During the summer, Henry learns to walk on crutches, and he and Catherine enjoy their time together in Milan. They befriend the headwaiter at a restaurant called the Gran Italia, and Catherine continues to spend her nights with Henry. They pretend to themselves that they are married, though Henry admits that he is glad they are not. They discuss marriage: Catherine, sure that they would send a married woman away from the front, remains opposed to the idea. Marriage, she continues, is beside the point: “I couldn’t be any more married.” Catherine pledges to be faithful to Henry, saying that although she is sure “all sorts of dreadful things will happen to us,” unfaithfulness is not one of them.
When not with Catherine, Henry spends his time with various people from Milan. He keeps company with the Meyerses, an older couple who enjoy going to the races. One day, after running into the Meyerses on the street, Henry enters a shop and buys some chocolates for Catherine. At a nearby bar, he runs into Ettore Moretti, an Italian from San Francisco serving in the Italian army, and Ralph Simmons and Edgar Saunders, two opera singers. Ettore is very proud of his war medals and claims that he works hard for them. Henry calls the man a “legitimate hero” but notes that he is incredibly dull. When he reaches the hospital, he chats with Catherine, who cannot stand Moretti; she prefers the quieter, English gentleman-type heroes. As the couple talks on into the night, it begins to rain. Catherine fears the rain, which she claims is “very hard on loving,” and begins to cry until Henry comforts her.
Henry and Catherine go to the races with Helen Ferguson, whom Henry calls “Fergie” or “Ferguson,” and the boy who was wounded while trying to unscrew the nose cap on the shrapnel shell. They bet on horses based on Meyers’s tips; Meyers usually bets successfully but shares his secrets very selectively. While watching the preparations for a race of horses that have never won a purse higher than 1,000 lire, Catherine spies a purplish-black horse that, she believes, has been dyed to disguise its true color. As Italian horse racing is rumored to be extremely corrupt, Catherine is sure that the horse is a champion in disguise. She and Henry bet their money on it but win much less than expected. Catherine eventually grows tired of the crowd, and she and Henry decide to watch the remaining races by themselves. They both claim to feel better, or less lonely, when they are alone together.
By September, the Allied forces are suffering greatly. A British major reports to Henry that if things continue as they are, the Allies will be defeated in another year. He suggests, however, that such a development is fine so long as no one realizes it. As Henry’s leg is nearly healed, he receives three weeks of convalescent leave, after which he will have to return to the front. Catherine offers to travel with him and then gives him a piece of startling news: she is three months pregnant. Catherine worries that Henry feels trapped and promises not to make trouble for him, but he tells her that he feels cheerful and that he thinks she is wonderful. Catherine talks about the obstacles they will face, and Henry states that a coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one. They wonder aloud who authored this observation, but neither is able to remember. Catherine then amends Henry’s words, saying that intelligent brave men die perhaps two thousand deaths but never mention them.
This section of Book Two chronicles the happy summer that Henry and Catherine spend together before he must return to the front. As his leg heals, Henry enjoys increasing mobility, and he develops a more normal, social relationship with Catherine. One of the reasons that the reader is able to believe more fully in their relationship is that these chapters do much to develop Catherine’s character. Whereas in earlier chapters Catherine can be read as an emotionally damaged woman who desperately craves companionship and protection, she now emerges as a more complicated and self-aware character. The trip to the racetrack, for example, shows her fundamental independence: she would rather lose money on a horse that she herself chooses than win based on a tip.
She exhibits this independence even further when she announces her pregnancy to Henry. Concerned that he will feel trapped or obligated, she offers to deal with the situation by herself. Whereas she earlier gushes determined, over-the-top romanticism, she now provides small reminders of the real and hostile world in which her relationship with Henry exists. Assuring him of her loyalty to him, she cannot help but admit, “I’m sure all sorts of dreadful things will happen to us.” Even more striking is her admission, soon after announcing her pregnancy, that “I’ve never even loved anyone.” We can access her intricate psychological state only partially. For instance, when she tells Henry, rather poetically, that she fears the rain because “it’s very hard on loving,” the reader can only begin to guess the kinds of sorrow, fear, and joy that have shaped her. As a result of our incomplete understanding of her, Catherine can appear somewhat underdeveloped as a character. But her loyalty to Henry and her courage remain strong and constant.
The introduction of Ettore Moretti brings Henry’s character into greater focus by juxtaposing him with a sharp contrast. The Italian-American soldier is boastful, ambitious, and arrogant; he is quick to insult others, such as the tenor at whom, he claims, audiences throw benches, and equally quick to sing his own praises. Henry, on the other hand, is reserved, detached, and disciplined. Suspicious of, or simply uninterested in, the glory for which the army awards medals, Henry maintains a calm levelheadedness that helps to convince the reader that his feelings for Catherine are indeed genuine.
Henry’s words about cowards echo Julius Caesar’s defiant utterance in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; / The valiant never taste of death but once” (II.ii.32–33). Although Caesar’s stoicism carries an arrogant refusal to believe that any harm can actually befall him, Henry, like Caesar, remains philosophical and unafraid in the face of potential peril. His inability to contextualize the reference suggests shortsightedness about the development of his relationship with Catherine. His failure to recognize that Caesar dies a few scenes after making this bold declaration seems to foreshadow disaster for Henry.
The ending was good, but depressing.
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