“You’re an orator.”
“We think. We read. We are not peasants. We are mechanics. But even the peasants know better than to believe in a war. Everybody hates this war.”
“There is a class that controls a country that is stupid and does not realize anything and never can. That is why we have this war.”
“Also they make money out of it.”
“Most of them don’t,” said Passini. “They are too stupid. They do it for nothing. For stupidity.”
“We must shut up,” said Manera. “We talk too much even for the Tenente.”
“He likes it,” said Passini. “We will convert him.”
“But now we will shut up,” Manera said.
“Do we eat yet, Tenente?” Gavuzzi asked.
“I will go and see,” I said. Gordini stood up and went outside with me.
“Is there anything I can do, Tenente? Can I help in any way?” He was the quietest one of the four. “Come with me if you want,” I said, “and we’ll see.”
It was dark outside and the long light from the search-lights was moving over the mountains. There were big search-lights on that front mounted on camions that you passed sometimes on the roads at night, close behind the lines, the camion stopped a little off the road, an officer directing the light and the crew scared. We crossed the brickyard, and stopped at the main dressing station. There was a little shelter of green branches outside over the entrance and in the dark the night wind rustled the leaves dried by the sun. Inside there was a light. The major was at the telephone sitting on a box. One of the medical captains said the attack had been put forward an hour. He offered me a glass of cognac. I looked at the board tables, the instruments shining in the light, the basins and the stoppered bottles. Gordini stood behind me. The major got up from the telephone.
“It starts now,” he said. “It has been put back again.”
I looked outside, it was dark and the Austrian search-lights were moving on the mountains behind us. It was quiet for a moment still, then from all the guns behind us the bombardment started.
“Savoia,” said the major.
“About the soup, major,” I said. He did not hear me. I repeated it.
“It hasn’t come up.”
A big shell came in and burst outside in the brickyard. Another burst and in the noise you could hear the smaller noise of the brick and dirt raining down.
“What is there to eat?”
“We have a little pasta asciutta,” the major said.
“I’ll take what you can give me.”
The major spoke to an orderly who went out of sight in the back and came back with a metal basin of cold cooked macaroni. I handed it to Gordini.
“Have you any cheese?”
The major spoke grudgingly to the orderly who ducked back into the hole again and came out with a quarter of a white cheese.
“Thank you very much,” I said.
“You’d better not go out.”
Outside something was set down beside the entrance. One of the two men who had carried it looked in.
“Bring him in,” said the major. “What’s the matter with you? Do you want us to come outside and get him?”
The two stretcher-bearers picked up the man under the arms and by the legs and brought him in.
“Slit the tunic,” the major said.
He held a forceps with some gauze in the end. The two captains took off their coats. “Get out of here,” the major said to the two stretcher-bearers.
“Come on,” I said to Gordini.
“You better wait until the shelling is over,” the major said over his shoulder.
“They want to eat,” I said.
“As you wish.”
Outside we ran across the brickyard. A shell burst short near the river bank. Then there was one that we did not hear coming until the sudden rush. We both went flat and with the flash and bump of the burst and the smell heard the singing off of the fragments and the rattle of falling brick. Gordini got up and ran for the dugout. I was after him, holding the cheese, its smooth surface covered with brick dust. Inside the dugout were the three drivers sitting against the wall, smoking.