Suddenly I am aware of the q-b darting past me like a storm. Suddenly I see her pouncing on three giggling young hussies just in front—the inevitable black velveteen tam, the inevitable white curly muffler, the inevitable lower-class flappers. “Did you want something? Have you something to say? Is there something that amuses you? Oh-h! You must laugh, must you? Oh—laugh! Oh-h! Why? Why? You ask why? Haven’t I heard you! Oh—you spik Ingleesh! You spik Ingleesh! Yes—why! That’s why! Yes, that’s why.”
The three giggling young hussies shrink together as if they would all hide behind one another, after a vain uprearing and a demand why? Madam tells them why. So they uncomfortably squeeze together under the unexpected strokes of the q-b’s sledge-hammer Italian and more than sledge-hammer retaliation, there full in the Via Maqueda. They edge round one another, each attempting to get back of the other, away from the looming q-b. I perceive that this rotary motion is equivalent to a standstill, so feel called upon to say something in the manly line.
“Beastly Palermo bad-manners,” I say, and throw a nonchalant “Ignoranti” at the end, in a tone of dismissal.
Which does it. Off they go down-stream, still huddling and shrinking like boats that are taking sails in, and peeping to see if we are coming. Yes, my dears, we are coming.
“Why do you bother?” say I to the q-b, who is towering with rage.
“They’ve followed us the whole length of the street—with their sacco militario and their parlano inglese and their you spik Ingleesh, and their jeering insolence. But the English are fools. They always put up with this Italian impudence.”
Which is perhaps true.—But this knapsack! It might be full of bronze-roaring geese, it would not attract more attention!
However, and however, it is seven o’clock, and the shops are beginning to shut. No more shop-gazing. Only one lovely place: raw ham, boiled ham, chickens in aspic, chicken vol-au-vents, sweet curds, curd-cheese, rustic cheese-cake, smoked sausages, beautiful fresh mortadella, huge Mediterranean red lobsters, and those lobsters without claws. “So good! So good!” We stand and cry it aloud.
But this shop too is shutting. I ask a man for the Hotel Pantechnico. And treating me in that gentle, strangely tender southern manner, he takes me and shows me. He makes me feel such a poor, frail, helpless leaf. A foreigner, you know. A bit of an imbecile, poor dear. Hold his hand and show him the way.
To sit in the room of this young American woman, with its blue hangings, and talk and drink tea till midnght! Ah these naïve Americans—they are a good deal older and shrewder than we, once it nears the point. And they all seem to feel as if the world were coming to an end. And they are so truly generous of their hospitality, in this cold world.
II. THE SEA
The fat old porter knocks. Ah me, once more it is dark. Get up again before dawn. A dark sky outside, cloudy. The thrilling tinkle of innumerable goat-bells as the first flock enters the city, such a rippling sound. Well, it must be morning, even if one shivers at it. And at least it does not rain.Share It