For Whom the Bell Tolls Chapter 34

The fascists held the crests of the hills here. Then there was a valley that no one held except for a fascist post in a farmhouse with its outbuildings and its barn that they had fortified. Andrés, on his way to Golz with the message from Robert Jordan, made a wide circle around this post in the dark. He knew where there was a trip wire laid that fired a set-gun and he located it in the dark, stepped over it, and started along the small stream bordered with poplars whose leaves were moving with the night wind. A cock crowed at the farmhouse that was the fascist post and as he walked along the stream he looked back and saw, through the trunks of the poplars, a light showing at the lower edge of one of the windows of the farmhouse. The night was quiet and clear and Andrés left the stream and struck across the meadow.

There were four haycocks in the meadow that had stood there ever since the fighting in July of the year before. No one had ever carried the hay away and the four seasons that had passed had flattened the cocks and made the hay worthless.

Andrés thought what a waste it was as he stepped over a trip wire that ran between two of the haycocks. But the Republicans would have had to carry the hay up the steep Guadarrama slope that rose beyond the meadow and the fascists did not need it, I suppose, he thought.

They have all the hay they need and all the grain. They have much, he thought. But we will give them a blow tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning we will give them something for Sordo. What barbarians they are! But in the morning there will be dust on the road.

He wanted to get this message-taking over and be back for the attack on the posts in the morning. Did he really want to get back though or did he only pretend he wanted to be back? He knew the reprieved feeling he had felt when the Inglés had told him he was to go with the message. He had faced the prospect of the morning calmly. It was what was to be done. He had voted for it and would do it. The wiping out of Sordo had impressed him deeply. But, after all, that was Sordo. That was not them. What they had to do they would do.

But when the Inglés had spoken to him of the message he had felt the way he used to feel when he was a boy and he had wakened in the morning of the festival of his village and heard it raining hard so that he knew that it would be too wet and that the bullbaiting in the square would be cancelled.

He loved the bullbaiting when he was a boy and he looked forward to it and to the moment when he would be in the square in the hot sun and the dust with the carts ranged all around to close the exits and to make a closed place into which the bull would come, sliding down out of his box, braking with all four feet, when they pulled the end-gate up. He looked forward with excitement, delight and sweating fear to the moment when, in the square, he would hear the clatter of the bull’s horns knocking against the wood of his travelling box, and then the sight of him as he came, sliding, braking out into the square, his head up, his nostrils wide, his ears twitching, dust in the sheen of his black hide, dried crut splashed on his flanks, watching his eyes set wide apart, unblinking eyes under the widespread horns as smooth and solid as driftwood polished by the sand, the sharp tips uptilted so that to see them did something to your heart.

He looked forward all the year to that moment when the bull would come out into the square on that day when you watched his eyes while he made his choice of whom in the square he would attack in that sudden head-lowering, horn-reaching, quick catgallop that stopped your heart dead when it started. He had looked forward to that moment all the year when he was a boy; but the feeling when the Inglés gave the order about the message was the same as when you woke to hear the reprieve of the rain falling on the slate roof, against the stone wall and into the puddles on the dirt Street of the village.

He had always been very brave with the bull in those village capeas, as brave as any in the village or of the other near-by villages, and not for anything would he have missed it any year although he did not go to the capeas of other villages. He was able to wait still when the bull charged and only jumped aside at the last moment. He waved a sack under his muzzle to draw him off when the bull had some one down and many times he had held and pulled on the horns when the bull had some one on the ground and pulled sideways on the horn, had slapped and kicked him in the face until he left the man to charge some one else.

He had held the bull’s tail to pull him away from a fallen man, bracing hard and pulling and twisting. Once he had pulled the tail around with one hand until he could reach a horn with the other and when the bull had lifted his head to charge him he had run backwards, circling with the bull, holding the tail in one hand and the horn in the other until the crowd had swarmed onto the bull with their knives and stabbed him. In the dust and the heat, the shouting, the bull and man and wine smell, he had been in the first of the crowd that threw themselves onto the bull and he knew the feeling when the bull rocked and bucked under him and he lay across the withers with one arm locked around the base of the horn and his hand holding the other horn tight, his fingers locked as his body tossed and wrenched and his left arm felt as though it would tear from the socket while he lay on the hot, dusty, bristly, tossing slope of muscle, the ear clenched tight in his teeth, and drove his knife again and again and again into the swelling, tossing bulge of the neck that was now spouting hot on his fist as he let his weight hang on the high slope of the withers and banged and banged into the neck.

The first time he had bit the ear like that and held onto it, his neck and jaws stiffened against the tossing, they had all made fun of him afterwards. But though they joked him about it they had great respect for him. And every year after that he had to repeat it. They called him the bulldog of Villaconejos and joked about him eating cattle raw. But every one in the village looked forward to seeing him do it and every year he knew that first the bull would come out, then there would be the charges and the tossing, and then when they yelled for the rush for the killing he would place himself to rush through the other attackers and leap for his hold. Then, when it was over, and the bull settled and sunk dead finally under the weight of the killers, he would stand up and walk away ashamed of the ear part, but also as proud as a man could be. And he would go through the carts to wash his hands at the stone fountain and men would clap him on the back and hand him wineskins and say, “Hurray for you, Bulldog. Long life to your mother.”

Or they would say, “That’s what it is to have a pair of cojones! Year after year!”

Andrés would be ashamed, empty-feeling, proud and happy, and he would shake them all off and wash his hands and his right arm and wash his knife well and then take one of the wineskins and rinse the ear-taste out of his mouth for that year; spitting the wine on the stone flags of the plaza before he lifted the wineskin high and let the wine spurt into the back of his mouth.

Surely. He was the Bulldog of Villaconejos and not for anything would he have missed doing it each year in his village. But he knew there was no better feeling than that one the sound of the rain gave when he knew he would not have to do it.

But I must go back, he told himself. There is no question but that I must go back for the affair of the posts and the bridge. My brother Eladio is there, who is of my own bone and flesh. Anselmo, Primitivo, Fernando, Agustín, Rafael, though clearly he is not serious, the two women, Pablo and the Inglés, though the Inglés does not count since he is a foreigner and under orders. They are all in for it. It is impossible that I should escape this proving through the accident of a message. I must deliver this message now quickly and well and then make all haste to return in time for the assault on the posts. It would be ignoble of me not to participate in this action because of the accident of this message. That could not be clearer. And besides, he told himself, as one who suddenly remembers that there will be pleasure too in an engagement only the onerous aspects of which he has been considering, and besides I will enjoy the killing of some fascists. It has been too long since we have destroyed any. Tomorrow can be a day of much valid action. Tomorrow can be a day of concrete acts. Tomorrow can be a day which is worth something. That tomorrow should come and that I should be there.

Just then, as knee deep in the gorse he climbed the steep slope that led to the Republican lines, a partridge flew up from under his feet, exploding in a whirr of wingbeats in the dark and he felt a sudden breath-stopping fright. It is the suddenness, he thought. How can they move their wings that fast? She must be nesting now. I probably trod close to the eggs. If there were not this war I would tie a handkerchief to the bush and come back in the daytime and search out the nest and I could take the eggs and put them under a setting hen and when they hatched we would have little partridges in the poultry yard and I would watch them grow and, when they were grown, I’d use them for callers. I wouldn’t blind them because they would be tame. Or do you suppose they would fly off? Probably. Then I would have to blind them.

But I don’t like to do that after I have raised them. I could clip the wings or tether them by one leg when I used them for calling. If there was no war I would go with Eladio to get crayfish from that stream back there by the fascist post. One time we got four dozen from that stream in a day. If we go to the Sierra de Gredos after this of the bridge there are fine streams there for trout and for crayfish also. I hope we go to Gredos, he thought. We could make a good life in Gredos in the summer time and in the fall but it would be terribly cold in winter. But by winter maybe we will have won the war.

If our father had not been a Republican both Eladio and I would be soldiers now with the fascists and if one were a soldier with them then there would be no problem. One would obey orders and one would live or die and in the end it would be however it would be. It was easier to live under a regime than to fight it.

But this irregular fighting was a thing of much responsibility. There was much worry if you were one to worry. Eladio thinks more than I do. Also he worries. I believe truly in the cause and I do not worry. But it is a life of much responsibility.

I think that we are born into a time of great difficulty, he thought. I think any other time was probably easier. One suffers little because all of us have been formed to resist suffering. They who suffer are unsuited to this climate. But it is a time of difficult decisions. The fascists attacked and made our decision for us. We fight to live. But I would like to have it so that I could tie a handkerchief to that bush back there and come in the daylight and take the eggs and put them under a hen and be able to see the chicks of the partridge in my own courtyard. I would like such small and regular things.

But you have no house and no courtyard in your no-house, he thought. You have no family but a brother who goes to battle tomorrow and you own nothing but the wind and the sun and an empty belly. The wind is small, he thought, and there is no sun. You have four grenades in your pocket but they are only good to throw away. You have a carbine on your back but it is only good to give away bullets. You have a message to give away. And you’re full of crap that you can give to the earth, he grinned in the dark. You can anoint it also with urine. Everything you have is to give. Thou art a phenomenon of philosophy and an unfortunate man, he told himself and grinned again.

But for all his noble thinking a little while before there was in him that reprieved feeling that had always come with the sound of rain in the village on the morning of the fiesta. Ahead of him now at the top of the ridge was the government position where he knew he would be challenged.