Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XVIII

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◄  Chapter XVII Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter XVIII
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XIX  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 175-177)



Chapter XVIII

THE hall porter pushed the Gazzetino under the door, and the Colonel had it, noiselessly, almost as soon as it had passed through the slit.

He very nearly took it from the hall porter’s hand. He did not like the hall porter since he had found him, one day, going through his bag, when he, the Colonel, had re-entered the room after having left it, presumably for some time. He had to come back to the room to get his bottle of the medicine, which he had forgotten, and the hall porter was well through his bag.

“I guess you don’t say stick them up in this hotel,” the Colonel had said. “But you’re no credit to your town.”

There was silence produced, and re-produced, by the striped waist-coated man with the Fascist face, and the Colonel said, “Go on, boy, look through the rest of it. I don’t carry any military secrets with my toilet articles.” Since then, there was scant friendship between them, and the Colonel enjoyed trying to take the morning paper from the striped waist-coated man’s hand; noiselessly, and when he heard, or saw it first make a move under the door.

“OK, you won today, jerk,” he said in the best Venetian dialect he could summon at that hour. “Go hang yourself.”

But they don’t hang themselves, he thought. They just have to go on putting papers under other people’s doors that do not even hate them. It must be quite a difficult trade being an ex-Fascist. Maybe he is not an ex-Fascist too. How do you know.

I can’t hate Fascists, he thought. Nor Krauts either, since unfortunately, I am a soldier.

“Listen, Portrait,” he said. “Do I have to hate the Krauts because we kill them? Do I have to hate them as soldiers and as human beings? It seems too easy a solution to me.”

Well, portrait. Forget it. Forget it. You’re not old enough to know about it. You are two years younger than the girl that you portray, and she is younger and older than hell; which is quite an old place.

“Listen, portrait,” he said, and saying it, knew that now as long as he lived, he would have someone to talk to at the early hours that he woke.

“As I was saying, portrait. The hell with that too. That’s too old for you too. That is one of the things you can’t say no matter how true it is. There are lots of things I can never say to you and maybe that will be good for me. It is about time something was. What do you think would be good for me, Portrait?

“What’s the matter, Portrait?” he asked her. “You getting hungry? I am.”

So he rang the bell for the waiter who would bring breakfast.

He knew that now, even though the light was so good that every wave showed on the Grand Canal, lead colored and solid heavy with the wind, and the tide now high over the landing steps of the Palace directly opposite his room, there would be no telephone call for several hours.

The young sleep good, he thought. They deserve it. “Why do we have to get old?” he asked the waiter who had come in with his glass-eye and the menu.

“I don’t know, my Colonel. I suppose it is a natural process.”

“Yes. I guess I imagine that too. The eggs fried with their faces up. Tea and toast.”

“You don’t want anything American?”

“The hell with anything American except me. Is the Gran Maestro astir yet?”

“He has your Valpolicella in the big wicker fiascos of two liters and I have brought this decanter with it.”

“That one,” the Colonel said. “I wish to Christ I could give him a regiment.”

“I don’t think he would want one, really.”

“No,” the Colonel said. “I don’t want one, really, myself.”