A Farewell to Arms / Ernest Hemingway / Ch-23


The night I was to return to the front I sent the porter down to hold a seat for me on the train when it came from Turin. The train was to leave at midnight. It was made up at Turin and reached Milan about half-past ten at night and lay in the station until time to leave. You had to be there when it came in, to get a seat. The porter took a friend with him, a machine-gunner on leave who worked in a tailor shop, and was sure that between them they could hold a place. I gave them money for platform tickets and had them take my baggage. There was a big rucksack and two musettes.

I said good-by at the hospital at about five o’clock and went out. The porter had my baggage in his lodge and I told him I would be at the station a little before midnight. His wife called me “Signorino” and cried. She wiped her eyes and shook hands and then cried again. I patted her on the back and she cried once more. She had done my mending and was a very short dumpy, happy-faced woman with white hair. When she cried her whole face went to pieces. I went down to the corner where there was a wine shop and waited inside looking out the window. It was dark outside and cold and misty. I paid for my coffee and grappa and I watched the people going by in the light from the window. I saw Catherine and knocked on the window. She looked, saw me and smiled, and I went out to meet her. She was wearing a dark blue cape and a soft felt hat. We walked along together, along the sidewalk past the wine shops, then across the market square and up the street and through the archway to the cathedral square. There were street-car tracks and beyond them was the cathedral. It was white and wet in the mist. We crossed the tram tracks. On our left were the shops, their windows lighted, and the entrance to the galleria. There was a fog in the square and when we came close to the front of the cathedral it was very big and the stone was wet.

“Would you like to go in?”

“No,” Catherine said. We walked along. There was a soldier standing with his girl in the shadow of one of the stone buttresses ahead of us and we passed them. They were standing tight up against the stone and he had put his cape around her.

“They’re like us,” I said.

“Nobody is like us,” Catherine said. She did not mean it happily.

“I wish they had some place to go.”

“It mightn’t do them any good.”

“I don’t know. Everybody ought to have some place to go.”

“They have the cathedral,” Catherine said. We were past it now. We crossed the far end of the square and looked back at the cathedral. It was fine in the mist. We were standing in front of the leather goods shop. There were riding boots, a rucksack and ski boots in the window. Each article was set apart as an exhibit; the rucksack in the centre, the riding boots on one side and the ski boots on the other. The leather was dark and oiled smooth as a used saddle. The electric light made high lights on the dull oiled leather.

“We’ll ski some time.”

“In two months there will be skiing at Mürren,” Catherine said.

“Let’s go there.”

“All right,” she said. We went on past other windows and turned down a side street.

“I’ve never been this way.”

“This is the way I go to the hospital,” I said. It was a narrow street and we kept on the right-hand side. There were many people passing in the fog. There were shops and all the windows were lighted. We looked in a window at a pile of cheeses. I stopped in front of an armorer’s shop.

“Come in a minute. I have to buy a gun.”

“What sort of gun?”

“A pistol.” We went in and I unbuttoned my belt and laid it with the empty holster on the counter. Two women were behind the counter. The women brought out several pistols.

“It must fit this,” I said, opening the holster. It was a gray leather holster and I had bought it secondhand to wear in the town.

“Have they good pistols?” Catherine asked.

“They’re all about the same. Can I try this one?” I asked the woman.

“I have no place now to shoot,” she said. “But it is very good. You will not make a mistake with it.”

I snapped it and pulled back the action. The spring was rather strong but it worked smoothly. I sighted it and snapped it again.

“It is used,” the woman said. “It belonged to an officer who was an excellent shot.”

“Did you sell it to him?”


“How did you get it back?”

“From his orderly.”

“Maybe you have mine,” I said. “How much is this?”

“Fifty lire. It is very cheap.”

“All right. I want two extra clips and a box of cartridges.”

She brought them from under the counter.

“Have you any need for a sword?” she asked. “I have some used swords very cheap.”

“I’m going to the front,” I said.

“Oh yes, then you won’t need a sword,” she said.

I paid for the cartridges and the pistol, filled the magazine and put it in place, put the pistol in my empty holster, filled the extra clips with cartridges and put them in the leather slots on the holster and then buckled on my belt. The pistol felt heavy on the belt. Still, I thought, it was better to have a regulation pistol. You could always get shells.

“Now we’re fully armed,” I said. “That was the one thing I had to remember to do. Some one got my other one going to the hospital.”

“I hope it’s a good pistol,” Catherine said.

“Was there anything else?” the woman asked.

“I don’t believe so.”

“The pistol has a lanyard,” she said.

“So I noticed.” The woman wanted to sell something else.

“You don’t need a whistle?”

“I don’t believe so.”

The woman said good-by and we went out onto the sidewalk. Catherine looked in the window. The woman looked out and bowed to us.

“What are those little mirrors set in wood for?”

“They’re for attracting birds. They twirl them out in the field and larks see them and come out and the Italians shoot them.”

“They are an ingenious people,” Catherine said. “You don’t shoot larks do you, darling, in America?”

“Not especially.”

We crossed the street and started to walk up the other side.

“I feel better now,” Catherine said. “I felt terrible when we started.”

“We always feel good when we’re together.”

“We always will be together.”

“Yes, except that I’m going away at midnight.”

“Don’t think about it, darling.”

We walked on up the street. The fog made the lights yellow.

“Aren’t you tired?” Catherine asked.

“How about you?”

“I’m all right. It’s fun to walk.”

“But let’s not do it too long.”


We turned down a side street where there were no lights and walked in the street. I stopped and kissed Catherine. While I kissed her I felt her hand on my shoulder. She had pulled my cape around her so it covered both of us. We were standing in the street against a high wall.

“Let’s go some place,” I said.

“Good,” said Catherine. We walked on along the street until it came out onto a wider street that was beside a canal. On the other side was a brick wall and buildings. Ahead, down the street, I saw a street-car cross a bridge.

“We can get a cab up at the bridge,” I said. We stood on the bridge in the fog waiting for a carriage. Several street-cars passed, full of people going home. Then a carriage came along but there was some one in it. The fog was turning to rain.

“We could walk or take a tram,” Catherine said.

“One will be along,” I said. “They go by here.”

“Here one comes,” she said.

The driver stopped his horse and lowered the metal sign on his meter. The top of the carriage was up and there were drops of water on the driver’s coat. His varnished hat was shining in the wet. We sat back in the seat together and the top of the carriage made it dark.

“Where did you tell him to go?”

“To the station. There’s a hotel across from the station where we can go.”

“We can go the way we are? Without luggage?”

“Yes,” I said.

It was a long ride to the station up side streets in the rain.

“Won’t we have dinner?” Catherine asked. “I’m afraid I’ll be hungry.”

“We’ll have it in our room.”

“I haven’t anything to wear. I haven’t even a nightgown.”

“We’ll get one,” I said and called to the driver.

“Go to the Via Manzoni and up that.” He nodded and turned off to the left at the next corner. On the big street Catherine watched for a shop.

“Here’s a place,” she said. I stopped the driver and Catherine got out, walked across the sidewalk and went inside. I sat back in the carriage and waited for her. It was raining and I could smell the wet street and the horse steaming in the rain. She came back with a package and got in and we drove on.

“I was very extravagant, darling,” she said, “but it’s a fine nightgown.”

At the hotel I asked Catherine to wait in the carriage while I went in and spoke to the manager. There were plenty of rooms. Then I went out to the carriage, paid the driver, and Catherine and I walked in together. The small boy in buttons carried the package. The manager bowed us toward the elevator. There was much red plush and brass. The manager went up in the elevator with us.

“Monsieur and Madame wish dinner in their room?”

“Yes. Will you have the menu brought up?” I said.

“You wish something special for dinner. Some game or a soufflet?”

The elevator passed three floors with a click each time, then clicked and stopped.

“What have you as game?”

“I could get a pheasant, or a woodcock.”

“A woodcock,” I said. We walked down the corridor. The carpet was worn. There were many doors. The manager stopped and unlocked a door and opened it.

“Here you are. A lovely room.”

The small boy in buttons put the package on the table in the centre of the room. The manager opened the curtains.

“It is foggy outside,” he said. The room was furnished in red plush. There were many mirrors, two chairs and a large bed with a satin coverlet. A door led to the bathroom.

“I will send up the menu,” the manager said. He bowed and went out.

I went to the window and looked out, then pulled a cord that shut the thick plush curtains. Catherine was sitting on the bed, looking at the cut glass chandelier. She had taken her hat off and her hair shone under the light. She saw herself in one of the mirrors and put her hands to her hair. I saw her in three other mirrors. She did not look happy. She let her cape fall on the bed.

“What’s the matter, darling?”

“I never felt like a whore before,” she said. I went over to the window and pulled the curtain aside and looked out. I had not thought it would be like this.

“You’re not a whore.”

“I know it, darling. But it isn’t nice to feel like one.” Her voice was dry and flat.

“This was the best hotel we could get in,” I said. I looked out the window. Across the square were the lights of the station. There were carriages going by on the street and I saw the trees in the park. The lights from the hotel shone on the wet pavement. Oh, hell, I thought, do we have to argue now?

“Come over here please,” Catherine said. The flatness was all gone out of her voice. “Come over, please. I’m a good girl again.” I looked over at the bed. She was smiling.

I went over and sat on the bed beside her and kissed her.

“You’re my good girl.”

“I’m certainly yours,” she said.

After we had eaten we felt fine, and then after, we felt very happy and in a little time the room felt like our own home. My room at the hospital had been our own home and this room was our home too in the same way.

Catherine wore my tunic over her shoulders while we ate. We were very hungry and the meal was good and we drank a bottle of Capri and a bottle of St. Estephe. I drank most of it but Catherine drank some and it made her feel splendid. For dinner we had a woodcock with soufflé potatoes and purée de marron, a salad, and zabaione for dessert.

“It’s a fine room,” Catherine said. “It’s a lovely room. We should have stayed here all the time we’ve been in Milan.”

“It’s a funny room. But it’s nice.”

“Vice is a wonderful thing,” Catherine said. “The people who go in for it seem to have good taste about it. The red plush is really fine. It’s just the thing. And the mirrors are very attractive.”

“You’re a lovely girl.”

“I don’t know how a room like this would be for waking up in the morning. But it’s really a splendid room.” I poured another glass of St. Estephe.

“I wish we could do something really sinful,” Catherine said. “Everything we do seems so innocent and simple. I can’t believe we do anything wrong.”

“You’re a grand girl.”

“I only feel hungry. I get terribly hungry.”

“You’re a fine simple girl,” I said.

“I am a simple girl. No one ever understood it except you.”

“Once when I first met you I spent an afternoon thinking how we would go to the Hotel Cavour together and how it would be.”

“That was awfully cheeky of you. This isn’t the Cavour is it?”

“No. They wouldn’t have taken us in there.”

“They’ll take us in some time. But that’s how we differ, darling. I never thought about anything.”

“Didn’t you ever at all?”

“A little,” she said.

“Oh you’re a lovely girl.”

I poured another glass of wine.

“I’m a very simple girl,” Catherine said.

“I didn’t think so at first. I thought you were a crazy girl.”

“I was a little crazy. But I wasn’t crazy in any complicated manner. I didn’t confuse you did I, darling?”

“Wine is a grand thing,” I said. “It makes you forget all the bad.”

“It’s lovely,” said Catherine. “But it’s given my father gout very badly.”

“Have you a father?”

“Yes,” said Catherine. “He has gout. You won’t ever have to meet him. Haven’t you a father?”

“No,” I said. “A step-father.”

“Will I like him?”

“You won’t have to meet him.”

“We have such a fine time,” Catherine said. “I don’t take any interest in anything else any more. I’m so very happy married to you.”

The waiter came and took away the things. After a while we were very still and we could hear the rain. Down below on the street a motor car honked.

“ ‘But at my back I always hear

Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near,’ ”

I said.

“I know that poem,” Catherine said. “It’s by Marvell. But it’s about a girl who wouldn’t live with a man.”

My head felt very clear and cold and I wanted to talk facts.

“Where will you have the baby?”

“I don’t know. The best place I can find.”

“How will you arrange it?”

“The best way I can. Don’t worry, darling. We may have several babies before the war is over.”

“It’s nearly time to go.”

“I know. You can make it time if you want.”


“Then don’t worry, darling. You were fine until now and now you’re worrying.”

“I won’t. How often will you write?”

“Every day. Do they read your letters?”

“They can’t read English enough to hurt any.”

“I’ll make them very confusing,” Catherine said.

“But not too confusing.”

“I’ll just make them a little confusing.”

“I’m afraid we have to start to go.”

“All right, darling.”

“I hate to leave our fine house.”

“So do I.”

“But we have to go.”

“All right. But we’re never settled in our home very long.”

“We will be.”

“I’ll have a fine home for you when you come back.”

“Maybe I’ll be back right away.”

“Perhaps you’ll be hurt just a little in the foot.”

“Or the lobe of the ear.”

“No I want your ears the way they are.”

“And not my feet?”

“Your feet have been hit already.”

“We have to go, darling. Really.”

“All right. You go first.”

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