You are mistaken, said I to the schoolmistress. We don’t by any means live in Italy for nothing. Even with the exchange at a hundred and three, we don’t live for nothing. We pay, and pay through the nose, for whatever we have in Italy: and you Italians see that we pay. What! You put all the tariff you do on foreigners, and then say we live here for nothing. I tell you I could live in England just as well, on the same money—perhaps better. Compare the cost of things in England with the cost here in Italy, and even considering the exchange, Italy costs nearly as much as England. Some things are cheaper here—the railway comes a little cheaper, and is infinitely more miserable. Travelling is usually a misery. But other things, clothes of all sorts, and a good deal of food is even more expensive here than in England, exchange considered.
Oh yes, she said, England had had to bring her prices down this last fortnight. In her own interests indeed.
“This last fortnight! This last six months,” said I. “Whereas prices rise every single day here.”
Here a word from the quiet young man who had got in at Caserta.
“Yes,” he said, “yes. I say, every nation pays in its own money, no matter what the exchange. And it works out about equal.”
But I felt angry. Am I always to have the exchange flung in my teeth, as if I were a personal thief? But the woman persisted.
“Ah,” she said, “we Italians, we are so nice, we are so good. Noi, siamo così buoni. We are so good-natured. But others, they are not buoni, they are not good-natured to us.” And she nodded her head. And truly, I did not feel at all good-natured towards her: which she knew. And as for the Italian good-nature, it forms a sound and unshakeable basis nowadays for their extortion and self-justification and spite.
Darkness was falling over the rich flat plains that lie around Naples, over the tall uncanny vines with their brown thongs in the intensely cultivated black earth. It was night by the time we were in that vast and thievish station. About half-past five. We were not very late. Should we sit on in our present carriage, and go down in it to the port, along with the schoolmistress, and risk it? But first look at the coach which was going on to Sicily. So we got down and ran along[Pg 327] the train to the Syracuse coach. Hubbub, confusion, a wedge in the corridor, and for sure no room. Certainly no room to lie down a bit. We could not sit tight for twenty-four hours more.
So we decided to go to the port—and to walk. Heaven knows when the railway carriage would be shunted down. Back we went therefore for the sack, told the schoolmistress our intention.
“You can but try,” she said frostily.
So there we are, with the sack over my shoulder and the kitchenino in the q-b’s hand, bursting out of that thrice-damned and annoying station, and running through the black wet gulf of a Naples night, in a slow rain. Cabmen look at us. But my sack saved me. I am weary of that boa-constrictor, a Naples cabman after dark. By day there is more-or-less a tariff.Share It