A regular officer went along—a captain of the Italian, not the Fiume army. He heard the chants and entered the carriage. The legionaries were quiet, but they lounged and ignored the entry of the officer. “On your feet!” he yelled, Italian fashion. The vehemence did it. Reluctantly as may be, they stood up in the compartment. “Salute!” And though it was bitter, up went their hands in the salute, whilst he stood and watched them. And then, very superb, he sauntered away again. They sat down glowering. Of course they were beaten. Didn’t they know it. The men in our carriage smiled curiously: in slow and futile mockery of both parties.
The rain was falling outside, the windows were steamed quite dense, so that we were shut in from the world. Throughout the length of the train, which was not very full, could be felt the exhausted weariness and the dispirited dejection of the poor D’Annunzio legionaries. In the afternoon silence of the mist-enclosed, half-empty train the snatches of song broke out again, and faded in sheer dispirited fatigue. We ran on blindly and heavily. But one young fellow was not to be abashed. He was well-built, and his thick black hair was brushed up, like a great fluffy crest upon his head. He came slowly and unabated down the corridor, and on every big, mist-opaque pane he scrawled with his finger W D’ANNUNZIO GABRIELE—W D’ANNUNZIO GABRIELE.
The sick soldier laughed thinly, saying to the schoolmistress: “Oh yes, they are fine chaps. But it was folly. D’Annunzio is a world poet—a world wonder—but Fiume was a mistake you know. And these chaps have got to learn a lesson. They got beyond themselves. Oh, they aren’t short of money. D’Annunzio had wagon-loads of money there in Fiume, and he wasn’t altogether mean with it.” The schoolmistress, who was one of the sharp ones, gave a little disquisition to show why it was a mistake, and wherein she knew better than the world’s poet and wonder.
It always makes me sick to hear people chewing over newspaper pulp.
The sick soldier was not a legionary. He had been wounded through the lung. But it was healed, he said. He lifted the flap of his breast pocket, and there hung a little silver medal. It was his wound-medal. He wore it concealed: and over the place of the wound. He and the schoolmistress looked at one another significantly.
Then they talked pensions: and soon were on the old topic. The schoolmistress had her figures pat, as a schoolmistress should. Why, the ticket-collector, the man who punches one’s tickets on the train, now had twelve thousand Lira a year: twelve thousand Lira. Monstrous! Whilst a fully-qualified professore, a schoolmaster who had been through all his training and had all his degrees, was given five thousand. Five thousand for a fully qualified professore, and twelve thousand for a ticket puncher. The soldier agreed, and quoted other figures. But the railway was the outstanding grievance. Every boy who left school now, said the schoolmistress, wanted to go on the railway. Oh but—said the soldier—the train-men—!Share It