Sea and Sardinia
D. H. Lawrence
I. AS FAR AS PALERMO
II. THE SEA
V. TO SORGONO
VI. TO NUORO
VII. TO TERRANOVA AND THE STEAMER
SEA AND SARDINIA
AS FAR AS PALERMO.
Comes over one an absolute necessity to move. And what is more, to move
in some particular direction. A double necessity then: to get on the
move, and to know whither.
Why can't one sit still? Here in Sicily it is so pleasant: the sunny
Ionian sea, the changing jewel of Calabria, like a fire-opal moved in
the light; Italy and the panorama of Christmas clouds, night with the
dog-star laying a long, luminous gleam across the sea, as if baying at
us, Orion marching above; how the dog-star Sirius looks at one, looks at
one! he is the hound of heaven, green, glamorous and fierce!--and then
oh regal evening star, hung westward flaring over the jagged dark
precipices of tall Sicily: then Etna, that wicked witch, resting her
thick white snow under heaven, and slowly, slowly rolling her
orange-coloured smoke. They called her the Pillar of Heaven, the
Greeks. It seems wrong at first, for she trails up in a long, magical,
flexible line from the sea's edge to her blunt cone, and does not seem
tall. She seems rather low, under heaven. But as one knows her better,
oh awe and wizardy! Remote under heaven, aloof, so near, yet never with
us. The painters try to paint her, and the photographers to photograph
her, in vain. Because why? Because the near ridges, with their olives
and white houses, these are with us. Because the river-bed, and Naxos
under the lemon groves, Greek Naxos deep under dark-leaved, many-fruited
lemon groves, Etna's skirts and skirt-bottoms, these still are our
world, our own world. Even the high villages among the oaks, on Etna.
But Etna herself, Etna of the snow and secret changing winds, she is
beyond a crystal wall. When I look at her, low, white, witch-like under
heaven, slowly rolling her orange smoke and giving sometimes a breath of
rose-red flame, then I must look away from earth, into the ether, into
the low empyrean. And there, in that remote region, Etna is alone. If
you would see her, you must slowly take off your eyes from the world and
go a naked seer to the strange chamber of the empyrean. Pedestal of
heaven! The Greeks had a sense of the magic truth of things. Thank
goodness one still knows enough about them to find one's kinship at
last. There are so many photographs, there are so infinitely many
water-colour drawings and oil paintings which purport to render Etna.
But pedestal of heaven! You must cross the invisible border. Between the
foreground, which is our own, and Etna, pivot of winds in lower heaven,
there is a dividing line. You must change your state of mind. A
metempsychosis. It is no use thinking you can see and behold Etna and
the foreground both at once. Never. One or the other. Foreground and a
transcribed Etna. Or Etna, pedestal of heaven.
Why, then, must one go? Why not stay? Ah, what a mistress, this Etna!
with her strange winds prowling round her like Circe's panthers, some
black, some white. With her strange, remote communications and her
terrible dynamic exhalations. She makes men mad. Such terrible
vibrations of wicked and beautiful electricity she throws about her,
like a deadly net! Nay, sometimes, verily, one can feel a new current of
her demon magnetism seize one's living tissue and change the peaceful
life of one's active cells. She makes a storm in the living plasm and a
new adjustment. And sometimes it is like a madness.
This timeless Grecian Etna, in her lower-heaven loveliness, so lovely,
so lovely, what a torturer! Not many men can really stand her, without
losing their souls. She is like Circe. Unless a man is very strong, she
takes his soul away from him and leaves him not a beast, but an
elemental creature, intelligent and soulless. Intelligent, almost
inspired, and soulless, like the Etna Sicilians. Intelligent daimons,
and humanly, according to us, the most stupid people on earth. Ach,
horror! How many men, how many races, has Etna put to flight? It was she
who broke the quick of the Greek soul. And after the Greeks, she gave
the Romans, the Normans, the Arabs, the Spaniards, the French, the
Italians, even the English, she gave them all their inspired hour and
broke their souls.
Perhaps it is she one must flee from. At any rate, one must go: and at
once. After having come back only at the end of October, already one
must dash away. And it is only the third of January. And one cannot
afford to move. Yet there you are: at the Etna bidding one goes.
* * * * *
Where does one go? There is Girgenti by the south. There is Tunis at
hand. Girgenti, and the sulphur spirit and the Greek guarding temples,
to make one madder? Never. Neither Syracuse and the madness of its great
quarries. Tunis? Africa? Not yet, not yet. Not the Arabs, not yet.
Naples, Rome, Florence? No good at all. Where then?
Where then? Spain or Sardinia. Spain or Sardinia. Sardinia, which is
like nowhere. Sardinia, which has no history, no date, no race, no
offering. Let it be Sardinia. They say neither Romans nor Phoenicians,
Greeks nor Arabs ever subdued Sardinia. It lies outside; outside the
circuit of civilisation. Like the Basque lands. Sure enough, it is
Italian now, with its railways and its motor-omnibuses. But there is an
uncaptured Sardinia still. It lies within the net of this European
civilisation, but it isn't landed yet. And the net is getting old and
tattered. A good many fish are slipping through the net of the old
European civilisation. Like that great whale of Russia. And probably
even Sardinia. Sardinia then. Let it be Sardinia.
* * * * *
There is a fortnightly boat sailing from Palermo--next Wednesday, three
days ahead. Let us go, then. Away from abhorred Etna, and the Ionian
sea, and these great stars in the water, and the almond trees in bud,
and the orange trees heavy with red fruit, and these maddening,
exasperating, impossible Sicilians, who never knew what truth was and
have long lost all notion of what a human being is. A sort of
sulphureous demons. Andiamo!
But let me confess, in parenthesis, that I am not at all sure whether I
don't really prefer these demons to our sanctified humanity.
Why does one create such discomfort for oneself! To have to get up in
the middle of the night--half past one--to go and look at the clock. Of
course this fraud of an American watch has stopped, with its impudent
phosphorescent face. Half past one! Half past one, and a dark January
night. Ah, well! Half past one! And an uneasy sleep till at last it is
five o'clock. Then light a candle and get up.
The dreary black morning, the candle-light, the house looking
night-dismal. Ah, well, one does all these things for one's pleasure. So
light the charcoal fire and put the kettle on. The queen bee shivering
round half dressed, fluttering her unhappy candle.
"It's fun," she says, shuddering.
"Great," say I, grim as death.
First fill the thermos with hot tea. Then fry bacon--good English bacon
from Malta, a god-send, indeed--and make bacon sandwiches. Make also
sandwiches of scrambled eggs. Make also bread and butter. Also a little
toast for breakfast--and more tea. But ugh, who wants to eat at this
unearthly hour, especially when one is escaping from bewitched Sicily.
Fill the little bag we call the kitchenino. Methylated spirit, a small
aluminium saucepan, a spirit-lamp, two spoons, two forks, a knife, two
aluminium plates, salt, sugar, tea--what else? The thermos flask, the
various sandwiches, four apples, and a little tin of butter. So much for
the kitchenino, for myself and the queen bee. Then my knapsack and the
Under the lid of the half-cloudy night sky, far away at the rim of the
Ionian sea, the first light, like metal fusing. So swallow the cup of
tea and the bit of toast. Hastily wash up, so that we can find the house
decent when we come back. Shut the door-windows of the upper terrace and
go down. Lock the door: the upper half of the house made fast.
The sky and sea are parting like an oyster shell, with a low red gape.
Looking across from the veranda at it, one shivers. Not that it is cold.
The morning is not at all cold. But the ominousness of it: that long red
slit between a dark sky and a dark Ionian sea, terrible old bivalve
which has held life between its lips so long. And here, at this house,
we are ledged so awfully above the dawn, naked to it.
Fasten the door-windows of the lower veranda. One won't fasten at all.
The summer heat warped it one way, the masses of autumn rain warped it
another. Put a chair against it. Lock the last door and hide the key.
Sling the knapsack on one's back, take the kitchenino in one's hand and
look round. The dawn-red widening, between the purpling sea and the
troubled sky. A light in the capucin convent across there. Cocks crowing
and the long, howling, hiccuping, melancholy bray of an ass. "All
females are dead, all females--och! och! och!--hoooo! Ahaa!--there's one
left." So he ends on a moaning grunt of consolation. This is what the
Arabs tell us an ass is howling when he brays.
* * * * *
Very dark under the great carob tree as we go down the steps. Dark still
the garden. Scent of mimosa, and then of jasmine. The lovely mimosa tree
invisible. Dark the stony path. The goat whinnies out of her shed. The
broken Roman tomb which lolls right over the garden track does not fall
on me as I slip under its massive tilt. Ah, dark garden, dark garden,
with your olives and your wine, your medlars and mulberries and many
almond trees, your steep terraces ledged high up above the sea, I am
leaving you, slinking out. Out between the rosemary hedges, out of the
tall gate, on to the cruel steep stony road. So under the dark, big
eucalyptus trees, over the stream, and up towards the village. There, I
have got so far.
* * * * *
It is full dawn--dawn, not morning, the sun will not have risen. The
village is nearly all dark in the red light, and asleep still. No one
at the fountain by the capucin gate: too dark still. One man leading a
horse round the corner of the Palazzo Corvaia. One or two dark men along
the Corso. And so over the brow, down the steep cobble-stone street
between the houses, and out to the naked hill front. This is the
dawn-coast of Sicily. Nay, the dawn-coast of Europe. Steep, like a vast
cliff, dawn-forward. A red dawn, with mingled curdling dark clouds, and
some gold. It must be seven o'clock. The station down below, by the sea.
And noise of a train. Yes, a train. And we still high on the steep
track, winding downwards. But it is the train from Messina to Catania,
half an hour before ours, which is from Catania to Messina.
* * * * *
So jolt, and drop, and jolt down the old road that winds on the cliff
face. Etna across there is smothered quite low, quite low in a dense
puther of ink-black clouds. Playing some devilry in private, no doubt.
The dawn is angry red, and yellow above, the sea takes strange colors. I
hate the station, pigmy, drawn out there beside the sea. On this steep
face, especially in the windless nooks, the almond blossom is already
out. In little puffs and specks and stars, it looks very like bits of
snow scattered by winter. Bits of snow, bits of blossom, fourth day of
the year 1921. Only blossom. And Etna indescribably cloaked and
secretive in her dense black clouds. She has wrapped them quite round
her, quite low round her skirts.
* * * * *
At last we are down. We pass the pits where men are burning
lime--red-hot, round pits--and are out on the high-way. Nothing can be
more depressing than an Italian high-road. From Syracuse to Airolo it is
the same: horrible, dreary, slummy high-roads the moment you approach a
village or any human habitation. Here there is an acrid smell of lemon
juice. There is a factory for making citrate. The houses flush on the
road, under the great lime-stone face of the hill, open their slummy
doors, and throw out dirty water and coffee dregs. We walk over the
dirty water and coffee dregs. Mules rattle past with carts. Other people
are going to the station. We pass the Dazio and are there.
* * * * *
Humanity is, externally, too much alike. Internally there are
insuperable differences. So one sits and thinks, watching the people on
the station: like a line of caricatures between oneself and the naked
sea and the uneasy, clouding dawn.
You would look in vain this morning for the swarthy feline southerner of
romance. It might, as far as features are concerned, be an early morning
crowd waiting for the train on a north London suburb station. As far as
features go. For some are fair and some colorless and none racially
typical. The only one that is absolutely like a race caricature is a
tall stout elderly fellow with spectacles and a short nose and a
bristling moustache, and he is the German of the comic papers of twenty
years ago. But he is pure Sicilian.
They are mostly young fellows going up the line to Messina to their job:
not artizans, lower middle class. And externally, so like any other
clerks and shop-men, only rather more shabby, much less socially
self-conscious. They are lively, they throw their arms round one
another's necks, they all but kiss. One poor chap has had earache, so a
black kerchief is tied round his face, and his black hat is perched
above, and a comic sight he looks. No one seems to think so, however.
Yet they view my arrival with a knapsack on my back with cold
disapprobation, as unseemly as if I had arrived riding on a pig. I ought
to be in a carriage, and the knapsack ought to be a new suit-case. I
know it, but am inflexible.
That is how they are. Each one thinks he is as handsome as Adonis, and
as "fetching" as Don Juan. Extraordinary! At the same time, all flesh is
grass, and if a few trouser-buttons are missing or if a black hat
perches above a thick black face-muffle and a long excruciated face, it
is all in the course of nature. They seize the black-edged one by the
arm, and in profound commiseration: "Do you suffer? Are you suffering?"
And that also is how they are. So terribly physically all over one
another. They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted
butter over parsnips. They catch each other under the chin, with a
tender caress of the hand, and they smile with sunny melting tenderness
into each other's face. Never in the world have I seen such melting gay
tenderness as between casual Sicilians on railway platforms, whether
they be young lean-cheeked Sicilians or huge stout Sicilians.
There must be something curious about the proximity of a volcano. Naples
and Catania alike, the men are hugely fat, with great macaroni paunches,
they are expansive and in a perfect drip of casual affection and love.
But the Sicilians are even more wildly exuberant and fat and all over
one another than the Neapolitans. They never leave off being amorously
friendly with almost everybody, emitting a relentless physical
familiarity that is quite bewildering to one not brought up near a
This is more true of the middle classes than of the lower. The working
men are perforce thinner and less exuberant. But they hang together in
clusters, and can never be physically near enough.
* * * * *
It is only thirty miles to Messina, but the train takes two hours. It
winds and hurries and stops beside the lavender grey morning sea. A
flock of goats trail over the beach near the lapping wave's edge,
dismally. Great wide deserts of stony river-beds run down to the sea,
and men on asses are picking their way across, and women are kneeling by
the small stream-channel washing clothes. The lemons hang pale and
innumerable in the thick lemon groves. Lemon trees, like Italians, seem
to be happiest when they are touching one another all round. Solid
forests of not very tall lemon trees lie between the steep mountains and
the sea, on the strip of plain. Women, vague in the orchard
under-shadow, are picking the lemons, lurking as if in the undersea.
There are heaps of pale yellow lemons under the trees. They look like
pale, primrose-smouldering fires. Curious how like fires the heaps of
lemons look, under the shadow of foliage, seeming to give off a pallid
burning amid the suave, naked, greenish trunks. When there comes a
cluster of orange trees, the oranges are red like coals among the darker
leaves. But lemons, lemons, innumerable, speckled like innumerable tiny
stars in the green firmament of leaves. So many lemons! Think of all
the lemonade crystals they will be reduced to! Think of America drinking
them up next summer.
* * * * *
I always wonder why such vast wide river-beds of pale boulders come out
of the heart of the high-rearing, dramatic stone mountains, a few miles
to the sea. A few miles only: and never more than a few threading
water-trickles in river-beds wide enough for the Rhine. But that is how
it is. The landscape is ancient, and classic--romantic, as if it had
known far-off days and fiercer rivers and more verdure. Steep, craggy,
wild, the land goes up to its points and precipices, a tangle of
heights. But all jammed on top of one another. And in old landscapes, as
in old people, the flesh wears away, and the bones become prominent.
Rock sticks up fantastically. The jungle of peaks in this old Sicily.
* * * * *
The sky is all grey. The Straits are grey. Reggio, just across the
water, is white looking, under the great dark toe of Calabria, the toe
of Italy. On Aspromonte there is grey cloud. It is going to rain. After
such marvelous ringing blue days, it is going to rain. What luck!
* * * * *
Aspromonte! Garibaldi! I could always cover my face when I see it,
Aspromonte. I wish Garibaldi had been prouder. Why did he go off so
humbly, with his bag of seed-corn and a flea in his ear, when His
Majesty King Victor Emmanuel arrived with his little short legs on the
scene. Poor Garibaldi! He wanted to be a hero and a dictator of free
Sicily. Well, one can't be a dictator and humble at the same time. One
must be a hero, which he was, and proud, which he wasn't. Besides people
don't nowadays choose proud heroes for governors. Anything but. They
prefer constitutional monarchs, who are paid servants and who know it.
That is democracy. Democracy admires its own servants and nothing else.
And you couldn't make a real servant even of Garibaldi. Only of His
Majesty King Victor Emmanuel. So Italy chose Victor Emmanuel, and
Garibaldi went off with a corn bag and a whack on the behind like a
* * * * *
It is raining--dismally, dismally raining. And this is Messina coming.
Oh horrible Messina, earthquake-shattered and renewing your youth like a
vast mining settlement, with rows and streets and miles of concrete
shanties, squalor and a big street with shops and gaps and broken houses
still, just back of the tram-lines, and a dreary squalid
earthquake-hopeless port in a lovely harbor. People don't forget and
don't recover. The people of Messina seem to be today what they were
nearly twenty years ago, after the earthquake: people who have had a
terrible shock, and for whom all life's institutions are really nothing,
neither civilization nor purpose. The meaning of everything all came
down with a smash in that shuddering earthquake, and nothing remains but
money and the throes of some sort of sensation. Messina between the
volcanoes, Etna and Stromboli, having known the death-agony's terror. I
always dread coming near the awful place, yet I have found the people
kind, almost feverishly so, as if they knew the awful need for kindness.
* * * * *
Raining, raining hard. Clambering down on to the wet platform and
walking across the wet lines to the cover. Many human beings scurrying
across the wet lines, among the wet trains, to get out into the ghastly
town beyond. Thank heaven one need not go out into the town. Two
convicts chained together among the crowd--and two soldiers. The
prisoners wear fawny homespun clothes, of cloth such as the peasants
weave, with irregularly occurring brown stripes. Rather nice handmade
rough stuff. But linked together, dear God! And those horrid caps on
their hairless foreheads. No hair. Probably they are going to a convict
station on the Lipari islands. The people take no notice.
No, but convicts are horrible creatures: at least, the old one is, with
his long, nasty face: his long, clean-shaven, horrible face, without
emotions, or with emotions one cannot follow. Something cold, sightless.
A sightless, ugly look. I should loathe to have to touch him. Of the
other I am not so sure. He is younger, and with dark eyebrows. But a
roundish, softish face, with a sort of leer. No, evil is horrible. I
used to think there was no absolute evil. Now I know there is a great
deal. So much that it threatens life altogether. That ghastly
abstractness of criminals. They don't know any more what other people
feel. Yet some horrible force drives them.
It is a great mistake to abolish the death penalty. If I were dictator,
I should order the old one to be hung at once. I should have judges with
sensitive, living hearts: not abstract intellects. And because the
instinctive heart recognised a man as evil, I would have that man
destroyed. Quickly. Because good warm life is now in danger.
* * * * *
Standing on Messina station--dreary, dreary hole--and watching the
winter rain and seeing the pair of convicts, I must remember again Oscar
Wilde on Reading platform, a convict. What a terrible mistake, to let
oneself be martyred by a lot of canaille. A man must say his say. But
noli me tangere.
Curious these people are. Up and down, up and down go a pair of
officials. The young one in a black gold-laced cap talks to the elder in
a scarlet gold-laced cap. And he walks, the young one, with a mad little
hop, and his fingers fly as if he wanted to scatter them to the four
winds of heaven, and his words go off like fireworks, with more than
Sicilian speed. On and on, up and down, and his eye is dark and excited
and unseeing, like the eye of a fleeing rabbit. Strange and beside
itself is humanity.
* * * * *
What a lot of officials! You know them by their caps. Elegant tubby
little officials in kid-and-patent boots and gold-laced caps, tall
long-nosed ones in more gold-laced caps, like angels in and out of the
gates of heaven they thread in and out of the various doors. As far as I
can see, there are three scarlet station-masters, five black-and-gold
substation-masters, and a countless number of principalities and powers
in more or less broken boots and official caps. They are like bees round
a hive, humming in an important conversazione, and occasionally
looking at some paper or other, and extracting a little official honey.
But the conversazione is the affair of affairs. To an Italian
official, life seems to be one long and animated conversation--the
Italian word is better--interrupted by casual trains and telephones. And
besides the angels of heaven's gates, there are the mere ministers,
porters, lamp-cleaners, etc. These stand in groups and talk socialism. A
lamp-man slashes along, swinging a couple of lamps. Bashes one against a
barrow. Smash goes the glass. Looks down as if to say, What do you mean
by it? Glances over his shoulder to see if any member of the higher
hierarchies is looking. Seven members of higher hierarchies are
assiduously not looking. On goes the minister with the lamp, blithely.
Another pane or two gone. Vogue la galère.
Passengers have gathered again, some in hoods, some in nothing. Youths
in thin, paltry clothes stand out in the pouring rain as if they did not
know it was raining. One sees their coat-shoulders soaked. And yet they
do not trouble to keep under shelter. Two large station dogs run about
and trot through the standing trains, just like officials. They climb up
the footboard, hop into a train and hop out casually when they feel like
it. Two or three port-porters, in canvas hats as big as umbrellas,
literally, spreading like huge fins over their shoulders, are looking
into more empty trains. More and more people appear. More and more
official caps stand about. It rains and rains. The train for Palermo
and the train for Syracuse are both an hour late already, coming from
the port. Flea-bite. Though these are the great connections from Rome.
Loose locomotives trundle back and forth, vaguely, like black dogs
running and turning back. The port is only four minutes' walk. If it
were not raining so hard, we would go down, walk along the lines and get
into the waiting train down there. Anybody may please himself. There is
the funnel of the great unwieldy ferry-object--she is just edging in.
That means the connection from the mainland at last. But it is cold,
standing here. We eat a bit of bread and butter from the kitchenino in
resignation. After all, what is an hour and a half? It might just as
easily be five hours, as it was the last time we came down from Rome.
And the wagon-lit, booked to Syracuse, calmly left stranded in the
station of Messina, to go no further. All get out and find yourselves
rooms for the night in vile Messina. Syracuse or no Syracuse, Malta boat
or no Malta boat. We are the Ferrovia dello Stato.
But there, why grumble. Noi Italiani siamo così buoni. Take it from
their own mouth.
* * * * *
Ecco! Finalmente! The crowd is quite joyful as the two express trains
surge proudly in, after their half-a-mile creep. Plenty of room, for
once. Though the carriage floor is a puddle, and the roof leaks. This
is second class.
* * * * *
Slowly, with two engines, we grunt and chuff and twist to get over the
break-neck heights that shut Messina in from the north coast. The
windows are opaque with steam and drops of rain. No matter--tea from the
thermos flask, to the great interest of the other two passengers who had
nervously contemplated the unknown object.
"Ha!" says he with joy, seeing the hot tea come out. "It has the
appearance of a bomb."
"Beautiful hot!" says she, with real admiration. All apprehension at
once dissipated, peace reigns in the wet, mist-hidden compartment. We
run through miles and miles of tunnel. The Italians have made wonderful
roads and railways.
* * * * *
If one rubs the window and looks out, lemon groves with many wet-white
lemons, earthquake-broken houses, new shanties, a grey weary sea on the
right hand, and on the left the dim, grey complication of steep heights
from which issue stone river-beds of inordinate width, and sometimes a
road, a man on a mule. Sometimes near at hand, long-haired, melancholy
goats leaning sideways like tilted ships under the eaves of some scabby
house. They call the house-eaves the dogs' umbrellas. In town you see
the dogs trotting close under the wall out of the wet. Here the goats
lean like rock, listing inwards to the plaster wall. Why look out?
Sicilian railways are all single line. Hence, the coincidenza. A
coincidenza is where two trains meet in a loop. You sit in a world of
rain and waiting until some silly engine with four trucks puffs
alongside. Ecco la coincidenza! Then after a brief conversazione
between the two trains, diretto and merce, express and goods, the
tin horn sounds and away we go, happily, towards the next coincidence.
Clerks away ahead joyfully chalk up our hours of lateness on the
announcement slate. All adds to the adventurous flavour of the journey,
dear heart. We come to a station where we find the other diretto, the
express from the other direction, awaiting our coincidential arrival.
The two trains run alongside one another, like two dogs meeting in the
street and snuffing one another. Every official rushes to greet every
other official, as if they were all David and Jonathan meeting after a
crisis. They rush into each other's arms and exchange cigarettes. And
the trains can't bear to part. And the station can't bear to part with
us. The officials tease themselves and us with the word pronto,
meaning ready! Pronto! And again Pronto! And shrill whistles.
Anywhere else a train would go off its tormented head. But no! Here only
that angel's trump of an official little horn will do the business. And
get them to blow that horn if you can. They can't bear to part.
* * * * *
Rain, continual rain, a level grey wet sky, a level grey wet sea, a wet
and misty train winding round and round the little bays, diving through
tunnels. Ghosts of the unpleasant-looking Lipari islands standing a
little way out to sea, heaps of shadow deposited like rubbish heaps in
the universal greyness.
* * * * *
Enter more passengers. An enormously large woman with an extraordinarily
handsome face: an extraordinarily large man, quite young: and a
diminutive servant, a little girl-child of about thirteen, with a
beautiful face.--But the Juno--it is she who takes my breath away. She
is quite young, in her thirties still. She has that queenly stupid
beauty of a classic Hera: a pure brow with level dark brows, large,
dark, bridling eyes, a straight nose, a chiselled mouth, an air of
remote self-consciousness. She sends one's heart straight back to pagan
days. And--and--she is simply enormous, like a house. She wears a black
toque with sticking-up wings, and a black rabbit fur spread on her
shoulders. She edges her way in carefully: and once seated, is
terrified to rise to her feet. She sits with that motionlessness of her
type, closed lips, face muted and expressionless. And she expects me to
admire her: I can see that. She expects me to pay homage to her beauty:
just to that: not homage to herself, but to her as a bel pezzo. She
casts little aloof glances at me under her eyelids.
It is evident she is a country beauty become a bourgeoise. She speaks
unwillingly to the other squint-eyed passenger, a young woman who also
wears a black-rabbit fur, but without pretensions.
The husband of Juno is a fresh-faced bourgeois young fellow, and he also
is simply huge. His waistcoat would almost make the overcoat of the
fourth passenger, the unshaven companion of the squinting young woman.
The young Jupiter wears kid gloves: a significant fact here. He, too,
has pretensions. But he is quite affable with the unshaven one, and
speaks Italian unaffectedly. Whereas Juno speaks the dialect with
No one takes any notice of the little maid. She has a gentle, virgin
moon-face, and those lovely grey Sicilian eyes that are translucent, and
into which the light sinks and becomes black sometimes, sometimes dark
blue. She carries the bag and the extra coat of the huge Juno, and sits
on the edge of the seat between me and the unshaven, Juno having
motioned her there with a regal inclination of the head.
The little maid is rather frightened. Perhaps she is an orphan
child--probably. Her nut-brown hair is smoothly parted and done in two
pigtails. She wears no hat, as is proper for her class. On her shoulders
one of those little knitted grey shoulder-capes that one associates with
orphanages. Her stuff dress is dark grey, her boots are strong.
The smooth, moon-like, expressionless virgin face, rather pale and
touching, rather frightened, of the girl-child. A perfect face from a
mediaeval picture. It moves one strangely. Why? It is so unconscious, as
we are conscious. Like a little muted animal it sits there, in distress.
She is going to be sick. She goes into the corridor and is sick--very
sick, leaning her head like a sick dog on the window-ledge. Jupiter
towers above her--not unkind, and apparently feeling no repugnance. The
physical convulsion of the girl does not affect him as it affects us. He
looks on unmoved, merely venturing to remark that she had eaten too much
before coming on to the train. An obviously true remark. After which he
comes and talks a few common-places to me. By and by the girl-child
creeps in again and sits on the edge of the seat facing Juno. But no,
says Juno, if she is sick she will be sick over me. So Jupiter
accommodatingly changes places with the girl-child, who is thus next to
me. She sits on the edge of the seat with folded little red hands, her
face pale and expressionless. Beautiful the thin line of her nut-brown
eyebrows, the dark lashes of the silent, pellucid dark eyes. Silent,
motionless, like a sick animal.
But Juno tells her to wipe her splashed boots. The child gropes for a
piece of paper. Juno tells her to take her pocket handkerchief. Feebly
the sick girl-child wipes her boots, then leans back. But no good. She
has to go in the corridor and be sick again.
After a while they all get out. Queer to see people so natural. Neither
Juno nor Jupiter is in the least unkind. He even seems kind. But they
are just not upset. Not half as upset as we are--the q-b wanting to
administer tea, and so on. We should have to hold the child's head. They
just quite naturally leave it alone to its convulsions, and are neither
distressed nor repelled. It just is so.
Their naturalness seems unnatural to us. Yet I am sure it is best.
Sympathy would only complicate matters, and spoil that strange, remote
virginal quality. The q-b says it is largely stupidity.
* * * * *
Nobody washes out the corner of the corridor, though we stop at
stations long enough, and there are two more hours journey. Train
officials go by and stare, passengers step over and stare, new-comers
stare and step over. Somebody asks who? Nobody thinks of just throwing
a pail of water. Why should they? It is all in the course of
nature.--One begins to be a bit chary of this same "nature", in the
* * * * *
Enter two fresh passengers: a black-eyed, round-faced, bright-sharp man
in corduroys and with a gun, and a long-faced, fresh-colored man with
thick snowy hair, and a new hat and a long black overcoat of smooth
black cloth, lined with rather ancient, once expensive fur. He is
extremely proud of this long black coat and ancient fur lining.
Childishly proud he wraps it again over his knee, and gloats. The beady
black-eyes of the hunter look round with pleased alertness. He sits
facing the one in the overcoat, who looks like the last sprout of some
Norman blood. The hunter in corduroys beams abroad, with beady black
eyes in a round red face, curious. And the other tucks his fur-lined
long coat between his legs and gloats to himself: all to himself
gloating, and looking as if he were deaf. But no, he's not. He wears
muddy high-low boots.
At Termini it is already lamp-light. Business men crowd in. We get five
business men: all stout, respected Palermitans. The one opposite me has
whiskers, and a many-colored, patched traveling rug over his fat knees.
Queer how they bring that feeling of physical intimacy with them. You
are never surprised if they begin to take off their boots, or their
collar-and-tie. The whole world is a sort of bedroom to them. One
shrinks, but in vain.
There is some conversation between the black-eyed, beady hunter and the
business men. Also the young white-haired one, the aristocrat, tries to
stammer out, at great length, a few words. As far as I can gather the
young one is mad--or deranged--and the other, the hunter, is his keeper.
They are traveling over Europe together. There is some talk of "the
Count". And the hunter says the unfortunate "has had an accident." But
that is a southern gentleness presumably, a form of speech. Anyhow it is
queer: and the hunter in his corduroys, with his round, ruddy face and
strange black-bright eyes and thin black hair is a puzzle to me, even
more than the albino, long-coated, long-faced, fresh-complexioned, queer
last remnant of a baron as he is. They are both muddy from the land, and
pleased in a little mad way of their own.
But it is half-past six. We are at Palermo, capital of Sicily. The
hunter slings his gun over his shoulder, I my knapsack, and in the
throng we all disappear, into the Via Maqueda.
* * * * *
Palermo has two great streets, the Via Maqueda, and the Corso, which
cross each other at right-angles. The Via Maqueda is narrow, with narrow
little pavements, and is always choked with carriages and
It had ceased raining. But the narrow road was paved with large, convex
slabs of hard stone, inexpressibly greasy. To cross the Via Maqueda
therefore was a feat. However, once accomplished, it was done. The near
end of the street was rather dark, and had mostly vegetable shops.
Abundance of vegetables--piles of white-and-green fennel, like celery,
and great sheaves of young, purplish, sea-dust-colored artichokes,
nodding their buds, piles of big radishes, scarlet and bluey purple,
carrots, long strings of dried figs, mountains of big oranges, scarlet
large peppers, a last slice of pumpkin, a great mass of colors and
vegetable freshnesses. A mountain of black-purple cauliflowers, like
niggers' heads, and a mountain of snow-white ones next to them. How the
dark, greasy, night-stricken street seems to beam with these vegetables,
all this fresh delicate flesh of luminous vegetables piled there in the
air, and in the recesses of the windowless little caverns of the shops,
and gleaming forth on the dark air, under the lamps. The q-b at once
wants to buy vegetables. "Look! Look at the snow-white broccoli. Look at
the huge finocchi. Why don't we get them? I must have some. Look at
those great clusters of dates--ten francs a kilo, and we pay sixteen.
It's monstrous. Our place is simply monstrous."
For all that, one doesn't buy vegetables to take to Sardinia.
Cross the Corso at that decorated maelstrom and death-trap of the
Quattro Canti. I, of course, am nearly knocked down and killed. Somebody
is nearly knocked down and killed every two minutes. But there--the
carriages are light, and the horses curiously aware creatures. They
would never tread on one.
The second part of the Via Maqueda is the swell part: silks and plumes,
and an infinite number of shirts and ties and cuff-links and mufflers
and men's fancies. One realises here that man-drapery and man-underwear
is quite as important as woman's, if not more.
I, of course, in a rage. The q-b stares at every rag and stitch, and
crosses and re-crosses this infernal dark stream of a Via Maqueda,
which, as I have said, is choked solid with strollers and carriages. Be
it remembered that I have on my back the brown knapsack, and the q-b
carries the kitchenino. This is enough to make a travelling menagerie
of us. If I had my shirt sticking out behind, and if the q-b had
happened merely to catch up the table-cloth and wrap it round her as she
came out, all well and good. But a big brown knapsack! And a basket with
thermos flask, etc! No, one could not expect such things to pass in a
But I am case-hardened. And I am sick of shops. True, we have not been
in a town for three months. But can I care for the innumerable
fantasias in the drapery line? Every wretched bit of would-be-extra
chic is called a fantasia. The word goes lugubriously to my bowels.
Suddenly I am aware of the q-b darting past me like a storm. Suddenly I
see her pouncing on three giggling young hussies just in front--the
inevitable black velveteen tam, the inevitable white curly muffler, the
inevitable lower-class flappers. "Did you want something? Have you
something to say? Is there something that amuses you? Oh-h! You must
laugh, must you? Oh--laugh! Oh-h! Why? Why? You ask why? Haven't I heard
you! Oh--you spik Ingleesh! You spik Ingleesh! Yes--why! That's why!
Yes, that's why."
The three giggling young hussies shrink together as if they would all
hide behind one another, after a vain uprearing and a demand why? Madam
tells them why. So they uncomfortably squeeze together under the
unexpected strokes of the q-b's sledge-hammer Italian and more than
sledge-hammer retaliation, there full in the Via Maqueda. They edge
round one another, each attempting to get back of the other, away from
the looming q-b. I perceive that this rotary motion is equivalent to a
standstill, so feel called upon to say something in the manly line.
"Beastly Palermo bad-manners," I say, and throw a nonchalant "Ignoranti"
at the end, in a tone of dismissal.
Which does it. Off they go down-stream, still huddling and shrinking
like boats that are taking sails in, and peeping to see if we are
coming. Yes, my dears, we are coming.
"Why do you bother?" say I to the q-b, who is towering with rage.
"They've followed us the whole length of the street--with their sacco
militario and their parlano inglese and their you spik Ingleesh,
and their jeering insolence. But the English are fools. They always put
up with this Italian impudence."
Which is perhaps true.--But this knapsack! It might be full of
bronze-roaring geese, it would not attract more attention!
However, and however, it is seven o'clock, and the shops are beginning
to shut. No more shop-gazing. Only one lovely place: raw ham, boiled
ham, chickens in aspic, chicken vol-au-vents, sweet curds, curd-cheese,
rustic cheese-cake, smoked sausages, beautiful fresh mortadella, huge
Mediterranean red lobsters, and those lobsters without claws. "So good!
So good!" We stand and cry it aloud.
But this shop too is shutting. I ask a man for the Hotel Pantechnico.
And treating me in that gentle, strangely tender southern manner, he
takes me and shows me. He makes me feel such a poor, frail, helpless
leaf. A foreigner, you know. A bit of an imbecile, poor dear. Hold his
hand and show him the way.
* * * * *
To sit in the room of this young American woman, with its blue hangings,
and talk and drink tea till midnght! Ah these naïve Americans--they are
a good deal older and shrewder than we, once it nears the point. And
they all seem to feel as if the world were coming to an end. And they
are so truly generous of their hospitality, in this cold world.
The fat old porter knocks. Ah me, once more it is dark. Get up again
before dawn. A dark sky outside, cloudy. The thrilling tinkle of
innumerable goat-bells as the first flock enters the city, such a
rippling sound. Well, it must be morning, even if one shivers at it. And
at least it does not rain.
* * * * *
That pale, bluish, theatrical light outside, of the first dawn. And a
cold wind. We come on to the wide, desolate quay, the curve of the
harbour Panormus. That horrible dawn-pallor of a cold sea out there. And
here, port mud, greasy: and fish: and refuse. The American girl is with
us, wrapped in her sweater. A coarse, cold, black-slimy world, she seems
as if she would melt away before it. But these frail creatures, what a
lot they can go through!
Across the great, wide, badly paved, mud-greasy, despairing road of the
quay side, and to the sea. There lies our steamer, over there in the
dawn-dusk of the basin, half visible. "That one who is smoking her
cigarette," says the porter. She looks little, beside the huge City of
Trieste who is lying up next her.
* * * * *
Our row-boat is hemmed in by many empty boats, huddled to the side of
the quay. She works her way out like a sheepdog working his way out of a
flock of sheep, or like a boat through pack-ice. We are on the open
basin. The rower stands up and pushes the oars from him. He gives a
long, melancholy cry to someone on the quay. The water goes chock-chock
against the urging bows. The wind is chill. The fantastic peaks behind
Palermo show half-ghostly in a half-dark sky. The dawn seems reluctant
to come. Our steamer still smokes her cigarette--meaning the
funnel-smoke--across there. So, one sits still, and crosses the level
space of half-dark water. Masts of sailing-ships, and spars, cluster on
the left, on the undarkening sky.
* * * * *
Climb up, climb up, this is our ship. Up we go, up the ladder. "Oh but!"
says the American girl. "Isn't she small! Isn't she impossibly small! Oh
my, will you go in such a little thing? Oh dear! Thirty two hours in
such a little boat? Why no, I wouldn't care for it at all."
A bunch of stewards, cooks, waiters, engineers, pan-cleaners and
what-not, mostly in black canvas jackets. Nobody else on the ship. A
little black bunch of loutish crew with nothing to do, and we the first
passengers served up to be jeered at. There you are, in the grey light.
"Who is going?"
"We two--the signorina is not going."
These are casual proletarian manners.
We are taken into the one long room with a long table and many
maple-golden doors, alternate panels having a wedge-wood blue-and-white
picture inserted--a would-be Goddess of white marble on a blue ground,
like a health-salts Hygeia advertisement. One of the plain panels
"Oh dear! Why it isn't as big as a china-closet. However will you get
in!" cries the American girl.
"One at a time," say I.
"But it's the tiniest place I ever saw."
It really was tiny. One had to get into a bunk to shut the door. That
did not matter to me, I am no Titanic American. I pitched the knapsack
on one bunk, the kitchenino on the other, and we shut the door. The
cabin disappeared into a maple-wood panel of the long, subterranean
"Why, is this the only place you've got to sit in?" cried the American
girl. "But how perfectly awful! No air, and so dark, and smelly. Why I
never saw such a boat! Will you really go? Will you really!"
The state-room was truly rather subterranean and stuffy, with nothing
but a long table and an uncanny company of screw-pin chairs seated
thereat, and no outlet to the air at all, but it was not so bad
otherwise, to me who have never been out of Europe. Those maple-wood
panels and ebony curves--and those Hygeias! They went all round, even
round the curve at the dim, distant end, and back up the near side. Yet
how beautiful old, gold-coloured maple-wood is! how very lovely, with
the ebony curves of the door arch! There was a wonderful old-fashioned,
Victorian glow in it, and a certain splendour. Even one could bear the
Hygeias let in under glass--the colour was right, that wedge-wood and
white, in such lovely gold lustre. There was a certain homely grandeur
still in the days when this ship was built: a richness of choice
material. And health-salts Hygeias, wedge-wood Greek goddesses on
advertisement placards! Yet they weren't advertisements. That was
what really worried me. They never had been. Perhaps Weego's Health
Salts stole her later.
* * * * *
We have no coffee--that goes without saying. Nothing doing so early. The
crew still stands in a gang, exactly like a gang of louts at a
street-corner. And they've got the street all to themselves--this ship.
We climb to the upper deck.
* * * * *
She is a long, slender, old steamer with one little funnel. And she
seems so deserted, now that one can't see the street-corner gang of the
casual crew. They are just below. Our ship is deserted.
The dawn is wanly blueing. The sky is a curdle of cloud, there is a bit
of pale gold eastwards, beyond Monte Pellegrino. The wind blows across
the harbour. The hills behind Palermo prick up their ears on the
sky-line. The city lies unseen, near us and level. There--a big ship is
coming in: the Naples boat.
And the little boats keep putting off from the near quay, and coming to
us. We watch. A stout officer, cavalry, in grayey-green, with a big
dark-blue cloak lined with scarlet. The scarlet lining keeps flashing.
He has a little beard, and his uniform is not quite clean. He has big
wooden chests, tied with rope, for luggage. Poor and of no class. Yet
that scarlet, splendid lining, and the spurs. It seems a pity they must
go second-class. Yet so it is, he goes forward when the dock porter has
hoisted those wooden boxes. No fellow-passenger yet.
Boats still keep coming. Ha-ha! Here is the commissariat! Various sides
of kid, ready for roasting: various chickens: fennel like celery: wine
in a bottiglione: new bread: packages! Hand them up, hand them up. "Good
food!" cries the q-b in anticipation.
It must be getting near time to go. Two more passengers--young thick men
in black broad-cloth standing up in the stern of a little boat, their
hands in their pockets, looking a little cold about the chin. Not quite
Italian, too sturdy and manly. Sardinians from Cagliari, as a matter of
* * * * *
We go down from the chill upper-deck. It is growing full day. Bits of
pale gold are flying among delicate but cold flakes of cloud from the
east, over Monte Pellegrino, bits of very new turquoise sky come out.
Palermo on the left crouches upon her all-harbour--a little desolate,
disorderly, end-of-the-world, end-of-the-sea, along her quay front. Even
from here we can see the yellow carts rattling slowly, the mules
nodding their high weird plumes of scarlet along the broad weary
harbour-side. Oh painted carts of Sicily, with all history on your
* * * * *
Arrives an individual at our side. "The captain fears it will not be
possible to start. There is much wind outside. Much wind!"
How they love to come up with alarming, disquieting, or annoying news!
The joy it gives them. What satisfaction on all the faces: of course all
the other loafers are watching us, the street-corner loungers of this
deck. But we have been many times bitten.
"Ah ma!" say I, looking at the sky, "not so much wind as all that."
An air of quiet, shrugging indifference is most effectual: as if you
knew all about it, a good deal more than they knew.
"Ah si! Molto vento! Molto vento! Outside! Outside!"
With a long face and a dramatic gesture he points out of the harbour, to
the grey sea. I too look out of the harbour at the pale line of sea
beyond the mole. But I do not trouble to answer, and my eye is calm. So
he goes away, only half triumphant.
* * * * *
"Things seem to get worse and worse!" cries the American friend. "What
will you do on such a boat if you have an awful time out in the
Mediterranean here? Oh no--will you risk it, really? Won't you go from
"How awful it will be!" cries the q-b, looking round the grey harbour,
the many masts clustering in the grey sky on the right: the big Naples
boat turning her posterior to the quay-side a little way off, and
cautiously budging backwards: the almost entirely shut-in harbour: the
bits of blue and flying white cloud overhead: the little boats like
beetles scuttling hither and thither across the basin: the thick crowd
on the quay come to meet the Naples boat.
* * * * *
Time! Time! The American friend must go. She bids us goodbye, more than
"I shall be awfully interested to hear how you get on."
So down the side she goes. The boatman wants twenty francs--wants
more--but doesn't get it. He gets ten, which is five too much. And so,
sitting rather small and pinched and cold-looking, huddled in her
sweater, she bibbles over the ripply water to the distant stone steps.
We wave farewell. But other traffic comes between us. And the q-b,
feeling nervous, is rather cross because the American friend's ideas of
luxury have put us in such a poor light. We feel like the poorest of
poor sea-faring relations.
* * * * *
Our ship is hooting for all she's worth. An important last-minuter comes
surging up. The rope hawsers are being wound clankily in. Seagulls--they
are never very many in the Mediterranean--seagulls whirl like a few
flakes of snow in the upper chill air. Clouds spin. And without knowing
it we are evaporating away from the shore, from our mooring, between the
great City of Trieste and another big black steamer that lies like a
wall. We breathe towards this second black wall of steamer: distinctly.
And of course an individual in an official cap is standing on the bottom
of our departure ladder just above the water, yelling Barca!
Barca!--shouting for a boat. And an old man on the sea stands up to his
oars and comes pushing his clumsy boat with gathering speed between us
and the other black wall. There he stands away below there, small,
firing his clumsy boat along, remote as if in a picture on the dark
green water. And our black side insidiously and evilly aspires to the
other huge black wall. He rows in the canyon between, and is nearly
When lo, the individual on the bottom step turns in the other direction.
Another boat from the open basin is sweeping up: it is a race: she is
near, she is nearer, she is up. With a curvet the boat from the open
rounds up at the ladder. The boat between the gulf backs its oars. The
official individual shouts and waves, the old man backing his oars in
the gulf below yells expostulation, the boat from the open carries off
its prey, our ship begins slowly to puddle-puddle-puddle, working her
screw, the man in the gulf of green water rows for his life--we are
floating into the open basin.
Slowly, slowly we turn round: and as the ship turns, our hearts turn.
Palermo fades from our consciousness: the Naples boat, the disembarking
crowds, the rattling carriages to the land--the great City of
Trieste--all fades from our heart. We see only the open gap of the
harbour entrance, and the level, pale-grey void of the sea beyond. There
are wisps of gleamy light--out there.
And out there our heart watches--though Palermo is near us, just behind.
We look round, and see it all behind us--but already it is gone, gone
from our heart. The fresh wind, the gleamy wisps of light, the running,
open sea beyond the harbour bars.
* * * * *
And so we steam out. And almost at once the ship begins to take a long,
slow, dizzy dip, and a fainting swoon upwards, and a long, slow, dizzy
dip, slipping away from beneath one. The q-b turns pale. Up comes the
deck in that fainting swoon backwards--then down it fades in that
indescribable slither forwards. It is all quite gentle--quite, quite
gentle. But oh, so long, and so slow, and so dizzy.
"Rather pleasant!" say I to the q-b.
"Yes. Rather lovely really," she answers wistfully. To tell the truth
there is something in the long, slow lift of the ship, and her long,
slow slide forwards which makes my heart beat with joy. It is the motion
of freedom. To feel her come up--then slide slowly forward, with a sound
of the smashing of waters, is like the magic gallop of the sky, the
magic gallop of elemental space. That long, slow, waveringly rhythmic
rise and fall of the ship, with waters snorting as it were from her
nostrils, oh God what a joy it is to the wild innermost soul. One is
free at last--and lilting in a slow flight of the elements, winging
outwards. Oh God, to be free of all the hemmed-in life--the horror of
human tension, the absolute insanity of machine persistence. The agony
which a train is to me, really. And the long-drawn-out agony of a life
among tense, resistant people on land. And then to feel the long, slow
lift and drop of this almost empty ship, as she took the waters. Ah God,
liberty, liberty, elemental liberty. I wished in my soul the voyage
might last forever, that the sea had no end, that one might float in
this wavering, tremulous, yet long and surging pulsation while ever time
lasted: space never exhausted, and no turning back, no looking back,
* * * * *
The ship was almost empty--save of course for the street-corner louts
who hung about just below, on the deck itself. We stood alone on the
weather-faded little promenade deck, which has old oak seats with old,
carved little lions at the ends, for arm-rests--and a little cabin
mysteriously shut, which much peeping determined as the wireless office
and the operator's little curtained bed-niche.
* * * * *
Cold, fresh wind, a black-blue, translucent, rolling sea on which the
wake rose in snapping foam, and Sicily on the left: Monte Pellegrino, a
huge, inordinate mass of pinkish rock, hardly crisped with the faintest
vegetation, looming up to heaven from the sea. Strangely large in mass
and bulk Monte Pellegrino looks: and bare, like a Sahara in heaven: and
old-looking. These coasts of Sicily are very imposing, terrific,
fortifying the interior. And again one gets the feeling that age has
worn them bare: as if old, old civilisations had worn away and exhausted
the soil, leaving a terrifying blankness of rock, as at Syracuse in
plateaus, and here in a great mass.
* * * * *
There seems hardly any one on board but ourselves: we alone on the
little promenade deck. Strangely lonely, floating on a bare old ship
past the great bare shores, on a rolling sea, stooping and rising in the
wind. The wood of the fittings is all bare and weather-silvered, the
cabin, the seats, even the little lions of the seats. The paint wore
away long ago: and this timber will never see paint any more. Strange to
put one's hand on the old oaken wood, so sea-fibred. Good old
delicate-threaded oak: I swear it grew in England. And everything so
carefully done, so solidly and everlastingly. I look at the lions, with
the perfect-fitting oaken pins through their paws clinching them down,
and their little mouths open. They are as solid as they were in
Victorian days, as immovable. They will never wear away. What a joy in
the careful, thorough, manly, everlasting work put into a ship: at least
into this sixty-year-old vessel. Every bit of this old oak wood so
sound, so beautiful: and the whole welded together with joints and
wooden pins far more beautifully and livingly than iron welds. Rustless,
life-born, living-tissued old wood: rustless as flesh is rustless, and
happy-seeming as iron never can be. She rides so well, she takes the
sea so beautifully, as a matter of course.
* * * * *
Various members of the crew wander past to look at us. This little
promenade deck is over the first-class quarters, full in the stern. So
we see first one head then another come up the ladder--mostly bare
heads: and one figure after another slouches past, smoking a cigarette.
All crew. At last the q-b stops one of them--it is what they are all
waiting for, an opportunity to talk--and asks if the weird object on the
top of Pellegrino is a ruin. Could there be a more touristy question!
No, it is the semaphore station. Slap in the eye for the q-b! She
doesn't mind, however, and the member of the crew proceeds to converse.
He is a weedy, hollow-cheeked town-product: a Palermitan. He wears faded
blue over-alls and informs us he is the ship's carpenter: happily
unemployed for the rest of his life, apparently, and taking it as rather
less than his dues. The ship once did the Naples-Palermo course--a very
important course--in the old days of the General Navigation Company. The
General Navigation Company sold her for eighty thousand liras years ago,
and now she was worth two million. We pretend to believe: but I make a
poor show. I am thoroughly sick to death of the sound of liras. No man
can overhear ten words of Italian today without two thousand or two
million or ten or twenty or two liras flying like venomous mosquitoes
round his ears. Liras--liras--liras--nothing else. Romantic, poetic,
cypress-and-orange-tree Italy is gone. Remains an Italy smothered in the
filthy smother of innumerable Lira notes: ragged, unsavoury paper money
so thick upon the air that one breathes it like some greasy fog. Behind
this greasy fog some people may still see the Italian sun. I find it
hard work. Through this murk of Liras you peer at Michael Angelo and at
Botticelli and the rest, and see them all as through a glass, darkly.
For heavy around you is Italy's after-the-war atmosphere, darkly
pressing you, squeezing you, milling you into dirty paper notes. King
Harry was lucky that they only wanted to coin him into gold. Italy wants
to mill you into filthy paper Liras.
* * * * *
Another head--and a black alpaca jacket and a serviette this time--to
tell us coffee is ready. Not before it is time, too. We go down into the
subterranean state-room and sit on the screw-pin chairs, while the ship
does the slide-and-slope trot under us, and we drink a couple of cups of
coffee-and-milk, and eat a piece of bread and butter. At least one of
the innumerable members of the crew gives me one cup, then casts me
off. It is most obviously his intention that I shall get no more:
because of course the innumerable members of the crew could all just do
with another coffee and milk. However, though the ship heaves and the
alpaca coats cluster menacingly in the doorway, I balance my way to the
tin buffet and seize the coffee pot and the milk pot, and am quite
successful in administering to the q-b and myself. Having restored the
said vessels to their tin altar, I resume my spin chair at the long and
desert board. The q-b and I are alone--save that in the distance a very
fat back with gold-braid collar sits sideways and a fat hand disposes of
various papers--he is part of the one-and-only table, of course. The
tall lean alpaca jacket, with a face of yellow stone and a big black
moustache moves from the outer doorway, glowers at our filled cups, and
goes to the tin altar and touches the handles of the two vessels: just
touches them to an arrangement: as one who should say: These are mine.
What dirty foreigner dares help himself!
* * * * *
As quickly as possible we stagger up from the long dungeon where the
alpaca jackets are swooping like blue-bottles upon the coffee pots, into
the air. There the carpenter is waiting for us, like a spider.
"Isn't the sea a little quieter?" says the q-b wistfully. She is growing
"No, Signora--how should it be?" says the gaunt-faced carpenter. "The
wind is waiting for us behind Cape Gallo. You see that cape?" he points
to a tall black cliff-front in the sea ahead. "When we get to that cape
we get the wind and the sea. Here--" he makes a gesture--"it is
"Ugh!" says the q-b, turning paler. "I'm going to lie down."
She disappears. The carpenter, finding me stony ground, goes forward,
and I see him melting into the crowd of the innumerable crew, that
hovers on the lower-deck passage by the kitchen and the engines.
* * * * *
The clouds are flying fast overhead: and sharp and isolated come drops
of rain, so that one thinks it must be spray. But no, it is a handful of
rain. The ship swishes and sinks forward, gives a hollow thudding and
rears slowly backward, along this pinkish lofty coast of Sicily that is
just retreating into a bay. From the open sea comes the rain, come the
* * * * *
No shelter. One must go down. The q-b lies quietly in her bunk. The
state-room is stale like a passage on the underground railway. No
shelter, save near the kitchen and the engines, where there is a bit of
warmth. The cook is busy cleaning fish, making the whiting bite their
tails venomously at a little board just outside his kitchen-hole. A slow
stream of kitchen-filth swilkers back and forth along the ship's side. A
gang of the crew leans near me--a larger gang further down. Heaven knows
what they can all be--but they never do anything but stand in gangs and
talk and eat and smoke cigarettes. They are mostly young--mostly
Palermitan--with a couple of unmistakable Neapolitans, having the
peculiar Neapolitan hang-dog good looks, the chiselled cheek, the little
black moustache, the large eyes. But they chew with their cheeks bulged
out, and laugh with their fine, semi-sarcastic noses. The whole gang
looks continually sideways. Nobody ever commands them--there seems to be
absolutely no control. Only the fat engineer in grey linen looks as
clean and as competent as his own machinery. Queer how machine-control
puts the pride and self-respect into a man.
* * * * *
The rain over, I go and squat against the canvas that is spread over the
arched sky-lights on the small promenade deck, sitting on the seat that
is fixed to the sky-light sides. The wind is cold: there are snatches of
sun and spits of rain. The big cape has come and is being left behind:
we are heading for a far-off cape like a cloud in the grey air. A
dimness comes over one's mind: a sort of stupefaction owing to the wind
and the relentless slither-and-rearing of the ship. Not a sickness, but
a sort of dim faintness. So much motion, such moving, powerful air. And
withal a constant triumph in the long, slow sea-gallop of the ship.
* * * * *
A great loud bell: midday and the crew going to eat, rushing to eat.
After some time we are summoned. "The Signora isn't eating?" asks the
waiter eagerly: hoping she is not. "Yes, she is eating," say I. I fetch
the q-b from her berth. Rather wanly she comes and gets into her spin
chair. Bash comes a huge plate of thick, oily cabbage soup, very full,
swilkering over the sides. We do what we can with it. So does the third
passenger: a young woman who never wears a hat, thereby admitting
herself simply as one of "the people," but who has an expensive
complicated dress, nigger-coloured thin silk stockings, and suede
high-heeled shoes. She is handsome, sturdy, with large dark eyes and a
robust, frank manner: far too robustly downright for Italy. She is from
Cagliari--and can't do much with the cabbage soup: and tells the waiter
so, in her deep, hail-fellow-well-met voice. In the doorway hovers a
little cloud of alpaca jackets grinning faintly with malignant
anticipation of food, hoping, like blow-flies, we shall be too ill to
eat. Away goes the soup and appears a massive yellow omelette, like some
log of bilious wood. It is hard, and heavy, and cooked in the usual
rank-tasting olive oil. The young woman doesn't have much truck with it:
neither do we. To the triumph of the blow-flies, who see the yellow
monster borne to their altar. After which a long long slab of the
inevitable meat cut into innumerable slices, tasting of dead nothingness
and having a thick sauce of brown neutrality: sufficient for twelve
people at least. This, with masses of strong-tasting greenish
cauliflower liberally weighted with oil, on a ship that was already
heaving its heart out, made up the dinner. Accumulating malevolent
triumph among the blow-flies in the passage. So on to a dessert of
oranges, pears with wooden hearts and thick yellowish wash-leather
flesh, and apples. Then coffee.
And we had sat through it, which is something. The alpaca blue-bottles
buzzed over the masses of food that went back on the dishes to the tin
altar. Surely it had been made deliberately so that we should not eat
it! The Cagliarese young woman talked to us. Yes, she broke into that
awful language which the Italians--the quite ordinary ones--call
French, and which they insist on speaking for their own glorification:
yea, when they get to heaven's gate they will ask St. Peter for:
"OOn bigliay pour ung--trozzième classe."
Fortunately or unfortunately her inquisitiveness got the better of her,
and she fell into her native Italian. What were we, where did we come
from, where were we going, why were we going, had we any children, did
we want any, etc. After every answer she nodded her head and said Ahu!
and watched us with energetic dark eyes. Then she ruminated over our
nationalities and said, to the unseeing witnesses: Una bella coppia, a
fine couple. As at the moment we felt neither beautiful nor coupled, we
only looked greener. The grim man-at-arms coming up to ask us again if
we weren't going to have a little wine, she lapsed into her ten-pounder
French, which was most difficult to follow. And she said that on a
sea-voyage one must eat, one must eat, if only a little. But--and she
lapsed into Italian--one must by no means drink wine--no--no! One didn't
want to, said I sadly. Whereupon the grim man-at-arms, whom, of course,
we had cheated out of the bottle we refused to have opened for us, said
with a lost sarcasm that wine made a man of a man, etc., etc. I was too
weary of that underground, however. All I knew was that he wanted wine,
wine, wine, and we hadn't ordered any. He didn't care for food.
The Cagliarese told us she came now from Naples, and her husband was
following in a few days. He was doing business in Naples. I nearly asked
if he was a little dog-fish--this being the Italian for profiteer, but
refrained in time. So the two ladies retired to lie down, I went and sat
under my tarpaulin.
* * * * *
I felt very dim, and only a bit of myself. And I dozed blankly. The
afternoon grew more sunny. The ship turned southwards, and with the wind
and waves behind, it became much warmer, much smoother. The sun had the
lovely strong winey warmth, golden over the dark-blue sea. The old
oak-wood looked almost white, the afternoon was sweet upon the sea. And
in the sunshine and the swishing of the sea, the speedier running of the
empty ship, I slept a warm, sweet hour away, and awoke new. To see ahead
pale, uplooming islands upon the right: the windy Egades: and on the
right a mountain or high conical hill, with buildings on the summit: and
in front against the sea, still rather far away, buildings rising upon a
quay, within a harbor: and a mole, and a castle forward to sea, all
small and far away, like a view. The buildings were square and fine.
There was something impressive--magical under the far sunshine and the
keen wind, the square and well-proportioned buildings waiting far off,
waiting like a lost city in a story, a Rip van Winkle city. I knew it
was Trapani, the western port of Sicily, under the western sun.
* * * * *
And the hill near us was Mount Eryx. I had never seen it before. So I
had imagined a mountain in the sky. But it was only a hill, with
undistinguishable cluster of a village on the summit, where even now
cold wisps of vapour caught. They say it is 2,500 feet high. Still it
looks only a hill.
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. Laughing, the woman-goddess, at this centre of an ancient,
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 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 "Why not?"
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.
We do not seem to be going to Trapani. There lies the town on the left,
under the hill, the square buildings that suggest to me the factories
of the East India Company shining in the sun along the curious,
closed-in harbour, beyond the running, dark blue sea. We seem to be
making for the island bulk of Levanzo. Perhaps we shall steer away to
Sardinia without putting in to Trapani.
On and on we run--and always as if we were going to steer between the
pale blue, heaped-up islands, leaving Trapani behind us on our left. The
town has been in sight for an hour or more: and still we run out to sea
towards Levanzo. And the wireless-operator busily tick-tocks and throbs
in his little cabin on this upper deck. Peeping in, one sees his bed and
chair behind a curtain, screened off from his little office. And all so
tidy and pleased-looking.
From the islands one of the Mediterranean sailing ships is beating her
way, across our track, to Trapani. I don't know the name of ships but
the carpenter says she is a schooner: he says it with that Italian
misgiving which doesn't really know but which can't bear not to know.
Anyhow on she comes, with her tall ladder of square sails white in the
afternoon light, and her lovely prow, curved in with a perfect hollow,
running like a wild animal on a scent across the waters. There--the
scent leads her north again. She changes her tack from the harbour
mouth, and goes coursing away, passing behind us. Lovely she is, nimble
and quick and palpitating, with all her sails white and bright and
We are changing our course. We have all the time been heading for the
south of Levanzo. Now I see the island slowly edging back, as if
clearing out of the way for us, like a man in the street. The island
edges and turns aside: and walks away. And clearly we are making for the
harbour mouth. We have all this time been running, out at sea, round the
back of the harbour. Now I see the fortress-castle, an old thing, out
forward to sea: and a little lighthouse and the way in. And beyond, the
town-front with great palm trees and other curious dark trees, and
behind these the large square buildings of the south rising imposingly,
as if severe, big palaces upon the promenade. It all has a stately,
southern, imposing appearance, withal remote from our modern centuries:
standing back from the tides of our industrial life.
I remember the Crusaders, how they called here so often on their way to
the East. And Trapani seems waiting for them still, with its palm trees
and its silence, full in the afternoon sun. It has not much to do but
The q-b emerges into the sun, crying out how lovely! And the sea is
quieter: we are already in the lea of the harbour-curve. From the north
the many-sailed ship from the islands is running down towards us, with
the wind. And away on the south, on the sea-level, numerous short
windmills are turning their sails briskly, windmill after windmill,
rather stumpy, spinning gaily in the blue, silent afternoon, among the
salt-lagoons stretching away towards Marsala. But there is a whole
legion of windmills, and Don Quixote would have gone off his head. There
they spin, hither and thither, upon the pale-blue sea-levels. And
perhaps one catches a glitter of white salt-heaps. For these are the
great salt-lagoons which make Trapani rich.
* * * * *
We are entering the harbour-basin, however, past the old castle out on
the spit, past the little lighthouse, then through the entrance,
slipping quietly on the now tranquil water. Oh, and how pleasant the
fulness of the afternoon sun flooding this round, fast-sleeping harbour,
along whose side the tall palms drowse, and whose waters are fast
asleep. It seems quite a small, cosy harbour, with the great buildings
warm-colored in the sun behind the dark tree-avenue of the marina. The
same silent, sleeping, endlessly sun-warmed stateliness.
In the midst of this tranquillity we slowly turn round upon the shining
water, and in a few moments are moored. There are other ships moored
away to the right: all asleep, apparently, in the flooding of the
afternoon sun. Beyond the harbour entrance runs the great sea and the
wind. Here all is still and hot and forgotten.
"Vous descendez en terre?" shouts the young woman, in her energetic
French--she leaves off holding the young men's hands for the moment. We
are not quite sure: and we don't want her to come with us, anyhow, for
her French is not our French.
The land sleeps on: nobody takes any notice of us: but just one boat
paddles out the dozen yards to our side. We decide to set foot on shore.
* * * * *
One should not, and we knew it. One should never enter into these
southern towns that look so nice, so lovely, from the outside. However,
we thought we would buy some cakes. So we crossed the avenue which looks
so beautiful from the sea, and which, when you get into it, is a cross
between an outside place where you throw rubbish and a humpy unmade road
in a raw suburb, with a few iron seats, and litter of old straw and rag.
Indescribably dreary in itself: yet with noble trees, and lovely
sunshine, and the sea and the islands gleaming magic beyond the harbour
mouth, and the sun, the eternal sun full focussed. A few mangy,
nothing-to-do people stand disconsolately about, in southern fashion,
as if they had been left there, water-logged, by the last flood, and
were waiting for the next flood to wash them further. Round the corner
along the quay a Norwegian steamer dreams that she is being loaded, in
the muddle of the small port.
* * * * *
We looked at the cakes--heavy and wan they appeared to our sea-rolled
stomachs. So we strolled into a main street, dark and dank like a sewer.
A tram bumped to a standstill, as if now at last was the end of the
world. Children coming from school ecstatically ran at our heels, with
bated breath, to hear the vocal horrors of our foreign speech. We turned
down a dark side alley, about forty paces deep: and were on the northern
bay, and on a black stench that seemed like the perpetual sewer, a bank
So we got to the end of the black main street, and turned in haste to
the sun. Ah--in a moment we were in it. There rose the palms, there lay
our ship in the shining, curving basin--and there focussed the sun, so
that in a moment we were drunk or dazed by it. Dazed. We sat on an iron
seat in the rubbish-desolate, sun-stricken avenue.
A ragged and dirty girl was nursing a fat and moist and immovable baby
and tending to a grimy fat infant boy. She stood a yard away and gazed
at us as one would gaze at a pig one was going to buy. She came nearer,
and examined the q-b. I had my big hat down over my eyes. But no, she
had taken her seat at my side, and poked her face right under my hat
brim, so that her towzled hair touched me, and I thought she would kiss
me. But again no. With her breath on my cheek she only gazed on my face
as if it were a wax mystery. I got up hastily.
"Too much for me," said I to the q-b.
She laughed, and asked what the baby was called. The baby was called
Beppina, as most babies are.
Driven forth, we wandered down the desolate avenue of shade and sun
towards the ship, and turned once more into the town. We had not been on
shore more than ten minutes. This time we went to the right, and found
more shops. The streets were dark and sunless and cold. And Trapani
seemed to me to sell only two commodities: cured rabbit skins and
cat-skins, and great, hideous, modern bed-spread arrangements of heavy
flowered silk and fabulous price. They seem to think nothing of
thousands of liras, in Trapani.
But most remarkable was bunny and pussy. Bunny and pussy, flattened out
like pressed leaves, dangling in clusters everywhere. Furs! white bunny,
black bunny in great abundance, piebald bunny, grey bunny:--then pussy,
tabby pussy, and tortoiseshell pussy, but mostly black pussy, in a
ghastly semblance of life, all flat, of course. Just single furs.
Clusters, bunches, heaps, and dangling arrays of plain-superficies puss
and bun-bun! Puss and bun by the dozen and the twenty, like dried
leaves, for your choice. If a cat from a ship should chance to find
itself in Trapani streets, it would give a mortal yell, and go mad, I am
We strolled for ten more minutes in this narrow, tortuous, unreal town,
that seemed to have plenty of flourishing inhabitants, and a fair number
of Socialists, if one was to judge by the great scrawlings on the walls:
W. LENIN and ABASSO LA BORGHESIA. Don't imagine, by the way, that Lenin is
another Wille on the list. The apparent initial stands for Evviva,
the double V.
* * * * *
Cakes one dared not buy, after looking at them. But we found macaroon
biscuits, and a sort of flat plaster-casts of the Infant Jesus under a
dove, of which we bought two. The q-b ate her macaroon biscuits all
through the streets, and we went towards the ship. The fat boatman
hailed us to take us back. It was just about eight yards of water to
row, the ship being moored on the quay: one could have jumped it. I gave
the fat boatman two liras, two francs. He immediately put on the
socialist-workman indignation, and thrust the note back at me. Sixty
centimes more! The fee was thirteen sous each way! In Venice or Syracuse
it would be two sous. I looked at him and gave him the money and said:
"Per Dio, we are in Trapani!" He muttered back something about
foreigners. But the hateful, unmanly insolence of these lords of toil,
now they have their various "unions" behind them and their "rights" as
working men, sends my blood black. They are ordinary men no more: the
human, happy Italian is most marvellously vanished. New honors come upon
them, etc. The dignity of human labour is on its hind legs, busy giving
every poor innocent who isn't ready for it a kick in the mouth.
* * * * *
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, 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 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 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.
Meanwhile I munched my Infant-Jesus-and-Dove arrangement, which was
rather like eating thin glass, so hard and sharp. It was made of almond
and white of egg presumably, and was not so bad if you could eat it at
all. It was a Christmas relic.--And I watched the Holy Family across the
narrow board, and tried not to look all I felt.
* * * * *
Going on deck as soon as possible, we watched the loading of barrels of
wine into the hold--a mild and happy-go-lucky process. The ship seemed
to be almost as empty of cargo as of passengers. Of the latter, we were
apparently twelve adults, all told, and the three children. And as for
cargo, there were the wooden chests of the officer, and these fourteen
barrels of wine from Trapani. The last were at length settled more or
less firm, the owner, or the responsible landsman seeing to it. No one
on the ship seemed to be responsible for anything. And four of the
innumerable crew were replacing the big planks over the hold. It was
curious how forlorn the ship seemed to feel, now she was ready for sea
again. Her innumerable crew did not succeed in making her alive. She ran
her course like a lost soul across the Mid-Mediterranean.
* * * * *
Outside the harbour the sun was sinking, gorgeous gold and red the sky,
and vast, beyond the darkening islands of the Egades group. Coming as we
did from the east side of the island, where dawn beyond the Ionian sea
is the day's great and familiar event: so decisive an event, that as the
light appears along the sea's rim, so do my eyes invariably open and
look at it, and know it is dawn, and as the night-purple is fused back,
and a little scarlet thrills towards the zenith, invariably, day by day,
I feel I must get up: coming from the east, shut off hermetically from
the west by the steep spikes of the mountains at our back, we felt this
sunset in the African sea terrible and dramatic. It seemed much more
magnificent and tragic than our Ionian dawn, which has always a
suggestion of a flower opening. But this great red, trumpet-flaring
sunset had something African, half-sinister, upon the sea: and it seemed
so far off, in an unknown land. Whereas our Ionian dawn always seems
near and familiar and happy.
A different goddess the Eryx Astarte, the woman Ashtaroth, Erycina
ridens must have been, in her prehstoric dark smiling, watching the
fearful sunsets beyond the Egades, from our gold-lighted Apollo of the
Ionian east. She is a strange goddess to me, this Erycina Venus, and the
west is strange and unfamiliar and a little fearful, be it Africa or be
Slowly at sunset we moved out of the harbour. And almost as we passed
the bar, away in front we saw, among the islands, the pricking of a
quick pointed light. Looking back, we saw the light at the harbour
entrance twitching: and the remote, lost town beginning to glimmer. And
night was settling down upon the sea, through the crimsoned purple of
the last afterglow.
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.
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
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
* * * * *
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 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
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
Well, we chewed a few ends of oil-fried ink-pots, and gave it up. The
Cagliari girl gave up too: the professor had not even tried. Only the
hard-headed grey man in the alpaca coat chewed animatedly, with bouncing
jaws. Mountains of calamaio remained for the joyous blue-bottles.
Arrived the inevitable meat--this long piece of completely tasteless
undercut in innumerable grey-brown slices. Oh, Italy! The professor
Arrived the wash-leather pears, the apples, the oranges--we saved an
apple for a happier hour.
Arrived coffee, and, as a magnificent treat, a few well-known pastries.
They all taste wearily alike. The young woman shakes her head. I shake
mine, but the q-b, like a child, is pleased. Most pleased of all,
however, are the blue-bottles, who dart in a black-alpaca bunch to the
tin altar, and there loudly buzz, wildly, above the sallow cakes.
The citron-cheeked, dry one, however, cares darkly nothing for cakes. He
comes once more to twit us about wine. So much so that the Cagliari girl
orders a glass of Marsala: and I must second her. So there we are, three
little glasses of brown liquid. The Cagliari girl sips hers and suddenly
flees. The q-b sips hers with infinite caution, and quietly retires. I
finish the q-b's little glass, and my own, and the voracious blow-flies
buzz derisively and excited. The yellow-cheeked one has disappeared with
From the professorial cabin faint wails, sometimes almost fierce, as one
or another is going to be ill. Only a thin door is between this
state-room and them. The most down-trodden frayed ancient rag of a man
goes discreetly with basins, trying not to let out glimpses of the awful
within. I climb up to look at the vivid, drenching stars, to breathe the
cold wind, to see the dark sea sliding. Then I too go to the cabin, and
watch the sea run past the porthole for a minute, and insert myself like
the meat in a sandwich into the tight lower bunk. Oh, infinitesimal
cabin, where we sway like two matches in a match box! Oh strange, but
even yet excellent gallop of a ship at sea.
* * * * *
I slept not so badly through the stifled, rolling night--in fact later
on slept soundly. And the day was growing bright when I peered through
the porthle, the sea was much smoother. It was a brilliant clear
morning. I made haste and washed myself cursorily in the saucer that
dribbled into a pail in a corner: there was not space even for one
chair, this saucer was by my bunk-head. And I went on deck.
Ah the lovely morning! Away behind us the sun was just coming above the
sea's horizon, and the sky all golden, all a joyous, fire-heated gold,
and the sea was glassy bright, the wind gone still, the waves sunk into
long, low undulations, the foam of the wake was pale ice-blue in the
yellow air. Sweet, sweet wide morning on the sea, with the sun coming,
swimming up, and a tall sailing bark, with her flat fore-ladder of sails
delicately across the light, and a far-far steamer on the electric vivid
The lovely dawn: the lovely pure, wide morning in the mid-sea, so
golden-aired and delighted, with the sea like sequins shaking, and the
sky far, far, far above, unfathomably clear. How glad to be on a ship!
What a golden hour for the heart of man! Ah if one could sail for ever,
on a small quiet, lonely ship, from land to land and isle to isle, and
saunter through the spaces of this lovely world, always through the
spaces of this lovely world. Sweet it would be sometimes to come to the
opaque earth, to block oneself against the stiff land, to annul the
vibration of one's flight against the inertia of our terra firma! but
life itself would be in the flight, the tremble of space. Ah the
trembling of never-ended space, as one moves in flight! Space, and the
frail vibration of space, the glad lonely wringing of the heart. Not to
be clogged to the land any more. Not to be any more like a donkey with a
log on its leg, fastened to weary earth that has no answer now. But to
To find three masculine, world-lost souls, and world-lost saunter, and
saunter on along with them, across the dithering space, as long as life
lasts! Why come to anchor? There is nothing to anchor for. Land has no
answer to the soul any more. It has gone inert. Give me a little ship,
kind gods, and three world-lost comrades. Hear me! And let me wander
aimless across this vivid outer world, the world empty of man, where
space flies happily.
* * * * *
The lovely, celandine-yellow morning of the open sea, paling towards a
rare, sweet blue! The sun stood above the horizon, like the great
burning stigma of the sacred flower of day. Mediterranean sailing-ships,
so mediaeval, hovered on the faint morning wind, as if uncertain which
way to go, curious, odd-winged insects of the flower. The steamer,
hull-down, was sinking towards Spain. Space rang clear about us: the
Appeared the Cagliari young woman and her two friends. She was looking
handsome and restored now the sea was easy. Her two male friends stood
touching her, one at either shoulder.
"Bonjour, Monsieur!" she barked across at me. "Vous avez pris le café?"
"Pas encore. Et vous?"
"Non! Madame votre femme...."
She roared like a mastiff dog: and then translated with unction to her
two uninitiated friends. How it was they did not understand her French I
do not know, it was so like travestied Italian.
I went below to find the q-b.
* * * * *
When we came up, the faint shape of land appeared ahead, more
transparent than thin pearl. Already Sardinia. Magic are high lands seen
from the sea, when they are far, far off, and ghostly translucent like
ice-bergs. This was Sardinia, looming like fascinating shadows in
mid-sea. And the sailing ships, as if cut out of frailest pearl
translucency, were wafting away towards Naples. I wanted to count their
sails--five square ones which I call the ladder, one above the
other--but how many wing-blades? That remained yet to be seen.
* * * * *
Our friend the carpenter spied us out: at least, he was not my friend.
He didn't find me simpatico, I am sure. But up he came, and proceeded
to entertain us with weary banality. Again the young woman called, had
we had coffee? We said we were just going down. And then she said that
whatever we had today we had to pay for: our food ended with the one
day. At which the q-b was angry, feeling swindled. But I had known
* * * * *
We went down and had our coffee notwithstanding. The young woman came
down, and made eyes at one of the alpaca blue-bottles. After which we
saw a cup of coffee and milk and two biscuits being taken to her into
her cabin, discreetly. When Italians are being discreet and on the sly,
the very air about them becomes tell-tale, and seems to shout with a
thousand tongues. So with a thousand invisible tongues clamouring the
fact, the young woman had her coffee secretly and gratis, in her
* * * * *
But the morning was lovely. The q-b and I crept round the bench at the
very stern of the ship and sat out of the wind and out of sight, just
above the foaming of the wake. Before us was the open morning--and the
glisten of our ship's track, like a snail's path, trailing across the
sea: straight for a little while, then giving a bend to the left, always
a bend towards the left: and coming at us from the pure horizon, like a
bright snail-path. Happy it was to sit there in the stillness, with
nothing but the humanless sea to shine about us.
But no, we were found out. Arrived the carpenter.
"Ah, you have found a fine place--!"
"Molto bello!" This from the q-b. I could not bear the irruption.
He proceeded to talk--and as is inevitable, the war. Ah, the war--it was
a terrible thing. He had become ill--very ill. Because, you see, not
only do you go without proper food, without proper rest and warmth, but,
you see, you are in an agony of fear for your life all the time. An
agony of fear for your life. And that's what does it. Six months in
hospital--! The q-b, of course, was sympathetic.
The Sicilians are quite simple about it. They just tell you they were
frightened to death, and it made them ill. The q-b, woman-like, loves
them for being so simple about it. I feel angry somewhere. For they
expect a full-blown sympathy. And however the great god Mars may have
shrunk and gone wizened in the world, it still annoys me to hear him
* * * * *
Near us the automatic log was spinning, the thin rope trailing behind us
in the sea. Erratically it jerked and spun, with spasmodic torsion. He
explained that the little screw at the end of the line spun to the
speed of travelling. We were going from ten to twelve Italian miles to
the hour. Ah, yes, we could go twenty. But we went no faster than ten
or twelve, to save the coal.
The coal--il carbone! I knew we were in for it. England--l'Inghilterra
she has the coal. And what does she do? She sells it very dear.
Particularly to Italy. Italy won the war and now can't even have coal.
Because why! The price. The exchange! Il cambio. Now I am doubly in
for it. Two countries had been able to keep their money high--England
and America. The English sovereign--la sterlina--and the American
dollar--sa, these were money. The English and the Americans flocked to
Italy, with their sterline and their dollari, and they bought what
they wanted for nothing, for nothing. Ecco! Whereas we poor Italians--we
are in a state of ruination--proper ruination. The allies, etc., etc.
I am so used to it--I am so wearily used to it. I can't walk a stride
without having this wretched cambio, the exchange, thrown at my head.
And this with an injured petulant spitefulness which turns my blood. For
I assure them, whatever I have in Italy I pay for: and I am not England.
I am not the British Isles on two legs.
Germany--La Germania--she did wrong to make the war. But--there you
are, that was war. Italy and Germany--l'Italia e la Germania--they had
always been friends. In Palermo....
My God, I felt I could not stand it another second. To sit above the
foam and have this miserable creature stuffing wads of chewed newspaper
into my ear--no, I could not bear it. In Italy, there is no escape. Say
two words, and the individual starts chewing old newspaper and stuffing
it into you. No escape. You become--if you are English--l'Inghilterra,
il carbone, and il cambio; and as England, coal and exchange you are
treated. It is more than useless to try to be human about it. You are a
State usury system, a coal fiend and an exchange thief. Every Englishman
has disappeared into this triple abstraction, in the eyes of the
Italian, of the proletariat particularly. Try and get them to be human,
try and get them to see that you are simply an individual, if you can.
After all, I am no more than a single human man wandering my lonely way
across these years. But no--to an Italian I am a perfected abstraction,
England--coal--exchange. The Germans were once devils for inhuman
theoretic abstracting of living beings. But now the Italians beat them.
I am a walking column of statistics, which adds up badly for Italy.
Only this and nothing more. Which being so, I shut my mouth and walk
* * * * *
For the moment the carpenter is shaken off. But I am in a rage, fool
that I am. It is like being pestered by their mosquitoes. The sailing
ships are near--and I count fifteen sails. Beautiful they look! Yet if I
were on board somebody would be chewing newspaper at me, and addressing
me as England--coal--exchange.
The mosquito hovers--and hovers. But the stony blank of the side of my
cheek keeps him away. Yet he hovers. And the q-b feels sympathetic
towards him: quite sympathetic. Because of course he treats her--a bel
pezzo--as if he would lick her boots, or anything else that she would
let him lick.
* * * * *
Meanwhile we eat the apples from yesterday's dessert, and the remains of
the q-b's Infant-Jesus-and-dove cake. The land is drawing nearer--we can
see the shape of the end promontory and peninsula--and a white speck
like a church. The bulk of the land is forlorn and rather shapeless,
coming towards us: but attractive.
Looking ahead towards the land gives us away. The mosquito swoops on us.
Yes--he is not sure--he thinks the white speck is a church--or a
lighthouse. When you pass the cape on the right, and enter the wide bay
between Cape Spartivento and Cape Carbonara, then you have two hours
sail to Cagliari. We shall arrive between two and three o'clock. It is
Yes, the sailing ships are probably going to Naples. There is not much
wind for them now. When there is wind they go fast, faster than our
steamer. Ah Naples--bella, bella, eh? A little dirty, say I. But what do
you want? says he. A great city! Palermo of course is better.
Ah--the Neapolitan women--he says, à propos or not. They do their hair
so fine, so neat and beautiful--but underneath--sotto--sotto--they are
dirty. This being received in cold silence, he continues: Noi giriamo
il mondo! Noi, chi giriamo, conosciamo il mondo. We travel about,
and we know the world. Who we are, I do not know: his highness the
Palermitan carpenter lout, no doubt. But we, who travel, know the
world. He is preparing his shot. The Neapolitan women, and the English
women, in this are equal: that they are dirty underneath. Underneath,
they are dirty. The women of London--
But it is getting too much for me.
"You who look for dirty women," say I, "find dirty women everywhere."
He stops short and watches me.
"No! No! You have not understood me. No! I don't mean that. I mean that
the Neapolitan women and the English women have dirty underclothing--"
To which he gets no answer but a cold look and a cold cheek. Whereupon
he turns to the q-b, and proceeds to be simpatica. And after a few
moments he turns again to me:
"Il signore is offended! He is offended with me."
But I turn the other way. And at last he clears out: in triumph, I must
admit: like a mosquito that has bitten one in the neck. As a matter of
fact one should never let these fellows get into conversation
nowadays. They are no longer human beings. They hate one's Englishness,
and leave out the individual.
* * * * *
We walk forward, towards the fore-deck, where the captain's lookout
cabin is. The captain is an elderly man, silent and crushed: with the
look of a gentleman. But he looks beaten down. Another, still another
member of the tray-carrying department is just creeping up his ladder
with a cup of black coffee. Returning, we peep down the sky-light into
the kitchen. And there we see roast chicken and sausages--roast chicken
and sausages! Ah, this is where the sides of kid and the chickens and
the good things go: all down the throats of the crew. There is no more
food for us, until we land.
* * * * *
We have passed the cape--and the white thing is a lighthouse. And the
fattish, handsome professor has come up carrying the little girl-child,
while the femalish elder brother leads the rabbit-fluffy small boy by
the hand. So en famille: so terribly en famille. They deposit
themselves near us, and it threatens another conversation. But not for
anything, my dears!
The sailors--not sailors, some of the street-corner loafers, are
hoisting the flag, the red-white-and-green Italian tricolor. It floats
at the mast-head, and the femalish brother, in a fine burst of feeling,
takes off his funny hat with a flourish and cries:
"Ecco la bandiera italiana!"
Ach, the hateful sentimentalism of these days.
The land passes slowly, very slowly. It is hilly, but barren looking,
with few trees. And it is not spikey and rather splendid, like Sicily.
Sicily has style. We keep along the east side of the bay--away in the
west is Cape Spartivento. And still no sight of Cagliari.
"Two hours yet!" cries the Cagliari girl. "Two hours before we eat. Ah,
when I get on land, what a good meal I shall eat."
The men haul in the automatic log. The sky is clouding over with that
icy curd which comes after midday when the bitter north wind is blowing.
It is no longer warm.
* * * * *
Slowly, slowly we creep along the formless shore. An hour passes. We see
a little fort ahead, done in enormous black-and-white checks, like a
fragment of gigantic chess-board. It stands at the end of a long spit of
land--a long, barish peninsula that has no houses and looks as if it
might be golf-links. But it is not golf-links.
And suddenly there is Cagliari: a naked town rising steep, steep,
golden-looking, piled naked to the sky from the plain at the head of the
formless hollow bay. It is strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like
Italy. The city piles up lofty and almost miniature, and makes me think
of Jerusalem: without trees, without cover, rising rather bare and
proud, remote as if back in history, like a town in a monkish,
illuminated missal. One wonders how it ever got there. And it seems like
Spain--or Malta: not Italy. It is a steep and lonely city, treeless, as
in some old illumination. Yet withal rather jewel-like: like a sudden
rose-cut amber jewel naked at the depth of the vast indenture. The air
is cold, blowing bleak and bitter, the sky is all curd. And that is
Cagliari. It has that curious look, as if it could be seen, but not
entered. It is like some vision, some memory, something that has passed
away. Impossible that one can actually walk in that city: set foot
there and eat and laugh there. Ah, no! Yet the ship drifts nearer,
nearer, and we are looking for the actual harbour.
* * * * *
The usual sea-front with dark trees for a promenade and palatial
buildings behind, but here not so pink and gay, more reticent, more
sombre of yellow stone. The harbour itself a little basin of water, into
which we are slipping carefully, while three salt-barges laden with salt
as white as snow creep round from the left, drawn by an infinitesimal
tug. There are only two other forlorn ships in the basin. It is cold on
deck. The ship turns slowly round, and is being hauled to the quay side.
I go down for the knapsack, and a fat blue-bottle pounces at me.
"You pay nine francs fifty."
I pay them, and we get off that ship.
There is a very little crowd waiting on the quay: mostly men with their
hands in their pockets. But, thank Heaven, they have a certain aloofness
and reserve. They are not like the tourist-parasites of these post-war
days, who move to the attack with a terrifying cold vindictiveness the
moment one emerges from any vehicle. And some of these men look really
poor. There are no poor Italians any more: at least, loafers.
Strange the feeling round the harbour: as if everybody had gone away.
Yet there are people about. It is "festa" however, Epiphany. But it is
so different from Sicily: none of the suave Greek-Italian charms, none
of the airs and graces, none of the glamour. Rather bare, rather stark,
rather cold and yellow--somehow like Malta, without Malta's foreign
liveliness. Thank Goodness no one wants to carry my knapsack. Thank
Goodness no one has a fit at the sight of it. Thank Heaven no one takes
any notice. They stand cold and aloof, and don't move.
We make our way through the Customs: then through the Dazio, the City
Customs-house. Then we are free. We set off up a steep, new, broad road,
with little trees on either side. But stone, arid, new, wide stone,
yellowish under the cold sky--and abandoned-seeming. Though, of course,
there are people about. The north wind blows bitingly.
We climb a broad flight of steps, always upwards, up the wide,
precipitous, dreary boulevard with sprouts of trees. Looking for the
Hotel, and dying with hunger.
* * * * *
At last we find it, the Scala di Ferro: through a courtyard with green
plants. And at last a little man with lank, black hair, like an esquimo,
comes smiling. He is one brand of Sardinian--esquimo looking. There is
no room with two beds: only single rooms. And thus we are led off, if
you please, to the "bagnio": the bathing-establishment wing, on the dank
ground floor. Cubicles on either side a stone passage, and in every
cubicle a dark stone bath, and a little bed. We can have each a little
bath cubicle. If there's nothing else for it, there isn't: but it seems
dank and cold and horrid, underground. And one thinks of all the
unsavory "assignations" at these old bagnio places. True, at the end of
the passage are seated two carabinieri. But whether to ensure
respectibility or not, Heaven knows. We are in the baths, that's all.
The esquimo returns after five minutes, however. There is a bedroom in
the house. He is pleased, because he didn't like putting us into the
bagnio. Where he found the bedroom I don't know. But there it was,
large, sombre, cold, and over the kitchen fumes of a small inner court
like a well. But perfectly clean and all right. And the people seemed
warm and good-natured, like human beings. One has got so used to the
non-human ancient-souled Sicilians, who are suave and so completely
* * * * *
After a really good meal we went out to see the town. It was after three
o'clock and everywhere was shut up like an English Sunday. Cold, stony
Cagliari: in summer you must be sizzling hot, Cagliari, like a kiln. The
men stood about in groups, but without the intimate Italian watchfulness
that never leaves a passer-by alone.
Strange, stony Cagliari. We climbed up a street like a corkscrew
stairway. And we saw announcements of a children's fancy-dress ball.
Cagliari is very steep. Half-way up there is a strange place called the
bastions, a large, level space like a drill-ground with trees,
curiously suspended over the town, and sending off a long shoot like a
wide viaduct, across above the corkscrew street that comes climbing up.
Above this bastion place the town still rises steeply to the Cathedral
and the fort. What is so curious is that this terrace or bastion is so
large, like some big recreation ground, that it is almost dreary, and
one cannot understand its being suspended in mid-air. Down below is the
little circle of the harbour. To the left a low, malarial-looking sea
plain, with tufts of palm trees and Arab-looking houses. From this runs
out the long spit of land towards that black-and-white watch-fort, the
white road trailing forth. On the right, most curiously, a long strange
spit of sand runs in a causeway far across the shallows of the bay, with
the open sea on one hand, and vast, end-of-the-world lagoons on the
other. There are peaky, dark mountains beyond this--just as across the
vast bay are gloomy hills. It is a strange, strange landscape: as if
here the world left off. The bay is vast in itself; and all these
curious things happening at its head: this curious, craggy-studded town,
like a great stud of house-covered rock jutting up out of the bay flats:
around it on one side the weary, Arab-looking palm-desolated malarial
plain, and on the other side great salt lagoons, dead beyond the
sand-bar: these backed again by serried, clustered mountains, suddenly,
while away beyond the plain, hills rise to sea again. Land and sea both
seem to give out, exhausted, at the bay head: the world's end. And into
this world's end starts up Cagliari, and on either side, sudden,
But it still reminds me of Malta: lost between Europe and Africa and
belonging to nowhere. Belonging to nowhere, never having belonged to
anywhere. To Spain and the Arabs and the Phoenicians most. But as if
it had never really had a fate. No fate. Left outside of time and
The spirit of the place is a strange thing. Our mechanical age tries to
override it. But it does not succeed. In the end the strange, sinister
spirit of the place, so diverse and adverse in differing places, will
smash our mechanical oneness into smithereens, and all that we think the
real thing will go off with a pop, and we shall be left staring.
* * * * *
On the great parapet above the Municipal Hall and above the corkscrew
high-street a thick fringe of people is hanging, looking down. We go to
look too: and behold, below there is the entrance to the ball. Yes,
there is a china shepherdess in pale blue and powdered hair, crook,
ribbons, Marie Antoinette satin daintiness and all, slowly and
haughtily walking up the road, and gazing superbly round. She is not
more than twelve years old, moreover. Two servants accompany her. She
gazes supremely from right to left as she goes, mincingly, and I would
give her the prize for haughtiness. She is perfect--a little too haughty
for Watteau, but "marquise" to a T. The people watch in silence. There
is no yelling and screaming and running. They watch in a suitable
Comes a carriage with two fat bay horses slithering, almost swimming up
the corkscrew high-street. That in itself is a "tour-de-force": for
Cagliari doesn't have carriages. Imagine a street like a corkscrew
stair, paved with slippery stone. And imagine two bay horses rowing
their way up it: they did not walk a single stride. But they arrived.
And there fluttered out three strangely exquisite children, two frail,
white satin Pierrots and a white satin Pierrette. They were like fragile
winter butterflies with black spots. They had a curious, indefinable
remote elegance, something conventional and "fin-de-siècle". But not our
century. The wonderful artificial delicacy of the eighteenth. The boys
had big, perfect ruffs round their necks: and behind were slung old,
cream-colored Spanish shawls, for warmth. They were frail as tobacco
flowers, and with remote, cold elegance they fluttered by the carriage,
from which emerged a large black-satin Mama. Fluttering their queer
little butterfly feet on the pavement, hovering round the large Mama
like three frail-tissued ghosts, they found their way past the solid,
seated Carabinieri into the hall.
Arrived a primrose-brocade beau, with ruffles, and his hat under his
arm: about twelve years old. Walking statelily, without a qualm up the
steep twist of the street. Or perhaps so perfect in his
self-consciousness that it became an elegant "aplomb" in him. He was a
genuine eighteenth-century exquisite, rather stiffer than the French,
maybe, but completely in the spirit. Curious, curious children! They had
a certain stand-offish superbness, and not a single trace of misgiving.
For them, their "noblesse" was indisputable. For the first time in my
life I recognized the true cold superbness of the old "noblesse". They
had not a single qualm about their own perfect representing of the
higher order of being.
Followed another white satin "marquise", with a maid-servant. They are
strong on the eighteenth century in Cagliari. Perhaps it is the last
bright reality to them. The nineteenth hardly counts.
* * * * *
Curious the children in Cagliari. The poor seem thoroughly
poor-bare-footed urchins, gay and wild in the narrow dark streets. But
the more well-to-do children are so fine: so extraordinarily elegantly
dressed. It quite strikes one of a heap. Not so much the grown-ups. The
children. All the "chic," all the fashion, all the originality is
expended on the children. And with a great deal of success. Better than
Kensington Gardens very often. And they promenade with Papa and Mama
with such alert assurance, having quite brought it off, their
fashionable get-up. Who would have expected it?
* * * * *
Oh narrow, dark, and humid streets going up to the Cathedral, like
crevices. I narrowly miss a huge pail of slop-water which comes crashing
down from heaven. A small boy who was playing in the street, and whose
miss is not quite a clean miss, looks up with that naïve, impersonal
wonder with which children stare at a star or a lamp-lighter.
The Cathedral must have been a fine old pagan stone fortress once. Now
it has come, as it were, through the mincing machine of the ages, and
oozed out baroque and sausagey, a bit like the horrible baldachins in
St. Peter's at Rome. None the less it is homely and hole-and-cornery,
with a rather ragged high mass trailing across the pavement towards the
high altar, since it is almost sunset, and Epiphany. It feels as if one
might squat in a corner and play marbles and eat bread and cheese and be
at home: a comfortable old-time churchey feel.
There is some striking filet lace on the various altar-cloths. And St.
Joseph must be a prime saint. He has an altar and a verse of invocation
praying for the dying.
"Oh, St. Joseph, true potential father of Our Lord." What can it profit
a man, I wonder, to be the potential father of anybody! For the rest I
am not Baedeker.
* * * * *
The top of Cagliari is the fortress: the old gate, the old ramparts, of
honey-combed, fine yellowish sandstone. Up in a great sweep goes the
rampart wall, Spanish and splendid, dizzy. And the road creeping down
again at the foot, down the back of the hill. There lies the country:
that dead plain with its bunch of palms and a fainting sea, and inland
again, hills. Cagliari must be on a single, loose, lost bluff of rock.
From the terrace just below the fortress, above the town, not behind it,
we stand and look at the sunset. It is all terrible, taking place beyond
the knotted, serpent-crested hills that lie, bluey and velvety, beyond
the waste lagoons. Dark, sultry, heavy crimson the west is, hanging
sinisterly, with those gloomy blue cloud-bars and cloud-banks drawn
across. All behind the blue-gloomy peaks stretches the curtain of
sinister, smouldering red, and away to the sea. Deep below lie the
sea-meres. They seem miles and miles, and utterly waste. But the
sand-bar crosses like a bridge, and has a road. All the air is dark, a
sombre bluish tone. The great west burns inwardly, sullenly, and gives
no glow, yet a deep red. It is cold.
We go down the steep streets, smelly, dark, dank, and very cold. No
wheeled vehicle can scramble up them, presumably. People live in one
room. Men are combing their hair or fastening their collars in the
doorways. Evening is here, and it is a feast day.
* * * * *
At the bottom of the street we come to a little bunch of masked youths,
one in a long yellow frock and a frilled bonnet, another like an old
woman, another in red twill. They are arm in arm and are accosting the
passers-by. The q-b gives a cry, and looks for escape. She has a terror
of maskers, a terror that comes from childhood. To say the truth, so
have I. We hasten invisibly down the far side of the street, and come
out under the bastions. Then we go down our own familiar wide, short,
cold boulevard to the sea.
At the bottom, again, is a carriage with more maskers. Carnival is
beginning. A man dressed as a peasant woman in native costume is
clambering with his great wide skirts and wide strides on to the box,
and, flourishing his ribboned whip, is addressing a little crowd of
listeners. He opens his mouth wide and goes on with a long yelling
harangue of taking a drive with his mother--another man in old-woman's
gaudy finery and wig who sits already bobbing on the box. The would-be
daughter flourishes, yells, and prances up there on the box of the
carriage. The crowd listens attentively and mildly smiles. It all seems
real to them. The q-b hovers in the distance, half-fascinated, and
watches. With a great flourish of whip and legs--showing his frilled
drawers--the masker pulls round to drive along the boulevard by the
sea--the only place where one can drive.
* * * * *
The big street by the sea is the Via Roma. It has the cafés on one side
and across the road the thick tufts of trees intervening between the sea
and us. Among these thick tufts of sea-front trees the little steam
tram, like a little train, bumps to rest, after having wound round the
back of the town.
The Via Roma is all social Cagliari. Including the cafés with their
outdoor tables on the one side of the road, and the avenue strand on the
other, it is very wide, and at evening it contains the whole town. Here,
and here alone carriages can spank along, very slowly, officers can
ride, and the people can promenade "en masse."
We were amazed at the sudden crowd we found ourselves amongst--like a
short, dense river of people streaming slowly in a mass. There is
practically no vehicular traffic--only the steady dense streams of human
beings of all sorts, all on a human footing. It must have been something
like this in the streets of imperial Rome, where no chariots might drive
and humanity was all on foot.
Little bunches of maskers, and single maskers danced and strutted along
in the thick flow under the trees. If you are a mask you don't walk like
a human being: you dance and prance along extraordinarily like the
life-size marionettes, conducted by wires from above. That is how you
go: with that odd jauntiness as if lifted and propelled by wires from
the shoulders. In front of me went a charming coloured harlequin, all in
diamond-shaped colours, and beautiful as a piece of china. He tripped
with the light, fantastic trip, quite alone in the thick crowd, and
quite blithe. Came two little children hand in hand in brilliant scarlet
and white costumes, sauntering calmly. They did not do the mask trip.
After a while a sky-blue girl with a high hat and full skirts, very
short, that went flip-flip-flip, as a ballet dancer's, whilst she
strutted; after her a Spanish grandee capering like a monkey. They
threaded among the slow stream of the crowd. Appeared Dante and
Beatrice, in Paradise apparently, all in white sheet-robes, and with
silver wreaths on their heads, arm in arm, and prancing very slowly and
majestically, yet with the long lilt as if hitched along by wires from
above. They were very good: all the well-known vision come to life,
Dante incorporate, and white as a shroud, with his tow-haired,
silver-crowned, immortal Beatrice on his arm, strutting the dark
avenues. He had the nose and cheek-bones and banded cheek, and the
stupid wooden look, and offered a modern criticism on the Inferno.
* * * * *
It had become quite dark, the lamps were lighted. We crossed the road to
the Café Roma, and found a table on the pavement among the crowd. In a
moment we had our tea. The evening was cold, with ice in the wind. But
the crowd surged on, back and forth, back and forth, slowly. At the
tables were seated mostly men, taking coffee or vermouth or aqua vitae,
all familiar and easy, without the modern self-consciousness. There was
a certain pleasant, natural robustness of spirit, and something of a
feudal free-and-easiness. Then arrived a family, with children, and
nurse in her native costume. They all sat at table together, perfectly
easy with one another, though the marvellous nurse seemed to be seated
below the salt. She was bright as a poppy, in a rose-scarlet dress of
fine cloth, with a curious little waistcoat of emerald green and purple,
and a bodice of soft, homespun linen with great full sleeves. On her
head she had a rose-scarlet and white head-dress, and she wore great
studs of gold filigree, and similar ear-rings. The feudal-bourgeois
family drank its syrup-drinks and watched the crowd. Most remarkable is
the complete absence of self-consciousness. They all have a perfect
natural "sang-froid," the nurse in her marvellous native costume is as
thoroughly at her ease as if she were in her own village street. She
moves and speaks and calls to a passer-by without the slightest
constraint, and much more, without the slightest presumption. She is
below the invisible salt, the invisible but insuperable salt. And it
strikes me the salt-barrier is a fine thing for both parties: they both
remain natural and human on either side of it, instead of becoming
devilish, scrambling and pushing at the barricade.
* * * * *
The crowd is across the road, under the trees near the sea. On this side
stroll occasional pedestrians. And I see my first peasant in costume.
He is an elderly, upright, handsome man, beautiful in the
black-and-white costume. He wears the full-sleeved white shirt and the
close black bodice of thick, native frieze, cut low. From this sticks
out a short kilt or frill, of the same black frieze, a band of which
goes between the legs, between the full loose drawers of coarse linen.
The drawers are banded below the knee into tight black frieze gaiters.
On his head he has the long black stocking cap, hanging down behind. How
handsome he is, and so beautifully male! He walks with his hands loose
behind his back, slowly, upright, and aloof. The lovely
unapproachableness, indomitable. And the flash of the black and white,
the slow stride of the full white drawers, the black gaiters and black
cuirass with the bolero, then the great white sleeves and white breast
again, and once more the black cap--what marvellous massing of the
contrast, marvellous, and superb, as on a magpie.--How beautiful
maleness is, if it finds its right expression.--And how perfectly
ridiculous it is made in modern clothes.
There is another peasant too, a young one with a swift eye and hard
cheek and hard, dangerous thighs. He has folded his stocking cap, so
that it comes forward to his brow like a phrygian cap. He wears close
knee breeches and close sleeved waistcoat of thick brownish stuff that
looks like leather. Over the waistcoat a sort of cuirass of black, rusty
sheepskin, the curly wool outside. So he strides, talking to a comrade.
How fascinating it is, after the soft Italians, to see these limbs in
their close knee-breeches, so definite, so manly, with the old
fierceness in them still. One realises, with horror, that the race of
men is almost extinct in Europe. Only Christ-like heroes and
woman-worshipping Don Juans, and rabid equality-mongrels. The old,
hardy, indomitable male is gone. His fierce singleness is quenched. The
last sparks are dying out in Sardinia and Spain. Nothing left but the
herd-proletariat and the herd-equality mongrelism, and the wistful
poisonous self-sacrificial cultured soul. How detestable.
But that curious, flashing, black-and-white costume! I seem to have
known it before: to have worn it even: to have dreamed it. To have
dreamed it: to have had actual contact with it. It belongs in some way
to something in me--to my past, perhaps. I don't know. But the uneasy
sense of blood-familiarity haunts me. I know I have known it before.
It is something of the same uneasiness I feel before Mount Eryx: but
without the awe this time.
* * * * *
In the morning the sun was shining from a blue, blue sky, but the
shadows were deadly cold, and the wind like a flat blade of ice. We went
out running to the sun. The hotel could not give us coffee and milk:
only a little black coffee. So we descended to the sea-front again, to
the Via Roma, and to our café. It was Friday: people seemed to be
bustling in from the country with huge baskets.
The Café Roma had coffee and milk, but no butter. We sat and watched the
movement outside. Tiny Sardinian donkeys, the tiniest things ever seen,
trotted their infinitesimal little paws along the road, drawing little
wagons like handcarts. Their proportion is so small, that they make a
boy walking at their side look like a tall man, while a natural man
looks like a Cyclops stalking hugely and cruelly. It is ridiculous for a
grown man to have one of these little creatures, hardly bigger than a
fly, hauling his load for him. One is pulling a chest of drawers on a
cart, and it seems to have a whole house behind it. Nevertheless it
plods bravely, away beneath the load, a wee thing.
They tell me there used to be flocks of these donkeys, feeding half wild
on the wild, moor-like hills of Sardinia. But the war--and also the
imbecile wantonness of the war-masters--consumed these flocks too, so
that few are left. The same with the cattle. Sardinia, home of cattle,
hilly little Argentine of the Mediterranean, is now almost deserted. It
is war, say the Italiana.--And also the wanton, imbecile, foul
lavishness of the war-masters. It was not alone the war which exhausted
the world. It was the deliberate evil wastefulness of the war-makers in
their own countries. Italy ruined Italy.
* * * * *
Two peasants in black-and-white are strolling in the sun, flashing. And
my dream of last evening was not a dream. And my nostalgia for something
I know not what was not an illusion. I feel it again, at once, at the
sight of the men in frieze and linen, a heart yearning for something I
have known, and which I want back again.
It is market day. We turn up the Largo Carlo-Felice, the second wide gap
of a street, a vast but very short boulevard, like the end of something.
Cagliari is like that: all bits and bobs. And by the side of the
pavement are many stalls, stalls selling combs and collar-studs, cheap
mirrors, handkerchiefs, shoddy Manchester goods, bed-ticking,
boot-paste, poor crockery, and so on. But we see also Madame of Cagliari
going marketing, with a servant accompanying her, carrying a huge
grass-woven basket: or returning from marketing, followed by a small
boy supporting one of these huge grass-woven baskets--like huge
dishes--on his head, piled with bread, eggs, vegetables, a chicken, and
so forth. Therefore we follow Madame going marketing, and find ourselves
in the vast market house, and it fairly glows with eggs: eggs in these
great round dish-baskets of golden grass: but eggs in piles, in mounds,
in heaps, a Sierra Nevada of eggs, glowing warm white. How they glow! I
have never noticed it before. But they give off a warm, pearly
effulgence into the air, almost a warmth. A pearly-gold heat seems to
come out of them. Myriads of eggs, glowing avenues of eggs.
And they are marked--60 centimes, 65 centimes. Ah, cries the q-b, I must
live in Cagliari--For in Sicily the eggs cost 1.50 each.
This is the meat and poultry and bread market. There are stalls of new,
various-shaped bread, brown and bright: there are tiny stalls of
marvellous native cakes, which I want to taste, there is a great deal of
meat and kid: and there are stalls of cheese, all cheeses, all shapes,
all whitenesses, all the cream-colours, on into daffodil yellow. Goat
cheese, sheeps cheese, Swiss cheese, Parmegiano, stracchino,
caciocavallo, torolone, how many cheeses I don't know the names of! But
they cost about the same as in Sicily, eighteen francs, twenty francs,
twenty-five francs the kilo. And there is lovely ham--thirty and
thirty-five francs the kilo. There is a little fresh butter too--thirty
or thirty-two francs the kilo. Most of the butter, however, is tinned in
Milan. It costs the same as the fresh. There are splendid piles of
salted black olives, and huge bowls of green salted olives. There are
chickens and ducks and wild-fowl: at eleven and twelve and fourteen
francs a kilo. There is mortadella, the enormous Bologna sausage, thick
as a church pillar: 16 francs: and there are various sorts of smaller
sausage, salami, to be eaten in slices. A wonderful abundance of food,
glowing and shining. We are rather late for fish, especially on Friday.
But a barefooted man offers us two weird objects from the Mediterranean,
which teems with marine monsters.
The peasant women sit behind their wares, their home-woven linen skirts,
hugely full, and of various colours, ballooning round them. The yellow
baskets give off a glow of light. There is a sense of profusion once
more. But alas no sense of cheapness: save the eggs. Every month, up
goes the price of everything.
"I must come and live in Cagliari, to do my shopping here," says the
q-b. "I must have one of those big grass baskets."
We went down to the little street--but saw more baskets emerging from a
broad flight of stone stairs, enclosed. So up we went-and found
ourselves in the vegetable market. Here the q-b was happier still.
Peasant women, sometimes barefoot, sat in their tight little bodices and
voluminous, coloured skirts behind the piles of vegetables, and never
have I seen a lovelier show. The intense deep green of spinach seemed to
predominate, and out of that came the monuments of curd-white and
black-purple cauliflowers: but marvellous cauliflowers, like a
flower-show, the purple ones intense as great bunches of violets. From
this green, white, and purple massing struck out the vivid rose-scarlet
and blue crimson of radishes, large radishes like little turnips, in
piles. Then the long, slim, grey-purple buds of artichokes, and dangling
clusters of dates, and piles of sugar-dusty white figs and
sombre-looking black figs, and bright burnt figs: basketfuls and
basketfuls of figs. A few baskets of almonds, and many huge walnuts.
Basket-pans of native raisins. Scarlet peppers like trumpets:
magnificent fennels, so white and big and succulent: baskets of new
potatoes: scaly kohlrabi: wild asparagus in bunches, yellow-budding
sparacelli: big, clean-fleshed carrots: feathery salads with white
hearts: long, brown-purple onions and then, of course pyramids of big
oranges, pyramids of pale apples, and baskets of brilliant shiny
mandarini, the little tangerine orange with their green-black leaves.
The green and vivid-coloured world of fruit-gleams I have never seen in
such splendour as under the market roof at Cagliari: so raw and
gorgeous. And all quite cheap, the one remaining cheapness, except
potatoes. Potatoes of any sort are 1.40 or 1.50 the kilo.
"Oh!" cried the q-b, "If I don't live at Cagliari and come and do my
shopping here, I shall die with one of my wishes unfulfilled."
* * * * *
But out of the sun it was cold, nevertheless. We went into the streets
to try and get warm. The sun was powerful. But alas, as in southern
towns generally, the streets are sunless as wells.
So the q-b and I creep slowly along the sunny bits, and then perforce
are swallowed by shadow. We look at the shops. But there is not much to
see. Little, frowsy provincial shops, on the whole.
But a fair number of peasants in the streets, and peasant women in
rather ordinary costume: tight-bodiced, volume-skirted dresses of
hand-woven linen or thickish cotton. The prettiest is of
dark-blue-and-red, stripes-and-lines, intermingled, so made that the
dark-blue gathers round the waist into one colour, the myriad pleats
hiding all the rosy red. But when she walks, the full-petticoated
peasant woman, then the red goes flash-flash-flash, like a bird showing
its colours. Pretty that looks in the sombre street. She has a plain,
light bodice with a peak: sometimes a little vest, and great full white
sleeves, and usually a handkerchief or shawl loose knotted. It is
charming the way they walk, with quick, short steps. When all is said
and done, the most attractive costume for women in my eye, is the tight
little bodice and the many-pleated skirt, full and vibrating with
movement. It has a charm which modern elegance lacks completely--a
bird-like play in movement.
* * * * *
They are amusing, these peasant girls and women: so brisk and defiant.
They have straight backs, like little walls, and decided, well-drawn
brows. And they are amusingly on the alert. There is no eastern
creeping. Like sharp, brisk birds they dart along the streets, and you
feel they would fetch you a bang over the head as leave as look at you.
Tenderness, thank heaven, does not seem to be a Sardinian quality. Italy
is so tender--like cooked macaroni--yards and yards of soft tenderness
ravelled round everything. Here men don't idealise women, by the looks
of things. Here they don't make these great leering eyes, the inevitable
yours-to-command look of Italian males. When the men from the country
look at these women, then it is Mind-yourself, my lady. I should think
the grovelling Madonna-worship is not much of a Sardinian feature. These
women have to look out for themselves, keep their own back-bone stiff
and their knuckles hard. Man is going to be male Lord if he can. And
woman isn't going to give him too much of his own way, either. So there
you have it, the fine old martial split between the sexes. It is tonic
and splendid, really, after so much sticky intermingling and
backboneless Madonna-worship. The Sardinian isn't looking for the "noble
woman nobly planned." No, thank you. He wants that young madam over
there, a young stiff-necked generation that she is. Far better sport
than with the nobly-planned sort: hollow frauds that they are. Better
sport too than with a Carmen, who gives herself away too much, In these
women there is something shy and defiant and un-get-atable. The defiant,
splendid split between the sexes, each absolutely determined to defend
his side, her side, from assault. So the meeting has a certain wild,
salty savour, each the deadly unknown to the other. And at the same
time, each his own, her own native pride and courage, taking the
dangerous leap and scrambling back.
Give me the old, salty way of love. How I am nauseated with sentiment
and nobility, the macaroni slithery-slobbery mess of modern adorations.
* * * * *
One sees a few fascinating faces in Cagliari: those great dark unlighted
eyes. There are fascinating dark eyes in Sicily, bright, big, with an
impudent point of light, and a curious roll, and long lashes: the eyes
of old Greece, surely. But here one sees eyes of soft, blank darkness,
all velvet, with no imp looking out of them. And they strike a stranger,
older note: before the soul became self-conscious: before the mentality
of Greece appeared in the world. Remote, always remote, as if the
intelligence lay deep within the cave, and never came forward. One
searches into the gloom for one second, while the glance lasts. But
without being able to penetrate to the reality. It recedes, like some
unknown creature deeper into its lair. There is a creature, dark and
potent. But what?
Sometimes Velasquez, and sometimes Goya gives us a suggestion of these
large, dark, unlighted eyes. And they go with fine, fleecy black
hair--almost as fine as fur. I have not seen them north of Cagliari.
* * * * *
The q-b spies some of the blue-and-red stripe-and-line cotton stuff of
which the peasants make their dress: a large roll in the doorway of a
dark shop. In we go, and begin to feel it. It is just soft, thickish
cotton stuff--twelve francs a metre. Like most peasant patterns, it is
much more complicated and subtle than appears: the curious placing of
the stripes, the subtle proportion, and a white thread left down one
side only of each broad blue block. The stripes, moreover, run across
the cloth, not lengthwise with it. But the width would be just long
enough for a skirt--though the peasant skirts have almost all a band at
the bottom with the stripes running round-ways.
The man--he is the esquimo type, simple, frank and aimiable--says the
stuff is made in France, and this the first roll since the war. It is
the old, old pattern, quite correct--but the material not quite so
good. The q-b takes enough for a dress.
He shows us also cashmeres, orange, scarlet, sky-blue, royal blue: good,
pure-wool cashmeres that were being sent to India, and were captured
from a German mercantile sub-marine. So he says. Fifty francs a
metre--very, very wide. But they are too much trouble to carry in a
knapsack, though their brilliance fascinates.
* * * * *
So we stroll and look at the shops, at the filigree gold jewelling of
the peasants, at a good bookshop. But there is little to see and
therefore the question is, shall we go on? Shall we go forward?
There are two ways of leaving Cagliari for the north: the State railway
that runs up the west side of the island, and the narrow-gauge secondary
railway that pierces the centre. But we are too late for the big trains.
So we will go by the secondary railway, wherever it goes.
There is a train at 2.30, and we can get as far as Mandas, some fifty
miles in the interior. When we tell the queer little waiter at the
hotel, he says he comes from Mandas, and there are two inns. So after
lunch--a strictly fish menu--we pay our bill. It comes to sixty odd
francs--for three good meals each, with wine, and the night's lodging,
this is cheap, as prices now are in Italy.
Pleased with the simple and friendly Scala di Ferre, I shoulder my sack
and we walk off to the second station. The sun is shining hot this
afternoon--burning hot, by the sea. The road and the buildings look dry
and desiccated, the harbour rather weary and end of the world.
There is a great crowd of peasants at the little station. And almost
every man has a pair of woven saddle-bags--a great flat strip of
coarse-woven wool, with flat pockets at either end, stuffed with
purchases. These are almost the only carrying bags. The men sling them
over their shoulder, so that one great pocket hangs in front, one
These saddle bags are most fascinating. They are coarsely woven in bands
of raw black-rusty wool, with varying bands of raw white wool or hemp or
cotton--the bands and stripes of varying widths going cross-wise. And on
the pale bands are woven sometimes flowers in most lovely colours,
rose-red and blue and green, peasant patterns--and sometimes fantastic
animals, beasts, in dark wool again. So that these striped zebra bags,
some wonderful gay with flowery colours on their stripes, some weird
with fantastic, griffin-like animals, are a whole landscape in
The train has only first and third class. It costs about thirty francs
for the two of us, third class to Mandas, which is some sixty miles. In
we crowd with the joyful saddle-bags, into the wooden carriage with its
And, wonder of wonders, punctually to the second, off we go, out of
Cagliari. En route again.
The coach was fairly full of people, returning from market. On these
railways the third class coaches are not divided into compartments. They
are left open, so that one sees everybody, as down a room. The
attractive saddle-bags, bercole, were disposed anywhere, and the bulk
of the people settled down to a lively conversazione. It is much
nicest, on the whole, to travel third class on the railway. There is
space, there is air, and it is like being in a lively inn, everybody in
At our end was plenty of room. Just across the gangway was an elderly
couple, like two children, coming home very happily. He was fat, fat all
over, with a white moustache and a little not-unamiable frown. She was a
tall lean, brown woman, in a brown full-skirted dress and black apron,
with huge pocket. She wore no head covering, and her iron grey hair was
parted smoothly. They were rather pleased and excited being in the
train. She took all her money out of her big pocket, and counted it and
gave it to him: all the ten Lira notes, and the five Lira and the two
and the one, peering at the dirty scraps of pink-backed one-lira notes
to see if they were good. Then she gave him her half-pennies. And he
stowed them away in the trouser pocket, standing up to push them down
his fat leg. And then one saw, to one's amazement, that the whole of his
shirt-tail was left out behind, like a sort of apron worn backwards.
Why--a mystery. He was one of those fat, good-natured, unheeding men
with a little masterful frown, such as usually have tall, lean,
hard-faced, obedient wives.
They were very happy. With amazement he watched us taking hot tea from
the Thermos flask. I think he too had suspected it might be a bomb. He
had blue eyes and standing-up white eyebrows.
"Beautiful hot--!" he said, seeing the tea steam. It is the inevitable
exclamation. "Does it do you good?"
"Yes," said the q-b. "Much good." And they both nodded complacently.
They were going home.
* * * * *
The train was running over the malarial-looking sea-plain--past the
down-at-heel palm trees, past the mosque-looking buildings. At a level
crossing the woman crossing-keeper darted out vigorously with her red
flag. And we rambled into the first village. It was built of sun-dried
brick-adobe houses, thick adobe garden-walls, with tile ridges to keep
off the rain. In the enclosures were dark orange trees. But the
clay-coloured villages, clay-dry, looked foreign: the next thing to mere
earth they seem, like fox-holes or coyote colonies.
Looking back, one sees Cagliari bluff on her rock, rather fine, with the
thin edge of the sea's blade curving round. It is rather hard to believe
in the real sea, on this sort of clay-pale plain.
* * * * *
But soon we begin to climb to the hills. And soon the cultivation begins
to be intermittent. Extraordinary how the heathy, moor-like hills come
near the sea: extraordinary how scrubby and uninhabited the great spaces
of Sardinia are. It is wild, with heath and arbutus scrub and a sort of
myrtle, breast-high. Sometimes one sees a few head of cattle. And then
again come the greyish arable-patches, where the corn is grown. It is
like Cornwall, like the Land's End region. Here and there, in the
distance, are peasants working on the lonely landscape. Sometimes it is
one man alone in the distance, showing so vividly in his black-and-white
costume, small and far-off like a solitary magpie, and curiously
distinct. All the strange magic of Sardinia is in this sight. Among the
low, moor-like hills, away in a hollow of the wide landscape one
solitary figure, small but vivid black-and-white, working alone, as if
eternally. There are patches and hollows of grey arable land, good for
corn. Sardinia was once a great granary.
Usually, however, the peasants of the South have left off the costume.
Usually it is the invisible soldiers' grey-green cloth, the Italian
khaki. Wherever you go, wherever you be, you see this khaki, this
grey-green war-clothing. How many millions of yards of the thick,
excellent, but hateful material the Italian government must have
provided I don't know: but enough to cover Italy with a felt carpet, I
should think. It is everywhere. It cases the tiny children in stiff and
neutral frocks and coats, it covers their extinguished fathers, and
sometimes it even encloses the women in its warmth. It is symbolic of
the universal grey mist that has come over men, the extinguishing of all
bright individuality, the blotting out of all wild singleness. Oh
democracy! Oh khaki democracy!
* * * * *
This is very different from Italian landscape. Italy is almost always
dramatic, and perhaps invariably romantic. There is drama in the plains
of Lombardy, and romance in the Venetian lagoons, and sheer scenic
excitement in nearly all the hilly parts of the peninsula. Perhaps it is
the natural floridity of lime-stone formations. But Italian landscape is
really eighteenth-century landscape, to be represented in that
romantic-classic manner which makes everything rather marvelous and very
topical: aqueducts, and ruins upon sugar-loaf mountains, and craggy
ravines and Wilhelm Meister water-falls: all up and down.
Sardinia is another thing. Much wider, much more ordinary, not
up-and-down at all, but running away into the distance. Unremarkable
ridges of moor-like hills running away, perhaps to a bunch of dramatic
peaks on the southwest. This gives a sense of space, which is so lacking
in Italy. Lovely space about one, and traveling distances--nothing
finished, nothing final. It is like liberty itself, after the peaky
confinement of Sicily. Room--give me room--give me room for my spirit:
and you can have all the toppling crags of romance.
So we ran on through the gold of the afternoon, across a wide, almost
Celtic landscape of hills, our little train winding and puffing away
very nimbly. Only the heath and scrub, breast-high, man-high, is too big
and brigand-like for a Celtic land. The horns of black, wild-looking
cattle show sometimes.
After a long pull, we come to a station after a stretch of loneliness.
Each time, it looks as if there were nothing beyond--no more
habitations. And each time we come to a station.
Most of the people have left the train. And as with men driving in a
gig, who get down at every public-house, so the passengers usually
alight for an airing at each station. Our old fat friend stands up and
tucks his shirt-tail comfortably in his trousers, which trousers all the
time make one hold one's breath, for they seem at each very moment to be
just dropping right down: and he clambers out, followed by the long,
brown stalk of a wife.
So the train sits comfortably for five or ten minutes, in the way the
trains have. At last we hear whistles and horns, and our old fat friend
running and clinging like a fat crab to the very end of the train as it
sets off. At the same instant a loud shriek and a bunch of shouts from
outside. We all jump up. There, down the line, is the long brown stork
of a wife. She had just walked back to a house some hundred yards off,
for a few words, and has now seen the train moving.
Now behold her with her hands thrown to heaven, and hear the wild shriek
"Madonna!" through all the hubbub. But she picks up her two skirt-knees,
and with her thin legs in grey stockings starts with a mad rush after
the train. In vain. The train inexorably pursues its course. Prancing,
she reaches one end of the platform as we leave the other end. Then she
realizes it is not going to stop for her. And then, oh horror, her long
arms thrown out in wild supplication after the retreating train: then
flung aloft to God: then brought down in absolute despair on her head.
And this is the last sight we have of her, clutching her poor head in
agony and doubling forward. She is left--she is abandoned.
The poor fat husband has been all the time on the little outside
platform at the end of the carriage, holding out his hand to her and
shouting frenzied scolding to her and frenzied yells for the train to
stop. And the train has not stopped. And she is left--left on that
God-forsaken station in the waning light.
So, his face all bright, his eyes round and bright as two stars,
absolutely transfigured by dismay, chagrin, anger and distress, he comes
and sits in his seat, ablaze, stiff, speechless. His face is almost
beautiful in its blaze of conflicting emotions. For some time he is as
if unconscious in the midst of his feelings. Then anger and resentment
crop out of his consternation. He turns with a flash to the long-nosed,
insidious, Phoenician-looking guard. Why couldn't they stop the train
for her! And immediately, as if someone had set fire to him, off flares
the guard. Heh!--the train can't stop for every person's convenience!
The train is a train--the time-table is a time-table. What did the old
woman want to take her trips down the line for? Heh! She pays the
penalty for her own inconsiderateness. Had she paid for the
train--heh? And the fat man all the time firing off his unheeding and
unheeded answers. One minute--only one minute--if he, the conductor had
told the driver! if he, the conductor, had shouted! A poor woman! Not
another train! What was she going to do! Her ticket? And no money. A
There was a train back to Cagliari that night, said the conductor, at
which the fat man nearly burst out of his clothing like a bursting
seed-pod. He bounced on his seat. What good was that? What good was a
train back to Cagliari, when their home was in Snelli! Making matters
So they bounced and jerked and argued at one another, to their hearts'
content. Then the conductor retired, smiling subtly, in a way they have.
Our fat friend looked at us with hot, angry, ashamed, grieved eyes and
said it was a shame. Yes, we chimed, it was a shame. Whereupon a
self-important miss who said she came from some Collegio at Cagliari
advanced and asked a number of impertinent questions in a tone of pert
sympathy. After which our fat friend, left alone, covered his clouded
face with his hand, turned his back on the world, and gloomed.
It had all been so dramatic that in spite of ourselves we laughed, even
while the q-b shed a few tears.
* * * * *
Well, the journey lasted hours. We came to a station, and the conductor
said we must get out: these coaches went no further. Only two coaches
would proceed to Mandas. So we climbed out with our traps, and our fat
friend with his saddle-bag, the picture of misery.
The one coach into which we clambered was rather crowded. The only other
coach was most of it first-class. And the rest of the train was freight.
We were two insignificant passenger wagons at the end of a long string
of freight-vans and trucks.
There was an empty seat, so we sat on it: only to realize after about
five minutes, that a thin old woman with two children--her
grandchildren--was chuntering her head off because it was her
seat--why she had left it she didn't say. And under my legs was her
bundle of bread. She nearly went off her head. And over my head, on the
little rack, was her bercola, her saddle-bag. Fat soldiers laughed at
her good-naturedly, but she fluttered and flipped like a tart,
featherless old hen. Since she had another seat and was quite
comfortable, we smiled and let her chunter. So she clawed her bread
bundle from under my legs, and, clutching it and a fat child, sat tense.
* * * * *
It was getting quite dark. The conductor came and said that there was no
more paraffin. If what there was in the lamps gave out, we should have
to sit in the dark. There was no more paraffin all along the line.--So
he climbed on the seats, and after a long struggle, with various boys
striking matches for him, he managed to obtain a light as big as a pea.
We sat in this clair-obscur, and looked at the sombre-shadowed faces
round us: the fat soldier with a gun, the handsome soldier with huge
saddle-bags, the weird, dark little man who kept exchanging a baby with
a solid woman who had a white cloth tied round her head, a tall
peasant-woman in costume, who darted out at a dark station and returned
triumphant with a piece of chocolate: a young and interested young man,
who told us every station. And the man who spat: there is always one.
Gradually the crowd thinned. At a station we saw our fat friend go by,
bitterly, like a betrayed soul, his bulging saddle-bag hanging before
and after, but no comfort in it now--no comfort. The pea of light from
the paraffin lamp grew smaller. We sat in incredible dimness, and the
smell of sheeps-wool and peasant, with only our fat and stoic young man
to tell us where we were. The other dusky faces began to sink into a
dead, gloomy silence. Some took to sleep. And the little train ran on
and on, through unknown Sardinian darkness. In despair we drained the
last drop of tea and ate the last crusts of bread. We knew we must
arrive some time.
* * * * *
It was not much after seven when we came to Mandas. Mandas is a junction
where these little trains sit and have a long happy chat after their
arduous scramble over the downs. It had taken us somewhere about five
hours to do our fifty miles. No wonder then that when the junction at
last heaves in sight everybody bursts out of the train like seeds from
an exploding pod, and rushes somewhere for something. To the station
restaurant, of course. Hence there is a little station restaurant that
does a brisk trade, and where one can have a bed.
A quite pleasant woman behind the little bar: a brown woman with brown
parted hair and brownish eyes and brownish, tanned complexion and tight
brown velveteen bodice. She led us up a narrow winding stone stair, as
up a fortress, leading on with her candle, and ushered us into the
bedroom. It smelled horrid and sourish, as shutup bedrooms do. We threw
open the window. There were big frosty stars snapping ferociously in
The room contained a huge bed, big enough for eight people, and quite
clean. And the table on which stood the candle actually had a cloth. But
imagine that cloth! I think it had been originally white: now, however,
it was such a web of time-eaten holes and mournful black inkstains and
poor dead wine stains that it was like some 2000 B.C. mummy-cloth. I
wonder if it could have been lifted from that table: or if it was
mummified on to it! I for one made no attempt to try. But that
table-cover impressed me, as showing degrees I had not imagined.--A
We went down the fortress-stair to the eating-room. Here was a long
table with soup-plates upside down and a lamp burning an uncanny naked
acetylene flame. We sat at the cold table, and the lamp immediately
began to wane. The room--in fact the whole of Sardinia--was stone cold,
stone, stone cold. Outside the earth was freezing. Inside there was no
thought of any sort of warmth: dungeon stone floors, dungeon stone walls
and a dead, corpse-like atmosphere, too heavy and icy to move.
The lamp went quite out, and the q-b gave a cry. The brown woman poked
her head through a hole in the wall. Beyond her we saw the flames of the
cooking, and two devil-figures stirring the pots. The brown woman came
and shook the lamp--it was like a stodgy porcelain mantelpiece
vase--shook it well and stirred up its innards, and started it going
once more. Then she appeared with a bowl of smoking cabbage soup, in
which were bits of macaroni: and would we have wine? I shuddered at the
thought of death-cold red wine of the country, so asked what else there
was. There was malvagia--malvoisie, the same old malmsey that did for
the Duke of Clarence. So we had a pint of malvagia, and were comforted.
At least we were being so, when the lamp went out again. The brown woman
came and shook and smacked it, and started it off again. But as if to
say "Shan't for you", it whipped out again.
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 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 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.
And they fell on their soup. And never, from among the steam, have I
heard a more joyful trio of soup-swilkering. They sucked it in from
their spoons with long, gusto-rich sucks. The maialino was the
treble--he trilled his soup into his mouth with a swift, sucking
vibration, interrupted by bits of cabbage, which made the lamp start to
dither again. Black-cap was the baritone; good, rolling spoon-sucks. And
the one in spectacles was the bass: he gave sudden deep gulps. All was
led by the long trilling of the maialino. Then suddenly, to vary
matters, he cocked up his spoon in one hand, chewed a huge mouthful of
bread, and swallowed it down with a smack-smack-smack! of his tongue
against his palate. As children we used to call this "clapping".
"Mother, she's clapping!" I would yell with anger, against my sister.
The German word is schmatzen.
So the maialino clapped like a pair of cymbals, while baritone and
bass rolled on. Then in chimed the swift bright treble.
At this rate however, the soup did not last long. Arrived the
beef-steaks of pork. And now the trio was a trio of castanet smacks and
cymbal claps. Triumphantly the maialino looked around. He out-smacked
The bread of the country is rather coarse and brown, with a hard, hard
crust. A large rock of this is perched on every damp serviette. The
maialino tore his rock asunder, and grumbled at the black-cap, who had
got a weird sort of three-cornered loaf-roll of pure white bread--starch
white. He was a swell with this white bread.
Suddenly black-cap turned to me. Where had we come from, where were we
going, what for? But in laconic, sardonic tone.
"I like Sardinia," cried the q-b.
"Why?" he asked sarcastically. And she tried to find out.
"Yes, the Sardinians please me more than the Sicilians," said I.
"Why?" he asked sarcastically.
"They are more open--more honest." He seemed to turn his nose down.
"The padrone is a Sicilian," said the maialino, stuffing a huge block
of bread into his mouth, and rolling his insouciant eyes of a gay,
well-fed little black pig towards the background. We weren't making much
"You've seen Cagliari?" the black-cap said to me, like a threat.
"Yes! oh Cagliari pleases me--Cagliari is beautiful!" cried the q-b,
who travels with a vial of melted butter ready for her parsnips.
"Yes--Cagliari is so-so--Cagliari is very fair," said the black cap.
"Cagliari è discreto." He was evidently proud of it.
"And is Mandas nice?" asked the q-b.
"In what way nice?" they asked, with immense sarcasm.
"Is there anything to see?"
"Hens," said the maialino briefly. They all bristled when one asked if
Mandas was nice.
"What does one do here?" asked the q-b.
"Niente! At Mandas one does nothing. At Mandas one goes to bed when
it's dark, like a chicken. At Mandas one walks down the road like a pig
that is going nowhere. At Mandas a goat understands more than the
inhabitants understand. At Mandas one needs socialism...."
They all cried out at once. Evidently Mandas was more than flesh and
blood could bear for another minute to these three conspirators.
"Then you are very bored here?" say I.
And the quiet intensity of that naked yes spoke more than volumes.
"You would like to be in Cagliari?"
Silence, intense, sardonic silence had intervened. The three looked at
one another and made a sour joke about Mandas. Then the black-cap turned
"Can you understand Sardinian?" he said.
"Somewhat. More than Sicilian, anyhow."
"But Sardinian is more difficult than Sicilian. It is full of words
utterly unknown to Italian--"
"Yes, but," say I, "it is spoken openly, in plain words, and Sicilian is
spoken all stuck together, none of the words there at all."
He looks at me as if I were an imposter. Yet it is true. I find it quite
easy to understand Sardinian. As a matter of fact, it is more a question
of human approach than of sound. Sardinian seems open and manly and
downright. Sicilian is gluey and evasive, as if the Sicilian didn't want
to speak straight to you. As a matter of fact, he doesn't. He is an
over-cultured, sensitive, ancient soul, and he has so many sides to his
mind that he hasn't got any definite one mind at all. He's got a dozen
minds, and uneasily he's aware of it, and to commit himself to anyone of
them is merely playing a trick on himself and his interlocutor. The
Sardinian, on the other hand, still seems to have one downright mind. I
bump up against a downright, smack-out belief in Socialism, for
example. The Sicilian is much too old in our culture to swallow
Socialism whole: much too ancient and rusé not to be sophisticated about
any and every belief. He'll go off like a squib: and then he'll smoulder
acridly and sceptically even against his own fire. One sympathizes with
him in retrospect. But in daily life it is unbearable.
"Where do you find such white bread?" say I to the black cap, because he
is proud of it.
"It comes from my home." And then he asks about the bread of Sicily. Is
it any whiter than this--the Mandas rock. Yes, it is a little whiter.
At which they gloom again. For it is a very sore point, this bread.
Bread means a great deal to an Italian: it is verily his staff of life.
He practically lives on bread. And instead of going by taste, he now,
like all the world, goes by eye. He has got it into his head that bread
should be white, so that every time he fancies a darker shade in the
loaf a shadow falls on his soul. Nor is he altogether wrong. For
although, personally, I don't like white bread any more, yet I do like
my brown bread to be made of pure, unmixed flour. The peasants in
Sicily, who have kept their own wheat and make their own natural brown
bread, ah, it is amazing how fresh and sweet and clean their loaf
seems, so perfumed as home-bread used all to be before the war. Whereas
the bread of the commune, the regulation supply, is hard, and rather
coarse and rough, so rough and harsh on the palate. One gets tired to
death of it. I suspect myself the maize meal mixed in. But I don't know.
And finally the bread varies immensely from town to town, from commune
to commune. The so-called just and equal distribution is all my-eye. One
place has abundance of good sweet bread, another scrapes along, always
stinted, on an allowance of harsh coarse stuff. And the poor suffer
bitterly, really, from the bread-stinting, because they depend so on
this one food. They say the inequality and the injustice of distribution
comes from the Camorra--la grande Camorra--which is no more nowadays
than a profiteering combine, which the poor hate. But for myself, I
don't know. I only know that one town--Venice, for example--seems to
have an endless supply of pure bread, of sugar, of tobacco, of
salt--while Florence is in one continual ferment of irritation over the
stinting of these supplies--which are all government monopoly, doled out
We said Good-night to our three railway friends, and went up to bed. We
had only been in the room a minute or two, when the brown woman tapped:
and if you please, the black-cap had sent us one of his little white
loaves. We were really touched. Such delicate little generosities have
almost disappeared from the world.
It was a queer little bread--three-cornered, and almost as hard as ships
biscuit, made of starch flour. Not strictly bread at all.
* * * * *
The night was cold, the blankets flat and heavy, but one slept quite
well till dawn. At seven o'clock it was a clear, cold morning, the sun
not yet up. Standing at the bedroom window looking out, I could hardly
believe my eyes it was so like England, like Cornwall in the bleak
parts, or Derbyshire uplands. There was a little paddock-garden at the
back of the Station, rather tumble-down, with two sheep in it. There
were several forlorn-looking out-buildings, very like Cornwall. And then
the wide, forlorn country road stretched away between borders of grass
and low, drystone walls, towards a grey stone farm with a tuft of trees,
and a naked stone village in the distance. The sun came up yellow, the
bleak country glimmered bluish and reluctant. The low, green hill-slopes
were divided into fields, with low drystone walls and ditches. Here and
there a stone barn rose alone, or with a few bare, windy trees attached.
Two rough-coated winter horses pastured on the rough grass, a boy came
along the naked, wide, grass-bordered high-road with a couple of milk
cans, drifting in from nowhere: and it was all so like Cornwall, or a
part of Ireland, that the old nostalgia for the Celtic regions began to
spring up in me. Ah, those old, drystone walls dividing the fields--pale
and granite-blenched! Ah, the dark, sombre grass, the naked sky! the
forlorn horses in the wintry morning! Strange is a Celtic landscape, far
more moving, disturbing than the lovely glamor of Italy and Greece.
Before the curtains of history lifted, one feels the world was like
this--this Celtic bareness and sombreness and air. But perhaps it is
not Celtic at all: Iberian. Nothing is more unsatisfactory than our
conception of what is Celtic and what is not Celtic. I believe there
never were any Celts, as a race.--As for the Iberians--!
Wonderful to go out on a frozen road, to see the grass in shadow bluish
with hoar-frost, to see the grass in the yellow winter-sunrise beams
melting and going cold-twinkly. Wonderful the bluish, cold air, and
things standing up in cold distance. After two southern winters, with
roses blooming all the time, this bleakness and this touch of frost in
the ringing morning goes to my soul like an intoxication. I am so glad,
on this lonely naked road, I don't know what to do with myself. I walk
down in the shallow grassy ditches under the loose stone walls, I walk
on the little ridge of grass, the little bank on which the wall is
built, I cross the road across the frozen cow-droppings: and it is all
so familiar to my feet, my very feet in contact, that I am wild as if
I had made a discovery. And I realize that I hate lime-stone, to live on
lime-stone or marble or any of those limey rocks. I hate them. They are
dead rocks, they have no life--thrills for the feet. Even sandstone is
much better. But granite! Granite is my favorite. It is so live under
the feet, it has a deep sparkle of its own. I like its roundnesses--and
I hate the jaggy dryness of lime-stone, that burns in the sun, and
* * * * *
After coming to a deep well in a grassy plot in a wide space of the
road, I go back, across the sunny naked upland country, towards the pink
station and its out-buildings. An engine is steaming its white clouds in
the new light. Away to the left there is even a row of small houses,
like a row of railway-mens' dwellings. Strange and familiar sight. And
the station precincts are disorderly and rather dilapidated. I think of
our Sicilian host.
The brown woman gives us coffee, and very strong, rich goats' milk, and
bread. After which the q-b and I set off once more along the road to the
village. She too is thrilled. She too breathes deep. She too feels
space around her, and freedom to move the limbs: such as one does not
feel in Italy and Sicily, where all is so classic and fixed.
The village itself is just a long, winding, darkish street, in shadow,
of houses and shops and a smithy. It might almost be Cornwall: not
quite. Something, I don't know what, suggests the stark burning glare of
summer. And then, of course, there is none of the cosiness which
climbing roses and lilac trees and cottage shops and haystacks would
give to an English scene. This is harder, barer, starker, more dreary.
An ancient man in the black-and-white costume comes out of a hovel of a
cottage. The butcher carries a huge side of meat. The women peer at
us--but more furtive and reticent than the howling stares of Italy.
So we go on, down the rough-cobbled street through the whole length of
the village. And emerging on the other side, past the last cottage, we
find ourselves again facing the open country, on the gentle down-slope
of the rolling hill. The landscape continues the same: low, rolling
upland hills, dim under the yellow sun of the January morning: stone
fences, fields, grey-arable land: a man slowly, slowly ploughing with a
pony and a dark-red cow: the road trailing empty across the distance:
and then, the one violently unfamiliar note, the enclosed cemetery lying
outside on the gentle hill-side, closed in all round, very compact,
with high walls: and on the inside face of the enclosure wall the marble
slabs, like shut drawers of the sepulchres, shining white, the wall
being like a chest of drawers, or pigeon holes to hold the dead. Tufts
of dark and plumy cypresses rise among the flat graves of the enclosure.
In the south, cemeteries are walled off and isolated very tight. The
dead, as it were, are kept fast in pound. There is no spreading of
graves over the face of the country. They are penned in a tight fold,
with cypresses to fatten on the bones. This is the one thoroughly
strange note in the landscape. But all-pervading there is a strangeness,
that strange feeling as if the depths were barren, which comes in the
south and the east, sun-stricken. Sun-stricken, and the heart eaten out
by the dryness.
"I like it! I like it!" cries the q-b.
"But could you live here?" She would like to say yes, but daren't.
We stray back. The q-b wants to buy one of those saddle-bag
arrangements. I say what for? She says to keep things in. Ach! but
peeping in the shops, we see one and go in and examine it. It is quite a
sound one, properly made: but plain, quite plain. On the white
cross-stripes there are no lovely colored flowers of rose and green and
magenta: the three favorite Sardinian colors: nor are there any of the
fantastic and griffin-like beasts. So it won't do. How much does it
cost? Forty-five francs.
There is nothing to do in Mandas. So we will take the morning train and
go to the terminus, to Sorgono. Thus, we shall cross the lower slopes of
the great central knot of Sardinia, the mountain knot called
Gennargentu. And Sorgono we feel will be lovely.
Back at the station we make tea on the spirit lamp, fill the thermos,
pack the knapsack and the kitchenino, and come out into the sun of the
platform. The q-b goes to thank the black-cap for the white bread,
whilst I settle the bill and ask for food for the journey. The brown
woman fishes out from a huge black pot in the background sundry hunks of
coarse boiled pork, and gives me two of these, hot, with bread and salt.
This is the luncheon. I pay the bill: which amounts to twenty-four
francs, for everything. (One says francs or liras, irrespective, in
Italy.) At that moment arrives the train from Cagliari, and men rush in,
roaring for the soup--or rather, for the broth. "Ready, ready!" she
cries, going to the black pot.
The various trains in the junction squatted side by side and had long,
long talks before at last we were off. It was wonderful to be running in
the bright morning towards the heart of Sardinia, in the little train
that seemed so familiar. We were still going third class, rather to the
disgust of the railway officials at Mandas.
At first the country was rather open: always the long spurs of hills,
steep-sided, but not high. And from our little train we looked across
the country, across hill and dale. In the distance was a little town, on
a low slope. But for its compact, fortified look it might have been a
town on the English downs. A man in the carriage leaned out of the
window holding out a white cloth, as a signal to someone in the far off
town that he was coming. The wind blew the white cloth, the town in the
distance glimmered small and alone in its hollow. And the little train
It was rather comical to see it. We were always climbing. And the line
curved in great loops. So that as one looked out of the window, time and
again one started, seeing a little train running in front of us, in a
diverging direction, making big puffs of steam. But lo, it was our own
little engine pelting off around a loop away ahead. We were quite a long
train, but all trucks in front, only our two passenger coaches hitched
on behind. And for this reason our own engine was always running fussily
into sight, like some dog scampering in front and swerving about us,
while we followed at the tail end of the thin string of trucks.
I was surprised how well the small engine took the continuous steep
slopes, how bravely it emerged on the sky-line. It is a queer railway. I
would like to know who made it. It pelts up hill and down dale and round
sudden bends in the most unconcerned fashion, not as proper big railways
do, grunting inside deep cuttings and stinking their way through
tunnels, but running up the hill like a panting, small dog, and having a
look round, and starting off in another direction, whisking us behind
unconcernedly. This is much more fun than the tunnel-and-cutting system.
They told me that Sardinia mines her own coal: and quite enough for her
own needs: but very soft, not fit for steam-purposes. I saw heaps of it:
small, dull, dirty-looking stuff. Truck-loads of it too. And
truck-loads of grain.
At every station we were left ignominiously planted, while the little
engines--they had gay gold names on their black little bodies--strolled
about along the side-lines, and snuffed at the various trucks. There we
sat, at every station, while some truck was discarded and some other
sorted out like a branded sheep, from the sidings and hitched on to us.
It took a long time, this did.
* * * * *
All the stations so far had had wire netting over the windows. This
means malaria-mosquitoes. The malaria climbs very high in Sardinia. The
shallow upland valleys, moorland with their intense summer sun and the
riverless, boggy behaviour of the water breed the pest inevitably. But
not very terribly, as far as one can make out: August and September
being the danger months. The natives don't like to admit there is any
malaria: a tiny bit, they say, a tiny bit. As soon as you come to the
trees there is no more. So they say. For many miles the landscape is
moorland and down-like, with no trees. But wait for the trees. Ah, the
woods and forests of Gennargentu: the woods and forests higher up: no
The little engine whisks up and up, around its loopy curves as if it
were going to bite its own tail: we being the tail: then suddenly dives
over the sky-line out of sight. And the landscape changes. The famous
woods begin to appear. At first it is only hazel-thickets, miles of
hazel-thickets, all wild, with a few black cattle trying to peep at us
out of the green myrtle and arbutus scrub which forms the undergrowth;
and a couple of rare, wild peasants peering at the train. They wear the
black sheepskin tunic, with the wool outside, and the long stocking
caps. Like cattle they too peer out from between deep bushes. The myrtle
scrub here rises man-high, and cattle and men are smothered in it. The
big hazels rise bare above. It must be difficult getting about in these
Sometimes, in the distance one sees a black-and-white peasant riding
lonely across a more open place, a tiny vivid figure. I like so much the
proud instinct which makes a living creature distinguish itself from its
background. I hate the rabbity khaki protection-colouration. A
black-and-white peasant on his pony, only a dot in the distance beyond
the foliage, still flashes and dominates the landscape. Ha-ha! proud
mankind! There you ride! But alas, most of the men are still
khaki-muffled, rabbit-indistinguishable, ignominious. The Italians look
curiously rabbity in the grey-green uniform: just as our sand-colored
khaki men look doggy. They seem to scuffle rather abased, ignominious
on the earth. Give us back the scarlet and gold, and devil take the
* * * * *
The landscape really begins to change. The hillsides tilt sharper and
sharper. A man is ploughing with two small red cattle on a craggy,
tree-hanging slope as sharp as a roof-side. He stoops at the small
wooden plough, and jerks the ploughlines. The oxen lift their noses to
heaven, with a strange and beseeching snake-like movement, and taking
tiny little steps with their frail feet, move slantingly across the
slope-face, between rocks and tree-roots. Little, frail, jerky steps the
bullocks take, and again they put their horns back and lift their
muzzles snakily to heaven, as the man pulls the line. And he skids his
wooden plough round another scoop of earth. It is marvellous how they
hang upon that steep, craggy slope. An English labourer's eyes would
bolt out of his head at the sight.
There is a stream: actually a long tress of a water-fall pouring into a
little gorge, and a stream-bed that opens a little, and shows a
marvellous cluster of naked poplars away below. They are like ghosts.
They have a ghostly, almost phosphorescent luminousness in the shadow of
the valley, by the stream of water. If not phosphorescent, then
incandescent: a grey, goldish-pale incandescence of naked limbs and
myriad cold-glowing twigs, gleaming strangely. If I were a painter I
would paint them: for they seem to have living, sentient flesh. And the
shadow envelopes them.
Another naked tree I would paint is the gleaming mauve-silver fig, which
burns its cold incandescence, tangled, like some sensitive creature
emerged from the rock. A fig tree come forth in its nudity gleaming over
the dark winter-earth is a sight to behold. Like some white, tangled sea
anemone. Ah, if it could but answer! or if we had tree-speech!
* * * * *
Yes, the steep valley sides become almost gorges, and there are trees.
Not forests such as I had imagined, but scattered, grey, smallish oaks,
and some lithe chestnuts. Chestnuts with their long whips, and oaks with
their stubby boughs, scattered on steep hillsides where rocks crop out.
The train perilously winding round, half way up. Then suddenly bolting
over a bridge and into a completely unexpected station. What is more,
men crowd in--the station is connected with the main railway by a post
An unexpected irruption of men--they may be miners or navvies or
land-workers. They all have huge sacks: some lovely saddle-bags with
rose-coloured flowers across the darkness. One old man is in full
black-and-white costume, but very dirty and coming to pieces. The others
wear the tight madder-brown breeches and sleeved waistcoats. Some have
the sheepskin tunic, and all wear the long stocking cap. And how they
smell! of sheep-wool and of men and goat. A rank scent fills the
They talk and are very lively. And they have mediaeval faces, rusé,
never really abandoning their defences for a moment, as a badger or a
pole-cat never abandons its defences. There is none of the brotherliness
and civilised simplicity. Each man knows he must guard himself and his
own: each man knows the devil is behind the next bush. They have never
known the post-Renaissance Jesus. Which is rather an eye-opener.
Not that they are suspicious or uneasy. On the contrary, noisy,
assertive, vigorous presences. But with none of that implicit belief
that everybody will be and ought to be good to them, which is the mark
of our era. They don't expect people to be good to them: they don't want
it. They remind me of half-wild dogs that will love and obey, but which
won't be handled. They won't have their heads touched. And they won't be
fondled. One can almost hear the half-savage growl.
The long stocking caps they wear as a sort of crest, as a lizard wears
his crest at mating time. They are always moving them, settling them on
their heads. One fat fellow, young, with sly brown eyes and a young
beard round his face folds his stocking-foot in three, so that it rises
over his brow martial and handsome. The old boy brings his stocking-foot
over the left ear. A handsome fellow with a jaw of massive teeth pushes
his cap back and lets it hang a long way down his back. Then he shifts
it forward over his nose, and makes it have two sticking-out points,
like fox-ears, above his temples. It is marvellous how much expression
these caps can take on. They say that only those born to them can wear
them. They seem to be just long bags, nearly a yard long, of black
The conductor comes to issue them their tickets. And they all take out
rolls of paper money. Even a little mothy rat of a man who sits opposite
me has quite a pad of ten-franc notes. Nobody seems short of a hundred
francs nowadays: nobody.
They shout and expostulate with the conductor. Full of coarse life they
are: but so coarse! The handsome fellow has his sleeved waistcoat open,
and his shirt-breast has come unbuttoned. Not looking, it seems as if he
wears a black undervest. Then suddenly, one sees it is his own hair. He
is quite black inside his shirt, like a black goat.
But there is a gulf between oneself and them. They have no inkling of
our crucifixion, our universal consciousness. Each of them is pivoted
and limited to himself, as the wild animals are. They look out, and they
see other objects, objects to ridicule or mistrust or to sniff curiously
at. But "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" has never entered
their souls at all, not even the thin end of it. They might love their
neighbour, with a hot, dark, unquestioning love. But the love would
probably leave off abruptly. The fascination of what is beyond them has
not seized on them. Their neighbour is a mere external. Their life is
centripetal, pivoted inside itself, and does not run out towards others
and mankind. One feels for the first time the real old mediaeval life,
which is enclosed in itself and has no interest in the world outside.
And so they lie about on the seats, play a game, shout, and sleep,
and settle their long stocking-caps: and spit. It is wonderful in
them that at this time of day they still wear the long stocking-caps
as part of their inevitable selves. It is a sign of obstinate and
powerful tenacity. They are not going to be broken in upon by
world-consciousness. They are not going into the world's common clothes.
Coarse, vigorous, determined, they will stick to their own coarse dark
stupidity and let the big world find its own way to its own enlightened
hell. Their hell is their own hell, they prefer it unenlightened.
And one cannot help wondering whether Sardinia will resist right
through. Will the last waves of enlightenment and world-unity break over
them and wash away the stocking-caps? Or is the tide of enlightenment
and world-unity already receding fast enough?
Certainly a reaction is setting in, away from the old universality,
back, away from cosmopolitanism and internationalism. Russia, with her
Third International, is at the same time reacting most violently away
from all other contact, back, recoiling on herself, into a fierce,
unapproachable Russianism. Which motion will conquer? The workman's
International, or the centripetal movement into national isolation? Are
we going to merge into one grey proletarian homogeneity?--or are we
going to swing back into more-or-less isolated, separate, defiant
Probably both. The workman's International movement will finally break
the flow towards cosmopolitanism and world-assimilation, and suddenly in
a crash the world will fly back into intense separations. The moment has
come when America, that extremist in world-assimilation and
world-oneness, is reacting into violent egocentricity, a truly
Amerindian egocentricity. As sure as fate we are on the brink of
For myself, I am glad. I am glad that the era of love and oneness is
over: hateful homogeneous world-oneness. I am glad that Russia flies
back into savage Russianism, Scythism, savagely self-pivoting. I am glad
that America is doing the same. I shall be glad when men hate their
common, world-alike clothes, when they tear them up and clothe
themselves fiercely for distinction, savage distinction, savage
distinction against the rest of the creeping world: when America kicks
the billy-cock and the collar-and-tie into limbo, and takes to her own
national costume: when men fiercely react against looking all alike and
being all alike, and betake themselves into vivid clan or
The era of love and oneness is over. The era of world-alike should be at
an end. The other tide has set in. Men will set their bonnets at one
another now, and fight themselves into separation and sharp distinction.
The day of peace and oneness is over, the day of the great fight into
multifariousness is at hand. Hasten the day, and save us from
proletarian homogeneity and khaki all-alikeness.
I love my indomitable coarse men from mountain Sardinia, for their
stocking-caps and their splendid, animal-bright stupidity. If only the
last wave of all-alikeness won't wash those superb crests, those caps,
* * * * *
We are struggling now among the Gennargentu spurs. There is no single
peak--no Etna of Sardinia. The train, like the plough, balances on the
steep, steep sides of the hill-spurs, and winds around and around. Above
and below the steep slopes are all bosky. These are the woods of
Gennargentu. But they aren't woods in my sense of the word. They are
thin sprinkles of oaks and chestnuts and cork-trees over steep
hill-slopes. And cork-trees! I see curious slim oaky-looking trees that
are stripped quite naked below the boughs, standing brown-ruddy,
curiously distinct among the bluey grey pallor of the others. They
remind me, again and again, of glowing, coffee-brown, naked aborigines
of the South Seas. They have the naked suavity, skin-bare, and an
intense coffee-red colour of unclothed savages. And these are the
stripped cork-trees. Some are much stripped, some little. Some have the
whole trunk and part of the lower limbs ruddy naked, some only a small
part of the trunk.
* * * * *
It is well on in the afternoon. A peasant in black and white, and his
young, handsome woman in rose-red costume, with gorgeous apron bordered
deep with grass-green, and a little, dark-purple waistcoat over her
white, full bodice, are sitting behind me talking. The workmen peasants
are subsiding into sleep. It is well on in the afternoon, we have long
ago eaten the meat. Now we finish the white loaf, the gift, and the tea.
Suddenly looking out of the window, we see Gennargentu's mass behind us,
a thick snow-deep knot-summit, beautiful beyond the long, steep spurs
among which we are engaged. We lose the white mountain mass for half an
hour: when suddenly it emerges unexpectedly almost in front, the great,
How different it is from Etna, that lonely, self-conscious wonder of
Sicily! This is much more human and knowable, with a deep breast and
massive limbs, a powerful mountain-body. It is like the peasants.
* * * * *
The stations are far between--an hour from one to another. Ah, how weary
one gets of these journeys, they last so long. We look across a
valley--a stone's throw. But alas, the little train has no wings, and
can't jump. So back turns the line, back and back towards Gennargentu, a
long rocky way, till it comes at length to the poor valley-head. This it
skirts fussily, and sets off to pelt down on its traces again, gaily.
And a man who was looking at us doing our round-about has climbed down
and crossed the valley in five minutes.
The peasants nearly all wear costumes now, even the women in the fields:
the little fields in the half-populated valleys. These Gennargentu
valleys are all half-populated, more than the moors further south.
It is past three o'clock, and cold where there is no sun. At last only
one more station before the terminus. And here the peasants wake up,
sling the bulging sacks over their shoulders, and get down. We see
Tonara away above. We see our old grimy black-and-white peasant greeted
by his two women who have come to meet him with the pony--daughters
handsome in vivid rose and green costume. Peasants, men in black and
white, men in madder-brown, with the close breeches on their compact
thighs, women in rose-and-white, ponies with saddle-bags, all begin to
trail up the hill-road in silhouette, very handsome, towards the
far-off, perched, sun-bright village of Tonara, a big village, shining
like a New Jerusalem.
* * * * *
The train as usual leaves us standing, and shuffles with trucks--water
sounds in the valley: there are stacks of cork on the station, and coal.
An idiot girl in a great full skirt entirely made of coloured patches
mops and mows. Her little waistcoat thing is also incredibly old, and
shows faint signs of having once been a lovely purple and black brocade.
The valley and steep slopes are open about us. An old shepherd has a
lovely flock of delicate merino sheep.
And at last we move. In one hour we shall be there. As we travel among
the tree slopes, many brown cork-trees, we come upon a flock of sheep.
Two peasants in our carriage looking out, give the most weird,
unnatural, high-pitched shrieks, entirely unproduceable by any ordinary
being. The sheep know, however, and scatter. And after ten minutes the
shrieks start again, for three young cattle. Whether the peasants do it
for love, I don't know. But it is the wildest and weirdest inhuman
shepherd noise I have ever heard.
* * * * *
It is Saturday afternoon and four o'clock. The country is wild and
uninhabited, the train almost empty, yet there is the leaving-off-work
feeling in the atmosphere. Oh twisty, wooded, steep slopes, oh glimpses
of Gennargentu, oh nigger-stripped cork-trees, oh smell of peasants, oh
wooden, wearisome railway carriage, we are so sick of you! Nearly seven
hours of this journey already: and a distance of sixty miles.
But we are almost there--look, look, Sorgono, nestling beautifully among
the wooded slopes in front. Oh magic little town. Ah, you terminus and
ganglion of the inland roads, we hope in you for a pleasant inn and
happy company. Perhaps we will stay a day or two at Sorgono.
The train gives a last sigh, and draws to a last standstill in the tiny
terminus station. An old fellow fluttering with rags as a hen in the
wind flutters, asked me if I wanted the Albergo, the inn. I said yes,
and let him take my knapsack. Pretty Sorgono! As we went down the brief
muddy lane between hedges, to the village high-road, we seemed almost to
have come to some little town in the English west-country, or in Hardy's
country. There were glades of stripling oaks, and big slopes with oak
trees, and on the right a saw-mill buzzing, and on the left the town,
white and close, nestling round a baroque church-tower. And the little
lane was muddy.
Three minutes brought us to the high-road, and a great, pink-washed
building blank on the road facing the station lane, and labelled in huge
letters: RISTORANTE RISVEGLIO: the letter N being printed backwards.
Risveglio if you please: which means waking up or rousing, like the
word reveille. Into the doorway of the Risveglio bolted the flutterer.
"Half a minute," said I. "Where is the Albergo d'Italia?" I was relying
"Non c'è più," replied my rag-feather. "There isn't it any more." This
answer, being very frequent nowadays, is always most disconcerting.
"Well then, what other hotel?"
"There is no other."
Risveglio or nothing. In we go. We pass into a big, dreary bar, where
are innumerable bottles behind a tin counter. Flutter-jack yells: and at
length appears mine host, a youngish fellow of the Esquimo type, but
rather bigger, in a dreary black suit and a cutaway waistcoat suggesting
a dinner-waistcoat, and innumerable wine-stains on his shirt front. I
instantly hated him for the filthy appearance he made. He wore a
battered hat and his face was long unwashed.
Was there a bedroom?
And he led the way down the passage, just as dirty as the road outside,
up the hollow, wooden stairs also just as clean as the passage, along a
hollow, drum-rearing dirty corridor, and into a bedroom. Well, it
contained a large bed, thin and flat with a grey-white counterpane, like
a large, poor, marble-slabbed tomb in the room's sordid emptiness; one
dilapidated chair on which stood the miserablest weed of a candle I
have ever seen: a broken wash-saucer in a wire ring: and for the rest,
an expanse of wooden floor as dirty-grey-black as it could be, and an
expanse of wall charted with the bloody deaths of mosquitoes. The window
was about two feet above the level of a sort of stable-yard outside,
with a fowl-house just by the sash. There, at the window flew lousy
feathers and dirty straw, the ground was thick with chicken-droppings.
An ass and two oxen comfortably chewed hay in an open shed just across,
and plump in the middle of the yard lay a bristly black pig taking the
last of the sun. Smells of course were varied.
The knapsack and the kitchenino were dropped on the repulsive floor,
which I hated to touch with my boots even. I turned back the sheets and
looked at other people's stains.
"There is nothing else?"
"Niente," said he of the lank, low forehead and beastly shirt-breast.
And he sullenly departed. I gave the flutterer his tip and he too ducked
and fled. Then the queen-bee and I took a few mere sniffs.
"Dirty, disgusting swine!" said I, and I was in a rage.
I could have forgiven him anything, I think, except his horrible
shirt-breast, his personal shamelessness.
We strolled round--saw various other bedrooms, some worse, one really
better. But this showed signs of being occupied. All the doors were
open: the place was quite deserted, and open to the road. The one thing
that seemed definite was honesty. It must be a very honest place, for
every footed beast, man or animal, could walk in at random and nobody to
take the slightest regard.
So we went downstairs. The only other apartment was the open public bar,
which seemed like part of the road. A muleteer, leaving his mules at the
corner of the Risveglio, was drinking at the counter.
* * * * *
This famous inn was at the end of the village. We strolled along the
road between the houses, down-hill. A dreary hole! a cold, hopeless,
lifeless, Saturday afternoon-weary village, rather sordid, with nothing
to say for itself. No real shops at all. A weary-looking church, and a
clutch of disconsolate houses. We walked right through the village. In
the middle was a sort of open space where stood a great, grey
motor-omnibus. And a bus-driver looking rather weary.
Where did the bus go?
It went to join the main railway.
At half-past seven in the morning.
"Thank God we can get out, anyhow," said I.
We passed on, and emerged beyond the village, still on the descending
great high-road that was mended with loose stones pitched on it. This
wasn't good enough. Besides, we were out of the sun, and the place being
at a considerable elevation, it was very cold. So we turned back, to
climb quickly uphill into the sun.
* * * * *
We went up a little side-turning past a bunch of poor houses towards a
steep little lane between banks. And before we knew where we were, we
were in the thick of the public lavatory. In these villages, as I knew,
there are no sanitary arrangements of any sort whatever. Every villager
and villageress just betook himself at need to one of the side-roads. It
is the immemorial Italian custom. Why bother about privacy? The most
socially-constituted people on earth, they even like to relieve
themselves in company.
We found ourselves in the full thick of one of these meeting-places. To
get out at any price! So we scrambled up the steep earthen banks to a
stubble field above. And by this time I was in a greater rage.
* * * * *
Evening was falling, the sun declining. Below us clustered the
Sodom-apple of this vile village. Around were fair, tree-clad hills and
dales, already bluish with the frost-shadows. The air bit cold and
strong. In a very little time the sun would be down. We were at an
elevation of about 2,500 feet above the sea.
No denying it was beautiful, with the oak-slopes and the wistfulness and
the far-off feeling of loneliness and evening. But I was in too great a
temper to admit it. We clambered frenziedly to get warm. And the sun
immediately went right down, and the ice-heavy blue shadow fell over us
all. The village began to send forth blue wood-smoke, and it seemed more
than ever like the twilit West Country.
But thank you--we had to get back. And run the gauntlet of that
stinking, stinking lane? Never. Towering with fury--quite unreasonable,
but there you are--I marched the q-b down a declivity through a wood,
over a ploughed field, along a cart-track, and so to the great high-road
above the village and above the inn.
It was cold, and evening was falling into dusk. Down the high-road came
wild half-ragged men on ponies, in all degrees of costume and
not-costume: came four wide-eyed cows stepping down-hill round the
corner, and three delicate, beautiful merino sheep which stared at us
with their prominent, gold-curious eyes: came an ancient, ancient man
with a stick: came a stout-chested peasant carrying a long wood-pole:
came a straggle of alert and triumphant goats, long-horned, long-haired,
jingling their bells. Everybody greeted us hesitatingly. And everything
came to a halt at the Risveglio corner, while the men had a nip.
I attacked the spotty-breast again.
Could I have milk?
No. Perhaps in an hour there would be milk. Perhaps not.
Was there anything to eat?
No--at half past seven there would be something to eat.
Was there a fire?
No--the man hadn't made the fire.
Nothing to do but to go to that foul bedroom or walk the high-road. We
turned up the high-road again. Animals stood about the road in the
frost-heavy air, with heads sunk passively, waiting for the men to
finish their drinks in the beastly bar--we walked slowly up the hill. In
a field on the right a flock of merino sheep moved mistily, uneasily,
climbing at the gaps in the broken road bank, and sounding their
innumerable small fine bells with a frosty ripple of sound. A figure
which in the dusk I had really thought was something inanimate broke
into movement in the field. It was an old shepherd, very old, in very
ragged dirty black-and-white, who had been standing like a stone there
in the open field-end for heaven knows how long, utterly motionless,
leaning on his stick. Now he broke into a dream-motion and hobbled after
the wistful, feminine, inquisitive sheep. The red was fading from the
far-off west. At the corner, climbing slowly and wearily, we almost ran
into a grey and lonely bull, who came stepping down-hill in his measured
fashion like some god. He swerved his head and went round us.
We reached a place which we couldn't make out: then saw it was a
cork-shed. There were stacks and stacks of cork-bark in the dusk, like
"Now I'm going back," said the q-b flatly, and she swung round. The last
red was smouldering beyond the lost, thin-wooded hills of this interior.
A fleece of blue, half-luminous smoke floated over the obscure village.
The high-way wound down-hill at our feet, pale and blue.
And the q-b was angry with me for my fury.
"Why are you so indignant! Anyone would think your moral self had been
outraged! Why take it morally? You petrify that man at the inn by the
very way you speak to him, such condemnation! Why don't you take it as
it comes? It's all life."
But no, my rage is black, black, black. Why, heaven knows. But I think
it was because Sorgono had seemed so fascinating to me, when I imagined
it beforehand. Oh so fascinating! If I had expected nothing I should not
have been so hit. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not
I cursed the degenerate aborigines, the dirty-breasted host who dared
to keep such an inn, the sordid villagers who had the baseness to squat
their beastly human nastiness in this upland valley. All my praise of
the long stocking-cap--you remember?--vanished from my mouth. I cursed
them all, and the q-b for an interfering female....
* * * * *
In the bar a wretched candle was weeping light--uneasy, gloomy men were
drinking their Saturday-evening-home-coming dram. Cattle lay down in the
road, in the cold air as if hopeless.
Had the milk come?
When would it come.
He didn't know.
Well, what were we to do? Was there no room? Was there nowhere where we
Yes, there was the stanza now.
Now! Taking the only weed of a candle, and leaving the drinkers in
the dark, he led us down a dark and stumbly earthen passage, over loose
stones and an odd plank, as it would seem underground, to the stanza:
The stanza! It was pitch dark--But suddenly I saw a big fire of
oak-root, a brilliant, flamy, rich fire, and my rage in that second
The host, and the candle, forsook us at the door. The stanza would have
been in complete darkness, save for that rushing bouquet of new flames
in the chimney, like fresh flowers. By this firelight we saw the room.
It was like a dungeon, absolutely empty, with an uneven, earthen floor,
quite dry, and high bare walls, gloomy, with a handbreadth of window
high up. There was no furniture at all, save a little wooden bench, a
foot high, before the fire, and several home-made-looking rush mats
rolled up and leaning against the walls. Furthermore a chair before the
fire on which hung wet table-napkins. Apart from this, it was a high,
dark, naked prison-dungeon.
But it was quite dry, it had an open chimney, and a gorgeous new fire
rushing like a water-fall upwards among the craggy stubs of a pile of
dry oak roots. I hastily put the chair and the wet corpse-cloths to one
side. We sat on the low bench side by side in the dark, in front of this
rippling rich fire, in front of the cavern of the open chimney, and we
did not care any more about the dungeon and the darkness. Man can live
without food, but he can't live without fire. It is an Italian proverb.
We had found the fire, like new gold. And we sat in front of it, a
little way back, side by side on the low form, our feet on the uneven
earthen floor, and felt the flame-light rippling upwards over our faces,
as if we were bathing in some gorgeous stream of fieriness. I forgave
the dirty-breasted host everything and was as glad as if I had come into
So we sat alone for half an hour, smiling into the flames, bathing our
faces in the glow. From time to time I was aware of steps in the
tunnel-like passage outside, and of presences peering. But no one came.
I was aware too of the faint steaming of the beastly table-napkins, the
only other occupants of the room.
* * * * *
In dithers a candle, and an elderly, bearded man in gold-coloured
corduroys, and an amazing object on a long, long spear. He put the
candle on the mantel-ledge, and crouched at the side of the fire,
arranging the oak-roots. He peered strangely and fixedly in the fire.
And he held up the speared object before our faces.
It was a kid that he had come to roast. But it was a kid opened out,
made quite flat, and speared like a flat fan on a long iron stalk. It
was a really curious sight. And it must have taken some doing. The whole
of the skinned kid was there, the head curled in against a shoulder, the
stubby cut ears, the eyes, the teeth, the few hairs of the nostrils: and
the feet curled curiously round, like an animal that puts its fore-paw
over its ducked head: and the hind-legs twisted indescribably up: and
all skewered flat-wise upon the long iron rod, so that it was a complete
flat pattern. It reminded me intensely of those distorted, slim-limbed,
dog-like animals which figure on the old Lombard ornaments, distorted
and curiously infolded upon themselves. Celtic illuminations also have
these distorted, involuted creatures.
The old man flourished the flat kid like a bannerette, whilst he
arranged the fire. Then, in one side of the fire-place wall he poked the
point of the rod. He himself crouched on the hearth-end, in the
half-shadow at the other side of the fire-place, holding the further end
of the long iron rod. The kid was thus extended before the fire, like a
hand-screen. And he could spin it round at will.
But the hole in the masonry of the chimney-piece was not satisfactory.
The point of the rod kept slipping, and the kid came down against the
fire. He muttered and muttered to himself, and tried again. Then at
length he reared up the kid-banner whilst he got large stones from a
dark corner. He arranged these stones so that the iron point rested on
them. He himself sat away on the opposite side of the fire-place, on the
shadowy hearth-end, and with queer, spell-bound black eyes and
completely immovable face, he watched the flames and the kid, and held
the handle end of the rod.
We asked him if the kid was for the evening meal--and he said it was. It
would be good! And he said yes, and looked with chagrin at the bit of
ash on the meat, where it had slipped. It is a point of honour that it
should never touch the ash. Did they do all their meat this way? He said
they did. And wasn't it difficult to put the kid thus on the iron rod?
He said it was not easy, and he eyed the joint closely, and felt one of
the forelegs, and muttered that was not fixed properly.
He spoke with a very soft mutter, hard to catch, and sideways, never to
us direct. But his manner was gentle, soft, muttering, reticent,
sensitive. He asked us where we came from, and where we were going:
always in his soft mutter. And what nation were we, were we French? Then
he went on to say there was a war--but he thought it was finished. There
was a war because the Austrians wanted to come into Italy again. But
the French and the English came to help Italy. A lot of Sardinians had
gone to it. But let us hope it is all finished. He thought it was--young
men of Sorgono had been killed. He hoped it was finished.
Then he reached for the candle and peered at the kid. It was evident he
was the born roaster. He held the candle and looked for a long time at
the sizzling side of the meat, as if he would read portents. Then he
held his spit to the fire again. And it was as if time immemorial were
roasting itself another meal. I sat holding the candle.
* * * * *
A young woman appeared, hearing voices. Her head was swathed in a shawl,
one side of which was brought across, right over the mouth, so that only
her two eyes and her nose showed. The q-b thought she must have
toothache--but she laughed and said no. As a matter of fact that is the
way a head-dress is worn in Sardinia, even by both sexes. It is
something like the folding of the Arab's burnoose. The point seems to be
that the mouth and chin are thickly covered, also the ears and brow,
leaving only the nose and eyes exposed. They say it keeps off the
malaria. The men swathe shawls round their heads in the same way. It
seems to me they want to keep their heads warm, dark and hidden: they
feel secure inside.
She wore the workaday costume: a full, dark-brown skirt, the full white
bodice, and a little waistcoat or corset. This little waistcoat in her
case had become no more than a shaped belt, sending up graceful,
stiffened points under the breasts, like long leaves standing up. It was
pretty--but all dirty. She too was pretty, but with an impudent, not
quite pleasant manner. She fiddled with the wet napkins, asked us
various questions, and addressed herself rather jerkily to the old man,
who answered hardly at all--Then she departed again. The women are
self-conscious in a rather smirky way, bouncy.
When she was gone I asked the old man if she was his daughter. He said
very brusquely, in his soft mutter, No. She came from a village some
miles away. He did not belong to the inn. He was, as far as I
understood, the postman. But I may have been mistaken about the word.
But he seemed laconic, unwilling to speak about the inn and its keepers.
There seemed to be something queer. And again he asked where we were
going. He told me there were now two motor-buses: a new one which ran
over the mountains to Nuoro. Much better go to Nuoro than to Abbasanta.
Nuoro was evidently the town towards which these villages looked, as a
sort of capital.
* * * * *
The kid-roasting proceeded very slowly, the meat never being very near
the fire. From time to time the roaster arranged the cavern of red-hot
roots. Then he threw on more roots. It was very hot. And he turned the
long spit, and still I held the candle.
Other people came strolling in, to look at us. But they hovered behind
us in the dark, so I could not make out at all clearly. They strolled in
the gloom of the dungeon-like room, and watched us. One came forward--a
fat, fat young soldier in uniform. I made place for him on the
bench--but he put out his hand and disclaimed the attention. Then he
went away again.
The old man propped up the roast, and then he too disappeared for a
time. The thin candle guttered, the fire was no longer flamy but red.
The roaster reappeared with a new, shorter spear, thinner, and a great
lump of raw hog-fat spitted on it. This he thrust into the red fire. It
sizzled and smoked and spit fat, and I wondered. He told me he wanted it
to catch fire. It refused. He groped in the hearth for the bits of twigs
with which the fire had been started. These twig-stumps he stuck in the
fat, like an orange stuck with cloves, then he held it in the fire
again. Now at last it caught, and it was a flaming torch running
downwards with a thin shower of flaming fat. And now he was satisfied.
He held the fat-torch with its yellow flares over the browning kid,
which he turned horizontal for the occasion. All over the roast fell the
flaming drops, till the meat was all shiny and browny. He put it to the
fire again, holding the diminishing fat, still burning bluish, over it
all the time in the upper air.
* * * * *
While this was in process a man entered with a loud Good evening. We
replied Good-evening--and evidently he caught a strange note. He came
and bent down and peered under my hat-brim, then under the q-b's
hat-brim, we still wore hats and overcoats, as did everybody. Then he
stood up suddenly and touched his cap and said Scusi--excuse me. I
said Niente, which one always says, and he addressed a few jovial
words to the crouching roaster: who again would hardly answer him. The
omnibus was arrived from Oristano, I made out--with few passengers.
This man brought with him a new breezy atmosphere, which the roaster did
not like. However, I made place on the low bench, and the attention this
time was accepted. Sitting down at the extreme end, he came into the
light, and I saw a burly man in the prime of life, dressed in dark brown
velvet, with a blond little moustache and twinkling blue eyes and a
tipsy look. I thought he might be some local tradesman or farmer. He
asked a few questions, in a boisterous familiar fashion, then went out
again. He appeared with a small iron spit, a slim rod, in one hand, and
in the other hand two joints of kid and a handful of sausages. He stuck
his joints on his rod. But our roaster still held the interminable flat
kid before the now red, flameless fire. The fat-torch was burnt out, the
cinder pushed in the fire. A moment's spurt of flame, then red, intense
redness again, and our kid before it like a big, dark hand.
"Eh," said the newcomer, whom I will call the girovago, "it's done. The
kid's done. It's done."
The roaster slowly shook his head, but did not answer. He sat like time
and eternity at the hearth-end, his face flame-flushed, his dark eyes
still fire-abstract, still sacredly intent on the roast.
"Na-na-na!" said the girovago. "Let another body see the fire." And with
his pieces of meat awkwardly skewered on his iron stick he tried to poke
under the authorised kid and get at the fire. In his soft mutter, the
old man bade him wait for the fire till the fire was ready for him. But
the girovago poked impudently and good humouredly, and said testily
that the authorised kid was done.
"Yes, surely it is done," said I, for it was already a quarter to eight.
The old roasting priest muttered, and took out his knife from his
pocket. He pressed the blade slowly, slowly deep into the meat: as far
as a knife will go in a piece of kid. He seemed to be feeling the meat
inwardly. And he said it was not done. He shook his head, and remained
there like time and eternity at the end of the rod.
The girovago said Sangue di Dio, but couldn't roast his meat! And he
tried to poke his skewer near the coals. So doing his pieces fell off
into the ashes, and the invisible onlookers behind raised a shout of
laughter. However, he raked it out and wiped it with his hand and said
No matter, nothing lost.
Then he turned to me and asked the usual whence and whither questions.
These answered, he said wasn't I German. I said No, I was English. He
looked at me many times, shrewdly, as if he wanted to make out
something. Then he asked, where were we domiciled--and I said Sicily.
And then, very pertinently, why had we come to Sardinia. I said for
pleasure, and to see the island.
"Ah, per divertimento!" he repeated, half-musingly, not believing me in
Various men had now come into the room, though they all remained
indistinct in the background. The girovago talked and jested abroad in
the company, and the half-visible men laughed in a rather hostile
At last the old roaster decided the kid was done. He lifted it from the
fire and scrutinised it thoroughly, holding the candle to it, as if it
were some wonderful epistle from the flames. To be sure it looked
marvellous, and smelled so good: brown, and crisp, and hot, and savoury,
not burnt in any place whatever. It was eight o'clock.
"It's done! It's done! Go away with it! Go," said the girovago, pushing
the old roaster with his hand. And at last the old man consented to
depart, holding the kid like a banner.
"It looks so good!" cried the q-b. "And I am so hungry."
"Ha-ha! It makes one hungry to see good meat, Signora. Now it is my
turn. Heh--Gino--" the girovago flourished his arm. And a handsome,
unwashed man with a black moustache came forward rather sheepishly. He
was dressed in soldier's clothes, neutral grey, and was a big, robust,
handsome fellow with dark eyes and Mediterranean sheepishness. "Here,
take it thou," said the girovago, pressing the long spit into his hand.
"It is thy business, cook the supper, thou art the woman.--But I'll keep
the sausages and do them."
The so-called woman sat at the end of the hearth, where the old roaster
had sat, and with his brown, nervous hand piled the remaining coals
together. The fire was no longer flamy: and it was sinking. The
dark-browed man arranged it so that he could cook the meat. He held the
spit negligently over the red mass. A joint fell off. The men laughed.
"It's lost nothing," said the dark-browed man, as the girovago had said
before, and he skewered it on again and thrust it to the fire. But
meanwhile he was looking up from under his dark lashes at the girovago
and at us.
The girovago talked continually. He turned to me, holding the handful of
"This makes the tasty bit," he said.
"Oh yes--good salsiccia," said I.
"You are eating the kid? You are eating at the inn?" he said. I replied
that I was.
"No," he said. "You stay and eat with me. You eat with me. The sausage
is good, the kid will soon be done, the fire is grateful."
I laughed, not quite understanding him. He was certainly a bit tipsy.
"Signora," he said, turning to the q-b. She did not like him, he was
impudent, and she shut a deaf ear to him as far as she could. "Signora,"
he said, "do you understand me what I say?"
She replied that she did.
"Signora," he said, "I sell things to the women. I sell them things."
"What do you sell?" she asked in astonishment.
"Saints," he said.
"Saints!" she cried in more astonishment.
"Yes, saints," he said with tipsy gravity.
She turned in confusion to the company in the background. The fat
soldier came forward, he was the chief of the carabinieri.
"Also combs and bits of soap and little mirrors," he explained
"Saints!" said the girovago once more. "And also ragazzini--also
youngsters--Wherever I go there is a little one comes running calling
Babbo! Babbo! Daddy! Daddy! Wherever I go--youngsters. And I'm the
All this was received with a kind of silent sneer from the invisible
assembly in the background. The candle was burning low, the fire was
sinking too. In vain the dark-browed man tried to build it up. The q-b
became impatient for the food. She got up wrathfully and stumbled into
the dark passage, exclaiming--"Don't we eat yet?"
"Eh--Patience! Patience, Signora. It takes time in this house," said the
man in the background.
The dark-browed man looked up at the girovago and said:
"Are you going to cook the sausages with your fingers?"
He too was trying to be assertive and jesting, but he was the kind of
person no one takes any notice of. The girovago rattled on in dialect,
poking fun at us and at our being there in this inn. I did not quite
"Signora!" said the girovago. "Do you understand Sardinian?"
"I understand Italian--and some Sardinian," she replied rather hotly.
"And I know that you are trying to laugh at us--to make fun of us."
He laughed fatly and comfortably.
"Ah Signora," he said. "We have a language that you wouldn't
understand--not one word. Nobody here would understand it but me and
him--" he pointed to the black-browed one. "Everybody would want an
But he did not say interpreter--he said intreprete, with the accent
on the penultimate, as if it were some sort of priest.
"A what?" said I.
He repeated with tipsy unction, and I saw what he meant.
"Why?" said I. "Is it a dialect? What is your dialect?"
"My dialect," he said, "is Sassari. I come from Sassari. If I spoke my
dialect they would understand something. But if I speak this language
they would want an interpreter."
"What language is it then?"
He leaned up to me, laughing.
"It is the language we use when the women are buying things and we don't
want them to know what we say: me and him--"
"Oh," said I. "I know. We have that language in England. It is called
thieves Latin--Latino dei furbi."
The men at the back suddenly laughed, glad to turn the joke against the
forward girovago. He looked down his nose at me. But seeing I was
laughing without malice, he leaned to me and said softly, secretly:
"What is your affair then? What affair is it, yours?"
"How? What?" I exclaimed, not understanding.
"Che genere di affari? What sort of business?"
"How--affari?" said I, still not grasping.
"What do you sell?" he said, flatly and rather spitefully. "What
"I don't sell anything," replied I, laughing to think he took us for
some sort of strolling quacks or commercial travellers.
"Cloth--or something," he said cajolingly, slyly, as if to worm my
secret out of me.
"But nothing at all. Nothing at all," said I. "We have come to Sardinia
to see the peasant costumes--" I thought that might sound satisfactory.
"Ah, the costumes!" he said, evidently thinking I was a deep one. And he
turned bandying words with his dark-browed mate, who was still poking
the meat at the embers and crouching on the hearth. The room was almost
quite dark. The mate answered him back, and tried to seem witty too. But
the girovago was the commanding personality! rather too much so: too
impudent for the q-b, though rather after my own secret heart. The mate
was one of those handsome, passive, stupid men.
"Him!" said the girovago, turning suddenly to me and pointing at the
mate. "He's my wife."
"Your wife!" said I.
"Yes. He's my wife, because we're always together."
There had become a sudden dead silence in the background. In spite of it
the mate looked up under his black lashes and said, with a half smile:
"Don't talk, or I shall give thee a good bacio to-night."
There was an instant's fatal pause, then the girovago continued:
"Tomorrow is festa of Sant 'Antonio at Tonara. Tomorrow we are going to
Tonara. Where are you going?"
"To Abbasanta," said I.
"Ah Abbasanta! You should come to Tonara. At Tonara there is a brisk
trade--and there are costumes. You should come to Tonara. Come with him
and me to Tonara tomorrow, and we will do business together."
I laughed, but did not answer.
"Come," said he. "You will like Tonara! Ah, Tonara is a fine place.
There is an inn: you can eat well, sleep well. I tell you, because to
you ten francs don't matter. Isn't that so? Ten francs don't matter to
you. Well, then come to Tonara. What? What do you say?"
I shook my head and laughed, but did not answer.
To tell the truth I should have liked to go to Tonara with him and his
mate and do the brisk trade: if only I knew what trade it would be.
"You are sleeping upstairs?" he said to me.
"This is my bed," he said, taking one of the home-made rush mats from
against the wall. I did not take him seriously at any point.
"Do they make those in Sorgono?" I said.
"Yes, in Sorgono--they are the beds, you see! And you roll up this end a
bit--so! and that is the pillow."
He laid his cheek sideways.
"Not really," said I.
He came and sat down again next to me, and my attention wandered. The
q-b was raging for her dinner. It must be quite half-past eight. The
kid, the perfect kid would be cold and ruined. Both fire and candle were
burning low. Someone had been out for a new candle, but there was
evidently no means of replenishing the fire. The mate still crouched on
the hearth, the dull red fire-glow on his handsome face, patiently
trying to roast the kid and poking it against the embers. He had heavy,
strong limbs in his khaki clothes, but his hand that held the spit was
brown and tender and sensitive, a real Mediterranean hand. The girovago,
blond, round-faced, mature and aggressive with all his liveliness, was
more like a northerner. In the background were four or five other men,
of whom I had distinguished none but a stout soldier, probably chief
* * * * *
Just as the q-b was working up to the rage I had at last calmed down
from, appeared the shawl-swathed girl announcing "Pronto!"
"Pronto! Pronto!" said everybody.
"High time, too," said the q-b, springing from the low bench before the
fire. "Where do we eat? Is there another room?"
"There is another room, Signora," said the carabiniere.
So we trooped out of the fire-warmed dungeon, leaving the girovago and
his mate and two other men, muleteers from the road, behind us. I could
see that it irked my girovago to be left behind. He was by far the
strongest personality in the place, and he had the keenest intelligence.
So he hated having to fall into the background, when he had been
dragging all the lime-light on to himself all the evening. To me, too,
he was something of a kindred soul that night. But there we are: fate,
in the guise of that mysterious division between a respectable life and
a scamp's life divided us. There was a gulf between me and him, between
my way and his. He was a kindred spirit--but with a hopeless difference.
There was something a bit sordid about him--and he knew it. That is why
he was always tipsy. Yet I like the lone wolf souls best--better than
the sheep. If only they didn't feel mongrel inside themselves.
Presumably a scamp is bound to be mongrel. It is a pity the untamable,
lone-wolf souls should always become pariahs, almost of choice: mere
Top and bottom of it is, I regretted my girovago, though I knew it was
no good thinking of him. His way was not my way. Yet I regretted him,
* * * * *
We found ourselves in a dining room with a long white table and inverted
soup-plates, tomb-cold, lighted by an acetylene flare. Three men had
accompanied us: the carabiniere, a little dark youth with a small black
moustache, in a soldier's short, wool-lined great-coat: and a young man
who looked tired round his blue eyes, and who wore a dark-blue overcoat,
quite smart. The be-shawled damsel came in with the inevitable bowl of
minestrone, soup with cabbage and cauliflower and other things. We
helped ourselves, and the fat carabiniere started the conversation with
the usual questions--and where were we going tomorrow?
I asked about buses. Then the responsible-looking, tired-eyed youth
told me he was the bus-driver. He had come from Oristano, on the main
line, that day. It is a distance of some forty miles. Next morning he
was going on over the mountains to Nuoro--about the same distance again.
The youth with the little black moustache and the Greek, large eyes, was
his mate, the conductor. This was their run, from Oristano to Nuoro--a
course of ninety miles or more. And every day on, on, on. No wonder he
looked nerve-tired. Yet he had that kind of dignity, the wistful
seriousness and pride of a man in machine control: the only god-like
ones today, those who pull the iron levers and are the gods in the
They repeated what the old roaster said: much nicer for us to go to
Nuoro than to Abbasanta. So to Nuoro we decided to go, leaving at
half-past nine in the morning.
* * * * *
Every other night the driver and his mate spent in this benighted
Risveglio inn. It must have been their bedroom we saw, clean and tidy. I
said was the food always so late, was everything always as bad as today.
Always--if not worse, they said, making light of it, with sarcastic
humor against the Risveglio. You spent your whole life at the Risveglio
sitting, waiting, and going block-cold: unless you were content to
drink aqua vitae, like those in there. The driver jerked his head
towards the dungeon.
"Who were those in there?" said I.
The one who did all the talking was a mercante, a mercante girovago, a
wandering peddler. This was my girovago: a wandering peddler selling
saints and youngsters! The other was his mate, who helped carry the
pack. They went about together. Oh, my girovago was a known figure all
over the country.--And where would they sleep? There, in the room where
the fire was dying.
They would unroll the mats and lie with their feet to the hearth. For
this they paid threepence, or at most fourpence. And they had the
privilege of cooking their own food. The Risveglio supplied them with
nothing but the fire, the roof, and the rush mat.--And, of course, the
drink. Oh, we need have no sympathy with the girovago and his sort.
They lacked for nothing. They had everything they wanted: everything:
and money in abundance. They lived for the aqua vitae they drank.
That was all they wanted: their continual allowance of aqua vitae. And
they got it. Ah, they were not cold. If the room became cold during the
night: if they had no coverings at all: pah, they waited for morning,
and as soon as it was light they drank a large glass of aqua vitae.
That was their fire, their hearth and their home: drink. Aqua vitae,
was hearth and home to them.
I was surprised at the contempt, tolerant and yet profound, with which
these three men in the dining-room spoke of the others in the stanza.
How contemptuous, almost bitter, the driver was against alcohol. It was
evident he hated it. And though we all had our bottles of dead-cold dark
wine, and though we all drank: still, the feeling of the three youths
against actual intoxication was deep and hostile, with a certain burning
moral dislike that is more northern than Italian. And they curled
their lip with real dislike of the girovago: his forwardness, his
* * * * *
As for the inn, yes, it was very bad. It had been quite good under the
previous proprietors. But now--they shrugged their shoulders. The
dirty-breast and the shawled girl were not the owners. They were merely
conductors of the hotel: here a sarcastic curl of the lip. The owner was
a man in the village--a young man. A week or two back, at Christmas
time, there had been a roomful of men sitting drinking and roistering at
this very table. When in had come the proprietor, mad-drunk, swinging a
litre bottle round his head and yelling: "Out! Out! Out, all of you! Out
every one of you! I am proprietor here. And when I want to clear my
house I clear my house. Every man obeys--who doesn't obey has his brains
knocked out with this bottle. Out, out, I say--Out, everyone!" And the
men all cleared out. "But," said the bus-driver, "I told him that when I
had paid for my bed I was going to sleep in it. I was not going to be
turned out by him or anybody. And so he came down."
* * * * *
There was a little silence from everybody after this story. Evidently
there was more to it, that we were not to be told. Especially the
carabiniere was silent. He was a fat, not very brave fellow, though
Ah, but--said the little dark bus-conductor, with his small-featured
swarthy Greek face--you must not be angry with them. True the inn was
very bad. Very bad--but you must pity them, for they are only ignorant.
Poor things, they are ignoranti! Why be angry?
The other two men nodded their heads in agreement and repeated
ignoranti. They are ignoranti. It is true. Why be angry?
And here the modern Italian spirit came out: the endless pity for the
ignorant. It is only slackness. The pity makes the ignorant more
ignorant, and makes the Risveglio daily more impossible. If somebody
let a bottle buzz round the ears of the dirty-breast, and whipped the
shawl from the head of the pert young madam and sent her flying down the
tunnel with a flea in her ear, we might get some attention and they
might find a little self-respect. But no: pity them, poor ignoranti,
while they pull life down and devour it like vermin. Pity them! What
they need is not pity but prods: they and all their myriad of likes.
* * * * *
The be-shawled appeared with a dish of kid. Needless to say, the
ignoranti had kept all the best portions for themselves. What arrived
was five pieces of cold roast, one for each of us. Mine was a sort of
large comb of ribs with a thin web of meat: perhaps an ounce. That was
all we got, after watching the whole process. There was moreover a dish
of strong boiled cauliflower, which one ate, with the coarse bread, out
of sheer hunger. After this a bilious orange. Simply one is not fed
nowadays. In the good hotels and in the bad, one is given paltry
portions of unnourishing food, and one goes unfed.
* * * * *
The bus-driver, the only one with an earnest soul, was talking of the
Sardinians. Ah, the Sardinians! They were hopeless. Why--because they
did not know how to strike. They, too, were ignoranti. But this form
of ignorance he found more annoying. They simply did not know what a
strike was. If you offered them one day ten francs a stint--he was
speaking now of the miners of the Iglesias region.--No, no, no, they
would not take it, they wanted twelve francs. Go to them the next day
and offer them four francs for half a stint, and yes, yes, yes, they
would take it. And there they were: ignorant: ignorant Sardinians. They
absolutely did not know how to strike. He was quite sarcastically hot
about it. The whole tone of these three young men was the tone of
sceptical irony common to the young people of our day the world over.
Only they had--or at least the driver had--some little fervour for his
strikes and his socialism. But it was a pathetic fervour: a pis-aller
* * * * *
We talked about the land. The war has practically gutted Sardinia of her
cattle: so they said. And now the land is being deserted, the arable
land is going back to fallow. Why? Why, says the driver, because the
owners of the land won't spend any capital. They have got the capital
locked up, and the land is dead. They find it cheaper to let all the
arable go back to fallow, and raise a few head of cattle, rather than to
pay high wages, grow corn, and get small returns.
Yes, and also, chimes in the carabiniere, the peasants don't want to
work the land. They hate the land. They'll do anything to get off the
land. They want regular wages, short hours, and devil take the rest. So
they will go into France as navvies, by the hundred. They flock to Rome,
they besiege the Labor bureaus, they will do the artificial Government
navvy-work at a miserable five francs a day--a railway shunter having at
least eighteen francs a day--anything, anything rather than work the
Yes, and what does the Government do! replies the bus-driver. They pull
the roads to pieces in order to find work for the unemployed, remaking
them, across the campagna. But in Sardinia, where roads and bridges are
absolutely wanting, will they do anything? No!
There it is, however. The bus-driver, with dark shadows under his eyes,
represents the intelligent portion of the conversation. The carabiniere
is soft and will go any way, though always with some interest. The
little Greek-looking conductor just does not care.
* * * * *
Enters another belated traveller, and takes a seat at the end of the
table. The be-shawled brings him soup and a skinny bit of kid. He eyes
this last with contempt, and fetches out of his bag a large hunk of
roast pork, and bread, and black olives, thus proceeding to make a
We being without cigarettes, the bus-driver and his companion press them
on us: their beloved Macedonia cigarettes. The driver says they are
squisitissimi--most, most exquisite--so exquisite that all foreigners
want them. In truth I believe they are exported to Germany now. And they
are quite good, when they really have tobacco in them. Usually they are
hollow tubes of paper which just flare away under one's nose and are
We decide to have a round drink: they choose the precious aqua vitae:
the white sort I think. At last it arrives--when the little dark-eyed
one has fetched it. And it tastes rather like sweetened petroleum, with
a dash of aniseed: filthy. Most Italian liquors are now sweet and
At length we rise to go to bed. We shall all meet in the morning. And
this room is dead cold, with frost outside. Going out, we glance into
the famous stanza. One figure alone lies stretched on the floor in the
almost complete darkness. A few embers still glow. The other men no
doubt are in the bar.
Ah, the filthy bedroom. The q-b ties up her head in a large, clean white
kerchief, to avoid contact with the unsavory pillow. It is a cold, hard,
flat bed, with two cold, hard, flat blankets. But we are very tired.
Just as we are going to sleep, however, weird, high-pitched singing
starts below, very uncanny--with a refrain that is a yelp-yelp-yelp!
almost like a dog in angry pain. Weird, almost gruesome this singing
goes on, first one voice and then another and then a tangle of voices.
Again we are roused by the pounding of heavy feet on the corridor
outside, which is as hollow and resonant as a drum. And then in the
infernal crew-yard outside a cock crows. Throughout the night--yea,
through all the black and frosty hours this demoniac bird screams its
* * * * *
However, it is morning. I gingerly wash a bit of myself in the broken
basin, and dry that bit on a muslin veil which masquerades upon the
chair as a towel. The q-b contents herself with a dry wipe. And we go
downstairs in hopes of the last-night's milk.
There is no one to be seen. It is a cold, frost-strong, clear morning.
There is no one in the bar. We stumble down the dark tunnel passage. The
stanza is as if no man had ever set foot in it: very dark, the mats
against the wall, the fire-place grey with a handful of long dead ash.
Just like a dungeon. The dining-room has the same long table and eternal
table-cloth--and our serviettes, still wet, lying where we shovelled
them aside. So back again to the bar.
And this time a man is drinking aqua vitae, and the dirty-shirt is
officiating. He has no hat on: and extraordinary, he has no brow at all:
just flat, straight black hair slanting to his eyebrows, no forehead at
Is there coffee?
No, there is no coffee.
Because they can't get sugar.
Ho! laughs the peasant drinking aqua vitae. You make coffee with
Here, say I, they make it with nothing.--Is there milk?
No milk at all?
Nobody brings it.
Yes, yes--there is milk if they like to get it, puts in the peasant. But
they want you to drink aqua vitae.
I see myself drinking aqua vitae. My yesterday's rage towers up again
suddenly, till it quite suffocates me. There is something in this
unsavoury, black, wine-dabbled, thick, greasy young man that does for
"Why," say I, lapsing into the Italian rhetorical manner, "why do you
keep an inn? Why do you write the word Ristorante so large, when you
have nothing to offer people, and don't intend to have anything. Why do
you have the impudence to take in travellers? What does it mean, that
this is an inn? What, say, what does it mean? Say then--what does it
mean? What does it mean, your Ristorante Risveglio, written so large?"
Getting all this out in one breath, my indignation now stifled me. Him
of the shirt said nothing at all. The peasant laughed. I demanded the
bill. It was twenty-five francs odd. I picked up every farthing of the
"Won't you leave any tip at all?" asks the q-b.
"Tip!" say I, speechless.
So we march upstairs and make tea to fill the thermos flask. Then, with
sack over my shoulder, I make my way out of the Risveglio.
* * * * *
It is Sunday morning. The frozen village street is almost empty. We
march down to the wider space where the bus stands: I hope they haven't
the impudence to call it a Piazza.
"Is this the Nuoro bus?" I ask of a bunch of urchins.
And even they begin to jeer. But my sudden up-starting flare quenches
them at once. One answers yes, and they edge away. I stow the sack and
the kitchenino in the first-class part. The first-class is in front: we
shall see better.
There are men standing about, with their hands in their pockets,--those
who are not in costume. Some wear the black-and-white. All wear the
stocking caps. And all have the wide shirt-breasts, white, their
waistcoats being just like evening dress waistcoats. Imagine one of
these soft white shirt fronts well slobbered, and you have mine host of
the Risveglio. But these lounging, static, white-breasted men are
snowily clean, this being Sunday morning. They smoke their pipes on the
frosty air, and are none too friendly.
* * * * *
The bus starts at half-past nine. The campanile is clanging nine. Two or
three girls go down the road in their Sunday costume of purplish brown.
We go up the road, into the clear, ringing frosty air, to find the lane.
And again, from above, how beautiful it is in the sharp morning! The
whole village lies in bluish shadow, the hills with their thin pale oak
trees are in bluish shadow still, only in the distance the frost-glowing
sun makes a wonderful, jewel-like radiance on the pleasant hills, wild
and thinly-wooded, of this interior region. Real fresh wonder-beauty
all around. And such humanity.
Returning to the village we find a little shop and get biscuits and
cigarettes. And we find our friends the bus-men. They are shy this
morning. They are ready for us when we are ready. So in we get,
joyfully, to leave Sorgono.
One thing I say for it, it must be an honest place. For people leave
their sacks about without a qualm.
* * * * *
Up we go, up the road. Only to stop, alas, at the Risveglio. The little
conductor goes down the lane towards the station. The driver goes and
has a little drink with a comrade. There is quite a crowd round the
dreary entrances of the inn. And quite a little bunch of people to
clamber up into the second class, behind us.
We wait and wait. Then in climbs an old peasant, in full black-and-white
costume, smiling in the pleased, naïve way of the old. After him climbs
a fresh-faced young man with a suit-case.
"Na!" said the young man. "Now you are in the automobile."
And the old man gazes round with the wondering, vacant, naïve smile.
"One is all right here, eh?" the young citizen persists, patronizing.
But the old man is too excited to answer. He gazes hither and thither.
Then he suddenly remembers he had a parcel, and looks for it in fear.
The bright-faced young man picks it from the floor and hands it him. Ah,
it is all right.
I see the little conductor in his dashing, sheep-lined, short military
overcoat striding briskly down the little lane with the post-bag. The
driver climbs to his seat in front of me. He has a muffler round his
neck and his hat pulled down to his ears. He pips at the horn, and our
old peasant cranes forward to look how he does it.
And so, with a jerk and a spurt, we start uphill.
"Eh--what's that?" said the peasant, frightened.
"We're starting," explained the bright-faced young man.
"Starting! Didn't we start before?"
The bright face laughs pleasedly.
"No," he said. "Did you think we had been going ever since you got in?"
"Yes," says the old man, simply, "since the door was shut."
The young citizen looks at us for our joyful approval.
These automobiles in Italy are splendid. They take the steep, looping
roads so easily, they seem to run so naturally. And this one was
The roads of Italy always impress me. They run undaunted over the most
precipitous regions, and with curious ease. In England almost any such
road, among the mountains at least, would be labelled three times
dangerous and would be famous throughout the land as an impossible
climb. Here it is nothing. Up and down they go, swinging about with
complete sang-froid. There seems to have been no effort in their
construction. They are so good, naturally, that one hardly notices what
splendid gestures they represent. Of course, the surface is now often
intolerably bad. And they are most of them roads which, with ten years'
neglect, will become ruins. For they are cut through overhanging rock
and scooped out of the sides of hills. But I think it is marvellous how
the Italians have penetrated all their inaccessible regions, of which
they have so many, with great high-roads: and how along these high-roads
the omnibuses now keep up a perfect communication. The precipitous and
craggily-involved land is threaded through and through with roads. There
seems to be a passion for high-roads and for constant communication. In
this the Italians have a real Roman instinct, now. For the roads are
The railways too go piercing through rock for miles and miles, and
nobody thinks anything of it. The coast railway of Calabria, down to
Reggio, would make us stand on our heads if we had it in England. Here
it is a matter of course. In the same way I always have a profound
admiration for their driving--whether of a great omnibus or of a
motor-car. It all seems so easy, as if the man were part of the car.
There is none of that beastly grinding, uneasy feeling one has in the
north. A car behaves like a smooth, live thing, sensibly.
All the peasants have a passion for a high-road. They want their land
opening out, opening out. They seem to hate the ancient Italian
remoteness. They all want to be able to get out at a moment's notice, to
get away--quick, quick. A village which is two miles off the high-road,
even if it is perched like a hawk's nest on a peak, still chafes and
chafes for the great road to come to it, chafes and chafes for the
daily motor-bus connection with the railway. There is no placidity, no
rest in the heart of the land. There is a fever of restless irritation
all the time.
And yet the permanent way of almost every railway is falling into bad
disrepair, the roads are shocking. And nothing seems to be done. Is our
marvellous, mechanical era going to have so short a bloom? Is the
marvellous openness, the opened-out wonder of the land going to collapse
quite soon, and the remote places lapse back into inaccessibility again?
Who knows! I rather hope so.
* * * * *
The automobile took us rushing and winding up the hill, sometimes
through cold, solid-seeming shadow, sometimes across a patch of sun.
There was thin, bright ice in the ruts, and deep grey hoar-frost on the
grass. I cannot tell how the sight of the grass and bushes heavy with
frost, and wild--in their own primitive wildness charmed me. The slopes
of the steep wild hills came down shaggy and bushy, with a few berries
lingering, and the long grass-stalks sere with the frost. Again the dark
valley sank below like a ravine, but shaggy, bosky, unbroken. It came
upon me how I loved the sight of the blue-shadowed, tawny-tangled winter
with its frosty standstill. The young oaks keep their brown leaves. And
doing so, surely they are best with a thin edge of rime.
One begins to realize how old the real Italy is, how man-gripped, and
how withered. England is far more wild and savage and lonely, in her
country parts. Here since endless centuries man has tamed the impossible
mountain side into terraces, he has quarried the rock, he has fed his
sheep among the thin woods, he has cut his boughs and burnt his
charcoal, he has been half domesticated even among the wildest
fastnesses. This is what is so attractive about the remote places, the
Abruzzi, for example. Life is so primitive, so pagan, so strangely
heathen and half-savage. And yet it is human life. And the wildest
country is half humanized, half brought under. It is all conscious.
Wherever one is in Italy, either one is conscious of the present, or of
the mediaeval influences, or of the far, mysterious gods of the early
Mediterranean. Wherever one is, the place has its conscious genus. Man
has lived there and brought forth his consciousness there and in some
way brought that place to consciousness, given it its expression, and,
really, finished it. The expression may be Proserpine, or Pan, or even
the strange "shrouded gods" of the Etruscans or the Sikels, none the
less it is an expression. The land has been humanised, through and
through: and we in our own tissued consciousness bear the results of
this humanisation. So that for us to go to Italy and to penetrate into
Italy is like a most fascinating act of self-discovery--back, back down
the old ways of time. Strange and wonderful chords awake in us, and
vibrate again after many hundreds of years of complete forgetfulness.
And then--and then--there is a final feeling of sterility. It is all
worked out. It is all known: connu, connu!
This Sunday morning, seeing the frost among the tangled, still savage
bushes of Sardinia, my soul thrilled again. This was not all known. This
was not all worked out. Life was not only a process of rediscovering
backwards. It is that, also: and it is that intensely. Italy has given
me back I know not what of myself, but a very, very great deal. She has
found for me so much that was lost: like a restored Osiris. But this
morning in the omnibus I realize that, apart from the great rediscovery
backwards, which one must make before one can be whole at all, there
is a move forwards. There are unknown, unworked lands where the salt has
not lost its savour. But one must have perfected oneself in the great
* * * * *
If one travels one eats. We immediately began to munch biscuits, and the
old peasant in his white, baggy breeches and black cuirass, his old
face smiling wonderingly under his old stocking cap, although he was
only going to Tonara, some seven or eight miles, began to peel himself a
hard-boiled egg, which he got out of his parcel. With calm wastefulness
he peeled away the biggest part of the white of the egg with the
shell--because it came away so. The citizen of Nuoro, for such the
bright-faced young man was, said to him--"But see how you waste
it."--"Ha!" said the old peasant, with a reckless indifferent wave of
the hand. What did he care how much he wasted, since he was en voyage
and riding for the first time in his life in an automobile.
The citizen of Nuoro told us he had some sort of business in Sorgono, so
he came back and forth constantly. The peasant did some work or other
for him--or brought him something down from Tonara. He was a pleasant,
bright-eyed young man, and he made nothing of eight hours in a
He told us there was still game among these hills: wild boars which were
hunted in big hunts, and many hares. It was a curious and beautiful
sight, he said, to see a hare at night fascinated by the flare of the
lamps of the automobile, racing ahead with its ears back, always keeping
in front, inside the beam, and flying like mad, on and on ahead, till
at some hill it gathered speed and melted into the dark.
* * * * *
We descended into a deep, narrow valley to the road-junction and the
canteen-house, then up again, up and up sharp to Tonara, our village we
had seen in the sun yesterday. But we were approaching it from the back.
As we swerved into the sunlight, the road took a long curve on to the
open ridge between two valleys. And there in front we saw a glitter of
scarlet and white. It was in slow motion. It was a far-off procession,
scarlet figures of women, and a tall image moving away from us, slowly,
in the Sunday morning. It was passing along the level sunlit ridge above
a deep, hollow valley. A close procession of women glittering in
scarlet, white and black, moving slowly in the distance beneath the
grey-yellow buildings of the village on the crest, towards an isolated
old church: and all along this narrow upland saddle as on a bridge of
Were we not going to see any more? The bus turned again and rushed along
the now level road and then veered. And there beyond, a little below, we
saw the procession coming. The bus faded to a standstill, and we
climbed out. Above us, old and mellowed among the smooth rocks and the
bits of flat grass was the church, tanging its bell. Just in front,
above, were old, half-broken houses of stone. The road came gently
winding up to us, from what was evidently two villages ledged one above
the other upon the steep summit of the south slope. Far below was the
south valley, with a white puff of engine steam.
And slowly chanting in the near distance, curving slowly up to us on the
white road between the grass came the procession. The high morning was
still. We stood all on this ridge above the world, with the deeps of
silence below on the right. And in a strange, brief, staccato monody
chanted the men, and in quick, light rustle of women's voices came the
responses. Again the men's voices! The white was mostly men, not women.
The priest in his robes, his boys near him, was leading the chanting.
Immediately behind him came a small cluster of bare-headed, tall,
sunburnt men, all in golden-velveteen corduroy, mountain-peasants,
bowing beneath a great life-size seated image of Saint Anthony of Padua.
After these a number of men in the costume, but with the white linen
breeches hanging wide and loose almost to the ankles, instead of being
tucked into the black gaiters. So they seemed very white beneath the
back kilt frill. The black frieze body-vest was cut low, like an evening
suit, and the stocking caps were variously perched. The men chanted in
low, hollow, melodic tones. Then came the rustling chime of the women.
And the procession crept slowly, aimlessly forward in time with the
chant. The great image rode rigid, and rather foolish.
After the men was a little gap--and then the brilliant wedge of the
women. They were packed two by two, close on each other's heels,
chanting inadvertently when their turn came, and all in brilliant,
beautiful costume. In front were the little girl-children, two by two,
immediately following the tall men in peasant black-and-white. Children,
demure and conventional, in vermilion, white and green--little
girl-children with long skirts of scarlet cloth down to their feet,
green-banded near the bottom: with white aprons bordered with vivid
green and mingled colour: having little scarlet, purple-bound, open
boleros over the full white shirts: and black head-cloths folded across
their little chins, just leaving the lips clear, the face framed in
black. Wonderful little girl-children, perfect and demure in the
stiffish, brilliant costume, with black head-dress! Stiff as Velasquez
princesses! The bigger girls followed, and then the mature women, a
close procession. The long vermilion skirts with their green bands at
the bottom flashed a solid moving mass of colour, softly swinging, and
the white aprons with their band of brilliant mingled green seemed to
gleam. At the throat the full-bosomed white shirts were fastened with
big studs of gold filigree, two linked filigree globes: and the great
white sleeves billowed from the scarlet, purplish-and-green-edged
boleros. The faces came nearer to us, framed all round in the dark
cloths. All the lips still sang responses, but all the eyes watched us.
So the softly-swaying coloured body of the procession came up to us. The
poppy-scarlet smooth cloth rocked in fusion, the bands and bars of
emerald green seemed to burn across the red and the showy white, the
dark eyes peered and stared at us from under the black snood, gazed back
at us with raging curiosity, while the lips moved automatically in
chant. The bus had run into the inner side of the road, and the
procession had to press round it, towards the sky-line, the great valley
The priest stared, hideous St. Anthony cockled a bit as he passed the
butt end of the big grey automobile, the peasant men in gold-coloured
corduroy, old, washed soft, were sweating under the load and still
singing with opened lips, the loose white breeches of the men waggled as
they walked on with their hands behind their backs, turning again, to
look at us. The big, hard hands, folded behind black kilt-frill! The
women, too, shuffled slowly past, rocking the scarlet and the bars of
green, and all twisting as they sang, to look at us still more. And so
the procession edged past the bus, and was trailing upwards, curved
solid against the sky-line towards the old church. From behind, the
geranium scarlet was intense, one saw the careful, curiously cut backs
of the shapen boleros, poppy-red, edged with mauve-purple and green, and
the white of the shirt just showing at the waist. The full sleeves
billowed out, the black head-cloths hung down to a point. The pleated
skirts swing slowly, the broad band of green accentuating the motion.
Indeed that is what it must be for, this thick, rich band of jewel
green, to throw the wonderful horizontal motion back and forth, back and
forth, of the suave vermilion, and give that static, Demeta splendor to
a peasant motion, so magnificent in colour, geranium and malachite.
All the costumes were not exactly alike. Some had more green, some had
less. In some the sleeveless boleros were of a darker red, and some had
poorer aprons, without such gorgeous bands at the bottom. And some were
evidently old: probably thirty years old: still perfect and in keeping,
reserved for Sunday and high holidays. A few were darker, ruddier than
the true vermilion. This varying of the tone intensified the beauty of
the shuffling woman-host.
* * * * *
When they had filed into the grey, forlorn little church on the
ridge-top just above us, the bus started silently to run on to the
rest-point below, whilst we climbed back up the little rock-track to the
church. When we came to the side-door we found the church quite full.
Level with us as we stood in the open side doorway, we saw kneeling on
the bare stoneflags the little girl-children, and behind them all the
women clustered kneeling upon their aprons, with hands negligently
folded, filling the church to the further doorway, where the sun shone:
the bigger west-end doorway. In the shadow of the whitewashed, bare
church all these kneeling women with their colour and their black
head-cloths looked like some thick bed of flowers, geranium, black
hooded above. They all knelt on the naked, solid stone of the pavement.
There was a space in front of the geranium little girl-children, then
the men in corduroys, gold-soft, with dark round heads, kneeling
awkwardly in reverence; and then the queer, black cuirasses and full
white sleeves of grey-headed peasant men, many bearded. Then just in
front of them the priest in his white vestment, standing exposed, and
just baldly beginning an address. At the side of the altar was seated
large and important the modern, simpering, black-gowned Anthony of
Padua, nursing a boy-child. He looked a sort of male Madonna.
"Now," the priest was saying, "blessed Saint Anthony shows you in what
way you can be Christians. It is not enough that you are not Turks. Some
think they are Christians because they are not Turks. It is true you are
none of you Turks. But you have still to learn how to be good
Christians. And this you can learn from our blessed Saint Anthony. Saint
Anthony, etc., etc...."
The contrast between Turks and Christians is still forceful in the
Mediterranean, where the Mohammedans have left such a mark. But how the
word cristiani, cristiani, spoken with a peculiar priestly unction,
gets on my nerves. The voice is barren in its homily. And the women are
all intensely watching the q-b and me in the doorway, their folded hands
are very negligently held together.
"Come away!" say I. "Come away, and let them listen."
* * * * *
We left the church crowded with its kneeling host, and dropped down past
the broken houses towards the omnibus, which stood on a sort of level
out-look place, a levelled terrace with a few trees, standing silent
over the valley. It should be picketed with soldiers having arquebuses.
And I should have welcomed a few thorough-paced infidels, as a leaven
to this dreary Christianity of ours.
But it was a wonderful place. Usually, the life-level is reckoned as
sea-level. But here, in the heart of Sardinia, the life-level is high as
the golden-lit plateau, and the sea-level is somewhere far away, below,
in the gloom, it does not signify. The life-level is high up, high and
sun-sweetened and among rocks.
We stood and looked below, at the puff of steam, far down the wooded
valley where we had come yesterday. There was an old, low house on this
eagle-perching piazza. I would like to live there. The real village--or
rather two villages, like an ear-ring and its pendant--lay still beyond,
in front, ledging near the summit of the long, long, steep wooded slope,
that never ended till it ran flush to the depths away below there in
And yesterday, up this slope the old peasant had come with his two
brilliant daughters and the pack-pony.
And somewhere in those ledging, pearly villages in front must be my
girovago and his "wife". I wish I could see their stall and drink aqua
vitae with them.
"How beautiful the procession!" says the q-b to the driver.
"Ah yes--one of the most beautiful costumes of Sardinia, this of
Tonara," he replied wistfully.
* * * * *
The bus sets off again--minus the old peasant. We retrace our road. A
woman is leading a bay pony past the church, striding with long strides,
so that her maroon skirt swings like a fan, and hauling the halter rope.
Apparently the geranium red costume is Sunday only, the week-day is this
maroon, or puce, or madder-brown.
Quickly and easily the bus slips down the hill into the valley. Wild,
narrow valleys, with trees, and brown-legged cork trees. Across the
other side a black and white peasant is working alone on a tiny terrace
of the hill-side, a small, solitary figure, for all the world like a
magpie in the distance. These people like being alone--solitary--one
sees a single creature so often isolated among the wilds. This is
different from Sicily and Italy, where the people simply cannot be
alone. They must be in twos and threes.
But it is Sunday morning, and the worker is exceptional. Along the road
we pass various pedestrians, men in their black sheepskins, boys in
their soldiers' remains. They are trudging from one village to another,
across the wild valleys. And there is a sense of Sunday morning freedom,
of roving, as in an English countryside. Only the one old peasant works
alone: and a goatherd watching his long-haired, white goats.
Beautiful the goats are: and so swift. They fly like white shadows along
the road from us, then dart down-hill. I see one standing on a bough of
an oak-tree, right in the tree, an enormous white tree-creature
complacently munching up aloft, then rearing on her hind legs, so
lengthy, and putting her slim paws far away on an upper, forward branch.
* * * * *
Whenever we come to a village we stop and get down, and our little
conductor disappears into the post-office for the post-bag. This last is
usually a limp affair, containing about three letters. The people crowd
round--and many of them in very ragged costume. They look poor, and not
attractive: perhaps a bit degenerate. It would seem as if the Italian
instinct to get into rapid touch with the world were the healthy
instinct after all. For in these isolated villages, which have been
since time began far from any life-centre, there is an almost sordid
look on the faces of the people. We must remember that the motor-bus is
a great innovation. It has been running for five weeks only. I wonder
for how many months it will continue.
For I am sure it cannot pay. Our first-class tickets cost, I believe,
about twenty-seven francs each. The second class costs about
three-quarters the first. Some parts of the journey we were very few
passengers. The distance covered is so great, the population so thin,
that even granted the passion for getting out of their own villages,
which possesses all people now, still the bus cannot earn much more than
an average of two hundred to three hundred francs a day. Which, with two
men's wages, and petrol at its enormous price, and the cost of
wear-and-tear, cannot possibly pay.
I asked the driver. He did not tell me what his wages were: I did not
ask him. But he said the company paid for the keep and lodging for
himself and mate at the stopping-places. This being Sunday, fewer people
were travelling: a statement hard to believe. Once he had carried fifty
people all the way from Tonara to Nuoro. Once! But it was in vain he
protested. Ah well, he said, the bus carried the post, and the
government paid a subsidy of so many thousands of lire a year: a goodly
number. Apparently then the government was the loser, as usual. And
there are hundreds, if not thousands of these omnibuses running the
lonely districts of Italy and Sicily--Sardinia had a network of systems.
They are splendid--and they are perhaps an absolute necessity for a
nervous restless population which simply cannot keep still, and which
finds some relief in being whirled about even on the autovie, as the
bus-system is called.
The autovie are run by private companies, only subsidised by the
* * * * *
On we rush, through the morning--and at length see a large village, high
on the summit beyond, stony on the high upland. But it has a magical
look, as these tiny summit-cities have from the distance. They recall to
me always my childish visions of Jerusalem, high against the air, and
seeming to sparkle, and built in sharp cubes.
It is curious what a difference there is between the high, fresh, proud
villages and the valley villages. Those that crown the world have a
bright, flashing air, as Tonara had. Those that lie down below, infolded
in the shadow, have a gloomy, sordid feeling and a repellent population,
like Sorgono and other places at which we had halted. The judgment may
be all wrong: but this was the impression I got.
We were now at the highest point of the journey. The men we saw on the
road were in their sheepskins, and some were even walking with their
faces shawl-muffled. Glancing back, we saw up the valley clefts the snow
of Gennargentu once more, a white mantle on broad shoulders, the very
core of Sardinia. The bus slid to a standstill in a high valley, beside
a stream where the road from Fonni joined ours. There was waiting a
youth with a bicycle. I would like to go to Fonni. They say it is the
highest village in Sardinia.
* * * * *
In front, on the broad summit, reared the towers of Gavoi. This was the
half-way halt, where the buses had their coincidenza, and where we
would stay for an hour and eat. We wound up and up the looping road, and
at last entered the village. Women came to the doors to look. They were
wearing the dark madder-brown costume. Men were hastening, smoking their
pipes, towards our stopping place.
We saw the other bus--a little crowd of people--and we drew up at last.
We were tired and hungry. We were at the door of the inn, and we entered
quickly. And in an instant, what a difference! At the clean little bar,
men were drinking cheerfully. A side door led into the common room. And
how charming it was. In a very wide chimney, white and stone-clean, with
a lovely shallow curve above, was burning a fire of long, clean-split
faggots, laid horizontally on the dogs. A clean, clear bright fire, with
odd little chairs in front, very low, for us to sit on. The funny, low
little chairs seem a specialty of this region.
The floor of this room was paved with round dark pebbles, beautifully
clean. On the walls hung brilliant copper fans, glittering against the
whitewash. And under the long, horizontal window that looked on the
street was a stone slab with sockets for little charcoal fires. The
curve of the chimney arch was wide and shallow, the curve above the
window was still wider, and of a similar delicate shallowness, the white
roof rose delicately vaulted. With the glitter of copper, the expanse of
dark, rose-coloured, pebbled floor, the space, the few low,
clean-gleaming faggots, it was really beautiful. We sat and warmed
ourselves, welcomed by a plump hostess and a pleasant daughter, both in
madder-brown dress and full white shirt. People strayed in and out,
through the various doors. The houses are built without any plan at all,
the rooms just happening, here or there. A bitch came from an inner
darkness and stood looking at the fire, then looked up at me, smiling in
her bitch-like, complacent fashion.
* * * * *
But we were dying with hunger. What was there to eat?--and was it nearly
ready? There was cinghiale, the pleasant, hard-cheeked girl told us,
and it was nearly ready. Cinghiale being wild boar, we sniffed the
air. The girl kept tramping rather fecklessly back and forth, with a
plate or a serviette: and at last it was served. We went through the
dark inner place, which was apparently the windowless bit left over,
inside, when the hap-hazard rooms were made round about, and from thence
into a large, bare, darkish pebbled room with a white table and inverted
soup-plates. It was deathly cold. The window looked north over the
wintry landscape of the highlands, fields, stone walls, and rocks. Ah,
the cold, motionless air of the room.
But we were quite a party: the second bus-driver and his mate, a bearded
traveller on the second bus, with his daughter, ourselves, the
bright-faced citizen from Nuoro, and our driver. Our little dark-eyed
conductor did not come. It dawned on me later he could not afford to pay
for this meal, which was not included in his wage.
The Nuoro citizen conferred with our driver--who looked tired round the
eyes--and made the girl produce a tin of sardines. These were opened at
table with a large pocket-knife belonging to the second conductor. He
was a reckless, odd, hot-foot fellow whom I liked very much. But I was
terrified at the way he carved the sardine-box with his jack-knife.
However, we could eat and drink.
Then came the brodo, the broth, in a great bowl. This was boiling hot,
and very, very strong. It was perfectly plain, strong meat-stock,
without vegetables. But how good and invigorating it was, and what an
abundance! We drank it down, and ate the good, cold bread.
Then came the boar itself. Alas, it was a bowl of hunks of dark, rather
coarse boiled meat, from which the broth had been made. It was quite
dry, without fat. I should have been very puzzled to know what meat it
was, if I had not been told. Sad that the wild boar should have received
so little culinary attention. However, we ate the hunks of hot, dry meat
with bread, and were glad to get them. They were filling, at least. And
there was a bowl of rather bitter green olives for a condiment.
The Nuoro citizen now produced a huge bottle of wine, which he said was
finissimo, and refused to let us go on with the dark wine on the
table, of which every guest was served with a bottle. So we drank up,
and were replenished with the redder, lighter, finer Sorgono wine. It
was very good.
The second bus-conductor also did not eat the inn meal. He produced a
vast piece of bread, good, home-made bread, and at least half of a roast
lamb, and a large paper of olives. This lamb he insisted on sending
round the table, waving his knife and fork with dramatic gestures at
every guest, insisting that every guest should take a hunk. So one by
one we all helped ourselves to the extraordinarily good cold roast lamb,
and to the olives. Then the bus-conductor fell to as well. There was a
mass of meat still left to him.
It is extraordinary how generous and, from the inside, well-bred these
men were. To be sure the second conductor waved his knife and fork and
made bitter faces if one of us took only a little bit of the lamb. He
wanted us to take more. But the essential courtesy in all of them was
quite perfect, so manly and utterly simple. Just the same with the q-b.
They treated her with a sensitive, manly simplicity, which one could not
but be thankful for. They made none of the odious politenesses which are
so detestable in well-brought-up people. They made no advances and did
none of the hateful homage of the adulating male. They were quiet, and
kind, and sensitive to the natural flow of life, and quite without airs.
I liked them extremely. Men who can be quietly kind and simple to a
woman, without wanting to show off or to make an impression, they are
men still. They were neither humble nor conceited. They did not show
off. And oh God, what a blessed relief, to be with people who don't
bother to show off. We sat at that table quietly and naturally as if we
were by ourselves, and talked or listened to their talk, just as it
happened. When we did not want to talk, they took no notice of us. And
that I call good manners. Middle-class, showing off people would have
found them uncouth. I found them almost the only really well-bred people
I have met. They did not show off in any way at all, not even a show of
simplicity. They knew that in the beginning and in the end a man stands
alone, his soul is alone in itself, and all attributes are nothing--and
this curious final knowledge preserved them in simplicity.
When we had had coffee and were going out, I found our own conductor in
a little chair by the fire. He was looking a bit pathetic. I had enough
sense to give him a coffee, which brightened him. But it was not till
afterwards, putting things together, that I realized he had wanted to be
with us all at table, but that his conductor's wages probably did not
allow him to spend the money. My bill for the dinner was about fifteen
francs, for the two of us.
* * * * *
In the bus again, we were quite crowded. A peasant girl in Nuoro costume
sat facing me, and a dark-bearded, middle-aged man in a brown velveteen
suit was next me and glowering at her. He was evidently her husband. I
did not like him: one of the jealous, carping sort. She, in her way, was
handsome: but a bit of a devil as well, in all probability. There were
two village women become fine, in town dress and black silk scarves over
their heads, fancying themselves. Then there was a wild scuffle, and
three bouncing village lasses were pushed in, laughing and wild with
excitement. There were wild farewells, and the bus rolled out of Gavoi
between the desolate mountain fields and the rocks, on a sort of
table-land. We rolled on for a mile or so: then stopped, and the excited
lasses got down. I gathered they had been given a little ride for a
Sunday treat. Delighted they were. And they set off, with other
bare-headed women in costume, along a bare path between flat,
out-cropping rocks and cold fields.
* * * * *
The girl facing me was a study. She was not more than twenty years old I
should say: or was she? Did the delicate and fine complication of lines
against her eyes mean thirty-five? But anyhow she was the wife of the
velveteen man. He was thick-set and had white hairs in his coarse black
beard, and little, irritable brown eyes under his irritable brows. He
watched her all the time. Perhaps, she was after all a young, new
girl-wife. She sat with that expressionless look of one who is watched
and who appears not to know it. She had her back to the engine.
She wore her black head-cloth from her brow and her hair was taken tight
back from her rather hard, broad, well-shaped forehead. Her dark
eyebrows were very finely drawn above her large, dark-grey, pellucid
eyes, but they were drawn with a peculiar obstinate and irritating lift.
Her nose was straight and small, her mouth well-shut. And her big,
rather hostile eyes had a withheld look in them, obstinate. Yet, being
newly wed and probably newly-awakened, her eyes looked sometimes at me
with a provoking look, curious as to what I was in the husband line,
challenging rather defiantly with her new secrets, obstinate in
opposition to the male authority, and yet intrigued by the very fact
that one was man. The velveteen husband--his velveteens too had gone
soft and gold-faded, yet somehow they made him look ugly, common--he
watched her with his irritable, yellow-brown eyes, and seemed to fume in
his stiff beard.
She wore the costume: the full-gathered shirt fastened at the throat
with the two gold filigree globes, a little dark, braided, stiff bolero
just fastened at the waist, leaving a pretty pattern of white breast,
and a dark maroon skirt. As the bus rushed along she turned somewhat
pale, with the obstinate pinched look of a woman who is in opposition to
her man. At length she flung him a few words which I did not catch--and
her forehead seemed to go harder, as she drooped her lashes occasionally
over her wide, alert, obstinate, rather treacherous eyes. She must have
been a difficult piece of goods to deal with. And she sat with her knees
touching mine, rocking against mine as the bus swayed.
* * * * *
We came to a village on the road: the landscape had now become wider,
much more open. At the inn door the bus stopped, and the velveteen
husband and the girl got down. It was cold--but in a minute I got down
too. The bus conductor came to me and asked anxiously if the q-b were
ill. The q-b said no, why? Because there was a signora whom the motion
of the bus made ill. This was the girl.
There was a crowd and a great row at this inn. In the second dark room,
which was bare of furniture, a man sat in a corner playing an accordion.
Men in the close breeches were dancing together. Then they fell to
wrestling wildly, crashing about among the others, with shouts and
yells. Men in the black-and-white, but untidy, with the wide white
drawers left hanging out over the black gaiters, surged here and there.
All were rowdy with drink. This again was rather a squalid inn but
roaring with violent, crude male life.
The Nuoro citizen said that here was very good wine, and we must try it.
I did not want it, but he insisted. So we drank little glasses of merely
moderate red wine. The sky had gone all grey with the afternoon
curd-clouds. It was very cold and raw. Wine is no joy, cold, dead wine,
in such an atmosphere.
The Nuoro citizen insisted on paying. He would let me pay, he said, when
he came to England. In him, and in our bus men, the famous Sardinian
hospitality and generosity still lingers.
* * * * *
When the bus ran on again the q-b told the peasant girl who again had
the pinched look, to change places with me and sit with her face to the
engine. This the young woman did, with that rather hard assurance common
to these women. But at the next stop she got down, and made the
conductor come with us into the compartment, whilst she sat in front
between the driver and the citizen of Nuoro. That was what she wanted
all the time. Now she was all right. She had her back to the velveteen
husband, she sat close between two strange young men, who were condoling
with her. And velveteens eyed her back, and his little eyes went littler
and more pin-pointed, and his nose seemed to curl with irritation.
The costumes had changed again. There was again the scarlet, but no
green. The green had given place to mauve and rose. The women in one
cold, stony, rather humbled broken place were most brilliant. They had
the geranium skirts, but their sleeveless boleros were made to curl out
strangely from the waist, and they were edged with a puckered rose-pink,
a broad edge, with lines of mauve and lavender. As they went up between
the houses that were dark and grisly under the blank, cold sky, it is
amazing how these women of vermilion and rose-pink seemed to melt into
an almost impossible blare of colour. What a risky blend of colours! Yet
how superb it could look, that dangerous hard assurance of these women
as they strode along so blaring. I would not like to tackle one of them.
* * * * *
Wider and colder the landscape grew. As we topped a hill at the end of a
village, we saw a long string of wagons, each with a pair of oxen, and
laden with large sacks, curving upwards in the cold, pallid Sunday
afternoon. Seeing us, the procession came to a standstill at the curve
of the road, and the pale oxen, the pale low wagons, the pale full
sacks, all in the blenched light, each one headed by a tall man in
shirt-sleeves, trailing a static procession on the hill-side, seemed
like a vision: like a Doré drawing. The bus slid past, the man holding
the wagon-pole, while some oxen stood like rock, some swayed their
horns. The q-b asked the velveteener what they were carrying. For a long
time he took no notice of the question. Then he volunteered, in a snappy
voice, that it was the government grain being distributed to the
communes for bread. On Sunday afternoon too.
Oh this government corn! What a problem those sacks represent!
* * * * *
The country became wider as we dropped lower. But it was bleak and
treeless once more. Stones cropped up in the wide, hollow dales. Men on
ponies passed forlorn across the distances. Men with bundles waited at
the cross-roads to pick up the bus. We were drawing near to Nuoro. It
was past three in the afternoon, cold with a blenched light. The
landscape seemed bare and stony, wide, different from any before.
We came to the valley where the branch-line runs to Nuoro. I saw little
pink railway-cabins at once, lonely along the valley bed. Turning sharp
to the right, we ran in silence over the moor-land-seeming slopes, and
saw the town beyond, clustered beyond, a little below, at the end of the
long declivity, with sudden mountains rising around it. There it lay, as
if at the end of the world, mountains rising sombre behind.
So, we stop at the Dazio, the town's customs hut, and velveteens has to
pay for some meat and cheese he is bringing in. After which we slip into
the cold high-street of Nuoro. I am thinking that this is the home of
Grazia Deledda, the novelist, and I see a barber's shop. De Ledda. And
thank heaven we are at the end of the journey. It is past four o'clock.
The bus has stopped quite close to the door of the inn: Star of Italy,
was it? In we go at the open door. Nobody about, free access to anywhere
and everywhere, as usual: testifying again to Sardinian honesty. We peer
through a doorway to the left--through a rough little room: ah, there in
a dark, biggish room beyond is a white-haired old woman with a long,
ivory-coloured face standing at a large table ironing. One sees only the
large whiteness of the table, and the long pallid face and the querulous
pale-blue eye of the tall old woman as she looks up questioning from the
gloom of the inner place.
"Is there a room, Signora?"
She looks at me with a pale, cold blue eye, and shouts into the dark for
somebody. Then she advances into the passage and looks us up and down,
the q-b and me.
"Are you husband and wife?" she demands, challenge.
"Yes, how shouldn't we be," say I.
A tiny maid, of about thirteen, but sturdy and brisk-looking, has
appeared in answer to the shout.
"Take them to number seven," says the old dame, and she turns back to
her gloom, and seizes the flat iron grimly.
We follow up two flights of cold stone stairs, disheartening narrow
staircase with a cold iron rail, and corridors opening off gloomily and
rather disorderly. These houses give the effect, inside, of never having
been properly finished, as if, long, long ago, the inmates had crowded
in, pig-sty fashion, without waiting for anything to be brought into
order, and there it had been left, dreary and chaotic.
Thumbelina, the little maid, threw open the door of number seven with
eclat. And we both exclaimed: "How fine!" It seemed to us palatial.
Two good, thick white beds, a table, a chest of drawers, two mats on the
tiled floor, and gorgeous oleographs on the wall--and two good
wash-bowls side by side--and all perfectly clean and nice. What were we
coming to! We felt we ought to be impressed.
* * * * *
We pulled open the latticed window doors, and looked down on the street:
the only street. And it was a river of noisy life. A band was playing,
rather terribly, round the corner at the end, and up and down the
street jigged endless numbers of maskers in their Carnival costume, with
girls and young women strolling arm-in-arm to participate. And how
frisky they all were, how bubbly and unself-conscious!
The maskers were nearly all women--the street was full of women: so we
thought at first. Then we saw, looking closer, that most of the women
were young men, dressed up. All the maskers were young men, and most of
these young men, of course, were masquerading as women. As a rule they
did not wear face-masks, only little dominoes of black cloth or green
cloth or white cloth coming down to the mouth. Which is much better. For
the old modelled half-masks with the lace frill, the awful proboscis
sticking forward white and ghastly like the beaks of corpse-birds--such
as the old Venice masks--these I think are simply horrifying. And the
more modern "faces" are usually only repulsive. While the simple little
pink half-masks with the end of black or green or white cloth, these
just form a human disguise.
It was quite a game, sorting out the real women from the false. Some
were easy. They had stuffed their bosoms, and stuffed their bustles, and
put on hats and very various robes, and they minced along with little
jigging steps, like little dolls that dangle from elastic, and they put
their heads on one side and dripped their hands, and danced up to flurry
the actual young ladies, and sometimes they received a good clout on the
head, when they broke into wild and violent gestures, whereat the
actual young ladies scuffled wildly.
They were very lively and naïve.--But some were more difficult. Every
conceivable sort of "woman" was there, broad shouldered and with rather
large feet. The most usual was the semi-peasant, with a very full bosom
and very full skirt and a very downright bearing. But one was a widow in
weeds, drooping on the arm of a robust daughter. And one was an ancient
crone in a crochet bed-cover. And one was in an old skirt and blouse and
apron, with a broom, wildly sweeping the street from end to end. He was
an animated rascal. He swept with very sarcastic assiduity in front of
two town-misses in fur coats, who minced very importantly along. He
swept their way very humbly, facing them and going backwards, sweeping
and bowing, whilst they advanced with their noses in the air. He made
his great bow, and they minced past, daughters of dog-fish, pesce-carne,
no doubt. Then he skipped with a bold, gambolling flurry behind them,
and with a perfectly mad frenzy began to sweep after them, as if to
sweep their tracks away. He swept so madly and so blindly with his besom
that he swept on to their heels and their ankles. They shrieked and
glowered round, but the blind sweeper saw them not. He swept and swept
and pricked their thin silk ankles. And they, scarlet with indignation
and rage, gave hot skips like cats on hot bricks, and fled discomfited
forwards. He bowed once more after them, and started mildly and
innocently to sweep the street. A pair of lovers of fifty years ago, she
in a half crinoline and poke bonnet and veil, hanging on his arm came
very coyly past, oh so simpering, and it took me a long time to be sure
that the "girl" was a youth. An old woman in a long nightdress prowled
up and down, holding out her candle and peering in the street as if for
burglars. She would approach the real young women and put her candle
in their faces and peer so hard, as if she suspected them of something.
And they blushed and turned their faces away and protested confusedly.
This old woman searched so fearfully in the face of one strapping lass
in the pink and scarlet costume, who looked for all the world like a
bunch of red and rose-pink geraniums, with a bit of white,--a real
peasant lass--that the latter in a panic began to beat him with her
fist, furiously, quite aroused. And he made off, running comically in
his long white nightdress.
There were some really beautiful dresses of rich old brocade, and some
gleaming old shawls, a shimmer of lavender and silver, or of dark, rich
shot colours with deep borders of white silver and primrose gold, very
lovely. I believe two of them were actual women--but the q-b says no.
There was a Victorian gown of thick green silk, with a creamy blotched
cross-over shawl. About her we both were doubtful. There were two
wistful, drooping-lily sisters, all in white, with big feet. And there
was a very successful tall miss in a narrow hobble-skirt of black satin
and a toque with ospreys. The way she minced and wagged her posterior
and went on her toes and peered over her shoulder and kept her elbows in
was an admirable caricature. Especially the curious sagging heaving
movement of "bustle" region, a movement very characteristic of modern
feminism, was hit off with a bit of male exaggeration which rejoiced me.
At first she even took me in.
We stood outside our window, and leaned on the little balcony rail
looking down at this flow of life. Directly opposite was the chemist's
house: facing our window the best bedroom of the chemist, with a huge
white matrimonial bed and muslin curtains. In the balcony sat the
chemist's daughters, very elegant in high-heeled shoes and black hair
done in the fluffy fashion with a big sweep sideways. Oh very elegant!
They eyed us a little and we eyed them. But without interest. The river
of life was down below.
* * * * *
It was very cold and the day was declining. We too were cold. We decided
to go into the street and look for the café. In a moment we were out of
doors, walking as inconspicuously as possible near the wall. Of course
there was no pavement. These maskers were very gentle and whimsical, no
touch of brutality at all. Now we were level with them, how odd and
funny they were. One youth wore a thin white blouse and a pair of his
sister's wide, calico knickers with needlework frills near the ankle,
and white stockings. He walked artlessly, and looked almost pretty. Only
the q-b winced with pain: not because of the knickers, but because of
that awful length, coming well below the knee. Another young man was
wound into a sheet, and heavens knows if he could ever get out of it.
Another was involved in a complicated entanglement of white crochet
antimacassars, very troublesome to contemplate. I did not like him at
all, like a fish in a net. But he strode robustly about.
We came to the end of the street, where there is a wide, desolate sort
of gap. Here the little band stood braying away, there was a thick crowd
of people, and on a slanting place just above, a little circle where
youths and men, maskers and one or two girls were dancing, so crowded
together and such a small ring that they looked like a jiggly set of
upright rollers all turning rickettily against one another. They were
doing a sort of intense jigging waltz. Why do they look so intense?
Perhaps because they were so tight all together, like too many fish in a
globe slipping through one another.
There was a café in this sort of piazza--not a piazza at all, a formless
gap. But young men were drinking little drinks, and I knew it would be
hopeless to ask for anything but cold drinks or black coffee: which we
did not want. So we continued forwards, up the slope of the village
street. These towns soon come to an end. Already we were wandering into
the open. On a ledge above, a peasant family was making a huge bonfire,
a tower of orange-coloured, rippling flame. Little, impish boys were
throwing on more rubbish. Everybody else was in town. Why were these
folk at the town-end making this fire alone?
We came to the end of the houses and looked over the road-wall at the
hollow, deep, interesting valley below. Away on the other side rose a
blue mountain, a steep but stumpy cone. High land reared up, dusky and
dark-blue, all around. Somewhere far off the sun was setting with a bit
of crimson. It was a wild, unusual landscape, of unusual shape. The
hills seemed so untouched, dark-blue, virgin-wild, the hollow cradle of
the valley was cultivated like a tapestry away below. And there seemed
so little outlying life: nothing. No castles even. In Italy and Sicily
castles perching everywhere. In Sardinia none--the remote, ungrappled
hills rising darkly, standing outside of life.
* * * * *
As we went back it was growing dark, and the little band was about to
leave off its brass noise. But the crowd still surged, the maskers still
jigged and frisked unweariedly. Oh the good old energy of the bygone
days, before men became so self-conscious. Here it was still on the hop.
We found no café that looked any good. Coming to the inn, we asked if
there was a fire anywhere. There wasn't. We went up to our room. The
chemist-daughters had lighted up opposite, one saw their bedroom as if
it were one's own. In the dusk of the street the maskers were still
jigging, all the youths still joyfully being women, but a little more
roughly now. Away over the house-tops the purple-red of a dying sunset.
And it was very cold.
There was nothing for it but just to lie in bed. The q-b made a little
tea on the spirit-lamp, and we sat in bed and sipped it. Then we covered
ourselves up and lay still, to get warm. Outside the noise of the
street came unabated. It grew quite dark, the lights reflected into the
room. There was the sound of an accordion across the hoarseness of the
many voices and movements in the street: and then a solid, strong
singing of men's voices, singing a soldier song.
"Quando torniamo in casa nostra--"
We got up to look. Under the small electric lights the narrow, cobbled
street was still running with a river of people, but fewer maskers. Two
maskers beating loudly at a heavy closed door. They beat and beat. At
last the door opens a crack. They rush to try to get in--but in vain. It
had shut the moment it saw them, they are foiled, on they go down the
street. The town is full of men, many peasants come in from the outlying
parts, the black and white costume now showing in the streets.
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 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
* * * * *
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.
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.
A diversion was now created at the other side of the room. The red wine,
which is good in Sardinia, had been drunk freely. Directly facing us
sat a rather stout man with pleasant blue eyes and a nicely shaped head:
dressed like any other town man on a Sunday. The dog had waddled up to
him and sat down statuesque in front of him. And the fat man, being
mellow, began to play with the big, gentle, brindled animal. He took a
piece of bread and held it before the dog's nose--and the dog tried to
take it. But the man, like a boy now he was ripe with wine, put the
mastiff back with a restraining finger, and told him not to snatch. Then
he proceeded with a little conversation with the animal. The dog again
tried to snatch, gently, and again the man started, saved the bread, and
startled the dog, which backed and gave a sharp, sad yelp, as if to say:
"Why do you tease me!"
"Now," said the man, "you are not to snatch. Come here. Come here. Vieni
qua!" And he held up the piece of bread. The animal came near. "Now,"
said the man, "I put this bread on your nose, and you don't move,
The dog had tried to snatch the bread, the man had shouted and jerked it
away, the animal had recoiled and given another expostulating yelp.
The game continued. All the room was watching, smiling. The dog did not
understand at all. It came forward again, troubled. The man held the
bread near its nose, and held up a warning finger. The beast dropped
its head mournfully, cocking up its eye at the bread with varied
"Now--!" said the man, "not until I say three--Uno--due--" the dog
could bear it no longer, the man in jerking let go the bread and yelled
at the top of his voice--"e tre!" The dog gulped the piece of bread
with a resigned pleasure, and the man pretended it had all happened
properly on the word "three."
So he started again. "Vieni qua! Vieni qua!" The dog, which had backed
away with the bread, came hesitating, cringing forward, dropping its
hind-quarters in doubt, as dogs do, advancing towards the new nugget of
bread. The man preached it a little sermon.
"You sit there and look at this bread. I sit here and look at you, and I
hold this bread. And you stop still, and I stop still, while I count
three. Now then--uno--" the dog couldn't bear these numerals, with their
awful slowness. He snatched desperately. The man yelled and lost the
bread, the dog, gulping, turned to creep away.
Then it began again.
"Come here! Come here! Didn't I tell thee I would count three? Già! I
said I would count three. Not one, but three. And to count three you
need three numbers. Ha! Steady! Three numbers. Uno--due E TRE!" The
last syllables were yelled so that the room rang again. The dog gave a
mournful howl of excitement, missed the bread, groped for it, and fled.
The man was red with excitement, his eyes shining. He addressed the
company at large. "I had a dog," he said, "ah, a dog! And I would put a
piece of bread on his nose, and say a verse. And he looked at me so!"
The man put his face sideways. "And he looked at me so!" He gazed up
under his brows. "And he talked to me so--o: Zieu! Zieu!--But he never
moved. No, he never moved. If he sat with that bread on his nose for
half an hour, and if tears ran down his face, he never moved--not till I
said three! Then--ah!" The man tossed up his face, snapped the air
with his mouth, and gulped an imaginary crust. "AH, that dog was
trained...." The man of forty shook his head.
"Vieni qua! Come here! Tweet! Come here!"
He patted his fat knee, and the dog crept forward. The man held another
piece of bread.
"Now," he said to the dog, "listen! Listen. I am going to tell you
Il soldato va alla guerra--
No--no, Not yet. When I say three!
Il soldato va alla guerra
Mangia male, dorme in terra--
Listen. Be still. Quiet now. UNO--DUE--E--TRE!"
It came out in one simultaneous yell from the man, the dog in sheer
bewilderment opened his jaws and let the bread go down his throat, and
wagged his tail in agitated misery.
"Ah," said the man, "you are learning. Come! Come here! Come! Now then!
Now you know. So! So! Look at me so!"
The stout, good-looking man of forty bent forward. His face was flushed,
the veins in his neck stood out. He talked to the dog, and imitated the
dog. And very well indeed he reproduced something of the big, gentle,
wistful subservience of the animal. The dog was his totem--the
affectionate, self-mistrustful, warm-hearted hound.
So he started the rigmarole again. We put it into English.
"Listen now. Listen! Let me tell it you--
So the soldier goes to the war!
His food is rotten, he sleeps on the floor--
"Now! Now! No, you are not keeping quiet. Now! Now!
Il soldate va alla guerra
Mangia male, dorme in terra--"
The verses, known to every Italian, were sung out in a sing-song
fashion. The audience listened as one man--or as one child--the rhyme
chiming in every heart. They waited with excitement for the
One--Two--and Three! The last two words were always ripped out with a
tearing yell. I shall never forget the force of those syllables--E TRE!
But the dog made a poor show--He only gobbled the bread and was uneasy.
This game lasted us a full hour: a full hour by the clock sat the whole
room in intense silence, watching the man and the dog.
* * * * *
Our friends told us the man was the bus-inspector--their inspector. But
they liked him. "Un brav' uomo! Un bravo uomo! Eh si!" Perhaps they were
a little uneasy, seeing him in his cups and hearing him yell so nakedly:
We talked rather sadly, wistfully. Young people, especially nice ones
like the driver, are too sad and serious these days. The little
conductor made big brown eyes at us, wistful too, and sad we were going.
For in the morning they were driving back again to Sorgono, over the old
road, and we were going on, to Terranova, the port. But we promised to
come back in the summer, when it was warmer. Then we should all meet
"Perhaps you will find us on the same course still. Who knows!" said the
TO TERRANOVA AND THE STEAMER.
The morning was very clear and blue. We were up betimes. The old dame of
the inn very friendly this morning. We were going already! Oh, but we
hadn't stayed long in Nuoro. Didn't we like it?
Yes, we like it. We would come back in the summer when it was warmer.
Ah yes, she said, artists came in the summer. Yes, she agreed, Nuoro was
a nice place--simpatico, molto simpatico. And really it is. And really
she was an awfully nice, capable, human old woman: and I had thought her
a beldame when I saw her ironing.
She gave us good coffee and milk and bread, and we went out into the
town. There was the real Monday morning atmosphere of an old,
same-as-ever provincial town: the vacant feeling of work resumed after
Sunday, rather reluctantly; nobody buying anything, nobody quite at
grips with anything. The doors of the old-fashioned shops stood open: in
Nuoro they have hardly reached the stage of window-displays. One must
go inside, into the dark caves, to see what the goods are. Near the
doorways of the drapers' shops stood rolls of that fine scarlet cloth,
for the women's costumes. In a large tailor's window four women sat
sewing, tailoring, and looking out of the window with eyes still
Sunday-emancipate and mischievous. Detached men, some in the black and
white, stood at the street corners, as if obstinately avoiding the
current of work. Having had a day off, the salt taste of liberty still
lingering on their lips, they were not going to be dragged so easily
back into harness. I always sympathise with these rather sulky, forlorn
males who insist on making another day of it. It shows a spark of
spirit, still holding out against our over-harnessed world.
There is nothing to see in Nuoro: which, to tell the truth, is always a
relief. Sights are an irritating bore. Thank heaven there isn't a bit of
Perugino or anything Pisan in the place: that I know of. Happy is the
town that has nothing to show. What a lot of stunts and affectations it
saves! Life is then life, not museum-stuffing. One could saunter along
the rather inert, narrow, Monday-morning street, and see the women
having a bit of a gossip, and see an old crone with a basket of bread on
her head, and see the unwilling ones hanging back from work, and the
whole current of industry disinclined to flow. Life is life and things
are things. I am sick of gaping things, even Peruginos. I have had my
thrills from Carpaccio and Botticelli. But now I've had enough. But I
can always look at an old, grey-bearded peasant in his earthy white
drawers and his black waist-frill, wearing no coat or over-garment, but
just crooking along beside his little ox-wagon. I am sick of "things,"
* * * * *
The sight of the woman with the basket of bread reminded us that we
wanted some food. So we searched for bread. None, if you please. It was
Monday morning, eaten out. There would be bread at the forno, the oven.
Where was the oven? Up the road and down a passage. I thought we should
smell it. But no. We wandered back. Our friends had told us to take
tickets early, for perhaps the bus would be crowded. So we bought
yesterday's pastry and little cakes, and slices of native sausage. And
still no bread. I went and asked our old hostess.
"There is no fresh bread. It hasn't come in yet," she said.
"Never mind, give me stale."
So she went and rummaged in a drawer.
"Oh dear, Oh dear, the women have eaten it all! But perhaps over
there--" she pointed down the street--"they can give you some."
I paid the bill--about twenty-eight francs, I think--and went out to
look for the bus. There it was. In a dark little hole they gave me the
long ticket-strips, first-class to Terranova. They cost some seventy
francs the two. The q-b was still vainly, aimlessly looking along the
street for bread.
"Ready when you are," said our new driver rather snappily. He was a
pale, cross-looking young man with brown eyes and fair "ginger" hair. So
in we clambered, waved farewell to our old friends, whose bus was ready
to roll away in the opposite direction. As we bumped past the "piazza" I
saw Velveteens standing there, isolate, and still, apparently, scowling
with unabated irritation.
I am sure he has money: why the first class, yesterday, otherwise. And
I'm sure she married him because he is a townsman with property.
* * * * *
Out we rolled, on our last Sardinian drive. The morning was of a
bell-like beauty, blue and very lovely. Below on the right stretched the
concave valley, tapestried with cultivation. Up into the morning light
rose the high, humanless hills, with wild, treeless moor-slopes.
But there was no glass in the left window of the coupé, and the wind
came howling in, cold enough. I stretched myself on the front seat, the
q-b screwed herself into a corner, and we watched the land flash by. How
well this new man drove! the long-nosed, freckled one with his gloomy
brown eyes. How cleverly he changed gear, so that the automobile mewed
and purred comfortably, like a live thing enjoying itself. And how dead
he was to the rest of the world, wrapped in his gloom like a young
bus-driving Hamlet. His answers to his mate were monosyllabic--or just
no answers at all. He was one of those responsible, capable, morose
souls, who do their work with silent perfection and look as if they were
driving along the brink of doom, say a word to them and they'll go over
the edge. But gentle au fond, of course. Fiction used to be fond of
them: a sort of ginger-haired, young, mechanic Mr. Rochester who has
even lost the Jane illusion.
Perhaps it was not fair to watch him so closely from behind.
His mate was a bit of a bounder, with one of those rakish military caps
whose soft tops cock sideways or backwards. He was in Italian khaki,
riding-breeches and puttees. He smoked his cigarette bounderishly: but
at the same time, with peculiar gentleness, he handed one to the ginger
Hamlet. Hamlet accepted it, and his mate held him a light as the bus
swung on. They were like man and wife. The mate was the alert and
wide-eyed Jane Eyre whom the ginger Mr. Rochester was not going to spoil
in a hurry.
* * * * *
The landscape was different from yesterday's. As we dropped down the
shallow, winding road from Nuoro, quite quickly the moors seemed to
spread on either side, treeless, bushy, rocky, desert. How hot they must
be in summer! One knows from Grazia Deledda's books.
A pony with a low trap was prancing unhappily in the road-side. We
slowed down and slid harmlessly past. Then again, on we whizzed down the
looped road, which turned back on itself as sharply as a snake that has
been wounded. Hamlet darted the bus at the curves; then softly padded
round like an angel: then off again for the next parabola.
We came out into wide, rather desolate, moorland valley spaces, with low
rocks away to the left, and steep slopes, rocky-bushy, on the right.
Sometimes groups of black-and-white men were working in the forlorn
distances. A woman in the madder costume led a panniered ass along the
wastes. The sun shone magnificently, already it was hotter here. The
landscape had quite changed. These slopes looked east and south to the
sea, they were sun-wild and sea-wild.
The first stop was where a wild, rough lane came down the hill to our
road. At the corner stood a lonely house--and in the road-side the most
battered, life-weary old carriage I have ever seen. The jaunty mate
sorted out the post--the boy with the tattered-battered brown carriage
and brown pony signed the book as we all stood in the roadway. There was
a little wait for a man who was fetching up another parcel. The post-bag
and parcels from the tattered carriage were received and stowed and
signed for. We walked up and down in the sun to get warm. The landscape
was wild and open round about.
Pip! goes Mr. Rochester, peremptorily, at the horn. Amazing how
obediently we scuffle in. Away goes the bus, rushing towards the sea.
Already one felt that peculiar glare in the half-way heavens, that
intensification of the light in the lower sky, which is caused by the
sea to sunward.
Away in front three girls in brown costume are walking along the side of
the white high-road, going with panniers towards a village up a slight
incline. They hear us, turn round, and instantly go off their heads,
exactly like chickens in the road. They fly towards us, crossing the
road, and swifter than any rabbits they scuttle, one after another, into
a deep side-track, like a deep ditch at right angles to the road. There,
as we roll past, they are all crouched, peering out at us fearfully,
like creatures from their hole. The bus mate salutes them with a shout,
and we roll on towards the village on the low summit.
* * * * *
It is a small, stony, hen-scratched place of poor people. We roll on to
a standstill. There is a group of poor people. The women wear the
dark-brown costume, and again the bolero has changed shape. It is a
rather fantastic low corset, curiously shapen; and originally,
apparently, made of wonderful elaborate brocade. But look at it now.
There is an altercation because a man wants to get into the bus with two
little black pigs, each of which is wrapped in a little sack, with its
face and ears appearing like a flower from a wrapped bouquet. He is told
that he must pay the fare for each pig as if it were a Christian.
Cristo del mondo! A pig, a little pig, and paid for as if it were a
Christian. He dangles the pig-bouquets, one from each hand, and the
little pigs open their black mouths and squeal with self-conscious
appreciation of the excitement they are causing. Dio benedetto! it is
a chorus. But the bus mate is inexorable. Every animal, even if it were
a mouse, must be paid for and have a ticket as if it were a Christian.
The pig-master recoils stupified with indignation, a pig-bouquet under
each arm. "How much do you charge for the fleas you carry?" asks a
A woman sitting sewing a soldier's tunic into a little jacket for her
urchin, and thus beating the sword into a ploughshare, stitches
unconcernedly in the sun. Round-cheeked but rather slatternly damsels
giggle. The pig-master, speechless with fury, slings the pig-bouquets,
like two bottles one on either side the saddle of the ass whose halter
is held by a grinning but also malevolent girl: malevolent against
pig-prices, that is. The pigs, looking abroad from their new situation,
squeal the eternal pig-protest against an insufferable humanity.
"Andiamo! Andiamo!" says ginger Mr. Rochester in his quiet but intense
voice. The bus-mate scrambles up and we charge once more into the strong
light to seaward.
* * * * *
In we roll, into Orosei, a dilapidated, sun-smitten, god-forsaken little
town not far from the sea. We descend in piazza. There is a great, false
baroque façade to a church, up a wavering vast mass of steps: and at
the side a wonderful jumble of roundnesses with a jumble of round
tiled roofs, peaked in the centre. It must have been some sort of
convent. But it is eminently what they call a "painter's bit"--that
pallid, big baroque face, at the top of the slow incline, and the very
curious dark building at the side of it, with its several dark-tiled
round roofs, like pointed hats, at varying altitudes. The whole space
has a strange Spanish look, neglected, arid, yet with a bigness and a
dilapidated dignity and a stoniness which carry one back to the Middle
Ages, when life was violent and Orosei was no doubt a port and a
considerable place. Probably it had bishops.
The sun came hot into the wide piazza; with its pallid heavy façade up
on the stony incline on one side, and arches and a dark great courtyard
and outer stair-ways of some unknown building away on the other, the
road entering down-hill from the inland, and dropping out below to the
sea-marshes, and with the impression that once some single power had had
the place in grip, had given this centre an architectural unity and
splendour, now lost and forgotten, Orosei was truly fascinating.
But the inhabitants were churlish. We went into a sort of bar-place,
very primitive, and asked for bread.
"Bread alone?" said the churl.
"If you please."
"There isn't any," he answered.
"Oh--where can we get some then?"
"You can't get any."
And we couldn't. People stood about glum, not friendly.
There was a second great automobile, ready to set off for Tortolì, far
to the south, on the east coast. Mandas is the railway junction both for
Sorgono and Tortolì. The two buses stood near and communed. We prowled
about the dead, almost extinct town--or call it village. Then Mr.
Rochester began to pip his horn peremptorily, so we scuffled in.
The post was stowed away. A native in black broad-cloth came running and
sweating, carrying an ox-blood suit-case, and said we must wait for his
brother-in-law, who was a dozen yards away. Ginger Mr. Rochester sat on
his driver's throne and glared in the direction whence the
brother-in-law must come. His brow knitted irritably, his long, sharp
nose did not promise much patience. He made the horn roar like a
sea-cow. But no brother-in-law.
"I'm going to wait no longer," said he.
"Oh, a minute, a minute! That won't do us any harm," expostulated his
mate. No answer from the long faced, long-nosed ginger Hamlet. He sat
statuesque, but with black eyes looking daggers down the still void
"Eh va bene", he murmured through closed lips, and leaned forward
grimly for the starting handle.
"Patience--patience--patience a moment--why--" cried the mate.
"Per l'amor' di Dio!" cried the black broad-cloth man, simply sizzling
and dancing in anguish on the road, round the suit-case, which stood in
the dust. "Don't go! God's love, don't start. He's got to catch the
boat. He's got to be in Rome tomorrow. He won't be a second. He's here,
he's here, he's here!"
This startled the fate-fixed, sharp-nosed driver. He released the handle
and looked round, with dark and glowering eyes. No one in sight. The few
glum natives stood round unmoved. Thunder came into the gloomy dark eyes
of the Rochester. Absolutely nobody in sight. Click! went his face into
a look of almost seraphic peace, as he pulled off the brakes. We were on
an incline, and insidiously, oh most subtly the great bus started to
lean forwards and steal into motion.
"Oh ma che!--what a will you've got!" cried the mate, clambering in
to the side of the now seraphic-looking Rochester.
"Love of God--God!" yelled the broad-cloth, seeing the bus melt forwards
and gather momentum. He put his hands up as if to arrest it, and yelled
in a wild howl: "O Beppin'! Beppin--O!"
But in vain. Already we had left the little groups of onlookers behind.
We were rolling downwards out of the piazza. Broad-cloth had seized the
bag and was running beside us in agony. Out of the piazza we rolled,
Rochester had not put on the engines and we were just simply rolling
down the gentle incline by the will of God. Into the dark outlet-street
we melted, towards the still invisible sea.
Suddenly a yell--"OO--ahh!!"
"È qua! È qua! È qua! È qua!" gasped broad-cloth four times. "He's
here!" And then: "Beppin'--she's going, she's going!"
Beppin' appeared, a middle-aged man also in black broad-cloth, with a
very scrubby chin and a bundle, running towards us on fat legs. He was
perspiring, but his face was expressionless and innocent-looking. With a
sardonic flicker of a grin, half of spite, half of relief, Rochester put
on the brakes again, and we stopped in the street. A woman tottered up
panting and holding her breast. Now for farewells.
"Andiamo!" said Rochester curtly, looking over his shoulder and making
his fine nose curl with malice. And instantly he took off the brakes
again. The fat woman shoved Beppin' in, gasping farewells, the
brother-in-law handed in the ox-blood-red suit-case, tottering behind,
and the bus surged savagely out of Orosei.
* * * * *
Almost in a moment we had left the town on its slope, and there below us
was a river winding through marshy flats to the sea, to where small
white surf broke on a flat, isolated beach, a quarter of a mile away.
The river ran rapidly between stones and then between belts of high sere
reeds, high as a man. These tall reeds advanced almost into the slow,
horizontal sea, from which stood up a white glare of light, massive
light over the low Mediterranean.
Quickly we came down to the river-level, and rolled over a bridge.
Before us, between us and the sea rose another hill, almost like a wall
with a flat top, running horizontal, perfectly flat, parallel with the
sea-edge, a sort of narrow long plateau. For a moment we were in the
wide scoop of the river-bed. Orosei stood on the bluff behind us.
Away to the right the flat river-marshes with the thick dead reeds met
the flat and shining sea, river and sea were one water, the waves
rippled tiny and soft-foot into the stream. To the left there was great
loveliness. The bed of the river curved upwards and inland, and there
was cultivation: but particularly, there were noble almond trees in full
blossom. How beautiful they were, their pure, silvery pink gleaming so
nobly, like a transfiguration, tall and perfect in that strange cradled
river-bed parallel with the sea. Almond trees were in flower beneath
grey Orosei, almond trees came near the road, and we could see the hot
eyes of the individual blossoms, almond trees stood on the upward slope
before us. And they had flowered in such noble beauty there, in that
trough where the sun fell magnificent and the sea-glare whitened all the
air as with a sort of God-presence, they gleamed in their incandescent
sky-rosiness. One could hardly see their iron trunks, in this weird
But already we had crossed, and were charging up the great road that was
cut straight, slant-wise along the side of the sea-hill, like a stairway
outside the side of the house. So the bus turned southward to run up
this stairway slant, to get to the top of the sea's long table-land. So,
we emerged: and there was the Mediterranean rippling against the black
rocks not so very far away below on our right. For, once on the long
table-land the road turned due north, a long white dead-straight road
running between strips of moorland, wild and bushy. The sea was in the
near distance, blue, blue, and beating with light. It seemed more light
than watery. And on the left was the wide trough of the valley, where
almond trees like clouds in a wind seemed to poise sky-rosy upon the
pale, sun-pale land, and beyond which Orosei clustered its lost grey
houses on the bluff. Oh wonderful Orosei with your almonds and your
reedy river, throbbing, throbbing with light and the sea's nearness, and
all so lost, in a world long gone by, lingering as legends linger on. It
is hard to believe that it is real. It seems so long since life left it
and memory transfigured it into pure glamour, lost away like a lost
pearl on the east Sardinian coast. Yet there it is, with a few grumpy
inhabitants who won't even give you a crust of bread. And probably there
is malaria--almost sure. And it would be hell to have to live there for
a month. Yet for a moment, that January morning, how wonderful, oh, the
timeless glamour of those Middle Ages when men were lordly and violent
and shadowed with death.
"Timor mortis conturbat me."
The road ran along by the sea, above the sea, swinging gently up and
down, and running on to a sea-encroaching hilly promontory in the
distance. There were no high lands. The valley was left behind, and
moors surrounded us, wild, desolate, uninhabited and uninhabitable moors
sweeping up gently on the left, and finishing where the land dropped low
and clifflike to the sea on the right. No life was now in sight: even no
ship upon the pale blue sea. The great globe of the sky was unblemished
and royal in its blueness and its ringing cerulean light. Over the moors
a great hawk hovered. Rocks cropped out. It was a savage, dark-bushed,
sky-exposed land, forsaken to the sea and the sun.
* * * * *
We were alone in the coupé. The bus-mate had made one or two sets at
us, but he rather confused us. He was young--about twenty-two or three.
He was quite good-looking, with his rakish military cap and his
well-knitted figure in military clothes. But he had dark eyes that
seemed to ask too much, and his manner of approach was abrupt,
persistent, and disconcerting. Already he had asked us where we were
going, where we lived, whence we came, of what nationality we were, and
was I a painter. Already he knew so much. Further we rather fought shy
of him. We ate those pale Nuoro pastries--they were just flaky pastry,
good, but with nothing inside but a breath of air. And we gnawed slices
of very highly-flavoured Nuoro sausage. And we drank the tea. And we
were very hungry, for it was past noon, and we had eaten as good as
nothing. The sun was magnificent in heaven, we rushed at a great,
purring speed along that moorland road just above the sea.
And then the bus-mate climbed in to share the coupé with us. He put his
dark, beseeching and yet persistent eyes on us, sat plumb in front of
us, his knees squared, and began to shout awkward questions in a strong
curious voice. Of course it was very difficult to hear, for the great
rushing bus made much noise. We had to try to yell in our Italian--and
he was as awkward as we were.
However, although it said "Smoking Forbidden" he offered us both
cigarettes, and insisted we should smoke with him. Easiest to submit. He
tried to point us out features in the landscape: but there were none to
point, except that, where the hill ran to sea out of the moor, and
formed a cape, he said there was a house away under the cliffs where
coastguards lived. Nothing else.
Then, however, he launched. He asked once more was I English and
was the q-b German. We said it was so. And then he started the
old story. Nations popped up and down again like Punch and Judy.
Italy--l'Italia--she had no quarrel with La Germania--never had
had--no--no, good friends the two nations. But once the war was started,
Italy had to come in. For why. Germany would beat France, occupy her
lands, march down and invade Italy. Best then join the war whilst the
enemy was only invading somebody else's territory.
They are perfectly naïve about it. That's what I like. He went on to say
that he was a soldier: he had served eight years in the Italian cavalry.
Yes, he was a cavalryman, and had been all through the war. But he had
not therefore any quarrel with Germany. No--war was war, and it was
over. So let it be over.
But France--ma la Francia! Here he sat forward on his seat, with his
face near ours, and his pleading-dog's eyes suddenly took a look of
quite irrational blazing rage. France! There wasn't a man in Italy who
wasn't dying to get at the throat of France. France! Let there be war,
and every Italian would leap to arms, even the old. Even the old--anche
i vecchi. Yes, there must be war--with France. It was coming: it was
bound to come. Every Italian was waiting for it. Waiting to fly at the
French throat. For why? Why? He had served two years on the French
front, and he knew why. Ah, the French! For arrogance, for insolence,
Dio!--they were not to be borne. The French--they thought themselves
lords of the world--signori del mondo! Lords of the world, and masters
of the world. Yes. They thought themselves no less--and what are they?
Monkeys! Monkeys! Not better than monkeys. But let there be war, and
Italy would show them. Italy would give them signori del mondo! Italy
was pining for war--all, all, pining for war. With no one, with no one
but France. Ah, with no one--Italy loved everybody else--but France!
We let him shout it all out, till he was at the end of it. The passion
and energy of him was amazing. He was like one possessed. I could only
wonder. And wonder again. For it is curious what fearful passions these
pleading, wistful souls fall into when they feel they have been
insulted. It was evident he felt he had been insulted, and he went just
beside himself. But dear chap, he shouldn't speak so loudly for all
Italy--even the old. The bulk of Italian men are only too anxious to
beat their bayonets into cigarette-holders, and smoke the cigarette of
eternal and everlasting peace, to coincide at all with our friend. Yet
there he was--raging at me in the bus as we dashed along the coast.
And then, after a space of silence, he became sad again, wistful, and
looked at us once more with those pleading brown eyes, beseeching,
beseeching--he knew not what: and I'm sure I didn't know. Perhaps what
he really wants is to be back on a horse in a cavalry regiment: even at
But no, it comes out, what he thinks he wants.
When are we going to London? And are there many motor-cars in
England?--many, many? In America too? Do they want men in America? I say
no, they have unemployment out there: they are going to stop immigration
in April: or at least cut it down. Why? he asks sharply. Because they
have their own unemployment problem. And the q-b quotes how many
millions of Europeans want to emigrate to the United States. His eye
becomes gloomy. Are all nations of Europe going to be forbidden? he
asks. Yes--and already the Italian Government will give no more
passports for America--to emigrants. No passports? then you can't go?
You can't go, say I.
By this time his hot-souled eagerness and his hot, beseeching eyes have
touched the q-b. She asks him what he wants. And from his gloomy face it
comes out in a rap. "Andare fuori dell'Italia." To go out of Italy. To
go out--away--to go away--to go away. It has become a craving, a
neurasthenia with them.
Where is his home? His home is at a village a few miles ahead--here on
this coast. We are coming to it soon. There is his home. And a few miles
inland from the village he also has a property: he also has land. But he
doesn't want to work it. He doesn't want it. In fact he won't bother
with it. He hates the land, he detests looking after vines. He can't
even bring himself to try any more.
What does he want then?
He wants to leave Italy, to go abroad--as a chauffeur. Again the long
beseeching look, as of a distraught, pleading animal. He would prefer to
be the chauffeur of a gentleman. But he would drive a bus, he would do
Now he has launched it. Yes, I say, but in England also we have more men
than jobs. Still he looks at me with his beseeching eyes--so desperate
too--and so young--and so full of energy--and so longing to devote
himself--to devote himself: or else to go off in an unreasonable
paroxysm against the French. To my horror I feel he is believing in my
goodness of heart. And as for motor-cars, it is all I can do to own a
pair of boots, so how am I to set about employing a chauffeur?
* * * * *
We have all gone quiet again. So at last he climbs back and takes his
seat with the driver once more. The road is still straight, swinging on
through the moorland strip by the sea. And he leans to the silent,
nerve-tense Mr. Rochester, pleading again. And at length Mr. Rochester
edges aside, and lets him take the driving wheel. And so now we are all
in the hands of our friend the bus-mate. He drives--not very well. It is
evident he is learning. The bus can't quite keep in the grooves of this
wild bare road. And he shuts off when we slip down a hill--and there is
a great muddle on the upslope when he tries to change gear. But Mr.
Rochester sits squeezed and silently attentive in his corner. He puts
out his hand and swings the levers. There is no fear that he will let
anything go wrong. I would trust him to drive me down the bottomless pit
and up the other side. But still the beseeching mate holds the steering
wheel. And on we rush, rather uncertainly and hesitatingly now. And thus
we come to the bottom of a hill where the road gives a sudden curve. My
heart rises an inch in my breast. I know he can't do it. And he can't,
oh Lord--but the quiet hand of the freckled Rochester takes the wheel,
we swerve on. And the bus-mate gives up, and the nerve-silent driver
* * * * *
But the bus-mate now feels at home with us. He clambers back into the
coupé, and when it is too painfully noisy to talk, he simply sits and
looks at us with brown, pleading eyes. Miles and miles and miles goes
this coast road, and never a village. Once or twice a sort of lonely
watch-house and soldiers lying about by the road. But never a halt.
Everywhere moorland and desert, uninhabited.
And we are faint with fatigue and hunger and this relentless travelling.
When, oh when shall we come to Siniscola, where we are due to eat our
midday meal? Oh yes, says the mate. There is an inn at Siniscola where
we can eat what we like. Siniscola--Siniscola! We feel we must get down,
we must eat, it is past one o'clock and the glaring light and the
rushing loneliness are still about us.
* * * * *
But it is behind the hill in front. We see the hill? Yes. Behind it is
Siniscola. And down there on the beach are the Bagni di Siniscola, where
many forestieri, strangers, come in the summer. Therefore we set high
hopes on Siniscola. From the town to the sea, two miles, the bathers
ride on asses. Sweet place. And it is coming near--really near. There
are stone-fenced fields--even stretches of moor fenced off. There are
vegetables in a little field with a stone wall--there is a strange white
track through the moor to a forsaken sea-coast. We are near.
Over the brow of the low hill--and there it is, a grey huddle of a
village with two towers. There it is, we are there. Over the cobbles we
bump, and pull up at the side of the street. This is Siniscola, and here
We drop out of the weary bus. The mate asks a man to show us the
inn--the man says he won't, muttering. So a boy is deputed--and he
consents. This is the welcome.
And I can't say much for Siniscola. It is just a narrow, crude, stony
place, hot in the sun, cold in the shade. In a minute or two we were at
the inn, where a fat, young man was just dismounting from his brown pony
and fastening it to a ring beside the door.
The inn did not look promising--the usual cold room opening gloomily on
the gloomy street. The usual long table, with this time a foully
blotched table-cloth. And two young peasant madams in charge, in the
brown costume, rather sordid, and with folded white cloths on their
heads. The younger was in attendance. She was a full-bosomed young
hussy, and would be very queenly and cocky. She held her nose in the
air, and seemed ready to jibe at any order. It takes one some time to
get used to this cocky, assertive behaviour of the young damsels, the
who'll-tread-on-the-tail-of-my-skirt bearing of the hussies. But it is
partly a sort of crude defensiveness and shyness, partly it is barbaric
méfiance or mistrust, and partly, without doubt, it is a tradition
with Sardinian women that they must hold their own and be ready to hit
first. This young sludge-queen was all hit. She flounced her posterior
round the table, planking down the lumps of bread on the foul cloth with
an air of take-it-as-a-condescension-that-I-wait-on-you, a subdued grin
lurking somewhere on her face. It is not meant to be offensive: yet it
is so. Truly, it is just uncouthness. But when one is tired and
We were not the only feeders. There was the man off the pony, and a sort
of workman or porter or dazio official with him--and a smart young man:
and later our Hamlet driver. Bit by bit the young damsel planked down
bread, plates, spoons, glasses, bottles of black wine, whilst we sat at
the dirty table in uncouth constraint and looked at the hideous portrait
of His reigning Majesty of Italy. And at length came the inevitable
soup. And with it the sucking chorus. The little maialino at Mandas
had been a good one. But the smart young man in the country beat him. As
water clutters and slavers down a choky gutter, so did his soup travel
upwards into his mouth with one long sucking stream of noise,
intensified as the bits of cabbage, etc., found their way through the
They did all the talking--the young men. They addressed the sludge-queen
curtly and disrespectfully, as if to say: "What's she up to?" Her airs
were finely thrown away. Still she showed off. What else was there to
eat? There was the meat that had been boiled for the soup. We knew what
that meant. I had as lief eat the foot of an old worsted stocking.
Nothing else, you sludge queen? No, what do you want anything else
for?--Beefsteak--what's the good of asking for beefsteak or any other
steak on a Monday. Go to the butcher's and see for yourself.
The Hamlet, the pony rider, and the porter had the faded and tired
chunks of boiled meat. The smart young man ordered eggs in padella--two
eggs fried with a little butter. We asked for the same. The smart young
man got his first--and of course they were warm and liquid. So he fell
upon them with a fork, and once he had got hold of one end of the eggs
he just sucked them up in a prolonged and violent suck, like a long,
thin, ropy drink being sucked upwards from the little pan. It was a
genuine exhibition. Then he fell upon the bread with loud chews.
What else was there? A miserable little common orange. So much for the
dinner. Was there cheese? No. But the sludge-queen--they are quite
good-natured really--held a conversation in dialect with the young men,
which I did not try to follow. Our pensive driver translated that there
was cheese, but it wasn't good, so they wouldn't offer it us. And the
pony man interpolated that they didn't like to offer us anything that
was not of the best. He said it in all sincerity--after such a meal.
This roused my curiosity, so I asked for the cheese whether or not. And
it wasn't so bad after all.
This meal cost fifteen francs, for the pair of us.
* * * * *
We made our way back to the bus, through the uncouth men who stood
about. To tell the truth, strangers are not popular nowadays--not
anywhere. Everybody has a grudge against them at first sight. This
grudge may or may not wear off on acquaintance.
The afternoon had become hot--hot as an English June. And we had various
other passengers--for one a dark-eyed, long-nosed priest who showed his
teeth when he talked. There was not much room in the coupé, so the goods
were stowed upon the little rack.
With the strength of the sun, and the six or seven people in it, the
coupé became stifling. The q-b opened her window. But the priest, one of
the loudtalking sort, said that a draught was harmful, very harmful, so
he put it up again. He was one of the gregarious sort, a loud talker,
nervy really, very familiar with all the passengers. And everything did
one harm--fa male, fa male. A draught fa male, fa molto male. Non è
vero? this to all the men from Siniscola. And they all said Yes--yes.
The bus-mate clambered into the coupé, to take the tickets of the
second-class passengers in the rotondo, through the little wicket. There
was great squeezing and shouting and reckoning change. And then we
stopped at a halt, and he dashed down with the post and the priest got
down for a drink with the other men. The Hamlet driver sat stiff in his
seat. He pipped the horn. He pipped again, with decision. Men came
clambering in. But it looked as if the offensive priest would be left
behind. The bus started venomously, the priest came running, his gown
flapping, wiping his lips.
He dropped into his seat with a cackling laugh, showing his long teeth.
And he said that it was as well to take a drink, to fortify the stomach.
To travel with the stomach uneasy did one harm: fa male, fa male--non
è vero? Chorus of "yes."
The bus-mate resumed his taking the tickets through the little wicket,
thrusting his rear amongst us. As he stood like this, down fell his
sheepskin-lined military overcoat on the q-b's head. He was filled with
grief. He folded it and placed it on the seat, as a sort of cushion for
her, oh so gently! And how he would love to devote himself to a master
He sat beside me, facing the q-b, and offered us an acid drop. We took
the acid drop. He smiled with zealous yearning at the q-b, and resumed
his conversations. Then he offered us cigarettes--insisted on our taking
The priest with the long teeth looked sideways at the q-b, seeing her
smoking. Then he fished out a long cigar, bit it, and spat. He was
offered a cigarette.--But no, cigarettes were harmful: fanno male. The
paper was bad for the health: oh, very bad. A pipe or a cigar. So he lit
his long cigar and spat large spits on the floor, continually.
Beside me sat a big, bright-eyed, rather good-looking but foolish man.
Hearing me speak to the q-b, he said in confidence to the priest: "Here
are two Germans--eh? Look at them. The woman smoking. These are a couple
of those that were interned here. Sardinia can do without them now."
Germans in Italy at the outbreak of the war were interned in Sardinia,
and as far as one hears, they were left very free and happy, and treated
very well, the Sardinians having been generous as all proud people are.
But now our bright-eyed fool made a great titter through the bus: quite
unaware that we understood. He said nothing offensive: but that sort of
tittering exultation of common people who think they have you at a
disadvantage annoyed me. However, I kept still to hear what they would
say. But it was only trivialities about the Germans having nearly all
gone now, their being free to travel, their coming back to Sardinia
because they liked it better than Germany. Oh yes--they all wanted to
come back. They all wanted to come back to Sardinia. Oh yes, they knew
where they were well off. They knew their own advantage. Sardinia was
this, that, and the other of advantageousness, and the Sardi were decent
people. It is just as well to put in a word on one's own behalf
occasionally. As for La Germania--she was down, down: bassa. What did
one pay for bread in Germany? Five francs a kilo, my boy.
* * * * *
The bus stopped again, and they trooped out into the hot sun. The priest
scuffled round the corner this time. Not to go round the corner was no
doubt harmful. We waited. A frown came between the bus Hamlet's brows.
He looked nerve-worn and tired. It was about three o'clock. We had to
wait for a man from a village, with the post. And he did not appear.
"I am going! I won't wait," said the driver.
"Wait--wait a minute," said the mate, pouring oil. And he went round to
look. But suddenly the bus started, with a vicious lurch. The mate came
flying and hung on to the footboard. He had really almost been left. The
driver glanced round sardonically to see if he were there. The bus flew
on. The mate shook his head in deprecation.
"He's a bit nervoso, the driver," said the q-b. "A bit out of temper!"
"Ah, poor chap!" said the good-looking young mate, leaning forward and
making such beseeching eyes of hot tolerance. "One has to be sorry for
him. Persons like him, they suffer so much from themselves, how should
one be angry with them! Poverino. We must have sympathy."
Never was such a language of sympathy as the Italian. Poverino!
Poverino! They are never happy unless they are sympathising pityingly
with somebody. And I rather felt that I was thrown in with the
poverini who had to be pitied for being nervosi. Which did not
improve my temper.
However, the bus-mate suddenly sat on the opposite seat between the
priest and the q-b. He turned over his official note book, and began to
write on the back cover very carefully, in the flourishing Italian hand.
Then he tore off what he had written, and with a very bright and zealous
look he handed me the paper saying: "You will find me a post in
England, when you go in the summer? You will find me a place in London
as a chauffeur--!"
"If I can," said I. "But it is not easy."
He nodded his head at me with the most complete bright confidence, quite
sure now that he had settled his case perfectly.
On the paper he had written his name and his address, and if anyone
would like him as chauffeur they have only to say so. On the back of the
scrap of paper the inevitable goodwill: Auguri infiniti e buon
Viaggio. Infinite good wishes and a good journey.
I folded the paper and put it in my waistcoat pocket, feeling a trifle
disconcerted by my new responsibility. He was such a dear fellow and
such bright trustful eyes.
* * * * *
This much achieved, there was a moment of silence. And the bus-mate
turned to take a ticket of a fat, comfortable man who had got in at the
last stop. There was a bit of flying conversation.
"Where are they from?" asked the good-looking stupid man next to me,
inclining his head in our direction.
"Londra," said our friend, with stern satisfaction: and they have said
so often to one another that London is the greatest city in the world,
that now the very word Londra conveys it all. You should have seen the
blank little-boy look come over the face of the big handsome fellow on
hearing that we were citizens of the greatest city in the world.
"And they understand Italian?" he asked, rather nipped.
"Sicuro!" said our friend scornfully. "How shouldn't they?"
"Ah!" My large neighbour left his mouth open for a few moments. And then
another sort of smile came on to his face. He began to peep at us
sideways from his brown eyes, brightly, and was henceforth itching to
get into conversation with the citizens of the world's mistress-city.
His look of semi-impudence was quite gone, replaced by a look of
Now I ask you, is this to be borne? Here I sit, and he talks
half-impudently and patronisingly about me. And here I sit, and he is
glegging at me as if he saw signs of an aureole under my grey hat. All
in ten minutes. And just because, instead of la Germania I turn out to
be l'Inghilterra. I might as well be a place on a map, or a piece of
goods with a trade-mark. So little perception of the actual me! so much
going by labels! I now could have kicked him harder. I would have liked
to say I was ten times German, to see the fool change his smirk again.
* * * * *
The priest now chimed up, that he had been to America. He had been to
America and hence he dreaded not the crossing from Terranuova di
Sardegna to Cività Vecchia. For he had crossed the great Atlantic.
Apparently, however, the natives had all heard this song of the raven
before, so he spat largely on the floor. Whereupon the new fat neighbour
asked him was it true that the Catholic Church was now becoming the one
Church in the United States? And the priest said there was no doubt
* * * * *
The hot afternoon wore on. The coast was rather more inhabited, but we
saw practically no villages. The view was rather desolate. From time to
time we stopped at a sordid-looking canteen house. From time to time we
passed natives riding on their ponies, and sometimes there was an
equestrian exhibition as the rough, strong little beasts reared and
travelled rapidly backwards, away from the horrors of our great
automobile. But the male riders sat heavy and unshakeable, with
Sardinian male force. Everybody in the bus laughed, and we passed,
looking back to see the pony still corkscrewing, but in vain, in the
middle of the lonely, grass-bordered high-road.
* * * * *
The bus-mate climbed in and out, coming in to sit near us. He was like a
dove which has at last found an olive bough to nest in. And we were the
olive bough in this world of waste waters. Alas, I felt a broken reed.
But he sat so serenely near us, now, like a dog that has found a master.
The afternoon was declining, the bus pelted on at a great rate. Ahead we
saw the big lump of the island of Tavolara, a magnificient mass of rock
which fascinated me by its splendid, weighty form. It looks like a
headland, for it apparently touches the land. There it rests at the
sea's edge, in this lost afternoon world. Strange how this coast-country
does not belong to our present-day world. As we rushed along we saw
steamers, two steamers, steering south, and one sailing ship coming from
Italy. And instantly, the steamers seemed like our own familiar world.
But still this coast-country was forsaken, forgotten, not included. It
just is not included.
* * * * *
How tired one gets of these long, long rides! It seemed we should never
come up to Tavolara. But we did. We came right near to it, and saw the
beach with the waves rippling undisturbed, saw the narrow waters
between the rock-lump and the beach. For now the road was down at
sea-level. And we were not very far from Terranova. Yet all seemed still
forsaken, outside of the world's life.
The sun was going down, very red and strong, away inland. In the bus all
were silent, subsiding into the pale travel-sleep. We charged along the
flat road, down on a plain now. And dusk was gathering heavily over the
We saw the high-road curve flat upon the plain. It was the harbour head.
We saw a magic, land-locked harbour, with masts and dark land encircling
a glowing basin. We even saw a steamer lying at the end of a long, thin
bank of land, in the shallow, shining, wide harbour, as if wrecked
there. And this was our steamer. But no, it looked in the powerful glow
of the sunset like some lonely steamer laid up in some land-locked bay
away at Spitzbergen, towards the North Pole: a solemn, mysterious,
blue-landed bay, lost, lost to mankind.
* * * * *
Our bus-mate came and told us we were to sit in the bus till the
post-work was done, then we should be driven to the hotel where we could
eat, and then he would accompany us on the town omnibus to the boat. We
need not be on board till eight o'clock: and now it was something after
five. So we sat still while the bus rushed and the road curved and the
view of the weird, land-locked harbour changed, though the bare masts of
ships in a bunch still pricked the upper glow, and the steamer lay away
out, as if wrecked on a sand-bank, and dark, mysterious land with bunchy
hills circled round, dark blue and wintry in a golden after-light, while
the great, shallow-seeming bay of water shone like a mirror.
In we charged, past a railway, along the flat darkening road into a flat
God-lost town of dark houses, on the marshy bay-head. It felt more like
a settlement than a town. But it was Terranova-Pausanias. And after
bumping and rattling down a sombre uncouth, barren-seeming street, we
came up with a jerk at a doorway--which was the post-office. Urchins,
mudlarks, were screaming for the luggage. Everybody got out and set off
towards the sea, the urchins carrying luggage. We sat still.
* * * * *
Till I couldn't bear it. I did not want to stay in the automobile
another moment, and I did not, I did not want to be accompanied by our
new-found friend to the steamer. So I burst out, and the q-b followed.
She too was relieved to escape the new attachment, though she had a
great tendre for him. But in the end one runs away from one's
tendres much harder and more precipitately than from one's durs.
The mudlarking urchins fell upon us. Had we any more luggage--were we
going to the steamer? I asked how one went to the steamer--did one walk?
I thought perhaps it would be necessary to row out. You go on foot, or
in a carriage, or in an aeroplane, said an impudent brat. How far? Ten
minutes. Could one go on board at once? Yes, certainly.
So, in spite of the q-b's protests, I handed the sack to a wicked
urchin, to be led. She wanted us to go alone--but I did not know the
way, and am wary of stumbling into entanglements in these parts.
I told the bus-Hamlet, who was abstract with nerve fatigue, please to
tell his comrade that I would not forget the commission: and I tapped my
waistcoat pocket, where the paper lay over my heart. He briefly
promised--and we escaped. We escaped any further friendship.
* * * * *
I bade the mud-lark lead me to the telegraph office: which of course was
quite remote from the post-office. Shouldering the sack, and clamouring
for the kitchenino which the q-b stuck to, he marched forward. By his
height he was ten years old: by his face with its evil mud-lark pallor
and good-looks, he was forty. He wore a cut-down soldier's tunic which
came nearly to his knees, was barefoot, and sprightly with that alert
mudlarking quickness which has its advantages.
So we went down a passage and climbed a stair and came to an office
where one would expect to register births and deaths. But the urchin
said it was the telegraph-office. No sign of life. Peering through the
wicket I saw a fat individual seated writing in the distance. Feeble
lights relieved the big, barren, official spaces--I wonder the fat
official wasn't afraid to be up here alone.
He made no move. I banged the shutter and demanded a telegraph blank.
His shoulders went up to his ears, and he plainly intimated his
intention to let us wait. But I said loudly to the urchin: "Is that
the telegraph official?" and the urchin said: "Si signore"--so the fat
individual had to come.
* * * * *
After which considerable delay, we set off again. The bus, thank heaven,
had gone, the savage dark street was empty of friends. We turned away to
the harbour front. It was dark now. I saw a railway near at hand--a
bunch of dark masts--the steamer showing a few lights, far down at the
tip of a long spit of land, remote in mid-harbour. And so off we went,
the barefoot urchin twinkling a few yards ahead, on the road that
followed the spit of land. The spit was wide enough to carry this road,
and the railway. On the right was a silent house apparently built on
piles in the harbour. Away far down in front leaned our glimmering
steamer, and a little train was shunting trucks among the low sheds
beside it. Night had fallen, and the great stars flashed. Orion was in
the air, and his dog-star after him. We followed on down the dark bar
between the silent, lustrous water. The harbour was smooth as glass, and
gleaming like a mirror. Hills came round encircling it entirely--dark
land ridging up and lying away out, even to seaward. One was not sure
which was exactly seaward. The dark encircling of the land seemed
stealthy, the hills had a remoteness, guarding the waters in the
silence. Perhaps the great mass away beyond was Tavolara again. It
seemed like some lumpish berg guarding an arctic, locked-up bay where
ships lay dead.
On and on we followed the urchin, till the town was left behind, until
it also twinkled a few meagre lights out of its low, confused blackness
at the bay-head, across the waters. We lad left the ship-masts and the
settlement. The urchin padded on, only turning now and again and
extending a thin, eager hand toward the kitchenino. Especially when some
men were advancing down the railway he wanted it: the q-b's carrying
it was a slur on his prowess. So the kitchenino was relinquished, and
the lark strode on satisfied.
* * * * *
Till at last we came to the low sheds that squatted between the steamer
and the railway-end. The lark led me into one, where a red-cap was
writing. The cap let me wait some minutes before informing me that this
was the goods office--the ticket office was further on. The lark flew at
him and said "Then you've changed it, have you?" And he led me on to
another shed, which was just going to shut up. Here they finally had the
condescension to give me two tickets--a hundred and fifty francs the
two. So we followed the lark who strode like Scipio Africanus up the
gangway with the sack.
* * * * *
It was quite a small ship. The steward put me in number one cabin--the
q-b in number seven. Each cabin had four berths. Consequently man and
woman must separate rigorously on this ship. Here was a blow for the
q-b, who knows what Italian female fellow-passengers can be. However,
there we were. All the cabins were down below, and all, for some
mysterious reason, inside--no portholes outside. It was hot and close
down below already. I pitched the sack on my berth, and there stood the
lark on the red carpet at the door.
I gave him three francs. He looked at it as if it were my death-warrant.
He peered at the paper in the light of the lamp. Then he extended his
arm with a gesture of superb insolence, flinging me back my gold without
"How!" said I. "Three francs are quite enough."
"Three francs--two kilometers--and three pieces of luggage! No signore.
No! Five francs. Cinque franchi!" And averting his pallid, old
mudlarking face, and flinging his hand out at me, he stood the image of
indignant repudiation. And truly, he was no taller than my upper
waistcoat pocket. The brat! The brat! He was such an actor, and so
impudent, that I wavered between wonder and amusement and a great
inclination to kick him up the steps. I decided not to waste my energy
"What a beastly little boy! What a horrid little boy! What a horrid
little boy! Really--a little thief. A little swindler!" I mused aloud.
"Swindler!" he quavered after me. And he was beaten. "Swindler" doubled
him up: that and the quiet mildness of my tone of invocation. Now he
would have gone with his three francs. And now, in final contempt, I
gave him the other two.
He disappeared like a streak of lightning up the gangway, terrified lest
the steward should come and catch him at his tricks. For later on I saw
the steward send other larks flying for demanding more than one-fifty.
* * * * *
The question was now the cabin: for the q-b simply refused to entertain
the idea of sharing a cabin with three Italian women, who would all be
sick simply for the fuss of it, though the sea was smooth as glass. We
hunted up the steward. He said all the first-class cabins had four
berths--the second had three, but much smaller. How that was possible I
don't know. However, if no one came, he would give us a cabin to
The ship was clean and civilised, though very poky. And there we were.
* * * * *
We went on deck. Would we eat on board, asked another person. No, we
wouldn't. We went out to a fourth little shed, which was a refreshment
stall, and bought bread and sardines and chocolate and apples. Then we
went on the upper deck to make our meal. In a sheltered place I lit the
spirit lamp, and put on water to boil. The water we had taken from the
cabin. Then we sat down alone in the darkness, on a seat which had its
back against the deck cabins, now appropriated by the staff. A thin,
cold wind was travelling. We wrapped the one plaid round us both and
snugged together, waiting for the tea to boil. I could just see the
point of the spirit-flame licking up, from where we sat.
* * * * *
The stars were marvellous in the soundless sky, so big, that one could
see them hanging orb-like and alone in their own space, yet all the
myriads. Particularly bright the evening-star. And he hung flashing in
the lower night with a power that made me hold my breath. Grand and
powerful he sent out his flashes, so sparkling that he seemed more
intense than any sun or moon. And from the dark, uprising land he sent
his way of light to us across the water, a marvellous star-road. So all
above us the stars soared and pulsed, over that silent, night-dark,
* * * * *
After a long time the water boiled, and we drank our hot tea and ate our
sardines and bread and bits of remaining Nuoro sausage, sitting there
alone in the intense starry darkness of that upper deck. I said alone:
but no, two ghoulish ship's cats came howling at us for the bits. And
even when everything was eaten, and the sardine-tin thrown in the sea,
still they circled and prowled and howled.
We sat on, resting under the magnificent deep heavens, wrapped together
in the old shepherd's shawl for which I have blessed so often a Scottish
friend, half sheltered from the cold night wind, and recovering somewhat
from the sixty miles bus-ride we had done that day.
As yet there was nobody on the ship--we were the very first, at least in
the first class. Above, all was silent and deserted. Below, all was
lit-up and deserted. But it was a little ship, with accommodation for
some thirty first-class and forty second-class passengers.
In the low deck forward stood two rows of cattle--eighteen cattle. They
stood tied up side by side, and quite motionless, as if stupefied. Only
two had lain down. The rest stood motionless, with tails dropped and
heads dropped, as if drugged or gone insensible. These cattle on the
ship fascinated the q-b. She insisted on going down to them, and
examining them minutely. But there they were--stiff almost as Noah's Ark
cows. What she could not understand was that they neither cried nor
struggled. Motionless--terribly motionless. In her idea cattle are wild
and indomitable creatures. She will not realise the horrid strength of
passivity and inertia which is almost the preponderant force in
domesticated creatures, men and beast alike. There are fowls too in
various coops--flappy and agitated these.
* * * * *
At last, at about half past seven the train from the island arrived, and
the people surged out in a mass. We stood hanging over the end of the
upper deck, looking down. On they poured, in a thick mass, up the
gangway, with all conceivable sorts of luggage: bundles, embroidered
carry-alls, bags, saddle-bags--the q-b lamenting she had not bought
one--a sudden surging mass of people and goods. There are soldiers
too--but these are lined upon the bit of a quay, to wait.
Our interest is to see whether there will be any more first-class
passengers. Coming up the wide board which serves as gangway each
individual hands a ticket to the man at the top, and is shooed away to
his own region--usually second class. There are three sorts of
tickets--green first-class, white second, and pink third. The
second-class passengers go aft, the third class go forward, along the
passage past our cabins, into the steerage. And so we watch and watch
the excited people come on board and divide. Nearly all are
second-class--and a great many are women. We have seen a few first-class
men. But as yet no women. And every hat with ospreys gives the q-b a
For a long time we are safe. The women flood to the second-class. One
who is third, begs and beseeches to go with her friends in the second. I
am glad to say without success. And then, alas, an elderly man with a
daughter, first-class. They are very respectable and pleasant looking.
But the q-b wails: "I'm sure she will be sick."
* * * * *
Towards the end come three convicts, chained together. They wear the
brownish striped homespun, and do not look evil. They seem to be
laughing together, not at all in distress. The two young soldiers who
guard them, and who have guns, look nervous. So the convicts go forward
to the steerage, past our cabins.
* * * * *
At last the soldiers are straightened up, and turned on board. There
almost at once they start making a tent: drawing a huge tarpaulin over a
cross rope in the mid-deck below us, between the first and second class
regions. The great tarpaulin is pulled down well on either side and
fastened down, and it makes a big dark tent. The soldiers creep in and
place their bundles.
And now it is the soldiers who fascinate the q-b. She hangs over the bar
above, and peers in. The soldiers arrange themselves in two rows. They
will sleep with their heads on their bundles on either side of the tent,
the two rows of feet coming together inwards. But first they must eat,
for it is eight o'clock and more.
Out come their suppers: a whole roast fowl, hunks of kid, legs of lamb,
huge breads. The fowl is dismembered with a jack-knife in a twinkling,
and shared. Everything among the soldiers is shared. There they sit in
their pent-house with its open ends, crowded together and happy, chewing
with all their might and clapping one another on the shoulder lovingly,
and taking swigs at the wine bottles. We envy them their good food.
* * * * *
At last all are on board--the omnibus has driven up from town and gone
back. A last young lout dashes up in a carriage and scuffles aboard. The
crew begins to run about. The quay-porters have trotted on board with
the last bales and packages--all is stowed safely. The steamer hoots and
hoots. Two men and a girl kiss their friends all round and get off the
ship. The night re-echoes the steamer's hoots. The sheds have gone all
dark. Far off the town twinkles very sparsely. All is night-deserted.
And so the gangway is hauled up, and the rope hawsers quickly wound in.
We are drifting away from the quay side. The few watchers wave their
white handkerchiefs, standing diminutive and forlorn on the dark little
quay, in the heart of the dark, deserted harbour. One woman cries and
waves and weeps. A man makes exaggerated flag-wagging signals with his
white handky, and feels important. We drift--and the engines begin to
beat. We are moving in the land-locked harbour.
* * * * *
Everybody watches. The commander and the crew shout orders. And so, very
slowly, and without any fuss at all, like a man wheeling a barrow out of
a yard gate, we throb very slowly out of the harbour, past one point,
then past another, away from the encircling hills, away from the great
lump of Tavolara which is to southward, away from the outreaching land
to the north, and over the edge of the open sea.
* * * * *
And now to try for a cabin to ourselves. I approach the steward. Yes, he
says, he has it in mind. But there are eighty second-class passengers,
in an accommodation space for forty. The transit-controller is now
considering it. Most probably he will transfer some second-class women
to the vacant first-class cabins. If he does not do so, then the steward
will accommodate us.
I know what this means--this equivocation. We decide not to bother any
more. So we make a tour of the ship--to look at the soldiers, who have
finished eating, sitting yarning to one another, while some are already
stretched out in the shadow, for sleep. Then to look at the cattle,
which stand rooted to the deck--which is now all messy. To look at the
unhappy fowls in their coops. And a peep at the third-class--rather
And so to bed. Already the other three berths in my cabin are occupied,
the lights are switched off. As I enter I hear one young man tenderly
enquiring of the berth below: "Dost thou feel ill?" "Er--not much--not
much!" says the other faintly.
Yet the sea is like glass, so smooth.
I am quickly rolled in my lower berth, where I feel the trembling of the
machine-impelled ship, and hear the creaking of the berth above me as
its occupant rolls over: I listen to the sighs of the others, the wash
of dark water. And so, uneasily, rather hot and very airless, uneasy
with the machine-throbbing and the sighing of my companions, and with a
cock that crows shrilly from one of the coops, imagining the ship's
lights to be dawn, the night goes by. One sleeps--but a bad sleep. If
only there were cold air, not this lower-berth, inside cabin
The sea being steady as a level road, nobody succeeded in being
violently sick. My young men rose at dawn--I was not long in following.
It was a gray morning on deck, a gray sea, a gray sky, and a gray,
spider-cloth, unimportant coast of Italy not far away. The q-b joined
me: and quite delighted with her fellow-passenger: such a nice girl, she
said! who, when she let down her ordinary-looking brown hair, it reached
rippling right to her feet! Voilà! You never know your luck.
The cock that had crowed all night crowed again, hoarsely, with a sore
throat. The miserable cattle looked more wearily miserable, but still
were motionless, as sponges that grow at the bottom of the sea. The
convicts were out for air: grinning. Someone told us they were
war-deserters. Considering the light in which these people look on war,
desertion seemed to me the only heroism. But the q-b, brought up in a
military air, gazed upon them as upon men miraculously alive within the
shadow of death. According to her code they had been shot when
re-captured. The soldiers had unslung the tarpaulin, their home for the
night had melted with the darkness, they were mere fragments of gray
transit smoking cigarettes and staring overboard.
We drew near to Cività Vecchia: the old, mediaeval looking port, with
its castle, and a round fortress-barracks at the entrance. Soldiers
aboard shouted and waved to soldiers on the ramparts. We backed
insignificantly into the rather scrubby, insignificant harbour. And in
five minutes we were out, and walking along the wide, desolate boulevard
to the station. The cab-men looked hard at us: but no doubt owing to the
knapsack, took us for poor Germans.
* * * * *
Coffee and milk--and then, only about three-quarters of an hour late,
the train from the north. It is the night express from Turin. There was
plenty of room--so in we got, followed by half a dozen Sardinians. We
found a large, heavy Torinese in the carriage, his eyes dead with
fatigue. It seemed quite a new world on the mainland: and at once one
breathed again the curious suspense that is in the air. Once more I read
the Corriere della Sera from end to end. Once more we knew ourselves in
the real active world, where the air seems like a lively wine
dissolving the pearl of the old order. I hope, dear reader, you like the
metaphor. Yet I cannot forbear repeating how strongly one is sensible of
the solvent property of the atmosphere, suddenly arriving on the
mainland again. And in an hour one changes one's psyche. The human being
is a most curious creature. He thinks he has got one soul, and he has
got dozens. I felt my sound Sardinian soul melting off me, I felt myself
evaporating into the real Italian uncertainty and momentaneity. So I
perused the Corriere whilst the metamorphosis took place. I like Italian
newspapers because they say what they mean, and not merely what is most
convenient to say. We call it naïveté--I call it manliness. Italian
newspapers read as if they were written by men, and not by calculating
* * * * *
The train ran very heavily along the Maremma. It began to rain. Then we
stopped at a station where we should not stop--somewhere in the Maremma
country, the invisible sea not far off, the low country cultivated and
yet forlorn. Oh how the Turin man sighed, and wearily shifted his feet
as the train stood meaningless. There it sat--in the rain. Oh express!
At last on again, till we were winding through the curious long troughs
of the Roman Campagna. There the shepherds minded the sheep: the
slender-footed merino sheep. In Sardinia the merinos were very white and
glistening, so that one thought of the Scriptural "white as wool." And
the black sheep among the flock were very black. But these Campagna were
no longer white, but dingy. And though the wildness of the Campagna is a
real wildness still, it is a historic wildness, familiar in its way as a
fireside is familiar.
So we approach the hopeless sprawling of modern Rome--over the yellow
Tiber, past the famous pyramid tomb, skirting the walls of the city,
till at last we plunge in, into the well-known station, out of all the
We are late. It is a quarter to twelve. And I have to go out and change
money, and I hope to find my two friends.--The q-b and I dash down the
platform--no friends at the barrier. The station moderately empty. We
bolt across to the departure platforms. The Naples train stands ready.
In we pitch our bags, ask a naval man not to let anyone steal them, then
I fly out into town while the q-b buys food and wine at the buffet.
It no longer rains, and Rome feels as ever--rather holiday-like and not
inclined to care about anything. I get a hundred and three lira for each
pound note: pocket my money at two minutes past twelve, and bolt back,
out of the Piazza delle Terme. Aha, there are the two missing ones, just
descending vaguely from a carriage, the one gazing inquiringly through
his monocle across the tram-lines, the other very tall and alert and
elegant, looking as if he expected us to appear out of the air for his
Which is exactly what happens. We fly into each other's arms. "Oh there
you are! Where's the q-b? Why are you here? We've been to the arrival
platform--no sign of you. Of course I only got your wire half an hour
ago. We flew here. Well, how nice to see you.--Oh, let the man
wait.--What, going on at once to Naples? But must you? Oh, but how
flighty you are! Birds of passage veramente! Then let us find the q-b,
quick!--And they won't let us on the platform. No, they're not issuing
platform tickets today.--Oh, merely the guests returning from that
Savoy-Bavarian wedding in the north, a few royal Duchesses about. Oh
well, we must try and wangle him."
At the barrier a woman trying in vain to be let on to the station. But
what a Roman matron can't do, an elegant young Englishman can. So our
two heroes wangle their way in, and fall into the arms of the q-b by the
Naples train. Well, now, tell us all about it! So we rush into a
four-branched candlestick of conversation. In my ear murmurs he of the
monocle about the Sahara--he is back from the Sahara a week ago: the
winter sun in the Sahara! He with the smears of paint on his elegant
trousers is giving the q-b a sketchy outline of his now grande
passion. Click goes the exchange, and him of the monocle is detailing
to the q-b his trip to Japan, on which he will start in six weeks' time,
while him of the paint-smears is expatiating on the thrills of the
etching needle, and concocting a plan for a month in Sardinia in May,
with me doing the scribbles and he the pictures. What sort of pictures?
Out flies the name of Goya.--And well now, a general rush into oneness,
and won't they come down to Sicily to us for the almond blossom: in
about ten days' time. Yes they will--wire when the almond blossom is
just stepping on the stage and making its grand bow, and they will come
next day. Somebody has smitten the wheel of a coach two ringing smacks
with a hammer. This is a sign to get in. The q-b is terrified the train
will slip through her fingers. "I'm frightened, I must get in."--"Very
well then! You're sure you have everything you want? Everything? A
fiasco of vino? Oh two! All the better! Well then--ten days' time. All
right--quite sure--how nice to have seen you, if only a
glimpse.--Yes, yes, poor q-b! Yes, you're quite safe. Good-bye!
The door is shut--we are seated--the train moves out of the station. And
quickly on this route Rome disappears. We are out on the wintry
Campagna, where crops are going. Away on the left we see the Tivoli
hills, and think of the summer that is gone, the heat, the fountains of
the Villa D'Este. The train rolls heavily over the Campagna, towards the
Alban Mounts, homewards.
* * * * *
So we fall on our food, and devour the excellent little beef-steaks and
rolls and boiled eggs, apples and oranges and dates, and drink the good
red wine, and wildly discuss plans and the latest news, and are
altogether thrilled about things. So thrilled that we are well away
among the romantic mountains of the south-centre before we realise that
there are other passengers besides ourselves in the carriage. Half the
journey is over. Why, there is the monastery on its high hill! In a wild
moment I suggest we shall get down and spend a night up there at
Montecassino, and see the other friend, the monk who knows so much about
the world, being out of it. But the q-b shudders, thinking of the awful
winter coldness of that massive stone monastery, which has no spark of
heating apparatus. And therefore the plan subsides, and at Cassino
station I only get down to procure coffee and sweet cakes. They always
have good things to eat at Cassino station: in summer, big fresh ices
and fruits and iced water, in winter toothsome sweet cakes which make an
awfully good finish to a meal.
* * * * *
I count Cassino half way to Naples. After Cassino the excitement of
being in the north begins quite to evaporate. The southern heaviness
descends upon us. Also the sky begins to darken: and the rain falls. I
think of the night before us, on the sea again. And I am vaguely
troubled lest we may not get a berth. However, we may spend the night in
Naples: or even sit on in this train, which goes forward, all through
the long long night, to the Straits of Messina. We must decide as we
Half dozing, one becomes aware of the people about one. We are
travelling second class. Opposite is a little, hold-your-own
school-mistressy young person in pince-nez. Next her a hollow-cheeked
white soldier with ribbons on his breast. Then a fat man in a corner.
Then a naval officer of low rank. The naval officer is coming from
Fiume, and is dead with sleep and perhaps mortification. D'Annunzio has
just given up. Two compartments away we hear soldiers singing, martial
still though bruised with fatigue, the D'Annunzio-bragging songs of
Fiume. They are soldiers of the D'Annunzio legion. And one of them, I
hear the sick soldier saying, is very hot and republican still. Private
soldiers are not allowed, with their reduced tickets, to travel on the
express trains. But these legionaries are not penniless: they have paid
the excess and come along. For the moment they are sent to their homes.
And with heads dropping with fatigue, we hear them still defiantly
singing down the carriage for D'Annunzio.
A regular officer went along--a captain of the Italian, not the Fiume
army. He heard the chants and entered the carriage. The legionaries were
quiet, but they lounged and ignored the entry of the officer. "On your
feet!" he yelled, Italian fashion. The vehemence did it. Reluctantly as
may be, they stood up in the compartment. "Salute!" And though it was
bitter, up went their hands in the salute, whilst he stood and watched
them. And then, very superb, he sauntered away again. They sat down
glowering. Of course they were beaten. Didn't they know it. The men in
our carriage smiled curiously: in slow and futile mockery of both
The rain was falling outside, the windows were steamed quite dense, so
that we were shut in from the world. Throughout the length of the
train, which was not very full, could be felt the exhausted weariness
and the dispirited dejection of the poor D'Annunzio legionaries. In the
afternoon silence of the mist-enclosed, half-empty train the snatches of
song broke out again, and faded in sheer dispirited fatigue. We ran on
blindly and heavily. But one young fellow was not to be abashed. He was
well-built, and his thick black hair was brushed up, like a great fluffy
crest upon his head. He came slowly and unabated down the corridor, and
on every big, mist-opaque pane he scrawled with his finger W D'ANNUNZIO
GABRIELE--W D'ANNUNZIO GABRIELE.
The sick soldier laughed thinly, saying to the schoolmistress: "Oh yes,
they are fine chaps. But it was folly. D'Annunzio is a world poet--a
world wonder--but Fiume was a mistake you know. And these chaps have got
to learn a lesson. They got beyond themselves. Oh, they aren't short of
money. D'Annunzio had wagon-loads of money there in Fiume, and he wasn't
altogether mean with it." The schoolmistress, who was one of the sharp
ones, gave a little disquisition to show why it was a mistake, and
wherein she knew better than the world's poet and wonder.
It always makes me sick to hear people chewing over newspaper pulp.
The sick soldier was not a legionary. He had been wounded through the
lung. But it was healed, he said. He lifted the flap of his breast
pocket, and there hung a little silver medal. It was his wound-medal. He
wore it concealed: and over the place of the wound. He and the
schoolmistress looked at one another significantly.
Then they talked pensions: and soon were on the old topic. The
schoolmistress had her figures pat, as a schoolmistress should. Why, the
ticket-collector, the man who punches one's tickets on the train, now
had twelve thousand Lira a year: twelve thousand Lira. Monstrous! Whilst
a fully-qualified professore, a schoolmaster who had been through all
his training and had all his degrees, was given five thousand. Five
thousand for a fully qualified professore, and twelve thousand for a
ticket puncher. The soldier agreed, and quoted other figures. But the
railway was the outstanding grievance. Every boy who left school now,
said the schoolmistress, wanted to go on the railway. Oh but--said the
* * * * *
The naval officer, who collapsed into the most uncanny positions, blind
with sleep, got down at Capua to get into a little train that would
carry him back to his own station, where our train had not stopped. At
Caserta the sick soldier got out. Down the great avenue of trees the
rain was falling. A young man entered. Remained also the schoolmistress
and the stout man. Knowing we had been listening, the schoolmistress
spoke to us about the soldier. Then--she had said she was catching the
night boat for Palermo--I asked her if she thought the ship would be
very full. Oh yes, very full, she said. Why, hers was one of the last
cabin numbers, and she had got her ticket early that morning. The fat
man now joined in. He too was crossing to Palermo. The ship was sure to
be quite full by now. Were we depending on booking berths at the port of
Naples? We were. Whereupon he and the schoolmistress shook their heads
and said it was more than doubtful--nay, it was as good as impossible.
For the boat was the renowned Città di Trieste, that floating palace,
and such was the fame of her gorgeousness that everybody wanted to
travel by her.
"First and second class alike?" I asked.
"Oh yes, also first class," replied the school-marm rather spitefully.
So I knew she had a white ticket--second.
I cursed the Città di Trieste and her gorgeousness, and looked down my
nose. We had now two alternatives: to spend the night in Naples, or to
sit on all through the night and next morning, and arrive home, with
heaven's aid, in the early afternoon. Though these long-distance trains
think nothing of six hours late. But we were tired already. What we
should be like after another twenty-four hours' sitting, heaven knows.
And yet to struggle for a bed in a Naples hotel this night, in the rain,
all the hotels being at present crammed with foreigners, that was no
rosy prospect. Oh dear!
However, I was not going to take their discouragement so easily. One has
been had that way before. They love to make the case look desperate.
Were we English? asked the schoolmistress. We were. Ah, a fine thing to
be English in Italy now. Why?--rather tart from me. Because of the
cambio, the exchange. You English, with your money exchange, you come
here and buy everything for nothing, you take the best of everything,
and with your money you pay nothing for it. Whereas we poor Italians we
pay heavily for everything at an exaggerated price, and we can have
nothing. Ah, it is all very nice to be English in Italy now. You can
travel, you go to the hotels, you can see everything and buy everything,
and it costs you nothing. What is the exchange today? She whipped it
out. A hundred and four, twenty.
This she told me to my nose. And the fat man murmured bitterly già!
già!--ay! ay! Her impertinence and the fat man's quiet bitterness
stirred my bile. Has not this song been sung at me once too often, by
You are mistaken, said I to the schoolmistress. We don't by any means
live in Italy for nothing. Even with the exchange at a hundred and
three, we don't live for nothing. We pay, and pay through the nose, for
whatever we have in Italy: and you Italians see that we pay. What! You
put all the tariff you do on foreigners, and then say we live here for
nothing. I tell you I could live in England just as well, on the same
money--perhaps better. Compare the cost of things in England with the
cost here in Italy, and even considering the exchange, Italy costs
nearly as much as England. Some things are cheaper here--the railway
comes a little cheaper, and is infinitely more miserable. Travelling is
usually a misery. But other things, clothes of all sorts, and a good
deal of food is even more expensive here than in England, exchange
Oh yes, she said, England had had to bring her prices down this last
fortnight. In her own interests indeed.
"This last fortnight! This last six months," said I. "Whereas prices
rise every single day here."
Here a word from the quiet young man who had got in at Caserta.
"Yes," he said, "yes. I say, every nation pays in its own money, no
matter what the exchange. And it works out about equal."
But I felt angry. Am I always to have the exchange flung in my teeth, as
if I were a personal thief? But the woman persisted.
"Ah," she said, "we Italians, we are so nice, we are so good. Noi, siamo
così buoni. We are so good-natured. But others, they are not buoni, they
are not good-natured to us." And she nodded her head. And truly, I did
not feel at all good-natured towards her: which she knew. And as for the
Italian good-nature, it forms a sound and unshakeable basis nowadays for
their extortion and self-justification and spite.
* * * * *
Darkness was falling over the rich flat plains that lie around Naples,
over the tall uncanny vines with their brown thongs in the intensely
cultivated black earth. It was night by the time we were in that vast
and thievish station. About half-past five. We were not very late.
Should we sit on in our present carriage, and go down in it to the port,
along with the schoolmistress, and risk it? But first look at the coach
which was going on to Sicily. So we got down and ran along the train to
the Syracuse coach. Hubbub, confusion, a wedge in the corridor, and for
sure no room. Certainly no room to lie down a bit. We could not sit
tight for twenty-four hours more.
So we decided to go to the port--and to walk. Heaven knows when the
railway carriage would be shunted down. Back we went therefore for the
sack, told the schoolmistress our intention.
"You can but try," she said frostily.
* * * * *
So there we are, with the sack over my shoulder and the kitchenino in
the q-b's hand, bursting out of that thrice-damned and annoying station,
and running through the black wet gulf of a Naples night, in a slow
rain. Cabmen look at us. But my sack saved me. I am weary of that
boa-constrictor, a Naples cabman after dark. By day there is
more-or-less a tariff.
It is about a mile from the station to the quay where the ship lies. We
make our way through the deep, gulf-like streets, over the slippery
black cobbles. The black houses rise massive to a great height on either
side, but the streets are not in this part very narrow. We plunge
forwards in the unearthly half-darkness of this great uncontrolled city.
There are no lights at all from the buildings--only the small electric
lamps of the streets.
So we emerge on the harbour front, and hurry past the great storehouses
in the rainy night, to where the actual entrances begin. The tram bangs
past us. We scuffle along that pavement-ridge which lies like an isthmus
down the vast black quicksands of that harbour road. One feels peril all
round. But at length we come to a gate by the harbour railway. No, not
that. On to the next iron gate of the railway crossing. And so we run
out past the great sheds and the buildings of the port station, till we
see a ship rearing in front, and the sea all black. But now where is
that little hole where one gets the tickets? We are at the back of
everywhere in this desert jungle of the harbour darkness.
* * * * *
A man directs us round the corner--and actually does not demand money.
It is the sack again. So--there, I see the knot of men, soldiers
chiefly, fighting in a bare room round a tiny wicket. I recognise the
place where I have fought before.
So while the q-b stands guard over sack and bag, I plunge into the fray.
It literally is a fight. Some thirty men all at once want to get at a
tiny wicket in a blank wall. There are no queue-rails, there is no
order: just a hole in a blank wall, and thirty fellows, mostly military,
pressing at it in a mass. But I have done this before. The way is to
insert the thin end of oneself, and without any violence, by deadly
pressure and pertinacity come at the goal. One hand must be kept fast
over the money pocket, and one must be free to clutch the wicket-side
when one gets there. And thus one is ground small in those mills of God,
Demos struggling for tickets. It isn't very nice--so close, so
incomparably crushed. And never for a second must one be off one's guard
for one's watch and money and even hanky. When I first came to Italy
after the war I was robbed twice in three weeks, floating round in the
sweet old innocent confidence in mankind. Since then I have never ceased
to be on my guard. Somehow or other, waking and sleeping one's spirit
must be on its guard nowadays. Which is really what I prefer, now I have
learnt it. Confidence in the goodness of mankind is a very thin
protection indeed. Integer vitae scelerisque purus will do nothing for
you when it comes to humanity, however efficacious it may be with lions
and wolves. Therefore, tight on my guard, like a screw biting into a bit
of wood, I bite my way through that knot of fellows, to the wicket, and
shout for two first-class. The clerk inside ignores me for some time,
serving soldiers. But if you stand like Doomsday you get your way. Two
firsts, says the clerk. Husband and wife, say I, in case there is a
two-berth cabin. Jokes behind. But I get my tickets. Impossible to put
my hand to my pocket. The tickets cost about a hundred and five francs
each. Clutching paper change and the green slips, with a last gasp I get
out of the knot. So--we've done it. As I sort my money and stow away, I
hear another ask for one first-class. Nothing left, says the clerk. So
you see how one must fight.
I must say for these dense and struggling crowds, they are only intense,
not violent, and not in the least brutal. I always feel a certain
sympathy with the men in them.
* * * * *
Bolt through the pouring rain to the ship. And in two minutes we are
aboard. And behold, each of us has a deck cabin, I one to myself, the
q-b to herself next door. Palatial--not a cabin at all, but a proper
little bedroom with a curtained bed under the porthole windows, a
comfortable sofa, chairs, table, carpets, big wash-bowls with silver
taps--a whole de luxe. I dropped the sack on the sofa with a gasp,
drew back the yellow curtains of the bed, looked out of the porthole at
the lights of Naples, and sighed with relief. One could wash thoroughly,
refreshingly, and change one's linen. Wonderful!
* * * * *
The state-room is like a hotel lounge, many little tables with flowers
and periodicals, arm-chairs, warm carpet, bright but soft lights, and
people sitting about chatting. A loud group of English people in one
corner, very assured: two quiet English ladies: various Italians seeming
quite modest. Here one could sit in peace and rest, pretending to look
at an illustrated magazine. So we rested. After about an hour there
entered a young Englishman and his wife, whom we had seen on our train.
So, at last the coach had been shunted down to the port. Where should we
have been had we waited!
* * * * *
The waiters began to flap the white table-cloths and spread the tables
nearest the walls. Dinner would begin at half-past seven, immediately
the boat started. We sat in silence, till eight or nine tables were
spread. Then we let the other people take their choice. After which we
chose a table by ourselves, neither of us wanting company. So we sat
before the plates and the wine-bottles and sighed in the hopes of a
decent meal. Food by the way is not included in the hundred-and-five
Alas, we were not to be alone: two young Neapolitans, pleasant, quiet,
blond, or semi-blond. They were well-bred, and evidently of northern
extraction. Afterwards we found out they were jewellers. But I liked
their quiet, gentle manners. The dinner began, and we were through the
soup, when up pranced another young fellow, rather strapping and loud, a
commercial traveller, for sure. He had those cocky assured manners of
one who is not sure of his manners. He had a rather high forehead, and
black hair brushed up in a showy wing, and a large ring on his finger.
Not that a ring signifies anything. Here most of the men wear several,
all massively jewelled. If one believed in all the jewels, why Italy
would be more fabulous than fabled India. But our friend the bounder was
smart, and smelled of cash. Not money, but cash.
I had an inkling of what to expect when he handed the salt and said in
English "Salt, thenk you." But I ignored the advance. However, he did
not wait long. Through the windows across the room the q-b saw the
lights of the harbour slowly moving. "Oh," she cried, "are we going?"
And also in Italian: "Partiamo?" All watched the lights, the bounder
screwing round. He had one of the fine, bounderish backs.
"Yes," he said. "We--going."
"Oh," cried she. "Do you speak English?"
"Ye-es. Some English--I speak."
As a matter of fact he spoke about forty disconnected words. But his
accent was so good for these forty. He did not speak English, he
imitated an English voice making sounds. And the effect was startling.
He had served on the Italian front with the Scots Guards--so he told us
in Italian. He was Milanese. Oh, he had had a time with the Scots
Guards. Wheesky--eh? Wheesky.
"Come along bhoys!" he shouted.
And it was such a Scotch voice shouting, so loud-mouthed and actual, I
nearly went under the table. It struck us both like a blow.
Afterwards he rattled away without misgiving. He was a traveller for a
certain type of machine, and was doing Sicily. Shortly he was going to
England--and he asked largely about first-class hotels. Then he asked
was the q-b French?--Was she Italian?--No, she was German. Ah--German.
And immediately out he came with the German word: "Deutsch! Deutsch, eh?
From Deutschland. Oh yes! Deutschland über alles! Ah, I know. No
more--what? Deutschland unter alles now? Deutschland unter alles." And
he bounced on his seat with gratification of the words. Of German as of
English he knew half a dozen phrases.
"No," said the q-b, "Not Deutschland unter alles. Not for long,
"How? Not for long? You think so? I think so too," said the bounder.
Then in Italian: "La Germania won't stand under all for long. No, no. At
present it is England über alles. England über alles. But Germany will
rise up again."
"Of course," said the q-b. "How shouldn't she?"
"Ah," said the bounder, "while England keeps the money in her pocket, we
shall none of us rise up. Italy won the war, and Germany lost it. And
Italy and Germany they both are down, and England is up. They both are
down, and England is up. England and France. Strange, isn't it? Ah, the
allies. What are the allies for? To keep England up, and France half
way, and Germany and Italy down."
"Ah, they won't stay down for ever," said the q-b.
"You think not? Ah! We will see. We will see how England goes on now."
"England is not going on so marvellously, after all," say I.
"How not? You mean Ireland?"
"No, not only Ireland. Industry altogether. England is as near to ruin
as other countries."
"Ma! With all the money, and we others with no money? How will she be
"And what good would it be to you if she were?"
"Oh well--who knows. If England were ruined--" a slow smile of
anticipation spread over his face. How he would love it--how they would
all love it, if England were ruined. That is, the business part of them,
perhaps, would not love it. But the human part would. The human part
fairly licks its lips at the thought of England's ruin. The commercial
part, however, quite violently disclaims the anticipations of the human
part. And there it is. The newspapers chiefly speak with the commercial
voice. But individually, when you are got at in a railway carriage or as
now on a ship, up speaks the human voice, and you know how they love
you. This is no doubt inevitable. When the exchange stands at a hundred
and six men go humanly blind, I suppose, however much they may keep the
commercial eye open. And having gone humanly blind they bump into one's
human self nastily: a nasty jar. You know then how they hate you.
Underneath, they hate us, and as human beings we are objects of envy and
malice. They hate us, with envy, and despise us, with jealousy. Which
perhaps doesn't hurt commercially. Humanly it is to me unpleasant.
The dinner was over, and the bounder was lavishing cigarettes--Murattis,
if you please. We had all drunk two bottles of wine. Two other
commercial travellers had joined the bounder at our table--two smart
young fellows, one a bounder and one gentle and nice. Our two jewellers
remained quiet, talking their share, but quietly and so sensitively. One
could not help liking them. So we were seven people, six men.
"Wheesky! Will you drink Wheesky, Mister?" said our original bounder.
"Yes, one small Scotch! One Scotch Wheesky." All this in a perfect
Scotty voice of a man standing at a bar calling for a drink. It was
comical, one could not but laugh: and very impertinent. He called for
the waiter, took him by the button-hole, and with a breast-to-breast
intimacy asked if there was whisky. The waiter, with the same tone of
you-and-I-are-men-who-have-the-same-feelings, said he didn't think there
was whisky, but he would look. Our bounder went round the table inviting
us all to whiskies, and pressing on us his expensive English cigarettes
with great aplomb.
The whisky came--and five persons partook. It was fiery, oily stuff from
heaven knows where. The bounder rattled away, spouting his bits of
English and his four words of German. He was in high feather, wriggling
his large haunches on his chair and waving his hands. He had a peculiar
manner of wriggling from the bottom of his back, with fussy
self-assertiveness. It was my turn to offer whisky.
I was able in a moment's lull to peer through the windows and see the
dim lights of Capri--the glimmer of Anacapri up on the black
shadow--the lighthouse. We had passed the island. In the midst of the
babel I sent out a few thoughts to a few people on the island. Then I
had to come back.
The bounder had once more resumed his theme of l'Inghilterra, l'Italia,
la Germania. He swanked England as hard as he could. Of course England
was the top dog, and if he could speak some English, if he were talking
to English people, and if, as he said, he was going to England in April,
why he was so much the more top-doggy than his companions, who could not
rise to all these heights. At the same time, my nerves had too much to
Where were we going and where had we been and where did we live? And ah,
yes, English people lived in Italy. Thousands, thousands of English
people lived in Italy. Yes, it was very nice for them. There used to be
many Germans, but now the Germans were down. But the English--what could
be better for them than Italy now: they had sun, they had warmth, they
had abundance of everything, they had a charming people to deal with,
and they had the cambio! Ecco! The other commercial travellers agreed.
They appealed to the q-b if it was not so. And altogether I had enough
"Oh yes," said I, "it's very nice to be in Italy: especially if you are
not living in an hotel, and you have to attend to things for yourself.
It is very nice to be overcharged every time, and then insulted if you
say a word. It's very nice to have the cambio thrown in your teeth, if
you say two words to any Italian, even a perfect stranger. It's very
nice to have waiters and shop-people and railway porters sneering in a
bad temper and being insulting in small, mean ways all the time. It's
very nice to feel what they all feel against you. And if you understand
enough Italian, it's very nice to hear what they say when you've gone
by. Oh very nice. Very nice indeed!"
I suppose the whisky had kindled this outburst in me. They sat dead
silent. And then our bounder began, in his sugary deprecating voice.
"Why no! Why no! It is not true, signore. No, it is not true. Why,
England is the foremost nation in the world--"
"And you want to pay her out for it."
"But no, signore. But no. What makes you say so? Why, we Italians are so
good-natured. Noi Italiani siamo così buoni. Siamo così buoni."
It was the identical words of the schoolmistress.
"Buoni," said I. "Yes--perhaps. Buoni when it's not a question of the
exchange and of money. But since it is always a question of cambio
and soldi now, one is always, in a small way, insulted."
I suppose it must have been the whisky. Anyhow Italians can never bear
hard bitterness. The jewellers looked distressed, the bounders looked
down their noses, half exulting even now, and half sheepish, being
caught. The third of the commis voyageurs, the gentle one, made large
eyes and was terrified that he was going to be sick. He represented a
certain Italian liqueur, and he modestly asked us to take a glass of it.
He went with the waiter to secure the proper brand. So we drank--and it
was good. But he, the giver, sat with large and haunted eyes. Then he
said he would go to bed. Our bounder gave him various advice regarding
seasickness. There was a mild swell on the sea. So he of the liqueur
* * * * *
Our bounder thrummed on the table and hummed something, and asked the
q-b if she knew the Rosencavalier. He always appealed to her. She said
she did. And ah, he was passionately fond of music, said he. Then he
warbled, in a head voice, a bit more. He only knew classical music, said
he. And he mewed a bit of Moussorgsky. The q-b said Moussorgsky was her
favourite musician, for opera. Ah, cried the bounder, if there were but
a piano!--There is a piano, said his mate.--Yes, he replied, but it is
locked up.--Then let us get the key, said his mate, with aplomb. The
waiters, being men with the same feelings as our two, would give them
anything. So the key was forthcoming. We paid our bills--mine about
sixty francs. Then we went along the faintly rolling ship, up the curved
staircase to the drawing room. Our bounder unlocked the door of this
drawing room, and switched on the lights.
It was quite a pleasant room, with deep divans upholstered in pale
colours, and palm-trees standing behind little tables, and a black
upright piano. Our bounder sat on the piano-stool and gave us an
exhibition. He splashed out noise on the piano in splashes, like water
splashing out of a pail. He lifted his head and shook his black mop of
hair, and yelled out some fragments of opera. And he wriggled his large,
bounder's back upon the piano stool, wriggling upon his well-filled
haunches. Evidently he had a great deal of feeling for music: but very
little prowess. He yelped it out, and wriggled, and splashed the piano.
His friend the other bounder, a quiet one in a pale suit, with stout
limbs, older than the wriggler, stood by the piano whilst the young one
exhibited. Across the space of carpet sat the two brother jewellers,
deep in a divan, their lean, semi-blond faces quite inscrutable. The
q-b sat next to me, asking for this and that music, none of which the
wriggler could supply. He knew four scraps, and a few splashes--not
more. The elder bounder stood near him quietly comforting, encouraging,
and admiring him, as a lover encouraging and admiring his ingénue
betrothed. And the q-b sat bright-eyed and excited, admiring that a man
could perform so unself-consciously self-conscious, and give himself
away with such generous wriggles. For my part, as you may guess, I did
I had had enough. Rising, I bowed and marched off. The q-b came after
me. Good-night, said I, at the head of the corridor. She turned in, and
I went round the ship to look at the dark night of the sea.
* * * * *
Morning came sunny with pieces of cloud: and the Sicilian coast towering
pale blue in the distance. How wonderful it must have been to Ulysses to
venture into this Mediterranean and open his eyes on all the loveliness
of the tall coasts. How marvellous to steal with his ship into these
magic harbours. There is something eternally morning-glamourous about
these lands as they rise from the sea. And it is always the Odyssey
which comes back to one as one looks at them. All the lovely
morning-wonder of this world, in Homer's day!
Our bounder was dashing about on deck, in one of those rain-coats
gathered in at the waist and ballooning out into skirts below the waist.
He greeted me with a cry of "It's a long, long way to Tipperary." "Very
long," said I. "Good-bye Piccadilly--" he continued. "Ciao," said I, as
he dashed jauntily down the steps. Soon we saw the others as well. But
it was morning, and I simply did not want to speak to them--except just
Good-day. For my life I couldn't say two more words to any of them this
morning: except to ask the mild one if he had been sick. He had not.
So we waited for the great Città di Trieste to float her way into
Palermo harbour. It looked so near--the town there, the great circle of
the port, the mass of the hills crowding round. Panormus, the
All-harbour. I wished the bulky steamer would hurry up. For I hated her
now. I hated her swankiness, she seemed made for commercial travellers
with cash. I hated the big picture that filled one end of the
state-room: an elegant and ideal peasant-girl, a sort of Italia,
strolling on a lovely and ideal cliff's edge, among myriad blooms, and
carrying over her arm, in a most sophisticated fashion, a bough of
almond blossom and a sheaf of anemones. I hated the waiters, and the
cheap elegance, the common de luxe. I disliked the people, who all
turned their worst, cash-greasy sides outwards on this ship. Vulgar,
vulgar post-war commercialism and dog-fish money-stink. I longed to get
off. And the bloated boat edged her way so slowly into the port, and
then more slowly still edged round her fat stern. And even then we were
kept for fifteen minutes waiting for someone to put up the gangway for
the first class. The second class, of course, were streaming off and
melting like thawed snow into the crowds of onlookers on the quay, long
before we were allowed to come off.
* * * * *
Glad, glad I was to get off that ship: I don't know why, for she was
clean and comfortable and the attendants were perfectly civil. Glad,
glad I was not to share the deck with any more commercial travellers.
Glad I was to be on my own feet, independent. No, I would not take a
carriage. I carried my sack on my back to the hotel, looking with a
jaundiced eye on the lethargic traffic of the harbour front. It was
about nine o'clock.
* * * * *
Later on, when I had slept, I thought as I have thought before, the
Italians are not to blame for their spite against us. We, England, have
taken upon ourselves for so long the rôle of leading nation. And if now,
in the war or after the war, we have led them all into a real old
swinery--which we have, notwithstanding all Entente cant--then they have
a legitimate grudge against us. If you take upon yourself to lead, you
must expect the mud to be thrown at you if you lead into a nasty morass.
Especially if, once in the bog, you think of nothing else but scrambling
out over other poor devils' backs. Pretty behaviour of great nations!
And still, for all that, I must insist that I am a single human being,
an individual, not a mere national unit, a mere chip of l'Inghilterra or
la Germania. I am not a chip of any nasty old block. I am myself.
* * * * *
In the evening the q-b insisted on going to the marionettes, for which
she has a sentimental passion. So the three of us--we were with the
American friend once more--chased through dark and tortuous side-streets
and markets of Palermo in the night, until at last a friendly man led us
to the place. The back streets of Palermo felt friendly, not huge and
rather horrible, like Naples near the port.
The theatre was a little hole opening simply off the street. There was
no one in the little ticket box, so we walked past the door-screen. A
shabby old man with a long fennel-stalk hurried up and made us places on
the back benches, and hushed us when we spoke of tickets. The play was
in progress. A serpent-dragon was just having a tussle with a knight in
brilliant brass armour, and my heart came into my mouth. The audience
consisted mostly of boys, gazing with frantic interest on the bright
stage. There was a sprinkling of soldiers and elderly men. The place was
packed--about fifty souls crowded on narrow little ribbons of benches,
so close one behind the other that the end of the man in front of me
continually encroached and sat on my knee. I saw on a notice that the
price of entry was forty centimes.
We had come in towards the end of the performance, and so sat rather
bewildered, unable to follow. The story was the inevitable Paladins of
France--one heard the names Rinaldo! Orlando! again and again. But
the story was told in dialect, hard to follow.
I was charmed by the figures. The scene was very simple, showing the
interior of a castle. But the figures, which were about two-thirds of
human size, were wonderful in their brilliant, glittering gold armour,
and their martial prancing motions. All were knights--even the daughter
of the king of Babylon. She was distinguished only by her long hair. All
were in the beautiful, glittering armour, with helmets and visors that
could be let down at will. I am told this armour has been handed down
for many generations. It certainly is lovely. One actor alone was not
in armour, the wizard Magicce, or Malvigge, the Merlin of the Paladins.
He was in a long scarlet robe, edged with fur, and wore a three-cornered
So we watched the dragon leap and twist and get the knight by the leg:
and then perish. We watched the knights burst into the castle. We
watched the wonderful armour-clashing embraces of the delivered knights,
Orlando and his bosom friend and the little dwarf, clashing their
armoured breasts to the breasts of their brothers and deliverers. We
watched the would-be tears flow.--And then the statue of the witch
suddenly go up in flames, at which a roar of exultation from the boys.
Then it was over. The theatre was empty in a moment, but the proprietors
and the two men who sat near us would not let us go. We must wait for
the next performance.
My neighbour, a fat, jolly man, told me all about it. His neighbour, a
handsome tipsy man, kept contradicting and saying it wasn't so. But my
fat neighbour winked at me, not to take offence.
This story of the Paladins of France lasted three nights. We had come on
the middle night--of course. But no matter--each night was a complete
story. I am sorry I have forgotten the names of the knights. But the
story was, that Orlando and his friend and the little dwarf, owing to
the tricks of that same dwarf, who belonged to the Paladins, had been
captured and immured in the enchanted castle of the ghastly old witch
who lived on the blood of Christians. It was now the business of Rinaldo
and the rest of the Paladins, by the help of Magicce the good wizard,
to release their captured brethren from the ghoulish old witch.
So much I made out of the fat man's story, while the theatre was
filling. He knew every detail of the whole Paladin cycle. And it is
evident the Paladin cycle has lots of versions. For the handsome tipsy
neighbour kept saying he was wrong, he was wrong, and giving different
stories, and shouting for a jury to come and say who was right, he or my
fat friend. A jury gathered, and a storm began to rise. But the stout
proprietor with a fennel-wand came and quenched the noise, telling the
handsome tipsy man he knew too much and wasn't asked. Whereupon the
tipsy one sulked.
Ah, said my friend, couldn't I come on Friday. Friday was a great night.
On Friday they were giving I Beati Paoli: The Blessed Pauls. He pointed
to the walls where were the placards announcing The Blessed Pauls. These
Pauls were evidently some awful secret society with masking hoods and
daggers and awful eyes looking through the holes. I said were they
assassins like the Black Hand. By no means, by no means. The Blessed
Pauls were a society for the protection of the poor. Their business was
to track down and murder the oppressive rich. Ah, they were a wonderful,
a splendid society. Were they, said I, a sort of camorra? Ah, on the
contrary--here he lapsed into a tense voice--they hated the camorra.
These, the Blest Pauls, were the powerful and terrible enemy of the
grand camorra. For the Grand Camorra oppresses the poor. And therefore
the Pauls track down in secret the leaders of the Grand Camorra, and
assassinate them, or bring them to the fearful hooded tribunal which
utters the dread verdict of the Beati Paoli. And when once the Beati
Paoli have decreed a man's death--all over. Ah bellissimo, bellissimo!
Why don't I come on Friday?
It seems to me a queer moral for the urchins thick-packed and gazing at
the drop scene. They are all males: urchins or men. I ask my fat friend
why there are no women--no girls. Ah, he says, the theatre is so small.
But, I say, if there is room for all the boys and men, there is the same
room for girls and women. Oh no--not in this small theatre. Besides this
is nothing for women. Not that there is anything improper, he hastens to
add. Not at all. But what should women and girls be doing at the
marionette show? It was an affair for males.
I agreed with him really, and was thankful we hadn't a lot of smirking
twitching girls and lasses in the audience. This male audience was so
tense and pure in its attention.
But hist! the play is going to begin. A lad is grinding a broken
street-piano under the stage. The padrone yells Silenzio! with a roar,
and reaching over, pokes obstreperous boys with his long fennel-stalk,
like a beadle in church. When the curtain rises the piano stops, and
there is dead silence. On swings a knight, glittering, marching with
that curious hippety lilt, and gazing round with fixed and martial eyes.
He begins the prologue, telling us where we are. And dramatically he
waves his sword and stamps his foot, and wonderfully sounds his male,
martial, rather husky voice. Then the Paladins, his companions who are
to accompany him, swing one by one onto the stage, till they are five in
all, handsome knights, including the Babylonian Princess and the Knight
of Britain. They stand in a handsome, glittering line. And then comes
Merlin in his red robe. Merlin has a bright, fair, rather chubby face
and blue eyes, and seems to typify the northern intelligence. He now
tells them, in many words, how to proceed and what is to be done.
So then, the glittering knights are ready. Are they ready? Rinaldo
flourishes his sword with the wonderful cry "Andiamo!" let us go--and
the others respond: "Andiamo". Splendid word.
The first enemy were the knights of Spain, in red kirtles and half
turbans. With these a terrible fight. First of all rushes in the Knight
of Britain. He is the boaster, who always in words, does everything. But
in fact, poor knight of Britain, he falls lamed. The four Paladins have
stood shoulder to shoulder, glittering, watching the fray. Forth now
steps another knight, and the fight recommences. Terrible is the
smacking of swords, terrible the gasps from behind the dropped visors.
Till at last the knight of Spain falls--and the Paladin stands with his
foot on the dead. Then loud acclamations from the Paladins, and yells of
joy from the audience.
"Silenzio!" yells the padrone, flourishing the fennel-stalk.
Dead silence, and the story goes on. The Knight of Britain of course
claims to have slain the foe: and the audience faintly, jeeringly
hisses. "He's always the boaster, and he never does anything, the Knight
of Britain," whispers my fat friend. He has forgotten my nationality. I
wonder if the Knight of Britain is pure tradition, or if a political
touch of today has crept in.
However, this fray is over--Merlin comes to advise for the next move.
And are we ready? We are ready. Andiamo! Again the word is yelled out,
and they set off. At first one is all engaged watching the figures:
their brilliance, their blank, martial stare, their sudden, angular,
gestures. There is something extremely suggestive in them. How much
better they fit the old legend-tales than living people would do. Nay,
if we are going to have human beings on the stage, they should be masked
and disguised. For in fact drama is enacted by symbolic creatures formed
out of human consciousness: puppets if you like: but not human
individuals. Our stage is all wrong, so boring in its personality.
Gradually, however, I found that my eyes were of minor importance.
Gradually it was the voice that gained hold of the blood. It is a
strong, rather husky, male voice that acts direct on the blood, not on
the mind. Again the old male Adam began to stir at the roots of my soul.
Again the old, first-hand indifference, the rich, untamed male blood
rocked down my veins. What does one care? What does one care for precept
and mental dictation? Is there not the massive brilliant, out-flinging
recklessness in the male soul, summed up in the sudden word: Andiamo!
Andiamo! Let us go on. Andiamo!--let us go hell knows where, but let us
go on. The splendid recklessness and passion that knows no precept and
no school-teacher, whose very molten spontaneity is its own guide.
I loved the voices of the Paladins--Rinaldo's voice, and Orlando's
voice: the voice of men once more, men who are not to be tutored. To be
sure there was Merlin making his long speeches in rather a chuntering,
prosy tone. But who was he? Was he a Paladin and a splendour? Not he. A
long-gowned chunterer. It is the reckless blood which achieves all, the
piff-piff-piffing of the mental and moral intelligence is but a
subsidiary help, a mere instrument.
The dragon was splendid: I have seen dragons in Wagner, at Covent Garden
and at the Prinz-Regenten Theater in Munich, and they were ridiculous.
But this dragon simply frightened me, with his leaping and twisting. And
when he seized the knight by the leg, my blood ran cold.
With smoke and sulphur leaps in Beelzebub. But he is merely the servant
of the great old witch. He is black and grinning, and he flourishes his
posterior and his tail. But he is curiously inefficacious: a sort of
lackey of wicked powers.
The old witch with her grey hair and staring eyes succeeds in being
ghastly. With just a touch, she would be a tall, benevolent old lady.
But listen to her. Hear her horrible female voice with its scraping
yells of evil lustfulness. Yes, she fills me with horror. And I am
staggered to find how I believe in her as the evil principle.
Beelzebub, poor devil, is only one of her instruments.
It is her old, horrible, grinning female soul which locks up the heroes,
and which sends forth the awful and almost omnipotent malevolence. This
old, ghastly woman-spirit is the very core of mischief. And I felt my
heart getting as hot against her as the hearts of the lads in the
audience were. Red, deep hate I felt of that symbolic old ghoul-female.
Poor male Beelzebub is her loutish slave. And it takes all Merlin's
bright-faced intelligence, and all the surging hot urgency of the
Paladins, to conquer her.
She will never be finally destroyed--she will never finally die, till
her statue, which is immured in the vaults of the castle, is
burned.--Oh, it was a very psychoanalytic performance altogether, and
one could give a very good Freudian analysis of it.--But behold this
image of the witch: this white, submerged idea of woman which rules
from the deeps of the unconscious. Behold, the reckless, untamable male
knights will do for it. As the statue goes up in flame--it is only
paper over wires--the audience yells! And yells again. And would God the
symbolic act were really achieved. It is only little boys who yell. Men
merely smile at the trick. They know well enough the white image
So it is over. The knights look at us once more. Orlando, hero of
heroes, has a slight inward cast of the eyes. This gives him that look
of almost fierce good-nature which these people adore: the look of a man
who does not think, but whose heart is all the time red hot with
burning, generous blood-passion. This is what they adore.
So my knights go. They all have wonderful faces, and are so splendidly
glittering and male. I am sorry they will be laid in a box now.
There is a great gasp of relief. The piano starts its lame rattle.
Somebody looking round laughs. And we all look round. And seated on the
top of the ticket office is a fat, solemn urchin of two or three years,
hands folded over his stomach, his forehead big and blank, like some
queer little Buddha. The audience laughs with that southern sympathy:
physical sympathy: that is what they love to feel and to arouse.
But there is a little after-scene: in front of the drop-curtain jerks
out a little fat flat caricature of a Neapolitan, and from the opposite
side jerks the tall caricature of a Sicilian. They jerk towards one
another and bump into one another with a smack. And smack goes the
Neapolitan, down on his posterior. And the boys howl with joy. It is the
eternal collision between the two peoples, Neapolitan and Sicilian. Now
goes on a lot of fooling between the two clowns, in the two dialects.
Alas, I can hardly understand anything at all. But it sounds comic, and
looks very funny. The Neapolitan of course gets most of the knocks. And
there seems to be no indecency at all--unless once.--The boys howl and
rock with joy, and no one says Silenzio!
But it is over. All is over. The theatre empties in a moment. And I
shake hands with my fat neighbour, affectionately, and in the right
spirit. Truly I loved them all in the theatre: the generous, hot
southern blood, so subtle and spontaneous, that asks for blood contact,
not for mental communion or spirit sympathy. I was sorry to leave them.