Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XXXII

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◄  Chapter XXXI Across the River and Into the Trees
Chapter XXXII
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XXXIII  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 244-246)

Chapter XXXII

“YOU slept quite well for a time,” the girl told him, lovingly and gently. “Is there anything you would like me to do?”

“Nothing,” the Colonel said. “Thank you.”

Then he turned bad and he said, “Daughter I could sleep good straight up and down in the electric chair with my pants slit and my hair clipped. I sleep as, and when, I need it.”

“I can never be like that,” the girl said, sleepily. “I sleep when I am sleepy.”

“You’re lovely,” the Colonel told her. “And you sleep better than anyone ever slept.”

“I am not proud of it,” the girl said, very sleepily. “It is just something that I do.”

“Do it, please.”

“No. Tell me very low and soft and put your bad hand in mine.”

“The hell with my bad hand,” the Colonel said. “Since when was it so bad.”

“It’s bad,” the girl said. “Badder, or worse, than you will ever know. Please tell me about combat without being too brutal.”

“An easy assignment,” the Colonel said. “I’ll skip the times. The weather is cloudy and the place is 986342. What’s the situation? We are smoking the enemy with artillery and mortar. S-3 advises that S-6 wants Red to button up by 1700. S-6 wants you to button up and use plenty of artillery. White reports that they are in fair shape. S-6 informs that A company will swing around and tie in with B.

“B Company was stopped first by enemy action and stayed there of their own accord. S-6 isn’t doing so good. This is unofficial. He wants more artillery but there isn’t any more artillery.

“You wanted combat for what? I don’t know really why. Or really know why. Who wants true combat? But here it is, Daughter, on the telephone and later I will put in the sounds and smells and anecdotes about who was killed when and where if you want them.”

“I only want what you will tell me.”

“I’ll tell you how it was,” the Colonel said, “and General Walter Bedell Smith doesn’t know how it was yet. Though, probably, I am wrong, as I have been so many times.”

“I’m glad we don’t have to know him or the nylon-smooth man,” the girl said.

“We won’t have to know them this side of hell,” the Colonel assured her. “And I will have a detail guarding the gates of hell so that no such characters enter.”

“You sound like Dante,” she said sleepily.

“I am Mister Dante,” he said. “For the moment.”

And for a while he was and he drew all the circles. They were as unjust as Dante’s but he drew them.