“An army travels on its stomach,” I said.
“What?” asked the sergeant.
“It’s better to eat.”
“Yes. But time is precious.”
“I believe the bastards have eaten already,” Piani said. The sergeants looked at him. They hated the lot of us.
“You know the road?” one of them asked me.
“No,” I said. They looked at each other.
“We would do best to start,” the first one said.
“We are starting,” I said. I drank another cup of the red wine. It tasted very good after the cheese and apple.
“Bring the cheese,” I said and went out. Bonello came out carrying the great jug of wine.
“That’s too big,” I said. He looked at it regretfully.
“I guess it is,” he said. “Give me the canteens to fill.” He filled the canteens and some of the wine ran out on the stone paving of the courtyard. Then he picked up the wine jug and put it just inside the door.
“The Austrians can find it without breaking the door down,” he said.
“We’ll roll.” I said. “Piani and I will go ahead.” The two engineers were already on the seat beside Bonello. The girls were eating cheese and apples. Aymo was smoking. We started off down the narrow road. I looked back at the two cars coming and the farmhouse. It was a fine, low, solid stone house and the ironwork of the well was very good. Ahead of us the road was narrow and muddy and there was a high hedge on either side. Behind, the cars were following closely.
At noon we were stuck in a muddy road about, as nearly as we could figure, ten kilometres from Udine. The rain had stopped during the forenoon and three times we had heard planes coming, seen them pass overhead, watched them go far to the left and heard them bombing on the main highroad. We had worked through a network of secondary roads and had taken many roads that were blind, but had always, by backing up and finding another road, gotten closer to Udine. Now, Aymo’s car, in backing so that we might get out of a blind road, had gotten into the soft earth at the side and the wheels, spinning, had dug deeper and deeper until the car rested on its differential. The thing to do now was to dig out in front of the wheels, put in brush so that the chains could grip, and then push until the car was on the road. We were all down on the road around the car. The two sergeants looked at the car and examined the wheels. Then they started off down the road without a word. I went after them.
“Come on,” I said. “Cut some brush.”
“We have to go,” one said.
“Get busy,” I said, “and cut brush.”
“We have to go,” one said. The other said nothing. They were in a hurry to start. They would not look at me.
“I order you to come back to the car and cut brush,” I said. The one sergeant turned. “We have to go on. In a little while you will be cut off. You can’t order us. You’re not our officer.”
“I order you to cut brush,” I said. They turned and started down the road.
“Halt,” I said. They kept on down the muddy road, the hedge on either side. “I order you to halt,” I called. They went a little faster. I opened up my holster, took the pistol, aimed at the one who had talked the most, and fired. I missed and they both started to run. I shot three times and dropped one. The other went through the hedge and was out of sight. I fired at him through the hedge as he ran across the field. The pistol clicked empty and I put in another clip. I saw it was too far to shoot at the second sergeant. He was far across the field, running, his head held low. I commenced to reload the empty clip. Bonello came up.
“Let me go finish him,” he said. I handed him the pistol and he walked down to where the sergeant of engineers lay face down across the road. Bonello leaned over, put the pistol against the man’s head and pulled the trigger. The pistol did not fire.
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