A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

“Any room will do,” I said. Then to the porter in Italian, “Find an empty room.”

“They are all empty,” said the porter. “You are the first patient.” He held his cap in his hand and looked at the elderly nurse.

“For Christ’s sweet sake take me to some room.” The pain had gone on and on with the legs bent and I could feel it going in and out of the bone. The porter went in the door, followed by the grayhaired woman, then came hurrying back. “Follow me,” he said. They carried me down a long hallway and into a room with drawn blinds. It smelled of new furniture. There was a bed and a big wardrobe with a mirror. They laid me down on the bed.

“I can’t put on sheets,” the woman said. “The sheets are locked up.”

I did not speak to her. “There is money in my pocket,” I said to the porter. “In the buttoned-down pocket.” The porter took out the money. The two stretcher-bearers stood beside the bed holding their caps. “Give them five lire apiece and five lire for yourself. My papers are in the other pocket. You may give them to the nurse.”

The stretcher-bearers saluted and said thank you. “Good-by,” I said. “And many thanks.” They saluted again and went out.

“Those papers,” I said to the nurse, “describe my case and the treatment already given.”

The woman picked them up and looked at them through her glasses. There were three papers and they were folded. “I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I can’t read Italian. I can’t do anything without the doctor’s orders.” She commenced to cry and put the papers in her apron pocket. “Are you an American?” she asked crying.

“Yes. Please put the papers on the table by the bed.”

It was dim and cool in the room. As I lay on the bed I could see the big mirror on the other side of the room but could not see what it reflected. The porter stood by the bed. He had a nice face and was very kind.

“You can go,” I said to him. “You can go too,” I said to the nurse. “What is your name?”

“Mrs. Walker.”

“You can go, Mrs. Walker. I think I will go to sleep.”

I was alone in the room. It was cool and did not smell like a hospital. The mattress was firm and comfortable and I lay without moving, hardly breathing, happy in feeling the pain lessen. After a while I wanted a drink of water and found the bell on a cord by the bed and rang it but nobody came. I went to sleep.

When I woke I looked around. There was sunlight coming in through the shutters. I saw the big armoire, the bare walls, and two chairs. My legs in the dirty bandages, stuck straight out in the bed. I was careful not to move them. I was thirsty and I reached for the bell and pushed the button. I heard the door open and looked and it was a nurse. She looked young and pretty.

“Good-morning,” I said.

“Good-morning,” she said and came over to the bed. “We haven’t been able to get the doctor. He’s gone to Lake Como. No one knew there was a patient coming. What’s wrong with you anyway?”

“I’m wounded. In the legs and feet and my head is hurt.”

“What’s your name?”

“Henry. Frederic Henry.”

“I’ll wash you up. But we can’t do anything to the dressings until the doctor comes.”

“Is Miss Barkley here?”

“No. There’s no one by that name here.”

“Who was the woman who cried when I came in?”

The nurse laughed. “That’s Mrs. Walker. She was on night duty and she’d been asleep. She wasn’t expecting any one.”

While we were talking she was undressing me, and when I was undressed, except for the bandages, she washed me, very gently and smoothly. The washing felt very good. There was a bandage on my head but she washed all around the edge.

“Where were you wounded?”

“On the Isonze north of Plava.”

“Where is that?”

“North of Gorizia.”

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Categories: Hemingway, Ernest