Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XX

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◄  Chapter XIX Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter XX
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XXI  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 181-183)

Chapter XX

THE Colonel stopped at the reception desk in the lobby, but the concierge was not there yet. There was only the night porter.

“Can you put something in the safe for me?”

“No, my Colonel. No one may open the safe until the assistant manager or the concierge arrives. But I will guard anything for you that you wish.”

“Thank you. It’s not worth the trouble,” and he buttoned the Gritti envelope, with the stones inside, the envelope addressed to himself, into the inside left pocket of his tunic.

“There’s no real crime here now,” the night porter said.

It had been a long night and he was happy to speak to someone. “There never really was, my Colonel. There are only differences of opinion and politics.”

“What do you have for politics?” the Colonel asked; for he was lonely too.

“About what you would expect.”

“I see. And how is your thing going?”

“I think it goes quite well. Maybe not as well as last year. But still quite well. We were beaten and we have to wait a while now.”

“Do you work at it?”

“Not much. It is more the politics of my heart than of . my head. I believe in it with my head too, but I have very little political development.”

“When you get it you won’t have any heart.”

“Maybe not. Do you have politics in the army?”

“Plenty,” the Colonel said. “But not what you mean.”

“Well, we better not discuss it then. I have not meant to be intrusive.”

“I asked the question; the original question rather. It was only to talk. It was not an interrogation.”

“I don’t think it was. You do not have the face of an inquisitor, my Colonel, and I know about the Order, although I am not a member.”

“You may be member material. I’ll take it up with the Gran Maestro.”

“We come from the same town; but from distinct quarters.”

“It’s a good town.”

“My Colonel, I have so little political development that I believe all honorable men are honorable.”

“Oh you’ll get over that,” the Colonel assured him. “Don’t worry, boy. You’ve got a young party. Naturally you make errors.”

“Please don’t talk like that.”

“It was just rough early morning joking.”

“Tell me, my Colonel, what do you really think about Tito?”

“I think several things. But he’s my next door neighbor. I’ve found it better not to talk about my neighbor.”

“I’d like to learn.”

“Then learn it the hard way. Don’t you know people don’t give answers to such questions?”

“I had hoped they did.”

“They don’t,” the Colonel said. “Not in my position. All I can tell you is that Mister Tito has plenty problems.”

“Well, I know that now truly,” the night porter who was really only a boy said.

“I hope you do,” the Colonel said. “I wouldn’t call it, as knowledge, any pearl of great price. Now, good-day, for I must take a walk for the good of my liver, or something.”

“Good day, my Colonel. Fa brutto tempo.”

Bruttissimo,” the Colonel said and, pulling the belt of his raincoat tight, and settling his shoulders into it, and the skirts well down, he stepped out into the wind.