Our friend the carpenter spied us out: at least, he was not my friend. He didn’t find me simpatico, I am sure. But up he came, and proceeded to entertain us with weary banality. Again the young woman[Pg 89] called, had we had coffee? We said we were just going down. And then she said that whatever we had today we had to pay for: our food ended with the one day. At which the q-b was angry, feeling swindled. But I had known before.
We went down and had our coffee notwithstanding. The young woman came down, and made eyes at one of the alpaca blue-bottles. After which we saw a cup of coffee and milk and two biscuits being taken to her into her cabin, discreetly. When Italians are being discreet and on the sly, the very air about them becomes tell-tale, and seems to shout with a thousand tongues. So with a thousand invisible tongues clamouring the fact, the young woman had her coffee secretly and gratis, in her cabin.
But the morning was lovely. The q-b and I crept round the bench at the very stern of the ship and sat out of the wind and out of sight, just above the foaming of the wake. Before us was the open morning—and the glisten of our ship’s track, like a snail’s path, trailing across the sea: straight for a little while, then giving a bend to the left, always a bend towards the left: and coming at us from the pure horizon, like a bright snail-path. Happy it was to sit there in the[Pg 90] stillness, with nothing but the humanless sea to shine about us.
But no, we were found out. Arrived the carpenter.
“Ah, you have found a fine place—!”
“Molto bello!” This from the q-b. I could not bear the irruption.
He proceeded to talk—and as is inevitable, the war. Ah, the war—it was a terrible thing. He had become ill—very ill. Because, you see, not only do you go without proper food, without proper rest and warmth, but, you see, you are in an agony of fear for your life all the time. An agony of fear for your life. And that’s what does it. Six months in hospital—! The q-b, of course, was sympathetic.
The Sicilians are quite simple about it. They just tell you they were frightened to death, and it made them ill. The q-b, woman-like, loves them for being so simple about it. I feel angry somewhere. For they expect a full-blown sympathy. And however the great god Mars may have shrunk and gone wizened in the world, it still annoys me to hear him so blasphemed.
Near us the automatic log was spinning, the thin rope trailing behind us in the sea. Erratically it jerked and spun, with spasmodic torsion. He explained that the little screw at the end of the line spun to the speed[Pg 91] of travelling. We were going from ten to twelve Italian miles to the hour. Ah, yes, we could go twenty. But we went no faster than ten or twelve, to save the coal.Share It