Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XLII

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◄  Chapter XLI Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter XLII
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XLIII  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 295-298)

Chapter XLII

THE COLONEL had signalled the boatman in by standing up, in the sunken barrel, firing two shots toward the empty sky, and then waving him toward the blind.

The boat came in slowly, breaking ice all the way, and the man picked up the wooden decoys, caught the calling hen and put her in her sack, and, with the dog slithering on the ice, picked up the ducks. The boatman’s anger seemed to be gone and to be replaced by a solid satisfaction.

“You shot very few,” he said to the Colonel.

“With your help.”

That was all they said and the boatman placed the ducks carefully, breasts up, on the bow of the boat and the Colonel handed his guns and the combination cartridge box and shooting stool into the boat.

The Colonel got into the boat and the boatman checked the blind and unhooked the pocketed, apron-like device which had hung on the inside of the blind to hold shells. Then he got into the boat too and they commenced their slow and laborious progress out through the ice to the open water of the brown canal. The Colonel worked as hard with the poling oar as he had worked coming in. But now, in the bright sunlight, with the snow mountains to the north, and the line of the sedge that marked the canal ahead of them, they worked together in complete co-ordination.

Then they were into the canal, slipping breakingly in from the last ice; then, suddenly, light-borne and the Colonel handed the big oar to the boatman and sat down. He was sweating.

The dog, who had been shivering at the Colonel’s feet, pawed his way over the gunwale of the boat and swam to the canal bank. Shaking the water from his white bedraggled coat, he was into the brown sedge and brush, and the Colonel watched his progress toward home by the movement of the brush. He had never received his sausage.

The Colonel, feeling himself sweating, although he knew he was protected from the wind by his field jacket, took two tablets from the bottle and a sip of gin from his flask.

The flask was flat and of silver with a leather cover. Under the leather cover, which was worn and stained, it was engraved, on one side, to Richard From Renata With Love. No one had ever seen this inscription except the girl, the Colonel, and the man who had engraved it. It had not been engraved in the same place it was purchased. That was in the earliest days, the Colonel thought. Now who cared?

On the screw-on top of the flask was engraved From R. to R.C. The Colonel offered the flask to the boatman who looked at him, at the flask, and said, “What is it?”

“English grappa.”

“I’ll try it.”

He took a long drink of it; the type of drink peasants take from a flask.

“Thank you.”

“Did you have good shooting?”

“I killed four ducks. The dog found three cripples shot by other people.”

“Why did you shoot?”

“I’m sorry that I shot. I shot in anger.”

I have done that myself sometimes, the Colonel thought, and did not ask him what the anger was about.

“I am sorry they did not fly better.”

“Shit,” the Colonel said. “That’s the way things go.”

The Colonel was watching the movement the dog made in the high grass and sedge. Suddenly he saw him stop; he was quite still. Then he pounced. It was a high leap and a dive forward and down.

“He has a cripple,” he said to the boatman.

“Bobby,” the boatman called. “Bring. Bring.”

The sedge moved and the dog came out with the mallard drake in his jaws. The gray white neck and the green head were swaying up and down as a snake’s might move. It was a movement without hope.

The boatman put the boat in sharp for shore.

“I’ll take him,” the Colonel said. “Bobby!”

He took the duck from the dog’s light-holding mouth and felt him intact and sound and beautiful to hold, and with his heart beating and his captured, hopeless eyes.

He looked at him carefully, gentling him as you might gentle a horse.

“He’s only wing-tipped,” he said. “We’ll keep him for a caller or to turn loose in the Spring. Here, take him and put him in the sack with the hen.”

The boatman took him carefully and put him in the burlap bag that was under the bow. The Colonel heard the hen speak to him. Or, maybe she is protesting, he thought. He could not understand duck-talk through a burlap bag.

“Take a shot of this,” he said to the boatman. “It’s damned cold today.”

The boatman took the flask and drank deeply again.

“Thank you,” he said. “Your grappa is very, very good.”