(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Some travelers from Rome are obliged to spend most of the night aboard a second-class railway carriage, parked at the station in Fabriano, waiting for the departure of the local train that will take them the remainder of their trip to the small village of Sulmona. At dawn, they are joined by two additional passengers: a large woman, “almost like a shapeless bundle,” and her tiny, thin husband. The woman is in deep mourning and is so distressed and maladroit that she has to be helped into the carriage by the other passengers.

Her husband, following her, thanks the people for their assistance and then tries to look after his wife’s comfort, but she responds to his ministrations by pulling up the collar of her coat to her eyes, hiding her face. The husband manages a sad smile and comments that it is a nasty world. He explains this remark by saying that his wife is to be pitied because the war has separated her from their twenty-year-old son, “a boy of twenty to whom both had devoted their entire life.” The son, he says, is due to go to the front. The man remarks that this imminent departure has come as a shock because, when they gave permission for their son’s enlistment, they were assured that he would not go for six months. However, they have just been informed that he will depart in three days.

The man’s story does not prompt too much sympathy from the others because the war has similarly touched their lives. One of them tells the man that he and his wife should be grateful that their son is leaving only now. He says that his own son “was sent there the first day of the war. He has already come back twice wounded and been sent back again to the front.” Someone else, joining the conversation, adds that he has two sons and three nephews already at the front. The thin husband retorts that his child is an only son, meaning that, should he die at the front, a father’s grief would be all the more profound. The other man refuses to see that this makes any difference. “You may spoil your son with excessive attentions, but you cannot love...

(The entire section is 847 words.)