We Come to Puteoli

ON a bright Saturday morning in May, we wandered into Salisbury Cathedral, where, to my joy, service was about to begin. I followed it carefully, that my un-Episcopal ear might miss as little as need be, until, during the reading of the Scripture, the scarlet-clad dignitary, whose rank I could not guess, read, ‘We came to Puteoli, where we found brethren.’ Then he went on, and I stayed right there, with all the implications those chance-caught words suddenly spread before me.

Some people, I preached to myself, could travel around the world and never discern, even in the dimmest distance, the outline of the gates of Puteoli, nor recognize the ‘brethren,’ however brotherly their aspect. And of those blind travelers I, unhappily, am one, Others — and of such, fortunately, is my husband — glimpse the open, welcoming doors of Puteoli in every village street, and find brethren at every casual turning. And, since I was with him, we came often upon Puteoli, and often the brethren spoke to us. And here they speak to you in accents a bit blurred and enfeebled, but in words and spirit unchanged.

Said young Mr. Fisher, of the American Express Company in London, — my choicest English story, this! — ‘If I may say it without seeming rude, you Americans certainly do have a strange fashion of pronouncing names. You say War’wick for Warrick; Leé-mington for Lem′ington; Clov′elly for Clovel′ly; Bloomsberry for Bloomsb’ry.’

‘Just as,’ I countered, without attempting denial, ‘Englishmen, the besteducated of them, say Mitchigan.’

‘Oil yes,’ he replied complacently, ‘it is called Mitchigan in England!’

Weeks later, at Bowness, we listened with much interest to the astonishingly good sermon of a lay preacher. Toward the close he quoted, most feelingly and forcefully, from ‘the American poet Lowell,’ rhyming him with ‘ towel’; and afterward, as we talked with him, he spoke the name again. Very casually my husband said, ‘In his own country, of course, his name is pronounced Ld’ell.’

‘Ah yes,’ said Mr. Atkins; ‘no doubt, no doubt. But over here it is pronounced Low’ell.’

We listen to our London waiter; he balances the brass tray, with its disheveled tea things, on the brass footrail of the bed, and is brotherly:—

‘Yes, madame, I’ve been all through the war — in France, I was, an’ in Belgium. I was gassed, I was, an’ wounded, too. But I never would do it again, an’ I’m sayin’ wot I mean. They could put a bullet through me ’eart, but I’d still be a conscientious objector. The ex-service man, ’e’s readin’ things ’e did n’t read w’en everything was lovely, before the war, an’ ’e’s thinkin’, too. ’E says to ’imself, “I’ll be ’avin’ a bit of a look round, to see wot I got by it all”; an’ ’e ’as ’is bit of a look round, an’ ’e sees it got ’im just nothin’ at all, only ’is foot in a sling, and bein’ called a Bolshev’ik.

‘No, sir, ’e won’t go again, ’e won’t. They talk about the Germans, but we know Germans — we got acqu’inted with the prisoners back of the lines, an’ they often give us a ’and w’en we ’ad work to do. An’ they’re just the sime as us, are the Germans — just the sime.

They did n’t know w’y they were there — they went because they were made to, sime as us.

‘They say the London tramways don’t pay, sir — the London tramways, w’en the Atlantic Ocean would be small to ’old the money they tike in! But there’s Lord Buncombe, ’e ’as ’is millions of pounds; an’ there’s ’is assistant, ’oo’s ’is wife’s sister, she ’as ’er million. An’ there’s ’is grandmother, she ’as ’er thousands — they drop down a bit w’en it comes to grandmothers, but still, she gets a-plenty. An’ the motorman, ’e gets ’is fifty bob a week, an’ lucky if ’e gets a free ride ’ome to Stepney!

‘You ought to read the D’ily ’Erald, sir, an’ see wot Jones, the Labor member, says in Parliament. It’s very, very comycal, sir, the sime as a pl’y. The ’ome secret’ry makes a speech, an’ Jones jumps up an’ says, “You’ve ’eard your ’ome secret’ry,” ’e says, “an’ ’e’s the biggest ’ypocrite of any ’ome secret’ry you’ve ever listened to,” ’e says. “’E reminds me,” e says, “of a boy that won a prize at a garden show by pinchin’ the wreath off ’is dead comrade’s grave. Your ’ome secret’ry,” ’e says, “would pinch a worm off a blind duck,” ’e says.’

In Penzance, on a Saturday evening, we stepped into a tiny fruit store up a narrow street, to buy our breakfast oranges.

‘And you’ll be foreigners,’ said the black-eyed woman in charge. ‘You’ll want to be goin’ to the Wesleyan chapel to-morrow’s the mornin’, an’ seein’ a touch of life. The mayor and the corporation will be there, and we’ll be ’avin’ a bit of a band to blow ’im into the chapel.

‘Mr. Shimmin’s a good preacher, accordin’ to most, but there’s one big advantage in goin’ to the Church of England. If the sermon’s poor, you ’ave n’t to suffer above ten minutes, but if you go to the chapel the minister’s like to go on and on till you’re fair wore out.

‘ My father,’ she went on, ‘ was a very religious man — very religious; but into a church ’e would not go. “Father,” I’ve often remarked to ’im on a Sunday mornin’, “you’d best go to chapel with us to-day. It’ll do you good.” “Na, na,” said Father, shakin’ ’is ’ead stubbornly. “When I’m in the chapel the parson’s gabble is always interferin’ with my devotions.”’

In the station at Bath, a brotherly railway inspector told us enthusiastically of his ‘’olidays.’

‘From what part of England do you come?’ I asked, recognizing a not-tillthen-encountered accent.

‘Ah’m a Lincolnshire mon,’ he replied proudly, ‘an’ Ah pronounce mah words Lincolnshire way. Mah daughters ’ave it out of me because Ah do pronounce ’em Lincolnshire way. “You say book, Father, w’en it ought to be book,” they say to me. But I says to them, “It’s b-o-o-k, an’ if b-o-o-k don’t spell book, wot do it. spell?” You can’t make nothin’ else out of it — at least not Lincolnshire way.’

Windermere, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, with yellow roses in bloom over the doorways of the dark stone houses.

As we walked down the station platform, my husband said to the young man who was wheeling our luggage beside us on a barrow, ‘Can you tell us of any private home, on the edge of town, where we can have a quiet week-end? We’re tired of hotels and of hotel food.’

He hesitated, then handed us a dirty little card, with ‘Mrs. Burton, Alexandra Road,’ printed on it. ‘You might try this place. The card got dirty from my ’ands, for it’s a clean place, I know. An’ they say she’s a good cook.’

We found it much to our liking.

‘We’ve no gas nor electricity,’ said the rosy-cheeked little Yorkshire woman who was Mrs. Burton, ‘but I’ll be poolin’ a student lamp in your room that gives plenty light. An’ I can promise yeh fower good meals a day, with plenty of hooter ’n’ eggs; an’ I’ve a coorrant pasty ready the minute.’

‘It was the young luggage man at the station,’ said my husband, when we were comfortably settled, ‘who told us of your house.’

‘It’ll be me ’oosband,’ said Mrs. Burton — and it was ‘’er ’oosband’!

Mrs. Burton had ideas on the subject of ‘keepin’ visitors.’ ‘I’ve a bit of a willin’ mind,’ she explained, ‘and I don’t like to pinch visitors. If yeh give folk joost enough, it’s all right for the time, but they’ll not be coomin’ back, an’ it’s visitors as cooms back as counts. There’s those in this town that keeps visitors, an’ one of them’s me own coozin, an’ if yeh pools out boots to be cleaned she poots a penny extra on the bill. But I ain’t one that believes in extras. Seven an’ six a day is my charge, with plenty of booter an’ eggs, an’ no extras.’

Early one September morning we were slipping down the Bay of Naples, from Sorrento to Naples. I had drawn a camp chair to the railing, and was looking back at what I am sure must be one of the loveliest sights in the world — Capri, mist-hung, rising sheer from the shadowed water. Behind me, on the deck bench, sat a very obviously Italian couple. Italians of the lower class they evidently were, decently but none too tidily dressed.

Suddenly, to my surprise, the man leaned forward and spoke to me.

‘You lika dees?’ —with a sweep of his hand toward Capri.

‘It’s beautiful — beautiful!’ I replied lamely.

‘Ah, but iss no lak my home town!’ he cried, pride and scorn mingled in his tone.

‘What is your home town?’ I marveled.

‘New York!’ he exclaimed, explosive in his emphasis.

And then, dropping his voice confidentially, ‘I wass Italian once, but now, thank God, I am American. Thirty years I live in United States, and iss great country. In twenty years I am not in Italy; now I bring my boys to see what kind of country iss Italy.

‘They no Iika — iss notting doing. I no Iika — too much “high hat.” In village, one man getta da automobile — everybody must tippa da hat to da man with da automobile. He iss big man. I tella da people, in my country strit-sweeper hava automobile all hiss own. They no believa — they thinka I bloff. I tella how much money iss in my country — no believa. In Italy people no believa in money because they no see-a da money — in Italy everybody iss poor. If people had money, would not be even a dog left in Italy — everybody would come to my country.

‘When I wass young and come out of army, I wanta da work — da hard work. Italy no gava me da bread. Now I am for country that gava me not just bread, but butter on my bread. Thank God I am American now, and I vota for AI Smith!’

He was not a typical Italian, but he was a typical citizen of Puteoli. I shall never see him again, nor any of the others whose words I have here set down, nor any of the scores whose words I have forgotten; but they have, all together, made Puteoli more real to me than Chicago, or than Oregon, Illinois.