We were not the only feeders. There was the man off the pony, and a sort of workman or porter or dazio official with him—and a smart young man: and later our Hamlet driver. Bit by bit the young damsel planked down bread, plates, spoons, glasses, bottles of black wine, whilst we sat at the dirty table in uncouth constraint and looked at the hideous portrait of His reigning Majesty of Italy. And at length came the inevitable soup. And with it the sucking chorus. The little maialino at Mandas had been a good one. But the smart young man in the country beat him. As water clutters and slavers down a choky gutter, so did his soup travel upwards into his mouth with one long sucking stream of noise, intensified as the bits of cabbage, etc., found their way through the orifice.
They did all the talking—the young men. They addressed the sludge-queen curtly and disrespectfully, as if to say: “What’s she up to?” Her airs were finely thrown away. Still she showed off. What else was there to eat? There was the meat that had been boiled for the soup. We knew what that meant. I had as lief eat the foot of an old worsted stocking. Nothing else, you sludge queen? No, what do you want anything else for?—Beefsteak—what’s the good of asking for beefsteak or any other steak on a Monday. Go to the butcher’s and see for yourself.
The Hamlet, the pony rider, and the porter had the faded and tired chunks of boiled meat. The smart young man ordered eggs in padella—two eggs fried with a little butter. We asked for the same. The smart young man got his first—and of course they were warm and liquid. So he fell upon them with a fork, and once he had got hold of one end of the eggs he just sucked them up in a prolonged and violent suck, like a long, thin, ropy drink being sucked upwards from the little pan. It was a genuine exhibition. Then he fell upon the bread with loud chews.
What else was there? A miserable little common orange. So much for the dinner. Was there cheese? No. But the sludge-queen—they are quite good-natured really—held a conversation in dialect with the[Pg 287] young men, which I did not try to follow. Our pensive driver translated that there was cheese, but it wasn’t good, so they wouldn’t offer it us. And the pony man interpolated that they didn’t like to offer us anything that was not of the best. He said it in all sincerity—after such a meal. This roused my curiosity, so I asked for the cheese whether or not. And it wasn’t so bad after all.
This meal cost fifteen francs, for the pair of us.
We made our way back to the bus, through the uncouth men who stood about. To tell the truth, strangers are not popular nowadays—not anywhere. Everybody has a grudge against them at first sight. This grudge may or may not wear off on acquaintance.Share It