But why in the name of heaven should my heart stand still as I watch that hill which rises above the sea? It is the Etna of the west: but only a town-crowned hill. To men it must have had a magic almost greater than Etna’s. Watching Africa! Africa, showing her coast on clear days. Africa the dreaded. And the great watch-temple of the summit, world-sacred, world-mystic in the world that was. Venus of the aborigines, older than Greek Aphrodite. Venus of the aborigines, from her watch-temple looking at Africa, beyond the Egatian isles. The world-mystery, the smiling Astarte. This, one of the world centres, older than old! and the woman-goddess watching Africa! Erycina ridens.[Pg 67] Laughing, the woman-goddess, at this centre of an ancient, quite-lost world.
I confess my heart stood still. But is mere historical fact so strong, that what one learns in bits from books can move one so? Or does the very word call an echo out of the dark blood? It seems so to me. It seems to me from the darkest recesses of my blood comes a terrible echo at the name of Mount Eryx: something quite unaccountable. The name of Athens hardly moves me. At Eryx—my darkness quivers. Eryx, looking west into Africa’s sunset. Erycina ridens.
There is a tick-tocking in the little cabin against which I lean. The wireless operator is busy communicating with Trapani, no doubt. He is a fat young man with fairish curly hair and an important bearing. Give a man control of some machine, and at once his air of importance and more-than-human dignity develops. One of the unaccountable members of the crew lounges in the little doorway, like a chicken on one foot, having nothing to do. The girl from Cagliari comes up with two young men—also Sardinians by their thick-set, independent look, and the touch of pride in their dark eyes. She has no wraps at all: just her elegant fine-cloth dress, her bare head from which the wisps of hair blow across her brow, and the transparent “nigger” silk stockings. Yet she does not seem cold. She talks[Pg 68] with great animation, sitting between the two young men. And she holds the hand of the one in the overcoat affectionately. She is always holding the hand of one or other of the two young men: and wiping wisps of wind-blown hair from her brow: and talking in her strong, nonchalant voice, rapidly, ceaselessly, with massive energy. Heaven knows if the two young men—they are third-class passengers—were previous acquaintances. But they hold her hand like brothers—quite simply and nicely, not at all sticky and libidinous. It all has an air of
She shouts at me as I pass, in her powerful, extraordinary French:
“Madame votre femme, elle est au lit?”
I say she is lying down.
“Ah!” she nods. “Elle a le mal de mer?”
No, she is not sea-sick, just lying down.
The two young men, between whom she is sitting as between two pillows, watch with the curious Sardinian dark eyes that seem alert and show the white all round. They are pleasant—a bit like seals. And they have a numb look for the moment, impressed by this strange language. She proceeds energetically to translate into Sardinian, as I pass on.Share It