Across the River and Into the Trees/Chapter XXXVIII

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◄  Chapter XXXVII Across the River and Into the Trees
written by Ernest Hemingway
Chapter XXXIX  ►
Charles Scribner's Sons 1950 (pages 268-273)


THEY ate lunch at the Gritti, and the girl had unwrapped the small ebony negro’s head and torso, and pinned it high on her left shoulder. It was about three inches long, and was quite lovely to look at if you liked that sort of thing. And if you don’t you are stupid, the Colonel thought.

But do not even think rough, he told himself. You have to be good now in every way until you say goodbye. What a word, he thought, good-bye.

It sounds like a Valentine slogan.

Good-bye and bonne chance and hasta la vista. We always just said merde and let it go at that. Farewell, he thought, that is a nice word. It sings well, he thought. Farewell, a long farewell and take it with you where you go. With handles, he thought.

“Daughter,” he said. “How long has it been since I told you that I loved you?”

“Not since we sat at the table.”

“I tell you now.”

She had combed her hair with patience when they came into the hotel and she had gone into the room for women. She disliked such rooms.

She had used lipstick to make the sort of mouth she knew he most desired, and she had said to herself, making the mouth correctly, “Don’t think at all. Don’t think. Above all don’t be sad because he is going now.”

“You look beautiful.”

“Thank you. I would like to be beautiful for you if I could and if I could be beautiful.”

“Italian is a lovely language.”

“Yes. Mister Dante thought so.”

Gran Maestro,” the Colonel said. “What is there to eat in this Wirtschaft?”

The Gran Maestro had been observing, without observing, with affection and without envy.

“Do you want meat, or fish?”

“It’s Saturday,” the Colonel said. “Fish is not compulsory. So I’ll take it.”

“It is sole,” the Gran Maestro said. “What do you want, my Lady?”

“Whatever you decide. You know more about food than I do, and I like it all.”

“Make a decision, Daughter.”

“No. I would rather leave it to some one who knows more than me. I have a boarding school appetite.”

“It will come as a surprise,” the Gran Maestro said with his long and loving face with the grey eyebrows over the softly hooded eyes, and the ever happy face of the old soldier who is still alive and appreciates it.

“Is there any news from the Order?” the Colonel asked.

“Only that our leader, Himself, is in trouble. They have confiscated everything he owns. Or at any rate they have intervened.”

“I hope it is not serious.”

“We will have confidence in our leader. He has ridden out worse tempests than this.”

“To our leader,” the Colonel said.

He raised his glass, which had been filled with the decanted new and true Valpolicella. “Drink to him, daughter.”

“I can’t drink to that swine,” the girl said. “Besides I do not belong to the Order.”

“You are a member now,” the Gran Maestro said. “Por merito di guerra.”

“I’ll drink to him then,” she said. “Am I really a member of the Order?”

“Yes,” the Gran Maestro said. “You have not received your parchment yet but I appoint you Super Honorary Secretary. My Colonel will reveal to you the secrets of the order. Reveal, please, my Colonel.”

“I reveal,” the Colonel said. “There are no pitted folk about?”

“No. He is out with his Lady. Miss Baedeker.”

“OK then,” the Colonel said. “I will reveal. There is only the major secret that you must know. Correct me, Gran Maestro, if I fall into error.”

“Proceed to reveal,” the Gran Maestro said.

“I proceed to reveal,” the Colonel said. “Listen carefully daughter. This is the Supreme Secret. Listen. ‘Love is love and fun is fun. But it is always so quiet when the gold fish die.’”

“It has been revealed,” the Gran Maestro said.

“I am very proud and happy to be a member of the Order,” the girl said. “But it is, in a way, a rather rough order.”

“It is indeed,” the Colonel said. “And now, Gran Maestro, what do we actually eat; without mysteries?”

“Some crab enchillada, in the style of this town, but cold, first. Served in the shell. Then sole for you, and for my lady a mixed grill. What vegetables?”

“Whatever you have,” the Colonel said.

The Gran Maestro was gone and the Colonel looked at the girl and then at the Grand Canal outside the window, and he saw the magic spots and changes of light that were even here, in the end of the bar, which had now by skillful handling been made into a dining room, and he said, “Did I tell you, daughter, that I love you?”

“You haven’t told me for quite a long time. But I love you.”

“What happens to people that love each other?”

“I suppose they have whatever they have, and they are more fortunate than others. Then one of them gets the emptiness forever.”

“I won’t be rough,” the Colonel said. “I could have made a rough response. But please don’t have any emptiness.”

“I’ll try,” the girl said. “I’ve been trying ever since I woke up. I’ve tried ever since we knew each other.”

“Keep on trying, daughter,” the Colonel said.

Then to the Gran Maestro, who had reappeared, having given his orders, the Colonel said, “A bottle of that vino secco, from Vesuvius, for the small soles. We have the Valpolicella for the other things.”

“Can’t I drink the Vesuvius wine with my mixed grill?” the girl asked.

“Renata, daughter,” the Colonel said. “Of course. You can do anything.”

“I like to drink the same wines as you if I drink wine.”

“Good white wine is good with a mixed grill, at your age,” the Colonel told her.

“I wish there was not such a difference in ages.”

“I like it very much,” the Colonel said. “Except,” he added. Then he did not continue and said, “Let’s be fraîche et rose comme au jour de bataille.”

“Who said that?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea. I picked it up when I took a course at the Collége des Maréchaux, A rather pretentious title. But I graduated. What I know best I learned from the krauts, studying them and opposing them. They are the best soldiers. But they always over-reach.”

“Let’s be like you said, and please tell me that you love me.”

“I love you,” he said. “That’s what you can base on. I tell you truly.”

“It is Saturday,” she said. “And when is next Saturday?”

“Next Saturday is a movable feast, daughter. Find me a man who can tell me about next Saturday.”

“You could tell me if you would.”

“I’ll ask the Gran Maestro, maybe he knows. Gran Maestro when will next Saturday come?”

À Paques ou à la Trinité,” the Gran Maestro said.

“Why don’t we have any smells from the kitchen to cheer us up?”

“Because the wind is from the wrong direction.”

Yes, the Colonel thought. The wind is from the wrong direction and how lucky I would have been to have had this girl instead of the woman that I pay alimony to, who could not even make a child. She hired out for that. But who should criticise whose tubes? I only criticize Goodrich or Firestone or General.

Keep it clean, he said to himself. And love your girl.

She was there beside him, wishing to be loved, if he had any love to give.

It came back, as it always had, when he saw her, and he said, “How are you with the crow wing hair and the breakheart face?”

“I’m fine.”

Gran Maestro,” the Colonel said. “Produce a few smells or something from your off-stage kitchen, even if the wind is against us.”