Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XXVI

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◄  Chapter XXV Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter XXVI
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XXVII  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 205-208)

Chapter XXVI

THEY sat there at the table and watched the early stormy light over the Canal. The grey had turned to a yellow grey, now, with the sun, and the waves were working against the outgoing tide.

“Mummy says she can’t live here too long at any time because there are no trees,” the girl said. “That’s why she goes to the country.”

“That’s why everyone goes to the country,” the Colonel said. “We could plant a few trees if we found a place with a big enough garden.”

“I like Lombardy poplars and plane trees the best, but I am still quite uneducated.”

“I like them, and cypresses and chestnut trees. The real chestnut and the horse-chestnut. But you will never see trees, Daughter, until we go to America. Wait till you see a white pine or a ponderosa pine.”

“Will we see them when we make the long trip and stop at all the filling stations or comfort stations or whatever they are called?”

“Lodges and Tourist Camps,” the Colonel said. “Those others we stop at; but not for the night.”

“I want so much for us to roll up to a comfort station and plank down my money and tell them to fill her up and check the oil, Mac, the way it is in American books or in the films.”

“That’s a filling station.”

“Then what is a comfort station?”

“Where you go, you know—”

“Oh,” the girl said and blushed. “I’m sorry. I want to learn American so much. But I suppose I shall say barbarous things the way you do sometimes in Italian.”

“It is an easy language. The further West you go the straighter and the easier it becomes.”

The Gran Maestro brought the breakfast and the odor of it, although it did not spread through the room, due to the silver covers on the dishes, came to them steady and as broiled bacon and kidneys, with the dark lusterless smell of grilled mushrooms added.

“It looks lovely,” the girl said. “Thank you very much, Gran Maestro. Should I talk American?” she asked the Colonel. She extended her hand to the Gran Maestro lightly, and fastly, so that it darted as a rapier does, and said, “Put it there, Pal. This grub is tops.”

The Gran Maestro said, “Thank you, my lady.”

“Should I have said chow instead of grub?” the girl asked the Colonel.

“They are really interchangeable.”

“Did they talk like that out West when you were a boy? What would you say at breakfast?”

“Breakfast was served, or offered up, by the cook. He would say, ‘Come and get it, you sons of bitches, or I’ll throw it away.’ ”

“I must learn that for in the country. Sometimes when we have the British Ambassador and his dull wife for dinner I will teach the footman, who will announce dinner, to say, ‘Come and get it, you son of bitches, or we will throw it away.’ ”

“He’d devaluate,” the Colonel said. “At any rate, it would be an interesting experiment.”

“Tell me something I can say in true American to the pitted one if he comes in. I will just whisper it in his ear as though I were making a rendezvous, as they did in the old days.”

“It would depend on how he looks. If he is very dejected looking, you might whisper to him, ‘Listen, Mac. You hired out to be tough, didn’t you?’ ”

“That’s lovely,” she said and repeated it in a voice she had learned from Ida Lupino. “Can I say it to the Gran Maestro?”

“Sure. Why not. Gran Maestro!”

The Gran Maestro came over and leaned forward attentively.

“Listen, Mac. You hired out to be tough, didn’t you?” the girl hard-worded him.

“I did indeed,” the Gran Maestro said. “Thank you for stating it so exactly.”

“If that one comes in and you wish to speak to him after he has eaten, just whisper in his ear, ‘Wipe the egg off your chin, Jack, and straighten up and fly right.’ ”

“I’ll remember it and I’ll practice it at home.”

“What are we going to do after breakfast?”

“Should we go up and look at the picture and see if it is of any value, I mean any good, in daylight?”

“Yes,” the Colonel said.