The naval officer, who collapsed into the most uncanny positions, blind with sleep, got down at Capua to get into a little train that would carry him back to his own station, where our train had not stopped. At[Pg 323] Caserta the sick soldier got out. Down the great avenue of trees the rain was falling. A young man entered. Remained also the schoolmistress and the stout man. Knowing we had been listening, the schoolmistress spoke to us about the soldier. Then—she had said she was catching the night boat for Palermo—I asked her if she thought the ship would be very full. Oh yes, very full, she said. Why, hers was one of the last cabin numbers, and she had got her ticket early that morning. The fat man now joined in. He too was crossing to Palermo. The ship was sure to be quite full by now. Were we depending on booking berths at the port of Naples? We were. Whereupon he and the schoolmistress shook their heads and said it was more than doubtful—nay, it was as good as impossible. For the boat was the renowned Città di Trieste, that floating palace, and such was the fame of her gorgeousness that everybody wanted to travel by her.
“First and second class alike?” I asked.
“Oh yes, also first class,” replied the school-marm rather spitefully. So I knew she had a white ticket—second.
I cursed the Città di Trieste and her gorgeousness, and looked down my nose. We had now two alternatives: to spend the night in Naples, or to sit on all[Pg 324] through the night and next morning, and arrive home, with heaven’s aid, in the early afternoon. Though these long-distance trains think nothing of six hours late. But we were tired already. What we should be like after another twenty-four hours’ sitting, heaven knows. And yet to struggle for a bed in a Naples hotel this night, in the rain, all the hotels being at present crammed with foreigners, that was no rosy prospect. Oh dear!
However, I was not going to take their discouragement so easily. One has been had that way before. They love to make the case look desperate.
Were we English? asked the schoolmistress. We were. Ah, a fine thing to be English in Italy now. Why?—rather tart from me. Because of the cambio, the exchange. You English, with your money exchange, you come here and buy everything for nothing, you take the best of everything, and with your money you pay nothing for it. Whereas we poor Italians we pay heavily for everything at an exaggerated price, and we can have nothing. Ah, it is all very nice to be English in Italy now. You can travel, you go to the hotels, you can see everything and buy everything, and it costs you nothing. What is the exchange today? She whipped it out. A hundred and four, twenty.
This she told me to my nose. And the fat man murmured bitterly già! già!—ay! ay! Her impertinence and the fat man’s quiet bitterness stirred my bile. Has not this song been sung at me once too often, by these people?Share It