A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

“Count Greffi was asking for you,” he said.


“Count Greffi. You remember the old man who was here when you were here before.”

“Is he here?”

“Yes, he’s here with his niece. I told him you were here. He wants you to play billiards.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s taking a walk.”

“How is he?”

“He’s younger than ever. He drank three champagne cocktails last night before dinner.”

“How’s his billiard game?”

“Good. He beat me. When I told him you were here he was very pleased. There’s nobody here for him to play with.”

Count Greffi was ninety-four years old. He had been a contemporary of Metternich and was an old man with white hair and mustache and beautiful manners. He had been in the diplomatic service of both Austria and Italy and his birthday parties were the great social event of Milan. He was living to be one hundred years old and played a smoothly fluent game of billiards that contrasted with his own ninety-four-year-old brittleness. I had met him when I had been at Stresa once before out of season and while we played billiards we drank champagne. I thought it was a splendid custom and he gave me fifteen points in a hundred and beat me.

“Why didn’t you tell me he was here?”

“I forgot it.”

“Who else is here?”

“No one you know. There are only six people altogether.”

“What are you doing now?”


“Come on out fishing.”

“I could come for an hour.”

“Come on. Bring the trolling line.”

The barman put on a coat and we went out. We went down and got a boat and I rowed while the barman sat in the stern and let out the line with a spinner and a heavy sinker on the end to troll for lake trout. We rowed along the shore, the barman holding the line in his hand and giving it occasional jerks forward. Stresa looked very deserted from the lake. There were the long rows of bare trees, the big hotels and the closed villas. I rowed across to Isola Bella and went close to the walls, where the water deepened sharply, and you saw the rock wall slanting down in the clear water, and then up and along to the fisherman’s island. The sun was under a cloud and the water was dark and smooth and very cold. We did not have a strike though we saw some circles on the water from rising fish.

I rowed up opposite the fisherman’s island where there were boats drawn up and men were mending nets.

“Should we get a drink?”

“All right.”

I brought the boat up to the stone pier and the barman pulled in the line, coiling it on the bottom of the boat and hooking the spinner on the edge of the gunwale. I stepped out and tied the boat. We went into a little café, sat at a bare wooden table and ordered vermouth.

“Are you tired from rowing?”

“I’ll row back,” he said.

“I like to row.”

“Maybe if you hold the line it will change the luck.”

“All right.”

“Tell me how goes the war.”


“I don’t have to go. I’m too old, like Count Greffi.”

“Maybe you’ll have to go yet.”

“Next year they’ll call my class. But I won’t go.”

“What will you do?”

“Get out of the country. I wouldn’t go to war. I was at the war once in Abyssinia. Nix. Why do you go?”

“I don’t know. I was a fool.”

“Have another vermouth?”

“All right.”

The barman rowed back. We trolled up the lake beyond Stresa and then down not far from shore. I held the taut line and felt the faint pulsing of the spinner revolving while I looked at the dark November water of the lake and the deserted shore. The barman rowed with long strokes and on the forward thrust of the boat the line throbbed. Once I had a strike: the line hardened suddenly and jerked back. I pulled and felt the live weight of the trout and then the line throbbed again. I had missed him.

“Did he feel big?”

“Pretty big.”

“Once when I was out trolling alone I had the line in my teeth and one struck and nearly took my mouth out.”

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Categories: Hemingway, Ernest