But, once more in parenthesis, let me remind myself that it is our own English fault. We have slobbered about the nobility of toil, till at last the nobles naturally insist on eating the cake. And more than that, we have set forth, politically, on such a high and Galahad quest of holy liberty, and been caught so shamelessly filling our pockets, that no wonder the naïve and idealistic south turns us down with a bang.
Well, we are back on the ship. And we want tea. On the list by the door it says we are to have coffee,[Pg 77] milk and butter at 8.30: luncheon at 11.30: tea, coffee or chocolate at 3.00: and dinner at 6.30. And moreover: “The company will feed the passengers for the normal duration of the voyage only.” Very well—very well. Then where is tea? Not any signs! and the alpaca jackets giving us a wide berth. But we find our man, and demand our rights: at least the q-b does.
The tickets from Palermo to Cagliari cost, together, 583 liras. Of this, 250 liras was for the ticket, and 40 liras each for the food. This, for two tickets, would make 580 liras. The odd three for usual stamps. The voyage was supposed to last about thirty or thirty-two hours: from eight of the morning of departure to two or four of the following afternoon. Surely we pay for our tea.
The other passengers have emerged: a large, pale, fat, “handsome” Palermitan who is going to be professor at Cagliari: his large, fat, but high-coloured wife: and three children, a boy of fourteen like a thin, frail, fatherly girl, a little boy in a rabbit-skin overcoat, coming rather unfluffed, and a girl-child on the mother’s knee. The one-year-old girl-child being, of course, the only man in the party.
They have all been sick all day, and look washed out. We sympathise. They lament the cruelties of the journey—and senza servizio! senza servizio! without[Pg 78] any maid servant. The mother asks for coffee, and a cup of milk for the children: then, seeing our tea with lemon, and knowing it by repute, she will have tea. But the rabbit-boy will have coffee—coffee and milk—and nothing else. And an orange. And the baby will have lemon, pieces of lemon. And the fatherly young “miss” of an adolescent brother laughs indulgently at all the whims of these two young ones: the father laughs and thinks it all adorable and expects us to adore. He is almost too washed-out to attend properly, to give the full body of his attention.
So the mother gets her cup of tea—and puts a piece of lemon in—and then milk on top of that. The rabbit boy sucks an orange, slobbers in the tea, insists on coffee and milk, tries a piece of lemon, and gets a biscuit. The baby, with weird faces, chews pieces of lemon: and drops them in the family cup: and fishes them out with a little sugar, and dribbles them across the table to her mouth, throws them away and reaches for a new sour piece. They all think it humorous and adorable. Arrives the milk, to be treated as another loving cup, mingled with orange, lemon, sugar, tea, biscuit, chocolate, and cake. Father, mother, and elder brother partake of nothing, they haven’t the stomach. But they are charmed, of course, by the pretty pranks and messes of the infants. They have extraordinary[Pg 79] amiable patience, and find the young ones a perpetual source of charming amusement. They look at one another, the elder ones, and laugh and comment, while the two young ones mix themselves and the table into a lemon-milk-orange-tea-sugar-biscuit-cake-chocolate mess. This inordinate Italian amiable patience with their young monkeys is astonishing. It makes the monkeys more monkey-like, and self-conscious incredibly, so that a baby has all the tricks of a Babylonian harlot, making eyes and trying new pranks. Till at last one sees the southern Holy Family as an unholy triad of imbecility.Share It