|◄ Chapter XII|| Across the River and Into the Trees
written by Ernest Hemingway
|Chapter XIV ►|
|Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 149-157)|
THEY went out the side door of the hotel to the imbarcadero and the wind hit them. The light from the hotel shone on the blackness of the gondola and made the water green. She looks as lovely as a good horse or as a racing shell, the Colonel thought. Why have I never seen a gondola before? What hand or eye framed that dark-ed symmetry?
“Where should we go?” the girl asked.
Her hair, in the light from the hotel door and window, as she stood on the dock by the black gondola, was blowing back in die wind, so she looked like the figure-head on a ship. The rest of it, too, the Colonel thought.
“Let’s just ride through the park,” the Colonel said. “Or through the Bois with the top down. Let him take us out to Armenonville.”
“Will we go to Paris?”
“Sure,” the Colonel said. “Tell him to take us for an hour where the going is easiest. I don’t want to drive him into that wind.”
“The tide is quite high with this wind,” the girl said. “Some of our places he couldn’t get under the bridges. May I tell him where to go?”
“Of course, Daughter.”
“Stow that ice bucket aboard,” the Colonel said to the second waiter, who had come out with them.
“The Gran Maestro said to tell you, as you embarked, that this bottle of wine was his present.”
“Thank him properly and tell him he can’t do that.”
“He had better go into the wind a little first,” the girl said. “Then I know how he should go.”
“The Gran Maestro sent this,” the second waiter said.
It was a folded, old U. S. O. D. blanket. Renata was talking to the gondoliere, her hair blowing. The gondoliere wore a heavy blue navy sweater and he was bareheaded too.
“Thank him,” the Colonel said.
He slipped a bill into the second waiter’s hand. The second waiter returned it. “You already made the notation on the check. Neither you nor I nor the Gran Maestro are starving.”
“What about the moglie and the bambini?”
“I don’t have that. Your mediums smacked our house in Treviso.”
“You needn’t be,” the second waiter said. “You were a foot soldier as I was.”
“Permit me to be sorry.”
“Sure,” the second waiter said. “And what the hell difference does it make? Be happy, my Colonel, and be happy, my Lady.”
They got down into the gondola and there was the same magic, as always, of the light hull, and the sudden displacement that you made, and then the trimming in the dark privacy, and then the second trimming, as the gondoliere started to scull, laying her partly on her side so that he would have more control.
“Now,” the girl said. “We are in our home and I love you. Please kiss me and put all love into it.”
The Colonel held her close, with her head thrown back and kissed her until there was nothing left of the kiss but desperation.
“I love you.”
“Whatever that means,” she interrupted.
“I love you and I know whatever that means. The picture is lovely. But there is no word for what you are.”
“Wild?” she said. “Or careless or unkempt?”
“The last was one of the first words I learned from my governess. It means you do not comb your hair enough. Neglectful is when you do not brush one hundred strokes at night.”
“I’m going to run my hand through it and make it unkempter still.”
“Your hurt hand?”
“We’re sitting on the wrong sides for that. Change over.”
“Good. That is a sensible order couched in simple language and easily understood.”
It was fun moving over, trying not to disturb the balance of the gondola, but having to trim again carefully.
“Now,” she said. “But hold me tightly with the other arm.”
“You know just what you want?”
“I do indeed. Is it un-maidenly? I learned that word too from my governess.”
“No,” he said. “It’s lovely. Pull up the blanket good and feel that wind.”
“It’s from the high mountains.”
“Yes. And beyond there it’s from somewhere else.”
The Colonel heard the slap of the waves, and he felt the wind come sharply, and the rough familiarity of the blanket, and then he felt the girl cold-warm and lovely and with upraised breasts that his left hand coasted lightly over. Then he ran his bad hand through her hair once, twice, and three times and then he kissed her, and it was worse than desperation.
“Please,” she said, from almost underneath the blanket. “Let me kiss now.”
“No,” he said. “Me again.”
The wind was very cold and lashed their faces but under the blanket there was no wind nor nothing; only his ruined hand that searched for the island in the great river with the high steep banks.
“That’s it,” she said.
He kissed her then and he searched for the island, finding it and losing it, and then finding it for good. For good and for bad, he thought, and for good and for all.
“My darling,” he said. “My well beloved. Please.”
“No. Just hold me very tight and hold the high ground, too.”
The Colonel said nothing, because he was assisting, or had made an act of presence, at the only mystery that he believed in except the occasional bravery of man.
“Please don’t move,” the girl said. “Then move a great amount.”
The Colonel, lying under the blanket in the wind, knowing it is only what man does for woman that he retains, except what he does for his fatherland or his motherland, however you get the reading, proceeded.
“Please darling,” the girl said. “I don’t think I can stand it.”
“Don’t think of anything. Don’t think of anything at all.”
“Oh please let’s not talk.”
“Is it right?”
“Oh please not talk. Please.”
Yes, he thought. Please and please again.
She said nothing, and neither did he, and when the great bird had flown far out of the closed window of the gondola, and was lost and gone, neither of them said anything. He held her head lightly with his good arm and the other arm held the high ground now.
“Please put it where it should be,” she said. “Your hand.”
“No. Just hold me tight and try to love me true.”
“I love you true,” he said, and just then the gondola turned to the left, quite sharply, and the wind was on his right cheek, and he said, with his old eyes catching the outline of the Palace where they turned, and noting it, “You’re in the lee now, Daughter.”
“But it is too soon now. Don’t you know how a woman feels?”
“No. Only what you tell me.”
“Thank you for the you. But don’t you really know?”
“No. I never asked, I guess.”
“Guess now,” she said. “And please wait until after we have gone under the second bridge.”
“Take a glass of this,” the Colonel said, reaching accurately and well for the champagne bucket with the ice, and uncorking the bottle the Gran Maestro had uncorked, and then placed a common wine cork in.
“This is good for you, Daughter. It is good for all the ills that all of us have, and for all sadness and indecision.”
“I have none of those,” she said, speaking grammatically as her governess had taught her. “I am just a woman, or a girl, or whatever that is, doing whatever it is she should not do. Let’s do it again, please, now I am in the lee.”
“Where is the island now and in what river?”
“You are making the discovery. I am only the unknown country.”
“Not too unknown,” the Colonel said.
“Please don’t be rude,” the girl said. “And please attack gently and with the same attack as before.”
“It’s no attack,” the Colonel said. “It’s something else.”
“Whatever it is, whatever it is, while I’m still in the lee.”
“Yes,” the Colonel said. “Yes, now if you want, or will accept from kindness.”
She talks like a gentle cat, though the poor cats cannot speak, the Colonel thought. But then he stopped thinking and he did not think for a long time.
The gondola now was in one of the secondary canals. When it had turned from the Grand Canal, the wind had swung it so the gondoliere had to shift all his weight as ballast, and the Colonel and the girl had shifted too, under the blanket, with the wind getting under the edge of the blanket; wildly.
They had not spoken for a long time and the Colonel had noted that the gondola had only inches free in passing under the last bridge.
“How are you, Daughter?”
“I’m quite lovely.”
“Do you love me?”
“Please don’t ask such silly things.”
“The tide is very high and we only just made that last bridge.”
“I think I know where we are going. I was born here.”
“I’ve made mistakes in my home town,” the Colonel said. “Being born there isn’t everything.”
“It is very much,” the girl said. “You know that. Please hold me very tightly so we can be a part of each other for a little while.”
“We can try,” the Colonel said.
“Couldn’t I be you?”
“That’s awfully complicated. We could try of course.”
“I’m you now,” she said. “And I just took the city of Paris.”
“Jesus, Daughter,” he said. “You’ve got an awful lot of problems on your hands. The next thing, they will parade the twenty-eighth division through.”
“I don’t care.”
“Were they not good?”
“Sure. They had fine commanders, too. But they were National Guard and hard luck. What you call a T.S. division. Get your T.S. slip from the Chaplain.”
“I understand none of those things.”
“They aren’t worth explaining,” the Colonel said.
“Will you tell me some true things about Paris? I love it so much and when I think of you taking it, then, it is as though I were riding in this gondola with Maréchal Ney.”
“A no good job,” the Colonel said. “Anyway, not after he fought all those rear-guard actions coming back from that big Russian town. He used to fight ten, twelve, fifteen times a day. Maybe more. Afterwards, he couldn’t recognize people. Please don’t get in any gondolas with him.”
“He was always one of my great heroes.”
“Yeah. Mine too. Until Quatre Bras. Maybe it wasn’t Quatre Bras. I’m getting rusty. Give it the generic title of Waterloo.”
“Was he bad there?”
“Awful,” the Colonel told her. “Forget it. Too many rear-guard actions coming back from Moskova.”
“But they called him the bravest of the brave.”
“You can’t eat on that. You have to be that, always, and then be the smartest of the smart. Then you need a lot of stuff coming up.”
“Tell me about Paris, please. We should not make more love, I know.”
“I don’t know it. Who says it?”
“I say it because I love you.”
“All right. You said it and you love me. So we act on that. The hell with it.”
“Do you think we could once more if it would not hurt you?”
“Hurt me?” the Colonel said. “When the hell was I ever hurt?”