Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XVI

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◄  Chapter XV Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter XVI
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XVII  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 167-170)



Chapter XVI

THE Colonel woke before daylight and checked that there was no one sleeping with him.

The wind was still blowing hard and he went to the open windows to check the weather. There was no light as yet in the east across the Grand Canal, but his eyes could see how rough the water was. Be a hell of a tide today, he thought. Probably flood the square. That’s always fun. Except for the pigeons.

He went to the bathroom, taking the Herald Tribune and Red Smith with him, as well as a glass of Valpolicella. Damn I’ll be glad when the Gran Maestro gets those big fiascos, he thought. This wine gets awfully dreggy at the end.

He sat there, with his newspaper, thinking of the things of that day.

There would be the telephone call. But it might be very late because she would be sleeping late. The young sleep late, he thought, and the beautiful sleep half again as late. She certainly would not call early, and the shops did not open until nine or a little later.

Hell, he thought, I have these damned stones. How could anyone do a thing like that?

You know how, he said to himself, reading the ads in the back of the paper. You’ve put it on the line enough times. It isn’t crazy or morbid. She just wanted to put it on the line. It was a good thing it was me, he thought.

That is the only good thing about being me, he considered. Well I’m me, God-damn it. For better or for much worse. How would you like to sit on the can as you have sat almost every morning of your damned life with this in your pocket?

He was addressing no one, except, perhaps, posterity.

How many mornings have you sat in the row with all the others? That’s the worst of it. That and shaving. Or you go off to be alone, and think or not think, and pick a good piece of cover and there are two riflemen there already, or some boy asleep.

There’s no more privacy in the army than in a professional shit-house. I’ve never been in a professional shit-house but I imagine they run it much the same. I could learn to run one, he thought.

Then I’d make all my leading shit-house characters Ambassadors and the unsuccessful ones could be Corps-Commanders or command military districts in peace time. Don’t be bitter, boy, he said to himself. It’s too early in the morning and your duty’s not completed yet.

What would you do with their wives, he asked himself? Buy them new hats or shoot them, he said. It’s all part of the same process.

He looked at himself in the mirror, set in the half closed door. It showed him at a slight angle. It’s a deflection shot, he said to himself, and they didn’t lead me enough. Boy, he said, you certainly are a beat-up, old looking bastard.

Now you have to shave and look at that face while you do it. Then you must get a hair-cut. That’s easy in this town. You’re a Colonel of Infantry, boy. You can’t go around looking like Joan of Arc or General (Brevetted) George Armstrong Custer. That beautiful horse-cavalryman. I guess it is fun to be that way and have a loving wife and use sawdust for brains. But it must have seemed like the wrong career to him when they finished up on that hill above the Little Big Horn, with the ponies making the circle around them in all the dust, and the sage brush crushed by the hooves of the horses of the other people, and nothing left to him for the rest of his life but that old lovely black powder smell and his own people shooting each other, and themselves, because they were afraid of what the squaws would do to them.

The body was unspeakably mutilated, they used to put in this same paper. And on that hill to know you’d made one real mistake, finally, and for good, and complete with true handles. Poor horse-cavalryman, he thought. The end of all his dreams. That’s one good thing about being an Infantryman. You never have any dreams except bad dreams.

Well, he said to himself, we’re finished here, and pretty soon there will be good light and I can see the portrait. I’ll be damned if I’ll turn that in. I keep that.

Oh Christ, he said, I wonder what she looks like now sleeping. I know how she looks, he said to himself. Wonderful. She sleeps as though she had not gone to sleep. As though she were just resting. I hope she is, he thought. I hope she’s resting well. Christ Jesus how I love her and I hope I never do her harm.