Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XIV

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◄  Chapter XIII Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter XIV
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XV  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 158-163)




Chapter XIV

“PLEASE don’t be bad,” she said, pulling the blanket over them both. “Please drink a glass of this with me. You know you’ve been hurt.”

“Exactly,” the Colonel said. “Let’s forget it.”

“All right,” she said. “I learned that word, or those two words from you. We have forgotten it.”

“Why do you like the hand?” the Colonel asked, placing it where he should.

“Please don’t pretend to be stupid, and please let’s not think of anything, or anything, or anything.”

“I am stupid,” the Colonel said. “But I won’t think of anything or anything nor of nothing nor of his brother, tomorrow.”

“Please be good and kind.”

“I will be. And I will tell you, now, a military secret Top Secret equals British Most Secret. I love you.”

“That’s nice,” she said. “And you put it nicely.”

“I’m nice,” the Colonel said, and checked on the bridge that was coming up, and saw there was clearance. “That’s the first thing people notice about me.”

“I always use the wrong words,” the girl said. “Please just love me. I wish it was me who could love you.”

“You do.”

“Yes, I do,” she said. “With all my heart.”

They were going with the wind now and they were both tired.

“Do you think—”

“I don’t think,” the girl said.

“Well try and think.”

“I will.”

“Drink a glass of this.”

“Why not? It’s very good.”

It was. There was still ice in the bucket, and the wine was cold and clear.

“Can I stay at the Gritti?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It wouldn’t be right. For them. Nor you. The hell with me.”

“Then I suppose I should go home.”

“Yes,” the Colonel said. “That is the logical supposition.”

“That is an awful way to say a sad thing. Can’t we even pretend some things?”

“No. I’ll take you home and you sleep good and well and tomorrow we will meet where and when you say.”

“May I call the Gritti?”

“Of course. I’ll always be awake. Will you call when you are awake?”

“Yes. But why do you always wake so early?”

“It is a business habit.”

“Oh, I wish you were not in that business, and that you were not going to die.”

“So do I,” said the Colonel. “But I’m getting out of the business.”

“Yes,” she said, sleepily and comfortably. “Then we go to Rome and get the clothes.”

“And live happily ever after.”

“Please don’t,” she said. “Please, please, don’t. You know I made the resolution not to cry.”

“You’re crying now,” the Colonel said. “What the hell have you got to lose on that resolution?”

“Take me home please.”

“That’s what I was doing in the first place,” the Colonel told her.

“Be kind once first.”

“I will,” the Colonel said.

After they, or the Colonel, rather, had paid the gondoliere who was unknowing, yet knowing all, solid, sound, respectful and trustworthy, they walked into the Piazzetta and then across the great, cold, wind-swept square that was hard and old under their feet. They walked holding close and hard in their sorrow and their happiness.

“This is the place where the German shot the pigeons,” the girl said.

“We probably killed him,” the Colonel said. “Or his brother. Maybe we hanged him. I wouldn’t know. I’m not in C.I.D.”

“Do you love me still on these water-worn, cold and old stones?”

“Yes. I’d like to spread a bed roll here and prove it.”

“That would be more barbarous than the pigeon shooter.”

“I’m barbarous,” the Colonel said.

“Not always.”

“Thank you for the not always.”

“We turn here.”

“I think I know that. When are they going to tear that damned Cinema Palace down and put up a real cathedral? That’s what T5 Jackson wants.”

“When some one brings Saint Mark back another time under a load of pork from Alexandria.”

“That was a Torcello boy.”

“You’re a Torcello boy.”

“Yes. I’m a Basso Piave boy and a Grappa boy straight here from Pertica. I’m a Pasubio boy, too, if you know what that means. It was worse just to live there than to fight anywhere else. In the platoon they used to share anyone’s gonochochi brought from Schio and carried in a matchbox. They used to share this just so they could leave because it was intolerable.”

“But you stayed.”

“Sure,” the Colonel said. “I’m always the last man to leave the party, fiesta I mean, not as in political party. The truly unpopular guest.”

“Should we go?”

“I thought you had made up your mind.”

“I had. But when you said it about unpopular guest it was unmade.”

“Keep it made up.”

“I can hold a decision.”

“I know. You can hold any damn thing. But, Daughter, sometimes you don’t just hold. That is for stupids. Sometimes you have to switch fast.”

“I’ll switch if you like.”

“No. I think the decision was sound.”

“But won’t it be an awfully long time until morning?”

“That all depends on whether one has luck or not.”

“I should sleep well.”

“Yes,” the Colonel said. “At your age if you can’t sleep they ought to take you out and hang you.”

“Oh please.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I meant shoot you.”

“We are nearly home and you could be kind now if you wanted.”

“I’m so kind I stink. Let somebody else be kind.”

They were in front of the palace now and there it was; the palace. There was nothing to do now but pull the bell cord, or enter with the key. I’ve been lost in this place, the Colonel thought, and I was never lost in my life.

“Please kiss me good-night, kindly.”

The Colonel did and loved her so he could not bear it.

She opened the door with the key, which was in her bag. Then she was gone and the Colonel was alone, with the worn pavement, the wind, which still held in the north, and the shadows from where a light went on. He walked home.

Only tourists and lovers take gondolas, he thought. Except to cross the canal in the places where there are no bridges. I ought to go to Harry’s, probably, or some damn place. But I think I’ll go home.