Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter II

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◄  Chapter I Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter II
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter III  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 8-11)

Chapter II

BUT he was not a boy. He was fifty and a Colonel of Infantry in the Army of the United States and to pass a physical examination that he had to take the day before he came down to Venice for this shoot, he had taken enough mannitol hexanitrate to, well he did not quite know what to—to pass, he said to himself.

The surgeon had been quite skeptical. But he noted the readings after taking them twice.

“You know, Dick,” he said. “It isn’t indicated; in fact it is definitely contra-indicated in increased intra-ocular and intra-cranial pressure.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” the shooter, who was not a shooter, then, except potentially, and was a Colonel of Infantry in the Army of the United States, reduced from being a general officer, said.

“I have known you a long time, Colonel. Or maybe it just seems a long time,” the surgeon told him.

“It’s been a long time,” the Colonel said.

“We sound like song writers,” the surgeon said. “But don’t you ever run into anything, or let any sparks strike you, when you’re really souped up on nitroglycerin. They ought to make you drag a chain like a high-octane truck.”

“Wasn’t my cardiograph O.K.?” the Colonel asked.

“Your cardiograph was wonderful, Colonel. It could have been that of a man of twenty-five. It might have been that of a boy of nineteen.”

“Then what are you talking about?” the Colonel asked.

That much mannitol hexanitrate produced a certain amount of nausea, sometimes, and he was anxious for the interview to terminate. He was also anxious to lie down and take a seconal. I ought to write the manual of minor tactics for the heavy pressure platoon, he thought. Wish I could tell him that. Why don’t I just throw myself on the mercy of the court? You never do, he told himself. You always plead them non-guilty.

“How many times have you been hit in the head?” the surgeon asked him.

“You know,” the Colonel told him. “It’s in my 201.”

“How many times have you been hit on the head?”

“Oh Christ.” Then he said, “You are asking for the army or as my physician?”

“As your physician. You didn’t think I’d try to wind your clock, did you?”

“No, Wes. I’m sorry. Just what was it you wanted to know?”


“Real ones?”

“Any time you were cold or couldn’t remember afterwards.”

“Maybe ten,” the Colonel said. “Counting polo. Give or take three.”

“You poor old son of a bitch,” the surgeon said. “Colonel, sir,” he added.

“Can I go now?” the Colonel asked.

“Yes, sir,” the surgeon said. “You’re in good shape.”

“Thanks,” the Colonel said. “Want to go on a duck shoot down in the marshes at the mouth of the Tagliamento? Wonderful shoot. Some nice Italian kids I met up at Cortina own it.”

“Is that where they shoot coots?”

“No. They shoot real ducks at this one. Good kids. Good shoot. Real ducks. Mallard, pin-tail, widgeon. Some geese. Just as good as at home when we were kids.”

“I was kids in twenty-nine and thirty.”

“That’s the first mean thing I ever heard you say.”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant I didn’t remember when duck shooting was good. I’m a city boy, too.”

“That’s the only God-damn trouble with you, too. I never saw a city boy yet that was worth a damn.”

“You don’t mean that, do you, Colonel?”

“Of course, not. You know damn well I don’t.”

“You’re in good shape, Colonel,” the surgeon said. “I’m sorry I can’t go on the shoot. I can’t even shoot.”

“Hell,” said the Colonel. “That doesn’t make any difference. Neither can anybody else in this army. I’d like to have you around.”

“I’ll give you something else to back up what you’re using.”

“Is there anything?”

“Not really. They’re working on stuff, though.”

“Let ’em work,” the Colonel said.

“I think that’s a laudable attitude, sir.”

“Go to hell,” the Colonel said. “You sure you don’t want to go?”

“I get my ducks at Longchamps on Madison Avenue,” the surgeon said. “It’s air-conditioned in the summer and it’s warm in the winter and I don’t have to get up before first light and wear long-horned underwear.”

“All right, City Boy. You’ll never know.”

“I never wanted to know,” the surgeon said. “You’re in good shape, Colonel, sir.”

“Thanks,” said the Colonel and went out.