后来，我们走上一条通 到河边的道路。路上一直到桥边为止，有一长列被遗弃的卡车和运货马车。一个人影也没有。河水高涨，桥的中部已炸断；桥上的石拱掉在河里，褐色的河水就在上 边流过。我们沿着河岸走，找个可以渡河的地点。我知道前头有座铁路桥，我们也许可以打那儿过河。河边小径又湿又泥泞。我们看不到任何军队，只有遗弃下来的 卡车和辎重。河岸上除了湿的枝条和泥泞的土地外，什么东西都没有，什么人也没有。我们走到河岸边，终于看到了那座铁路桥。
“你们一个个分开来走，“我说，开始走过桥去。我细心察看枕木和铁轨，看有没有什么拉发线或者埋有炸药的痕迹，但是看不见。从枕木的空隙间，我看见 底下的河水又混浊又湍急。打前头，越过湿淋淋的乡野，我看得见在雨中的乌迪内。过了桥，我回头观看。河上游还有一道桥。我正看着那桥时，有一部黄泥色的小 汽车正在过桥。那座桥的两边很高，车一上桥就给遮住了。但是我还看得见司机的头，司机旁边坐着的那人的头，还有车后座上的那两个人的头。他们全戴着德军钢 盔。随后车子下了桥，又给路上的树木和遗弃的车辆遮住了。我向正在过桥的艾莫和其他人招招手，叫他们过来。我爬下去，蹲在铁路路堤边。艾莫跟着我下来。 “你看见那部车子吗？“我问。
“看！看！“艾莫说，指着路上。我们看得见石桥顶上有德国兵的钢盔在晃动着。那些钢盔向前倾着，滑溜溜地向前移，简直像是被神奇的力量操纵着。他们 下了桥，我们才看见他们。原来是自行车部队。我看见最前面那两个人的脸，又红润又健康。他们的钢盔戴得很低，遮住了前额和脸庞的两边。他们的卡宾枪给扣在 自行车车架上。手榴弹倒挂在每人的束身皮带上，弹柄朝下。他们的帽盔和灰色制服都给雨水打湿了，仍旧从容地骑着车子，张望着前头和两边。起先两人一排—— 接着四人一排，又是两人一排，接着差不多十二个人；接着又是十二个人——最后是单独一人。他们不讲话，反正就是讲话我们也听不见，因为河声喧闹。他们在路 上消失了。
过了运河，我们又在车轨上走。铁道越过低洼的田野，一直入城。我们望得见前头另外有一条火车线。北面是那条我们看见开过自行车队的公路；南面是一条 小支路，横贯田野，两边有密密的树木。我想还是抄近路朝南走，绕过城，再横过乡野朝坎波福米奥走，走上通塔利亚门托河的大路。我们走乌迪内城后的那些岔路 小道，可以避开撤退的总队伍。我知道有许多小路横贯平原。于是我开始爬下路堤。
“来吧，“我说。我们要走那条支路，绕到城的南边去。这时大家都爬下了路堤。从支路那边嗖的有一枪向我们打来。子弹打进路堤的泥壁。“退回去，“我 喊道。我爬上路堤，脚在泥土里打滑。司机们在我的前头。我尽快爬上路堤。密密的矮树丛里又打出了两枪，艾莫正在跨过铁轨，身子一晃，绊了一下，脸孔朝地跌 了下去。我们把他拖到另外一边路堤上，把他翻转身来。“他的头应当朝上面，“我说。皮安尼把他转过来。他躺在路堤边的泥地上，双脚朝下，断断续续地吐出鲜 血。在雨中，我们三人蹲在他身边。他脖颈下部中了一枪，子弹往上穿，从他右眼下穿出来。我正设法堵住这两个窟窿时，他死了。皮安尼放下他的头，拿块急救纱 布擦擦他的脸，也就由他去了。
“我们找个最贴近乌迪内的地方躲一躲，等天黑再摸过去。““那么就走吧，“博内罗说。我们从泥堤的北边下去。我回头一望。艾莫躺在泥土里，跟路堤成 一个角度。他人相当小，两条胳臂贴在身边，裹着绑腿布的双腿和泥污的靴子连在一起，军帽掩盖在脸上。他的样子真像尸首了。天在下雨。在我所认识的人们中， 我算是喜欢他的了。他的证件在我口袋里，我准备写信通知他家属。
田野里有一条小径。越过田野走过去时，我不知道会不会有人从农舍附近的树木间，或者就从农舍里开枪打我们。我朝农舍走去，越看越清楚了。二楼的阳台 和仓房联在一起，柱子间撅出着一些干草。院子是用石块铺砌的，所有的树木都在滴着雨水。院子里有一部空空的双轮大车，车杠高高翘在雨中。我走到了院子，穿 过去，在阳台下站住了。屋门开着，我便走进去。博内罗和皮安尼也跟着我进去。屋里很暗。我绕到后边厨房去。一个没盖的炉子里还有炉灰的余烬。炉灰上方虽则 吊有几只锅子，可是都是空的。我找来找去，找不到什么可以吃的。
“好吧，“我说。“我上去看看仓房。“我在底层的牛栏里找到了一道往上走的石梯。在下雨天，牛栏带着干燥而好闻的气息。牲口都没有了，大概主人走时 赶走了。仓房里装着半屋干草。屋顶上有两个窗子，一个上面钉着木板，另一个是狭窄的老虎窗，朝北面开的。仓房里有一道斜槽，以便叉起干草从这儿滑下去喂牲 口。地板上通楼下的方孔上架有横梁，运草车开进楼下，就可以把干草叉起送到楼上。我听见屋顶上的雨声，闻到干草的气息，当我下楼时，还闻到牛栏里纯净的干 牛粪味。我们可以把南面的窗子撬开一条木板，张望院落里的动静。另外一道窗朝着往北的田野。我们要逃的话，两个窗子都通屋顶，倘若楼梯不能派用场，还可以 利用那喂牲口的斜槽滑下去。这个仓房很宽大，一听见有人声，就可以躲在干草堆里。这地方似乎挺不错。我相信，要是方才人家不对我们开枪的话，我们一定已经 平平安安到南边了。南边有德国军队是不可能的。他们从北边开过来，从西维特尔赶公路而来。他们不可能从南边绕过来。意军更为危险。他们惊慌失措了，看见任 何东西就胡乱开枪。昨天夜里我们撤退时，听见有人说有许多德国兵穿上了意军军装，混在从北方撤退的队伍中。我不相信。战争中这种谣言有的是。打仗时敌人是 常常会这样对付你的。你没听说过我们也有人穿上德军军服去跟他们捣蛋的。这种事也许有人做，不过似乎很困难。我不相信德国人会这么做。我不相信他们非这么 做不可。我们的撤退根本用不到人家来捣乱。军队这么庞大，路又这么少，撤退必然混乱。根本没人下令指挥，不要说什么德国人。不过，他们还会把我们当作德军 而开枪。他们把艾莫打死啦。干草味很香，我躺在仓房里的干草堆上，好像是退回到了年轻的时代。年轻时我们躺在干草堆里聊天，用气枪打歇在仓房的高高的山墙 上的麻雀。那座仓房现在已拆掉了，有一年他们把铁杉树林砍了，从前有树林的地方只剩下一些残桩、干巴巴的树梢、枝条和火后的杂草。你往后退是不行的。要是 你不往前走，又怎么样呢？你再也不能回到米兰。要是你回到了米兰，又怎么样呢？我听着北方乌迪内那方向的枪声。我只听见机枪声。没有炮声。这才叫人稍为心 安。公路边一定还布置着一些军队。我朝下望去，借着这干草仓房内的暗光，看见皮安尼站在下边卸草的地板上。他拿着一根长香肠，一壶什么东西，胁下还挟着两 瓶酒。
“我们谈话时我就切好了，“他说。我们坐在干草上吃香肠，喝酒。那酒一定是人家藏起预备举行婚礼用的。年代这么长久，有点褪色了。“你守着这个窗子 望出去，路易吉，“我说。“我过去守那道窗口。“我们每人各自喝一瓶酒，我就拿了我那一瓶走过去，平躺在干草上，由那窄窄的小窗口望着湿淋淋的乡野。我不 知道自己在期待什么，我只看到一片片农田、赤裸的桑树和落着的雨。我喝喝酒，但是酒并不叫我愉快。因为年代太久了，变了质，失去了味道和色泽。我看着外面 天黑下来；黑暗来得很快。今天夜里一定是个漆黑的雨夜。天一黑就不必守望了，我于是就到皮安尼那边去。他睡着了，我没叫醒他，只在他旁边坐了一会。他是个 大个子，一睡着就不容易醒。过了一会儿，我叫醒他，我们就上路了。那是个奇异的夜晚。我不知道我期望碰到什么，或许是死亡，或许是在黑暗中打枪并奔跑，但 是想不到却什么都没有发生。我们先是趴在公路边的水沟后面，等着一营德国兵开过，等他们走过后，我们才越过公路，一直朝北走。我们有两次贴近德国部队，但 是他们并没有看见我们。我们绕着城的北面走过乌迪内，一个意大利人也没碰见，过了一会儿便走进大撤退的基本行列，整夜往塔利亚门托河赶去。我真想不到撤退 的规模这么宏大。不但是军队，整个国家都在撤退。我们整夜赶着路，走得比车辆还要快。我的腿发痛，人又疲乏，但是我们还是走得很快。博内罗情愿去当俘虏， 真太傻了。其实一点危险都没有。我们穿越两国大军，完全没发生意外。艾莫要是没给打死，我们不会感觉有任何危险。我们沿着铁路大大方方地走，没人来麻烦我 们。艾莫的被杀是太突兀而太没理由了。不晓得博内罗正在什么地方。
皮安尼搀住我的胳臂。“我还是叫你名字吧，“他说。“他们或许会来寻事。他们已经枪杀了一些军官。“我们赶了几步，赶过了那些部队。“我不会打一份 报告叫他家属吃苦头的。“我继续我们的谈话。“要是战争真结束了，那就没有关系了，“皮安尼说。“但是我不相信战争已经结束。真这样就太好啦。““我们不 久就会知道的，“我说。
“Viva la Pace！①“一个士兵叫喊起来。“我们回家去啦。““倘若我们大家都回家，那太好了，“皮安尼说。“你岂不想回家吗？““想的。“
“Andimo a casa！①“一个士兵喊道。“他们丢掉了步枪，“皮安尼说。“他们在走的时候把枪摘下，丢掉了。然后就喊口号。“
“这条河总该守得住吧，“皮安尼说。在黑暗中，水好像涨得很高。河水打着漩涡，河面宽阔。那座木桥约莫有四分之三英里长，河水通常很浅，只是离桥面 很远处的宽阔的石床上的一股窄窄的水道，现在可高涨到紧挨着桥板了。我们沿着河岸走，然后挤进了渡桥的人群。我紧紧地夹在人群中慢慢地过桥，上面是雨，下 边隔着几尺便是河水，我的前头是一部炮车上的弹药箱，我从桥边探头望望河水。现在我们没法按照我们的速度赶路，反而觉得非常疲乏。过桥一点儿也不叫人兴奋 愉快。我只是想，要是在白天，飞机来丢炸弹，那才不晓得是个什么光景呢。
“我在这儿，中尉。“他给挤在前面一点的人群里。没人说话。大家只希望快点过桥，心里就是这么个念头。我们快过去了。木桥的那一头，两边站有一些军 官和宪兵，打着手电筒。我看见他们被地平线衬托出的身影。我们走近他们时，我看见有个军官用手指指队伍中的一个人。一名宪兵走进行列，抓住那人的胳膊，拖 了出去。宪兵强迫他离开大路。我们快走到军官们的正对面了。他们正仔细察看着行列中的每一个人，有时交谈一声，跨前几步，打手电筒照照一个人的脸。我们刚 要走到正对面时，他们又抓去了一个人。我看见那人。是个中校。人家用手电筒照他时，我看见他袖管上有两颗星。他头发灰白，长得又矮又胖。宪兵把他拖到那一 排检查行人的军官后面。当我走到那一排军官跟前时，我看到有一两个军官正盯着我。其中有一位指指我，对宪兵说了一声。我看见那宪兵跑过来，挤过队伍的边沿 来找我，接着我感到被他抓住了我的衣领。
“押他到后面那些人那儿去，“第一个军官说。他们押着我绕到这排军官的后边，走往公路下边临河的田野，那儿有一堆人。我们朝那堆人走去时，有人开了 几枪。我看见步枪射击的闪光，然后是啪啪的枪声。我们走到那堆人旁边。那边站有四名军官，他们面前站着一个人，一边一个宪兵守着。有一小组人由宪兵看守 着。审问者的旁边站着四名宪兵，人人挂着卡宾枪。这些宪兵都是那种戴宽边帽的家伙。押我去的那两个把我推进这等待审问的人群中。我看看那个正在受审问的 人。他就是方才从撤退行列中给拖出来的那个灰头发的中校，胖胖的小个子。审问者冷静能干，威风凛凛，操人家生死大权的意大利人大致是这个模样，因为他们光 枪毙人家，没有人家枪毙他们的危险。
两个宪兵押着中校到河岸边去。中校在雨中走着，是个没戴军帽的老头儿，一边一个宪兵。我没看他们枪毙他，但是我听见了枪声。现在他们在审问另外一个 人了。也是一个与他原来的部队失散了的军官。他们不让他分辩。他们从拍纸簿上宣读判决词时，他哭了，他们把他带到河边去时，他一路大哭大喊，而当人家枪决 他时，另外一个人又在受审问了。军官们的工作法是这样的：第一个问过话的人在执行枪决时，他们正一心一意审问着第二个人。这样做表示异常忙碌，顾不到旁的 事。我不知道要怎样做，是等待人家来审问呢，还是趁早拔脚逃走。我显然是个披着意军军装的德国人。我看得出他们脑子里是怎样想的；不过还要先假定他们是有 脑子，并且这脑子是管用的。他们都是些年轻小伙子，正在拯救祖国。第二军正在塔利亚门托河后边整编补充。他们在处决凡是跟原来部队离散了的少校和校以上的 军官。此外，他们对于披着意军制服的德国煽动者，也是从速就地枪决了事。他们都戴着钢盔。我们这边只有两人戴钢盔。有些宪兵也戴钢盔。其余的都戴着宽边帽 子。我们叫这种帽子为飞机。我们站在雨中，一次提一人出去受审并枪决。到这时，凡是他们问过话的都被枪决了。审问者们本身全没危险，所以处理起生死问题来 利索超脱，坚持严峻的军法。他们现在在审问一个在前线带一团兵的上校。他们又从撤退行列中抓来了三个军官。
我瞧瞧宪兵们。他们正在打量那些新抓来的。其余的宪兵则在看着那个上校。我身子往下一蹲，同时劈开左右两人，低着头往河边直跑。我在河沿上绊了一 文，哗的一声掉进河里。河水很冷，我可竭力躲在水下不上来。虽然感觉到河里的急流在卷着我，我还是躲在下面，自以为再也不会上来了。我一冒出水面，便吸一 口气，连忙又躲下去。潜伏在水里并不难，因为我有一身衣服和靴子。我第二次冒出水面时，看见前头有一根木头，就游过去，一手抓住它。我把头缩在木头后边， 连看都不敢往上边看。我不想看岸上。我逃跑时和第一次冒出水面时，他们都开枪。我快冒出水面时就听见枪声。现在却没人打枪。那根木头顺着水流转，我用一只 手握着它。我看看岸上。河岸好像在很快地溜过去。河中木头很多。河水很冷。我随波逐流，从一个小岛垂在水面上的枝条下淌过去。我双手抱住那根木头，由它把 我顺流漂去。现在已看不见河岸了。
Later we were on a road that led to a river. There was a long line of abandoned trucks and carts on the road leading up to the bridge. No one was in sight. The river was high and the bridge had been blown up in the centre; the stone arch was fallen into the river and the brown water was going over it. We went on up the bank looking for a place to cross. Up ahead I knew there was a railway bridge and I thought we might be able to get across there. The path was wet and muddy. We did not see any troops; only abandoned trucks and stores. Along the river bank there was nothing and no one but the wet brush and muddy ground. We went up to the bank and finally we saw the railway bridge.
"What a beautiful bridge," Aymo said. It was a long plain iron bridge across what was usually a dry river-bed.
"We'd better hurry and get across before they blow it up," I said.
"There's nobody to blow it up," Piani said. "They're all gone."
"It's probably mined," Bonello said. "You cross first, Tenente."
"Listen to the anarchist," Aymo said. "Make him go first."
"I'll go," I said. "It won't be mined to blow up with one man."
"You see," Piani said. "That is brains. Why haven't you brains, anarchist?"
"If I had brains I wouldn't be here," Bonello said.
"That's pretty good, Tenente," Aymo said.
"That's pretty good," I said. We were close to the bridge now. The sky had clouded over again and it was raining a little. The bridge looked long and solid. We climbed up the embankment.
"Come one at a time," I said and started across the bridge. I watched the ties and the rails for any trip-wires or signs of explosive but I saw nothing. Down below the gaps in the ties the river ran muddy and fast. Ahead across the wet countryside I could see Udine in the rain. Across the bridge I looked back. Just up the river was another bridge. As I watched, a yellow mud-colored motor car crossed it. The sides of the bridge were high and the body of the car, once on, was out of sight. But I saw the heads of the driver, the man on the seat with him, and the two men on the rear seat. They all wore German helmets. Then the car was over the bridge and out of sight behind the trees and the abandoned vehicles on the road. I waved to Aymo who was crossing and to the others to come on. I climbed down and crouched beside the railway embankment. Aymo came down with me.
"Did you see the car?" I asked.
"No. We were watching you."
"A German staff car crossed on the upper bridge."
"A staff car?"
The others came and we all crouched in the mud behind the embankment, looking across the rails at the bridge, the line of trees, the ditch and the road.
"Do you think we're cut off then, Tenente?"
"I don't know. All I know is a German staff car went along that road."
"You don't feel funny, Tenente? You haven't got strange feelings in the head?"
"Don't be funny, Bonello."
"What about a drink?" Piani asked. "If we're cut off we might as well have a drink." He unhooked his canteen and uncorked it.
"Look! Look!" Aymo said and pointed toward the road. Along the top of the stone bridge we could see German helmets moving. They were bent forward and moved smoothly, almost supernatu rally, along. As they came off the bridge we saw them. They were bicycle troops. I saw the faces of the first two. They were ruddy and healthy-looking. Their helmets came iow down over their foreheads and the side of their faces. Their carbines were clipped to the frame of the bicycles. Stick bombs hung handle down from their belts. Their helmets and their gray uniforms were wet and they rode easily, looking ahead and to both sides. There were two--then four in line, then two, then almost a dozen; then another dozen-- then one alone. They did not talk but we could not have heard them because of the noise from the river. They were gone out of sight up the road.
"Holy Mary," Aymo said.
"They were Germans," Piani said. "Those weren't Austrians."
"Why isn't there somebody here to stop them?" I said. "Why haven't they blown the bridge up? Why aren't there machine-guns along this embankment?"
"You tell us, Tenente," Bonello said.
I was very angry.
"The whole bloody thing is crazy. Down below they blow up a little bridge. Here they leave a bridge on the main road. Where is everybody? Don't they try and stop them at all?"
"You tell us, Tenente," Bonello said. I shut up. It was none of my business; all I had to do was to get to Pordenone with three ambulances. I had failed at that. All I had to do now was get to Pordenone. I probably could not even get to Udine. The hell I couldn't. The thing to do was to be calm and not get shot or captured.
"Didn't you have a canteen open?" I asked Piani. He handed it to me. I took a long drink. "We might as well start," I said. "There's no hurry though. Do you want to eat something?"
"This is no place to stay," Bonello said.
"All right. We'll start."
"Should we keep on this side--out of sight?"
"We'd be better off on top. They may come along this bridge too. We don't want them on top of us before we see them."
We walked along the railroad track. On both sides of us stretched the wet plain. Ahead across the plain was the hill of Udine. The roofs fell away from the castle on the hill. We could see the campanile and the clock-tower. There were many mulberry trees in the fields. Ahead I saw a place where the rails were torn up. The ties had been dug out too and thrown down the embankment.
"Down! down!" Aymo said. We dropped down beside the embankment. There was another group of bicyclists passing along the road. I looked over the edge and saw them go on.
"They saw us but they went on," Aymo said.
"We'll get killed up there, Tenente," Bonello said.
"They don't want us," I said. "They're after something else. We're in more danger if they should come on us suddenly."
"I'd rather walk here out of sight," Bonello said.
"All right. We'll walk along the tracks."
"Do you think we can get through?" Aymo asked.
"Sure. There aren't very many of them yet. We'll go through in the dark."
"What was that staff car doing?"
"Christ knows," I said. We kept on up the tracks. Bonello tired of walking in the mud of the embankment and came up with the rest of us. The railway moved south away from the highway now and we could not see what passed along the road. A short bridge over a canal was blown up but we climbed across on what was left of the span. We heard firing ahead of us.
We came up on the railway beyond the canal. It went on straight toward the town across the low fields. We could see the line of the other railway ahead of us. To the north was the main road where we had seen the cyclists; to the south there was a small branch-road across the fields with thick trees on each side. I thought we had better cut to the south and work around the town that way and across country toward Campoformio and the main road to the Tagliamento. We could avoid the main line of the retreat by keeping to the secondary roads beyond Udine. I knew there were plenty of side-roads across the plain. I started down the embankment.
"Come on," I said. We would make for the side-road and work to the south of the town. We all started down the embankment. A shot was fired at us from the side-road. The bullet went into the mud of the embankment.
"Go on back," I shouted. I started up the embankment, slipping in the mud. The drivers were ahead of me. I went up the embankment as fast as I could go. Two more shots came from the thick brush and Aymo, as he was crossing the tracks, lurched, tripped and fell face down. We pulled him down on the other side and turned him over. "His head ought to be uphill," I said. Piani moved him around. He lay in the mud on the side of the embankment, his feet pointing downhill, breathing blood irregularly. The three of us squatted over him in the rain. He was hit low in the back of the neck and the bullet had ranged upward and come out under the right eye. He died while I was stopping up the two holes. Piani laid his head down, wiped at his face, with a piece of the emergency dressing, then let it alone.
"The --," he said.
"They weren't Germans," I said. "There can't be any Germans over there."
"Italians," Piani said, using the word as an epithet, "Italiani!" Bonello said nothing. He was sitting beside Aymo, not looking at him. Piani picked up Aymo's cap where it had rolled down the embankment and put it over his face. He took out his canteen.
"Do you want a drink?" Piani handed Bonello the canteen.
"No," Bonello said. He turned to me. "That might have happened to us any time on the railway tracks."
"No," I said. "It was because we started across the field."
Bonello shook his head. "Aymo's dead," he said. "Who's dead next, Tenente? Where do we go now?"
"Those were Italians that shot," I said. "They weren't Germans."
"I suppose if they were Germans they'd have killed all of us," Bonello said.
"We are in more danger from Italians than Germans," I said. "The rear guard are afraid of everything. The Germans know what they're after."
"You reason it out, Tenente," Bonello said.
"Where do we go now?" Piani asked.
"We better lie up some place till it's dark. If we could get south we'd be all right."
"They'd have to shoot us all to prove they were right the first time," Bonello said. "I'm not going to try them."
"We'll find a place to lie up as near to Udine as we can get and then go through when it's dark."
"Let's go then," Bonello said. We went down the north side of the embankment. I looked back. Aymo lay in the mud with the angle of the embankment. He was quite small and his arms were by his side, his puttee-wrapped legs and muddy boots together, his cap over his face. He looked very dead. It was raining. I had liked him as well as any one I ever knew. I had his papers in my pocket and would write to his family. Ahead across the fields was a farmhouse. There were trees around it and the farm buildings were built against the house. There was a balcony along the second floor held up by columns.
"We better keep a little way apart," I said. "I'll go ahead." I started toward the farmhouse. There was a path across the field.
Crossing the field, I did not know but that some one would fire on us from the trees near the farmhouse or from the farmhouse itself. I walked toward it, seeing it very clearly. The balcony of the second floor merged into the barn and there was hay coming Out between the columns. The courtyard was of stone blocks and all the trees were dripping with the rain. There was a big empty twowheeled cart, the shafts tipped high up in the rain. I came to the courtyard, crossed it, and stood under the shelter of the balcony. The door of the house was open and I went in. Bonello and Piani came in after me. It was dark inside. I went back to the kitchen. There were ashes of a fire on the big open hearth. The pots hung over the ashes, but they were empty. I looked around but I could not find anything to eat.
"We ought to lie up in the barn," I said. "Do you think you could find anything to eat, Piani, and bring it up there?"
"I'll look," Piani said.
"I'll look too," Bonello said.
"All right," I said. "I'll go up and look at the barn." I found a stone stairway that went up from the stable underneath. The stable smelt dry and pleasant in the rain. The cattle were all gone, probably driven off when they left. The barn was half full of hay. There were two windows in the roof, one was blocked with boards, the other was a narrow dormer window on the north side. There was a chute so that hay might be pitched down to the cattle. Beams crossed the opening down into the main floor where the hay-carts drove in when the hay was hauled in to be pitched up. I heard the rain on the roof and smelled the hay and, when I went down, the clean smell of dried dung in the stable. We could pry a board loose and see out of the south window down into the courtyard. The other window looked out on the field toward the north. We could get out of either window onto the roof and down, or go down the hay chute if the stairs were impractical. It was a big barn and we could hide in the hay if we heard any one. It seemed like a good place. I was sure we could have gotten through to the south if they had not fired on us. It was impossible that there were Germans there. They were coming from the north and down the road from Cividale. They could not have come through from the south. The Italians were even more dangerous. They were frightened and firing on anything they saw. Last night on the retreat we had heard that there had been many Germans in Italian uniforms mixing with the retreat in the north. I did not believe it. That was one of those things you always heard in the war. It was one of the things the enemy always did to you. You did not know any one who went over in German uniform to confuse them. Maybe they did but it sounded difficult. I did not believe the Germans did it.
I did not believe they had to. There was no need to confuse our retreat. The size of the army and the fewness of the roads did that. Nobody gave any orders, let alone Germans. Still, they would shoot us for Germans. They shot Aymo. The hay smelled good and lying in a barn in the hay took away all the years in between. We had lain in hay and talked and shot sparrows with an air-rifle when they perched in the triangle cut high up in the wall of the barn. The barn was gone now and one year they had cut the hemlock woods and there were only stumps, dried tree-tops, branches and fireweed where the woods had been. You could not go back. If you did not go forward what happened? You never got back to Milan. And if you got back to Milan what happened? I listened to the firing to the north toward Udine. I could hear machine-gun firing. There was no shelling. That was something. They must have gotten some troops along the road. I looked down in the half-light of the hay-barn and saw Piani standing on the hauling floor. He had a long sausage, a jar of something and two bottles of wine under his arm.
"Come up," I said. "There is the ladder." Then I realized that I should help him with the things and went down. I was vague in the head from lying in the hay. I had been nearly asleep.
"Where's Bonello?" I asked.
"I'll tell you," Piani said. We went up the ladder. Up on the hay we set the things down. Piani took out his knife with the corkscrew and drew the cork on a wine bottle.
"They have sealing-wax on it," he said. "It must be good." He smiled.
"Where's Bonello?" I asked.
Piani looked at me.
"He went away, Tenente," he said. "He wanted to be a prisoner."
I did not say anything.
"He was afraid we would get killed."
I held the bottle of wine and did not say anything.
"You see we don't believe in the war anyway, Tenente."
"Why didn't you go?" I asked.
"I did not want to leave you."
"Where did he go?"
"I don't know, Tenente. He went away."
"All right," I said. "Will you cut the sausage?"
Piani looked at me in the half-light.
"I cut it while we were talking," he said. We sat in the hay and ate the sausage and drank the wine. It must have been wine they had saved for a wedding. It was so old that it was losing its color.
"You look out of this window, Luigi," I said. "I'll go look out the other window."
We had each been drinking out of one of the bottles and I took my bottle with me and went over and lay flat on the hay and looked out the narrow window at the wet country. I do not know what I expected to see but I did not see anything except the fields and the bare mulberry trees and the rain falling. I drank the wine and it did not make me feel good. They had kept it too long and it had gone to pieces and lost its quality and color. I watched it get dark outside; the darkness came very quickly. It would be a black night with the rain. When it was dark there was no use watching any more, so I went over to Piani. He was lying asleep and I did not wake him but sat down beside him for a while. He was a big man and he slept heavily. After a while I woke him and we started.
That was a very strange night. I do not know what I had expected, death perhaps and shooting in the dark and running, but nothing happened. We waited, lying flat beyond the ditch along the main road while a German battalion passed, then when they were gone we crossed the road and went on to the north. We were very close to Germans twice in the rain but they did not see us. We got past the town to the north without seeing any Italians, then after a while came on the main channels of the retreat and walked all night toward the Tagliamento. I had not realized how gigantic the retreat was. The whole country was moving, as well as the army. We walked all night, making better time than the vehicles. My leg ached and I was tired but we made good time. It seemed so silly for Bonello to have decided to be taken prisoner. There was no danger. We had walked through two armies without incident. If Aymo had not been killed there would never have seemed to be any danger. No one had bothered us when we were in plain sight along the railway. The killing came suddenly and unreasonably. I wondered where Bonello was.
"How do you feel, Tenente?" Piani asked. We were going along the side of a road crowded with vehicles and troops.
"I'm tired of this walking."
"Well, all we have to do is walk now. We don't have to worry."
"Bonello was a fool."
"He was a fool all right."
"What will you do about him, Tenente?"
"I don't know."
"Can't you just put him down as taken prisoner?"
"I don't know."
"You see if the war went on they would make bad trouble for his family."
"The war won't go on," a soldier said. "We're going home. The war is over."
"Everybody's going home."
"We're all going home."
"Come on, Tenente," Piani said. He wanted to get past them.
"Tenente? Who's a Tenente? A basso gli ufficiali! Down with the officers!"
Piani took me by the arm. "I better call you by your name," he said. "They might try and make trouble. They've shot some officers." We worked up past them.
"I won't make a report that will make trouble for his family." I went on with our conversation.
"If the war is over it makes no difference," Piani said. "But I don't believe it's over. It's too good that it should be over."
"We'll know pretty soon," I said.
"I don't believe it's over. They all think it's over but I don't believe it."
"Viva la Pace!" a soldier shouted out. "We're going home!"
"It would be fine if we all went home," Piani said. "Wouldn't you like to go home?"
"We'll never go. I don't think it's over."
"Andiamo a casa!" a soldier shouted.
"They throw away their rifles," Piani said. "They take them off and drop them down while they're marching. Then they shout."
"They ought to keep their rifles."
"They think if they throw away their rifles they can't make them fight."
In the dark and the rain, making our way along the side of the road I could see that many of the troops still had their rifles. They stuck up above the capes.
"What brigade are you?" an officer called out.
"Brigata di Pace," some one shouted. "Peace Brigade!" The officer said nothing.
"What does he say? What does the officer say?"
"Down with the officer. Viva la Pace!"
"Come on," Piani said. We passed two British ambulances, abandoned in the block of vehicles.
"They're from Gorizia," Piani said. "I know the cars."
"They got further than we did."
"They started earlier."
"I wonder where the drivers are?"
"Up ahead probably."
"The Germans have stopped outside Udine," I said. "These people will all get across the river."
"Yes," Piani said. "That's why I think the war will go on."
"The Germans could come on," I said. "I wonder why they don't come on."
"I don't know. I don't know anything about this kind of war."
"They have to wait for their transport I suppose."
"I don't know," Piani said. Alone he was much gentler. When he was with the others he Was a very rough talker.
"Are you married, Luigi?"
"You know I am married."
"Is that why you did not want to be a prisoner?"
"That is one reason. Are you married, Tenente?"
"Neither is Bonello."
"You can't tell anything by a man's being married. But I should think a married man would want to get back to his wife," I said. I would be glad to talk about wives.
"How are your feet?"
"They're sore enough."
Before daylight we reached the bank of the Tagliamento and followed down along the flooded river to the bridge where all the traffic was crossing.
"They ought to be able to hold at this river," Piani said. In the dark the flood looked high. The water swirled and it was wide. The wooden bridge was nearly three-quarters of a mile across, and the river, that usually ran in narrow channels in the wide stony bed far below the bridge, was close under the wooden planking. We went along the bank and then worked our way into the crowd that were crossing the bridge. Crossing slowly in the rain a few feet above the flood, pressed tight in the crowd, the box of an artillery caisson just ahead, I looked over the side and watched the river. Now that we could not go our own pace I felt very tired. There was no exhilaration in crossing the bridge. I wondered what it would be like if a plane bombed it in the daytime.
"Piani," I said.
"Here I am, Tenente." He was a little ahead in the jam. No one was talking. They were all trying to get across as soon as they could: thinking only of that. We were almost across. At the far end of the bridge there were officers and carabinieri standing on both sides flashing lights. I saw them silhouetted against the sky-line. As we came close to them I saw one of the officers point to a man in the column. A carabiniere went in after him and came out holding the man by the arm. He took him away from the road. We came almost opposite them. The officers were scrutinizing every one in the column, sometimes speaking to each other, going forward to flash a light in some one's face. They took some one else out just before we came opposite. I saw the man. He was a lieutenantcolonel. I saw the stars in the box on his sleeve as they flashed a light on him. His hair was gray and he was short and fat. The carabiniere pulled him in behind the line of officers. As we came opposite I saw one or two of them look at me. Then one pointed at me and spoke to a carabiniere. I saw the carabiniere start for me, come through the edge of the column toward me, then felt him take me by the collar.
"What's the matter with you?" I said and hit him in the face. I saw his face under the hat, upturned mustaches and blood coming down his cheek. Another one dove in toward us.
"What's the matter with you?" I said. He did not answer. He was watching a chance to grab me. I put my arm behind me to loosen my pistol.
"Don't you know you can't touch an officer?"
The other one grabbed me from behind and pulled my arm up so that it twisted in the socket. I turned with him and the other one grabbed me around the neck. I kicked his shins and got my left knee into his groin.
"Shoot him if he resists," I heard some one say.
"What's the meaning of this?" Itried to shout but my voice was not very loud. They had me at the side of the road now.
"Shoot him if he resists," an officer said. "Take him over back."
"Who are you?"
"You'll find out."
"Who are you?"
"Battle police," another officer said.
"Why don't you ask me to step over instead of having one of these airplanes grab me?"
They did not answer. They did not have to answer. They were battle police.
"Take him back there with the others," the first officer said. "You see. He speaks Italian with an accent."
"So do you, you ," I said.
"Take him back with the others," the first officer said. They took me down behind the line of officers below the road toward a group of people in a field by the river bank. As we walked toward them shots were fired. I saw flashes of the rifles and heard the reports. We came up to the group. There were four officers standing together, with a man in front of them with a carabiniere on each side of him. A group of men were standing guarded by carabinieri. Four other carabinieri stood near the questioning officers, leaning on their carbines. They were wide-hatted carabinieri. The two who had me shoved me in with the group waiting to be questioned. I looked at the man the officers were questioning. He was the fat gray-haired little lieutenant-colonel they had taken out of the column. The questioners had all the efficiency, coldness and command of themselves of Italians who are firing and are not being fired on.
He told them.
He told them.
"Why are you not with your regiment?"
He told them.
"Do you not know that an officer should be with his troops?" He did.
That was all. Another officer spoke.
"It is you and such as you that have let the barbarians onto the sacred soil of the fatherland."
"I beg your pardon," said the lieutenant-colonel.
"It is because of treachery such as yours that we have lost the fruits of victory."
"Have you ever been in a retreat?" the lieutenant-colonel asked.
"Italy should never retreat."
We stood there in the rain and listened to this. We were facing the officers and the prisoner stood in front and a little to one side of us.
"If you are going to shoot me," the lieutenant-colonel said, "please shoot me at once without further questioning. The questioning is stupid." He made the sign of the cross. The officers spoke together. One wrote something on a pad of paper.
"Abandoned his troops, ordered to be shot," he said.
Two carabinieri took the lieutenant-colonel to the river bank. He walked in the rain, an old man with his hat off, a carabinieri on either side. I did not watch them shoot him but I heard the shots. They were questioning some one else. This officer too was separated from his troops. He was not allowed to make an explanation. He cried when they read the sentence from the pad of paper, and they were questioning another when they shot him. They made a point of being intent on questioning the next man while the man who had been questioned before was being shot. In this way there was obviously nothing they could do about it. I did not know whether I should wait to be questioned or make a break now. I was obviously a German in Italian uniform. I saw how their minds worked; if they had minds and if they worked. They were all young men and they were saving their country. The second army was being re-formed beyond the Tagliamento. They were executing officers of the rank of major and above who were separated from their troops. They were also dealing summarily with German agitators in Italian uniform. They wore steel helmets. Only two of us had steel helmets. Some of the carabinieri had them. The other carabinieri wore the wide hat. Airplanes we called them. We stood in the rain and were taken out one at a time to be questioned and shot. So far they had shot every one they had questioned. The questioners had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it. They were questioning a full colonel of a line regiment. Three more officers had just been put in with us.
"Where was his regiment?"
I looked at the carabinieri. They were looking at the newcomers. The others were looking at the colonel. I ducked down, pushed between two men, and ran for the river, my head down. I tripped at the edge and went in with a splash. The water was very cold and I stayed under as long as I could. I could feel the current swirl me and I stayed under until I thought I could never come up. The minute I came up I took a breath and went down again. It was easy to stay under with so much clothing and my boots. When I came up the second time I saw a piece of timber ahead of me and reached it and held on with one hand. I kept my head behind it and did not even look over it. I did not want to see the bank. There were shots when I ran and shots when I came up the first time. I heard them when I was almost above water. There were no shots now. The piece of timber swung in the current and I held it with one hand. I looked at the bank. It seemed to be going by very fast. There was much wood in the stream. The water was very cold. We passed the brush of an island above the water. I held onto the timber with both hands and let it take me along. The shore was out of sight now.