A Farewell to Arms / Ernest Hemingway / Ch-34


In civilian clothes I felt a masquerader. I had been in uniform a long time and I missed the feeling of being held by your clothes. The trousers felt very floppy. I had bought a ticket at Milan for Stresa. I had also bought a new hat. I could not wear Sim’s hat but his clothes were fine. They smelled of tobacco and as I sat in the compartment and looked out the window the new hat felt very new and the clothes very old. I myself felt as sad as the wet Lombard country that was outside through the window. There were some aviators in the compartment who did not think much of me. They avoided looking at me and were very scornful of a civilian my age. I did not feel insulted. In the old days I would have insulted them and picked a fight. They got off at Gallarate and I was glad to be alone. I had the paper but I did not read it because I did not want to read about the war. I was going to forget the war. I had made a separate peace. I felt damned lonely and was glad when the train got to Stresa.

At the station I had expected to see the porters from the hotels but there was no one. The season had been over a long time and no one met the train. I got down from the train with my bag, it was Sim’s bag, and very light to carry, being empty except for two shirts, and stood under the roof of the station in the rain while the train went on. I found a man in the station and asked him if he knew what hotels were open. The Grand-Hôtel & des Isles Borromées was open and several small hotels that stayed open all the year. I started in the rain for the Isles Borromées carrying my bag. I saw a carriage coming down the street and signalled to the driver. It was better to arrive in a carriage. We drove up to the carriage entrance of the big hotel and the concierge came out with an umbrella and was very polite.

I took a good room. It was very big and light and looked out on the lake. The clouds were down over the lake but it would be beautiful with the sunlight. I was expecting my wife, I said. There was a big double bed, a letto matrimoniale with a satin coverlet. The hotel was very luxurious. I went down the long halls, down the wide stairs, through the rooms to the bar. I knew the barman and sat on a high stool and ate salted almonds and potato chips. The martini felt cool and clean.

“What are you doing here in borghese?” the barman asked after he had mixed a second martini.

“I am on leave. Convalescing-leave.”

“There is no one here. I don’t know why they keep the hotel open.”

“Have you been fishing?”

“I’ve caught some beautiful pieces. Trolling this time of year you catch some beautiful pieces.”

“Did you ever get the tobacco I sent?”

“Yes. Didn’t you get my card?”

I laughed. I had not been able to get the tobacco. It was American pipe-tobacco that he wanted, but my relatives had stopped sending it or it was being held up. Anyway it never came.

“I’ll get some somewhere,” I said. “Tell me have you seen two English girls in the town? They came here day before yesterday.”

“They are not at the hotel.”

“They are nurses.”

“I have seen two nurses. Wait a minute, I will find out where they are.”

“One of them is my wife,” I said. “I have come here to meet her.”

“The other is my wife.”

“I am not joking.”

“Pardon my stupid joke,” he said. “I did not understand.” He went away and was gone quite a little while. I ate olives, salted almonds and potato chips and looked at myself in civilian clothes in the mirror behind the bar. The bartender came back. “They are at the little hotel near the station,” he said.

“How about some sandwiches?”

“I’ll ring for some. You understand there is nothing here, now there are no people.”

“Isn’t there really any one at all?”

“Yes. There are a few people.”

The sandwiches came and I ate three and drank a couple more martinis. I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized. I had had too much red wine, bread, cheese, bad coffee and grappa. I sat on the high stool before the pleasant mahogany, the brass and the mirrors and did not think at all. The barman asked me some question.

“Don’t talk about the war,” I said. The war was a long way away. Maybe there wasn’t any war. There was no war here. Then I realized it was over for me. But I did not have the feeling that it was really over. I had the feeling of a boy who thinks of what is happening at a certain hour at the schoolhouse from which he has played truant.

Catherine and Helen Ferguson were at supper when I came to their hotel. Standing in the hallway I saw them at table. Catherine’s face was away from me and I saw the line of her hair and her cheek and her lovely neck and shoulders. Ferguson was talking. She stopped when I came in.

“My God,” she said.

“Hello,” I said.

“Why it’s you!” Catherine said. Her face lighted up. She looked too happy to believe it. I kissed her. Catherine blushed and I sat down at the table.

“You’re a fine mess,” Ferguson said. “What are you doing here? Have you eaten?”

“No.” The girl who was serving the meal came in and I told her to bring a plate for me. Catherine looked at me all the time, her eyes happy.

“What are you doing in mufti?” Ferguson asked.

“I’m in the Cabinet.”

“You’re in some mess.”

“Cheer up, Fergy. Cheer up just a little.”

“I’m not cheered by seeing you. I know the mess you’ve gotten this girl into. You’re no cheerful sight to me.”

Catherine smiled at me and touched me with her foot under the table.

“No one got me in a mess, Fergy. I get in my own messes.”

“I can’t stand him,” Ferguson said. “He’s done nothing but ruin you with his sneaking Italian tricks. Americans are worse than Italians.”

“The Scotch are such a moral people,” Catherine said.

“I don’t mean that. I mean his Italian sneakiness.”

“Am I sneaky, Fergy?”

“You are. You’re worse than sneaky. You’re like a snake. A snake with an Italian uniform: with a cape around your neck.”

“I haven’t got an Italian uniform now.”

“That’s just another example of your sneakiness. You had a love affair all summer and got this girl with child and now I suppose you’ll sneak off.”

I smiled at Catherine and she smiled at me.

“We’ll both sneak off,” she said.

“You’re two of the same thing,” Ferguson said. “I’m ashamed of you, Catherine Barkley. You have no shame and no honor and you’re as sneaky as he is.”

“Don’t, Fergy,” Catherine said and patted her hand. “Don’t denounce me. You know we like each other.”

“Take your hand away,” Ferguson said. Her face was red. “If you had any shame it would be different. But you’re God knows how many months gone with child and you think it’s a joke and are all smiles because your seducer’s come back. You’ve no shame and no feelings.” She began to cry. Catherine went over and put her arm around her. As she stood comforting Ferguson, I could see no change in her figure.

“I don’t care,” Ferguson sobbed. “I think it’s dreadful.”

“There, there, Fergy,” Catherine comforted her. “I’ll be ashamed. Don’t cry, Fergy. Don’t cry, old Fergy.”

“I’m not crying,” Ferguson sobbed. “I’m not crying. Except for the awful thing you’ve gotten into.” She looked at me. “I hate you,” she said. “She can’t make me not hate you. You dirty sneaking American Italian.” Her eyes and nose were red with crying.

Catherine smiled at me.

“Don’t you smile at him with your arm around me.”

“You’re unreasonable, Fergy.”

“I know it,” Ferguson sobbed. “You mustn’t mind me, either of you. I’m so upset. I’m not reasonable. I know it. I want you both to be happy.”

“We’re happy,” Catherine said. “You’re a sweet Fergy.”

Ferguson cried again. “I don’t want you happy the way you are. Why don’t you get married? You haven’t got another wife have you?”

“No,” I said. Catherine laughed.

“It’s nothing to laugh about,” Ferguson said. “Plenty of them have other wives.”

“We’ll be married, Fergy,” Catherine said, “if it will please you.”

“Not to please me. You should want to be married.”

“We’ve been very busy.”

“Yes. I know. Busy making babies.” I thought she was going to cry again but she went into bitterness instead. “I suppose you’ll go off with him now to-night?”

“Yes,” said Catherine. “If he wants me.”

“What about me?”

“Are you afraid to stay here alone?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Then I’ll stay with you.”

“No, go on with him. Go with him right away. I’m sick of seeing both of you.”

“We’d better finish dinner.”

“No. Go right away.”

“Fergy, be reasonable.”

“I say get out right away. Go away both of you.”

“Let’s go then,” I said. I was sick of Fergy.

“You do want to go. You see you want to leave me even to eat dinner alone. I’ve always wanted to go to the Italian lakes and this is how it is. Oh, Oh,” she sobbed, then looked at Catherine and choked.

“We’ll stay till after dinner,” Catherine said. “And I’ll not leave you alone if you want me to stay. I won’t leave you alone, Fergy.”

“No. No. I want you to go. I want you to go.” She wiped her eyes. “I’m so unreasonable. Please don’t mind me.”

The girl who served the meal had been upset by all the crying. Now as she brought in the next course she seemed relieved that things were better.

That night at the hotel, in our room with the long empty hall outside and our shoes outside the door, a thick carpet on the floor of the room, outside the windows the rain falling and in the room light and pleasant and cheerful, then the light out and it exciting with smooth sheets and the bed comfortable, feeling that we had come home, feeling no longer alone, waking in the night to find the other one there, and not gone away; all other things were unreal. We slept when we were tired and if we woke the other one woke too so one was not alone. Often a man wishes to be alone and a girl wishes to be alone too and if they love each other they are jealous of that in each other, but I can truly say we never felt that. We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others. It has only happened to me like that once. I have been alone while I was with many girls and that is the way that you can be most lonely. But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together. I know that the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started. But with Catherine there was almost no difference in the night except that it was an even better time. If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

I remember waking in the morning. Catherine was asleep and the sunlight was coming in through the window. The rain had stopped and I stepped out of bed and across the floor to the window. Down below were the gardens, bare now but beautifully regular, the gravel paths, the trees, the stone wall by the lake and the lake in the sunlight with the mountains beyond. I stood at the window looking out and when I turned away I saw Catherine was awake and watching me.

“How are you, darling?” she said. “Isn’t it a lovely day?”

“How do you feel?”

“I feel very well. We had a lovely night.”

“Do you want breakfast?”

She wanted breakfast. So did I and we had it in bed, the November sunlight coming in the window, and the breakfast tray across my lap.

“Don’t you want the paper? You always wanted the paper in the hospital.”

“No,” I said. “I don’t want the paper now.”

“Was it so bad you don’t want even to read about it?”

“I don’t want to read about it.”

“I wish I had been with you so I would know about it too.”

“I’ll tell you about it if I ever get it straight in my head.”

“But won’t they arrest you if they catch you out of uniform?”

“They’ll probably shoot me.”

“Then we’ll not stay here. We’ll get out of the country.”

“I’d thought something of that.”

“We’ll get out. Darling, you shouldn’t take silly chances. Tell me how did you come from Mestre to Milan?”

“I came on the train. I was in uniform then.”

“Weren’t you in danger then?”

“Not much. I had an old order of movement. I fixed the dates on it in Mestre.”

“Darling, you’re liable to be arrested here any time. I won’t have it. It’s silly to do something like that. Where would we be if they took you off?”

“Let’s not think about it. I’m tired of thinking about it.”

“What would you do if they came to arrest you?”

“Shoot them.”

“You see how silly you are, I won’t let you go out of the hotel until we leave here.”

“Where are we going to go?”

“Please don’t be that way, darling. We’ll go wherever you say. But please find some place to go right away.”

“Switzerland is down the lake, we can go there.”

“That will be lovely.”

It was clouding over outside and the lake was darkening.

“I wish we did not always have to live like criminals,” I said.

“Darling, don’t be that way. You haven’t lived like a criminal very long. And we never live like criminals. We’re going to have a fine time.”

“I feel like a criminal. I’ve deserted from the army.”

“Darling, please be sensible. It’s not deserting from the army. It’s only the Italian army.”

I laughed. “You’re a fine girl. Let’s get back into bed. I feel fine in bed.”

A little while later Catherine said, “You don’t feel like a criminal do you?”

“No,” I said. “Not when I’m with you.”

“You’re such a silly boy,” she said. “But I’ll look after you. Isn’t it splendid, darling, that I don’t have any morning-sickness?”

“It’s grand.”

“You don’t appreciate what a fine wife you have. But I don’t care. I’ll get you some place where they can’t arrest you and then we’ll have a lovely time.”

“Let’s go there right away.”

“We will, darling. I’ll go any place any time you wish.”

“Let’s not think about anything.”

“All right.”

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