For Whom the Bell Tolls Chapter 43
Robert Jordan lies in the forest at dawn. Even the steel bridge looks spidery in the mist. He can see the sentry. He wonders if Andrés made it. He asks himself why he never thinks of how it would be to win; he has been on the defensive so long. He is conflicted with optimism and pessimism. He sees two men relieve the sentry. One spits, and Robert Jordan wonders if it is a superstition. Robert Jordan can see the details of the new sentry's face and does not want to look anymore. He sees a squirrel and wishes he had something he could touch. All he wants is for Rabbit (Maria) to make it. He watches the road. He hears the beginning of the bombs. The sentry man stands up. There is no more mist and Robert Jordan takes a clear shot. He hears Anselmo shoot twice and then the automatic fire of Pablo's cavalry. Agustín yells "nice hunting," and thinks, like hell it was hunting. When Anselmo tells him he killed the man, tears are running down his cheeks.
Robert Jordan quickly begins to set up the explosives with Anselmo's help. He hears a grenade and more firing at the upper post and wonders what is going on. It is cool and clean under the bridge and he hopes no one comes over it. He sees that Anselmo's face is composed again, and knows the man is in a bad position on the bridge. He curses Pablo again for throwing the detonator in the river. His thoughts spin from Anselmo, to football, to Israelites; nothing seems to make much sense. He hooks up the grenades, which will explode the dynamite, and tells Anselmo to pull hard when the time comes.
The remainder of Pilar's band arrives. Primitivo and Rafael the gypsy are holding up Fernando, who has been shot in the groin. Robert Jordan tells him to blow the bridge only if tanks or armored cars come onto it. Robert Jordan runs across the bridge and out of sight. Fernando is in much pain and wants to be left, but the two who hold him want to take him up the hill. They leave him with a gun.
Anselmo calls for Robert Jordan and says that all is going well. Soon they will blow the bridge; he feels brave again and wants to atone for killing the sentry. Anselmo knows he has achieved all he could as an old man in the war and it will be all right if he dies today. He is not excited but calm, and does not feel lonely with the wire in his hand. Up the hill, Pilar asks Primitivo if the gypsy is dead, and he says not yet, and she says if they had more men, it would not have happened. The gypsy asks if the fragments will reach him when the bridge blows and Pilar reassures him that Agustín is even closer to it. He remembers the blowing of the train. Pilar is impatient and asks Anselmo with much obscenity if Robert Jordan is blowing up a bridge or building one, that it is the speed and not the skill that counts. Suddenly Robert Jordan hears a different sound from Pablo's automatic rifle. He feels nauseated. He looks at the road and it is clear, then sees the truck and tells Anselmo to blow the bridge, which he does, and there is a cracking explosion as the bridge rises like a wave. He shields his head with his hands and when it is done, he realizes he is still alive. Robert Jordan sees the center of the bridge is gone and there is jagged steel on the road. He sees that Fernando is still alive but Anselmo is dead, impaled by steel from the bridge.
He tells Pilar to tell Maria that he is all right. She tells him they lost two at the sawmill, and when he asks her if she did something stupid she tells him to screw himself, that Fernando and Eladio were men too. He changes his mind about going to cover Pablo, telling Pilar that Pablo can cover himself in shit. She stands up for Pablo, reminding him that he came back, and that he is fighting now. Robert Jordan is angry and she tells him to calm down. He says that if Pablo had not thrown the detonator, Anselmo would still be alive. Now that the bridge is blown, he is angry and lonely and hates everyone he sees. Pilar repeats if, if, if and the anger slowly drains from him and he begins to accept things. He tells the gypsy to go farther down so he can see the road, and to help him aim for trucks and men. Pilar tells him to stop lecturing - they are fine.
Not even the horses comfort Maria. They are nervous too. She wants to stop worrying but the firing scares her. She hears Pilar and wishes she would not jinx them with obscenities. She prays for Robert Jordan, almost breaking down when she hears the bridge blow, thinking the Republic is one thing, but her love is another. She hears Pilar yell that he is all right and yells back thanking her, choked with emotion.
They see the planes coming from Segovia, and Robert Jordan reassures Pilar that they will not bother with them in the hills. He gets to Agustín, who is angry and wonders what Pablo is doing. They listen to the heavy machine gun fire which Robert Jordan heard even before blowing the bridge and wonder what it is. The planes are now bombing at the pass and more are coming. They are new, not the ones from the other morning, and he feels as if they threw a stone, which came back as a tidal wave. He is glad not to be with Golz at the pass. It feels unreal to be alive, and he tells himself to be calm, he is just coming down off the high of the responsibility.
They see Pablo running around the bend of the road, firing his gun. He reaches the bridge and disappears. They know that the wall below the bend is too steep to climb, but someone could circle above. Suddenly they see a tank and fire on it. Agustín wants to fire more, but Robert Jordan does not want him to know where they are. It is the strange noise they had heard before. Agustín mocks the tank. Pablo finds them and reports that his men are dead; now they have plenty of horses. Robert Jordan thinks he is a murdering bastard, for he used the men then got rid of them when he was done. He tells him of the loss of Fernando, Eladio, and Anselmo. Pablo escaped when the tank was distracted. Agustín asks him bluntly what he was shooting at from around the bend, and Robert Jordan tells himself not to judge, that he knew he was a murderer. Agustín asks why he does not just admit he shot the five men, and Pablo tells him to shut up, for he has fought hard. Pablo says he has a plan, and Agustín, still bitter, says that if the plan is to shoot any of them, he will kill him now. Pablo tells them of all he and the men shot. Agustín continues to hound him about the men and Pablo continues to tell him to shut up.
Maria arrives and Robert Jordan holds her tight, never having thought before that love and battle could coexist. He pats her bottom and tells her to get on the horse. Primitivo wants to cut some of the loads from the horses, but Pilar says they will build a life with it. They must cross the road, but high enough so that they are out of firing range. Maria will go second and he tells her he will go suddenly. Pablo goes quickly, with the others behind him, and shells fall nearby. Robert Jordan sends the packhorse ahead, and hits it with a branch so it will hurry. He rides the big gray horse Pablo was so proud of. He makes it across, but the tank shoots and the gray horse falls on his left leg, breaking it. Primitivo and Agustín drag him up the last of the slope. Pilar says they can bind it, but he tells them to go on and motions for Pablo. He tells Pablo it does not hurt much, for the nerve is crushed, but he is screwed.
He asks to talk to Maria, and tells Pablo she will want to stay, but to make her go. He tells Pablo again to go to the Republic instead of Gredos. Maria comes with her face twisted like a child's before it cries. Pilar looks the same way. He begins, telling her they will not be going to Madrid, and she starts to cry. He is calling her rabbit, and says they will not go to Madrid, but he will go with her wherever she goes. She says she will stay with him, and he says what he does he must do alone. She insists she will stay, for it is worse for her to go. He agrees, but says he has become part of her. He tells her she must not be selfish, that she must do her duty. He tells her again that she is he. She is silent. He tells her to put her hand in his; she understands and is obeying; now they both go when she goes. He tells her to stand, repeating now she is both of them, but she will not. He tells her there is no goodbye, for they do not part. He tells her not to turn around. She gets on the saddle with Pablo. She turns and shouts that she wants to stay, and he shouts that he is with her, and to go. Agustín asks if he wants him to shoot him. He says it is no problem to do it, but he is crying. He tells Robert Jordan that his gun is clean, and the gypsy caught the packhorse. They have an intense goodbye during which Agustín clenches his fist, waving it as if to curse the situation as he leaves.
He is exhausted after they leave. He reassures himself that Pilar will take care of Maria and he must believe what he told her. He tells himself it could be worse. He hates to leave life, and hopes he has done some good with the talent he had. He has fought for what he believed in for a year. He had as good of a life as Grandfather. He would like to talk to Karkov, and to pass on what he has learned. He thinks back to how Pilar would not tell him what she read in his palm and reconsiders whether there is really something to the gypsy ESP. He reaches for his absinthe and even that is gone. He pulls himself and his leg. The bone has not punctured the skin and is into the muscle; the nerve is crushed so he cannot feel the great pain and he feels lucky. He reaches for his gun and hopes they come soon before he gets delirious. He wonders if those with religion have an easier time of dying. He thinks that dying is only bad when it is humiliating and takes a long time, and he is lucky that is not the case for him. He is glad the others were able to go. The attack was not a success, but he was lucky that he was able to make Maria leave him. He wishes he could tell Grandfather about it, and wonders if he did fifty attacks like it. He knows they were screwed as soon as Golz gave the orders, and this is probably what Pilar sensed. Next time they must plan better, with short wave transmitters. He grins and thinks that next time he ought to have a spare leg too. His leg starts to hurt and he hopes the enemy comes soon. He knows he must act soon, for if he passes out, they will ask him questions and make him give away secrets and plans.
His thoughts get more and more frantic and fast. He tells himself to think of the others being away, crossing through forest, creek, and up the slope, and then he cannot think of them any farther. He is conflicted, talking back to himself: he tells himself to think of Montana, Madrid, a cool drink of water - but he replies to himself that he cannot, that he is a liar. He tells himself to go ahead, that it will be nothing, to let go and die, but then tells himself that he must wait to make a move and that to shoot even an officer will make all the difference in saving the others. He is slipping away from himself as snow slips on a mountain slope. He sees the cavalry come up the slope and find the dead cavalry man that he killed the morning before. He looks at the sky and touches the ground. He rests on his elbows with the muzzle of the gun against the tree. He plans to shoot the officer when he comes on the trail of the horses. The officer, as it happens, is Lt. Berrendo, who led the offensive against El Sordo and his band, a man with a thin and serious face. Robert Jordan holds onto himself carefully to keep his gun steady. He is waiting to shoot until the officer reaches the sunlit place where the forest meets the meadow. He feels his heart beating against the pine needle-covered ground.