“I am happy,” said the priest.
“Priest not happy. Priest wants Austrians to win the war,” the captain said. The others listened. The priest shook his head.
“No,” he said.
“Priest wants us never to attack. Don’t you want us never to attack?”
“No. If there is a war I suppose we must attack.”
“Must attack. Shall attack!”
The priest nodded.
“Leave him alone,” the major said. “He’s all right.”
“He can’t do anything about it anyway,” the captain said. We all got up and left the table.
The battery in the next garden woke me in the morning and I saw the sun coming through the window and got out of the bed. I went to the window and looked out. The gravel paths were moist and the grass was wet with dew. The battery fired twice and the air came each time like a blow and shook the window and made the front of my pajamas flap. I could not see the guns but they were evidently firing directly over us. It was a nuisance to have them there but it was a comfort that they were no bigger. As I looked out at the garden I heard a motor truck starting on the road. I dressed, went downstairs, had some coffee in the kitchen and went out to the garage.
Ten cars were lined up side by side under the long shed. They were top-heavy, blunt-nosed ambulances, painted gray and built like moving-vans. The mechanics were working on one out in the yard. Three others were up in the mountains at dressing stations.
“Do they ever shell that battery?” Tasked one of the mechanics.
“No, Signor Tenente. It is protected by the little hill.”
“Not so bad. This machine is no good but the others march.” He stopped working and smiled. “Were you on permission?”
He wiped his hands on his jumper and grinned. “You have a good time?” The others all grinned too.
“Fine,” I said. “What’s the matter with this machine?”
“It’s no good. One thing after another.”
“What’s the matter now?”
I left them working, the car looking disgraced and empty with the engine open and parts spread on the work bench, and went in under the shed and looked at each of the cars. They were moderately clean, a few freshly washed, the others dusty. I looked at the tires carefully, looking for cuts or stone bruises. Everything seemed in good condition. It evidently made no difference whether I was there to look after things or not. I had imagined that the condition of the cars, whether or not things were obtainable, the smooth functioning of the business of removing wounded and sick from the dressing stations, hauling them back from the mountains to the clearing station and then distributing them to the hospitals named on their papers, depended to a considerable extent on myself. Evidently it did not matter whether I was there or not.
“Has there been any trouble getting parts?” I asked the sergeant mechanic.
“No, Signor Tenente.”
“Where is the gasoline park now?”
“At the same place.”
“Good,” I said and went back to the house and drank another bowl of coffee at the mess table. The coffee was a pale gray and sweet with condensed milk. Outside the window it was a lovely spring morning. There was that beginning of a feeling of dryness in the nose that meant the day would be hot later on. That day I visited the posts in the mountains and was back in town late in the afternoon.
The whole thing seemed to run better while I was away. The offensive was going to start again I heard. The division for which we worked were to attack at a place up the river and the major told me that I would see about the posts for during the attack. The attack would cross the river up above the narrow gorge and spread up the hillside. The posts for the cars would have to be as near the river as they could get and keep covered. They would, of course, be selected by the infantry but we were supposed to work it out. It was one of those things that gave you a false feeling of soldiering.
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