For Whom the Bell Tolls Chapter 38

They were in the cave and the men were standing before the fire Maria was fanning. Pilar had coffee ready in a pot. She had not gone back to bed at all since she had roused Robert Jordan and now she was sitting on a stool in the smoky cave sewing the rip in one of Jordan’s packs. The other pack was already sewed. The firelight lit up her face.

“Take more of the stew,” she said to Fernando. “What does it matter if thy belly should be full? There is no doctor to operate if you take a goring.”

“Don’t speak that way, woman,” Agustín said. “Thou hast the tongue of the great whore.”

He was leaning on the automatic rifle, its legs folded close against the fretted barrel, his pockets were full of grenades, a sack of pans hung from one shoulder, and a full bandolier of ammunition hung over the other shoulder. He was smoking a cigarette and he held a bowl of coffee in one hand and blew smoke onto its surface as he raised it to his lips.

“Thou art a walking hardware store,” Pilar said to him. “Thou canst not walk a hundred yards with all that.”

“Qué va, woman,” Agustín said. “It is all downhill.”

“There is a climb to the post,” Fernando said. “Before the downward slope commences.”

“I will climb it like a goat,” Agustín said.

“And thy brother?” he asked Eladio. “Thy famous brother has mucked off?”

Eladio was standing against the wall.

“Shut up,” he said.

He was nervous and he knew they all knew it. He was always nervous and irritable before action. He moved from the wall to the table and began filling his pockets with grenades from one of the rawhide-covered panniers that leaned, open, against the table leg.

Robert Jordan squatted by the pannier beside him. He reached into the pannier and picked out four grenades. Three were the oval Mill bomb type, serrated, heavy iron with a spring level held down in position by a cotter pin with pulling rig attached.

“Where did these come from?” he asked Eladio.

“Those? Those are from the Republic. The old man brought them.”

“How are they?”

“Valen más que pesan,” Eladio said. “They are worth a fortune apiece.”

“I brought those,” Anselmo said. “Sixty in one pack. Ninety pounds, Inglés.”

“Have you used those?” Robert Jordan asked Pilar.

“Qué va have we used them?” the woman said. “It was with those Pablo slew the post at Otero.”

When she mentioned Pablo, Agustín started cursing. Robert Jordan saw the look on Pilar’s face in the firelight.

“Leave it,” she said to Agustín sharply. “It does no good to talk.”

“Have they always exploded?” Robert Jordan held the graypainted grenade in his hand, trying the bend of the cotter pin with his thumbnail.

“Always,” Eladio said. “There was not a dud in any of that lot we used.”

“And how quickly?”

“In the distance one can throw it. Quickly. Quickly enough.”

“And these?”

He held up a soup-tin-shaped bomb, with a tape wrapping around a wire loop.

“They are a garbage,” Eladio told him. “They blow. Yes. But it is all flash and no fragments.”

“But do they always blow?”

“Qué va, always,” Pilar said. “There is no always either with our munitions or theirs.”

“But you said the other always blew.”

“Not me,” Pilar told him. “You asked another, not me. I have seen no always in any of that stuff.”

“They all blew,” Eladio insisted. “Speak the truth, woman.”

“How do you know they all blew?” Pilar asked him. “It was Pablo who threw them. You killed no one at Otero.”

“That son of the great whore,” Agustín began.

“Leave it alone,” Pilar said sharply. Then she went on. “They are all much the same, Inglés. But the corrugated ones are more simple.”

I’d better use one of each on each set, Robert Jordan thought. But the serrated type will lash easier and more securely.

“Are you going to be throwing bombs, Inglés?” Agustín asked.

“Why not?” Robert Jordan said.

But crouched there, sorting out the grenades, what he was thinking was: it is impossible. How I could have deceived myself about it I do not know. We were as sunk when they attacked Sordo as Sordo was sunk when the snow stopped. It is that you can’t accept it. You have to go on and make a plan that you know is impossible to carry out. You made it and now you know it is no good. It’s no good, now, in the morning. You can take either of the posts absolutely O.K. with what you’ve got here. But you can’t take them both. You can’t be sure of it, I mean. Don’t deceive yourself. Not when the daylight comes.

Trying to take them both will never work. Pablo knew that all the time. I suppose he always intended to muck off but he knew we were cooked when Sordo was attacked. You can’t base an operation on the presumption that miracles are going to happen. You will kill them all off and not even get your bridge blown if you have nothing better than what you have now. You will kill off Pilar, Anselmo, Agustín, Primitivo, this jumpy Eladio, the worthless gypsy and old Fernando, and you won’t get your bridge blown. Do you suppose there will be a miracle and Golz will get the message from Andrés and stop it? If there isn’t, you are going to kill them all off with those orders. Maria too. You’ll kill her too with those orders. Can’t you even get her out of it? God damn Pablo to hell, he thought.

No. Don’t get angry. Getting angry is as bad as getting scared. But instead of sleeping with your girl you should have ridden all night through these hills with the woman to try to dig up enough people to make it work. Yes, he thought. And if anything happened to me so I was not here to blow it. Yes. That. That’s why you weren’t out. And you couldn’t send anybody out because you couldn’t run a chance of losing them and being short one more. You had to keep what you had and make a plan to do it with them.

But your plan stinks. It stinks, I tell you. It was a night plan and it’s morning now. Night plans aren’t any good in the morning. The way you think at night is no good in the morning. So now you know it is no good.

What if John Mosby did get away with things as impossible as this? Sure he did. Much more difficult. And remember, do not undervaluate the element of surprise. Remember that. Remember it isn’t goofy if you can make it stick. But that is not the way you are supposed to make it. You should make it not only possible but sure. But look at how it all has gone. Well, it was wrong in the first place and such things accentuate disaster as a snowball rolls up wet snow.

He looked up from where he was squatted by the table and saw Maria and she smiled at him. He grinned back with the front of his face and selected four more grenades and put them in his pockets. I could unscrew the detonators and just use them, he thought. But I don’t think the fragmentation will have any bad effect. It will come instantaneously with the explosion of the charge and it won’t disperse it. At least, I don’t think it will. I’m sure it won’t. Have a little confidence, he told himself. And you, last night, thinking about how you and your grandfather were so terrific and your father was a coward. Show yourself a little confidence now.

He grinned at Maria again but the grin was still no deeper than the skin that felt tight over his cheekbones and his mouth.

She thinks you’re wonderful, he thought. I think you stink. And the gloria and all that nonsense that you had. You had wonderful ideas, didn’t you? You had this world all taped, didn’t you? The hell with all of that.

Take it easy, he told himself. Don’t get into a rage. That’s just a way out too. There are always ways out. You’ve got to bite on the nail now. There isn’t any need to deny everything there’s been just because you are going to lose it. Don’t be like some damned snake with a broken back biting at itself; and your back isn’t broken either, you hound. Wait until you’re hurt before you start to cry. Wait until the fight before you get angry. There’s lots of time for it in a fight. It will be some use to you in a fight.

Pilar came over to him with the bag.

“It is strong now,” she said. “Those grenades are very good, Inglés. You can have confidence in them.”

“How do you feel, woman?”

She looked at him and shook her head and smiled. He wondered how far into her face the smile went. It looked deep enough.

“Good,” she said. “Dentro de la gravedad.”

Then she said, squatting by him, “How does it seem to thee now that it is really starting?”

“That we are few,” Robert Jordan said to her quickly.

“To me, too,” she said. “Very few.”

Then she said still to him alone, “The Maria can hold the horses by herself. I am not needed for that. We will hobble them. They are cavalry horses and the firing will not panic them. I will go to the lower post and do that which was the duty of Pablo. In this way we are one more.”

“Good,” he said. “I thought you might wish to.”

“Nay, Inglés,” Pilar said looking at him closely. “Do not be worried. All will be well. Remember they expect no such thing to come to them.”

“Yes,” Robert Jordan said.

“One other thing, Inglés,” Pilar said as softly as her harsh whisper could be soft. “In that thing of the hand—”

“What thing of the hand?” he said angrily.

“Nay, listen. Do not be angry, little boy. In regard to that thing of the hand. That is all gypsy nonsense that I make to give myself an importance. There is no such thing.”

“Leave it alone,” he said coldly.

“Nay,” she said harshly and lovingly. “It is just a lying nonsense that I make. I would not have thee worry in the day of battle.”

“I am not worried,” Robert Jordan said.

“Yes, Inglés,” she said. “Thou art very worried, for good cause. But all will be well, Inglés. It is for this that we are born.”

“I don’t need a political commissar,” Robert Jordan told her.

She smiled at him again, smiling fairly and truly with the harsh lips and the wide mouth, and said, “I care for thee very much, Inglés.”

“I don’t want that now,” he said. “Ni tu, ni Dios.”

“Yes,” Pilar said in that husky whisper. “I know. I only wished to tell thee. And do not worry. We will do all very well.”

“Why not?” Robert Jordan said and the very thinnest edge of the skin in front of his face smiled. “Of course we will. All will be well.”

“When do we go?” Pilar asked.

Robert Jordan looked at his watch.

“Any time,” he said.

He handed one of the packs to Anselmo.

“How are you doing, old one?” he asked.

The old man was finishing whittling the last of a pile of wedges he had copied from a model Robert Jordan had given him. These were extra wedges in case they should be needed.

“Well,” the old man said and nodded. “So far, very well.” He held his hand out. “Look,” he said and smiled. His hands were perfectly steady.

“Bueno, y qué?” Robert Jordan said to him. “I can always keep the whole hand steady. Point with one finger.”

Anselmo pointed. The finger was trembling. He looked at Robert Jordan and shook his head.

“Mine too,” Robert Jordan showed him. “Always. That is normal.”

“Not for me,” Fernando said. He put his right forefinger out to show them. Then the left forefinger.

“Canst thou spit?” Agustín asked him and winked at Robert Jordan.

Fernando hawked and spat proudly onto the floor of the cave, then rubbed it in the dirt with his foot.

“You filthy mule,” Pilar said to him. “Spit in the fire if thou must vaunt thy courage.”

“I would not have spat on the floor, Pilar, if we were not leaving this place,” Fernando said primly.

“Be careful where you spit today,” Pilar told him. “It may be some place you will not be leaving.”

“That one speaks like a black cat,” Agustín said. He had the nervous necessity to joke that is another form of what they all felt.

“I joke,” said Pilar.

“Me too,” said Agustín. “But me cago en la leche, but I will be content when it starts.”

“Where is the gypsy?” Robert Jordan asked Eladio.

“With the horses,” Eladio said. “You can see him from the cave mouth.”

“How is he?”

Eladio grinned. “With much fear,” he said. It reassured him to speak of the fear of another.

“Listen, Inglés—” Pilar began. Robert Jordan looked toward her and as he did he saw her mouth open and the unbelieving look come on her face and he swung toward the cave mouth reaching for his pistol. There, holding the blanket aside with one hand, the short automatic rifle muzzle with its flash-cone jutting above his shoulder, was Pablo standing short, wide, bristly-faced, his small red-rimmed eyes looking toward no one in particular.

“Thou—” Pilar said to him unbelieving. “Thou.”

“Me,” said Pablo evenly. He came into the cave.

“Hola, Inglés,” he said. “I have five from the bands of Elias and Alejandro above with their horses.”

“And the exploder and the detonators?” Robert Jordan said. “And the other material?”

“I threw them down the gorge into the river,” Pablo said still looking at no one. “But I have thought of a way to detonate using a grenade.”

“So have I,” Robert Jordan said.

“Have you a drink of anything?” Pablo asked wearily.

Robert Jordan handed him the flask and he swallowed fast, then wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

“What passes with you?” Pilar asked.

“Nada,” Pablo said, wiping his mouth again. “Nothing. I have come back.”

“But what?”

“Nothing. I had a moment of weakness. I went away but I am come back.”

He turned to Robert Jordan. “En el fondo no soy cobarde,” he said. “At bottom I am not a coward.”

But you are very many other things, Robert Jordan thought. Damned if you’re not. But I’m glad to see you, you son of a bitch.

“Five was all I could get from Elias and Alejandro,” Pablo said. “I have ridden since I left here. Nine of you could never have done it. Never. I knew that last night when the Inglés explained it. Never. There are seven men and a corporal at the lower post. Suppose there is an alarm or that they fight?”

He looked at Robert Jordan now. “When I left I thought you would know that it was impossible and would give it up. Then after I had thrown away thy material I saw it in another manner.”

“I am glad to see thee,” Robert Jordan said. He walked over to him. “We are all right with the grenades. That will work. The other does not matter now.”

“Nay,” Pablo said. “I do nothing for thee. Thou art a thing of bad omen. All of this comes from thee. Sordo also. But after I had thrown away thy material I found myself too lonely.”

“Thy mother—” Pilar said.

“So I rode for the others to make it possible for it to be successful. I have brought the best that I could get. I have left them at the top so I could speak to you, first. They think I am the leader.”

“Thou art,” Pilar said. “If thee wishes.” Pablo looked at her and said nothing. Then he said simply and quietly, “I have thought much since the thing of Sordo. I believe if we must finish we must finish together. But thou, Inglés. I hate thee for bringing this to us.”

“But Pablo—” Fernando, his pockets full of grenades, a bandolier of cartridges over his shoulder, he still wiping in his pan of stew with a piece of bread, began. “Do you not believe the operation can be successful? Night before last you said you were convinced it would be.”

“Give him some more stew,” Pilar said viciously to Maria. Then to Pablo, her eyes softening, “So you have come back, eh?”

“Yes, woman,” Pablo said.

“Well, thou art welcome,” Pilar said to him. “I did not think thou couldst be the ruin thou appeared to be.”

“Having done such a thing there is a loneliness that cannot be borne,” Pablo said to her quietly.

“That cannot be borne,” she mocked him. “That cannot be borne by thee for fifteen minutes.”

“Do not mock me, woman. I have come back.”

“And thou art welcome,” she said. “Didst not hear me the first time? Drink thy coffee and let us go. So much theatre tires me.”

“Is that coffee?” Pablo asked.

“Certainly,” Fernando said.

“Give me some, Maria,” Pablo said. “How art thou?” He did not look at her.

“Well,” Maria told him and brought him a bowl of coffee. “Do you want stew?” Pablo shook his head.

“No me gusta estar solo,” Pablo went on explaining to Pilar as though the others were not there. “I do not like to be alone. Sabes? Yesterday all day alone working for the good of all I was not lonely. But last night. Hombre! Qué mal lo pasé!”

“Thy predecessor the famous Judas Iscariot hanged himself,” Pilar said.

“Don’t talk to me that way, woman,” Pablo said. “Have you not seen? I am back. Don’t talk of Judas nor nothing of that. I am back.”

“How are these people thee brought?” Pilar asked him. “Hast brought anything worth bringing?”

“Son buenos,” Pablo said. He took a chance and looked at Pilar squarely, then looked away.

“Buenos y bobos. Good ones and stupids. Ready to die and all. A tu gusto. According to thy taste. The way you like them.”

Pablo looked Pilar in the eyes again and this time he did not look away. He kept on looking at her squarely with his small, redrimmed pig eyes.

“Thou,” she said and her husky voice was fond again. “Thou. I suppose if a man has something once, always something of it remains.”

“Listo,” Pablo said, looking at her squarely and flatly now. “I am ready for what the day brings.”

“I believe thou art back,” Pilar said to him. “I believe it. But, hombre, thou wert a long way gone.”

“Lend me another swallow from thy bottle,” Pablo said to Robert Jordan. “And then let us be going.”