That pale, bluish, theatrical light outside, of the first dawn. And a cold wind. We come on to the wide, desolate quay, the curve of the harbour Panormus. That horrible dawn-pallor of a cold sea out there. And here, port mud, greasy: and fish: and refuse. The American girl is with us, wrapped in her sweater. A coarse, cold, black-slimy world, she seems as if she would melt away before it. But these frail creatures, what a lot they can go through!
Across the great, wide, badly paved, mud-greasy, despairing road of the quay side, and to the sea. There lies our steamer, over there in the dawn-dusk of the basin, half visible. “That one who is smoking her cigarette,” says the porter. She looks little, beside the huge City of Trieste who is lying up next her.
Our row-boat is hemmed in by many empty boats, huddled to the side of the quay. She works her way out like a sheepdog working his way out of a flock of sheep, or like a boat through pack-ice. We are on the open basin. The rower stands up and pushes the oars from him. He gives a long, melancholy cry to someone on the quay. The water goes chock-chock against the urging bows. The wind is chill. The fantastic peaks behind Palermo show half-ghostly in a half-dark sky. The dawn seems reluctant to come. Our steamer still smokes her cigarette—meaning the funnel-smoke—across there. So, one sits still, and crosses the level space of half-dark water. Masts of sailing-ships, and spars, cluster on the left, on the undarkening sky.
Climb up, climb up, this is our ship. Up we go, up the ladder. “Oh but!” says the American girl. “Isn’t she small! Isn’t she impossibly small! Oh my, will you go in such a little thing? Oh dear![Pg 46] Thirty two hours in such a little boat? Why no, I wouldn’t care for it at all.”
A bunch of stewards, cooks, waiters, engineers, pan-cleaners and what-not, mostly in black canvas jackets. Nobody else on the ship. A little black bunch of loutish crew with nothing to do, and we the first passengers served up to be jeered at. There you are, in the grey light.
“Who is going?”
“We two—the signorina is not going.”
These are casual proletarian manners.
We are taken into the one long room with a long table and many maple-golden doors, alternate panels having a wedge-wood blue-and-white picture inserted—a would-be Goddess of white marble on a blue ground, like a health-salts Hygeia advertisement. One of the plain panels opens—our cabin.
“Oh dear! Why it isn’t as big as a china-closet. However will you get in!” cries the American girl.
“One at a time,” say I.
“But it’s the tiniest place I ever saw.”
It really was tiny. One had to get into a bunk to shut the door. That did not matter to me, I am no Titanic American. I pitched the knapsack on one bunk, the kitchenino on the other, and we shut the[Pg 47] door. The cabin disappeared into a maple-wood panel of the long, subterranean state-room.Share It