I was away for two days at the posts. When I got home it was too late and I did not see Miss Barkley until the next evening. She was not in the garden and I had to wait in the office of the hospital until she came down. There were many marble busts on painted wooden pillars along the walls of the room they used for an office. The hall too, that the office opened on, was lined with them. They had the complete marble quality of all looking alike. Sculpture had always seem a dull business – still, bronzes looked something. But marble busts all looked like a cemetery. There was one fine cemetery though – the one at Pisa. Genoa was the place to see the bad marbles. This had been the villa of a very wealthy German and the busts must have cost him plenty. I wondered who had done them and how much he got. I tried to make out whether they were members of the family or what; but they were all uniformly classical. You could not tell anything about them.
I sat on a chair and held my cap. We were supposed to wear steel helmets even in Gorizia but they were uncomfortable and too bloody theatrical in a town where the civilian inhabitants had not been evacuated. I wore one when we went up to the posts and carried an English gas mask. We were just beginning to get some of them. They were a real mask. Also we were required to wear an automatic pistol; even doctors and sanitary officers. I felt it against the back of the chair. You were liable to arrest if you did not have one worn in plain sight. Rinaldi carried a holster stuffed with toilet paper. I wore a real one and felt like a gunman until I practised firing it. It was an Astra 7.65 caliber with a short barrel and it jumped so sharply when you let it off that there was no question of hitting anything. I practised with it, holding below the target and trying to master the jerk of the ridiculous short barrel until I could hit within a yard of where I aimed at twenty paces and then the ridiculousness of carrying a pistol at all came over me and I soon forgot it and carried it flopping against the small of my back with no feeling at all except a vague sort of shame when I met English-speaking people. I sat now in the chair and an orderly of some sort looked at me disapprovingly from behind of a desk while I looked at the marble floor, the pillars with the marble busts, and the frescoes on the wall and waited for Miss Barkley. The frescoes were not bad. Any frescoes were good when they started to peel and flake off.
I saw Catherine Barkley coming down the hall, and stood up. She did not seem tall walking toward me but she looked very lovely.
“Good-evening, Mr. Henry,” she said.
“How do you do?” I said. The orderly was listening behind the desk.
“Shall we sit here or go out in the garden?”
“Let’s go out. It’s much cooler.”
I walked behind her out into the garden, the orderly looking after us. When we were out one the gravel drive she said, “where have you been?”
“I’ve been out on post.”
“You couldn’t have sent me a note?”
“No,” I said. “Not very well. I thought I was coming back.”
“You ought to have let me know, darling.”
We were off the driveway, walking under the trees. I took her hands, then stopped and kissed her.
“Isn’t there anywhere we can go?”
“No,” she said. “We have to just walk here. You’ve been away a long time.”
“This is the third day. But I’m back now.”
She looked at me, “And you do love me?”
“You did say you loved me, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I lied. “I love you.” I had not said it before.
“And you call me Catherine?”
“Catherine.” We walked on a way and were sopped under a tree.
“Say, ‘I’ve come back to Catharine in the night.’”
“I’ve come back to Catharine in the night.”
“Oh, darling, you have come back, haven’t you?”
“I love you so and it’s been awful. You won’t go away?”
“No. I’ll always come back.”
“Oh, I love you so. Please put your hand there again.”
“It’s not been away.” I turned her so I could see her face when I kissed her and I saw that her eyes were shut. I kissed both her shut eyes. I thought she was probably a little crazy. It was all right if she was. I did not care what I was getting into. This was better than going every evening to the house for officers where the girls climbed all over you and put your cap on backward as a sign of affection between their trips upstairs with brother officers. I knew I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards. Like bridge you had to pretend you were playing for money or playing for some stakes. Nobody had mentioned what the stakes were. It was all right with me.
“I wish there was some place we could go,” I said. I was experiencing the masculine difficulty of making love very long standing up.
“There isn’t any place,” she said. She came back from wherever she had been.
“We might sit here just for a little while.”
We sat on the flat stone bench and I held Catharine Barkley’s hand. She would not let me put my arm around her.
“Are you very tired?” she asked.
She looked down at the grass.
“This is a rotten game we play, isn’t it?”
“Don’t be dull.”
“I’m not, on purpose.”
“You’re a nice boy,” she said. “And you play it as well as you know how. But it’s a rotten game.”
“Do you always know what people think?”
“Not always. But I do with you. You don’t have to pretend you love me. That’s over for the evening. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”
“But I do love you.”
“Please let’s not lie when we don’t have to. I had a very fine little show and I’m all right now. You see I’m not mad and I’m not gone off. It’s only a little sometimes.”
I pressed her hand, “Dear Catherine.”
“It sounds very funny now – Catherine. You don’t pronounce it very much alike. But you’re very nice. You’re a very good boy.”
“That’s what the priest said.”
“Yes, you’re very good. And you will come and see me?”
“And you don’t have to say you love me. That’s all over for a while.” She stood up and put out her hand. “Good-night.”
I wanted to kiss her.
“No,” she said. “I’m awfully tired.”
“Kiss me, though,” I said.
“I’m awfully tired, darling.”
“Do you want to very much?”
We kissed and she broke away suddenly. “No. Good-night, please, darling.” We walked to the door and I saw her go in and down the hall. I liked to watch her move. She went on down the hall. I went on home. It was a hot night and there was a good deal going on up in the mountains. I watched the flashes on San Gabriele.
I stopped in front of the Villa Rossa. The shutters were up but it was still going on inside. Somebody was singing. I went on home. Rinaldi came in while I was undressing.
“Ah, ha!” he said. “It does not go so well. Baby is puzzled.”
“Where have you been?”
“At the Villa Rossa. It was very edifying, baby. We all sang. Where have you been?”
“Calling on the British.”
“Thank God I did not become involved with the British.”