A Farewell to Arms CHAPTER VII

I came back the next afternoon from our first mountain post and stopped the car at the smistimento where the wounded and sick were sorted by their papers and the papers marked for the different hospitals. I had been driving and I sat in the car and the driver took the papers in. It was a hot day and the sky was very bright and blue and the road was white and dusty. I sat in the high seat of the Fiat and thought about nothing. A regiment went by in the road and I watched them pass. The men were hot and sweating. Some wore their steel helmets but most of them carried them slung from their packs. Most of the helmets were too big and came down almost over the ears of the men who wore them. The officers all wore helmets; better-fitting helmets. It was half of the brigata Basilicata. I identified them by their red and white striped collar mark. There were stragglers going by long after the regiment had passed—men who could not keep up with their platoons. They were sweaty, dusty and tired. Some looked pretty bad. A soldier came along after the last of the stragglers. He was walking with a limp. He stopped and sat down beside the road. I got down and went over.

“What’s the matter?”

He looked at me, then stood up.

“I’m going on.”

“What’s the trouble?”

“—— the war.”

“What’s wrong with your leg?”

“It’s not my leg. I got a rupture.”

“Why don’t you ride with the transport?” I asked. “Why don’t you go to the hospital?”

“They won’t let me. The lieutenant said I slipped the truss on purpose.”

“Let me feel it.”

“It’s way out.”

“Which side is it on?”

“Here.”

I felt it.

“Cough,” I said.

“I’m afraid it will make it bigger. It’s twice as big as it was this morning.”

“Sit down,” I said. “As soon as I get the papers on these wounded I’ll take you along the road and drop you with your medical officers.”

“He’ll say I did it on purpose.”

“They can’t do anything,” I said. “It’s not a wound. You’ve had it before, haven’t you?”

“But I lost the truss.”

“They’ll send you to a hospital.”

“Can’t I stay here, Tenente?”

“No, I haven’t any papers for you.”

The driver came out of the door with the papers for the wounded in the car.

“Four for 105. Two for 132,” he said. They were hospitals beyond the river.

“You drive,” I said. I helped the soldier with the rupture up on the seat with us.

“You speak English?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“How you like this goddam war?”

“Rotten.”

“I say it’s rotten. Jesus Christ, I say it’s rotten.”

“Were you in the States?”

“Sure. In Pittsburg. I knew you was an American.”

“Don’t I talk Italian good enough?”

“I knew you was an American all right.”

“Another American,” said the driver in Italian looking at the hernia man.

“Listen, lootenant. Do you have to take me to that regiment?”

“Yes.”

“Because the captain doctor knew I had this rupture. I threw away the goddam truss so it would get bad and I wouldn’t have to go to the line again.”

“I see.”

“Couldn’t you take me no place else?”

“If it was closer to the front I could take you to a first medical post. But back here you’ve got to have papers.”

“If I go back they’ll make me get operated on and then they’ll put me in the line all the time.”

I thought it over.

“You wouldn’t want to go in the line all the time, would you?” he asked.

“No.”

“Jesus Christ, ain’t this a goddam war?”

“Listen,” I said. “You get out and fall down by the road and get a bump on your head and I’ll pick you up on our way back and take you to a hospital. We’ll stop by the road here, Aldo.” We stopped at the side of the road. I helped him down.

“I’ll be right here, lieutenant,” he said.

“So long,” I said. We went on and passed the regiment about a mile ahead, then crossed the river, cloudy with snow-water and running fast through the spiles of the bridge, to ride along the road across the plain and deliver the wounded at the two hospitals. I drove coming back and went fast with the empty car to find the man from Pittsburg. First we passed the regiment, hotter and slower than ever: then the stragglers. Then we saw a horse ambulance stopped by the road. Two men were lifting the hernia man to put him in. They had come back for him. He shook his head at me. His helmet was off and his forehead was bleeding below the hair line. His nose was skinned and there was dust on the bloody patch and dust in his hair.

“Look at the bump, lieutenant!” he shouted. “Nothing to do. They come back for me.”

* * *

When I got back to the villa it was five o’clock and I went out where we washed the cars, to take a shower. Then I made out my report in my room, sitting in my trousers and an undershirt in front of the open window. In two days the offensive was to start and I would go with the cars to Plava. It was a long time since I had written to the States and I knew I should write but I had let it go so long that it was almost impossible to write now. There was nothing to write about. I sent a couple of army Zona di Guerra post-cards, crossing out everything except, I am well. That should handle them. Those post-cards would be very fine in America; strange and mysterious. This was a strange and mysterious war zone but I supposed it was quite well run and grim compared to other wars with the Austrians. The Austrian army was created to give Napoleon victories; any Napoleon. I wished we had a Napoleon, but instead we had Il Generale Cadorna, fat and prosperous, and Vittorio Emmanuele, the tiny man with the long thin neck and the goat beard. Over on the right they had the Duke of Aosta. Maybe he was too good-looking to be a great general but he looked like a man. Lots of them would have liked him to be king. He looked like a king. He was the King’s uncle and commanded the third army. We were in the second army. There were some British batteries up with the third army. I had met two gunners from that lot, in Milan. They were very nice and we had a big evening. They were big and shy and embarrassed and very appreciative together of anything that happened. I wish that I was with the British. It would have been much simpler. Still I would probably have been killed. Not in this ambulance business. Yes, even in the ambulance business. British ambulance drivers were killed sometimes. Well, I knew I would not be killed. Not in this war. It did not have anything to do with me. It seemed no more dangerous to me myself than war in the movies. I wished to God it was over though. Maybe it would finish this summer. Maybe the Austrians would crack. They had always cracked in other wars. What was the matter with this war? Everybody said the French were through. Rinaldi said that the French had mutinied and troops marched on Paris. I asked him what happened and he said, “Oh, they stopped them.” I wanted to go to Austria without war. I wanted to go to the Black Forest. I wanted to go to the Hartz Mountains. Where were the Hartz Mountains anyway? They were fighting in the Carpathians. I did not want to go there anyway. It might be good though. I could go to Spain if there was no war. The sun was going down and the day was cooling off. After supper I would go and see Catherine Barkley. I wished she were here now. I wished I were in Milan with her. I would like to eat at the Cova and then walk down the Via Manzoni in the hot evening and cross over and turn off along the canal and go to the hotel with Catherine Barkley. Maybe she would. Maybe she would pretend that I was her boy that was killed and we would go in the front door and the porter would take off his cap and I would stop at the concierge’s desk and ask for the key and she would stand by the elevator and then we would get in the elevator and it would go up very slowly clicking at all the floors and then our floor and the boy would open the door and stand there and she would step out and I would step out and we would walk down the hall and I would put the key in the door and open it and go in and then take down the telephone and ask them to send a bottle of capri bianca in a silver bucket full of ice and you would hear the ice against the pail coming down the corridor and the boy would knock and I would say leave it outside the door please. Because we would not wear any clothes because it was so hot and the window open and the swallows flying over the roofs of the houses and when it was dark afterward and you went to the window very small bats hunting over the houses and close down over the trees and we would drink the capri and the door locked and it hot and only a sheet and the whole night and we would both love each other all night in the hot night in Milan. That was how it ought to be. I would eat quickly and go and see Catherine Barkley.

They talked too much at the mess and I drank wine because to-night we were not all brothers unless I drank a little and talked with the priest about Archbishop Ireland who was, it seemed, a noble man and with whose injustice, the injustices he had received and in which I participated as an American, and of which I had never heard, I feigned acquaintance. It would have been impolite not to have known something of them when I had listened to such a splendid explanation of their causes which were, after all, it seemed, misunderstandings. I thought he had a fine name and he came from Minnesota which made a lovely name: Ireland of Minnesota, Ireland of Wisconsin, Ireland of Michigan. What made it pretty was that it sounded like Island. No that wasn’t it. There was more to it than that. Yes, father. That is true, father. Perhaps, father. No, father. Well, maybe yes, father. You know more about it than I do, father. The priest was good but dull. The officers were not good but dull. The King was good but dull. The wine was bad but not dull. It took the enamel off your teeth and left it on the roof of your mouth.

“And the priest was locked up,” Rocca said, “because they found the three per cent bonds on his person. It was in France of course. Here they would never have arrested him. He denied all knowledge of the five per cent bonds. This took place at B├ęziers. I was there and reading of it in the paper, went to the jail and asked to see the priest. It was quite evident he had stolen the bonds.”

“I don’t believe a word of this,” Rinaldi said.

“Just as you like,” Rocca said. “But I am telling it for our priest here. It is very informative. He is a priest; he will appreciate it.”

The priest smiled. “Go on,” he said. “I am listening.”

“Of course some of the bonds were not accounted for but the priest had all of the three per cent bonds and several local obligations, I forget exactly what they were. So I went to the jail, now this is the point of the story, and I stood outside his cell and I said as though I were going to confession, ‘Bless me, father, for you have sinned.’ ”

There was great laughter from everybody.

“And what did he say?” asked the priest. Rocca ignored this and went on to explain the joke to me. “You see the point, don’t you?” It seemed it was a very funny joke if you understood it properly. They poured me more wine and I told the story about the English private soldier who was placed under the shower bath. Then the major told the story of the eleven Czecho-slovaks and the Hungarian corporal. After some more wine I told the story of the jockey who found the penny. The major said there was an Italian story something like that about the duchess who could not sleep at night. At this point the priest left and I told the story about the travelling salesman who arrived at five o’clock in the morning at Marseilles when the mistral was blowing. The major said he had heard a report that I could drink. I denied this. He said it was true and by the corpse of Bacchus we would test whether it was true or not. Not Bacchus, I said. Not Bacchus. Yes, Bacchus, he said. I should drink cup for cup and glass for glass with Bassi, Fillipo Vincenza. Bassi said no that was no test because he had already drunk twice as much as I. I said that was a foul lie and, Bacchus or no Bacchus, Fillipo Vincenza Bassi or Bassi Fillippo Vicenza had never touched a drop all evening and what was his name anyway? He said was my name Frederico Enrico or Enrico Federico? I said let the best man win, Bacchus barred, and the major started us with red wine in mugs. Half-way through the wine I did not want any more. I remembered where I was going.

“Bassi wins,” I said. “He’s a better man than I am. I have to go.”

“He does really,” said Rinaldi. “He has a rendezvous. I know all about it.”

“I have to go.”

“Another night,” said Bassi. “Another night when you feel stronger.” He slapped me on the shoulder. There were lighted candles on the table. All the officers were very happy. “Good-night, gentlemen,” I said.

Rinaldi went out with me. We stood outside the door on the patch and he said, “You’d better not go up there drunk.”

“I’m not drunk, Rinin. Really.”

“You’d better chew some coffee.”

“Nonsense.”

“I’ll get some, baby. You walk up and down.” He came back with a handful of roasted coffee beans. “Chew those, baby, and God be with you.”

“Bacchus,” I said.

“I’ll walk down with you.”

“I’m perfectly all right.”

We walked along together through the town and I chewed the coffee. At the gate of the driveway that led up to the British villa, Rinaldi said good-night.

“Good-night,” I said. “Why don’t you come in?”

He shook his head. “No,” he said, “I like the simpler pleasures.”

“Thank you for the coffee beans.”

“Nothing, baby. Nothing.”

I started down the driveway. The outlines of the cypresses that lined it were sharp and clear. I looked back and saw Rinaldi standing watching me and waved to him.

I sat in the reception hall of the villa, waiting for Catherine Barkley to come down. Some one was coming down the hall-way. I stood up, but it was not Catherine. It was Miss Ferguson.

“Hello,” she said. “Catherine asked me to tell you she was sorry she couldn’t see you this evening.”

“I’m so sorry. I hope she’s not ill.”

“She’s not awfully well.”

“Will you tell her how sorry I am?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Do you think it would be any good to try and see her to-morrow?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Thank you very much,” I said. “Good-night.”

I went out the door and suddenly I felt lonely and empty. I had treated seeing Catherine very lightly, I had gotten somewhat drunk and had nearly forgotten to come but when I could not see her there I was feeling lonely and hollow.