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The next afternoon, Henry returned from the first mountain post. He had been driving. On the way, he saw a regiment of soldiers pass by. They wore steel helmets and were sweaty, dusty and tired. They looked very worn down. Then he came a soldier who was trailing behind, as he walked with a limp. Henry got down from his Fiat and asked him what the trouble was with him. The soldier replied that the war was the main trouble. He suffered from a hernia and an injury to his leg and his superiors thought that he was only pretending. He was an American too, but Henry could not take him in. He asked the soldier to stay there and he would pick him up on his way back. He suggested that the soldier should fall on the road and get a bump on his head, which would legitimately see him into a hospital and away from the war. However, when he did return, the soldier’s regiment had come back for him and had forcibly taken the man back to the front.
Henry got back to the Villa at five o’clock, showered, made his report, and sent two post-cards to his family in America. He idly considered that he was a stranger in a strange and mysterious war zone. He wished he was in the British unit instead of the Italian one, but he did not have any choice. He took courage from the fact that he was not a soldier who faced maximum risk, but only an ambulance driver. Still, even ambulance drivers got hurt and killed in battle. He felt that he was safe because he did not have anything to do with the war. He wanted to go to Austria, if the was not were he was. He wished the war would be over, at least by summer. After supper, he decided that he would go and see Catherine. He hoped that she would be there to meet with him. He wished that he were in Milan with her. He imagined checking into a hotel in Milan and making love to her throughout the night.
Then, he went to the mess and met all the other officers and the priest. One of the officers, a man called Rocca, told a story about a priest who was arrested because he had stolen some bonds. When he went to visit the priest in the jail, he had said, “Bless me father, for YOU have sinned,” which elicited a great deal of laughter from everybody. The priest, as usual, had tolerated these taunts in an indulging manner. Henry entered into a contest with another officer, Basin, to see who could drink more. Mid way, he remembered that he had to go and see Catherine, so he gave up the fight, conceded defeat, and went away. Rinaldi supported Henry and said that he really did know about Henry's rendezvous. Rinaldi made Henry chew on some roast coffee beans, so as to lessen his intoxication when he went to meet Catherine. However, Henry found Miss Ferguson instead of Catherine, who informed him that Catherine was unwell. Since Henry could not meet Catherine, he felt lonely, empty, and hollow.
More light is thrown on Henry’s character in this chapter. He has a humane side to his personality. He seeks to rescue the crippled American soldier, even by bending military rules a little and making him pretend as if he were wounded. This is not just one American showing sympathy to a fellow American; nationality has nothing to do with it. On the contrary, it is the empathy felt by one disinterested soldier trying to rescue another from a meaningless situation like war. These two reluctant soldiers remind us of Yossarian, the protagonist in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, who is a dispirited soldier himself.
This chapter is also significant because it shows that Henry is not one of those men who have misplaced conceptions of honor and glory. He does not believe in “fighting-unto-death” or “honor-before-death.” When it becomes necessary, he is more willing to give up fighting, rather than risk his life.
As his involvement with war becomes less intense, his involvement with Catherine becomes stronger. He realizes that he is just about a step away from falling into deep, passionate love. In this chapter, the two major Themes of the novel, war and love, are elaborated upon.