A Farewell to Arms CHAPTER XX

One day in the afternoon we went to the races. Ferguson went too and Crowell Rodgers, the boy who had been wounded in the eyes by the explosion of the shell nose-cap. The girls dressed to go after lunch while Crowell and I sat on the bed in his room and read the past performances of the horses and the predictions in the racing paper. Crowell’s head was bandaged and he did not care much about these races but read the racing paper constantly and kept track of all the horses for something to do. He said the horses were a terrible lot but they were all the horses we had. Old Meyers liked him and gave him tips. Meyers won on nearly every race but disliked to give tips because it brought down the prices. The racing was very crooked. Men who had been ruled off the turf everywhere else were racing in Italy. Meyers’ information was good but I hated to ask him because sometimes he did not answer, and always you could see it hurt him to tell you, but he felt obligated to tell us for some reason and he hated less to tell Crowell. Crowell’s eyes had been hurt, one was hurt badly, and Meyers had trouble with his eyes and so he liked Crowell. Meyers never told his wife what horses he was playing and she won or lost, mostly lost, and talked all the time.

We four drove out to San Siro in an open carriage. It was a lovely day and we drove out through the park and out along the tramway and out of town where the road was dusty. There were villas with iron fences and big overgrown gardens and ditches with water flowing and green vegetable gardens with dust on the leaves. We could look across the plain and see farmhouses and the rich green farms with their irrigation ditches and the mountains to the north. There were many carriages going into the race track and the men at the gate let us in without cards because we were in uniform. We left the carriage, bought programmes, and walked across the infield and then across the smooth thick turf of the course to the paddock. The grand stands were old and made of wood and the betting booths were under the stands and in a row out near the stables. There was a crowd of soldiers along the fence in the infield. The paddock was fairly well filled with people and they were walking the horses around in a ring under the trees behind the grand-stand. We saw people we knew and got chairs for Ferguson and Catherine and watched the horses.

They went around, one after the other, their heads down, the grooms leading them. One horse, a purplish black, Crowell swore was dyed that color. We watched him and it seemed possible. He had only come out just before the bell rang to saddle. We looked him up in the programme from the number on the groom’s arm and it was listed a black gelding named Japalac. The race was for horses that had never won a race worth one thousand lire or more. Catherine was sure his color had been changed. Ferguson said she could not tell. I thought he looked suspicious. We all agreed we ought to back him and pooled one hundred lire. The odds sheets showed he would pay thirty-five to one. Crowell went over and bought the tickets while we watched the jockeys ride around once more and then go out under the trees to the track and gallop slowly up to the turn where the start was to be.

We went up in the grand-stand to watch the race. They had no elastic barrier at San Siro then and the starter lined up all the horses, they looked very small way up the track, and then sent them off with a crack of his long whip. They came past us with the black horse well in front and on the turn he was running away from the others. I watched them on the far side with the glasses and saw the jockey fighting to hold him in but he could not hold him and when they came around the turn and into the stretch the black horse was fifteen lengths ahead of the others. He went way on up and around the turn after the finish.

“Isn’t it wonderful,” Catherine said. “We’ll have over three thousand lire. He must be a splendid horse.”

“I hope his color doesn’t run,” Crowell said, “before they pay off.”

“He was really a lovely horse,” Catherine said. “I wonder if Mr. Meyers backed him.”

“Did you have the winner?” I called to Meyers. He nodded.

“I didn’t,” Mrs. Meyers said. “Who did you children bet on?”


“Really? He’s thirty-five to one!”

“We liked his color.”

“I didn’t. I thought he looked seedy. They told me not to back him.”

“He won’t pay much,” Meyers said.

“He’s marked thirty-five to one in the quotes,” I said.

“He won’t pay much. At the last minute,” Meyers said, “they put a lot of money on him.”


“Kempton and the boys. You’ll see. He won’t pay two to one.”

“Then we won’t get three thousand lire,” Catherine said. “I don’t like this crooked racing!”

“We’ll get two hundred lire.”

“That’s nothing. That doesn’t do us any good. I thought we were going to get three thousand.”

“It’s crooked and disgusting,” Ferguson said.

“Of course,” said Catherine, “if it hadn’t been crooked we’d never have backed him at all. But I would have liked the three thousand lire.”

“Let’s go down and get a drink and see what they pay,” Crowell said. We went out to where they posted the numbers and the bell rang to pay off and they put up 18.50 after Japalac to win. That meant he paid less than even money on a ten-lira bet.

We went to the bar under the grand stand and had a whiskey and soda apiece. We ran into a couple of Italians we knew and McAdams, the vice-consul, and they came up with us when we joined the girls. The Italians were full of manners and McAdams talked to Catherine while we went down to bet again. Mr. Meyers was standing near the pari-mutual.

“Ask him what he played,” I said to Crowell.

“What are you on, Mr. Meyers?” Crowell asked. Meyers took out his programme and pointed to the number five with his pencil.

“Do you mind if we play him too?” Crowell asked.

“Go ahead. Go ahead. But don’t tell my wife I gave it to you.”

“Will you have a drink?” I asked.

“No thanks. I never drink.”

We put a hundred lire on number five to win and a hundred to place and then had another whiskey and soda apiece. I was feeling very good and we picked up a couple more Italians, who each had a drink with us, and went back to the girls. These Italians were also very mannered and matched manners with the two we had collected before. In a little while no one could sit down. I gave the tickets to Catherine.

“What horse is it?”

“I don’t know. Mr. Meyers’ choice.”

“Don’t you even know the name?”

“No. You can find it on the programme. Number five I think.”

“You have touching faith,” she said. The number five won but did not pay anything. Mr. Meyers was angry.

“You have to put up two hundred lire to make twenty,” he said. “Twelve lire for ten. It’s not worth it. My wife lost twenty lire.”

“I’ll go down with you,” Catherine said to me. The Italians all stood up. We went downstairs and out to the paddock.

“Do you like this?” Catherine asked.

“Yes. I guess I do.”

“It’s all right, I suppose,” she said. “But, darling, I can’t stand to see so many people.”

“We don’t see many.”

“No. But those Meyers and the man from the bank with his wife and daughters——”

“He cashes my sight drafts,” I said.

“Yes but some one else would if he didn’t. Those last four boys were awful.”

“We can stay out here and watch the race from the fence.”

“That will be lovely. And, darling, let’s back a horse we’ve never heard of and that Mr. Meyers won’t be backing.”

“All right.”

We backed a horse named Light For Me that finished fourth in a field of five. We leaned on the fence and watched the horses go by, their hoofs thudding as they went past, and saw the mountains off in the distance and Milan beyond the trees and the fields.

“I feel so much cleaner,” Catherine said. The horses were coming back, through the gate, wet and sweating, the jockeys quieting them and riding up to dismount under the trees.

“Wouldn’t you like a drink? We could have one out here and see the horses.”

“I’ll get them,” I said.

“The boy will bring them,” Catherine said. She put her hand up and the boy came out from the Pagoda bar beside the stables. We sat down at a round iron table.

“Don’t you like it better when we’re alone?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I felt very lonely when they were all there.”

“It’s grand here,” I said.

“Yes. It’s really a pretty course.”

“It’s nice.”

“Don’t let me spoil your fun, darling. I’ll go back whenever you want.”

“No,” I said. “We’ll stay here and have our drink. Then we’ll go down and stand at the water jump for the steeplechase.”

“You’re awfully good to me,” she said.

After we had been alone awhile we were glad to see the others again. We had a good time.