Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XIX

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◄  Chapter XVIII Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter XIX
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XX  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 178-180)

Chapter XIX

THE Colonel breakfasted with the leisure of a fighter who has been clipped badly, hears four, and knows how to relax truly for five seconds more.

“Portrait,” he said. “You ought to relax too. That’s the only thing that is going to be difficult about you. That’s what they call the static element in painting. You know, Portrait, that almost no pictures, paintings rather, move at all. A few do. But not many.

“I wish that your mistress was here and we could have movement. How do girls like you and she know so much so damn young and be so beautiful?

“With us, if a girl is really beautiful, she comes from Texas and maybe, with luck, she can tell you what month it is. They can all count good though.

“They teach them how to count, and keep their legs together, and how to put their hair up in pin curls. Sometime, portrait, for your sins, if you have any, you ought to have to sleep in a bed with a girl who has put her hair up in pin curls to be beautiful tomorrow. Not tonight. They’d never be beautiful tonight. For tomorrow, when we make the competition.

“The girl, Renata, that you are, is sleeping now without ever having done anything to her hair. She is sleeping with it spread out on the pillow and all it is to her is a glorious, dark, silky annoyance, that she can hardly remember to comb, except that her governess taught her. “I see her in the street with the lovely long-legged stride and the wind doing anything it wants to her hair, and her true breasts under the sweater, and then I see the nights in Texas with the pin curls; tight and subjected by metallic instruments.

“Pin me no pin curls, my beloved,” he said to the Portrait, “and I will try to lay it on the line in round, heavy, hard silver dollars or with the other.”

I mustn’t get rough, he thought.

Then he said to the portrait, for he did not capitalize her now in his mind, “You are so God-damned beautiful you stink. Also you are jail-bait. Renata’s two years older now. You are under seventeen.”

And why can’t I have her and love her and cherish her and never be rude, nor bad, and have the five sons that go to the five corners of the world; wherever that is? I don’t know. I guess the cards we draw are those we get. You wouldn’t like to re-deal would you dealer?

No. They only deal to you once, and then you pick them up and play them. I can play them, if I draw any damn thing at all, he told portrait; who was unimpressed.

“Portrait,” he said. “You better look the other way so that you will not be unmaidenly. I am going to take a shower now and shave, something you will never have to do, and put on my soldier-suit and go and walk around this town even though it is too early.”

So, he got out of bed, favoring his bad leg, which hurt him always. He pulled the reading light with his bad hand. There was sufficient light, and he had been wasting electricity for nearly an hour.

He regretted this as he regretted all his errors. He walked past portrait, only looking casually, and looked at himself in the mirror. He had dropped both parts of his pajamas and he looked at himself critically and truly.

“You beat-up old bastard,” he said to the mirror. Portrait was a thing of the past. Mirror was actuality and of this day.

The gut is flat, he said without uttering it. The chest is all right except where it contains the defective muscle. We are hung as we are hung, for better or worse, or something, or something awful.

You are one half a hundred years old, you bastard you. Now go in and take a shower, and scrub good, and afterwards put on your soldier suit. Today is another day.