“I won’t have you circling around to no purpose,” Captain Paravicini said.
“All right,” said Nick. He felt it coming on again.
“Of course,” said Nick. He was trying to hold it in.
“Anything of that sort should be done at night.”
“Naturally,” said Nick. He knew he could not stop it now.
“You see, I am commanding the battalion,” Para said.
“And why shouldn’t you be?” Nick said. Here it came. “You can read and write, can’t you?”
“Yes,” said Para gently.
“The trouble is you have a damned small battalion to command. As soon as it gets to strength again they’ll give you back your company. Why don’t they bury the dead? I’ve seen them now. I don’t care about seeing them again. They can bury them any time as far as I’m concerned and it would be much better for you. You’ll all get bloody sick.”
“Where did you leave your bicycle?”
“Inside the last house.”
“Do you think it will be all right?”
“Don’t worry,” Nick said. “I’ll go in a little while.”
“Lie down a little while, Nicolo.”
He shut his eyes, and in place of the man with the beard who looked at him over the sights of the rifle, quite calmly before squeezing off, the white flash and clublike impact, on his knees, hot-sweet choking, coughing it onto the rock while they went past him, he saw a long, yellow house with a low stable and the river much wider than it was and stiller. “Christ,” he said, “I might as well go.”
He stood up.
“I’m going, Para,” he said. “I’ll ride back now in the afternoon. If any supplies have come I’ll bring them down tonight. If not I’ll come at night when I have something to bring.”
“It is still hot to ride,” Captain Paravicini said.
“You don’t need to worry,” Nick said. “I’m all right now for quite a while. I had one then but it was easy. They’re getting much better. I can tell when I’m going to have one because I talk so much.”
“I’ll send a runner with you.”
“I’d rather you didn’t. I know the way.”
“You’ll be back soon?”
“Let me send—”
“No,” said Nick. “As a mark of confidence.”
“Well, ciao, then.”
“Ciao,” said Nick. He started back along the sunken road toward where he had left the bicycle. In the afternoon the road would be shady once he had passed the canal. Beyond that there were trees on both sides that had not been shelled at all. It was on that stretch that, marching, they had once passed the Terza Savoia cavalry regiment riding in the snow with their lances. The horses’ breath made plumes in the cold air. No, that was somewhere else. Where was that?
“I’d better get to that damned bicycle,” Nick said to himself. “I don’t want to lose the way to Fornaci.”
In Another Country
In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more. It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows. There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers. It was a cold fall and the wind came down from the mountains.
We were all at the hospital every afternoon, and there were different ways of walking across the town through the dusk to the hospital. Two of the ways were alongside canals, but they were long. Always, though, you crossed a bridge across a canal to enter the hospital. There was a choice of three bridges. On one of them a woman sold roasted chestnuts. It was warm, standing in front of her charcoal fire, and the chestnuts were warm afterward in your pocket. The hospital was very old and very beautiful, and you entered through a gate and walked across a courtyard and out a gate on the other side. There were usually funerals starting from the courtyard. Beyond the old hospital were the new brick pavilions, and there we met every afternoon and were all very polite and interested in what was the matter, and sat in the machines that were to make so much difference.