We retire to bed again out of the cold. Comes a knock, and Thumbelina bursts in, in the darkness.
“Siamo qua!” says the q-b.
Thumbelina dashes at the window-doors and shuts them and shuts the casement. Then she dashes to my bedhead and turns on the light, looking down at me as if I were a rabbit in the grass. Then she flings a can of water against the wash-bowls—cold water, icy, alas. After which, small and explosive, she[Pg 252] explodes her way out of the room again, and leaves us in the glaring light, having replied that it is now a little after six o’clock, and dinner is half past seven.
So we lie in bed, warm and in peace, but hungry, waiting for half past seven.
When the q-b can stand it no more she flounces up, though the clock from the Campanile has struck seven only a few minutes before. Dashing downstairs to reconnoitre, she is back in a breath to say that people are eating their heads off in the long dining room. In the next breath we are downstairs too.
The room was brightly lighted, and at many white tables sat diners, all men. It was quite city-like. Everyone was in convivial mood. The q-b spied men opposite having chicken and salad—and she had hopes. But they were brief. When the soup came, the girl announced that there was only bistecca: which meant a bit of fried cow. So it did: a quite, quite small bit of fried beef, a few potatoes and a bit of cauliflower. Really, it was not enough for a child of twelve. But that was the end of it. A few mandarini—tangerine oranges—rolled on a plate for dessert. And there’s the long and short of these infernal dinners. Was there any cheese? No, there was no cheese. So we merely masticated bread.[Pg 253]
There came in three peasants in the black and white costume, and sat at the middle table. They kept on their stocking caps. And queer they looked, coming in with slow, deliberate tread of these elderly men, and sitting rather remote, with a gap of solitude around them. The peculiar ancient loneliness of the Sardinian hills clings to them, and something stiff, static, pre-world.
All the men at our end of the room were citizens—employees of some sort—and they were all acquaintances. A large dog, very large indeed, with a great muzzle, padded slowly from table to table, and looked at us with big wistful topaz eyes. When the meal was almost over our bus-driver and conductor came in—looking faint with hunger and cold and fatigue. They were quartered at this house. They had eaten nothing since the boar-broth at Gavoi.
In a very short time they were through their portions: and was there nothing else? Nothing! But they were half starved. They ordered two eggs each, in padella. I ordered coffee—and asked them to come and take it with us, and a brandy. So they came when their eggs were finished.Share It