Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XXXI

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◄  Chapter XXX Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter XXXI
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XXXII  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 241-243)

Chapter XXXI

“LISTEN, Daughter,” the Colonel said. “Now we will cut out all references to glamour and to high brass, even from Kansas, where the brass grows higher than osage-orange trees along your own road. It bears a fruit you can’t eat and it is purely Kansan. Nobody but Kansans ever had anything to do with it; except maybe us who fought. We ate them every day. Osage oranges,” he added. “Only we called them K Rations. They weren’t bad. C Rations were bad. Ten in ones were good.

“So we fought. It is dull but it is informative. This is the way it goes if anyone is ever interested; which I doubt.

“It goes like this: 1300 Red S-3: White jumped off on time. Red said they were waiting to tie in behind White. 1305 (that is one o’clock and five minutes after in the afternoon, if you can remember that, Daughter) Blue S-3, you know what an S-3 is I hope, says, ‘Let us know when you move.’ Red said they were waiting to tie in behind White.

“You can see how easy it is,” the Colonel told the girl. “Everybody ought to do it before breakfast.”

“We cannot all be combat infantrymen,” the girl told him softly. “I respect it more than anything except good, honest fliers. Please talk, I’m taking care of you.”

“Good fliers are very good and should be respected as such,” the Colonel said.

He looked up at the light on the ceiling and he was completely desperate at the remembrance of his loss of his battalions, and of individual people. He could never hope to have such a regiment, ever. He had not built it. He had inherited it. But, for a time, it had been his great joy. Now every second man in it was dead and the others nearly all were wounded. In the belly, the head, the feet or the hands, the neck, the back, the lucky buttocks, the unfortunate chest and the other places. Tree burst wounds hit men where they would never be wounded in open country. And all the wounded were wounded for life.

“It was a good regiment,” he said. “You might even say it was a beautiful regiment until I destroyed it under other people’s orders.”

“But why do you have to obey them when you know better?”

“In our army you obey like a dog,” the Colonel explained. “You always hope you have a good master.”

“What kind of masters do you get?”

“I’ve only had two good ones so far. After I reached a certain level of command, many nice people, but only two good masters.”

“Is that why you are not a General now? I would love it if you were a General.”

“I’d love it too,” the Colonel said. “But maybe not with the same intensity.”

“Would you try to sleep, please, to please me?”

“Yes,” the Colonel said.

“You see, I thought that if you slept you might get rid of them, just being asleep.”

“Yes. Thank you very much,” he said.

There was nothing to it, gentlemen. All a man need ever do is obey.