Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513
After another year of war, the Italian army is winning more battles. The troops have captured the mountain across the river, and Henry moves along with them to the town of Gorizia. The fighting is less than one mile away. It is August, and the small town goes on with its life as if the war were far away. Henry is grateful that the Austrians (the opposing army) evidently intend to preserve the town as much as possible so that they can come back to it later, after the war. Although the people keep up their daily existence, the signs of the fighting are all around—shell-marks on the iron bridge, a smashed tunnel by the river, and rubble from bombed-out houses. Yet there are trees around the square, and the king passes through in his motor car for all the residents to see.
Up on the mountain, however, the trees have been shorn off by the cannon shot. One day at the end of fall, Henry strolls up into the shattered forest on the mountainside, when a cloud passes over. Soon it begins to snow and then to blow. Snow quickly covers everything.
Henry goes back down into the town to a bordello that is frequently visited by the army officers. He sees a friend and joins him for a few glasses of wine. Their conversation centers on the future course of the war; both agree that the fighting is over for the year. After the winter is over, the other mountains must be taken. But for now there is no fighting. Henry’s friend sees the priest assigned to their outfit passing outside the bordello. He signals him to come in, but the priest shakes his head.
At the evening mess, talk turns to the priest. He is young and shy. The captain pokes fun at him, stating that he saw the priest at the bordello with five girls. The priest blushes and denies it. The captain insists, and the other officers are amused at the priest’s discomfort. The priest accepts it all as a joke. The major remarks that the Pope wants the Austrians to win, that he is suspected of contributing large amounts of money to the enemy. A lieutenant asks if he has read Black Pig, which has shaken his faith for its detailed description of the lurid activities of immoral priests. The young priest says it is a vile book and no one should read it. The major insists that all thinking men are atheists.
The talk turns again to the cessation of fighting for the winter. The major suggests that Henry should go on leave. This starts a train of suggestions of places to visit. The major says that he ought to go to Naples, where all the pretty girls are. The officers ask him to bring back a phonograph. The priest quietly suggests that Henry go to Abruzzi, where his family lives, as his father is a famous hunter. The officers decide to go back to the bordello, and Henry bids the priest good-bye.