In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it anymore.’’
So begins Hemingway’s short story In Another Country.
In many of his stories we see a story within. Here we have a snapshot of two patients in a military hospital in Milan during World War I. An American officer, wounded in the leg, narrates. He is serving on the Italian side, presumably before U.S. entry into the war, and is befriended by an Italian major who is wounded in the hand. Both men come frequently to the hospital for therapy, which is aided by experimental machines.
The major’s relative patience teaching Italian grammar to the American contrasts with his unexpected outburst at the American’s talk of marriage. This becomes explained later; his young wife has recently died of pneumonia, without warning, and the major doesn’t know how to handle his grief.
The segment comes about three-fourths of the way through the story.
The major, who had been a great fencer, did not believe in bravery, and spent much time while we sat in the machines correcting my grammar. He had complimented me on how I spoke Italian, and we talked together very easily. One day I had said that Italian seemed such an easy language to me that I could not take a great interest in it; everything was so easy to say. ‘Ah, yes,’ the major said. ‘Why, then, do you not take up the use of grammar?’ So we took up the use of grammar, and soon Italian was such a difficult language that I was afraid to talk to him until I had the grammar straight in my mind.
The major came very regularly to the hospital. I do not think he ever missed a day, although I am sure he did not believe in the machines. There was a time when none of us believed in the machines, and one day the major said it was all nonsense. The machines were new then and it was we who were to prove them. It was an idiotic idea, he said, ‘a theory like another’. I had not learned my grammar, and he said I was a stupid impossible disgrace, and he was a fool to have bothered with me. He was a small man and he sat straight up in his chair with his right hand thrust into the machine and looked straight ahead at the wall while the straps thumbed up and down with his fingers in them.
‘What will you do when the war is over if it is over?’ he asked me. ‘Speak grammatically!’
“I will go to the States.’
‘Are you married?’
‘No, but I hope to be.’
‘The more a fool you are,’ he said. He seemed very angry. ‘A man must not marry.’
‘Why, Signor Maggiore?’
‘Don’t call me Signor Maggiore.’
‘Why must not a man marry?’
‘He cannot marry. He cannot marry,’ he said angrily. ‘If he is to lose everything, he should not place himself in a position to lose that. He should not place himself in a position to lose. He should find things he cannot lose.’
He spoke very angrily and bitterly, and looked straight ahead while he talked.
‘But why should he necessarily lose it?’
‘He’ll lose it,’ the major said. He was looking at the wall. Then he looked down at the machine and jerked his little hand out from between the straps and slapped it hard against his thigh. ‘He’ll lose it,’ he almost shouted. ‘Don’t argue with me!’ Then he called to the attendant who ran the machines. ‘Come and turn this damned thing off.'”