As we moved out through the town it was empty in the rain and the dark except for columns of troops and guns that were going through the main street. There were many trucks too and some carts going through on other streets and converging on the main road. When we were out past the tanneries onto the main road the troops, the motor trucks, the horse-drawn carts and the guns were in one wide slow-moving column. We moved slowly but steadily in the rain, the radiator cap of our car almost against the tailboard of a truck that was loaded high, the load covered with wet canvas. Then the truck stopped. The whole column was stopped. It started again and we went a little farther, then stopped. I got out and walked ahead, going between the trucks and carts and under the wet necks of the horses. The block was farther ahead. I left the road, crossed the ditch on a footboard and walked along the field beyond the ditch. I could see the stalled column between the trees in the rain as I went forward across from it in the field. I went about a mile. The column did not move, although, on the other side beyond the stalled vehicles I could see the troops moving. I went back to the cars. This block might extend as far as Udine. Piani was asleep over the wheel. I climbed up beside him and went to sleep too. Several hours later I heard the truck ahead of us grinding into gear. I woke Piani and we started, moving a few yards, then stopping, then going on again. It was still raining.
The column stalled again in the night and did not start. I got down and went back to see Aymo and Bonello. Bonello had two sergeants of engineers on the seat of his car with him. They stiffened when I came up.
“They were left to do something to a bridge,” Bonello said. “They can’t find their unit so I gave them a ride.”
“With the Sir Lieutenant’s permission.”
“With permission,” I said.
“The lieutenant is an American,” Bonello said. “He’ll give anybody a ride.”
One of the sergeants smiled. The other asked Bonello if I was an Italian from North or South America.
“He’s not an Italian. He’s North American English.”
The sergeants were polite but did not believe it. I left them and went back to Aymo. He had two girls on the seat with him and was sitting back in the corner and smoking.
“Barto, Barto,” I said. He laughed.
“Talk to them, Tenente,” he said. “I can’t understand them. Hey!” He put his hand on the girl’s thigh and squeezed it in a friendly way. The girl drew her shawl tight around her and pushed his hand away. “Hey!” he said. “Tell the Tenente your name and what you’re doing here.”
The girl looked at me fiercely. The other girl kept her eyes down. The girl who looked at me said something in a dialect I could not understand a word of. She was plump and dark and looked about sixteen.
“Sorella?” I asked and pointed at the other girl.
She nodded her head and smiled.
“All right,” I said and patted her knee. I felt her stiffen away when I touched her. The sister never looked up. She looked perhaps a year younger. Aymo put his hand on the elder girl’s thigh and she pushed it away. He laughed at her.
“Good man,” he pointed at himself. “Good man,” he pointed at me. “Don’t you worry.” The girl looked at him fiercely. The pair of them were like two wild birds.
“What does she ride with me for if she doesn’t like me?” Aymo asked. “They got right up in the car the minute I motioned to them.” He turned to the girl. “Don’t worry,” he said. “No danger of –,” using the vulgar word. “No place for –.” I could see she understood the word and that was all. Her eyes looked at him very scared. She pulled the shawl tight. “Car all full,” Aymo said. “No danger of —- . No place for –.” Every time he said the word the girl stiffened a little. Then sitting stiffly and looking at him she began to cry. I saw her lips working and then tears came down her plump cheeks. Her sister, not looking up, took her hand and they sat there together. The older one, who had been so fierce, began to sob.
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