“They won’t let me. The lieutenant said I slipped the truss on purpose.”
“Let me feel it.”
“It’s way out.”
“Which side is it on?”
I felt it.
“Cough,” I said.
“I’m afraid it will make it bigger. It’s twice as big as it was this morning.”
“Sit down,” I said. “As soon as I get the papers on these wounded I’ll take you along the road and drop you with your medical officers.”
“He’ll say I did it on purpose.”
“They can’t do anything,” I said. “It’s not a wound. You’ve had it before, haven’t you?”
“But I lost the truss.”
“They’ll send you to a hospital.”
“Can’t I stay here, Tenente?”
“No, I haven’t any papers for you.”
The driver came out of the door with the papers for the wounded in the car.
“Four for 105. Two for 132,” he said. They were hospitals beyond the river.
“You drive,” I said. I helped the soldier with the rupture up on the seat with us.
“You speak English?” he asked.
“How you like this goddam war?”
“I say it’s rotten. Jesus Christ, I say it’s rotten.”
“Were you in the States?”
“Sure. In Pittsburgh. I knew you was an American.”
“Don’t I talk Italian good enough?”
“I knew you was an American all right.”
“Another American,” said the driver in Italian looking at the hernia man.
“Listen, lootenant. Do you have to take me to that regiment?”
“Because the captain doctor knew I had this rupture. I threw away the goddam truss so it would get bad and I wouldn’t have to go to the line again.”
“Couldn’t you take me no place else?”
“If it was closer to the front I could take you to a first medical post. But back here you’ve got to have papers.”
“If I go back they’ll make me get operated on and then they’ll put me in the line all the time.”
I thought it over.
“You wouldn’t want to go in the line all the time, would you?” he asked.
“Jesus Christ, ain’t this a goddam war?”
“Listen,” I said. “You get out and fall down by the road and get a bump on your head and I’ll pick you up on our way back and take you to a hospital. We’ll stop by the road here, Aldo.” We stopped at the side of the road. I helped him down.
“I’ll be right here, lieutenant,” he said.
“So long,” I said. We went on and passed the regiment about a mile ahead, then crossed the river, cloudy with snow-water and running fast through the spiles of the bridge, to ride along the road across the plain and deliver the wounded at the two hospitals. I drove coming back and went fast with the empty car to find the man from Pittsburgh. First we passed the regiment, hotter and slower than ever: then the stragglers. Then we saw a horse ambulance stopped by the road. Two men were lifting the hernia man to put him in. They had come back for him. He shook his head at me. His helmet was off and his forehead was bleeding below the hair line. His nose was skinned and there was dust on the bloody patch and dust in his hair.
“Look at the bump, lieutenant!” he shouted. “Nothing to do. They come back for me.”
When I got back to the villa it was five o’clock and I went out where we washed the cars, to take a shower. Then I made out my report in my room, sitting in my trousers and an undershirt in front of the open window. In two days the offensive was to start and I would go with the cars to Plava. It was a long time since I had written to the States and I knew I should write but I had let it go so long that it was almost impossible to write now. There was nothing to write about. I sent a couple of army Zona di Guerra post-cards, crossing out everything except, I am well. That should handle them. Those post-cards would be very fine in America; strange and mysterious. This was a strange and mysterious war zone but I supposed it was quite well run and grim compared to other wars with the Austrians. The Austrian army was created to give Napoleon victories; any Napoleon. I wished we had a Napoleon, but instead we had Ii Generale Cadorna, fat and prosperous and Vittorio Emmanuele, the tiny man with the long thin neck and the goat beard. Over on the right they had the Duke of Aosta. Maybe he was too good-looking to be a. great general but he looked like a man. Lots of them would have liked him to be king. He looked like a king. He was the King’s uncle and commanded the third army. We were in the second army. There were some British batteries up with the third army. I had met two gunners from that lot, in Milan. They were very nice and we had a big evening. They were big and shy and embarrassed and very appreciative together of anything that happened. I wish that I was with the British. It would have been much simpler. Still I would probably have been killed. Not in this ambulance business. Yes, even in the ambulance business. British ambulance drivers were killed sometimes. Well, I knew I would not be killed. Not in this war. It did not have anything to do with me. It seemed no more dangerous to me myself than war in the movies. I wished to God it was over though. Maybe it would finish this summer. Maybe the Austrians would crack. They had always cracked in other wars. What was the matter with this war? Everybody said the French were through. Rinaldi said that the French had mutinied and troops marched on Paris. I asked him what happened and he said, “Oh, they stopped them.” I wanted to go to Austria without war. I wanted to go to the Black Forest. I wanted to go to the Hartz Mountains.
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