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   Chapter 3 No.3

Italian Journeys By William Dean Howells Characters: 3566

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It appeared that the storm had really been dangerous. Instead of being only six hours from Naples, as we ought to be at this time, we were got no further than Porto Longone, in the Isle of Elba. We woke in a quiet, sheltered little bay, whence we could only behold, not feel, the storm left far out upon the open sea. From this we turned our heavy eyes gladly to the shore, where a white little town was settled, like a flight of gulls upon the beach, at the feet of green and pleasant hills, whose gentle lines rhymed softly away against the sky. At the end of either arm of the embracing land in which we lay, stood gray, placid old forts, with peaceful sentries pacing their bastions, and weary ships creeping round their feet, under guns looking out so kindly and harmlessly, that I think General -- himself would not have hesitated (except, perhaps, from a profound sentiment of regret for offering the violence) to attack them. Our port was full of frightened shipping-steamers, brigs, and schooners-of all sizes and nations; and since it was our misfortune that Napoleon spent his exile in Elba at Porto Ferrato instead of Porto Longone, we amused ourselves with looking at the vessels and the white town and the soft hills, instead of hunting up dead lion's tracks.

Our fellow-passengers began to develop themselves: the regiment of soldiers whom we were transporting picturesquely breakfasted forward, and the second-cabin people came aft to our deck, while the English engineer (there are English engineers on all the Mediterranean steamers) planted a camp-stool in a sunny spot, and sat down to read the "Birmingham Express."

Our friends of the second cabin were chiefly officers with their wives and families, and they talked for the most part of their sufferings d

uring the night. They spoke such exquisite Italian that I thought them Tuscans, but they told me they were of Sicily, where their beautiful speech first had life. Let us hear what they talked of in their divine language, and with that ineffable tonic accent which no foreigner perfectly acquires, and let us for once translate the profanities Pagan and Christian, which adorn common parlance in Italy:-

"Ah, my God! how much I suffered!" says a sweet little woman with gentle brown eyes, red, red lips, and blameless Greek lines of face. "I broke two basins!"

"There were ten broken in all, by Diana!" says this lady's sister.

"Presence of the Devil!" says her husband; and

"Body of Bacchus!" her young brother, puffing his cigar.

"And you, sir," said the lady, turning to a handsome young fellow in civil dress, near her, "how did you pass this horrible night?"

"Oh!" says the young man, twirling his heavy blond mustache, "mighty well, mighty well!"

"Oh mercy of God! You were not sick?"

"I, signora, am never sea-sick. I am of the navy."

At which they all cry oh, and ah, and declare they are glad of it, though why they should have been I don't know to this day.

"I have often wished," added the young man meditatively, and in a serious tone, as if he had indeed given the subject much thought, "that it might please God to let me be sea-sick once, if only that I might know how it feels. But no!" He turned the conversation, as if his disappointment were too sore to dwell upon; and hearing our English, he made out to let us know that he had been at New York, and could spik our language, which he proceeded to do, to the great pride of his countrymen, and our own astonishment at the remarkable forms of English speech to which he gave utterance.

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