“Why, is this the only place you’ve got to sit in?” cried the American girl. “But how perfectly awful! No air, and so dark, and smelly. Why I never saw such a boat! Will you really go? Will you really!”
The state-room was truly rather subterranean and stuffy, with nothing but a long table and an uncanny company of screw-pin chairs seated thereat, and no outlet to the air at all, but it was not so bad otherwise, to me who have never been out of Europe. Those maple-wood panels and ebony curves—and those Hygeias! They went all round, even round the curve at the dim, distant end, and back up the near side. Yet how beautiful old, gold-coloured maple-wood is! how very lovely, with the ebony curves of the door arch! There was a wonderful old-fashioned, Victorian glow in it, and a certain splendour. Even one could bear the Hygeias let in under glass—the colour was right, that wedge-wood and white, in such lovely gold lustre. There was a certain homely grandeur still in the days when this ship was built: a richness of choice material. And health-salts Hygeias, wedge-wood Greek goddesses on advertisement placards! Yet they weren’t advertisements. That was what[Pg 48] really worried me. They never had been. Perhaps Weego’s Health Salts stole her later.
We have no coffee—that goes without saying. Nothing doing so early. The crew still stands in a gang, exactly like a gang of louts at a street-corner. And they’ve got the street all to themselves—this ship. We climb to the upper deck.
She is a long, slender, old steamer with one little funnel. And she seems so deserted, now that one can’t see the street-corner gang of the casual crew. They are just below. Our ship is deserted.
The dawn is wanly blueing. The sky is a curdle of cloud, there is a bit of pale gold eastwards, beyond Monte Pellegrino. The wind blows across the harbour. The hills behind Palermo prick up their ears on the sky-line. The city lies unseen, near us and level. There—a big ship is coming in: the Naples boat.
And the little boats keep putting off from the near quay, and coming to us. We watch. A stout officer, cavalry, in grayey-green, with a big dark-blue cloak lined with scarlet. The scarlet lining keeps flashing. He has a little beard, and his uniform is not quite clean. He has big wooden chests, tied with rope, for[Pg 49] luggage. Poor and of no class. Yet that scarlet, splendid lining, and the spurs. It seems a pity they must go second-class. Yet so it is, he goes forward when the dock porter has hoisted those wooden boxes. No fellow-passenger yet.
Boats still keep coming. Ha-ha! Here is the commissariat! Various sides of kid, ready for roasting: various chickens: fennel like celery: wine in a bottiglione: new bread: packages! Hand them up, hand them up. “Good food!” cries the q-b in anticipation.
It must be getting near time to go. Two more passengers—young thick men in black broad-cloth standing up in the stern of a little boat, their hands in their pockets, looking a little cold about the chin. Not quite Italian, too sturdy and manly. Sardinians from Cagliari, as a matter of fact.Share It