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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
At the opening of Book Ill you are faced with a number of unanswered questions about both the war and the love between Catherine and Frederic Henry. The war is going badly. Will it go so badly that one side will quit? Will Henry survive another tour of duty? As for Catherine, when and if the officious Miss Van Campen discovers the pregnancy, what then? One function of Book III, the middle act of this five-act drama, is to bring some of these questions to a climax. It also continues completing, and sometimes revising, the portrait of Frederic Henry.
The opening of Chapter 25 is reminiscent of the opening of the novel, but the tone is gloomier. There is not a hint of summer's lushness and beauty. Nature is bare, brown, and worn. The roads are muddy and rutted, and the river's running high from the rains.
Henry reports in. His commanding officer exudes fatigue and resignation, stating that the fighting is over for the year. He orders Henry to take charge of some ambulances to the north, in the direction of Caporetto. Note that twice in their conversation the major says he doesn't believe the Austrians will attack now that the rains have come and the snow is on the way. The major is relying on past experiences-the year before, the rains did stop the fighting. But his insistence that he doesn't believe the attack will come has the ring of wishful thinking.
Henry goes to his room, lies down to wait for Rinaldi, and thinks of Catherine. Rinaldi arrives, looking perhaps a little thinner. He checks Henry's knee, pronounces the operation a good job, and they begin to talk.
Each notices changes in the other. So should you. Rinaldi sees Henry as a "married man," calmer perhaps, and more settled down. Rinaldi seems even more frenetic than before, but also depressed. He's been working constantly and he implies that he's been forgetting the war by heavy drinking and womanizing. He suggests that he and Henry get drunk and visit the brothel. Then they'll "feel fine."
Henry explains that he's had jaundice and can't drink. Rinaldi presses some cognac on him; they talk now about Catherine. When Rinaldi begins teasing about her, Henry nips the teasing in the bud. Ever the cynic, Rinaldi reaffirms that he has no "sacred subject," that a permanent attachment like love is not for him. But he reveals a pathetic side when he admits that he's happy only when working; his only other pleasures are drink and women, the one bad for his work and the other "over in a half an hour or fifteen minutes."
Again paralleling the action of the early chapters, they go to the officers' mess. It's quieter than before. The priest arrives. Rinaldi, who is getting quite drunk, tries to bait him, but things have changed; the priest is no longer touched by his insults.
Rinaldi, however, goes on, almost losing control of himself. It's an awkward and embarrassing performance. The officers and the priest humor him, noting that he's been under a strain. The priest suggests that he take a leave. The major, probably because he needs a good surgeon, disagrees.
Then, bitterly, Rinaldi announces that he has the symptoms of syphilis, sardonically noting that in the war venereal disease is merely "a simple industrial accident" that can happen to them all, except the priest. He leaves to go to the Villa Rossa.
The major, the priest, and Henry close the scene. The major, ever doubtful, says that he doesn't believe Rinaldi has syphilis and also that he doesn't believe the Austrians will attack. Henry's duty for the morning is confirmed and they go their ways, the major to his office, the priest and Henry to Henry's room.
Henry and the priest discuss the war. The priest comments on the changes in attitudes among many officers. After a terrible summer, they are now gentle. Note that this word pretty well describes Henry, too. His gentleness, though it comes in part from his personal brush with death, has undoubtedly been made stronger by his love for Catherine.
The priest, an idealist, hopes that the war will end; Henry, still a realist, notes that the Austrians, having stopped the Italians from gaining ground, do not feel beaten and gentle. They will not stop fighting.
When Henry begins analyzing the war and men's attitudes, he becomes depressed and admits that he tries not to think about these things. But he realizes he can't help but think about them. He's no longer the lad who went to war for a lark.