For Whom the Bell Tolls Chapter 23

“Get thee down,” Robert Jordan whispered to Agustín, and he turned his head and flicked his hand Down, Down, to Anselmo who was coming through the gap with a pine tree, carrying it over his shoulder like a Christmas tree. He saw the old man drop his pine tree behind a rock and then he was out of sight in the rocks and Robert Jordan was looking ahead across the open space toward the timber. He saw nothing and heard nothing but he could feel his heart pounding and then he heard the clack of stone on stone and the leaping, dropping clicks of a small rock falling. He turned his head to the right and looking up saw Primitivo’s rifle raised and lowered four times horizontally. Then there was nothing more to see but the white stretch in front of him with the circle of horse tracks and the timber beyond.

“Cavalry,” he said softly to Agustín.

Agustín looked at him and his dark, sunken cheeks widened at their base as he grinned. Robert Jordan noticed he was sweating. He reached over and put his hand on his shoulder. His hand was still there as they saw the four horsemen ride out of the timber and he felt the muscles in Agustín’s back twitch under his hand.

One horseman was ahead and three rode behind. The one ahead was following the horse tracks. He looked down as he rode. The other three came behind him, fanned out through the timber. They were all watching carefully. Robert Jordan felt his heart beating against the snowy ground as he lay, his elbows spread wide and watched them over the sights of the automatic rifle.

The man who was leading rode along the trail to where Pablo had circled and stopped. The others rode up to him and they all stopped.

Robert Jordan saw them clearly over the blued steel barrel of the automatic rifle. He saw the faces of the men, the sabers hanging, the sweat-darkened flanks of the horses, and the cone-like slope of the khaki capes, and the Navarrese slant of the khaki berets. The leader turned his horse directly toward the opening in the rocks where the gun was placed and Robert Jordan saw his young, sunand wind-darkened face, his close-set eyes, hawk nose and the overlong wedge-shaped chin.

Sitting his horse there, the horse’s chest toward Robert Jordan, the horse’s head high, the butt of the light automatic rifle projecting forward from the scabbard at the right of the saddle, the leader pointed toward the opening where the gun was.

Robert Jordan sunk his elbows into the ground and looked along the barrel at the four riders stopped there in the snow. Three of them had their automatic rifles out. Two carried them across the pommels of their saddles. The other sat his horse with the rifle swung out to the right, the butt resting against his hip.

You hardly ever see them at such range, he thought. Not along the barrel of one of these do you see them like this. Usually the rear sight is raised and they seem miniatures of men and you have hell to make it carry up there; or they come running, flopping, running, and you beat a slope with fire or bar a certain street, or keep it on the windows; or far away you see them marching on a road. Only at the trains do you see them like this. Only then are they like now, and with four of these you can make them scatter. Over the gun sights, at this range, it makes them twice the size of men.

Thou, he thought, looking at the wedge of the front sight placed now firm in the slot of the rear sight, the top of the wedge against the center of the leader’s chest, a little to the right of the scarlet device that showed bright in the morning sun against the khaki cape. Though, he thought, thinking in Spanish now and pressing his fingers forward against the trigger guard to keep it away from where it would bring the quick, shocking, hurtling rush from the automatic rifle. Thou, he thought again, thou art dead now in thy youth. And thou, he thought, and thou, and thou. But let it not happen. Do not let it happen.

He felt Agustín beside him start to cough, felt him hold it, choke and swallow. Then as he looked along the oiled blue of the barrel out through the opening between the branches, his finger still pressed forward against the trigger guard, he saw the leader turn his horse and point into the timber where Pablo’s trail led. The four of them trotted into the timber and Agustín said softly, “Cabrones!”

Robert Jordan looked behind him at the rocks where Anselmo had dropped the tree.

The gypsy, Rafael, was coming toward them through the rocks, carrying a pair of cloth saddlebags, his rifle slung on his back. Robert Jordan waved him down and the gypsy ducked out of sight.

“We could have killed all four,” Agustín said quietly. He was still wet with sweat.

“Yes,” Robert Jordan whispered. “But with the firing who knows what might have come?”

Just then he heard the noise of another rock falling and he looked around quickly. But both the gypsy and Anselmo were out of sight. He looked at his wrist watch and then up to where Primitivo was raising and lowering his rifle in what seemed an infinity of short jerks. Pablo has forty-five minutes’ start, Robert Jordan thought, and then he heard the noise of a body of cavalry coming.

“No te apures,” he whispered to Agustín. “Do not worry. They will pass as the others.”

They came into sight trotting along the edge of the timber in column of twos, twenty mounted men, armed and uniformed as the others had been, their sabers swinging, their carbines in their holsters; and then they went down into the timber as the others had.

“Tu ves?” Robert Jordan said to Agustín. “Thou seest?”

“There were many,” Agustín said.

“These would we have had to deal with if we had destroyed the others,” Robert Jordan said very softly. His heart had quieted now and his shirt felt wet on his chest from the melting snow. There was a hollow feeling in his chest.

The sun was bright on the snow and it was melting fast. He could see it hollowing away from the tree trunks and just ahead of the gun, before his eyes, the snow surface was damp and lacily fragile as the heat of the sun melted the top and the warmth of the earth breathed warmly up at the snow that lay upon it.

Robert Jordan looked up at Primitivo’s post and saw him signal, “Nothing,” crossing his two hands, palms down.

Anselmo’s head showed above a rock and Robert Jordan motioned him up. The old man slipped from rock to rock until he crept up and lay down flat beside the gun.

“Many,” he said. “Many!”

“I do not need the trees,” Robert Jordan said to him. “There is no need for further forestal improvement.”

Both Anselmo and Agustín grinned.

“This has stood scrutiny well and it would be dangerous to plant trees now because those people will return and perhaps they are not stupid.”

He felt the need to talk that, with him, was the sign that there had just been much danger. He could always tell how bad it had been by the strength of the desire to talk that came after.

“It was a good blind, eh?” he said.

“Good,” said Agustín. “To obscenity with all fascism good. We could have killed the four of them. Didst thou see?” he said to Anselmo.

“I saw.”

“Thou,” Robert Jordan said to Anselmo. “Thou must go to the post of yesterday or another good post of thy selection to watch the road and report on all movement as of yesterday. Already we are late in that. Stay until dark. Then come in and we will send another.”

“But the tracks that I will make?”

“Go from below as soon as the snow is gone. The road will be muddied by the snow. Note if there has been much traffic of trucks or if there are tank tracks in the softness on the road. That is all we can tell until you are there to observe.”

“With your permission?” the old man asked.


“With your permission, would it not be better for me to go into La Granja and inquire there what passed last night and arrange for one to observe today thus in the manner you have taught me? Such a one could report tonight or, better, I could go again to La Granja for the report.”

“Have you no fear of encountering cavalry?”

“Not when the snow is gone.”

“Is there some one in La Granja capable of this?”

“Yes. Of this, yes. It would be a woman. There are various women of trust in La Granja.”

“I believe it,” Agustín said. “More, I know it, and several who serve for other purposes. You do not wish me to go?”

“Let the old man go. You understand this gun and the day is not over.”

“I will go when the snow melts,” Anselmo said. “And the snow is melting fast.”

“What think you of their chance of catching Pablo?” Robert Jordan asked Agustín.

“Pablo is smart,” Agustín said. “Do men catch a wise stag without hounds?”

“Sometimes,” Robert Jordan said.

“Not Pablo,” Agustín said. “Clearly, he is only a garbage of what he once was. But it is not for nothing that he is alive and comfortable in these hills and able to drink himself to death while there are so many others that have died against a wall.”

“Is he as smart as they say?”

“He is much smarter.”

“He has not seemed of great ability here.”

“Cómo qüe no? If he were not of great ability he would have died last night. It seems to me you do not understand politics, Inglés, nor guerilla warfare. In politics and this other the first thing is to continue to exist. Look how he continued to exist last night. And the quantity of dung he ate both from me and from thee.”

Now that Pablo was back in the movements of the unit, Robert Jordan did not wish to talk against him and as soon as he had uttered it he regretted saying the thing about his ability. He knew himself how smart Pablo was. It was Pablo who had seen instantly all that was wrong with the orders for the destruction of the bridge. He had made the remark only from dislike and he knew as he made it that it was wrong. It was part of the talking too much after a strain. So now he dropped the matter and said to Anselmo, “And to go into La Granja in daylight?”

“It is not bad,” the old man said. “I will not go with a military band.”

“Nor with a bell around his neck,” Agustín said. “Nor carrying a banner.”

“How will you go?”

“Above and down through the forest.”

“But if they pick you up.”

“I have papers.”

“So have we all but thou must eat the wrong ones quickly.”

Anselmo shook his head and tapped the breast pocket of his smock.

“How many times have I contemplated that,” he said. “And never did I like to swallow paper.”

“I have thought we should carry a little mustard on them all,” Robert Jordan said. “In my left breast pocket I carry our papers. In my right the fascist papers. Thus one does not make a mistake in an emergency.”

It must have been bad enough when the leader of the first patrol of cavalry had pointed toward the entry because they were all talking very much. Too much, Robert Jordan thought.

“But look, Roberto,” Agustín said. “They say the government moves further to the right each day. That in the Republic they no longer say Comrade but Señor and Señora. Canst shift thy pockets?”

“When it moves far enough to the right I will carry them in my hip pocket,” Robert Jordan said, “and sew it in the center.”

“That they should stay in thy shirt,” Agustín said. “Are we to win this war and lose the revolution?”

“Nay,” Robert Jordan said. “But if we do not win this war there will be no revolution nor any Republic nor any thou nor any me nor anything but the most grand carajo.”

“So say I,” Anselmo said. “That we should win the war.”

“And afterwards shoot the anarchists and the Communists and all this canalla except the good Republicans,” Agustín said.

“That we should win this war and shoot nobody,” Anselmo said. “That we should govern justly and that all should participate in the benefits according as they have striven for them. And that those who have fought against us should be educated to see their error.”

“We will have to shoot many,” Agustín said. “Many, many, many.”

He thumped his closed right fist against the palm of his left hand.

“That we should shoot none. Not even the leaders. That they should be reformed by work.”

“I know the work I’d put them at,” Agustín said, and he picked up some snow and put it in his mouth.

“What, bad one?” Robert Jordan asked.

“Two trades of the utmost brilliance.”

“They are?”

Agustín put some more snow in his mouth and looked across the clearing where the cavalry had ridden. Then he spat the melted snow out. “Vaya. What a breakfast,” he said. “Where is the filthy gypsy?”

“What trades?” Robert Jordan asked him. “Speak, bad mouth.”

“Jumping from planes without parachutes,” Agustín said, and his eyes shone. “That for those that we care for. And being nailed to the tops of fence posts to be pushed over backwards for the others.”

“That way of speaking is ignoble,” Anselmo said. “Thus we will never have a Republic.”

“I would like to swim ten leagues in a strong soup made from the cojones of all of them,” Agustín said. “And when I saw those four there and thought that we might kill them I was like a mare in the corral waiting for the stallion.”

“You know why we did not kill them, though?” Robert Jordan said quietly.

“Yes,” Agustín said. “Yes. But the necessity was on me as it is on a mare in heat. You cannot know what it is if you have not felt it.”

“You sweated enough,” Robert Jordan said. “I thought it was fear.”

“Fear, yes,” Agustín said. “Fear and the other. And in this life there is no stronger thing than the other.”

Yes, Robert Jordan thought. We do it coldly but they do not, nor ever have. It is their extra sacrament. Their old one that they had before the new religion came from the far end of the Mediterranean, the one they have never abandoned but only suppressed and hidden to bring it out again in wars and inquisitions. They are the people of the Auto de Fe; the act of faith. Killing is something one must do, but ours are different from theirs. And you, he thought, you have never been corrupted by it? You never had it in the Sierra? Nor at Usera? Nor through all the time in Estremadura? Nor at any time? Qué va, he told himself. At every train.

Stop making dubious literature about the Berbers and the old Iberians and admit that you have liked to kill as all who are soldiers by choice have enjoyed it at some time whether they lie about it or not. Anselmo does not like to because he is a hunter, not a soldier. Don’t idealize him, either. Hunters kill animals and soldiers kill men. Don’t lie to yourself, he thought. Nor make up literature about it. You have been tainted with it for a long time now. And do not think against Anselmo either. He is a Christian. Something very rare in Catholic countries.

But with Agustín I had thought it was fear, he thought. That natural fear before action. So it was the other, too. Of course, he may be bragging now. There was plenty of fear. I felt the fear under my hand. Well, it was time to stop talking.

“See if the gypsy brought food,” he said to Anselmo. “Do not let him come up. He is a fool. Bring it yourself. And however much he brought, send back for more. I am hungry.”