We go down from the chill upper-deck. It is growing full day. Bits of pale gold are flying among delicate but cold flakes of cloud from the east, over Monte Pellegrino, bits of very new turquoise sky come out. Palermo on the left crouches upon her all-harbour—a little desolate, disorderly, end-of-the-world, end-of-the-sea, along her quay front. Even from here we can see the yellow carts rattling slowly, the[Pg 50] mules nodding their high weird plumes of scarlet along the broad weary harbour-side. Oh painted carts of Sicily, with all history on your panels!
Arrives an individual at our side. “The captain fears it will not be possible to start. There is much wind outside. Much wind!”
How they love to come up with alarming, disquieting, or annoying news! The joy it gives them. What satisfaction on all the faces: of course all the other loafers are watching us, the street-corner loungers of this deck. But we have been many times bitten.
“Ah ma!” say I, looking at the sky, “not so much wind as all that.”
An air of quiet, shrugging indifference is most effectual: as if you knew all about it, a good deal more than they knew.
“Ah si! Molto vento! Molto vento! Outside! Outside!”
With a long face and a dramatic gesture he points out of the harbour, to the grey sea. I too look out of the harbour at the pale line of sea beyond the mole. But I do not trouble to answer, and my eye is calm. So he goes away, only half triumphant.
“Things seem to get worse and worse!” cries the[Pg 51] American friend. “What will you do on such a boat if you have an awful time out in the Mediterranean here? Oh no—will you risk it, really? Won’t you go from Cività Vecchia?”
“How awful it will be!” cries the q-b, looking round the grey harbour, the many masts clustering in the grey sky on the right: the big Naples boat turning her posterior to the quay-side a little way off, and cautiously budging backwards: the almost entirely shut-in harbour: the bits of blue and flying white cloud overhead: the little boats like beetles scuttling hither and thither across the basin: the thick crowd on the quay come to meet the Naples boat.
Time! Time! The American friend must go. She bids us goodbye, more than sympathetically.
“I shall be awfully interested to hear how you get on.”
So down the side she goes. The boatman wants twenty francs—wants more—but doesn’t get it. He gets ten, which is five too much. And so, sitting rather small and pinched and cold-looking, huddled in her sweater, she bibbles over the ripply water to the distant stone steps. We wave farewell. But other traffic comes between us. And the q-b, feeling nervous, is rather cross because the American friend’s[Pg 52] ideas of luxury have put us in such a poor light. We feel like the poorest of poor sea-faring relations.
Our ship is hooting for all she’s worth. An important last-minuter comes surging up. The rope hawsers are being wound clankily in. Seagulls—they are never very many in the Mediterranean—seagulls whirl like a few flakes of snow in the upper chill air. Clouds spin. And without knowing it we are evaporating away from the shore, from our mooring, between the great City of Trieste and another big black steamer that lies like a wall. We breathe towards this second black wall of steamer: distinctly. And of course an individual in an official cap is standing on the bottom of our departure ladder just above the water, yelling Barca! Barca!—shouting for a boat. And an old man on the sea stands up to his oars and comes pushing his clumsy boat with gathering speed between us and the other black wall. There he stands away below there, small, firing his clumsy boat along, remote as if in a picture on the dark green water. And our black side insidiously and evilly aspires to the other huge black wall. He rows in the canyon between, and is nearly here.Share It