A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

I went along the narrow road down toward the river, left the car at the dressing station under the hill, crossed the pontoon bridge, which was protected by a shoulder of the mountain, and went through the trenches in the smashed-down town and along the edge of the slope. Everybody was in the dugouts. There were racks of rockets standing to be touched off to call for help from the artillery or to signal with if the telephone wires were cut. It was quiet, hot and dirty. I looked across the wire at the Austrian lines. Nobody was in sight. I had a drink with a captain that I knew in one of the dugouts and went back across the bridge.

A new wide road was being finished that would go over the mountain and zig-zag down to the bridge. When this road was finished the offensive would start. It came down through the forest in sharp turns. The system was to bring everything down the new road and take the empty trucks, carts and loaded ambulances and all returning traffic up the old narrow road. The dressing station was on the Austrian side of the river under the edge of the hill and stretcher-bearers would bring the wounded back across the pontoon bridge. It would be the same when the offensive started. As far as I could make out the last mile or so of the new road where it started to level out would be able to be shelled steadily by the Austrians. It looked as though it might be a mess. But I found a place where the cars would be sheltered after they passed that last badlooking bit and could wait for the wounded to be brought across the pontoon bridge. I would have liked to drive over the new road but it was not yet finished. It looked wide and well made with a good grade and the turns looked very impressive where you could see them through openings in the forest on the mountain side. The cars would be all right with their good metal-to-metal brakes and anyway, coming down, they would not be loaded. I drove back up the narrow road.

Two carabinieri held the car up. A shell had fallen and while we waited three others fell up the road. They were seventy-sevens and came with a whishing rush of air, a hard bright burst and flash and then gray smoke that blew across the road. The carabinieri waved us to go on. Passing where the shells had landed I avoided the small broken places and smelled the high explosive and the smell of blasted clay and stone and freshly shattered flint. I drove back to Gorizia and our villa and, as I said, went to call on Miss Barkley, who was on duty.

At dinner I ate very quickly and left for the villa where the British had their hospital. It was really very large and beautiful and there were fine trees in the grounds. Miss Barkley was sitting on a bench in the garden. Miss Ferguson was with her. They seemed glad to see me and in a little while Miss Ferguson excused herself and went away.

“I’ll leave you two,” she said. “You get along very well without me.”

“Don’t go, Helen,” Miss Barkley said.

“I’d really rather. I must write some letters.”

“Good-night,” I said.

“Good-night, Mr. Henry.”

“Don’t write anything that will bother the censor.”

“Don’t worry. I only write about what a beautiful place we live in and how brave the Italians are.”

“That way you’ll be decorated.”

“That will be nice. Good-night, Catherine.”

“I’ll see you in a little while,” Miss Barkley said. Miss Ferguson walked away in the dark.

“She’s nice,” I said.

“Oh, yes, she’s very nice. She’s a nurse.”

“Aren’t you a nurse?”

“Oh, no. I’m something called a V. A. D. We work very hard but no one trusts us.”

“Why not?”

“They don’t trust us when there’s nothing going on. When there is really work they trust us.”

“What is the difference?”

“A nurse is like a doctor. It takes a long time to be. A V. A. D. is a short cut.”

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Categories: Hemingway, Ernest