A Farewell to Arms / Ernest Hemingway / Ch-29


At noon we were stuck in a muddy road about, as nearly as we could figure, ten kilometres from Udine. The rain had stopped during the forenoon and three times we had heard planes coming, seen them pass overhead, watched them go far to the left and heard them bombing on the main highroad. We had worked through a network of secondary roads and had taken many roads that were blind, but had always, by backing up and finding another road, gotten closer to Udine. Now, Aymo’s car, in backing so that we might get out of a blind road, had gotten into the soft earth at the side and the wheels, spinning, had dug deeper and deeper until the car rested on its differential. The thing to do now was to dig out in front of the wheels, put in brush so that the chains could grip, and then push until the car was on the road. We were all down on the road around the car. The two sergeants looked at the car and examined the wheels. Then they started off down the road without a word. I went after them.

“Come on,” I said. “Cut some brush.”

“We have to go,” one said.

“Get busy,” I said, “and cut brush.”

“We have to go,” one said. The other said nothing. They were in a hurry to start. They would not look at me.

“I order you to come back to the car and cut brush,” I said. The one sergeant turned. “We have to go on. In a little while you will be cut off. You can’t order us. You’re not our officer.”

“I order you to cut brush,” I said. They turned and started down the road.

“Halt,” I said. They kept on down the muddy road, the hedge on either side. “I order you to halt,” I called. They went a little faster. I opened up my holster, took the pistol, aimed at the one who had talked the most, and fired. I missed and they both started to run. I shot three times and dropped one. The other went through the hedge and was out of sight. I fired at him through the hedge as he ran across the field. The pistol clicked empty and I put in another clip. I saw it was too far to shoot at the second sergeant. He was far across the field, running, his head held low. I commenced to reload the empty clip. Bonello came up.

“Let me go finish him,” he said. I handed him the pistol and he walked down to where the sergeant of engineers lay face down across the road. Bonello leaned over, put the pistol against the man’s head and pulled the trigger. The pistol did not fire.

“You have to cock it,” I said. He cocked it and fired twice. He took hold of the sergeant’s legs and pulled him to the side of the road so he lay beside the hedge. He came back and handed me the pistol.

“The son of a bitch,” he said. He looked toward the sergeant. “You see me shoot him, Tenente?”

“We’ve got to get the brush quickly,” I said. “Did I hit the other one at all?”

“I don’t think so,” Aymo said. “He was too far away to hit with a pistol.”

“The dirty scum,” Piani said. We were all cutting twigs and branches. Everything had been taken out of the car. Bonello was digging out in front of the wheels. When we were ready Aymo started the car and put it into gear. The wheels spun round throwing brush and mud. Bonello and I pushed until we could feel our joints crack. The car would not move.

“Rock her back and forth, Barto,” I said.

He drove the engine in reverse, then forward. The wheels only dug in deeper. Then the car was resting on the differential again, and the wheels spun freely in the holes they had dug. I straightened up.

“We’ll try her with a rope,” I said.

“I don’t think it’s any use, Tenente. You can’t get a straight pull.”

“We have to try it,” I said. “She won’t come out any other way.”

Piani’s and Bonello’s cars could only move straight ahead down the narrow road. We roped both cars together and pulled. The wheels only pulled sideways against the ruts.

“It’s no good,” I shouted. “Stop it.”

Piani and Bonello got down from their cars and came back. Aymo got down. The girls were up the road about forty yards sitting on a stone wall.

“What do you say, Tenente?” Bonello asked.

“We’ll dig out and try once more with the brush,” I said. I looked down the road. It was my fault. I had led them up here. The sun was almost out from behind the clouds and the body of the sergeant lay beside the hedge.

“We’ll put his coat and cape under,” I said. Bonello went to get them. I cut brush and Aymo and Piani dug out in front and between the wheels. I cut the cape, then ripped it in two, and laid it under the wheel in the mud, then piled brush for the wheels to catch. We were ready to start and Aymo got up on the seat and started the car. The wheels spun and we pushed and pushed. But it wasn’t any use.

“It’s ——ed,” I said. “Is there anything you want in the car, Barto?”

Aymo climbed up with Bonello, carrying the cheese and two bottles of wine and his cape. Bonello, sitting behind the wheel, was looking through the pockets of the sergeant’s coat.

“Better throw the coat away,” I said. “What about Barto’s virgins?”

“They can get in the back,” Piani said. “I don’t think we are going far.”

I opened the back door of the ambulance.

“Come on,” I said. “Get in.” The two girls climbed in and sat in the corner. They seemed to have taken no notice of the shooting. I looked back up the road. The sergeant lay in his dirty long-sleeved underwear. I got up with Piani and we started. We were going to try to cross the field. When the road entered the field I got down and walked ahead. If we could get across, there was a road on the other side. We could not get across. It was too soft and muddy for the cars. When they were finally and completely stalled, the wheels dug in to the hubs, we left them in the field and started on foot for Udine.

When we came to the road which led back toward the main highway I pointed down it to the two girls.

“Go down there,” I said. “You’ll meet people.” They looked at me. I took out my pocket-book and gave them each a ten-lira note. “Go down there,” I said, pointing. “Friends! Family!”

They did not understand but they held the money tightly and started down the road. They looked back as though they were afraid I might take the money back. I watched them go down the road, their shawls close around them, looking back apprehensively at us. The three drivers were laughing.

“How much will you give me to go in that direction, Tenente?” Bonello asked.

“They’re better off in a bunch of people than alone if they catch them,” I said.

“Give me two hundred lire and I’ll walk straight back toward Austria,” Bonello said.

“They’d take it away from you,” Piani said.

“Maybe the war will be over,” Aymo said. We were going up the road as fast as we could. The sun was trying to come through. Beside the road were mulberry trees. Through the trees I could see our two big moving-vans of cars stuck in the field. Piani looked back too.

“They’ll have to build a road to get them out,” he said.

“I wish to Christ we had bicycles,” Bonello said.

“Do they ride bicycles in America?” Aymo asked.

“They used to.”

“Here it is a great thing,” Aymo said. “A bicycle is a splendid thing.”

“I wish to Christ we had bicycles,” Bonello said. “I’m no walker.”

“Is that firing?” I asked. I thought I could hear firing a long way away.

“I don’t know,” Aymo said. He listened.

“I think so,” I said.

“The first thing we will see will be the cavalry,” Piani said.

“I don’t think they’ve got any cavalry.”

“I hope to Christ not,” Bonello said. “I don’t want to be stuck on a lance by any —— cavalry.”

“You certainly shot that sergeant, Tenente,” Piani said. We were walking fast.

“I killed him,” Bonello said. “I never killed anybody in this war, and all my life I’ve wanted to kill a sergeant.”

“You killed him on the sit all right,” Piani said. “He wasn’t flying very fast when you killed him.”

“Never mind. That’s one thing I can always remember. I killed that —— of a sergeant.”

“What will you say in confession?” Aymo asked.

“I’ll say, ‘Bless me, father, I killed a sergeant.’ ” They all laughed.

“He’s an anarchist,” Piani said. “He doesn’t go to church.”

“Piani’s an anarchist too,” Bonello said.

“Are you really anarchists?” I asked.

“No, Tenente. We’re socialists. We come from Imola.”

“Haven’t you ever been there?”


“By Christ it’s a fine place, Tenente. You come there after the war and we’ll show you something.”

“Are you all socialists?”


“Is it a fine town?”

“Wonderful. You never saw a town like that.”

“How did you get to be socialists?”

“We’re all socialists. Everybody is a socialist. We’ve always been socialists.”

“You come, Tenente. We’ll make you a socialist too.”

Ahead the road turned off to the left and there was a little hill and, beyond a stone wall, an apple orchard. As the road went uphill they ceased talking. We walked along together all going fast against time.

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