A Farewell to Arms / Ernest Hemingway / Ch-9


The road was crowded and there were screens of corn-stalk and straw matting on both sides and matting over the top so that it was like the entrance at a circus or a native village. We drove slowly in this matting-covered tunnel and came out onto a bare cleared space where the railway station had been. The road here was below the level of the river bank and all along the side of the sunken road there were holes dug in the bank with infantry in them. The sun was going down and looking up along the bank as we drove I saw the Austrian observation balloons above the hills on the other side dark against the sunset. We parked the cars beyond a brickyard. The ovens and some deep holes had been equipped as dressing stations. There were three doctors that I knew. I talked with the major and learned that when it should start and our cars should be loaded we would drive them back along the screened road and up to the main road along the ridge where there would be a post and other cars to clear them. He hoped the road would not jam. It was a one-road show. The road was screened because it was in sight of the Austrians across the river. Here at the brickyard we were sheltered from rifle or machine-gun fire by the river bank. There was one smashed bridge across the river. They were going to put over another bridge when the bombardment started and some troops were to cross at the shallows up above at the bend of the river. The major was a little man with upturned mustaches. He had been in the war in Libya and wore two wound-stripes. He said that if the thing went well he would see that I was decorated. I said I hoped it would go well but that he was too kind. I asked him if there was a big dugout where the drivers could stay and he sent a soldier to show me. I went with him and found the dugout, which was very good. The drivers were pleased with it and I left them there. The major asked me to have a drink with him and two other officers. We drank rum and it was very friendly. Outside it was getting dark. I asked what time the attack was to be and they said as soon as it was dark. I went back to the drivers. They were sitting in the dugout talking and when I came in they stopped. I gave them each a package of cigarettes, Macedonias, loosely packed cigarettes that spilled tobacco and needed to have the ends twisted before you smoked them. Manera lit his lighter and passed it around. The lighter was shaped like a Fiat radiator. I told them what I had heard.

“Why didn’t we see the post when we came down?” Passini asked.

“It was just beyond where we turned off.”

“That road will be a dirty mess,” Manera said.

“They’ll shell the —— out of us.”


“What about eating, lieutenant? We won’t get a chance to eat after this thing starts.”

“I’ll go and see now,” I said.

“You want us to stay here or can we look around?”

“Better stay here.”

I went back to the major’s dugout and he said the field kitchen would be along and the drivers could come and get their stew. He would loan them mess tins if they did not have them. I said I thought they had them. I went back and told the drivers I would get them as soon as the food came. Manera said he hoped it would come before the bombardment started. They were silent until I went out. They were all mechanics and hated the war.

I went out to look at the cars and see what was going on and then came back and sat down in the dugout with the four drivers. We sat on the ground with our backs against the wall and smoked. Outside it was nearly dark. The earth of the dugout was warm and dry and I let my shoulders back against the wall, sitting on the small of my back, and relaxed.

“Who goes to the attack?” asked Gavuzzi.


“All bersaglieri?”

“I think so.”

“There aren’t enough troops here for a real attack.”

“It is probably to draw attention from where the real attack will be.”

“Do the men know that who attack?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Of course they don’t,” Manera said. “They wouldn’t attack if they did.”

“Yes they would,” Passini said. “Bersaglieri are fools.”

“They are brave and have good discipline,” I said.

“They are big through the chest by measurement, and healthy. But they are still fools.”

“The granatieri are tall,” Manera said. This was a joke. They all laughed.

“Were you there, Tenente, when they wouldn’t attack and they shot every tenth man?”


“It is true. They lined them up afterward and took every tenth man. Carabinieri shot them.”

“Carabinieri,” said Passini and spat on the floor. “But those grenadiers; all over six feet. They wouldn’t attack.”

“If everybody would not attack the war would be over,” Manera said.

“It wasn’t that way with the granatieri. They were afraid. The officers all came from such good families.”

“Some of the officers went alone.”

“A sergeant shot two officers who would not get out.”

“Some troops went out.”

“Those that went out were not lined up when they took the tenth men.”

“One of those shot by the carabinieri is from my town,” Passini said. “He was a big smart tall boy to be in the granatieri. Always in Rome. Always with the girls. Always with the carabinieri.” He laughed. “Now they have a guard outside his house with a bayonet and nobody can come to see his mother and father and sisters and his father loses his civil rights and cannot even vote. They are all without law to protect them. Anybody can take their property.”

“If it wasn’t that that happens to their families nobody would go to the attack.”

“Yes. Alpini would. These V. E. soldiers would. Some bersaglieri.”

“Bersaglieri have run too. Now they try to forget it.”

“You should not let us talk this way, Tenente. Evviva l’esercito,” Passini said sarcastically.

“I know how you talk,” I said. “But as long as you drive the cars and behave——”

“—and don’t talk so other officers can hear,” Manera finished.

“I believe we should get the war over,” I said. “It would not finish it if one side stopped fighting. It would only be worse if we stopped fighting.”

“It could not be worse,” Passini said respectfully. “There is nothing worse than war.”

“Defeat is worse.”

“I do not believe it,” Passini said still respectfully. “What is defeat? You go home.”

“They come after you. They take your home. They take your sisters.”

“I don’t believe it,” Passini said. “They can’t do that to everybody. Let everybody defend his home. Let them keep their sisters in the house.”

“They hang you. They come and make you be a soldier again. Not in the auto-ambulance, in the infantry.”

“They can’t hang every one.”

“An outside nation can’t make you be a soldier,” Manera said. “At the first battle you all run.”

“Like the Tchecos.”

“I think you do not know anything about being conquered and so you think it is not bad.”

“Tenente,” Passini said. “We understand you let us talk. Listen. There is nothing as bad as war. We in the auto-ambulance cannot even realize at all how bad it is. When people realize how bad it is they cannot do anything to stop it because they go crazy. There are some people who never realize. There are people who are afraid of their officers. It is with them that war is made.”

“I know it is bad but we must finish it.”

“It doesn’t finish. There is no finish to a war.”

“Yes there is.”

Passini shook his head.

“War is not won by victory. What if we take San Gabriele? What if we take the Carso and Monfalcone and Trieste? Where are we then? Did you see all the far mountains to-day? Do you think we could take all them too? Only if the Austrians stop fighting. One side must stop fighting. Why don’t we stop fighting? If they come down into Italy they will get tired and go away. They have their own country. But no, instead there is a war.”

“You’re an orator.”

“We think. We read. We are not peasants. We are mechanics. But even the peasants know better than to believe in a war. Everybody hates this war.”

“There is a class that controls a country that is stupid and does not realize anything and never can. That is why we have this war.”

“Also they make money out of it.”

“Most of them don’t,” said Passini. “They are too stupid. They do it for nothing. For stupidity.”

“We must shut up,” said Manera. “We talk too much even for the Tenente.”

“He likes it,” said Passini. “We will convert him.”

“But now we will shut up,” Manera said.

“Do we eat yet, Tenente?” Gavuzzi asked.

“I will go and see,” I said. Gordini stood up and went outside with me.

“Is there anything I can do, Tenente? Can I help in any way?” He was the quietest one of the four. “Come with me if you want,” I said, “and we’ll see.”

It was dark outside and the long light from the search-lights was moving over the mountains. There were big search-lights on that front mounted on camions that you passed sometimes on the roads at night, close behind the lines, the camion stopped a little off the road, an officer directing the light and the crew scared. We crossed the brickyard, and stopped at the main dressing station. There was a little shelter of green branches outside over the entrance and in the dark the night wind rustled the leaves dried by the sun. Inside there was a light. The major was at the telephone sitting on a box. One of the medical captains said the attack had been put forward an hour. He offered me a glass of cognac. I looked at the board tables, the instruments shining in the light, the basins and the stoppered bottles. Gordini stood behind me. The major got up from the telephone.

“It starts now,” he said. “It has been put back again.”

I looked outside, it was dark and the Austrian search-lights were moving on the mountains behind us. It was quiet for a moment still, then from all the guns behind us the bombardment started.

“Savoia,” said the major.

“About the soup, major,” I said. He did not hear me. I repeated it.

“It hasn’t come up.”

A big shell came in and burst outside in the brickyard. Another burst and in the noise you could hear the smaller noise of the brick and dirt raining down.

“What is there to eat?”

“We have a little pasta asciutta,” the major said.

“I’ll take what you can give me.”

The major spoke to an orderly who went out of sight in the back and came back with a metal basin of cold cooked macaroni. I handed it to Gordini.

“Have you any cheese?”

The major spoke grudgingly to the orderly who ducked back into the hole again and came out with a quarter of a white cheese.

“Thank you very much,” I said.

“You’d better not go out.”

Outside something was set down beside the entrance. One of the two men who had carried it looked in.

“Bring him in,” said the major. “What’s the matter with you? Do you want us to come outside and get him?”

The two stretcher-bearers picked up the man under the arms and by the legs and brought him in.

“Slit the tunic,” the major said.

He held a forceps with some gauze in the end. The two captains took off their coats. “Get out of here,” the major said to the two stretcher-bearers.

“Come on,” I said to Gordini.

“You better wait until the shelling is over,” the major said over his shoulder.

“They want to eat,” I said.

“As you wish.”

Outside we ran across the brickyard. A shell burst short near the river bank. Then there was one that we did not hear coming until the sudden rush. We both went flat and with the flash and bump of the burst and the smell heard the singing off of the fragments and the rattle of falling brick. Gordini got up and ran for the dugout. I was after him, holding the cheese, its smooth surface covered with brick dust. Inside the dugout were the three drivers sitting against the wall, smoking.

“Here, you patriots,” I said.

“How are the cars?” Manera asked.

“All right.”

“Did they scare you, Tenente?”

“You’re damned right,” I said.

I took out my knife, opened it, wiped off the blade and pared off the dirty outside surface of the cheese. Gavuzzi handed me the basin of macaroni.

“Start in to eat, Tenente.”

“No,” I said. “Put it on the floor. We’ll all eat.”

“There are no forks.”

“What the hell,” I said in English.

I cut the cheese into pieces and laid them on the macaroni.

“Sit down to it,” I said. They sat down and waited. I put thumb and fingers into the macaroni and lifted. A mass loosened.

“Lift it high, Tenente.”

I lifted it to arm’s length and the strands cleared. I lowered it into the mouth, sucked and snapped in the ends, and chewed, then took a bite of cheese, chewed, and then a drink of the wine. It tasted of rusty metal. I handed the canteen back to Passini.

“It’s rotten,” he said. “It’s been in there too long. I had it in the car.”

They were all eating, holding their chins close over the basin, tipping their heads back, sucking in the ends. I took another mouthful and some cheese and a rinse of wine. Something landed outside that shook the earth.

“Four hundred twenty or minnenwerfer,” Gavuzzi said.

“There aren’t any four hundred twenties in the mountains,” I said.

“They have big Skoda guns. I’ve seen the holes.”

“Three hundred fives.”

We went on eating. There was a cough, a noise like a railway engine starting and then an explosion that shook the earth again.

“This isn’t a deep dugout,” Passini said.

“That was a big trench-mortar.”

“Yes, sir.”

I ate the end of my piece of cheese and took a swallow of wine. Through the other noise I heard a cough, then came the chuh-chuh-chuh-chuh—then there was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red and on and on in a rushing wind. I tried to breathe but my breath would not come and I felt myself rush bodily out of myself and out and out and out and all the time bodily in the wind. I went out swiftly, all of myself, and I knew I was dead and that it had all been a mistake to think you just died. Then I floated, and instead of going on I felt myself slide back. I breathed and I was back. The ground was torn up and in front of my head there was a splintered beam of wood. In the jolt of my head I heard somebody crying. I thought somebody was screaming. I tried to move but I could not move. I heard the machine-guns and rifles firing across the river and all along the river. There was a great splashing and I saw the star-shells go up and burst and float whitely and rockets going up and heard the bombs, all this in a moment, and then I heard close to me some one saying “Mama Mia! Oh, mama Mia!” I pulled and twisted and got my legs loose finally and turned around and touched him. It was Passini and when I touched him he screamed. His legs were toward me and I saw in the dark and the light that they were both smashed above the knee. One leg was gone and the other was held by tendons and part of the trouser and the stump twitched and jerked as though it were not connected. He bit his arm and moaned, “Oh mama mia, mama Mia,” then, “Dio te salve, Maria. Dio te salve, Maria. Oh Jesus shoot me Christ shoot me mama mia mama Mia oh purest lovely Mary shoot me. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Oh Jesus lovely Mary stop it. Oh oh oh oh,” then choking, “Mama mama mia.” Then he was quiet, biting his arm, the stump of his leg twitching.

“Porta feriti!” I shouted holding my hands cupped. “Porta Feriti!” I tried to get closer to Passini to try to put a tourniquet on the legs but I could not move. I tried again and my legs moved a little. I could pull backward along with my arms and elbows. Passini was quiet now. I sat beside him, undid my tunic and tried to rip the tail of my shirt. It would not rip and I bit the edge of the cloth to start it. Then I thought of his puttees. I had on wool stockings but Passini wore puttees. All the drivers wore puttees but Passini had only one leg. I unwound the puttee and while I was doing it I saw there was no need to try and make a tourniquet because he was dead already. I made sure he was dead. There were three others to locate. I sat up straight and as I did so something inside my head moved like the weights on a doll’s eyes and it hit me inside in back of my eyeballs. My legs felt warm and wet and my shoes were wet and warm inside. I knew that I was hit and leaned over and put my hand on my knee. My knee wasn’t there. My hand went in and my knee was down on my shin. I wiped my hand on my shirt and another floating light came very slowly down and I looked at my leg and was very afraid. Oh, God, I said, get me out of here. I knew, however, that there had been three others. There were four drivers. Passini was dead. That left three. Some one took hold of me under the arms and somebody else lifted my legs.

“There are three others,” I said. “One is dead.”

“It’s Manera. We went for a stretcher but there wasn’t any. How are you, Tenente?”

“Where is Gordini and Gavuzzi?”

“Gordini’s at the post getting bandaged. Gavuzzi has your legs. Hold on to my neck, Tenente. Are you badly hit?”

“In the leg. How is Gordini?”

“He’s all right. It was a big trench-mortar shell.”

“Passini’s dead.”

“Yes. He’s dead.”

A shell fell close and they both dropped to the ground and dropped me. “I’m sorry, Tenente,” said Manera. “Hang onto my neck.”

“If you drop me again.”

“It was because we were scared.”

“Are you unwounded?”

“We are both wounded a little.”

“Can Gordini drive?”

“I don’t think so.”

They dropped me once more before we reached the post.

“You sons of bitches,” I said.

“I am sorry, Tenente,” Manera said. “We won’t drop you again.”

Outside the post a great many of us lay on the ground in the dark. They carried wounded in and brought them out. I could see the light come out from the dressing station when the curtain opened and they brought some one in or out. The dead were off to one side. The doctors were working with their sleeves up to their shoulders and were red as butchers. There were not enough stretchers. Some of the wounded were noisy but most were quiet. The wind blew the leaves in the bower over the door of the dressing station and the night was getting cold. Stretcher-bearers came in all the time, put their stretchers down, unloaded them and went away. As soon as I got to the dressing station Manera brought a medical sergeant out and he put bandages on both my legs. He said there was so much dirt blown into the wound that there had not been much hemorrhage. They would take me as soon as possible. He went back inside. Gordini could not drive, Manera said. His shoulder was smashed and his head was hurt. He had not felt bad but now the shoulder had stiffened. He was sitting up beside one of the brick walls. Manera and Gavuzzi each went off with a load of wounded. They could drive all right. The British had come with three ambulances and they had two men on each ambulance. One of their drivers came over to me, brought by Gordini who looked very white and sick. The Britisher leaned over.

“Are you hit badly?” he asked. He was a tall man and wore steel-rimmed spectacles.

“In the legs.”

“It’s not serious I hope. Will you have a cigarette?”


“They tell me you’ve lost two drivers.”

“Yes. One killed and the fellow that brought you.”

“What rotten luck. Would you like us to take the cars?”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you.”

“We’d take quite good care of them and return them to the Villa. 206 aren’t you?”


“It’s a charming place. I’ve seen you about. They tell me you’re an American.”


“I’m English.”


“Yes, English. Did you think I was Italian? There were some Italians with one of our units.”

“It would be fine if you would take the cars,” I said.

“We’ll be most careful of them,” he straightened up. “This chap of yours was very anxious for me to see you.” He patted Gordini on the shoulder. Gordini winced and smiled. The Englishman broke into voluble and perfect Italian. “Now everything is arranged. I’ve seen your Tenente. We will take over the two cars. You won’t worry now.” He broke off, “I must do something about getting you out of here. I’ll see the medical wallahs. We’ll take you back with us.”

He walked across to the dressing station, stepping carefully among the wounded. I saw the blanket open, the light came out and he went in.

“He will look after you, Tenente,” Gordini said.

“How are you, Franco?”

“I am all right.” He sat down beside me. In a moment the blanket in front of the dressing station opened and two stretcher-bearers came out followed by the tall Englishman. He brought them over to me.

“Here is the American Tenente,” he said in Italian.

“I’d rather wait,” I said. “There are much worse wounded than me. I’m all right.”

“Come come,” he said. “Don’t be a bloody hero.” Then in Italian: “Lift him very carefully about the legs. His legs are very painful. He is the legitimate son of President Wilson.” They picked me up and took me into the dressing room. Inside they were operating on all the tables. The little major looked at us furious. He recognized me and waved a forceps.

“Ça va bien?”

“Ça va.”

“I have brought him in,” the tall Englishman said in Italian. “The only son of the American Ambassador. He can be here until you are ready to take him. Then I will take him with my first load.” He bent over me. “I’ll look up their adjutant to do your papers and it will all go much faster.” He stooped to go under the doorway and went out. The major was unhooking the forceps now, dropping them in a basin. I followed his hands with my eyes. Now he was bandaging. Then the stretcher-bearers took the man off the table.

“I’ll take the American Tenente,” one of the captains said. They lifted me onto the table. It was hard and slippery. There were many strong smells, chemical smells and the sweet smell of blood. They took off my trousers and the medical captain commenced dictating to the sergeant-adjutant while he worked, “Multiple superficial wounds of the left and right thigh and left and right knee and right foot. Profound wounds of right knee and foot. Lacerations of the scalp (he probed—Does that hurt?—Christ, yes!) with possible fracture of the skull. Incurred in the line of duty. That’s what keeps you from being court-martialled for self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “Would you like a drink of brandy? How did you run into this thing anyway? What were you trying to do? Commit suicide? Anti-tetanus please, and mark a cross on both legs. Thank you. I’ll clean this up a little, wash it out, and put on a dressing. Your blood coagulates beautifully.”

The adjutant, looking up from the paper, “What inflicted the wounds?”

The medical captain, “What hit you?”

Me, with the eyes shut, “A trench mortar shell.”

The captain, doing things that hurt sharply and severing tissue—“Are you sure?”

Me—trying to lie still and feeling my stomach flutter when the flesh was cut, “I think so.”

Captain doctor—(interested in something he was finding), “Fragments of enemy trench-mortar shell. Now I’ll probe for some of this if you like but it’s not necessary. I’ll paint all this and—Does that sting? Good, that’s nothing to how it will feel later. The pain hasn’t started yet. Bring him a glass of brandy. The shock dulls the pain; but this is all right, you have nothing to worry about if it doesn’t infect and it rarely does now. How is your head?”

“Good Christ!” I said.

“Better not drink too much brandy then. If you’ve got a fracture you don’t want inflammation. How does that feel?”

Sweat ran all over me.

“Good Christ!” I said.

“I guess you’ve got a fracture all right. I’ll wrap you up and don’t bounce your head around.” He bandaged, his hands moving very fast and the bandage coming taut and sure. “All right, good luck and Vive la France.”

“He’s an American,” one of the other captains said.

“I thought you said he was a Frenchman. He talks French,” the captain said. “I’ve known him before. I always thought he was French.” He drank a half tumbler of cognac. “Bring on something serious. Get some more of that Anti-tetanus.” The captain waved to me. They lifted me and the blanket-flap went across my face as we went out. Outside the sergeant-adjutant knelt down beside me where I lay, “Name?” he asked softly. “Middle name? First name? Rank? Where born? What class? What corps?” and so on. “I’m sorry for your head, Tenente. I hope you feel better. I’m sending you now with the English ambulance.”

“I’m all right,” I said. “Thank you very much.” The pain that the major had spoken about had started and all that was happening was without interest or relation. After a while the English ambulance came up and they put me onto a stretcher and lifted the stretcher up to the ambulance level and shoved it in. There was another stretcher by the side with a man on it whose nose I could see, waxy-looking, out of the bandages. He breathed very heavily. There were stretchers lifted and slid into the slings above. The tall English driver came around and looked in, “I’ll take it very easily,” he said. “I hope you’ll be comfy.” I felt the engine start, felt him climb up into the front seat, felt the brake come off and the clutch go in, then we started. I lay still and let the pain ride.

As the ambulance climbed along the road, it was slow in the traffic, sometimes it stopped, sometimes it backed on a turn, then finally it climbed quite fast. I felt something dripping. At first it dropped slowly and regularly, then it pattered into a stream. I shouted to the driver. He stopped the car and looked in through the hole behind his seat.

“What is it?”

“The man on the stretcher over me has a hemorrhage.”

“We’re not far from the top. I wouldn’t be able to get the stretcher out alone.” He started the car. The stream kept on. In the dark I could not see where it came from the canvas overhead. I tried to move sideways so that it did not fall on me. Where it had run down under my shirt it was warm and sticky. I was cold and my leg hurt so that it made me sick. After a while the stream from the stretcher above lessened and started to drip again and I heard and felt the canvas above move as the man on the stretcher settled more comfortably.

“How is he?” the Englishman called back. “We’re almost up.”

“He’s dead I think,” I said.

The drops fell very slowly, as they fall from an icicle after the sun has gone. It was cold in the car in the night as the road climbed. At the post on the top they took the stretcher out and put another in and we went on.

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