The islands loomed big as we drew nearer, dark in the thickening darkness. Overhead a magnificent evening-star blazed above the open sea, giving me a pang at the heart, for I was so used to see her hang just above the spikes of the mountains, that I felt she might fall, having the space beneath.[Pg 82]
Levanzo and the other large island were quite dark: absolutely dark, save for one beam of a lighthouse low down in the distance. The wind was again strong and cold: the ship had commenced her old slither and heave, slither and heave, which mercifully we had forgotten. Overhead were innumerable great stars active as if they were alive in the sky. I saw Orion high behind us, and the dog-star glaring. And swish! went the sea as we took the waves, then after a long trough, swish! This curious rhythmic swishing and hollow drumming of a steamer at sea has a narcotic, almost maddening effect on the spirit, a long, hissing burst of waters, then the hollow roll, and again the upheaval to a sudden hiss-ss-ss!
A bell had clanged and we knew the crew were once more feeding. At every moment of the day and presumably of the night, feeding was going on—or coffee-drinking.
We were summoned to dinner. Our young woman was already seated: and a fat uniformed mate or purser or official of some sort was finishing off in the distance. The pale professor also appeared: and at a certain distance down the table sat a little hard-headed grey man in a long grey alpaca travelling coat. Appeared the beloved macaroni with tomato sauce: no food for the[Pg 83] sea. I put my hopes on the fish. Had I not seen the cook making whiting bite their own tails viciously?—The fish appeared. And what was it? Fried ink-pots. A calamaio is an ink-pot: also it is a polyp, a little octopus which, alas, frequents the Mediterranean and squirts ink if offended. This polyp with its tentacles is cut up and fried, and reduced to the consistency of boiled celluloid. It is esteemed a delicacy: but is tougher than indiarubber, gristly through and through.
I have a peculiar aversion to these ink-pots. Once in Liguria we had a boat of our own and paddled with the peasant paddlers. Alessandro caught ink-pots: and like this. He tied up a female by a string in a cave—the string going through a convenient hole in her end. There she lived, like an Amphitrite’s wire-haired terrier tied up, till Alessandro went a-fishing. Then he towed her, like a poodle behind. And thus, like a poodly-bitch, she attracted hangers-on in the briny seas. And these poor polyp inamorati were the victims. They were lifted as prey on board, where I looked with horror on their grey, translucent tentacles and large, cold, stony eyes. The she-polyp was towed behind again. But after a few days she died.
And I think, even for creatures so awful-looking, this method is indescribably base, and shows how much lower than an octopus even, is lordly man.[Pg 84]Share It