A Farewell to Arms / Ernest Hemingway / Ch-30


Later we were on a road that led to a river. There was a long line of abandoned trucks and carts on the road leading up to the bridge. No one was in sight. The river was high and the bridge had been blown up in the centre; the stone arch was fallen into the river and the brown water was going over it. We went on up the bank looking for a place to cross. Up ahead I knew there was a railway bridge and I thought we might be able to get across there. The path was wet and muddy. We did not see any troops; only abandoned trucks and stores. Along the river bank there was nothing and no one but the wet brush and muddy ground. We went up to the bank and finally we saw the railway bridge.

“What a beautiful bridge,” Aymo said. It was a long plain iron bridge across what was usually a dry river-bed.

“We better hurry and get across before they blow it up,” I said.

“There’s nobody to blow it up,” Piani said. “They’re all gone.”

“It’s probably mined,” Bonello said. “You cross first, Tenente.”

“Listen to the anarchist,” Aymo said. “Make him go first.”

“I’ll go,” I said. “It won’t be mined to blow up with one man.”

“You see,” Piani said. “That is brains. Why haven’t you brains, anarchist?”

“If I had brains I wouldn’t be here,” Bonello said.

“That’s pretty good, Tenente,” Aymo said.

“That’s pretty good,” I said. We were close to the bridge now. The sky had clouded over again and it was raining a little. The bridge looked long and solid. We climbed up the embankment.

“Come one at a time,” I said and started across the bridge. I watched the ties and the rails for any tripwires or signs of explosive but I saw nothing. Down below the gaps in the ties the river ran muddy and fast. Ahead across the wet countryside I could see Udine in the rain. Across the bridge I looked back. Just up the river was another bridge. As I watched, a yellow mud-colored motor car crossed it. The sides of the bridge were high and the body of the car, once on, was out of sight. But I saw the heads of the driver, the man on the seat with him, and the two men on the rear seat. They all wore German helmets. Then the car was over the bridge and out of sight behind the trees and the abandoned vehicles on the road. I waved to Aymo who was crossing and to the others to come on. I climbed down and crouched beside the railway embankment. Aymo came down with me.

“Did you see the car?” I asked.

“No. We were watching you.”

“A German staff car crossed on the upper bridge.”

“A staff car?”


“Holy Mary.”

The others came and we all crouched in the mud behind the embankment, looking across the rails at the bridge, the line of trees, the ditch and the road.

“Do you think we’re cut off then, Tenente?”

“I don’t know. All I know is a German staff car went along that road.”

“You don’t feel funny, Tenente? You haven’t got strange feelings in the head?”

“Don’t be funny, Bonello.”

“What about a drink?” Piani asked. “If we’re cut off we might as well have a drink.” He unhooked his canteen and uncorked it.

“Look! Look!” Aymo said and pointed toward the road. Along the top of the stone bridge we could see German helmets moving. They were bent forward and moved smoothly, almost supernaturally, along. As they came off the bridge we saw them. They were bicycle troops. I saw the faces of the first two. They were ruddy and healthy-looking. Their helmets came low down over their foreheads and the side of their faces. Their carbines were clipped to the frame of the bicycles. Stick bombs hung handle down from their belts. Their helmets and their gray uniforms were wet and they rode easily, looking ahead and to both sides. There were two—then four in line, then two, then almost a dozen; then another dozen—then one alone. They did not talk but we could not have heard them because of the noise from the river. They were gone out of sight up the road.

“Holy Mary,” Aymo said.

“They were Germans,” Piani said. “Those weren’t Austrians.”

“Why isn’t there somebody here to stop them?” I said. “Why haven’t they blown the bridge up? Why aren’t there machine-guns along this embankment?”

“You tell us, Tenente,” Bonello said.

I was very angry.

“The whole bloody thing is crazy. Down below they blow up a little bridge. Here they leave a bridge on the main road. Where is everybody? Don’t they try and stop them at all?”

“You tell us, Tenente,” Bonello said. I shut up. It was none of my business; all I had to do was to get to Pordenone with three ambulances. I had failed at that. All I had to do now was get to Pordenone. I probably could not even get to Udine. The hell I couldn’t. The thing to do was to be calm and not get shot or captured.

“Didn’t you have a canteen open?” I asked Piani. He handed it to me. I took a long drink. “We might as well start,” I said. “There’s no hurry though. Do you want to eat something?”

“This is no place to stay,” Bonello said.

“All right. We’ll start.”

“Should we keep on this side—out of sight?”

“We’ll be better off on top. They may come along this bridge too. We don’t want them on top of us before we see them.”

We walked along the railroad track. On both sides of us stretched the wet plain. Ahead across the plain was the hill of Udine. The roofs fell away from the castle on the hill. We could see the campanile and the clock-tower. There were many mulberry trees in the fields. Ahead I saw a place where the rails were torn up. The ties had been dug out too and thrown down the embankment.

“Down! down!” Aymo said. We dropped down beside the embankment. There was another group of bicyclists passing along the road. I looked over the edge and saw them go on.

“They saw us but they went on,” Aymo said.

“We’ll get killed up there, Tenente,” Bonello said.

“They don’t want us,” I said. “They’re after something else. We’re in more danger if they should come on us suddenly.”

“I’d rather walk here out of sight,” Bonello said.

“All right. We’ll walk along the tracks.”

“Do you think we can get through?” Aymo asked.

“Sure. There aren’t very many of them yet. We’ll go through in the dark.”

“What was that staff car doing?”

“Christ knows,” I said. We kept on up the tracks. Bonello tired of walking in the mud of the embankment and came up with the rest of us. The railway moved south away from the highway now and we could not see what passed along the road. A short bridge over a canal was blown up but we climbed across on what was left of the span. We heard firing ahead of us.

We came up on the railway beyond the canal. It went on straight toward the town across the low fields. We could see the line of the other railway ahead of us. To the north was the main road where we had seen the cyclists; to the south there was a small branch-road across the fields with thick trees on each side. I thought we had better cut to the south and work around the town that way and across country toward Campoformio and the main road to the Tagliamento. We could avoid the main line of the retreat by keeping to the secondary roads beyond Udine. I knew there were plenty of side-roads across the plain. I started down the embankment.

“Come on,” I said. We would make for the side-road and work to the south of the town. We all started down the embankment. A shot was fired at us from the side-road. The bullet went into the mud of the embankment.

“Go on back,” I shouted. I started up the embankment, slipping in the mud. The drivers were ahead of me. I went up the embankment as fast as I could go. Two more shots came from the thick brush and Aymo, as he was crossing the tracks, lurched, tripped and fell face down. We pulled him down on the other side and turned him over. “His head ought to be uphill,” I said. Piani moved him around. He lay in the mud on the side of the embankment, his feet pointing downhill, breathing blood irregularly. The three of us squatted over him in the rain. He was hit low in the back of the neck and the bullet had ranged upward and come out under the right eye. He died while I was stopping up the two holes. Piani laid his head down, wiped at his face, with a piece of the emergency dressing, then let it alone.

“The ——,” he said.

“They weren’t Germans,” I said. “There can’t be any Germans over there.”

“Italians,” Piani said, using the word as an epithet, “Italiani!” Bonello said nothing. He was sitting beside Aymo, not looking at him. Piani picked up Aymo’s cap where it had rolled down the embankment and put it over his face. He took out his canteen.

“Do you want a drink?” Piani handed Bonello the canteen.

“No,” Bonello said. He turned to me. “That might have happened to us any time on the railway tracks.”

“No,” I said. “It was because we started across the field.”

Bonello shook his head. “Aymo’s dead,” he said. “Who’s dead next, Tenente? Where do we go now?”

“Those were Italians that shot,” I said. “They weren’t Germans.”

“I suppose if they were Germans they’d have killed all of us,” Bonello said.

“We are in more danger from Italians than Germans,” I said. “The rear guard are afraid of everything. The Germans know what they’re after.”

“You reason it out, Tenente,” Bonello said.

“Where do we go now?” Piani asked.

“We better lie up some place till it’s dark. If we could get south we’d be all right.”

“They’d have to shoot us all to prove they were right the first time,” Bonello said. “I’m not going to try them.”

“We’ll find a place to lie up as near to Udine as we can get and then go through when it’s dark.”

“Let’s go then,” Bonello said. We went down the north side of the embankment. I looked back. Aymo lay in the mud with the angle of the embankment. He was quite small and his arms were by his side, his puttee-wrapped legs and muddy boots together, his cap over his face. He looked very dead. It was raining. I had liked him as well as any one I ever knew. I had his papers in my pocket and would write to his family. Ahead across the fields was a farmhouse. There were trees around it and the farm buildings were built against the house. There was a balcony along the second floor held up by columns.

“We better keep a little way apart,” I said. “I’ll go ahead.” I started toward the farmhouse. There was a path across the field.

Crossing the field, I did not know but that some one would fire on us from the trees near the farmhouse or from the farmhouse itself. I walked toward it, seeing it very clearly. The balcony of the second floor merged into the barn and there was hay coming out between the columns. The courtyard was of stone blocks and all the trees were dripping with the rain. There was a big empty two-wheeled cart, the shafts tipped high up in the rain. I came to the courtyard, crossed it, and stood under the shelter of the balcony. The door of the house was open and I went in. Bonello and Piani came in after me. It was dark inside. I went back to the kitchen. There were ashes of a fire on the big open hearth. The pots hung over the ashes, but they were empty. I looked around but I could not find anything to eat.

“We ought to lie up in the barn,” I said. “Do you think you could find anything to eat, Piani, and bring it up there?”

“I’ll look,” Piani said.

“I’ll look too,” Bonello said.

“All right,” I said. “I’ll go up and look at the barn.” I found a stone stairway that went up from the stable underneath. The stable smelt dry and pleasant in the rain. The cattle were all gone, probably driven off when they left. The barn was half full of hay. There were two windows in the roof, one was blocked with boards, the other was a narrow dormer window on the north side. There was a chute so that hay might be pitched down to the cattle. Beams crossed the opening down into the main floor where the hay-carts drove in when the hay was hauled in to be pitched up. I heard the rain on the roof and smelled the hay and, when I went down, the clean smell of dried dung in the stable. We could pry a board loose and see out of the south window down into the courtyard. The other window looked out on the field toward the north. We could get out of either window onto the roof and down, or go down the hay chute if the stairs were impractical. It was a big barn and we could hide in the hay if we heard any one. It seemed like a good place. I was sure we could have gotten through to the south if they had not fired on us. It was impossible that there were Germans there. They were coming from the north and down the road from Cividale. They could not have come through from the south. The Italians were even more dangerous. They were frightened and firing on anything they saw. Last night on the retreat we had heard that there had been many Germans in Italian uniforms mixing with the retreat in the north. I did not believe it. That was one of those things you always heard in the war. It was one of the things the enemy always did to you. You did not know any one who went over in German uniform to confuse them. Maybe they did but it sounded difficult. I did not believe the Germans did it. I did not believe they had to. There was no need to confuse our retreat. The size of the army and the fewness of the roads did that. Nobody gave any orders, let alone Germans. Still, they would shoot us for Germans. They shot Aymo. The hay smelled good and lying in a barn in the hay took away all the years in between. We had lain in hay and talked and shot sparrows with an air-rifle when they perched in the triangle cut high up in the wall of the barn. The barn was gone now and one year they had cut the hemlock woods and there were only stumps, dried tree-tops, branches and fireweed where the woods had been. You could not go back. If you did not go forward what happened? You never got back to Milan. And if you got back to Milan what happened? I listened to the firing to the north toward Udine. I could hear machine-gun firing. There was no shelling. That was something. They must have gotten some troops along the road. I looked down in the half-light of the hay-barn and saw Piani standing on the hauling floor. He had a long sausage, a jar of something and two bottles of wine under his arm.

“Come up,” I said. “There is the ladder.” Then I realized that I should help him with the things and went down. I was vague in the head from lying in the hay. I had been nearly asleep.

“Where’s Bonello?” I asked.

“I’ll tell you,” Piani said. We went up the ladder. Up on the hay we set the things down. Piani took out his knife with the corkscrew and drew the cork on a wine bottle.

“They have sealing-wax on it,” he said. “It must be good.” He smiled.

“Where’s Bonello?” I asked.

Piani looked at me.

“He went away, Tenente,” he said. “He wanted to be a prisoner.”

I did not say anything.

“He was afraid we would get killed.”

I held the bottle of wine and did not say anything.

“You see we don’t believe in the war anyway, Tenente.”

“Why didn’t you go?” I asked.

“I did not want to leave you.”

“Where did he go?”

“I don’t know, Tenente. He went away.”

“All right,” I said. “Will you cut the sausage?”

Piani looked at me in the half-light.

“I cut it while we were talking,” he said. We sat in the hay and ate the sausage and drank the wine. It must have been wine they had saved for a wedding. It was so old that it was losing its color.

“You look out of this window, Luigi,” I said. “I’ll go look out the other window.”

We had each been drinking out of one of the bottles and I took my bottle with me and went over and lay flat on the hay and looked out the narrow window at the wet country. I do not know what I expected to see but I did not see anything except the fields and the bare mulberry trees and the rain falling. I drank the wine and it did not make me feel good. They had kept it too long and it had gone to pieces and lost its quality and color. I watched it get dark outside; the darkness came very quickly. It would be a black night with the rain. When it was dark there was no use watching any more, so I went over to Piani. He was lying asleep and I did not wake him but sat down beside him for a while. He was a big man and he slept heavily. After a while I woke him and we started.

That was a very strange night. I do not know what I had expected, death perhaps and shooting in the dark and running, but nothing happened. We waited, lying flat beyond the ditch along the main road while a German battalion passed, then when they were gone we crossed the road and went on to the north. We were very close to Germans twice in the rain but they did not see us. We got past the town to the north without seeing any Italians, then after a while came on the main channels of the retreat and walked all night toward the Tagliamento. I had not realized how gigantic the retreat was. The whole country was moving, as well as the army. We walked all night, making better time than the vehicles. My leg ached and I was tired but we made good time. It seemed so silly for Bonello to have decided to be taken prisoner. There was no danger. We had walked through two armies without incident. If Aymo had not been killed there would never have seemed to be any danger. No one had bothered us when we were in plain sight along the railway. The killing came suddenly and unreasonably. I wondered where Bonello was.

“How do you feel, Tenente?” Piani asked. We were going along the side of a road crowded with vehicles and troops.


“I’m tired of this walking.”

“Well, all we have to do is walk now. We don’t have to worry.”

“Bonello was a fool.”

“He was a fool all right.”

“What will you do about him, Tenente?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can’t you just put him down as taken prisoner?”

“I don’t know.”

“You see if the war went on they would make bad trouble for his family.”

“The war won’t go on,” a soldier said. “We’re going home. The war is over.”

“Everybody’s going home.”

“We’re all going home.”

“Come on, Tenente,” Piani said. He wanted to get past them.

“Tenente? Who’s a Tenente? A basso gli ufficiali! Down with the officers!”

Piani took me by the arm. “I better call you by your name,” he said. “They might try and make trouble. They’ve shot some officers.” We worked up past them.

“I won’t make a report that will make trouble for his family.” I went on with our conversation.

“If the war is over it makes no difference,” Piani said. “But I don’t believe it’s over. It’s too good that it should be over.”

“We’ll know pretty soon,” I said.

“I don’t believe it’s over. They all think it’s over but I don’t believe it.”

“Viva la Pace!” a soldier shouted out. “We’re going home!”

“It would be fine if we all went home,” Piani said. “Wouldn’t you like to go home?”


“We’ll never go. I don’t think it’s over.”

“Andiamo a casa!” a soldier shouted.

“They throw away their rifles,” Piani said. “They take them off and drop them down while they’re marching. Then they shout.”

“They ought to keep their rifles.”

“They think if they throw away their rifles they can’t make them fight.”

In the dark and the rain, making our way along the side of the road I could see that many of the troops still had their rifles. They stuck up above the capes.

“What brigade are you?” an officer called out.

“Brigata di Pace,” some one shouted. “Peace Brigade!” The officer said nothing.

“What does he say? What does the officer say?”

“Down with the officer. Viva la Pace!”

“Come on,” Piani said. We passed two British ambulances, abandoned in the block of vehicles.

“They’re from Gorizia,” Piani said. “I know the cars.”

“They got further than we did.”

“They started earlier.”

“I wonder where the drivers are?”

“Up ahead probably.”

“The Germans have stopped outside Udine,” I said. “These people will all get across the river.”

“Yes,” Piani said. “That’s why I think the war will go on.”

“The Germans could come on,” I said. “I wonder why they don’t come on.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything about this kind of war.”

“They have to wait for their transport I suppose.”

“I don’t know,” Piani said. Alone he was much gentler. When he was with the others he was a very rough talker.

“Are you married, Luigi?”

“You know I am married.”

“Is that why you did not want to be a prisoner?”

“That is one reason. Are you married, Tenente?”


“Neither is Bonello.”

“You can’t tell anything by a man’s being married. But I should think a married man would want to get back to his wife,” I said. I would be glad to talk about wives.


“How are your feet?”

“They’re sore enough.”

Before daylight we reached the bank of the Tagliamento and followed down along the flooded river to the bridge where all the traffic was crossing.

“They ought to be able to hold at this river,” Piani said. In the dark the flood looked high. The water swirled and it was wide. The wooden bridge was nearly three-quarters of a mile across, and the river, that usually ran in narrow channels in the wide stony bed far below the bridge, was close under the wooden planking. We went along the bank and then worked our way into the crowd that were crossing the bridge. Crossing slowly in the rain a few feet above the flood, pressed tight in the crowd, the box of an artillery caisson just ahead, I looked over the side and watched the river. Now that we could not go our own pace I felt very tired. There was no exhilaration in crossing the bridge. I wondered what it would be like if a plane bombed it in the daytime.

“Piani,” I said.

“Here I am, Tenente.” He was a little ahead in the jam. No one was talking. They were all trying to get across as soon as they could: thinking only of that. We were almost across. At the far end of the bridge there were officers and carabinieri standing on both sides flashing lights. I saw them silhouetted against the sky-line. As we came close to them I saw one of the officers point to a man in the column. A carabiniere went in after him and came out holding the man by the arm. He took him away from the road. We came almost opposite them. The officers were scrutinizing every one in the column, sometimes speaking to each other, going forward to flash a light in some one’s face. They took some one else out just before we came opposite. I saw the man. He was a lieutenant-colonel. I saw the stars in the box on his sleeve as they flashed a light on him. His hair was gray and he was short and fat. The carabiniere pulled him in behind the line of officers. As we came opposite I saw one or two of them look at me. Then one pointed at me and spoke to a carabiniere. I saw the carabiniere start for me, come through the edge of the column toward me, then felt him take me by the collar.

“What’s the matter with you?” I said and hit him in the face. I saw his face under the hat, upturned mustaches and blood coming down his cheek. Another one dove in toward us.

“What’s the matter with you?” I said. He did not answer. He was watching a chance to grab me. I put my arm behind me to loosen my pistol.

“Don’t you know you can’t touch an officer?”

The other one grabbed me from behind and pulled my arm up so that it twisted in the socket. I turned with him and the other one grabbed me around the neck. I kicked his shins and got my left knee into his groin.

“Shoot him if he resists,” I heard some one say.

“What’s the meaning of this?” I tried to shout but my voice was not very loud. They had me at the side of the road now.

“Shoot him if he resists,” an officer said. “Take him over back.”

“Who are you?”

“You’ll find out.”

“Who are you?”

“Battle police,” another officer said.

“Why don’t you ask me to step over instead of having one of these airplanes grab me?”

They did not answer. They did not have to answer. They were battle police.

“Take him back there with the others,” the first officer said. “You see. He speaks Italian with an accent.”

“So do you, you ——,” I said.

“Take him back with the others,” the first officer said. They took me down behind the line of officers below the road toward a group of people in a field by the river bank. As we walked toward them shots were fired. I saw flashes of the rifles and heard the reports. We came up to the group. There were four officers standing together, with a man in front of them with a carabiniere on each side of him. A group of men were standing guarded by carabinieri. Four other carabinieri stood near the questioning officers, leaning on their carbines. They were wide-hatted carabinieri. The two who had me shoved me in with the group waiting to be questioned. I looked at the man the officers were questioning. He was the fat gray-haired little lieutenant-colonel they had taken out of the column. The questioners had all the efficiency, coldness and command of themselves of Italians who are firing and are not being fired on.

“Your brigade?”

He told them.


He told them.

“Why are you not with your regiment?”

He told them.

“Do you not know that an officer should be with his troops?”

He did.

That was all. Another officer spoke.

“It is you and such as you that have let the barbarians onto the sacred soil of the fatherland.”

“I beg your pardon,” said the lieutenant-colonel.

“It is because of treachery such as yours that we have lost the fruits of victory.”

“Have you ever been in a retreat?” the lieutenant-colonel asked.

“Italy should never retreat.”

We stood there in the rain and listened to this. We were facing the officers and the prisoner stood in front and a little to one side of us.

“If you are going to shoot me,” the lieutenant-colonel said, “please shoot me at once without further questioning. The questioning is stupid.” He made the sign of the cross. The officers spoke together. One wrote something on a pad of paper.

“Abandoned his troops, ordered to be shot,” he said.

Two carabinieri took the lieutenant-colonel to the river bank. He walked in the rain, an old man with his hat off, a carabiniere on either side. I did not watch them shoot him but I heard the shots. They were questioning some one else. This officer too was separated from his troops. He was not allowed to make an explanation. He cried when they read the sentence from the pad of paper, and they were questioning another when they shot him. They made a point of being intent on questioning the next man while the man who had been questioned before was being shot. In this way there was obviously nothing they could do about it. I did not know whether I should wait to be questioned or make a break now. I was obviously a German in Italian uniform. I saw how their minds worked; if they had minds and if they worked. They were all young men and they were saving their country. The second army was being re-formed beyond the Tagliamento. They were executing officers of the rank of major and above who were separated from their troops. They were also dealing summarily with German agitators in Italian uniform. They wore steel helmets. Only two of us had steel helmets. Some of the carabinieri had them. The other carabinieri wore the wide hat. Airplanes we called them. We stood in the rain and were taken out one at a time to be questioned and shot. So far they had shot every one they had questioned. The questioners had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it. They were questioning a full colonel of a line regiment. Three more officers had just been put in with us.

“Where was his regiment?”

I looked at the carabinieri. They were looking at the newcomers. The others were looking at the colonel. I ducked down, pushed between two men, and ran for the river, my head down. I tripped at the edge and went in with a splash. The water was very cold and I stayed under as long as I could. I could feel the current swirl me and I stayed under until I thought I could never come up. The minute I came up I took a breath and went down again. It was easy to stay under with so much clothing and my boots. When I came up the second time I saw a piece of timber ahead of me and reached it and held on with one hand. I kept my head behind it and did not even look over it. I did not want to see the bank. There were shots when I ran and shots when I came up the first time. I heard them when I was almost above water. There were no shots now. The piece of timber swung in the current and I held it with one hand. I looked at the bank. It seemed to be going by very fast. There was much wood in the stream. The water was very cold. We passed the brush of an island above the water. I held onto the timber with both hands and let it take me along. The shore was out of sight now.

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