早晨我给隔壁花园里的 炮队开炮吵醒了，看见阳光已从窗外进来，于是就起了床。我踱到窗边望出去。花园里的砂砾小径是潮湿的，草上也有露水。炮队开炮两次，每开一次，窗户震动， 连我睡衣的胸襟也抖了一下。炮虽然看不见，但一听就知道是在我们上头开。炮队挨得这样近，相当讨厌，幸亏炮的口径并不太大。我望着外边花园时，听得见一部 卡车在路上的开动声。我穿好衣服下楼，在厨房里喝了一点咖啡，便向汽车间走。有十部车子并排停在长长的车棚下。都是些上重下轻、车头短的救护车，漆成灰 色，构造得像搬场卡车。机师们在场子里修理一部车子。还有三部车子则留在山峰间的包扎站。
我由他们继续修理这部好不难看的空车，现在车子的引擎敞开着，零件散放在工作台上。我走到车棚底下，给每一部车子检查一下。车子相当干净，有几部刚 刚洗过，其余的积满了尘埃。我细心看看车胎，看看有没有裂痕或是给石头划破的。一切情况相当满意。我人在不在这儿看管车子，显然没多大关系。我本来自以为 很重要，车子的保养，物资的调配，从深山里的包扎站运回伤病员到医疗后送站，然后根据伤病员的病历卡，运送入医院，这一切顺利进行，大多是靠我一人。现在 我才明白，有我没我并没有多大关系。
一切都很好，我人不在这儿，仿佛情形反而好一点。总攻击又要开始了，我听人家说。我们所属的那个师，将从河上游某地点进攻，少校叫我负责进攻时期的 各救护车站。进攻部队将由上游一条窄峡上渡河，然后在山坡上扩大阵地。救护车的车站得尽量挨近河边，同时又要有天然的保障。车站地点当然是由步兵选定的， 不过实际筹划执行，还得依靠我们。这样一来，我居然也有了布阵作战的错觉了。
“好吧，“我说。我们喝了第二杯格拉巴，雷那蒂放好酒瓶，我们这才下楼。上街穿镇而走，本来是很热的，幸亏太阳开始下山，走来倒很愉快。英国医院设 在一座德国人战前盖的大别墅里。巴克莱小姐在花园里。另外一位护士和她在一起。我们从树缝间望得见她们的白制服，于是朝她们走去。雷那蒂行了礼。我也行了 礼，不过不像他那样过于殷勤。“你好，“巴克莱小姐说。“你不是意大利人吧？“
① 索姆是法国北部河名，于1916 年和1918 年发生剧烈战役。这里指1916 年战役，英法联军初次运用新武器——坦克——进攻德军，以解除德军围攻凡尔登的压力。
The battery in the next garden woke me in the morning and I saw the sun coming through the window and got out of the bed. I went to the window and looked out. The gravel paths were moist and the grass was wet with dew. The battery fired twice and the air came each time like a blow and shook the window and made the front of my pajamas flap. I could not see the guns but they were evidently firing directly over us. It was a nuisance to have them there but it was a comfort that they were no bigger. As I looked out at the garden I heard a motor truck starting on the road. I dressed, went downstairs, had some coffee in the kitchen and went out to the garage.
Ten cars were lined up side by side under the long shed. They were top-heavy, blunt-nosed ambulances, painted gray and built like moving-vans. The mechanics were working on one out in the yard. Three others were up in the mountains at dressing stations.
"Do they ever shell that battery?" Tasked one of the mechanics.
"No, Signor Tenente. It is protected by the little hill."
"Not so bad. This machine is no good but the others march." He stopped working and smiled. "Were you on permission?"
He wiped his hands on his jumper and grinned. "You have a good time?" The others all grinned too.
"Fine," I said. "What's the matter with this machine?"
"It's no good. One thing after another."
"What's the matter now?"
I left them working, the car looking disgraced and empty with the engine open and parts spread on the work bench, and went in under the shed and looked at each of the cars. They were moderately clean, a few freshly washed, the others dusty. I looked at the tires carefully, looking for cuts or stone bruises. Everything seemed in good condition. It evidently made no difference whether I was there to look after things or not. I had imagined that the condition of the cars, whether or not things were obtainable, the smooth functioning of the business of removing wounded and sick from the dressing stations, hauling them back from the mountains to the clearing station and then distributing them to the hospitals named on their papers, depended to a considerable extent on myself. Evidently it did not matter whether I was there or not.
"Has there been any trouble getting parts?" I asked the sergeant mechanic.
"No, Signor Tenente."
"Where is the gasoline park now?"
"At the same place."
"Good," I said and went back to the house and drank another bowl of coffee at the mess table. The coffee was a pale gray and sweet with condensed milk. Outside the window it was a lovely spring morning. There was that beginning of a feeling of dryness in the nose that meant the day would be hot later on. That day I visited the posts in the mountains and was back in town late in the afternoon.
The whole thing seemed to run better while I was away. The offensive was going to start again I heard. The division for which we worked were to attack at a place up the river and the major told me that I would see about the posts for during the attack. The attack would cross the river up above the narrow gorge and spread up the hillside. The posts for the cars would have to be as near the river as they could get and keep covered. They would, of course, be selected by the infantry but we were supposed to work it out. It was one of those things that gave you a false feeling of soldiering.
I was very dusty and dirty and went up to my room to wash. Rinaldi was sitting on the bed with a copy of Hugo's English grammar. He was dressed, wore his black boots, and his hair shone.
"Splendid," he said when he saw me. "You will come with me to see Miss Barkley."
"Yes. You will please come and make me a good impression on her."
"All right. Wait till I get cleaned up."
"Wash up and come as you are."
I washed, brushed my hair and we started.
"Wait a minute," Rinaldi said. "Perhaps we should have a drink." He opened his trunk and took out a bottle.
"Not Strega," I said.
He poured two glasses and we touched them, first fingers extended. The grappa was very strong.
"All right," I said. We drank the second grappa, Rinaldi put away the bottle and we went down the stairs. It was hot walking through the town but the sun was starting to go down and it was very pleasant. The British hospital was a big villa built by Germans before the war. Miss Barkley was in the garden. Another nurse was with her. We saw their white uniforms through the trees and walked toward them. Rinaldi saluted. I saluted too but more moderately.
"How do you do?" Miss Barkley said. "You're not an Italian, are you?"
Rinaldi was talking with the other nurse. They were laughing. "What an odd thing--to be in the Italian army."
"It's not really the army. It's only the ambulance."
"It's very odd though. Why did you do it?"
"I don't know," I said. "There isn't always an explanation for everything."
"Oh, isn't there? I was brought up to think there was."
"That's awfully nice."
"Do we have to go on and talk this way?"
"No," I said.
"That's a relief. Isn't it?"
"What is the stick?" I asked. Miss Barkley was quite tall. She wore what seemed to me to be a nurse's uniform, was blonde and had a tawny skin and gray eyes. I thought she was very beautiful. She was carrying a thin rattan stick like a toy riding-crop, bound in leather.
"It belonged to a boy who was killed last year."
"I'm awfully sorry."
"He was a very nice boy. He was going to marry me and he was killed in the Somme."
"It was a ghastly show."
"Were you there?"
"I've heard about it," she said. "There's not really any war of that sort down here. They sent me the little stick. His mother sent it to me. They returned it with his things."
"Had you been engaged long?"
"Eight years. We grew up together."
"And why didn't you marry?"
"I don't know," she said. "I was a fool not to. I could have given him that anyway. But I thought it would be bad for him."
"Have you ever loved any one?"
"No," I said.
We sat down on a bench and I looked at her.
"You have beautiful hair," I said.
"Do you like it?"
"I was going to cut it all off when he died."
"I wanted to do something for him. You see I didn't care about the other thing and he could have had it all. He could have had anything he wanted if I would have known. I would have married him or anything. I know all about it now. But then he wanted to go to war and I didn't know."
I did not say anything.
"I didn't know about anything then. I thought it would be worse for him. I thought perhaps he couldn't stand it and then of course he was killed and that was the end of it."
"I don't know."
"Oh, yes," she said. "That's the end of it."
We looked at Rinaldi talking with the other nurse.
"What is her name?"
"Ferguson. Helen Ferguson. Your friend is a doctor, isn't he?"
"Yes. He's very good."
"That's splendid. You rarely find any one any good this close to the front. This is close to the front, isn't it?"
"It's a silly front," she said. "But it's very beautiful. Are they going to have an offensive?"
"Then we'll have to work. There's no work now."
"Have you done nursing long?"
"Since the end of 'fifteen. I started when he did. I remember having a silly idea he might come to the hospital where I was. With a sabre cut, I suppose, and a bandage around his head. Or shot through the shoulder. Something picturesque."
"This is the picturesque front," I said.
"Yes," she said. "People can't realize what France is like. If they did, it couldn't all go on. He didn't have a sabre cut. They blew him all to bits."
I didn't say anything.
"Do you suppose it will always go on?"
"What's to stop it?"
"It will crack somewhere."
"We'll crack. We'll crack in France. They can't go on doing things like the Somme and not crack."
"They won't crack here," I said.
"You think not?"
"No. They did very well last summer."
"They may crack," she said. "Anybody may crack."
"The Germans too."
"No," she said. "I think not."
We went over toward Rinaldi and Miss Ferguson.
"You love Italy?" Rinaldi asked Miss Ferguson in English.
"No understand," Rinaldi shook his head.
"Abbastanza bene," I translated.
He shook his head.
"That is not good. You love England?"
"Not too well. I'm Scotch, you see."
Rinaldi looked at me blankly.
"She's Scotch, so she loves Scotland better than England," I said in Italian.
"But Scotland is England."
I translated this for Miss Ferguson.
"Pas encore," said Miss Ferguson.
"Never. We do not like the English."
"Not like the English? Not like Miss Barkley?"
"Oh, that's different. You mustn't take everything so literally."
After a while we said good-night and left. Walking home Rinaldi said, "Miss Barkley prefers you to me. That is very clear. But the little Scotch one is very nice."
"Very," I said. I had not noticed her. "You like her?"
"No," said Rinaldi.