Then came the host with a candle and a pin, a large, genial Sicilian with pendulous mustaches. And he thoroughly pricked the wretch with the pin, shook it, and turned little screws. So up flared the flame. We were a little nervous. He asked us where we came from, etc. And suddenly he asked us, with an excited gleam, were we Socialists. Aha, he was going to hail us as citizens and comrades. He thought we were a pair of Bolshevist agents: I could see it. And as such[Pg 140] he was prepared to embrace us. But no, the q-b disclaimed the honor. I merely smiled and shook my head. It is a pity to rob people of their exciting illusions.
“Ah, there is too much socialism everywhere!” cried the q-b.
“Ma—perhaps, perhaps—” said the discreet Sicilian. She saw which way the land lay, and added:
“Si vuole un pocchetino di Socialismo: one wants a tiny bit of socialism in the world, a tiny bit. But not much. Not much. At present there is too much.”
Our host, twinkling at this speech which treated of the sacred creed as if it were a pinch of salt in the broth, believing the q-b was throwing dust in his eyes, and thoroughly intrigued by us as a pair of deep ones, retired. No sooner had he gone than the lamp-flame stood up at its full length, and started to whistle. The q-b drew back. Not satisfied by this, another flame suddenly began to whip round the bottom of the burner, like a lion lashing its tail. Unnerved, we made room: the q-b cried again: in came the host with a subtle smile and a pin and an air of benevolence, and tamed the brute.
What else was there to eat? There was a piece of fried pork for me, and boiled eggs for the q-b. As we were proceeding with these, in came the remainder[Pg 141] of the night’s entertainment: three station officials, two in scarlet peaked caps, one in a black-and-gold peaked cap. They sat down with a clamour, in their caps, as if there was a sort of invisible screen between us and them. They were young. The black cap had a lean and sardonic look: one of the red-caps was little and ruddy, very young, with a little mustache: we called him the maialino, the gay little black pig, he was so plump and food-nourished and frisky. The third was rather puffy and pale and had spectacles. They all seemed to present us the blank side of their cheek, and to intimate that no, they were not going to take their hats off, even if it were dinner-table and a strange signora. And they made rough quips with one another, still as if we were on the other side of the invisible screen.
Determined however, to remove this invisible screen, I said Good-evening, and it was very cold. They muttered Good-evening, and yes, it was fresh. An Italian never says it is cold: it is never more than fresco. But this hint that it was cold they took as a hint at their caps, and they became very silent, till the woman came in with the soup-bowl. Then they clamoured at her, particularly the maialino, what was there to eat. She told them—beef-steaks of pork. Whereat they pulled faces. Or bits of boiled pork. They sighed, looked gloomy, cheered up, and said beef-steaks, then.[Pg 142]Share It