Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XLIII

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◄  Chapter XLII Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter XLIII
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XLIV  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 299-302)



Chapter XLIII

AT the landing, before the long low stone house by the side of the canal, there were ducks laid out on the ground in rows.

They were laid in groups that were never of the same number. There were a few platoons, no companies, and, the Colonel thought, I barely have a squad.

The head game-keeper was standing on the bank in his high boots, his short jacket and his pushed back old felt hat, and he looked critically at the number of ducks on the bow of the boat as they came alongshore.

“It was frozen-up at our post,” the Colonel said.

“I suspected so,” the head keeper said. “I’m sorry. It was supposed to be the best post.”

“Who was top gun?”

“The Barone killed forty-two. There was a little current there that kept it open for a while. You probably did not hear the shooting because it was against the wind.”

“Where is everyone?”

“They’re all gone except the Barone who is waiting for you. Your driver is asleep in the house.”

“He would be,” the Colonel said.

“Spread those out properly,” the head keeper told the boatman who was a game-keeper too. “I want to put them in the game book.”

“There is one green-head drake in the bag who is only wing-tipped.”

“Good. I will take good care of him.”

“I will go inside and see the Barone. I’ll see you later.”

“You must get warm,” the head keeper said. “It’s been a bitter day, my Colonel.”

The Colonel started to walk toward the door of the house.

“I’ll see you later,” he said to the boatman.

“Yes, my Colonel,” the boatman said.

 

Alvarito, the Barone, was standing by the open fire in the middle of the room. He smiled his shy smile and said in his low pitched voice, “I am sorry you did not have better shooting.”

“We froze up completely. I enjoyed what there was very much.”

“Are you very cold?”

“Not too cold.”

“We can have something to eat.”

“Thank you. I’m not hungry. Have you eaten?”

“Yes. The others went on and I let them take my car. Can you give me a lift to Latisana or just above? I can get transportation from there.”

“Of course.”

“It was a shame that it should freeze. The prospects were so good.”

“There must have been a world of ducks outside.”

“Yes. But now they won’t stay with their feed frozen over. They will be on their way south tonight.”

“Will they all go?”

“All except our local ducks that breed here. They’ll stay as long as there is any open water.”

“I’m sorry for the shoot.”

“I’m sorry you came so far for so few ducks.”

“I always love the shoot,” the Colonel said. “And I love Venice.”

The Barone Alvarito looked away and spread his hands toward the fire. “Yes,” he said. “We all love Venice. Perhaps you do the best of all.”

The Colonel made no small talk on this but said, “I love Venice as you know.”

“Yes. I know,” the Barone said. He looked at nothing. Then he said, “We must wake your driver.”

“Has he eaten?”

“Eaten and slept and eaten and slept. He has also read a little in some illustrated books he brought with him.”

“Comic books,” the Colonel said.

“I should learn to read them,” the Barone said. He smiled the shy, dark smile. “Could you get me some from Trieste?”

“Any amount,” the Colonel told him. “From superman on up into the improbable. Read some for me. Look, Alvarito, what was the matter with that game-keeper who poled my boat? He seemed to have a hatred for me at the start. Pretty well through, too.”

“It was the old battle-jacket. Allied uniform affects him that way. You see he was a bit over-liberated.”

“Go on.”

“When the Moroccans came through here they raped both his wife and his daughter.”

“I think I’d better have a drink,” the Colonel said.

“There is grappa there on the table.”