A Farewell to Arms / Ernest Hemingway / Ch-13


We got into Milan early in the morning and they unloaded us in the freight yard. An ambulance took me to the American hospital. Riding in the ambulance on a stretcher I could not tell what part of town we were passing through but when they unloaded the stretcher I saw a market-place and an open wine shop with a girl sweeping out. They were watering the street and it smelled of the early morning. They put the stretcher down and went in. The porter came out with them. He had gray mustaches, wore a doorman’s cap and was in his shirt sleeves. The stretcher would not go into the elevator and they discussed whether it was better to lift me off the stretcher and go up in the elevator or carry the stretcher up the stairs. I listened to them discussing it. They decided on the elevator. They lifted me from the stretcher. “Go easy,” I said. “Take it softly.”

In the elevator we were crowded and as my legs bent the pain was very bad. “Straighten out the legs,” I said.

“We can’t, Signor Tenente. There isn’t room.” The man who said this had his arm around me and my arm was around his neck. His breath came in my face metallic with garlic and red wine.

“Be gentle,” the other man said.

“Son of a bitch who isn’t gentle!”

“Be gentle I say,” the man with my feet repeated.

I saw the doors of the elevator closed, and the grill shut and the fourth-floor button pushed by the porter. The porter looked worried. The elevator rose slowly.

“Heavy?” I asked the man with the garlic.

“Nothing,” he said. His face was sweating and he grunted. The elevator rose steadily and stopped. The man holding the feet opened the door and stepped out. We were on a balcony. There were several doors with brass knobs. The man carrying the feet pushed a button that rang a bell. We heard it inside the doors. No one came. Then the porter came up the stairs.

“Where are they?” the stretcher-bearers asked.

“I don’t know,” said the porter. “They sleep down stairs.”

“Get somebody.”

The porter rang the bell, then knocked on the door, then he opened the door and went in. When he came back there was an elderly woman wearing glasses with him. Her hair was loose and half-falling and she wore a nurse’s dress.

“I can’t understand,” she said. “I can’t understand Italian.”

“I can speak English,” I said. “They want to put me somewhere.”

“None of the rooms are ready. There isn’t any patient expected.” She tucked at her hair and looked at me near-sightedly.

“Show them any room where they can put me.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “There’s no patient expected. I couldn’t put you in just any room.”

“Any room will do,” I said. Then to the porter in Italian, “Find an empty room.”

“They are all empty,” said the porter. “You are the first patient.” He held his cap in his hand and looked at the elderly nurse.

“For Christ’s sweet sake take me to some room.” The pain had gone on and on with the legs bent and I could feel it going in and out of the bone. The porter went in the door, followed by the gray-haired woman, then came hurrying back. “Follow me,” he said. They carried me down a long hallway and into a room with drawn blinds. It smelled of new furniture. There was a bed and a big wardrobe with a mirror. They laid me down on the bed.

“I can’t put on sheets,” the woman said. “The sheets are locked up.”

I did not speak to her. “There is money in my pocket,” I said to the porter. “In the buttoned-down pocket.” The porter took out the money. The two stretcher-bearers stood beside the bed holding their caps. “Give them five lire apiece and five lire for yourself. My papers are in the other pocket. You may give them to the nurse.”

The stretcher-bearers saluted and said thank you. “Good-by,” I said. “And many thanks.” They saluted again and went out.

“Those papers,” I said to the nurse, “describe my case and the treatment already given.”

The woman picked them up and looked at them through her glasses. There were three papers and they were folded. “I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I can’t read Italian. I can’t do anything without the doctor’s orders.” She commenced to cry and put the papers in her apron pocket. “Are you an American?” she asked crying.

“Yes. Please put the papers on the table by the bed.”

It was dim and cool in the room. As I lay on the bed I could see the big mirror on the other side of the room but could not see what it reflected. The porter stood by the bed. He had a nice face and was very kind.

“You can go,” I said to him. “You can go too,” I said to the nurse. “What is your name?”

“Mrs. Walker.”

“You can go, Mrs. Walker. I think I will go to sleep.”

I was alone in the room. It was cool and did not smell like a hospital. The mattress was firm and comfortable and I lay without moving, hardly breathing, happy in feeling the pain lessen. After a while I wanted a drink of water and found the bell on a cord by the bed and rang it but nobody came. I went to sleep.

When I woke I looked around. There was sunlight coming in through the shutters. I saw the big armoire, the bare walls, and two chairs. My legs in the dirty bandages, stuck straight out in the bed. I was careful not to move them. I was thirsty and I reached for the bell and pushed the button. I heard the door open and looked and it was a nurse. She looked young and pretty.

“Good-morning,” I said.

“Good-morning,” she said and came over to the bed. “We haven’t been able to get the doctor. He’s gone to Lake Como. No one knew there was a patient coming. What’s wrong with you anyway?”

“I’m wounded. In the legs and feet and my head is hurt.”

“What’s your name?”

“Henry. Frederic Henry.”

“I’ll wash you up. But we can’t do anything to the dressings until the doctor comes.”

“Is Miss Barkley here?”

“No. There’s no one by that name here.”

“Who was the woman who cried when I came in?”

The nurse laughed. “That’s Mrs. Walker. She was on night duty and she’d been asleep. She wasn’t expecting any one.”

While we were talking she was undressing me, and when I was undressed, except for the bandages, she washed me, very gently and smoothly. The washing felt very good. There was a bandage on my head but she washed all around the edge.

“Where were you wounded?”

“On the Isonzo north of Plava.”

“Where is that?”

“North of Gorizia.”

I could see that none of the places meant anything to her.

“Do you have a lot of pain?”

“No. Not much now.”

She put a thermometer in my mouth.

“The Italians put it under the arm,” I said.

“Don’t talk.”

When she took the thermometer out she read it and then shook it.

“What’s the temperature?”

“You’re not supposed to know that.”

“Tell me what it is.”

“It’s almost normal.”

“I never have any fever. My legs are full of old iron too.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re full of trench-mortar fragments, old screws and bed-springs and things.”

She shook her head and smiled.

“If you had any foreign bodies in your legs they would set up an inflammation and you’d have fever.”

“All right,” I said. “We’ll see what comes out.”

She went out of the room and came back with the old nurse of the early morning. Together they made the bed with me in it. That was new to me and an admirable proceeding.

“Who is in charge here?”

“Miss Van Campen.”

“How many nurses are there?”

“Just us two.”

“Won’t there be more?”

“Some more are coming.”

“When will they get here?”

“I don’t know. You ask a great many questions for a sick boy.”

“I’m not sick,” I said, “I’m wounded.”

They had finished making the bed and I lay with a clean smooth sheet under me and another sheet over me. Mrs. Walker went out and came back with a pajama jacket. They put that on me and I felt very clean and dressed.

“You’re awfully nice to me,” I said. The nurse called Miss Gage giggled. “Could I have a drink of water?” I asked.

“Certainly. Then you can have breakfast.”

“I don’t want breakfast. Can I have the shutters opened please?”

The light had been dim in the room and when the shutters were opened it was bright sunlight and I looked out on a balcony and beyond were the tile roofs of houses and chimneys. I looked out over the tiled roofs and saw white clouds and the sky very blue.

“Don’t you know when the other nurses are coming?”

“Why? Don’t we take good care of you?”

“You’re very nice.”

“Would you like to use the bedpan?”

“I might try.”

They helped me and held me up but it was not any use. Afterward I lay and looked out the open doors onto the balcony.

“When does the doctor come?”

“When he gets back. We’ve tried to telephone to Lake Como for him.”

“Aren’t there any other doctors?”

“He’s the doctor for the hospital.”

Miss Gage brought a pitcher of water and a glass. I drank three glasses and then they left me and I looked out the window a while and went back to sleep. I ate some lunch and in the afternoon Miss Van Campen, the superintendent, came up to see me. She did not like me and I did not like her. She was small and neatly suspicious and too good for her position. She asked many questions and seemed to think it was somewhat disgraceful that I was with the Italians.

“Can I have wine with the meals?” I asked her.

“Only if the doctor prescribes it.”

“I can’t have it until he comes?”

“Absolutely not.”

“You plan on having him come eventually?”

“We’ve telephoned him at Lake Como.”

She went out and Miss Gage came back.

“Why were you rude to Miss Van Campen?” she asked after she had done something for me very skilfully.

“I didn’t mean to be. But she was snooty.”

“She said you were domineering and rude.”

“I wasn’t. But what’s the idea of a hospital without a doctor?”

“He’s coming. They’ve telephoned for him to Lake Como.”

“What does he do there? Swim?”

“No. He has a clinic there.”

“Why don’t they get another doctor?”

“Hush. Hush. Be a good boy and he’ll come.”

I sent for the porter and when he came I told him in Italian to get me a bottle of Cinzano at the wine shop, a fiasco of chianti and the evening papers. He went away and brought them wrapped in newspaper, unwrapped them and, when I asked him to, drew the corks and put the wine and vermouth under the bed. They left me alone and I lay in bed and read the papers awhile, the news from the front, and the list of dead officers with their decorations and then reached down and brought up the bottle of Cinzano and held it straight up on my stomach, the cool glass against my stomach, and took little drinks making rings on my stomach from holding the bottle there between drinks, and watched it get dark outside over the roofs of the town. The swallows circled around and I watched them and the night-hawks flying above the roofs and drank the Cinzano. Miss Gage brought up a glass with some egg-nog in it. I lowered the vermouth bottle to the other side of the bed when she came in.

“Miss Van Campen had some sherry put in this,” she said. “You shouldn’t be rude to her. She’s not young and this hospital is a big responsibility for her. Mrs. Walker’s too old and she’s no use to her.”

“She’s a splendid woman,” I said. “Thank her very much.”

“I’m going to bring your supper right away.”

“That’s all right,” I said. “I’m not hungry.”

When she brought the tray and put it on the bed table I thanked her and ate a little of the supper. Afterward it was dark outside and I could see the beams of the search-lights moving in the sky. I watched for a while and then went to sleep. I slept heavily except once I woke sweating and scared and then went back to sleep trying to stay outside of my dream. I woke for good long before it was light and heard roosters crowing and stayed on awake until it began to be light. I was tired and once it was really light I went back to sleep again.

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