For Whom the Bell Tolls Chapter 40

During the time that Robert Jordan had slept through, the time he had spent planning the destruction of the bridge and the time that he had been with Maria, Andrés had made slow progress. Until he had reached the Republican lines he had travelled across country and through the fascist lines as fast as a countryman in good physical condition who knew the country well could travel in the dark. But once inside the Republican lines it went very slowly.

In theory he should only have had to show the safe-conduct given him by Robert Jordan stamped with the seal of the S. I. M. and the dispatch which bore the same seal and be passed along toward his destination with the greatest speed. But first he had encountered the company commander in the front line who had regarded the whole mission with owlishly grave suspicion.

He had followed this company commander to battalion headquarters where the battalion commander, who had been a barber before the movement, was filled with enthusiasm on hearing the account of his mission. This commander, who was named Gomez, cursed the company commander for his stupidity, patted Andrés on the back, gave him a drink of bad brandy and told him that he himself, the ex-barber, had always wanted to be a guerrillero. He had then roused his adjutant, turned over the battalion to him, and sent his orderly to wake up and bring his motorcyclist. Instead of sending Andrés back to brigade headquarters with the motorcyclist, Gomez had decided to take him there himself in order to expedite things and, with Andrés holding tight onto the seat ahead of him, they roared, bumping down the shell-pocked mountain road between the double row of big trees, the headlight of the motorcycle showing their whitewashed bases and the places on the trunks where the whitewash and the bark had been chipped and torn by shell fragments and bullets during the fighting along this road in the first summer of the movement. They turned into the little smashed-roofed mountain-resort town where brigade headquarters was and Gomez had braked the motorcycle like a dirt-track racer and leaned it against the wall of the house where a sleepy sentry came to attention as Gomez pushed by him into the big room where the walls were covered with maps and a very sleepy officer with a green eyeshade sat at a desk with a reading lamp, two telephones and a copy of Mundo Obrero.

This officer looked up at Gomez and said, “What doest thou here? Have you never heard of the telephone?”

“I must see the Lieutenant-Colonel,” Gomez said.

“He is asleep,” the officer said. “I could see the lights of that bicycle of thine for a mile coming down the road. Dost wish to bring on a shelling?”

“Call the Lieutenant-Colonel,” Gomez said. “This is a matter of the utmost gravity.”

“He is asleep, I tell thee,” the officer said. “What sort of a bandit is that with thee?” he nodded toward Andrés.

“He is a guerrillero from the other side of the lines with a dispatch of the utmost importance for the General Golz who commands the attack that is to be made at dawn beyond Navacerrada,” Gomez said excitedly and earnestly. “Rouse the Teniente-Coronel for the love of God.”

The officer looked at him with his droopy eyes shaded by the green celluloid.

“All of you are crazy,” he said. “I know of no General Golz nor of no attack. Take this sportsman and get back to your battalion.”

“Rouse the Teniente-Coronel, I say,” Gomez said and Andrés saw his mouth tightening.

“Go obscenity yourself,” the officer said to him lazily and turned away.

Gomez took his heavy 9 mm. Star pistol out of its holster and shoved it against the officer’s shoulder.

“Rouse him, you fascist bastard,” he said. “Rouse him or I’ll kill you.”

“Calm yourself,” the officer said. “All you barbers are emotional.”

Andrés saw Gomez’s face draw with hate in the light of the reading lamp. But all he said was, “Rouse him.”

“Orderly,” the officer called in a contemptuous voice.

A soldier came to the door and saluted and went out.

“His fiancée is with him,” the officer said and went back to reading the paper. “It is certain he will be delighted to see you.”

“It is those like thee who obstruct all effort to win this war,” Gomez said to the staff officer.

The officer paid no attention to him. Then, as he read on, he remarked, as though to himself, “What a curious periodical this is!”

“Why don’t you read El Debate then? That is your paper,” Gomez said to him naming the leading Catholic-Conservative organ published in Madrid before the movement.

“Don’t forget I am thy superior officer and that a report by me on thee carries weight,” the officer said without looking up. “I never read El Debate. Do not make false accusations.”

“No. You read A. B. C.,” Gomez said. “The army is still rotten with such as thee. With professionals such as thee. But it will not always be. We are caught between the ignorant and the cynical. But we will educate the one and eliminate the other.”

“‘Purge’ is the word you want,” the officer said, still not looking up. “Here it reports the purging of more of thy famous Russians. They are purging more than the epsom salts in this epoch.”

“By any name,” Gomez said passionately. “By any name so that such as thee are liquidated.”

“Liquidated,” the officer said insolently as though speaking to himself. “Another new word that has little of Castilian in it.”

“Shot, then,” Gomez said. “That is Castilian. Canst understand it?”

“Yes, man, but do not talk so loudly. There are others beside the Teniente-Coronel asleep in this Brigade Staff and thy emotion bores me. It was for that reason that I always shaved myself. I never liked the conversation.”

Gomez looked at Andrés and shook his head. His eyes were shining with the moistness that rage and hatred can bring. But he shook his head and said nothing as he stored it all away for some time in the future. He had stored much in the year and a half in which he had risen to the command of a battalion in the Sierra and now, as the Lieutenant-Colonel came into the room in his pajamas he drew himself stiff and saluted.

The Lieutenant-Colonel Miranda, who was a short, gray-faced man, who had been in the army all his life, who had lost the love of his wife in Madrid while he was losing his digestion in Morocco, and become a Republican when he found he could not divorce his wife (there was never any question of recovering his digestion), had entered the civil war as a Lieutenant-Colonel. He had only one ambition, to finish the war with the same rank. He had defended the Sierra well and he wanted to be left alone there to defend it whenever it was attacked. He felt much healthier in the war, probably due to the forced curtailment of the number of meat courses, he had an enormous stock of sodium-bicarbonate, he had his whiskey in the evening, his twenty-three-year-old mistress was having a baby, as were nearly all the other girls who had started out as milicianas in the July of the year before, and now he came into the room, nodded in answer to Gomez’s salute and put out his hand.

“What brings thee, Gomez?” he asked and then, to the officer at the desk who was his chief of operation, “Give me a cigarette, please, Pepe.”

Gomez showed him Andrés’s papers and the dispatch. The Lieutenant-Colonel looked at the Salvoconducto quickly, looked at Andrés, nodded and smiled, and then looked at the dispatch hungrily. He felt of the seal, tested it with his forefinger, then handed both the safe-conduct and dispatch back to Andrés.

“Is the life very hard there in the hills?” he asked.

“No, my Lieutenant-Colonel,” Andrés said.

“Did they tell thee where would be the closest point to find General Golz’s headquarters?”

“Navacerrada, my Lieutenant-Colonel,” Andrés said. “The Inglés said it would be somewhere close to Navacerrada behind the lines to the right of there.”

“What Inglés?” the Lieutenant-Colonel asked quietly.

“The Inglés who is with us as a dynamiter.”

The Lieutenant-Colonel nodded. It was just another sudden unexplained rarity of this war. “The Inglés who is with us as a dynamiter.”

“You had better take him, Gomez, on the motor,” the Lieutenant-Colonel said. “Write them a very strong Salvoconducto to the Estado Mayor of General Golz for me to sign,” he said to the officer in the green celluloid eyeshade. “Write it on the machine, Pepe. Here are the details,” he motioned for Andrés to hand over his safe-conduct, “and put on two seals.” He turned to Gomez. “You will need something strong tonight. It is rightly so. People should be careful when an offensive is projected. I will give you something as strong as I can make it.” Then to Andrés, very kindly, he said, “Dost wish anything? To eat or to drink?”

“No, my Lieutenant-Colonel,” Andrés said. “I am not hungry. They gave me cognac at the last place of command and more would make me seasick.”

“Did you see any movement or activity opposite my front as you came through?” the Lieutenant-Colonel asked Andrés politely.

“It was as usual, my Lieutenant-Colonel. Quiet. Quiet.”

“Did I not meet thee in Cercedilla about three months back?” the Lieutenant-Colonel asked.

“Yes, my Lieutenant-Colonel.”

“I thought so,” the Lieutenant-Colonel patted him on the shoulder. “You were with the old man Anselmo. How is he?”

“He is well, my Lieutenant-Colonel,” Andrés told him.

“Good. It makes me happy,” the Lieutenant-Colonel said. The officer showed him what he had typed and he read it over and signed it. “You must go now quickly,” he said to Gomez and Andrés. “Be careful with the motor,” he said to Gomez. “Use your lights. Nothing will happen from a single motor and you must be careful. My compliments to Comrade General Golz. We met after Peguerinos.” He shook hands with them both. “Button the papers inside thy shirt,” he said. “There is much wind on a motor.”

After they went out he went to a cabinet, took out a glass and a bottle, and poured himself some whiskey and poured plain water into it from an earthenware crock that stood on the floor against the wall. Then holding the glass and sipping the whiskey very slowly he stood in front of the big map on the wall and studied the offensive possibilities in the country above Navacerrada.

“I am glad it is Golz and not me,” he said finally to the officer who sat at the table. The officer did not answer and looking away from the map and at the officer the Lieutenant-Colonel saw he was asleep with his head on his arms. The Lieutenant-Colonel went over to the desk and pushed the two phones close together so that one touched the officer’s head on either side. Then he walked to the cupboard, poured himself another whiskey, put water in it, and went back to the map again.

Andrés, holding tight onto the seat where Gomez was forking the motor, bent his head against the wind as the motorcycle moved, noisily exploding, into the light-split darkness of the country road that opened ahead sharp with the high black of the poplars beside it, dimmed and yellow-soft now as the road dipped into the fog along a stream bed, sharpening hard again as the road rose and, ahead of them at the crossroads, the headlight showed the gray bulk of the empty trucks coming down from the mountains.