain that was beyond the valley and the hillside where the chestnut forest grew was captured and there were victories beyond the plain on the plateau to the south and we crossed the river in August and lived in a house in Gorizia that had a fountain and many thick shady trees in a walled garden and a wistaria vine purple on the side of the house. Now the fighting was in the next mountains beyond and was not a mile away. The town was very nice and our house was very fine. The river ran behind us and the town had been captured very handsomely but the mountains beyond it could not be taken and I was very glad the Austrians seemed to want to come back to the town some time, if the war should end, because they did not bombard it to destroy it but only a little in a military way. People lived on in it and there were hospitals and cafés and artillery up side streets and two bawdy houses, one for troops and one for officers, and with the end of the summer, the cool nights, the fighting in the mountains beyond the town, the shell-marked iron of the railway bridge, the smashed tunnel by the river where the fighting had been, the trees around the square and the long avenue of trees that led to the square; these with there being girls in the town, the King passing in his motor car, sometimes now seeing his face and little long necked body and gray beard like a goat’s chin tuft; all these with the sudden interiors of houses that had lost a wall through shelling, with plaster and rubble in their gardens and sometimes in the street, and the whole thing going well on the Carso made the fall very different from the last fall when we had been in the country. The war was changed too.
The forest of oak trees on the mountain beyond the town was gone. The forest had been green in the summer when we had come into the town but now there were the stumps and the broken trunks and the ground torn up, and one day at the end of the fall when I was out where the oak forest had been I saw a cloud coming over the mountain. It came very fast and the sun went a dull yellow and then everything was gray and the sky was covered and the cloud came on down the mountain and suddenly we were in it and it was snow. The snow slanted across the wind, the bare ground was covered, the stumps of trees projected, there was snow on the guns and there were paths in the snow going back to the latrines behind trenches.
Later, below in the town, I watched the snow falling, looking out of the window of the bawdy house, the house for officers, where I sat with a friend and two glasses drinking a bottle of Asti, and, looking out at the snow falling slowly and heavily, we knew it was all over for that year. Up the river the mountains had not been taken; none of the mountains beyond the river had been taken. That was all left for next year. My friend saw the priest from our mess going by in the street, walking carefully in the slush, and pounded on the window to attract his attention. The priest looked up. He saw us and smiled. My friend motioned for him to come in. The priest shook his head and went on. That night in the mess after the spaghetti course, which every one ate very quickly and seriously, lifting the spaghetti on the fork until the loose strands hung clear then lowering it into the mouth, or else using a continuous lift and sucking into the mouth, helping ourselves to wine from the grass-covered gallon flask; it swung in a metal cradle and you pulled the neck of the flask down with the forefinger and the wine, clear red, tannic and lovely, poured out into the glass held with the same hand; after this course, the captain commenced picking on the priest.
The priest was young and blushed easily and wore a uniform like the rest of us but with a cross in dark red velvet above the left breast pocket of his gray tunic. The captain spoke pidgin Italian for my doubtful benefit, in order that I might understand perfectly, that nothing should be lost.
“Priest to-day with girls,” the captain said looking at the priest and at me. The priest smiled and blushed and shook his head. This captain baited him often.
“Not true?” asked the captain. “To-day I see priest with girls.”
“No,” said the priest. The other officers were amused at the baiting.
“Priest not with girls,” went on the captain. “Priest never with girls,” he explained to me. He took my glass and filled it, looking at my eyes all the time, but not losing sight of the priest.
“Priest every night five against one.” Every one at the table laughed. “You understand? Priest every night five against one.” He made a gesture and laughed loudly. The priest accepted it as a joke.
“The Pope wants the Austrians to win the war,” the major said. “He loves Franz Joseph. That’s where the money comes from. I am an atheist.”
“Did you ever read the Black Pig?” asked the lieutenant. “I will get you a copy. It was that which shook my faith.”
“It is a filthy and vile book,” said the priest. “You do not really like it.”
“It is very valuable,” said the lieutenant. “It tells you about those priests. You will like it,” he said to me. I smiled at the priest and he smiled back across the candle-light. “Don’t you read it,” he said.
“I will get it for you,” said the lieutenant.
“All thinking men are atheists,” the major said. “I do not believe in the Free Masons however.”
“I believe in the Free Masons,” the lieutenant said. “It is a noble organization.” Some one came in and as the door opened I could see the snow falling.
“There will be no more offensive now that the snow has come,” I said.
“Certainly not,” said the major. “You should go on leave. You should go to Rome, Naples, Sicily—”
“He should visit Amalfi,” said the lieutenant. “I will write you cards to my family in Amalfi. They will love you like a son.”
“He should go to Palermo.”
“He ought to go to Capri.”
“I would like you to see Abruzzi and visit my family at Capracotta,” said the priest.
“Listen to him talk about the Abruzzi. There’s more snow there than here. He doesn’t want to see peasants. Let him go to centres of culture and civilization.”
“He should have fine girls. I will give you the addresses of places in Naples. Beautiful young girls—accompanied by their mothers. Ha! Ha! Ha!” The captain spread his hand open, the thumb up and fingers outspread as when you make shadow pictures. There was a shadow from his hand on the wall. He spoke again in pidgin Italian. “You go away like this,” he pointed to the thumb, “and come back like this,” he touched the little finger. Every one laughed.
“Look,” said the captain. He spread the hand again. Again the candle-light made its shadows on the wall. He started with the upright thumb and named in their order the thumb and four fingers, “soto-tenente (the thumb), tenente (first finger), capitano (next finger), maggiore (next to the little finger), and tenentecolonello (the little finger). You go away soto-tenente! You come back soto-colonello!” They all laughed. The captain was having a great success with finger games. He looked at the priest and shouted, “Every night priest five against one!” They all laughed again.
“You must go on leave at once,” the major said.
“I would like to go with you and show you things,” the lieutenant said.
“When you come back bring a phonograph.”
“Bring good opera disks.”
“Don’t bring Caruso. He bellows.”
“Don’t you wish you could bellow like him?”
“He bellows. I say he bellows!”
“I would like you to go to Abruzzi,” the priest said. The others were shouting. “There is good hunting. You would like the people and though it is cold it is clear and dry. You could stay with my family. My father is a famous hunter.”
“Come on,” said the captain. “We go whorehouse before it shuts.”
“Good-night,” I said to the priest.
“Good-night,” he said.
When I came back to the front we still lived in that town. There were many more guns in the country around and the spring had come. The fields were green and there were small green shoots on the vines, the trees along the road had small leaves and a breeze came from the sea. I saw the town with the hill and the old castle above it in a cup in the hills with the mountains beyond, brown mountains with a little green on their slopes. In the town there were more guns, there were some new hospitals, you met British men and sometimes women, on the street, and a few more houses had been hit by shell fire. Jt was warm and like the spring and I walked down the alleyway of trees, warmed from the sun on the wall, and found we still lived in the same house and that it all looked the same as when I had left it. The door was open, there was a soldier sitting on a bench outside in the sun, an ambulance was waiting by the side door and inside the door, as I went in, there was the smell of marble floors and hospital. It was all as I had left it except that now it was spring. I looked in the door of the big room and saw the major sitting at his desk, the window open and the sunlight coming into the room. He did not see me and I did not know whether to go in and report or go upstairs first and clean up. I decided to go on upstairs.
The room I shared with the lieutenant Rinaldi looked out on the courtyard. The window was open, my bed was made up with blankets and my things hung on the wall, the gas mask in an oblong tin can, the steel helmet on the same peg. At the foot of the bed was my flat trunk, and my winter boots, the leather shiny with oil, were on the trunk. My Austrian sniper’s rifle with its blued octagon barrel and the lovely dark walnut, cheek-fitted, schutzen stock, hung over the two beds. The telescope that fitted it was, I remembered, locked in the trunk. The lieutenant, Rinaldi, lay asleep on the other bed. He woke when he heard me in the room and sat up.
“Ciaou!” he said. “What kind of time did you have?”
We shook hands and he put his arm around my neck and kissed me.
“Oughf,” I said.
“You’re dirty,” he said. “You ought to wash. Where did you go and what did you do? Tell me everything at once.”
“I went everywhere. Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples, Villa San Giovanni, Messina, Taormina—”
“You talk like a time-table. Did you have any beautiful adventures?”
“Milano, Firenze, Roma, Napoli—”
“That’s enough. Tell me really what was the best.”
“That was because it was first. Where did you meet her? In the Cova? Where did you go? How did you feel? Tell me everything at once. Did you stay all night?”
“That’s nothing. Here now we have beautiful girls. New girls never been to the front before.”
“You don’t believe me? We will go now this afternoon and see. And in the town we have beautiful English girls. I am now in love with Miss Barkley. I will take you to call. I will probably marry Miss Barkley.”
“I have to get washed and report. Doesn’t anybody work now?”
“Since you are gone we have nothing but frostbites, chilblains, jaundice, gonorrhea, self-inflicted wounds, pneumonia and hard and soft chancres. Every week some one gets wounded by rock fragments. There are a few real wounded. Next week the war starts again. Perhaps it start again. They say so. Do you think I would do right to marry Miss Barkley—after the war of course?”
“Absolutely,” I said and poured the basin full of water.
“To-night you will tell me everything,” said Rinaldi. “Now I must go back to sleep to be fresh and beautiful for Miss Barkley.”
I took off my tunic and shirt and washed in the cold water in the basin. While I rubbed myself with a towel I looked around the room and out the window and at Rinaldi lying with his eyes closed on the bed. He was good-looking, was my age, and he came from Amalfi. He loved being a surgeon and we were great friends. While I was looking at him he opened his eyes.
“Have you any money?”
“Loan me fifty lire.”
I dried my hands and took out my pocket-book from the inside of my tunic hanging on the wall. Rinaldi took the note, folded it without rising from the bed and slid it in his breeches pocket. He smiled, “I must make on Miss Barkley the impression of a man of sufficient wealth. You are my great and good friend and financial protector.”
“Go to hell,” I said.
That night at the mess I sat next to the priest and he was disappointed and suddenly hurt that I had not gone to the Abruzzi. He had written to his father that I was coming and they had made preparations. I myself felt as badly as he did and could not understand why I had not gone. It was what I had wanted to do and I tried to explain how one thing had led to another and finally he saw it and understood that I had really wanted to go and it was almost all right. I had drunk much wine and afterward coffee and Strega and I explained, winefully, how we did not do the things we wanted to do; we never did such things.
We two were talking while the others argued. I had wanted to go to Abruzzi. I had gone to no place where the roads were frozen and hard as iron, where it was clear cold and dry and the snow was dry and powdery and hare-tracks in the snow and the peasants took off their hats and called you Lord and there was good hunting. I had gone to no such place but to the smoke of cafés and nights when the room whirled and you needed to look at the wall to make it stop, nights in bed, drunk, when you knew that that was all there was, and the strange excitement of waking and not knowing who it was with you, and the world all unreal in the dark and so exciting that you must resume again unknowing and not caring in the night, sure that this was all and all and all and not caring. Suddenly to care very much and to sleep to wake with it sometimes morning and all that had been there gone and everything sharp and hard and clear and sometimes a dispute about the cost. Sometimes still pleasant and fond and warm and breakfast and lunch. Sometimes all niceness gone and glad to get out on the street but always another day starting and then another night. I tried to tell about the night and the difference between the night and the day and how the night was better unless the day was very clean and cold and I could not tell it; as I cannot tell it now. But if you have had it you know. He had not had it but he understood that I had really wanted to go to the Abruzzi but had not gone and we were still friends, with many tastes alike, but with the difference between us. He had always known what I did not know and what, when I learned it, I was always able to forget. But I did not know that then, although I learned it later. In the meantime we were all at the mess, the meal was finished, and the argument went on. We two stopped talking and the captain shouted, “Priest not happy. Priest not happy without girls.”
“I am happy,” said the priest.
“Priest not happy. Priest wants Austrians to win the war,” the captain said. The others listened. The priest shook his head.
“No,” he said.
“Priest wants us never to attack. Don’t you want us never to attack?”
“No. If there is a war I suppose we must attack.”
“Must attack. Shall attack!”
The priest nodded.
“Leave him alone,” the major said. “He’s all right.”
“He can’t do anything about it anyway,” the captain said. We all got up and left the table.
The battery in the next garden woke me in the morning and I saw the sun coming through the window and got out of the bed. I went to the window and looked out. The gravel paths were moist and the grass was wet with dew. The battery fired twice and the air came each time like a blow and shook the window and made the front of my pajamas flap. I could not see the guns but they were evidently firing directly over us. It was a nuisance to have them there but it was a comfort that they were no bigger. As I looked out at the garden I heard a motor truck starting on the road. I dressed, went downstairs, had some coffee in the kitchen and went out to the garage.
Ten cars were lined up side by side under the long shed. They were top-heavy, blunt-nosed ambulances, painted gray and built like moving-vans. The mechanics were working on one out in the yard. Three others were up in the mountains at dressing stations.
“Do they ever shell that battery?” Tasked one of the mechanics.
“No, Signor Tenente. It is protected by the little hill.”
“Not so bad. This machine is no good but the others march.” He stopped working and smiled. “Were you on permission?”
He wiped his hands on his jumper and grinned. “You have a good time?” The others all grinned too.
“Fine,” I said. “What’s the matter with this machine?”
“It’s no good. One thing after another.”
“What’s the matter now?”
I left them working, the car looking disgraced and empty with the engine open and parts spread on the work bench, and went in under the shed and looked at each of the cars. They were moderately clean, a few freshly washed, the others dusty. I looked at the tires carefully, looking for cuts or stone bruises. Everything seemed in good condition. It evidently made no difference whether I was there to look after things or not. I had imagined that the condition of the cars, whether or not things were obtainable, the smooth functioning of the business of removing wounded and sick from the dressing stations, hauling them back from the mountains to the clearing station and then distributing them to the hospitals named on their papers, depended to a considerable extent on myself. Evidently it did not matter whether I was there or not.
“Has there been any trouble getting parts?” I asked the sergeant mechanic.
“No, Signor Tenente.”
“Where is the gasoline park now?”
“At the same place.”
“Good,” I said and went back to the house and drank another bowl of coffee at the mess table. The coffee was a pale gray and sweet with condensed milk. Outside the window it was a lovely spring morning. There was that beginning of a feeling of dryness in the nose that meant the day would be hot later on. That day I visited the posts in the mountains and was back in town late in the afternoon.
The whole thing seemed to run better while I was away. The offensive was going to start again I heard. The division for which we worked were to attack at a place up the river and the major told me that I would see about the posts for during the attack. The attack would cross the river up above the narrow gorge and spread up the hillside. The posts for the cars would have to be as near the river as they could get and keep covered. They would, of course, be selected by the infantry but we were supposed to work it out. It was one of those things that gave you a false feeling of soldiering.
I was very dusty and dirty and went up to my room to wash. Rinaldi was sitting on the bed with a copy of Hugo’s English grammar. He was dressed, wore his black boots, and his hair shone.
“Splendid,” he said when he saw me. “You will come with me to see Miss Barkley.”
“Yes. You will please come and make me a good impression on her.”
“All right. Wait till I get cleaned up.”
“Wash up and come as you are.”
I washed, brushed my hair and we started.
“Wait a minute,” Rinaldi said. “Perhaps we should have a drink.” He opened his trunk and took out a bottle.
“Not Strega,” I said.
He poured two glasses and we touched them, first fingers extended. The grappa was very strong.
“All right,” I said. We drank the second grappa, Rinaldi put away the bottle and we went down the stairs. It was hot walking through the town but the sun was starting to go down and it was very pleasant. The British hospital was a big villa built by Germans before the war. Miss Barkley was in the garden. Another nurse was with her. We saw their white uniforms through the trees and walked toward them. Rinaldi saluted. I saluted too but more moderately.
“How do you do?” Miss Barkley said. “You’re not an Italian, are you?”
Rinaldi was talking with the other nurse. They were laughing. “What an odd thing—to be in the Italian army.”
“It’s not really the army. It’s only the ambulance.”
“It’s very odd though. Why did you do it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “There isn’t always an explanation for everything.”
“Oh, isn’t there? I was brought up to think there was.”
“That’s awfully nice.”
“Do we have to go on and talk this way?”
“No,” I said.
“That’s a relief. Isn’t it?”
“What is the stick?” I asked. Miss Barkley was quite tall. She wore what seemed to me to be a nurse’s uniform, was blonde and had a tawny skin and gray eyes. I thought she was very beautiful. She was carrying a thin rattan stick like a toy riding-crop, bound in leather.
“It belonged to a boy who was killed last year.”
“I’m awfully sorry.”
“He was a very nice boy. He was going to marry me and he was killed in the Somme.”
“It was a ghastly show.”
“Were you there?”
“I’ve heard about it,” she said. “There’s not really any war of that sort down here. They sent me the little stick. His mother sent it to me. They returned it with his things.”
“Had you been engaged long?”
“Eight years. We grew up together.”
“And why didn’t you marry?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I was a fool not to. I could have given him that anyway. But I thought it would be bad for him.”
“Have you ever loved any one?”
“No,” I said.
We sat down on a bench and I looked at her.
“You have beautiful hair,” I said.
“Do you like it?”
“I was going to cut it all off when he died.”
“I wanted to do something for him. You see I didn’t care about the other thing and he could have had it all. He could have had anything he wanted if I would have known. I would have married him or anything. I know all about it now. But then he wanted to go to war and I didn’t know.”
I did not say anything.
“I didn’t know about anything then. I thought it would be worse for him. I thought perhaps he couldn’t stand it and then of course he was killed and that was the end of it.”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “That’s the end of it.”
We looked at Rinaldi talking with the other nurse.
“What is her name?”
“Ferguson. Helen Ferguson. Your friend is a doctor, isn’t he?”
“Yes. He’s very good.”
“That’s splendid. You rarely find any one any good this close to the front. This is close to the front, isn’t it?”
“It’s a silly front,” she said. “But it’s very beautiful. Are they going to have an offensive?”
“Then we’ll have to work. There’s no work now.”
“Have you done nursing long?”
“Since the end of’fifteen. I started when he did. I remember having a silly idea he might come to the hospital where I was. With a sabre cut, I suppose, and a bandage around his head. Or shot through the shoulder. Something picturesque.”
“This is the picturesque front,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “People can’t realize what France is like. If they did, it couldn’t all go on. He didn’t have a sabre cut. They blew him all to bits.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Do you suppose it will always go on?”
“What’s to stop it?”
“It will crack somewhere.”
“We’ll crack. We’ll crack in France. They can’t go on doing things like the Somme and not crack.”
“They won’t crack here,” I said.
“You think not?”
“No. They did very well last summer.”
“They may crack,” she said. “Anybody may crack.”
“The Germans too.”
“No,” she said. “I think not.”
We went over toward Rinaldi and Miss Ferguson.
“You love Italy?” Rinaldi asked Miss Ferguson in English.
“No understand,” Rinaldi shook his head.
“Abbastanza bene,” I translated.
He shook his head.
“That is not good. You love England?”
“Not too well. I’m Scotch, you see.”
Rinaldi looked at me blankly.
“She’s Scotch, so she loves Scotland better than England,” I said in Italian.
“But Scotland is England.”
I translated this for Miss Ferguson.
“Pas encore,” said Miss Ferguson.
“Never. We do not like the English.”
“Not like the English? Not like Miss Barkley?”
“Oh, that’s different. You mustn’t take everything so literally.”
After a while we said good-night and left. Walking home Rinaldi said, “Miss Barkley prefers you to me. That is very clear. But the little Scotch one is very nice.”
“Very,” I said. I had not noticed her. “You like her?”
“No,” said Rinaldi.
The next afternoon I went to call on Miss Barkley again. She was not in the garden and I went to the side door of the villa where the ambulances drove up. Inside I saw the head nurse, who said Miss Barkley was on duty—“there’s a war on, you know.”
I said I knew.
“You’re the American in the Italian army?” she asked.
“How did you happen to do that? Why didn’t you join up with us?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Could I join now?”
“I’m afraid not now. Tell me. Why did you join up with the Italians?”
“I was in Italy,” I said, “and I spoke Italian.”
“Oh,” she said. “I’m learning it. It’s beautiful language.”
“Somebody said you should be able to learn it in two weeks.”
“Oh, I’ll not learn it in two weeks. I’ve studied it for months now. You may come and see her after seven o’clock if you wish. She’ll be off then. But don’t bring a lot of Italians.”
“Not even for the beautiful language?”
“No. Nor for the beautiful uniforms.”
“Good evening,” I said.
“A rivederci, Tenente.”
“A rivederla.” I saluted and went out. It was impossible to salute foreigners as an Italian, without embarrassment. The Italian salute never seemed made for export.
The day had been hot. I had been up the river to the bridgehead at Plava. It was there that the offensive was to begin. It had been impossible to advance on the far side the year before because there was only one road leading down from the pass to the pontoon bridge and it was under machine-gun and shell fire for nearly a mile. It was not wide enough either to carry all the transport for an offensive and the Austrians could make a shambles out of it. But the Italians had crossed and spread out a little way on the far side to hold about a mile and a half on the Austrian side of the river. It was a nasty place and the Austrians should not have let them hold it. I suppose it was mutual tolerance because the Austrians still kept a bridgehead further down the river. The Austrian trenches were above on the hillside only a few yards from the Italian lines. There had been a little town but it was all rubble. There was what was left of a railway station and a smashed permanent bridge that could not be repaired and used because it was in plain sight.
I went along the narrow road down toward the river, left the car at the dressing station under the hill, crossed the pontoon bridge, which was protected by a shoulder of the mountain, and went through the trenches in the smashed-down town and along the edge of the slope. Everybody was in the dugouts. There were racks of rockets standing to be touched off to call for help from the artillery or to signal with if the telephone wires were cut. It was quiet, hot and dirty. I looked across the wire at the Austrian lines. Nobody was in sight. I had a drink with a captain that I knew in one of the dugouts and went back across the bridge.
A new wide road was being finished that would go over the mountain and zig-zag down to the bridge. When this road was finished the offensive would start. It came down through the forest in sharp turns. The system was to bring everything down the new road and take the empty trucks, carts and loaded ambulances and all returning traffic up the old narrow road. The dressing station was on the Austrian side of the river under the edge of the hill and stretcher-bearers would bring the wounded back across the pontoon bridge. It would be the same when the offensive started. As far as I could make out the last mile or so of the new road where it started to level out would be able to be shelled steadily by the Austrians. It looked as though it might be a mess. But I found a place where the cars would be sheltered after they passed that last badlooking bit and could wait for the wounded to be brought across the pontoon bridge. I would have liked to drive over the new road but it was not yet finished. It looked wide and well made with a good grade and the turns looked very impressive where you could see them through openings in the forest on the mountain side. The cars would be all right with their good metal-to-metal brakes and anyway, coming down, they would not be loaded. I drove back up the narrow road.
Two carabinieri held the car up. A shell had fallen and while we waited three others fell up the road. They were seventy-sevens and came with a whishing rush of air, a hard bright burst and flash and then gray smoke that blew across the road. The carabinieri waved us to go on. Passing where the shells had landed I avoided the small broken places and smelled the high explosive and the smell of blasted clay and stone and freshly shattered flint. I drove back to Gorizia and our villa and, as I said, went to call on Miss Barkley, who was on duty.
At dinner I ate very quickly and left for the villa where the British had their hospital. It was really very large and beautiful and there were fine trees in the grounds. Miss Barkley was sitting on a bench in the garden. Miss Ferguson was with her. They seemed glad to see me and in a little while Miss Ferguson excused herself and went away.
“I’ll leave you two,” she said. “You get along very well without me.”
“Don’t go, Helen,” Miss Barkley said.
“I’d really rather. I must write some letters.”
“Good-night,” I said.
“Good-night, Mr. Henry.”
“Don’t write anything that will bother the censor.”
“Don’t worry. I only write about what a beautiful place we live in and how brave the Italians are.”
“That way you’ll be decorated.”
“That will be nice. Good-night, Catherine.”
“I’ll see you in a little while,” Miss Barkley said. Miss Ferguson walked away in the dark.
“She’s nice,” I said.
“Oh, yes, she’s very nice. She’s a nurse.”
“Aren’t you a nurse?”
“Oh, no. I’m something called a V. A. D. We work very hard but no one trusts us.”
“They don’t trust us when there’s nothing going on. When there is really work they trust us.”
“What is the difference?”
“A nurse is like a doctor. It takes a long time to be. A V. A. D. is a short cut.”
“The Italians didn’t want women so near the front. So we’re all on very special behavior. We don’t go out.”
“I can come here though.”
“Oh, yes. We’re not cloistered.”
“Let’s drop the war.”
“It’s very hard. There’s no place to drop it.”
“Let’s drop it anyway.”
We looked at each other in the dark. I thought she was very beautiful and I took her hand. She let me take it and I held it and put my arm around under her arm.
“No,” she said. I kept my arm where it was.
“Yes,” I said. “Please.” I leaned forward in the dark to kiss her and there was a sharp stinging flash. She had slapped my face hard. Her hand had hit my nose and eyes, and tears came in my eyes from the reflex.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. I felt I had a certain advantage.
“You were quite right.”
“I’m dreadfully sorry,” she said. “I just couldn’t stand the nurse’s-eveningoff aspect of it. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I did hurt you, didn’t I?”
She was looking at me in the dark. I was angry and yet certain, seeing it all ahead like the moves in a chess game.
“You did exactly right,” I said. “I don’t mind at all.”
“You see I’ve been leading a sort of a funny life. And I never even talk English. And then you are so very beautiful.” I looked at her.
“You don’t need to say a lot of nonsense. I said I was sorry. We do get along.”
“Yes,” I said. “And we have gotten away from the war.”
She laughed. It was the first time I had ever heard her laugh. I watched her face.
“You are sweet,” she said.
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes. You are a dear. I’d be glad to kiss you if you don’t mind.”
I looked in her eyes and put my arm around her as I had before and kissed her. I kissed her hard and held her tight and tried to open her lips; they were closed tight. I was still angry and as I held her suddenly she shivered. I held her close against me and could feel her heart beating and her lips opened and her head went back against my hand and then she was crying on my shoulder.
“Oh, darling,” she said. “You will be good to me, won’t you?”
What the hell, I thought. I stroked her hair and patted her shoulder. She was crying.
“You will, won’ t you?” She looked up at me. “Because we’re going to have a strange life.”
After a while I walked with her to the door of the villa and she went in and I walked home. Back at the villa I went upstairs to the room. Rinaldi was lying on his bed. He looked at me.
“So you make progress with Miss Barkley?”
“We are friends.”
“You have that pleasant air of a dog in heat.”
I did not understand the word.
“Of a what?”
“You,” I said, “have that pleasant air of a dog who—”
“Stop it,” he said. “In a little while we would say insulting things.” He laughed.
“Good-night,” I said.
“Good-night, little puppy.”
I knocked over his candle with the pillow and got into bed in the dark.
Rinaldi picked up the candle, lit it and went on reading.
I was away for two days at the posts. When I got home it was too late and I did not see Miss Barkley until the next evening. She was not in the garden and I had to wait in the office of the hospital until she came down. There were many marble busts on painted wooden pillars along the walls of the room they used for an office. The hall too, that the office opened on, was lined with them. They had the complete marble quality of all looking alike. Sculpture had always seemed a dull business—still, bronzes looked like something. But marble busts all looked like a cemetery. There was one fine cemetery though—the one at Pisa. Genoa was the place to see the bad marbles. This had been the villa of a very wealthy German and the busts must have cost him plenty. I wondered who had done them and how much he got. I tried to make out whether they were members of the family or what; but they were all uniformly classical. You could not tell anything about them.
I sat on a chair and held my cap. We were supposed to wear steel helmets even in Gorizia but they were uncomfortable and too bloody theatrical in a town where the civilian inhabitants had not been evacuated. I wore one when we went up to the posts and carried an English gas mask. We were just beginning to get some of them. They were a real mask. Also we were required to wear an automatic pistol; even doctors and sanitary officers. I felt it against the back of the chair. You were liable to arrest if you did not have one worn in plain sight. Rinaldi carried a holster stuffed with toilet paper. I wore a real one and felt like a gunman until I practised firing it. It was an Astra 7.65 caliber with a short barrel and it jumped so sharply when you let it off that there was no question of hitting anything. I practised with it, holding below the target and trying to master the jerk of the ridiculous short barrel until I could hit within a yard of where I aimed at twenty paces and then the ridiculousness of carrying a pistol at all came over me and I soon forgot it and carried it flopping against the small of my back with no feeling at all except a vague sort of shame when I met English-speaking people. I sat now in the chair and an orderly of some sort looked at me disapprovingly from behind a desk while I looked at the marble floor, the pillars with the marble busts, and the frescoes on the wall and waited for Miss Barkley. The frescoes were not bad. Any frescoes were good when they started to peel and flake off.
I saw Catherine Barkley coming down the hall, and stood up. She did not seem tall walking toward me but she looked very lovely.
“Good-evening, Mr. Henry,” she said.
“How do you do?” I said. The orderly was listening behind the desk.
“Shall we sit here or go out in the garden?”
“Let’s go out. It’s much cooler.”
I walked behind her out into the garden, the orderly looking after us. When we were out on the gravel drive she said, “Where have you been?”
“I’ve been out on post.”
“You couldn’t have sent me a note?”
“No,” I said. “Not very well. I thought I was coming back.”
“You ought to have let me know, darling.”
We were off the driveway, walking under the trees. I took her hands, then stopped and kissed her.
“Isn’t there anywhere we can go?”
“No,” she said. “We have to just walk here. You’ve been away a long time.”
“This is the third day. But I’m back now.”
She looked at me, “And you do love me?”
“You did say you loved me, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I lied. “I love you.” I had not said it before.
“And you call me Catherine?”
We walked on a way and were stopped under a tree.
“Say,’I’ve come back to Catherine in the night.”
“I’ve come back to Catherine in the night.”
“Oh, darling, you have come back, haven’t you?”
“I love you so and it’s been awful. You won’t go away?”
“No. I’ll always come back.”
“Oh, I love you so. Please put your hand there again.”
“It’s not been away.” I turned her so I could see her face when I kissed her and I saw that her eyes were shut. I kissed both her shut eyes. I thought she was probably a little crazy. It was all right if she was. I did not care what I was getting into. This was better than going every evening to the house for officers where the girls climbed all over you and put your cap on backward as a sign of affection between their trips upstairs with brother officers. I knew I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards. Like bridge you had to pretend you were playing for money or playing for some stakes. Nobody had mentioned what the stakes were. It was all right with me.
“I wish there was some place we could go,” I said. I was experiencing the masculine difficulty of making love very long standing up.
“There isn’t any place,” she said. She came back from wherever she had been.
“We might sit there just for a little while.”
We sat on the flat stone bench and I held Catherine Barkley’ s hand. She would not let me put my arm around her.
“Are you very tired?” she asked.
She looked down at the grass.
“This is a rotten game we play, isn’t it?”
“Don’t be dull.”
“I’m not, on purpose.”
“You’re a nice boy,” she said. “And you play it as well as you know how. But it’s a rotten game.”
“Do you always know what people think?”
“Not always. But I do with you. You don’t have to pretend you love me. That’s over for the evening. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”
“But I do love you.”
“Please let’s not lie when we don’t have to. I had a very fine little show and I’m all right now. You see I’m not mad and I’m not gone off. It’s only a little sometimes.”
I pressed her hand, “Dear Catherine.”
“It sounds very funny now—Catherine. You don’t pronounce it very much alike. But you’re very nice. You’re a very good boy.”
“That’s what the priest said.”
“Yes, you’re very good. And you will come and see me?”
“And you don’t have to say you love me. That’s all over for a while.” She stood up and put out her hand. “Good-night.”
I wanted to kiss her.
“No,” she said. “I’m awfully tired.”
“Kiss me, though,” I said.
“I’m awfully tired, darling.”
“Do you want to very much?”
We kissed and she broke away suddenly. “No. Good-night, please, darling.” We walked to the door and I saw her go in and down the hall. I liked to watch her move. She went on down the hall. I went on home. It was a hot night and there was a good deal going on up in the mountains. I watched the flashes on San Gabriele.
I stopped in front of the Villa Rossa. The shutters were up but it was still going on inside. Somebody was singing. I went on home. Rinaldi came in while I was undressing.
“Ah, ha!” he said. “It does not go so well. Baby is puzzled.”
“Where have you been?”
“At the Villa Rossa. It was very edifying, baby. We all sang. Where have you been?”
“Calling on the British.”
“Thank God I did not become involved with the British.”
I came back the next afternoon from our first mountain post and stopped the car at the smistimento where the wounded and sick were sorted by their papers and the papers marked for the different hospitals. I had been driving and I sat in the car and the driver took the papers in. It was a hot day and the sky was very bright and blue and the road was white and dusty. I sat in the high seat of the Fiat and thought about nothing. A regiment went by in the road and I watched them pass. The men were hot and sweating. Some wore their steel helmets but most of them carried them slung from their packs. Most of the helmets were too big and came down almost over the ears of the men who wore them. The officers all wore helmets; better-fitting helmets. It was half of the brigata Basilicata. I identified them by their red and white striped collar mark. There were stragglers going by long after the regiment had passed—men who could not keep up with their platoons. They were sweaty, dusty and tired. Some looked pretty bad. A soldier came along after the last of the stragglers. He was walking with a limp. He stopped and sat down beside the road. I got down and went over.
“What’s the matter?”
He looked at me, then stood up.
“I’m going on.”
“What’s the trouble?”
“What’s wrong with your leg?”
“It’s not my leg. I got a rupture.”
“Why don’t you ride with the transport?” I asked. “Why don’t you go to the hospital?”
“They won’t let me. The lieutenant said I slipped the truss on purpose.”
“Let me feel it.”
“It’s way out.”
“Which side is it on?”
I felt it.
“Cough,” I said.
“I’m afraid it will make it bigger. It’s twice as big as it was this morning.”
“Sit down,” I said. “As soon as I get the papers on these wounded I’ll take you along the road and drop you with your medical officers.”
“He’ll say I did it on purpose.”
“They can’t do anything,” I said. “It’s not a wound. You’ve had it before, haven’t you?”
“But I lost the truss.”
“They’ll send you to a hospital.”
“Can’t I stay here, Tenente?”
“No, I haven’t any papers for you.”
The driver came out of the door with the papers for the wounded in the car.
“Four for 105. Two for 132,” he said. They were hospitals beyond the river.
“You drive,” I said. I helped the soldier with the rupture up on the seat with us.
“You speak English?” he asked.
“How you like this goddam war?”
“I say it’s rotten. Jesus Christ, I say it’s rotten.”
“Were you in the States?”
“Sure. In Pittsburgh. I knew you was an American.”
“Don’t I talk Italian good enough?”
“I knew you was an American all right.”
“Another American,” said the driver in Italian looking at the hernia man.
“Listen, lootenant. Do you have to take me to that regiment?”
“Because the captain doctor knew I had this rupture. I threw away the goddam truss so it would get bad and I wouldn’t have to go to the line again.”
“Couldn’t you take me no place else?”
“If it was closer to the front I could take you to a first medical post. But back here you’ve got to have papers.”
“If I go back they’ll make me get operated on and then they’ll put me in the line all the time.”
I thought it over.
“You wouldn’t want to go in the line all the time, would you?” he asked.
“Jesus Christ, ain’t this a goddam war?”
“Listen,” I said. “You get out and fall down by the road and get a bump on your head and I’ll pick you up on our way back and take you to a hospital. We’ll stop by the road here, Aldo.” We stopped at the side of the road. I helped him down.
“I’ll be right here, lieutenant,” he said.
“So long,” I said. We went on and passed the regiment about a mile ahead, then crossed the river, cloudy with snow-water and running fast through the spiles of the bridge, to ride along the road across the plain and deliver the wounded at the two hospitals. I drove coming back and went fast with the empty car to find the man from Pittsburgh. First we passed the regiment, hotter and slower than ever: then the stragglers. Then we saw a horse ambulance stopped by the road. Two men were lifting the hernia man to put him in. They had come back for him. He shook his head at me. His helmet was off and his forehead was bleeding below the hair line. His nose was skinned and there was dust on the bloody patch and dust in his hair.
“Look at the bump, lieutenant!” he shouted. “Nothing to do. They come back for me.”
When I got back to the villa it was five o’clock and I went out where we washed the cars, to take a shower. Then I made out my report in my room, sitting in my trousers and an undershirt in front of the open window. In two days the offensive was to start and I would go with the cars to Plava. It was a long time since I had written to the States and I knew I should write but I had let it go so long that it was almost impossible to write now. There was nothing to write about. I sent a couple of army Zona di Guerra post-cards, crossing out everything except, I am well. That should handle them. Those post-cards would be very fine in America; strange and mysterious. This was a strange and mysterious war zone but I supposed it was quite well run and grim compared to other wars with the Austrians. The Austrian army was created to give Napoleon victories; any Napoleon. I wished we had a Napoleon, but instead we had Ii Generale Cadorna, fat and prosperous and Vittorio Emmanuele, the tiny man with the long thin neck and the goat beard. Over on the right they had the Duke of Aosta. Maybe he was too good-looking to be a. great general but he looked like a man. Lots of them would have liked him to be king. He looked like a king. He was the King’s uncle and commanded the third army. We were in the second army. There were some British batteries up with the third army. I had met two gunners from that lot, in Milan. They were very nice and we had a big evening. They were big and shy and embarrassed and very appreciative together of anything that happened. I wish that I was with the British. It would have been much simpler. Still I would probably have been killed. Not in this ambulance business. Yes, even in the ambulance business. British ambulance drivers were killed sometimes. Well, I knew I would not be killed. Not in this war. It did not have anything to do with me. It seemed no more dangerous to me myself than war in the movies. I wished to God it was over though. Maybe it would finish this summer. Maybe the Austrians would crack. They had always cracked in other wars. What was the matter with this war? Everybody said the French were through. Rinaldi said that the French had mutinied and troops marched on Paris. I asked him what happened and he said, “Oh, they stopped them.” I wanted to go to Austria without war. I wanted to go to the Black Forest. I wanted to go to the Hartz Mountains.
Where were the Hartz Mountains anyway? They were fighting in the Carpathians. I did not want to go there anyway. It might be good though. I could go to Spain if there was no war. The sun was going down and the day was cooling off. After supper I would go and see Catherine Barkley. I wish she were here now. I wished I were in Milan with her. I would like to eat at the Cova and then walk down the Via Manzoni in the hot evening and cross over and turn off along the canal and go to the hotel with Catherine Barkley. Maybe she would. Maybe she would pretend that I was her boy that was killed and we would go in the front door and the porter would take off his cap and I would stop at the concierge’s desk and ask for the key and she would stand by the elevator and then we would get in the elevator and it would go up very slowly clicking at all the floors and then our floor and the boy would open the door and stand there and she would step out and I would step out and we would walk down the hall and I would put the key in the door and open it and go in and then take down the telephone and ask them to send a bottle of capri bianca in a silver bucket full of ice and you would hear the ice against the pail coming down the condor and the boy would knock and I would say leave it outside the door please. Because we would not wear any clothes because it was so hot and the window open and the swallows flying over the roofs of the houses and when it was dark afterward and you went to the window very small bats hunting over the houses and close down over the trees and we would drink the capri and the door locked and it hot and only a sheet and the whole night and we would both love each other all night in the hot night in Milan. That was how it ought to be. I would eat quickly and go and see Catherine Barkley.
They talked too much at the mess and I drank wine because tonight we were not all brothers unless I drank a little and talked with the priest about Archbishop Ireland who was, it seemed, a noble man and with whose injustice, the injustices he had received and in which I participated as an American, and of which I had never heard, I feigned acquaintance. It would have been impolite not to have known something of them when I had listened to such a splendid explanation of their causes which were, after all, it seemed, misunderstandings. I thought he had a fine name and he came from Minnesota which made a lovely name: Ireland of Minnesota, Ireland of Wisconsin, Ireland of Michigan. What made it pretty was that it sounded like Island. No that wasn’t it. There was more to it than that. Yes, father. That is true, father. Perhaps, father. No, father. Well, maybe yes, father. You know more about it than I do, father. The priest was good but dull. The officers were not good but dull. The King was good but dull. The wine was bad but not dull. It took the enamel off your teeth and left it on the roof of your mouth.
“And the priest was locked up,” Rocca said, “because they found the three per cent bonds on his person. It was in France of course. Here they would never have arrested him. He denied all knowledge of the five per cent bonds. This took place at Béziers. I was there and reading of it in the paper, went to the jail and asked to see the priest. It was quite evident he had stolen the bonds.”
“I don’t believe a word of this,” Rinaldi said.
“Just as you like,” Rocca said. “But I am telling it for our priest here. It is very informative. He is a priest; he will appreciate it.”
The priest smiled. “Go on,” he said. “I am listening.”
“Of course some of the bonds were not accounted for but the priest had all of the three per cent bonds and several local obligations, I forget exactly what they were. So I went to the jail, now this is the point of the story, and I stood outside his cell and I said as though I were going to confession,’Bless me, father, for you have sinned.”
There was great laughter from everybody.
“And what did he say?” asked the priest. Rocca ignored this and went on to explain the joke to me. “You see the point, don’t you?” It seemed it was a very funny joke if you understood it properly. They poured me more wine and I told the story about the English private soldier who was placed under the shower bath. Then the major told the story of the eleven Czecho-slovaks and the Hungarian corporal. After some more wine I told the story of the jockey who found the penny. The major said there was an Italian story something like that about the duchess who could not sleep at night. At this point the priest left and I told the story about the travelling salesman who arrived at five o’clock in the morning at Marseilles when the mistral was blowing. The major said he had heard a report that I could drink. I denied this. He said it was true and by the corpse of Bacchus we would test whether it was true or not. Not Bacchus, I said. Not Baëchus. Yes, Bacchus, he said. I should drink cup for cup and glass for glass with Bassi, Fillipo Vincenza. Bassi said no that was no test because he had already drunk twice as much as I. I said that was a foul lie and, Bacchus or no Bacchus, Fillipo Vincenza Bassi or Bassi Fillippo Vicenza had never touched a drop all evening and what was his name anyway? He said was my name Frederico Enrico or Enrico Federico? I said let the best man win, Bacchus barred, and the major started us with red wine in mugs. Half-way through the wine I did not want any more. I remembered where I was going.
“Bassi wins,” I said. “He’s a better man than I am. I have to go.”
“He does really,” said Rinaldi. “He has a rendezvous. I know all about it.”
“I have to go.”
“Another night,” said Bassi. “Another night when you feel stronger.” He slapped me on the shoulder. There were lighted candles on the table. All the officers were very happy. “Good-night, gentlemen,” I said.
Rinaldi went out with me. We stood outside the door on the patch and he said, “You better not go up there drunk.”
“I’m not drunk, Rinin. Really.”
“You’d better chew some coffee.”
“I’ll get some, baby. You walk up and down.” He came back with a handful of roasted coffee beans. “Chew those, baby, and God be with you.”
“Bacchus,” I said.
“I’ll walk down with you.”
“I’m perfectly all right.”
We walked along together through the town and I chewed the coffee. At the gate of the driveway that led up to the British villa, Rinaldi said good-night.
“Good-night,” I said. “Why don’t you come in?”
He shook his head. “No,” he said. “I like the simpler pleasures.”
“Thank you for the coffee beans.”
“Nothing, baby. Nothing.”
J started down the driveway. The outlines of the cypresses that lined it were sharp and clear. I looked back and saw Rinaldi standing watching me and waved to him.
I sat in the reception hail of the villa, waiting for Catherine Barkley to come down. Some one was coming down the hallway. I stood up, but it was not Catherine. It was Miss Ferguson.
“Hello,” she said. “Catherine asked me to tell you she was sorry she couldn’t see you this evening.”
“I’m so sorry. I hope she’s not ill.”
“She’s not awfully well.”
“Will you tell her how sorry I am?”
“Yes, I will.”
“Do you think it would be any good to try and see her tomorrow?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Thank you very much,” I said. “Good-night.”
I went out the door and suddenly I felt lonely and empty. I had treated seeing Catherine very lightly, I had gotten somewhat drunk and had nearly forgotten to come but when I could not see her there I was feeling lonely and hollow.
The next afternoon we heard there was to be an attack up the river that night and that we were to take four cars there. Nobody knew anything about it although they all spoke with great positiveness and strategical knowledge. I was riding in the first car and as we passed the entry to the British hospital I told the driver to stop. The other cars pulled up. I got out and told the driver to go on and that if we had not caught up to them at the junction of the road to Cormons to wait there. I hurried up the driveway and inside the reception hall I asked for Miss Barkley.
“She’s on duty.”
“Could I see her just for a moment?”
They sent an orderly to see and she came back with him.
“I stopped to ask if you were better. They told me you were on duty, so I asked to see you.”
“I’m quite well,” she said, “I think the heat knocked me over yesterday.”
“I have to go.”
“I’ll just step out the door a minute.”
“And you’re all right?” I asked outside.
“Yes, darling. Are you coming to-night?”
“No. I’m leaving now for a show up above Plava.”
“I don’t think it’s anything.”
“And you’ll be back?”
She was unclasping something from her neck. She put it in my hand. “It’s a Saint Anthony,” she said. “And come to-morrow night.”
“You’re not a Catholic, are you?”
“No. But they say a Saint Anthony’s very useful.”
“I’ll take care of him for you. Good-by.”
“No,” she said, “not good-by.”
“Be a good boy and be careful. No, you can’t kiss me here. You can’t.”
I looked back and saw her standing on the steps. She waved and I kissed my hand and held it out. She waved again and then I was out of the driveway and climbing up into the seat of the ambulance and we started. The Saint Anthony was in a little white metal capsule. I opened the capsule and spilled him out into my hand.
“Saint Anthony?” asked the driver.
“I have one.” His right hand left the wheel and opened a button on his tunic and pulled it out from under his shirt.
I put my Saint Anthony back in the capsule, spilled the thin gold chain together and put it all in my breast pocket.
“You don’t wear him?”
“It’s better to wear him. That’s what it’s for.”
“All right,” I said. I undid the clasp of the gold chain and put it around my neck and clasped it. The saint hung down on the Outside of my uniform and I undid the throat of my tunic, unbuttoned the shirt collar and dropped him in under the shirt. I felt him in his metal box against my chest while we drove. Then I forgot about him. After I was wounded I never found him. Some one probably got it at one of the dressing stations.
We drove fast when we were over the bridge and soon we saw the dust of the other cars ahead down the road. The road curved and we saw the three cars looking quite small, the dust rising from the wheels and going off through the trees. We caught them and passed them and turned off on a road that climbed up into the hills. Driving in convoy is not unpleasant if you are the first car and I settled back in the seat and watched the country. We were in the foothills on the near side of the river and as the road mounted there were the high mountains off to the north with snow still on the tops. I looked back and saw the three cars all climbing, spaced by the interval of their dust. We passed a long column of loaded mules, the drivers walking along beside the mules wearing red fezzes. They were bersaglieri.
Beyond the mule train the road was empty and we climbed through the hills and then went down over the shoulder of a long hill into a river-valley. There were trees along both sides of the road and through the right line of trees I saw the river, the water clear, fast and shallow. The river was low and there were stretches of sand and pebbles with a narrow channel of water and sometimes the water spread like a sheen over the pebbly bed. Close to the bank I saw deep pools, the water blue like the sky. I saw arched stone bridges over the river where tracks turned off from the road and we passed stone farmhouses with pear trees candelabraed against their south walls and low stone walls in the fields. The road went up the valley a long way and then we turned off and commenced to climb into the hills again. The road climbed steeply going up and back and forth through chestnut woods to level finally along a ridge. I could look down through the woods and see, far below, with the sun on it, the line of the river that separated the two armies. We went along the rough new military road that followed the crest of the ridge and I looked to the north at the two ranges of mountains, green and dark to the snow-line and then white and lovely in the sun. Then, as the road mounted along the ridge, I saw a third range of mountains, higher snow mountains, that looked chalky white and furrowed, with strange planes, and then there were mountains far off beyond all these that you could hardly tell if you really saw. Those were all the Austrians’mountains and we had nothing like them. Ahead there was a rounded turn-off in the road to the right and looking down I could see the road dropping through the trees. There were troops on this road and motor trucks and mules with mountain guns and as we went down, keeping to the side, I could see the river far down below, the line of ties and rails running along it, the old bridge where the railway crossed to the other side and across, under a hill beyond the river, the broken houses of the little town that was to be taken.
It was nearly dark when we came down and turned onto the main road that ran beside the river.
The road was crowded and there were screens of corn-stalk and straw matting on both sides and matting over the top so that it was like the entrance at a circus or a native village. We drove slowly in this matting-covered tunnel and came out onto a bare cleared space where the railway station had been. The road here was below the level of the river bank and all along the side of the sunken road there were holes dug in the bank with infantry in them. The sun was going down and looking up along the bank as we drove I saw the Austrian observation balloons above the hills on the other side dark against the sunset. We parked the cars beyond a brickyard. The ovens and some deep holes had been equipped as dressing stations. There were three doctors that I knew. I talked with the major and learned that when it should start and our cars should be loaded we would drive them back along the screened road and up to the main road along the ridge where there would be a post and other cars to clear them. He hoped the road would not jam. It was a one-road show. The road was screened because it was in sight of the Austrians across the river. Here at the brickyard we were sheltered from rifle or machine-gun fire by the river bank. There was one smashed bridge across the river. They were going to put over another bridge when the bombardment started and some troops were to cross at the shallows up above at the bend of the river. The major was a little man with upturned mustaches. He had been in the war in Libya and wore two woundstripes. He said that if the thing went well he would see that I was decorated. I said I hoped it would go well but that he was too kind. I asked him if there was a big dugout where the drivers could stay and he sent a soldier to show me. I went with him and found the dugout, which was very good. The drivers were pleased with it and I left them there. The major asked me to have a drink with him and two other officers. We drank rum and it was very friendly. Outside it was getting dark. I asked what time the attack was to he and they said as soon as it was dark. I went back to the drivers. They were sitting in the dugout talking and when I came in they stopped. I gave them each a package of cigarettes, Macedonias, loosely packed cigarettes that spilled tobacco and needed to have the ends twisted before you smoked them. Manera lit his lighter and passed it around. The lighter was shaped like a Fiat radiator. I told them what I had heard.
“Why didn’t we see the post when we came down?” Passini asked.
“It was just beyond where we turned off.”
“That road will be a dirty mess,” Manera said.
“They’ll shell the — out of us.”
“What about eating, lieutenant? We won’t get a chance to eat after this thing starts.”
“I’ll go and see now,” I said.
“You want us to stay here or can we look around?”
“Better stay here.”
I went back to the major’s dugout and he said the field kitchen would be along and the drivers could come and get their stew. He would loan them mess tins if they did not have them. I said I thought they had them. I went back and told the drivers I would get them as soon as the food came. Manera said he hoped it would come before the bombardment started. They were silent until I went out. They were all mechanics and hated the war.
I went out to look at the cars and see what was going on and then came back and sat down in the dugout with the four drivers. We sat on the ground with our backs against the wall and smoked. Outside it was nearly dark. The earth of the dugout was warm and dry and I let my shoulders back against the wall, sitting on the small of my back, and relaxed.
“Who goes to the attack?” asked Gavuzzi.
“I think so.”
“There aren’t enough troops here for a real attack.”
“It is probably to draw attention from where the real attack will be.”
“Do the men know that who attack?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Of course they don’t,” Manera said. “They wouldn’t attack if they did.”
“Yes, they would,” Passini said. “Bersaglieri are fools.”
“They are brave and have good discipline,” I said.
“They are big through the chest by measurement, and healthy. But they are still fools.”
“The granatieri are tall,” Manera said. This was a joke. They all laughed.
“Were you there, Tenente, when they wouldn’t attack and they shot every tenth man?”
“It is true. They lined them up afterward and took every tenth man. Carabinieri shot them.”
“Carabinieri,” said Passini and spat on the floor. “But those grenadiers; all over six feet. They wouldn’t attack.”
“If everybody would not attack the war would be over,” Manera said.
“It wasn’t that way with the granatieri. They were afraid. The officers all came from such good families.”
“Some of the officers went alone.”
“A sergeant shot two officers who would not get out.”
“Some troops went out.”
“Those that went out were not lined up when they took the tenth men.”
“One of those shot by the carabinieri is from my town,” Passini said. “He was a big smart tall boy to be in the granatieri. Always in Rome. Always with the girls. Always with the carabinieri.” He laughed. “Now they have a guard outside his house with a bayonet and nobody can come to see his mother and father and sisters and his father loses his civil rights and cannot even vote. They are all without law to protect them. Anybody can take their property.”
“If it wasn’t that that happens to their families nobody would go to the attack.”
“Yes. Alpini would. These V. E. soldiers would. Some bersaglieri.”
“Bersaglieri have run too. Now they try to forget it.”
“You should not let us talk this way, Tenente. Evviva l’esercito,” Passini said sarcastically.
“I know how you talk,” I said. “But as long as you drive the cars and behave—”
“—and don’t talk so other officers can hear,” Manera finished. “I believe we should get the war over,” I said. “It would not finish it if one side stopped fighting. It would only be worse if we stopped fighting.”
“It could not be worse,” Passini said respectfully. “There is nothing worse than war.”
“Defeat is worse.”
“I do not believe it,” Passini said still respectfully. “What is defeat? You go home.”
“They come after you. They take your home. They take your sisters.”
“I don’t believe it,” Passini said. “They can’t do that to everybody. Let everybody defend his home. Let them keep their sisters in the house.”
“They hang you. They come and make you be a soldier again. Not in the auto-ambulance, in the infantry.”
“They can’t hang every one.”
“An outside nation can’t make you be a soldier,” Manera said. “At the first battle you all run.”
“Like the Tchecos.”
“I think you do not know anything about being conquered and so you think it is not bad.”
“Tenente,” Passini said. “We understand you let us talk. Listen. There is nothing as bad as war. We in the auto-ambulance cannot even realize at all how bad it is. When people realize how bad it is they cannot do anything to stop it because they go crazy. There are some people who never realize. There are people who are afraid of their officers. It is with them the war is made.”
“I know it is bad but we must finish it.”
“It doesn’t finish. There is no finish to a war.”
“Yes there is.”
Passini shook his head.
“War is not won by victory. What if we take San Gabriele? What if we take the Carso and Monfalcone and Trieste? Where are we then? Did you see all the far mountains to-day? Do you think we could take all them too? Only if the Austrians stop fighting. One side must stop fighting. Why don’t we stop fighting? If they come down into Italy they will get tired and go away. They have their own country. But no, instead there is a war.”
“You’re an orator.”
“We think. We read. We are not peasants. We are mechanics. But even the peasants know better than to believe in a war. Everybody hates this war.”
“There is a class that controls a country that is stupid and does not realize anything and never can. That is why we have this war.”
“Also they make money out of it.”
“Most of them don’t,” said Passini. “They are too stupid. They do it for nothing. For stupidity.”
“We must shut up,” said Manera. “We talk too much even for the Tenente.”
“He likes it,” said Passini. “We will convert him.”
“But now we will shut up,” Manera said.
“Do we eat yet, Tenente?” Gavuzzi asked.
“I will go and see,” I said. Gordini stood up and went outside with me.
“Is there anything I can do, Tenente? Can I help in any way?” He was the quietest one of the four. “Come with me if you want,” I said, “and we’ll see.”
It was dark outside and the long light from the search-lights was moving over the mountains. There were big search-lights on that front mounted on camions that you passed sometimes on the roads at night, close behind the lines, the camion stopped a little off the road, an officer directing the light and the crew scared. We crossed the brickyard, and stopped at the main dressing station. There was a little shelter of green branches outside over the entrance and in the dark the night wind rustled the leaves dried by the sun. Inside there was a light. The major was at the telephone sitting on a box. One of the medical captains said the attack had been put forward an hour. He offered me a glass of cognac. I looked at the board tables, the instruments shining in the light, the basins and the stoppered bottles. Gordini stood behind me. The major got up from the telephone.
“It starts now,” he said. “It has been put back again.”
I looked outside, it was dark and the Austrian search-lights were moving on the mountains behind us. It was quiet for a moment still, then from all the guns behind us the bombardment started.
“Savoia,” said the major.
“About the soup, major,” I said. He did not hear me. I repeated it.
“It hasn’t come up.”
A big shell came in and burst outside in the brickyard. Another burst and in the noise you could hear the smaller noise of the brick and dirt raining down.
“What is there to eat?”
“We have a little pasta asciutta,” the major said.
“I’ll take what you can give me.”
The major spoke to an orderly who went out of sight in the back and came back with a metal basin of cold cooked macaroni. I handed it to Gordini.
“Have you any cheese?”
The major spoke grudgingly to the orderly who ducked back into the hole again and came out with a quarter of a white cheese.
“Thank you very much,” I said.
“You’d better not go out.”
Outside something was set down beside the entrance. One of the two men who had carried it looked in.
“Bring him in,” said the major. “What’s the matter with you? Do you want us to come outside and get him?”
The two stretcher-bearers picked up the man under the arms and by the legs and brought him in.
“Slit the tunic,” the major said.
He held a forceps with some gauze in the end. The two captains took off their coats. “Get out of here,” the major said to the two stretcher-bearers.
“Come on,” I said to Gordini.
“You better wait until the shelling is over,” the major said over his shoulder.
“They want to eat,” I said.
“As you wish.”
Outside we ran across the brickyard. A shell burst short near the river bank. Then there was one that we did not hear coming until the sudden rush. We both went flat and with the flash and bump of the burst and the smell heard the singing off of the fragments and the rattle of falling brick. Gordini got up and ran for the dugout. I was after him, holding the cheese, its smooth surface covered with brick dust. Inside the dugout were the three drivers sitting against the wall, smoking.
“Here, you patriots,” I said.
“How are the cars?” Manera asked.
“Did they scare you, Tenente?”
“You’re damned right,” I said.
I took out my knife, opened it, wiped off the blade and pared off the dirty outside surface of the cheese. Gavuzzi handed me the basin of macaroni.
“Start in to eat, Tenente.”
“No,” I said. “Put it on the floor. We’ll all eat.”
“There are no forks.”
“What the hell,” I said in English.
I cut the cheese into pieces and laid them on the macaroni.
“Sit down to it,” I said. They sat down and waited. I put thumb and fingers into the macaroni and lifted. A mass loosened.
“Lift it high, Tenente.”
I lifted it to arm’s length and the strands cleared. I lowered it into the mouth, sucked and snapped in the ends, and chewed, then took a bite of cheese, chewed, and then a drink of the wine. It tasted of rusty metal. I handed the canteen back to Passini.
“It’s rotten,” he said. “It’s been in there too long. I had it in the car.”
They were all eating, holding their chins close over the basin, tipping their heads back, sucking in the ends. I took another mouthful and some cheese and a rinse of wine. Something landed outside that shook the earth.
“Four hundred twenty or minnenwerfer,” Gavuzzi said.
“There aren’t any four hundred twenties in the mountains,” I said.
“They have big Skoda guns. I’ve seen the holes.”
“Three hundred fives.”
We went on eating. There was a cough, a noise like a railway engine starting and then an explosion that shook the earth again.
“This isn’t a deep dugout,” Passini said.
“That was a big trench mortar.”
I ate the end of my piece of cheese and took a swallow of wine. Through the other noise I heard a cough, then came the chuh-chuhchuh-chuh—then there was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red and on and on in a rushing wind. I tried to breathe but my breath would not come and I felt myself rush bodily out of myself and out and out and out and all the time bodily in the wind. I went out swiftly, all of myself, and I knew I was dead and that it had all been a mistake to think you just died. Then I floated, and instead of going on I felt myself slide back. I breathed and I was back. The ground was torn up and in front of my head there was a splintered beam of wood. In the jolt of my head I heard somebody crying. I thought somebody was screaming. I tried to move but I could not move. I heard the machine-guns and rifles firing across the river and all along the river. There was a great splashing and I saw the star-shells go up and burst and float whitely and rockets going up and heard the bombs, all this in a moment, and then I heard close to me some one saying “Mama Mia! Oh, mama Mia!” I pulled and twisted and got my legs loose finally and turned around and touched him. It was Passini and when I touched him he screamed. His legs were toward me and I saw in the dark and the light that they were both smashed above the knee. One leg was gone and the other was held by tendons and part of the trouser and the stump twitched and jerked as though it were not connected. He bit his arm and moaned, “Oh mama mia, mama Mia,” then, “Dio te salve, Maria. Dio te salve, Maria. Oh Jesus shoot me Christ shoot me mama mia mama Mia oh purest lovely Mary shoot me. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Oh Jesus lovely Mary stop it. Oh oh oh oh,” then choking, “Mama mama mia.” Then he was quiet, biting his arm, the stump of his leg twitching.
“Porta feriti!” I shouted holding my hands cupped. “Porta feriti!” I tried to get closer to Passini to try to put a tourniquet on the legs but I could not move. I tried again and my legs moved a little. I could pull backward along with my arms and elbows. Passini was quiet now. I sat beside him, undid my tunic and tried to rip the tail of my shirt. It would not rip and I bit the edge of the cloth to start it. Then I thought of his puttees. I had on wool stockings but Passini wore puttees. All the drivers wore puttees but Passini had only one leg. I unwound the puttee and while I was doing it I saw there was no need to try and make a tourniquet because he was dead already. I made sure he was dead. There were three others to locate. I sat up straight and as I did so something inside my head moved like the weights on a doll’s eyes and it hit me inside in back of my eyeballs. My legs felt warm and wet and my shoes were wet and warm inside. I knew that I was hit and leaned over and put my hand on my knee. My knee wasn’t there. My hand went in and my knee was down on my shin. I wiped my hand on my shirt and another floating light came very slowly down and I looked at my leg and was very afraid. Oh, God, I said, get me out of here. I knew, however, that there had been three others. There were four drivers. Passini was dead. That left three. Some one took hold of me under the arms and somebody else lifted my legs.
“There are three others,” I said. “One is dead.”
“It’s Manera. We went for a stretcher but there wasn’t any. How are you, Tenente?”
“Where is Gordini and Gavuzzi?”
“Gordini’s at the post getting bandaged. Gavuzzi has your legs. Hold on to my neck, Tenente. Are you badly hit?”
“In the leg. How is Gordini?”
“He’s all right. It was a big trench mortar shell.”
“Yes. He’s dead.”
A shell fell close and they both dropped to the ground and dropped me. “I’m sorry, Tenente,” said Manera. “Hang onto my neck.”
“If you drop me again.”
“It was because we were scared.”
“Are you unwounded?”
“We are both wounded a little.”
“Can Gordini drive?”
“I don’t think so.”
They dropped me once more before we reached the post.
“You sons of bitches,” I said.
“I am sorry, Tenente,” Manera said. “We won’t drop you again.”
Outside the post a great many of us lay on the ground in the dark. They carried wounded in and brought them out. I could see the light come out from the dressing station when the curtain opened and they brought some one in or out. The dead were off to one side. The doctors were working with their sleeves up to their shoulders and were red as butchers. There were not enough stretchers. Some of the wounded were noisy but most were quiet. The wind blew the leaves in the bower over the door of the dressing station and the night was getting cold. Stretcher-bearers came in all the time, put their stretchers down, unloaded them and went away. As soon as I got to the dressing station Manera brought a medical sergeant out and he put bandages on both my legs. He said there was so much dirt blown into the wound that there had not been much hemorrhage. They would take me as soon as possible. He went back inside. Gordini could not drive, Manera said. His shoulder was smashed and his head was hurt. He had not felt bad but now the shoulder had stiffened. He was sitting up beside one of the brick walls. Manera and Gavuzzi each went off with a load of wounded. They could drive all right. The British had come with three ambulances and they had two men on each ambulance. One of their drivers came over to me, brought by Gordini who looked very white and sick. The Britisher leaned over.
“Are you hit badly?” he asked. He was a tall man and wore steel-rimmed spectacles.
“In the legs.”
“It’s not serious I hope. Will you have a cigarette?”
“They tell me you’ve lost two drivers.”
“Yes. One killed and the fellow that brought you.”
“What rotten luck. Would you like us to take the cars?”
“That’s what I wanted to ask you.”
“We’d take quite good care of them and return them to the villa. 206 aren’t you?”
“It’s a charming place. I’ve seen you about. They tell me you’re an American.”
“Yes, English. Did you think I was Italian? There were some Italians with one of our units.”
“It would be fine if you would take the cars,” I said.
“We’ll be most careful of them,” he straightened up. “This chap of yours was very anxious for me to see you.” He patted Gordini on the shoulder. Gordini winced and smiled. The Englishman broke into voluble and perfect Italian. “Now everything is arranged. I’ve seen your Tenente. We will take over the two cars. You won’t worry now.” He broke off, “I must do something about getting you out of here. I’ll see the medical wallahs. We’ll take you back with us.”
He walked across to the dressing station, stepping carefully among the wounded. I saw the blanket open, the light came out and he went in.
“He will look after you, Tenente,” Gordini said.
“How are you, Franco?”
“I am all right.” He sat down beside me. In a moment the blanket in front of the dressing station opened and two stretcherbearers came out followed by the tall Englishman. He brought them over to me.
“Here is the American Tenente,” he said in Italian.
“I’d rather wait,” I said. “There are much worse wounded than me. I’m all right.”
“Come, come,” he said. “Don’t be a bloody hero.” Then in Italian: “Lift him very carefully about the legs. His legs are very painful. He is the legitimate son of President Wilson.” They picked me up and took me into the dressing room. Inside they were operating on all the tables. The little major looked at us furious. He recognized me and waved a forceps.
“Ca va bien?”
“I have brought him in,” the tall Englishman said in Italian. “The only son of the American Ambassador. He can be here until you are ready to take him. Then I will take him with my first load.” He bent over me. “I’ll look up their adjutant to do your papers and it will all go much faster.” He stooped to go under the doorway and went out. The major was unhooking the forceps now, dropping them in a basin. I followed his hands with my eyes. Now he was bandaging. Then the stretcher-bearers took the man off the table.
“I’ll take the American Tenente,” one of the captains said. They lifted me onto the table. It was hard and slippery. There were many strong smells, chemical smells and the sweet smell of blood. They took off my trousers and the medical captain commenced dictating to the sergeant-adjutant while he worked, “Multiple superficial wounds of the left and right thigh and left and right knee and right foot. Profound wounds of right knee and foot. Lacerations of the scalp (he probed—Does that hurt?—Christ, yes!) with possible fracture of the skull. Incurred in the line of duty. That’s what keeps you from being court-martialled for self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “Would you like a drink of brandy? How did you run into this thing anyway? What were you trying to do? Commit suicide? Antitetanus please, and mark a cross on both legs. Thank you. I’ll clean this up a little, wash it out, and put on a dressing. Your blood coagulates beautifully.”
The adjutant, looking up from the paper, “What inflicted the wounds?”
The medical captain, “What hit you?”
Me, with the eyes shut, “A trench mortar shell.”
The captain, doing things that hurt sharply and severing tissue—“Are you sure?”
Me—trying to lie still and feeling my stomach flutter when the flesh was cut, “I think so.”
Captain doctor—(interested in something he was finding), “Fragments of enemy trench-mortar shell. Now I’ll probe for some of this if you like but it’s not necessary. I’ll paint all this and—Does that sting? Good, that’s nothing to how it will feel later. The pain hasn’t started yet. Bring him a glass of brandy. The shock dulls the pain; but this is all right, you have nothing to worry about if it doesn’t infect and it rarely does now. How is your head?”
“Good Christ” I said.
“Better not drink too much brandy then. If you’ve got a fracture you don’t want inflammation. How does that feel?”
Sweat ran all over me.
“Good Christ!” I said.
“I guess you’ve got a fracture all right. I’ll wrap you up and don’t bounce your head around.” He bandaged, his hands moving very fast and the bandage coming taut and sure. “All right, good luck and Vive la France.”
“He’s an American,” one of the other captains said.
“I thought you said he was a Frenchman. He talks French,” the captain said. “I’ve known him before. I always thought he was French.” He drank a half tumbler of cognac. “Bring on something serious. Get some more of that Antitetanus.” The captain waved to me. They lifted me and the blanket-flap went across my face as we went out. Outside the sergeant-adjutant knelt down beside me where I lay, “Name?” he asked softly. “Middle name? First name? Rank? Where born? What class? What corps?” and so on. “I’m sorry for your head, Tenente. I hope you feel better. I’m sending you now with the English ambulance.”
“I’m all right,” I said. “Thank you very much.” The pain that the major had spoken about had started and all that was happening was without interest or relation. After a while the English ambulance came up and they put me onto a stretcher and lifted the stretcher up to the ambulance level and shoved it in. There was another stretcher by the side with a man on it whose nose I could see, waxy-looking, out of the bandages. He breathed very heavily. There were stretchers lifted and slid into the slings above. The tall English driver came around and looked in, “I’ll take it very easily,” he said. “I hope you’ll be comfy.” I felt the engine start, felt him climb up into the front seat, felt the brake come off and the clutch go in, then we started. I lay still and let the pain ride.
As the ambulance climbed along the road, it was slow in the traffic, sometimes it stopped, sometimes it backed on a turn, then finally it climbed quite fast. I felt something dripping. At first it dropped slowly and regularly, then it pattered into a stream. I shouted to the driver. He stopped the car and looked in through the hole behind his seat.
“What is it?”
“The man on the stretcher over me has a hemorrhage.”
“We’re not far from the top. I wouldn’t be able to get the stretcher out alone.” He started the car. The stream kept on. In the dark I could not see where it came from the canvas overhead. I tried to move sideways so that it did not fall on me. Where it had run down under my shirt it was warm and sticky. I was cold and my leg hurt so that it made me sick. After a while the stream from the stretcher above lessened and started to drip again and I heard and felt the canvas above move as the man on the stretcher settled more comfortably.
“How is he?” the Englishman called back.
“We’re almost up.”
“He’s dead I think,” I said.
The drops fell very slowly, as they fall from an icicle after the sun has gone. It was cold in the car in the night as the road climbed. At the post on the top they took the stretcher out and put another in and we went on.
In the ward at the field hospital they told me a visitor was coming to see me in the afternoon. It was a hot day and there were many flies in the room. My orderly had cut paper into strips and tied the strips to a stick to make a brush that swished the flies away. I watched them settle on the ceiling. When he stopped swishing and fell asleep they came down and I blew them away and finally covered my face with my hands and slept too. It was very hot and when I woke my legs itched. I waked the orderly and he poured mineral water on the dressings. That made the bed damp and cool. Those of us that were awake talked across the ward. The afternoon was a quiet time. In the morning they came to each bed in turn, three men nurses and a doctor and picked you up out of bed and carried you into the dressing room so that the beds could be made while we were having our wounds dressed. It was not a pleasant trip to the dressing room and I did not know until later that beds could be made with men in them. My orderly had finished pouring water and the bed felt cool and lovely and I was telling him where to scratch on the soles of my feet against the itching when one of the doctors brought in Rinaldi. He came in very fast and bent down over the bed and kissed me. I saw he wore gloves.
“How are you, baby? How do you feel? I bring you this—” It was a bottle of cognac. The orderly brought a chair and he sat down, “and good news. You will be decorated. They want to get you the medaglia d’argento but perhaps they can get only the bronze.”
“Because you are gravely wounded. They say if you can prove you did any heroic act you can get the silver. Otherwise it will be the bronze. Tell me exactly what happened. Did you do any heroic act?”
“No,” I said. “I was blown up while we were eating cheese.”
“Be serious. You must have done something heroic either before or after. Remember carefully.”
“I did not.”
“Didn’t you carry anybody on your back? Gordini says you carried several people on your back but the medical major at the first post declares it is impossible. He had to sign the proposition for the citation.”
“I didn’t carry anybody. I couldn’t move.”
“That doesn’t matter,” said Rinaldi.
He took off his gloves.
“I think we can get you the silver. Didn’t you refuse to be medically aided before the others?”
“Not very firmly.”
“That doesn’t matter. Look how you are wounded. Look at your valorous conduct in asking to go always to the first line. Besides, the operation was successful.”
“Did they cross the river all right?”
“Enormously. They take nearly a thousand prisoners. It’s in the bulletin. Didn’t you see it?”
“I’ll bring it to you. It is a successful coup de main.”
“How is everything?”
“Splendid. We are all splendid. Everybody is proud of you. Tell me just exactly how it happened. I am positive you will get the silver. Go on tell me. Tell me all about it.” He paused and thought. “Maybe you will get an English medal too. There was an English there. I’ll go and see him and ask if he will recommend you. He ought to be able to do something. Do you suffer much? Have a drink. Orderly, go get a corkscrew. Oh you should see what I did in the removal of three metres of small intestine and better now than ever. It is one for The Lancet. You do me a translation and I will send it to The Lancet. Every day I am better. Poor dear baby, how do you feel? Where is that damn corkscrew? You are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering.” He slapped his gloves on the edge of the bed.
“Here is the corkscrew, Signor Tenente,” the orderly said.
“Open the bottle. Bring a glass. Drink that, baby. How is your poor head? I looked at your papers. You haven’t any fracture. That major at the first post was a hog-butcher. I would take you and never hurt you. I never hurt anybody. I learn how to do it. Every day I learn to do things smoother and better. You must forgive me for talking so much, baby. I am very moved to see you badly wounded. There, drink that. It’s good. It cost fifteen lire. It ought to be good. Five stars. After I leave here I’ll go see that English and he’ll get you an English medal.”
“They don’t give them like that.”
“You are so modest. I will send the liaison officer. He can handle the English.”
“Have you seen Miss Barkley?”
“I will bring her here. I will go now and bring her here.”
“Don’t go,” I said. “Tell me about Gorizia. How are the girls?”
“There are no girls. For two weeks now they haven’t changed them. I don’t go there any more. It is disgraceful. They aren’t girls; they are old war comrades.”
“You don’t go at all?”
“I just go to see if there is anything new. I stop by. They all ask for you. It is a disgrace that they should stay so long that they become friends.”
“Maybe girls don’t want to go to the front any more.”
“Of course they do. They have plenty of girls. It is just bad administration. They are keeping them for the pleasure of dugout hiders in the rear.”
“Poor Rinaldi,” I said. “All alone at the war with no new girls.”
Rinaldi poured himself another glass of the cognac.
“I don’t think it will hurt you, baby. You take it.”
I drank the cognac and felt it warm all the way down. Rinaldi poured another glass. He was quieter now. He held up the glass. “To your valorous wounds. To the silver medal. Tell me, baby, when you lie here all the time in the hot weather don’t you get excited?”
“I can’t imagine lying like that. I would go crazy.”
“You are crazy.”
“I wish you were back. No one to come in at night from adventures. No one to make fun of. No one to lend me money. No blood brother and roommate. Why do you get yourself wounded?”
“You can make fun of the priest.”
“That priest. It isn’t me that makes fun of him. It is the captain. I like him. If you must have a priest have that priest. He’s coming to see you. He makes big preparations.”
“I like him.”
“Oh, I knew it. Sometimes I think you and he are a little that way. You know.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I do sometimes. A little that way like the number of the first regiment of the Brigata Ancona.”
“Oh, go to hell.”
He stood up and put on his gloves.
“Oh I love to tease you, baby. With your priest and your English girl, and really you are just like me underneath.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, we are. You are really an Italian. All fire and smoke and nothing inside. You only pretend to be American. We are brothers and we love each other.”
“Be good while I’m gone,” I said.
“I will send Miss Barkley. You are better with her without me. You are purer and sweeter.”
“Oh, go to hell.”
“I will send her. Your lovely cool goddess. English goddess. My God what would a man do with a woman like that except worship her? What else is an Englishwoman good for?”
“You are an ignorant foul-mouthed dago.”
“An ignorant wop.”
“Wop. You are a frozen-faced… wop.”
“You are ignorant. Stupid.” I saw that word pricked him and kept on. “Uninformed. Inexperienced, stupid from inexperience.”
“Truly? I tell you something about your good women. Your goddesses. There is only one difference between taking a girl who has always been good and a woman. With a girl it is painful. That’s all I know.” He slapped the bed with his glove. “And you never know if the girl will really like it.”
“Don’t get angry.”
“I’m not angry. I just tell you, baby, for your own good. To save you trouble.”
“That’s the only difference?”
“Yes. But millions of fools like you don’t know it.”
“You were sweet to tell me.”
“We won’t quarrel, baby. I love you too much. But don’t be a fool.”
“No. I’ll be wise like you.”
“Don’t be angry, baby. Laugh. Take a drink. I must go, really.”
“You’re a good old boy.”
“Now you see. Underneath we are the same. We are war brothers. Kiss me good-by.”
“No. I am just more affectionate.”
I felt his breath come toward me. “Good-by. I come to see you again soon.” His breath went away. “I won’t kiss you if you don’t want. I’ll send your English girl. Good-by, baby. The cognac is under the bed. Get well soon.”
He was gone.
It was dusk when the priest came. They had brought the soup and afterward taken away the bowls and I was lying looking at the rows of beds and out the window at the tree-top that moved a little in the evening breeze. The breeze came in through the window and it was cooler with the evening. The flies were on the ceiling now and on the electric light bulbs that hung on wires. The lights were only turned on when some one was brought in at night or when something was being done. It made me feel very young to have the dark come after the dusk and then remain. It was like being put to bed after early supper. The orderly came down between the beds and stopped. Some one was with him. It was the priest. He stood there small, brown-faced, and embarrassed.
“How do you do?” he asked. He put some packages down by the bed, on the floor.
“All right, father.”
He sat down in the chair that had been brought for Rinaldi and looked out of the window embarrassedly. I noticed his face looked Very tired.
“I can only stay a minute,” he said. “It is late.”
“It’s not late. How is the mess?”
He smiled. “I am still a great joke,” he sounded tired too. "Thank God they are all well.
“I am so glad you are all right,” he said. “I hope you don’t suffer.” He seemed very tired and I was not used to seeing him tired.
“Not any more.”
“I miss you at the mess.”
“I wish I were there. I always enjoyed our talking.”
“I brought you a few little things,” he said. He picked up the packages. “This is mosquito netting. This is a bottle of vermouth. You like vermouth? These are English papers.”
“Please open them.”
He was pleased and undid them. I held the mosquito netting in my hands. The vermouth he held up for me to see and then put it on the floor beside the bed. I held up one of the sheaf of English papers. I could read the headlines by turning it so the half-light from the window was on it. It was The News of the World.
“The others are illustrated,” he said.
“It will be a great happiness to read them. Where did you get them?”
“I sent for them to Mestre. I will have more.”
“You were very good to come, father. Will you drink a glass of vermouth?”
“Thank you. You keep it. It’s for you.”
“No, drink a glass.”
“All right. I will bring you more then.”
The orderly brought the glasses and opened the bottle. He broke off the cork and the end had to be shoved down into the bottle. I could see the priest was disappointed but he said, “That’s all right. It’s no matter.”
“Here’s to your health, father.”
“To your better health.”
Afterward he held the glass in his hand and we looked at one another. Sometimes we talked and were good friends but to-night it was difficult.
“What’s the matter, father? You seem very tired.”
“I am tired but I have no right to be.”
“It’s the heat.”
“No. This is only the spring. I feel very low.”
“You have the war disgust.”
“No. But I hate the war.”
“I don’t enjoy it,” I said. He shook his head and looked out of the window.
“You do not mind it. You do not see it. You must forgive me. I know you are wounded.”
“That is an accident.”
“Still even wounded you do not see it. I can tell. I do not see it myself but I feel it a little.”
“When I was wounded we were talking about it. Passini was talking.”
The priest put down the glass. He was thinking about something else.
“I know them because I am like they are,” he said.
“You are different though.”
“But really I am like they are.”
“The officers don’t see anything.”
“Some of them do. Some are very delicate and feel worse than any of us.”
“They are mostly different.”
“It is not education or money. It is something else. Even if they had education or money men like Passini would not wish to be officers. I would not be an officer.”
“You rank as an officer. I am an officer.”
“I am not really. You are not even an Italian. You are a foreigner. But you are nearer the officers than you are to the men.”
“What is the difference?”
“I cannot say it easily. There are people who would make war. In this country there are many like that. There are other people who would not make war.”
“But the first ones make them do it.”
“And I help them.”
“You are a foreigner. You are a patriot.”
“And the ones who would not make war? Can they stop it?” I do not know.
He looked out of the window again. I watched his face.
“Have they ever been able to stop it?”
“They are not organized to stop things and when they get organized their leaders sell them out.”
“Then it’s hopeless?”
“It is never hopeless. But sometimes I cannot hope. I try always to hope but sometimes I cannot.”
“Maybe the war will be over.”
“I hope so.”
“What will you do then?”
“If it is possible I will return to the Abruzzi.”
His brown face was suddenly very happy.
“You love the Abruzzi?”
“Yes, I love it very much.”
“You ought to go there then.”
“I would be too happy. If I could live there and love God and serve Him.”
“And be respected,” I said.
“Yes and be respected. Why not?”
“No reason not. You should be respected.”
“It does not matter. But there in my country it is understood that a man may love God. It is not a dirty joke.”
He looked at me and smiled.
“You understand but you do not love God.”
“You do not love Him at all?” he asked.
“I am afraid of Him in the night sometimes.”
“You should love Him.”
“I don’t love much.”
“Yes,” he said. “You do. What you tell me about in the nights. That is not love. That is only passion and lust. When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.”
“I don’t love.”
“You will. I know you will. Then you will be happy.”
“I’m happy. I’ve always been happy.”
“It is another thing. You cannot know about it unless you have it.”
“Well,” I said. “If I ever get it I will tell you.”
“I stay too long and talk too much.” He was worried that he really did.
“No. Don’t go. How about loving women? If I really loved some woman would it be like that?”
“I don’t know about that. I never loved any woman.”
“What about your mother?”
“Yes, I must have loved my mother.”
“Did you always love God?”
“Ever since I was a little boy.”
“Well,” I said. I did not know what to say. “You are a fine boy,” I said.
“I am a boy,” he said. “But you call me father.”
“I must go, really,” he said. “You do not want me for anything?” he asked hopefully.
“No. Just to talk.”
“I will take your greetings to the mess.”
“Thank you for the many fine presents.”
“Come and see me again.”
“Yes. Good-by,” he patted my hand.
“So long,” I said in dialect.
“Ciaou,” he repeated.
It was dark in the room and the orderly, who had sat by the foot of the bed, got up and went out with him. I liked him very much and I hoped he would get back to the Abruzzi some time. He had a rotten life in the mess and he was fine about it but I thought how he would be in his own country. At Capracotta, he had told me, there were trout in the stream below the town. It was forbidden to play the flute at night. When the young men serenaded only the flute was forbidden. Why, I had asked. Because it was bad for the girls to hear the flute at night. The peasants all called you “Don” and when you met them they took off their hats. His father hunted every day and stopped to eat at the houses of peasants. They were always honored. For a foreigner to hunt he must present a certificate that he had never been arrested. There were bears on the Gran Sasso D’Italia but it was a long way. Aquila was a fine town. It was cool in the summer at night and the spring in Abruzzi was the most beautiful in Italy. But what was lovely was the fall to go hunting through the chestnut woods. The birds were all good because they fed on grapes and you never took a lunch because the peasants were always honored if you would eat with them at their houses. After a while I went to sleep.
The room was long with windows on the right-hand side and a door at the far end that went into the dressing room. The row of beds that mine was in faced the windows and another row, under the windows, faced the wall. If you lay on your left side you could see the dressing-room door. There was another door at the far end that people sometimes came in by. If any one were going to die they put a screen around the bed so you could not see them die, but only the shoes and puttees of doctors and men nurses showed under the bottom of the screen and sometimes at the end there would be whispering. Then the priest would come out from behind the screen and afterward the men nurses would go back behind the screen to come out again carrying the one who was dead with a blanket over him down the corridor between the beds and some one folded the screen and took it away.
That morning the major in charge of the ward asked me if I felt that I could travel the next day. I said I could. He said then they would ship me out early in the morning. He said I would be better off making the trip now before it got too hot.
When they lifted you up out of bed to carry you into the dressing room you could look out of the window and see the new graves in the garden. A soldier sat outside the door that opened onto the garden making crosses and painting on them the names, rank, and regiment of the men who were buried in the garden. He also ran errands for the ward and in his spare time made me a cigarette lighter out of an empty Austrian rifle cartridge. The doctors were very nice and seemed very capable. They were anxious to ship me to Milan where there were better X-ray facilities and where, after the operation, I could take mechano-therapy. I wanted to go to Milan too. They wanted to get us all out and back as far as possible because all the beds were needed for the offensive, when it should start.
The night before I left the field hospital Rinaldi came in to see me with the major from our mess. They said that I would go to an American hospital in Milan that had just been installed. Some American ambulance units were to be sent down and this hospital would look after them and any other Americans on service in Italy. There were many in the Red Cross. The States had declared war on Germany but not on Austria.
The Italians were sure America would declare war on Austria too and they were very excited about any Americans coming down, even the Red Cross. They asked me if I thought President Wilson would declare war on Austria and I said it was only a matter of days. I did not know what we had against Austria but it seemed logical that they should declare war on her if they did on Germany. They asked me if we would declare war on Turkey. I said that was doubtful. Turkey, I said, was our national bird but the joke translated so badly and they were so puzzled and suspicious that I said yes, we would probably declare war on Turkey. And on Bulgaria? We had drunk several glasses of brandy and I said yes by God on Bulgaria too and on Japan. But, they said, Japan is an ally of England. You can’t trust the bloody English. The Japanese want Hawaii, I said. Where is Hawaii? It is in the Pacific Ocean. Why do the Japanese want it? They don’t really want it, I said. That is all talk. The Japanese are a wonderful little people fond of dancing and light wines. Like the French, said the major. We will get Nice and Savoia from the French. We will get Corsica and all the Adriatic coast-line, Rinaldi said. Italy will return to the splendors of Rome, said the major. I don’t like Rome, I said. It is hot and full of fleas. You don’t like Rome? Yes, I love Rome. Rome is the mother of nations. I will never forget Romulus suckling the Tiber. What? Nothing. Let’s all go to Rome.
Let’s go to Rome to-night and never come back. Rome is a beautiful city, said the major. The mother and father of nations, I said. Roma is feminine, said Rinaldi. It cannot be the father. Who is the father, then, the Holy Ghost? Don’t blaspheme. I wasn’t blaspheming, I was asking for information. You are drunk, baby. Who made me drunk? I made you drunk, said the major. I made you drunk because I love you and because America is in the war. Up to the hilt, I said. You go away in the morning, baby, Rinaldi said. To Rome, I said. No, to Milan. To Milan, said the major, to the Crystal Palace, to the Cova, to Campari’s, to Biffi’s, to the galleria. You lucky boy. To the Gran Italia, I said, where I will borrow money from George. To the Scala, said Rinaldi. You will go to the Scala. Every night, I said. You won’t be able to afford it every night, said the major.
The tickets are very expensive. I will draw a sight draft on my grandfather, I said. A what? A sight draft. He has to pay or I go to jail. Mr. Cunningham at the bank does it. I live by sight drafts. Can a grandfather jail a patriotic grandson who is dying that Italy may live? Live the American Garibaldi, said Rinaldi. Viva the sight drafts, I said. We must be quiet, said the major. Already we have been asked many times to be quiet. Do you go to-morrow really, Federico? He goes to the American hospital I tell you, Rinaldi said. To the beautiful nurses. Not the nurses with beards of the field hospital. Yes, yes, said the major, I know he goes to the American hospital. I don’t mind their beards, I said. If any man wants to raise a beard let him. Why don’t you raise a beard, Signor Maggiore? It could not go in a gas mask. Yes it could. Anything can go in a gas mask. I’ve vomited into a gas mask. Don’t be so loud, baby, Rinaldi said. We all know you have been at the front Oh, you fine baby, what will I do while you are gone? We must go, said the major. This becomes sentimental. Listen, I have a surprise for you. Your English. You know? The English you go to see every night at their hospital? She is going to Milan too. She goes with another to be at the American hospital. They had not got nurses yet from America. I talked to-day with the head of their riparto. They have too many Women here at the front. They send some back. How do you like that, baby? All right. Yes? You go to live in a big city and have your English there to cuddle you. Why don’t I get wounded? Maybe you will, I said. We must go, said the major. We drink and make noise and disturb Federico. Don’t go. Yes, we must go. Good-by. Good luck. Many things. Ciaou. Ciaou. Ciaou. Come back quickly, baby. Rinaldi kissed me. You smell of lysol. Good-by, baby. Good-by. Many things. The major patted my shoulder. They tiptoed out. I found I was quite drunk but went to sleep.
The next day in the morning we left for Milan and arrived forty-eight hours later. It was a bad trip. We were sidetracked for a long time this side of Mestre and children came and peeked in. I got a little boy to go for a bottle of cognac but he came back and said he could only get grappa. I told him to get it and when it came I gave him the change and the man beside me and I got drunk and slept until past Vicenza where I woke up and was very sick on the floor. It did not matter because the man on that side had been very sick on the floor several times before. Afterward I thought I could not stand the thirst and in the yards outside of Verona I called to a soldier who was walking up and down beside the train and he got me a drink of water. I woke Georgetti, the other boy who was drunk, and offered him some water. He said to pour it on his shoulder and went back to sleep. The soldier would not take the penny I offered him and brought me a pulpy orange. I sucked on that and spit out the pith and watched the soldier pass up and down past a freight-car outside and after a while the train gave a jerk and started.