“I guess I scared her,” Aymo said. “I didn’t mean to scare her.”
Bartolomeo brought out his knapsack and cut off two pieces of cheese. “Here,” he said. “Stop crying.”
The older girl shook her head and still cried, but the younger girl took the cheese and commenced to eat. After a while the younger girl gave her sister the second piece of cheese and they both ate. The older sister still sobbed a little.
“She’ll be all right after a while,” Aymo said.
An idea came to him. “Virgin?” he asked the girl next to him. She nodded her head vigorously. “Virgin too?” he pointed to the sister. Both the girls nodded their heads and the elder said something in dialect.
“That’s all right,” Bartolomeo said. “That’s all right.”
Both the girls seemed cheered.
I left them sitting together with Aymo sitting back in the corner and went back to Piani’s car. The column of vehicles did not move but the troops kept passing alongside. It was still raining hard and I thought some of the stops in the movement of the column might be from cars with wet wiring. More likely they were from horses or men going to sleep. Still, traffic could tie up in cities when every one was awake. It was the combination of horse and motor vehicles. They did not help each other any. The peasants’ carts did not help much either. Those were a couple of fine girls with Barto. A retreat was no place for two virgins. Real virgins. Probably very religious. If there were no war we would probably all be in bed. In bed I lay me down my head. Bed and board. Stiff as a board in bed. Catherine was in bed now between two sheets, over her and under her. Which side did she sleep on? Maybe she wasn’t asleep. Maybe she was lying thinking about me. Blow, blow, ye western wind. Well, it blew and it wasn’t the small rain but the big rain down that rained. It rained all night. You knew it rained down that rained. Look at it. Christ, that my love were in my arms and I in my bed again. That my love Catherine. That my sweet love Catherine down might rain. Blow her again to me. Well, we were in it. Every one was caught in it and the small rain would not quiet it. “Good-night, Catherine,” I said out loud. “I hope you sleep well. If it’s too uncomfortable, darling, lie on the other side,” I said. “I’ll get you some cold water. In a little while it will be morning and then it won’t be so bad. I’m sorry he makes you so uncomfortable. Try and go to sleep, sweet.”
I was asleep all the time, she said. You’ve been talking in your sleep. Are you all right?
Are you really there?
Of course I’m here. I wouldn’t go away. This doesn’t make any difference between us.
You’re so lovely and sweet. You wouldn’t go away in the night, would you?
Of course I wouldn’t go away. I’m always here. I come whenever you want me.
“–,” Piani said. “They’ve started again.”
“I was dopey,” I said. I looked at my watch. It was three o’clock in the morning. I reached back behind the seat for a bottle of the barbera.
“You talked out loud,” Piani said.
“I was having a dream in English,” I said.
The rain was slacking and we were moving along. Before daylight we were stalled again and when it was light we were at a little rise in the ground and I saw the road of the retreat stretched out far ahead, everything stationary except for the infantry filtering through. We started to move again but seeing the rate of progress in the daylight, I knew we were going to have to get off that main road some way and go across country if we ever hoped to reach Udine.
In the night many peasants had joined the column from the roads of the country and in the column there were carts loaded with household goods; there were mirrors projecting up between mattresses, and chickens and ducks tied to carts. There was a sewing machine on the cart ahead of us in the rain. They had saved the most valuable things. On some carts the women sat huddled from the rain and others walked beside the carts keeping as close to them as they could. There were dogs now in the column, keeping under the wagons as they moved along. The road was muddy, the ditches at the side were high with water and beyond the trees that lined the road the fields looked too wet and too soggy to try to cross. I got down from the car and worked up the road a way, looking for a place where I could see ahead to find a side-road we could take across country. I knew there were many side-roads but did not want one that would lead to nothing. I could not remember them because we had always passed them bowling along in the car on the main road and they all looked much alike. Now I knew we must find one if we hoped to get through. No one knew where the Austrians were nor how things were going but I was certain that if the rain should stop and planes come over and get to work on that column that it would be all over. All that was needed was for a few men to leave their trucks or a few horses be killed to tie up completely the movement on the road.
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