Chapter 28 Summary
As the retreat continues, more trucks, troops, and artillery gather on the road. It becomes glutted with vehicles, both motorized and horse-drawn. Henry gets out to see what is holding up the line. The block is further ahead than he can see. As the column of vehicles does not move, he and Piani (another ambulance driver) sleep. After several hours, Henry hears the truck ahead of him start its engine. He wakes Piani, and they move forward a few yards before traffic stops again. It continues to rain throughout the night. The trucks stop and start several times without making much progress.
Henry gets out to check on another of their ambulances. He finds two passengers, sergeants of engineers, who got separated from their unit and are hitching a ride with the ambulance. Henry goes to the next ambulance, driven by Aymo; has two young girls in the seat with him. One looks sixteen, the other a year younger. Aymo puts his hand suggestively on the older girl’s thigh, but she pushes him away. He laughs and tells her not to worry, that there is no room for sex anyway, though he uses a vulgar term for it. This is the only word she understands and she begins to cry. Aymo asks if she and her sister are virgin, and they nod their heads.
Henry goes back to Piani’s car. The column still has not moved, and it is still raining hard. Henry speculates that the combination of horse and motor transports is causing the problem. Perhaps some horses are asleep, or perhaps some drivers. He thinks about the two young girls in Aymo’s car. If there were no war, everyone would be safe and asleep in their own beds. He thinks of Catherine and wonders what side of the bed she sleeps on. His mind drifts in and out of sleep, with random lines of poetry floating through his head. He thinks that Catherine is comforting him, and he talks to her. He awakens to find that he has been talking in his sleep. However, since he talked in English, Piani did not understand him.
As the traffic continues to creep at a snail’s pace, Henry decides to take his group off by a side road. They come upon an abandoned farmhouse. When some of the sergeants go into the house and come back with a clock, Henry tells them to take it back. They take some food but nothing else. Henry commands the cars to move on down the narrow road.