I gave him three francs. He looked at it as if it were my death-warrant. He peered at the paper in the light of the lamp. Then he extended his arm with a gesture of superb insolence, flinging me back my gold without a word.
“How!” said I. “Three francs are quite enough.”
“Three francs—two kilometers—and three pieces of luggage! No signore. No! Five francs. Cinque franchi!” And averting his pallid, old mudlarking face, and flinging his hand out at me, he stood the image of indignant repudiation. And truly, he was no taller than my upper waistcoat pocket. The brat! The brat! He was such an actor, and so impudent, that I wavered between wonder and amusement and a great inclination to kick him up the steps. I decided not to waste my energy being angry.
“What a beastly little boy! What a horrid little boy! What a horrid little boy! Really—a little thief. A little swindler!” I mused aloud.
“Swindler!” he quavered after me. And he was beaten. “Swindler” doubled him up: that and the quiet mildness of my tone of invocation. Now he would have gone with his three francs. And now, in final contempt, I gave him the other two.
He disappeared like a streak of lightning up the gangway, terrified lest the steward should come and catch him at his tricks. For later on I saw the steward send other larks flying for demanding more than one-fifty. The brat.
The question was now the cabin: for the q-b simply refused to entertain the idea of sharing a cabin with three Italian women, who would all be sick simply for the fuss of it, though the sea was smooth as glass. We hunted up the steward. He said all the first-class cabins had four berths—the second had three, but much smaller. How that was possible I don’t know. However, if no one came, he would give us a cabin to ourselves.
The ship was clean and civilised, though very poky. And there we were.
We went on deck. Would we eat on board, asked another person. No, we wouldn’t. We went out to a fourth little shed, which was a refreshment stall, and bought bread and sardines and chocolate and apples. Then we went on the upper deck to make our meal. In a sheltered place I lit the spirit lamp, and put on water to boil. The water we had taken from the cabin. Then we sat down alone in the darkness, on a seat which had its back against the deck cabins, now appropriated by the staff. A thin, cold wind was travelling. We wrapped the one plaid round us both and snugged together, waiting for the tea to boil. I could just see the point of the spirit-flame licking up, from where we sat.
The stars were marvellous in the soundless sky, so big, that one could see them hanging orb-like and alone in their own space, yet all the myriads. Particularly bright the evening-star. And he hung flashing in the lower night with a power that made me hold my breath. Grand and powerful he sent out his flashes, so sparkling that he seemed more intense than any sun or moon. And from the dark, uprising land he sent his way of light to us across the water, a marvellous star-road. So all above us the stars soared and pulsed, over that silent, night-dark, land-locked harbour.Share It