“There will be no more offensive now that the snow has come,” I said.
“Certainly not,” said the major. “You should go on leave. You should go to Rome, Naples, Sicily–”
“He should visit Amalfi,” said the lieutenant. “I will write you cards to my family in Amalfi. They will love you like a son.”
“He should go to Palermo.”
“He ought to go to Capri.”
“I would like you to see Abruzzi and visit my family at Capracotta,” said the priest.
“Listen to him talk about the Abruzzi. There’s more snow there than here. He doesn’t want to see peasants. Let him go to centres of culture and civilization.”
“He should have fine girls. I will give you the addresses of places in Naples. Beautiful young girls–accompanied by their mothers. Ha! Ha! Ha!” The captain spread his hand open, the thumb up and fingers outspread as when you make shadow pictures. There was a shadow from his hand on the wall. He spoke again in pidgin Italian. “You go away like this,” he pointed to the thumb, “and come back like this,” he touched the little finger. Every one laughed.
“Look,” said the captain. He spread the hand again. Again the candle-light made its shadows on the wall. He started with the upright thumb and named in their order the thumb and four fingers, “soto-tenente (the thumb), tenente (first finger), capitano (next finger), maggiore (next to the little finger), and tenentecolonello (the little finger). You go away soto-tenente! You come back soto-colonello!” They all laughed. The captain was having a great success with finger games. He looked at the priest and shouted, “Every night priest five against one!” They all laughed again.
“You must go on leave at once,” the major said.
“I would like to go with you and show you things,” the lieutenant said.
“When you come back bring a phonograph.”
“Bring good opera disks.”
“Don’t bring Caruso. He bellows.”
“Don’t you wish you could bellow like him?”
“He bellows. I say he bellows!”
“I would like you to go to Abruzzi,” the priest said. The others were shouting. “There is good hunting. You would like the people and though it is cold it is clear and dry. You could stay with my family. My father is a famous hunter.”
“Come on,” said the captain. “We go whorehouse before it shuts.”
“Good-night,” I said to the priest.
“Good-night,” he said.
When I came back to the front we still lived in that town. There were many more guns in the country around and the spring had come. The fields were green and there were small green shoots on the vines, the trees along the road had small leaves and a breeze came from the sea. I saw the town with the hill and the old castle above it in a cup in the hills with the mountains beyond, brown mountains with a little green on their slopes. In the town there were more guns, there were some new hospitals, you met British men and sometimes women, on the street, and a few more houses had been hit by shell fire. Jt was warm and like the spring and I walked down the alleyway of trees, warmed from the sun on the wall, and found we still lived in the same house and that it all looked the same as when I had left it. The door was open, there was a soldier sitting on a bench outside in the sun, an ambulance was waiting by the side door and inside the door, as I went in, there was the smell of marble floors and hospital. It was all as I had left it except that now it was spring. I looked in the door of the big room and saw the major sitting at his desk, the window open and the sunlight coming into the room. He did not see me and I did not know whether to go in and report or go upstairs first and clean up. I decided to go on upstairs.
The room I shared with the lieutenant Rinaldi looked out on the courtyard. The window was open, my bed was made up with blankets and my things hung on the wall, the gas mask in an oblong tin can, the steel helmet on the same peg. At the foot of the bed was my flat trunk, and my winter boots, the leather shiny with oil, were on the trunk. My Austrian sniper’s rifle with its blued octagon barrel and the lovely dark walnut, cheek-fitted, schutzen stock, hung over the two beds. The telescope that fitted it was, I remembered, locked in the trunk. The lieutenant, Rinaldi, lay asleep on the other bed. He woke when he heard me in the room and sat up.
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