“I’ll make her.”
“I don’t believe it.” She took the note and went out. I rang the bell and in a little while Miss Gage came in.
“What’s the matter?”
“I just wanted to talk to you. Don’t you think Miss Barkley ought to go off night duty for a while? She looks awfully tired. Why does she stay on so long?”
Miss Gage looked at me.
“I’m a friend of yours,” she said. “You don’t have to talk to me like that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t be silly. Was that all you wanted?”
“Do you want a vermouth?”
“All right. Then I have to go.” She got out the bottle from the armoire and brought a glass.
“You take the glass,” I said. “I’ll drink out of the bottle.”
“Here’s to you,” said Miss Gage.
“What did Van Campen say about me sleeping late in the mornings?”
“She just jawed about it. She calls you our privileged patient.”
“To hell with her.”
“She isn’t mean,” Miss Gage said. “She’s just old and cranky. She never liked you.”
“Well, I do. And I’m your friend. Don’t forget that.”
“You’re awfully damned nice.”
“No. I know who you think is nice. But I’m your friend. How does your leg feel?”
“I’ll bring some cold mineral water to pour over it. It must itch under the cast. It’s hot outside.”
“You’re awful nice.”
“Does it itch much?”
“No. It’s fine.”
“I’ll fix those sandbags better.” She leaned over. “I’m your friend.”
“I know you are.”
“No you don’t. But you will some day.”
Catherine Barkley took three nights off night duty and then she came back on again. It was as though we met again after each of us had been away on a long journey.
We had a lovely time that summer. When I could go out we rode in a carriage in the park. I remember the carriage, the horse going slowly, and up ahead the back of the driver with his varnished high hat, and Catherine Barkley sitting beside me. If we let our hands touch, just the side of my hand touching hers, we were excited. Afterward when I could get around on crutches we went to dinner at Biffi’s or the Gran Italia and sat at the tables outside on the floor of the galleria. The waiters came in and out and there were people going by and candles with shades on the tablecloths and after we decided that we liked the Gran Italia best, George, the headwaiter, saved us a table. He was a fine waiter and we let him order the meal while we looked at the people, and the great galleria in the dusk, and each other. We drank dry white capri iced in a bucket; although we tried many of the other wines, fresa, barbera and the sweet white wines. They had no wine waiter because of the war and George would smile ashamedly when I asked about wines like fresa.
“If you imagine a country that makes a wine because it tastes like strawberries,” he said.
“Why shouldn’t it?” Catherine asked. “It sounds splendid.”
“You try it, lady,” said George, “if you want to. But let me bring a little bottle of margaux for the Tenente.”
“I’ll try it too, George.”
“Sir, I can’t recommend you to. It doesn’t even taste like strawberries.”
“It might,” said Catherine. “It would be wonderful if it did.”
“I’ll bring it,” said George, “and when the lady is satisfied I’ll take it away.”
It was not much of a wine. As he said, it did not even taste like strawberries. We went back to capri. One evening I was short of money and George loaned me a hundred lire. “That’s all right, Tenente,” he said. “I know how it is. I know how a man gets short. If you or the lady need money I’ve always got money.”
After dinner we walked through the galleria, past the other restaurants and the shops with their steel shutters down, and stopped at the little place where they sold sandwiches; ham and lettuce sandwiches and anchovy sandwiches made of very tiny brown glazed rolls and only about as long as your finger. They were to eat in the night when we were hungry. Then we got into an open carriage outside the galleria in front of the cathedral and rode to the hospital. At the door of the hospital the porter came out to help with the crutches. I paid the driver, and then we rode upstairs in the elevator. Catherine got off at the lower floor where the nurses lived and I went on up and went down the hall on crutches to my room; sometimes I undressed and got into bed and sometimes I sat out on the balcony with my leg up on another chair and watched the swallows over the roofs and waited for Catherine. When she came upstairs it was as though she had been away on a long trip and I went along the hall with her on the crutches and carried the basins and waited outside the doors, or went in with her; it depending on whether they were friends of ours or not, and when she had done all there was to be done we sat out on the balcony outside my room. Afterward I went to bed and when they were all asleep and she was sure they would not call she came in. I loved to take her hair down and she sat on the bed and kept very still, except suddenly she would dip down to kiss me while I was doing it, and I would take out the pins and lay them on the sheet and it would be loose and I would watch her while she kept very still and then take out the last two pins and it would all come down and she would drop her head and we would both be inside of it, and it was the feeling of inside a tent or behind a falls.
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