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For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls


by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls Chapter 43 Summary

  • Robert Jordan is lying behind the trunk of a pine tree, watching the sentry nearest him on the bridge and waiting for the sound of bombs. He wonders whether Golz has called off the attack.
  • The sentries are relieved and replaced. The new fellow in Robert Jordan's box is the same one he'd seen two days before. Since he's about to shoot him, Robert Jordan decides it would be better not to look at him.
  • Robert Jordan's thinking is interrupted by the sound of bombs.
  • The sentry in the box stands up at the sound. Robert Jordan, aiming carefully, shoots him right in the chest.
  • He then hears Anselmo's shot from the other end of the bridge – his sentry's out of the ballgame too. The sound of gunfire and grenade explosions carries from above and below: Pablo and Pilar are now attacking the posts. This thing is going down.
  • Robert Jordan grabs his two packs, running onto the bridge. Anselmo runs to him, his face stained with tears shed for the man he just killed.
  • Descending into the framework of the bridge, Robert Jordan begins to rig it with explosives, with Anselmo helping by handing him materials as he calls for them.
  • From the lower post comes the sound of two grenades, followed by silence. From the upper post, there's still a lot of rifle fire.
  • Robert Jordan crosses over to the other side of the bridge to rig it. He's feeling confident in his work now; at least one half of the bridge will certainly be blown.
  • However, the continuous racket of guns and grenades coming from Pilar's post has grown worse.
  • Asking Anselmo for a coil of wire, Robert Jordan wires the second half of the bridge, connecting the grenades with a wire. He connects this in turn to a longer wire, which can be pulled from a safe distance. Pulling the wire hard will pull the rings from the grenades, detonating them and setting off the dynamite in one big explosion. (Aha, so that's how it works.)
  • Robert Jordan's done. He gives the trigger wire to Anselmo and climbs back onto the bridge.
  • Pilar's group, returning, comes into sight. No Eladio.
  • Anselmo and Robert Jordan cross to the side of the bridge nearer Pilar's group, each carrying a bridge-go-boom wire.
  • As Pilar's group approaches, Robert Jordan sees that Fernando is seriously wounded in the groin, only walking because Primitivo and Rafael are supporting him.
  • Robert Jordan has to wire the other half of the bridge with a trigger wire. He tells Anselmo to blow the bridge (with him under it) if any tanks come, then runs to the center of the bridge and gets to work.
  • Fernando tells Primitivo and Rafael that he wants to be left on the bank by the bridge with his rifle – he's too wounded to go anywhere.
  • Fernando asks about Eladio, and they tell him he was shot in the head.
  • Having informed us of Eladio's fate, Rafael and Agustín run back up the slope.
  • Anselmo is behind a stone (to give him cover when the bridge blows), waiting for Robert Jordan to finish wiring his half of the bridge. He's still thinking about that sentry he killed. And poor Fernando, who is visibly in great pain. Anselmo wishes for a quick death. But he himself is not feeling nervous – instead, he's calm, and one and at peace with everything around him.
  • Pilar, Primitivo, and Rafael are gathered up the slope, in a place they hope will keep them safe from the explosion of the bridge. Pilar is impatient for it to blow, and, as is her habit when she's impatient, starts shouting obscenities to the skies (and Anselmo).
  • Firing starts down the road where Pablo was holding the post. It doesn't sound like Pablo's automatic rifle…
  • Robert Jordan finishes the wiring job. Pulling himself up onto the bridge, he walks backward, paying out the wire as he goes.
  • Reaching the road, and just about opposite the stone behind which Anselmo is stationed, Robert Jordan sees a truck coming down the road toward the bridge. That means it's time for the bridge to go bye-bye.
  • Robert Jordan gives the order to Anselmo, and they both pull on their wire. Explosion. A BIG boom.
  • When the steel shards stop falling, Robert Jordan finds himself still alive, and surveys the situation. The bridge is wrecked, and the rather surprised truck has stopped about a hundred yards away. Fernando is still lying against the bank, breathing.
  • Anselmo is dead, impaled by a piece of steel.
  • Taking the two sacks and Anselmo's carbine, Robert Jordan walks up to Pilar, and gives her the news. He tells her to move lower down the slope; he's going down to meet Agustín and cover Pablo.
  • Robert Jordan snaps at Pilar; he's angry at Pablo, whom he blames for Anselmo's death (which wouldn't have happened had they still had the detonators).
  • Pilar points out that by that logic he should be just as angry at the snow.
  • Good point. Robert Jordan's rage bubble pops, and he apologizes.
  • Finding a suitable place from which to shoot across the bridge, Robert Jordan places Rafael (who turns out to be a very good shooter) in a place where he can pick off targets across the bridge. Pilar and Primitivo stay nearby.
  • Robert Jordan goes off to join Agustín. As he sets off, he hears airborne harbingers of Republican doom. That is, fascist planes.
  • So as not to get us too overexcited, the narrative shifts to Maria. Who isn't doing much.
  • Well, actually, Maria, who can hear but can't see anything from where she waits, is worrying about Robert Jordan very intensely.
  • Suddenly, a shout comes to her from Pilar: Robert Jordan is all right. Maria is overjoyed.
  • Robert Jordan reaches Agustín as the fascist planes fly overhead, coming from Segovia. They start to bomb the pass where Golz's forces are collected.
  • As they wait for Pablo and listen to the carnage, Robert Jordan realizes that he still can't quite believe he didn't die when the bridge exploded. Everything around him seems unreal.
  • Finally, Pablo appears on the other side of the gorge, running towards them and firing backwards at regular intervals. Reaching the bridge, he descends into the gorge to cross to the others side.
  • Meanwhile, a small tank has appeared around the corner of the road cross the gorge, firing near the bridge. It's a cautious little tank, and doesn't approach the bridge any closer. But Robert Jordan and Agustín can't do it any damage, so they don't fire at it.
  • Pablo appears on the edge of the gorge and, after gathering the machine gun, they're off running – Robert Jordan first, followed by Agustín and then Pablo. The steep slope is tiring, so it's not long before they lapse into a walk.
  • Pablo informs them that all of his people are dead. Which means they now have enough horses…
  • Robert Jordan tells Pablo of their own losses. Pablo is happy to hear they know have more than enough horses, enough even to carry the blankets.
  • Agustín, who has guessed what Pablo was really shooting at as he headed toward the bridge, blows up at Pablo. Pablo killed his own men. We just knew having all those horses freed up was too convenient…
  • Pablo tells him to shut it. This is war. He did what he had to do.
  • Then they're at the horses, and Maria and Robert Jordan share an embrace. Robert Jordan is delighted to discover that, even in these circumstances, certain parts of him still respond to the touch of a woman.
  • Pilar arrives with the others, and everyone begins to load and mount the horses.
  • They begin to ride through the woods towards the edge of the road, Pablo at the head, followed by Pilar. Robert Jordan tells Maria to overtake Pilar, as the second spot is the safest, but she refuses.
  • Robert Jordan discerns they are about 800 yards above the bridge – which is still in range of the small tank by the bridge. As Pablo leaves the shelter and crosses the road onto an open slope, sure enough, shells begin to fly from the tank.
  • Pablo and most of the others make it across the road through the tank fire, riding up the slope and under the fold of a hill, until they're once more in the safety of the timber.
  • Rafael is riding ahead of Robert Jordan, trying to lead a packhorse behind him. Robert Jordan yells at him to drop the packhorse and cross the road. So off he rides, tank fire raining down every which way, but none of it striking home. Then he's in the clear.
  • Now it's just Robert Jordan who has to make the crossing. He wants to take the pack horse and use it as cover while he crosses. Looking down the road, he scans the other side of the bridge, where there is now a heavy traffic jam.
  • Robert Jordan takes a branch and strikes the pack horse with it, spurring it to move ahead of him. After riding thirty yards further up, he leaves cover and heads into the open.
  • As he rides, Robert Jordan looks down and sees that a much larger tank has now come up behind the smaller one. And it's firing at him.
  • He looks back up. The others are so close, waiting for him...
  • There's an explosion beneath him, and he's suddenly under his horse, trying to get out. He can move, but his left leg can't. When the horse gets up, he can feel that his left thigh bone is completely broken, a shard of it practically poking through his skin.
  • The tank fires again, not hitting him, but bringing the big horse down. Then Agustín and Primitivo have him under the armpits and are dragging him toward the shelter of the timber. They make it, barely.
  • Maria, Pilar, and Pablo are kneeling over Robert Jordan. He tells Maria the leg is broken, though there's no pain, probably because the nerve is smashed. Pilar suggests binding it and carrying him on a horse, but Pablo shakes his head.
  • Robert Jordan asks to speak to Pablo alone. He's not going to be able to go with them, he says. He wants to talk to Maria, to make sure she won't stay with him. Pablo urges him to hurry.
  • Pilar slits Robert Jordan's right trouser leg, revealing the bone fragment jutting up near the surface of his skin. Both Maria and Pilar are over him, their faces contorted, but neither crying.
  • Robert Jordan begins the difficult task of convincing Maria – who's now started to cry – to leave. They've both agreed that they're "one," right? So that means that he'll go with her wherever she goes (even if he's not really going with her wherever she goes). "As long as there is one of us there is both of us," he tells her.
  • Maria still wants to stay with him. He lays on more of the oneness stuff. He is also Maria now, and she must live on for them both.
  • Looking as if she's possibly been won over, Maria stands up, only to drop down beside him again. Then she's back up. He tells Maria there is no goodbye, for they will still be together.
  • Pilar walks Maria toward a horse and helps her into the saddle. Robert Jordan instructs Maria not to turn around.
  • Once Maria's on the horse, Robert Jordan tells them all to go, and Pablo sets Maria's horse off with a strike. Maria tries to slip off but Pablo and Pilar keep her on it. She turns toward Robert Jordan, begging to stay, and he tells her they'll still be together.
  • Then she's gone.
  • Agustín approaches Robert Jordan, and asks if he wants to be shot.
  • Robert Jordan does not. Instead, he asks Agustín to look after Maria. As for himself, he hopes to do what he can with his machine gun and buy them some time as they escape. They say goodbye.
  • Then Robert Jordan is alone, his back propped up against a tree, his position enabling him to survey the activity near the bridge. He's exhausted and empty. He begins to think about dying.
  • Robert Jordan does not want to leave the world. But it has been something worth fighting for, and he has given what he had to its cause. He learned a lot about the world these last few days, and only wishes he could pass it on somehow.
  • He thinks back to Pilar's palm reading that first night, and decides he still thinks it's nonsense.
  • Now for a more pressing question: how's he going to flip himself over onto his stomach with his broken leg? It won't be pleasant. Which means he should have some swigs from the flask first. But alas, there is no flask to be had – he's lost it.
  • Flipping over does prove quite an enterprise, but Robert Jordan succeeds; thankfully, the nerve in the leg does indeed appear smashed, as he feels no pain. He readies his submachine gun, and waits.
  • Robert Jordan starts thinking about dying again. There's nothing to fear, he thinks. The only bad part is the missing. But at least his friends got away.
  • The leg is now starting to hurt badly. He wants those blasted fascists to come sooner.
  • He starts to consider killing himself to put an end to the waiting and the worsening pain, but he decides not to. But he's forced to admit to himself that he's not very good at this dying stuff. Though then again, probably nobody is.
  • The pain grows stronger, and so does his urge to kill himself. But if he waits, and holds the enemy off, perhaps he can make the crucial difference to his friends' getaway. He resigns himself to waiting.
  • Just in time, cavalry ride out of the timber onto the road. A trooper and an officer stop over Robert Jordan's dead gray horse, recognizing it (it had formerly belonged to the patrolman who Robert Jordan killed). Robert Jordan sees them.
  • He calculates that the officer will come within twenty yards as he begins to follow the tracks left by the band. Plenty close.
  • The unsuspecting officer, we learn from the narrator, is Lt. Berrendo. Robert Jordan waits on the (pine-needled) forest floor for Berrendo to enter the sunlit clearing where he'll have a clean shot.
  • His heart beats with anticipation. But we don't get to see what happens, because this book is over.

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