A Farewell to Arms CHAPTER X

In the ward at the field hospital they told me a visitor was coming to see me in the afternoon. It was a hot day and there were many flies in the room. My orderly had cut paper into strips and tied the strips to a stick to make a brush that swished the flies away. I watched them settle on the ceiling. When he stopped swishing and fell asleep they came down and I blew them away and finally covered my face with my hands and slept too. It was very hot and when I woke my legs itched. I waked the orderly and he poured mineral water on the dressings. That made the bed damp and cool. Those of us that were awake talked across the ward. The afternoon was a quiet time. In the morning they came to each bed in turn, three men nurses and a doctor and picked you up out of bed and carried you into the dressing room so that the beds could be made while we were having our wounds dressed. It was not a pleasant trip to the dressing room and I did not know until later that beds could be made with men in them. My orderly had finished pouring water and the bed felt cool and lovely and I was telling him where to scratch on the soles of my feet against the itching when one of the doctors brought in Rinaldi. He came in very fast and bent down over the bed and kissed me. I saw he wore gloves.

“How are you, baby? How do you feel? I bring you this—” It was a bottle of cognac. The orderly brought a chair and he sat down, “and good news. You will be decorated. They want to get you the medaglia d’argento but perhaps they can get only the bronze.”

“What for?”

“Because you are gravely wounded. They say if you can prove you did any heroic act you can get the silver. Otherwise it will be the bronze. Tell me exactly what happened. Did you do any heroic act?”

“No,” I said. “I was blown up while we were eating cheese.”

“Be serious. You must have done something heroic either before or after. Remember carefully.”

“I did not.”

“Didn’t you carry anybody on your back? Gordini says you carried several people on your back but the medical major at the first post declares it is impossible. He has to sign the proposition for the citation.”

“I didn’t carry anybody. I couldn’t move.”

“That doesn’t matter,” said Rinaldi.

He took off his gloves.

“I think we can get you the silver. Didn’t you refuse to be medically aided before the others?”

“Not very firmly.”

“That doesn’t matter. Look how you are wounded. Look at your valorous conduct in asking to go always to the first line. Besides, the operation was successful.”

“Did they cross the river all right?”

“Enormously. They take nearly a thousand prisoners. It’s in the bulletin. Didn’t you see it?”


“I’ll bring it to you. It is a successful coup de main.”

“How is everything?”

“Splendid. We are all splendid. Everybody is proud of you. Tell me just exactly how it happened. I am positive you will get the silver. Go on tell me. Tell me all about it.” He paused and thought. “Maybe you will get an English medal too. There was an English there. I’ll go and see him and ask if he will recommend you. He ought to be able to do something. Do you suffer much? Have a drink. Orderly, go get a corkscrew. Oh you should see what I did in the removal of three metres of small intestine and better now than ever. It is one for The Lancet. You do me a translation and I will send it to The Lancet. Every day I am better. Poor dear baby, how do you feel? Where is that damn corkscrew? You are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering.” He slapped his gloves on the edge of the bed.

“Here is the corkscrew, Signor Tenente,” the orderly said.

“Open the bottle. Bring a glass. Drink that, baby. How is your poor head? I looked at your papers. You haven’t any fracture. That major at the first post was a hog-butcher. I would take you and never hurt you. I never hurt anybody. I learn how to do it. Every day I learn to do things smoother and better. You must forgive me for talking so much, baby. I am very moved to see you badly wounded. There, drink that. It’s good. It cost fifteen lire. It ought to be good. Five stars. After I leave here I’ll go see that English and he’ll get you an English medal.”

“They don’t give them like that.”

“You are so modest. I will send the liaison officer. He can handle the English.”

“Have you seen Miss Barkley?”

“I will bring her here. I will go now and bring her here.”

“Don’t go,” I said. “Tell me about Gorizia. How are the girls?”

“There are no girls. For two weeks now they haven’t changed them. I don’t go there any more. It is disgraceful. They aren’t girls; they are old war comrades.”

“You don’t go at all?”

“I just go to see if there is anything new. I stop by. They all ask for you. It is a disgrace that they should stay so long that they become friends.”

“Maybe girls don’t want to go to the front any more.”

“Of course they do. They have plenty of girls. It is just bad administration. They are keeping them for the pleasure of dugout hiders in the rear.”

“Poor Rinaldi,” I said. “All alone at the war with no new girls.”

Rinaldi poured himself another glass of the cognac.

“I don’t think it will hurt you, baby. You take it.”

I drank the cognac and felt it warm all the way down. Rinaldi poured another glass. He was quieter now. He held up the glass. “To your valorous wounds. To the silver medal. Tell me, baby, when you lie here all the time in the hot weather don’t you get excited?”


“I can’t imagine lying like that. I would go crazy.”

“You are crazy.”

“I wish you were back. No one to come in at night from adventures. No one to make fun of. No one to lend me money. No blood brother and roommate. Why do you get yourself wounded?”

“You can make fun of the priest.”

“That priest. It isn’t me that makes fun of him. It is the captain. I like him. If you must have a priest have that priest. He’s coming to see you. He makes big preparations.”

“I like him.”

“Oh, I knew it. Sometimes I think you and he are a little that way. You know.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do sometimes. A little that way like the number of the first regiment of the Brigata Ancona.”

“Oh, go to hell.”

He stood up and put on his gloves.

“Oh I love to tease you, baby. With your priest and your English girl, and really you are just like me underneath.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, we are. You are really an Italian. All fire and smoke and nothing inside. You only pretend to be American. We are brothers and we love each other.”

“Be good while I’m gone,” I said.

“I will send Miss Barkley. You are better with her without me. You are purer and sweeter.”

“Oh, go to hell.”

“I will send her. Your lovely cool goddess. English goddess. My God what would a man do with a woman like that except worship her? What else is an Englishwoman good for?”

“You are an ignorant foul-mouthed dago.”

“A what?”

“An ignorant wop.”

“Wop. You are a frozen-faced … wop.”

“You are ignorant. Stupid.” I saw that word pricked him and kept on. “Uninformed. Inexperienced, stupid from inexperience.”

“Truly? I tell you something about your good women. Your goddesses. There is only one difference between taking a girl who has always been good and a woman. With a girl it is painful. That’s all I know.” He slapped the bed with his glove. “And you never know if the girl will really like it.”

“Don’t get angry.”

“I’m not angry. I just tell you, baby, for your own good. To save you trouble.”

“That’s the only difference?”

“Yes. But millions of fools like you don’t know it.”

“You were sweet to tell me.”

“We won’t quarrel, baby. I love you too much. But don’t be a fool.”

“No. I’ll be wise like you.”

“Don’t be angry, baby. Laugh. Take a drink. I must go, really.”

“You’re a good old boy.”

“Now you see. Underneath we are the same. We are war brothers. Kiss me good-by.”

“You’re sloppy.”

“No. I am just more affectionate.”

I felt his breath come toward me. “Good-by. I come to see you again soon.” His breath went away. “I won’t kiss you if you don’t want. I’ll send your English girl. Good-by, baby. The cognac is under the bed. Get well soon.”

He was gone.