For Whom the Bell Tolls Chapter 28

After the planes went away Robert Jordan and Primitivo heard the firing start and his heart seemed to start again with it. A cloud of smoke drifted over the last ridge that he could see in the high country and the planes were three steadily receding specks in the sky.

They’ve probably bombed hell out of their own cavalry and never touched Sordo and Company, Robert Jordan said to himself. The damned planes scare you to death but they don’t kill you.

“The combat goes on,” Primitivo said, listening to the heavy firing. He had winced at each bomb thud and now he licked his dry lips.

“Why not?” Robert Jordan said. “Those things never kill anybody.”

Then the firing stopped absolutely and he did not hear another shot. Lieutenant Berrendo’s pistol shot did not carry that far.

When the firing first stopped it did not affect him. Then as the quiet kept on a hollow feeling came in his chest. Then he heard the grenades burst and for a moment his heart rose. Then everything was quiet again and the quiet kept on and he knew that it was over.

Maria came up from the camp with a tin bucket of stewed hare with mushrooms sunken in the rich gravy and a sack with bread, a leather wine bottle, four tin plates, two cups and four spoons. She stopped at the gun and ladled out two plates for Agustín and Eladio, who had replaced Anselmo at the gun, and gave them bread and unscrewed the horn tip of the wine bottle and poured two cups of wine.

Robert Jordan watched her climbing lithely up to his lookout post, the sack over her shoulder, the bucket in one hand, her cropped head bright in the sun. He climbed down and took the bucket and helped her up the last boulder.

“What did the aviation do?” she asked, her eyes frightened.

“Bombed Sordo.”

He had the bucket open and was ladling out stew onto a plate.

“Are they still fighting?”

“No. It is over.”

“Oh,” she said and bit her lip and looked out across the country.

“I have no appetite,” Primitivo said.

“Eat anyway,” Robert Jordan told him.

“I could not swallow food.”

“Take a drink of this, man,” Robert Jordan said and handed him the wine bottle. “Then eat.”

“This of Sordo has taken away desire,” Primitivo said. “Eat, thou. I have no desire.”

Maria went over to him and put her arms around his neck and kissed him.

“Eat, old one,” she said. “Each one should take care of his strength.”

Primitivo turned away from her. He took the wine bottle and tipping his head back swallowed steadily while he squirted a jet of wine into the back of his mouth. Then he filled his plate from the bucket and commenced to eat.

Robert Jordan looked at Maria and shook his head. She sat down by him and put her arm around his shoulder. Each knew how the other felt and they sat there and Robert Jordan ate the stew, taking time to appreciate the mushrooms completely, and he drank the wine and they said nothing.

“You may stay here, guapa, if you want,” he said after a while when the food was all eaten.

“Nay,” she said. “I must go to Pilar.”

“It is all right to stay here. I do not think that anything will happen now.”

“Nay. I must go to Pilar. She is giving me instruction.”

“What does she give thee?”

“Instruction.” She smiled at him and then kissed him. “Did you never hear of religious instruction?” She blushed. “It is something like that.” She blushed again. “But different.”

“Go to thy instruction,” he said and patted her on the head. She smiled at him again, then said to Primitivo, “Do you want anything from below?”

“No, daughter,” he said. They both saw that he was still not yet recovered.

“Salud, old one,” she said to him.

“Listen,” Primitivo said. “I have no fear to die but to leave them alone thus—” his voice broke.

“There was no choice,” Robert Jordan told him.

“I know. But all the same.”

“There was no choice,” Robert Jordan repeated. “And now it is better not to speak of it.”

“Yes. But there alone with no aid from us—”

“Much better not to speak of it,” Robert Jordan said. “And thou, guapa, get thee to thy instruction.”

He watched her climb down through the rocks. Then he sat there for a long time thinking and watching the high country.

Primitivo spoke to him but he did not answer. It was hot in the sun but he did not notice the heat while he sat watching the hill slopes and the long patches of pine trees that stretched up the highest slope. An hour passed and the sun was far to his left now when he saw them coming over the crest of the slope and he picked up his glasses.

The horses showed small and minute as the first two riders came into sight on the long green slope of the high hill. Then there were four more horsemen coming down, spread out across the wide hill and then through his glasses he saw the double column of men and horses ride into the sharp clarity of his vision. As he watched them he felt sweat come from his armpits and run down his flanks. One man rode at the head of the column. Then came more horsemen. Then came the riderless horses with their burdens tied across the saddles. Then there were two riders. Then came the wounded with men walking by them as they rode. Then came more cavalry to close the column.

Robert Jordan watched them ride down the slope and out of sight into the timber. He could not see at that distance the load one saddle bore of a long rolled poncho tied at each end and at intervals so that it bulged between each lashing as a pod bulges with peas. This was tied across the saddle and at each end it was lashed to the stirrup leathers. Alongside this on the top of the saddle the automatic rifle Sordo had served was lashed arrogantly.

Lieutenant Berrendo, who was riding at the head of the column, his flankers out, his point pushed well forward, felt no arrogance. He felt only the hollowness that comes after action. He was thinking: taking the heads is barbarous. But proof and identification is necessary. I will have trouble enough about this as it is and who knows? This of the heads may appeal to them. There are those of them who like such things. It is possible they will send them all to Burgos. It is a barbarous business. The planes were muchos. Much. Much. But we could have done it all, and almost without losses, with a Stokes mortar. Two mules to carry the shells and a mule with a mortar on each side of the pack saddle. What an army we would be then! With the fire power of all these automatic weapons. And another mule. No, two mules to carry ammunition. Leave it alone, he told himself. It is no longer cavalry. Leave it alone. You’re building yourself an army. Next you will want a mountain gun.

Then he thought of Julián, dead on the hill, dead now, tied across a horse there in the first troop, and as he rode down into the dark pine forest, leaving the sunlight behind him on the hill, riding now in the quiet dark of the forest, he started to say a prayer for him again.

“Hail, holy queen mother of mercy,” he started. “Our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we send up our sighs, mournings and weepings in this valley of tears—”

He went on with the prayer the horses’ hooves soft on the fallen pine needles, the light coming through the tree trunks in patches as it comes through the columns of a cathedral, and as he prayed he looked ahead to see his flankers riding through the trees.

He rode out of the forest onto the yellow road that led into La Granja and the horses’ hooves raised a dust that hung over them as they rode. It powdered the dead who were tied face down across the saddles and the wounded, and those who walked beside them, were in thick dust.

It was here that Anselmo saw them ride past in their dust.

He counted the dead and the wounded and he recognized Sordo’s automatic rifle. He did not know what the poncho-wrapped bundle was which flapped against the led horse’s flanks as the stirrup leathers swung but when, on his way home, he came in the dark onto the hill where Sordo had fought, he knew at once what the long poncho roll contained. In the dark he could not tell who had been up on the hill. But he counted those that lay there and then made off across the hills for Pablo’s camp.

Walking alone in the dark, with a fear like a freezing of his heart from the feeling the holes of the bomb craters had given him, from them and from what he had found on the hill, he put all thought of the next day out of his mind. He simply walked as fast as he could to bring the news. And as he walked he prayed for the souls of Sordo and of all his band. It was the first time he had prayed since the start of the movement.

“Most kind, most sweet, most clement Virgin,” he prayed.

But he could not keep from thinking of the next day finally. So he thought: I will do exactly as the Inglés says and as he says to do it. But let me be close to him, O Lord, and may his instructions be exact for I do not think that I could control myself under the bombardment of the planes. Help me, O Lord, tomorrow to comport myself as a man should in his last hours. Help me, O Lord, to understand clearly the needs of the day. Help me, O Lord, to dominate the movement of my legs that I should not run when the bad moment comes. Help me, O Lord, to comport myself as a man tomorrow in the day of battle. Since I have asked this aid of thee, please grant it, knowing I would not ask it if it were not serious, and I will ask nothing more of thee again.

Walking in the dark alone he felt much better from having prayed and he was sure, now, that he would comport himself well. Walking now down from the high country, he went back to praying for the people of Sordo and in a short time he had reached the upper post where Fernando challenged him.

“It is I,” he answered, “Anselmo.”

“Good,” Fernando said.

“You know of this of Sordo, old one?” Anselmo asked Fernando, the two of them standing at the entrance of the big rocks in the dark.

“Why not?” Fernando said. “Pablo has told us.”

“He was up there?”

“Why not?” Fernando said stolidly. “He visited the hill as soon as the cavalry left.”

“He told you—”

“He told us all,” Fernando said. “What barbarians these fascists are! We must do away with all such barbarians in Spain.” He stopped, then said bitterly, “In them is lacking all conception of dignity.”

Anselmo grinned in the dark. An hour ago he could not have imagined that he would ever smile again. What a marvel, that Fernando, he thought.

“Yes,” he said to Fernando. “We must teach them. We must take away their planes, their automatic weapons, their tanks, their artillery and teach them dignity.”

“Exactly,” Fernando said. “I am glad that you agree.”

Anselmo left him standing there alone with his dignity and went on down to the cave.