The dinner was over, and the bounder was lavishing cigarettes—Murattis, if you please. We had all drunk two bottles of wine. Two other commercial travellers had joined the bounder at our table—two smart young fellows, one a bounder and one gentle and nice. Our[Pg 336] two jewellers remained quiet, talking their share, but quietly and so sensitively. One could not help liking them. So we were seven people, six men.
“Wheesky! Will you drink Wheesky, Mister?” said our original bounder. “Yes, one small Scotch! One Scotch Wheesky.” All this in a perfect Scotty voice of a man standing at a bar calling for a drink. It was comical, one could not but laugh: and very impertinent. He called for the waiter, took him by the button-hole, and with a breast-to-breast intimacy asked if there was whisky. The waiter, with the same tone of you-and-I-are-men-who-have-the-same-feelings, said he didn’t think there was whisky, but he would look. Our bounder went round the table inviting us all to whiskies, and pressing on us his expensive English cigarettes with great aplomb.
The whisky came—and five persons partook. It was fiery, oily stuff from heaven knows where. The bounder rattled away, spouting his bits of English and his four words of German. He was in high feather, wriggling his large haunches on his chair and waving his hands. He had a peculiar manner of wriggling from the bottom of his back, with fussy self-assertiveness. It was my turn to offer whisky.
I was able in a moment’s lull to peer through the windows and see the dim lights of Capri—the glimmer[Pg 337] of Anacapri up on the black shadow—the lighthouse. We had passed the island. In the midst of the babel I sent out a few thoughts to a few people on the island. Then I had to come back.
The bounder had once more resumed his theme of l’Inghilterra, l’Italia, la Germania. He swanked England as hard as he could. Of course England was the top dog, and if he could speak some English, if he were talking to English people, and if, as he said, he was going to England in April, why he was so much the more top-doggy than his companions, who could not rise to all these heights. At the same time, my nerves had too much to bear.
Where were we going and where had we been and where did we live? And ah, yes, English people lived in Italy. Thousands, thousands of English people lived in Italy. Yes, it was very nice for them. There used to be many Germans, but now the Germans were down. But the English—what could be better for them than Italy now: they had sun, they had warmth, they had abundance of everything, they had a charming people to deal with, and they had the cambio! Ecco! The other commercial travellers agreed. They appealed to the q-b if it was not so. And altogether I had enough of it.
“Oh yes,” said I, “it’s very nice to be in Italy:[Pg 338] especially if you are not living in an hotel, and you have to attend to things for yourself. It is very nice to be overcharged every time, and then insulted if you say a word. It’s very nice to have the cambio thrown in your teeth, if you say two words to any Italian, even a perfect stranger. It’s very nice to have waiters and shop-people and railway porters sneering in a bad temper and being insulting in small, mean ways all the time. It’s very nice to feel what they all feel against you. And if you understand enough Italian, it’s very nice to hear what they say when you’ve gone by. Oh very nice. Very nice indeed!”Share It