Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XXVII

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◄  Chapter XXVI Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter XXVII
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XXVIII  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 209-215)



Chapter XXVII

UPSTAIRS the room was already done and the Colonel, who had anticipated a possible messiness of locale, was pleased.

“Stand by it once,” he said. Then remembered to add, “Please.”

She stood by it, and he looked at it from where he had looked at it last night.

“There’s no comparison, of course,” he said. “I don’t mean likeness. The likeness is excellent.”

“Was there supposed to be a comparison?” the girl asked, and swung her head back and stood there with the black sweater of the portrait.

“Of course not. But last night, and at first light, I talked to the portrait as though it were you.”

“That was nice of you and shows it has served some useful purpose.”

They were lying now on the bed and the girl said to him, “Don’t you ever close windows?”

“No. Do you?”

“Only when it rains.”

“How much alike are we?”

“I don’t know. We never had much of a chance to find out.”

“We’ve never had a fair chance. But we’ve had enough of a chance for me to know.”

“And when you know what the hell have you got?” the Colonel asked.

“I don’t know. Something better than there is, I suppose.”

“Sure. We ought to try for that. I don’t believe in limited objectives. Sometimes you’re forced to, though.”

“What is your great sorrow?”

“Other people’s orders,” he said. “What’s yours?”

“You.”

“I don’t want to be a sorrow. I’ve been a sorry son of a bitch many times. But I never was anybody’s sorrow.”

“Well you are mine now.”

“All right,” he said. “We’ll take it that way.”

“You’re nice to take it that way. You’re very kind this morning. I’m so ashamed about how things are. Please hold me very close and let’s not talk, or think, about how things might have been different.”

“Daughter, that’s one of the few things I know how to do.”

“You know many, many things. Don’t say such a thing.”

“Sure,” the Colonel said. “I know how to fight forwards and how to fight backwards and what else?”

“About pictures and about books and about life.”

“That’s easy. You just look at the pictures without prejudice, and you read the books with as open a mind as you have, and you live life.”

“Don’t take off your tunic, please.”

“All right.”

“You do anything when I say please.”

“I have done things without.”

“Not very often.”

“No,” the Colonel agreed. “Please is a pretty word.”

“Please, please, please.”

Per piacere. It means for pleasure. I wish we always talked Italian.”

“We could in the dark. Although there are things that say better in English.

“I love you my last true and only love,” she quoted. “When lilacs last in the door-yard bloomed. And out of the cradle endlessly rocking. And come and get it, you sons of bitches, or I’ll throw it away. You don’t want those in other languages do you, Richard?”

“No.”

“Kiss me again, please.”

“Unnecessary please.”

“I would probably end up as an unnecessary please myself. That is the good thing about you going to die that you can’t leave me.”

“That’s a little rough,” the Colonel said. “Watch your beautiful mouth a little on that.”

“I get rough when you get rough,” she said. “You wouldn’t want me to be completely otherwise?”

“I would not want you to be in any way other than you are and I love you truly, finally and for good.”

“You say nice things very clearly, sometimes. What was it happened with you and your wife, if I may ask?”

“She was an ambitious woman and I was away too much.”

“You mean she went away, from ambition, when you only were away from duty?”

“Sure,” the Colonel said and remembered, as unbitterly as he could. “She had more ambition than Napoleon and about the talent of the average High School Valedictorian.”

“Whatever that is,” the girl said. “But let’s not speak about her. I’m sorry I asked the question. She must be sad that she is not with you.”

“No. She is too conceited ever to be sad, and she married me to advance herself in Army circles, and have better contacts for what she considered her profession, or her art. She was a journalist.”

“But they are dreadful,” the girl said.

“I agree.”

“But you couldn’t have married a woman journalist that kept on being that?”

“I told you I made mistakes,” the Colonel said.

“Let’s talk about something nice.”

“Let’s.”

“But that was terrible. How could you have done such a thing?”

“I don’t know. I could tell you in detail but let’s skip it.”

“Please let’s skip it. But I had no idea it was something as awful as that. You wouldn’t do such a thing now, would you?”

“I promise you, my sweet.”

“But you don’t ever write to her?”

“Of course not.”

“You wouldn’t tell her about us, so she could write about it?”

“No. I told her about things once, and she wrote about them. But that was in another country and besides the wench is dead.”

“Is she really dead?”

“Deader than Phoebus the Phoenician. But she doesn’t know it yet.”

“What would you do if we were together in the Piazza and you saw her?”

“I’d look straight through her to show her how dead she was.”

“Thank you very much,” the girl said. “You know that another woman, or a woman in memory, is a terrible thing for a young girl to deal with when she is still without experience.”

“There isn’t any other woman,” the Colonel told her, and his eyes were bad and remembering. “Nor is there any woman of memory.”

“Thank you very much,” the girl said. “When I look at you I believe it truly. But please never look at me nor think of me like that.”

“Should we hunt her down and hang her to a high tree?” the Colonel said with anticipation.

“No. Let us forget her.”

“She is forgotten,” the Colonel said. And, strangely enough, she was. It was strange because she had been present in the room for a moment, and she had very nearly caused a panic; which is one of the strangest things there is, the Colonel thought. He knew about panics.

But she was gone now, for good and forever; cauterized; exorcised and with the eleven copies of her re-classification papers, in which was included the formal, notarized act of divorcement, in triplicate.

“She is forgotten,” the Colonel said. It was quite true.

“I’m so pleased,” the girl said. “I don’t know why they ever let her into the hotel.”

“We’re enough alike,” the Colonel said. “We better not carry it too God damned far.”

“You can hang her if you wish because she is why we cannot marry.”

“She’s forgotten,” the Colonel told her. “Maybe she will take a good look at herself in the mirror sometime and hang herself.”

“Now that she is out of the room we should wish her no bad luck. But, as a good Venetian, I wish that she were dead.”

“So do I,” the Colonel said. “And now, since she is not, let us forget her for keeps.”

“For keeps and for always,” the girl said. “I hope that is the correct diction. Or in Spanish para siempre.”

“Para siempre and his brother,” the Colonel said.