A Farewell to Arms / Ernest Hemingway / Ch-35


Catherine went along the lake to the little hotel to see Ferguson and I sat in the bar and read the papers. There were comfortable leather chairs in the bar and I sat in one of them and read until the barman came in. The army had not stood at the Tagliamento. They were falling back to the Piave. I remembered the Piave. The railroad crossed it near San Dona going up to the front. It was deep and slow there and quite narrow. Down below there were mosquito marshes and canals. There were some lovely villas. Once, before the war, going up to Cortina D’Ampezzo I had gone along it for several hours in the hills. Up there it looked like a trout stream, flowing swiftly with shallow stretches and pools under the shadow of the rocks. The road turned off from it at Cadore. I wondered how the army that was up there would come down. The barman came in.

“Count Greffi was asking for you,” he said.


“Count Greffi. You remember the old man who was here when you were here before.”

“Is he here?”

“Yes, he’s here with his niece. I told him you were here. He wants you to play billiards.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s taking a walk.”

“How is he?”

“He’s younger than ever. He drank three champagne cocktails last night before dinner.”

“How’s his billiard game?”

“Good. He beat me. When I told him you were here he was very pleased. There’s nobody here for him to play with.”

Count Greffi was ninety-four years old. He had been a contemporary of Metternich and was an old man with white hair and mustache and beautiful manners. He had been in the diplomatic service of both Austria and Italy and his birthday parties were the great social event of Milan. He was living to be one hundred years old and played a smoothly fluent game of billiards that contrasted with his own ninety-four-year-old brittleness. I had met him when I had been at Stresa once before out of season and while we played billiards we drank champagne. I thought it was a splendid custom and he gave me fifteen points in a hundred and beat me.

“Why didn’t you tell me he was here?”

“I forgot it.”

“Who else is here?”

“No one you know. There are only six people altogether.”

“What are you doing now?”


“Come on out fishing.”

“I could come for an hour.”

“Come on. Bring the trolling line.”

The barman put on a coat and we went out. We went down and got a boat and I rowed while the barman sat in the stern and let out the line with a spinner and a heavy sinker on the end to troll for lake trout. We rowed along the shore, the barman holding the line in his hand and giving it occasional jerks forward. Stresa looked very deserted from the lake. There were the long rows of bare trees, the big hotels and the closed villas. I rowed across to Isola Bella and went close to the walls, where the water deepened sharply, and you saw the rock wall slanting down in the clear water, and then up and along to the fisherman’s island. The sun was under a cloud and the water was dark and smooth and very cold. We did not have a strike though we saw some circles on the water from rising fish.

I rowed up opposite the fisherman’s island where there were boats drawn up and men were mending nets.

“Should we get a drink?”

“All right.”

I brought the boat up to the stone pier and the barman pulled in the line, coiling it on the bottom of the boat and hooking the spinner on the edge of the gunwale. I stepped out and tied the boat. We went into a little café, sat at a bare wooden table and ordered vermouth.

“Are you tired from rowing?”


“I’ll row back,” he said.

“I like to row.”

“Maybe if you hold the line it will change the luck.”

“All right.”

“Tell me how goes the war.”


“I don’t have to go. I’m too old, like Count Greffi.”

“Maybe you’ll have to go yet.”

“Next year they’ll call my class. But I won’t go.”

“What will you do?”

“Get out of the country. I wouldn’t go to war. I was at the war once in Abyssinia. Nix. Why do you go?”

“I don’t know. I was a fool.”

“Have another vermouth?”

“All right.”

The barman rowed back. We trolled up the lake beyond Stresa and then down not far from shore. I held the taut line and felt the faint pulsing of the spinner revolving while I looked at the dark November water of the lake and the deserted shore. The barman rowed with long strokes and on the forward thrust of the boat the line throbbed. Once I had a strike: the line hardened suddenly and jerked back, I pulled and felt the live weight of the trout and then the line throbbed again. I had missed him.

“Did he feel big?”

“Pretty big.”

“Once when I was out trolling alone I had the line in my teeth and one struck and nearly took my mouth out.”

“The best way is to have it over your leg,” I said. “Then you feel it and don’t lose your teeth.”

I put my hand in the water. It was very cold. We were almost opposite the hotel now.

“I have to go in,” the barman said, “to be there for eleven o’clock. L’heure du cocktail.”

“All right.”

I pulled in the line and wrapped it on a stick notched at each end. The barman put the boat in a little slip in the stone wall and locked it with a chain and padlock.

“Any time you want it,” he said, “I’ll give you the key.”


We went up to the hotel and in to the bar. I did not want another drink so early in the morning so I went up to our room. The maid had just finished doing the room and Catherine was not back yet. I lay down on the bed and tried to keep from thinking.

When Catherine came back it was all right again. Ferguson was downstairs, she said. She was coming to lunch.

“I knew you wouldn’t mind,” Catherine said.

“No,” I said.

“What’s the matter, darling?”

“I don’t know.”

“I know. You haven’t anything to do. All you have is me and I go away.”

“That’s true.”

“I’m sorry, darling. I know it must be a dreadful feeling to have nothing at all suddenly.”

“My life used to be full of everything,” I said. “Now if you aren’t with me I haven’t a thing in the world.”

“But I’ll be with you. I was only gone for two hours. Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“I went fishing with the barman.”

“Wasn’t it fun?”


“Don’t think about me when I’m not here.”

“That’s the way I worked it at the front. But there was something to do then.”

“Othello with his occupation gone,” she teased.

“Othello was a nigger,” I said. “Besides, I’m not jealous. I’m just so in love with you that there isn’t anything else.”

“Will you be a good boy and be nice to Ferguson?”

“I’m always nice to Ferguson unless she curses me.”

“Be nice to her. Think how much we have and she hasn’t anything.”

“I don’t think she wants what we have.”

“You don’t know much, darling, for such a wise boy.”

“I’ll be nice to her.”

“I know you will. You’re so sweet.”

“She won’t stay afterward, will she?”

“No. I’ll get rid of her.”

“And then we’ll come up here.”

“Of course. What do you think I want to do?”

We went downstairs to have lunch with Ferguson. She was very impressed by the hotel and the splendor of the dining-room. We had a good lunch with a couple of bottles of white capri. Count Greffi came into the dining-room and bowed to us. His niece, who looked a little like my grandmother, was with him. I told Catherine and Ferguson about him and Ferguson was very impressed. The hotel was very big and grand and empty but the food was good, the wine was very pleasant and finally the wine made us all feel very well. Catherine had no need to feel any better. She was very happy. Ferguson became quite cheerful. I felt very well myself. After lunch Ferguson went back to her hotel. She was going to lie down for a while after lunch she said.

Along late in the afternoon some one knocked on our door.

“Who is it?”

“The Count Greffi wishes to know if you will play billiards with him.”

I looked at my watch; I had taken it off and it was under the pillow.

“Do you have to go, darling?” Catherine whispered.

“I think I’d better.” The watch was a quarter-past four o’clock. Out loud I said, “Tell the Count Greffi I will be in the billiard-room at five o’clock.”

At a quarter to five I kissed Catherine good-by and went into the bathroom to dress. Knotting my tie and looking in the glass I looked strange to myself in the civilian clothes. I must remember to buy some more shirts and socks.

“Will you be away a long time?” Catherine asked. She looked lovely in the bed. “Would you hand me the brush?”

I watched her brushing her hair, holding her head so the weight of her hair all came on one side. It was dark outside and the light over the head of the bed shone on her hair and on her neck and shoulders. I went over and kissed her and held her hand with the brush and her head sunk back on the pillow. I kissed her neck and shoulders. I felt faint with loving her so much.

“I don’t want to go away.”

“I don’t want you to go away.”

“I won’t go then.”

“Yes. Go. It’s only for a little while and then you’ll come back.”

“We’ll have dinner up here.”

“Hurry and come back.”

I found the Count Greffi in the billiard-room. He was practising strokes, looking very fragile under the light that came down above the billiard table. On a card table a little way beyond the light was a silver icing-bucket with the necks and corks of two champagne bottles showing above the ice. The Count Greffi straightened up when I came toward the table and walked toward me. He put out his hand, “It is such a great pleasure that you are here. You were very kind to come to play with me.”

“It was very nice of you to ask me.”

“Are you quite well? They told me you were wounded on the Isonzo. I hope you are well again.”

“I’m very well. Have you been well?”

“Oh, I am always well. But I am getting old. I detect signs of age now.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“Yes. Do you want to know one? It is easier for me to talk Italian. I discipline myself but I find when I am tired that it is so much easier to talk Italian. So I know I must be getting old.”

“We could talk Italian. I am a little tired too.”

“Oh, but when you are tired it will be easier for you to talk English.”


“Yes. American. You will please talk American. It is a delightful language.”

“I hardly ever see Americans.”

“You must miss them. One misses one’s countrymen and especially one’s countrywomen. I know that experience. Should we play or are you too tired?”

“I’m not really tired. I said that for a joke. What handicap will you give me?”

“Have you been playing very much?”

“None at all.”

“You play very well. Ten points in a hundred?”

“You flatter me.”


“That would be fine but you will beat me.”

“Should we play for a stake? You always wished to play for a stake.”

“I think we’d better.”

“All right. I will give you eighteen points and we will play for a franc a point.”

He played a lovely game of billiards and with the handicap I was only four ahead at fifty. Count Greffi pushed a button on the wall to ring for the barman.

“Open one bottle please,” he said. Then to me, “We will take a little stimulant.” The wine was icy cold and very dry and good.

“Should we talk Italian? Would you mind very much? It is my great weakness now.”

We went on playing, sipping the wine between shots, speaking in Italian, but talking little, concentrated on the game. Count Greffi made his one hundredth point and with the handicap I was only at ninety-four. He smiled and patted me on the shoulder.

“Now we will drink the other bottle and you will tell me about the war.” He waited for me to sit down.

“About anything else,” I said.

“You don’t want to talk about it? Good. What have you been reading?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I’m afraid I am very dull.”

“No. But you should read.”

“What is there written in war-time?”

“There is ‘Le Feu’ by a Frenchman, Barbusse. There is ‘Mr. Britling Sees Through It.’ ”

“No, he doesn’t.”


“He doesn’t see through it. Those books were at the hospital.”

“Then you have been reading?”

“Yes, but nothing any good.”

“I thought ‘Mr. Britling’ a very good study of the English middle-class soul.”

“I don’t know about the soul.”

“Poor boy. We none of us know about the soul. Are you Croyant?”

“At night.”

Count Greffi smiled and turned the glass with his fingers. “I had expected to become more devout as I grow older but somehow I haven’t,” he said. “It is a great pity.”

“Would you like to live after death?” I asked and instantly felt a fool to mention death. But he did not mind the word.

“It would depend on the life. This life is very pleasant. I would like to live forever,” he smiled. “I very nearly have.”

We were sitting in the deep leather chairs, the champagne in the ice-bucket and our glasses on the table between us.

“If you ever live to be as old as I am you will find many things strange.”

“You never seem old.”

“It is the body that is old. Sometimes I am afraid I will break off a finger as one breaks a stick of chalk. And the spirit is no older and not much wiser.”

“You are wise.”

“No, that is the great fallacy; the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.”

“Perhaps that is wisdom.”

“It is a very unattractive wisdom. What do you value most?”

“Some one I love.”

“With me it is the same. That is not wisdom. Do you value life?”


“So do I. Because it is all I have. And to give birthday parties,” he laughed. “You are probably wiser than I am. You do not give birthday parties.”

We both drank the wine.

“What do you think of the war really?” I asked.

“I think it is stupid.”

“Who will win it?”



“They are a younger nation.”

“Do younger nations always win wars?”

“They are apt to for a time.”

“Then what happens?”

“They become older nations.”

“You said you were not wise.”

“Dear boy, that is not wisdom. That is cynicism.”

“It sounds very wise to me.”

“It’s not particularly. I could quote you the examples on the other side. But it is not bad. Have we finished the champagne?”


“Should we drink some more? Then I must dress.”

“Perhaps we’d better not now.”

“You are sure you don’t want more?”

“Yes.” He stood up.

“I hope you will be very fortunate and very happy and very, very healthy.”

“Thank you. And I hope you will live forever.”

“Thank you. I have. And if you ever become devout pray for me if I am dead. I am asking several of my friends to do that. I had expected to become devout myself but it has not come.” I thought he smiled sadly but I could not tell. He was so old and his face was very wrinkled, so that a smile used so many lines that all gradations were lost.

“I might become very devout,” I said. “Anyway, I will pray for you.”

“I had always expected to become devout. All my family died very devout. But somehow it does not come.”

“It’s too early.”

“Maybe it is too late. Perhaps I have outlived my religious feeling.”

“My own comes only at night.”

“Then too you are in love. Do not forget that is a religious feeling.”

“You believe so?”

“Of course.” He took a step toward the table. “You were very kind to play.”

“It was a great pleasure.”

“We will walk upstairs together.”

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