On the Tack of Ulysses

`We are going to follow the track of Ulysses,' said Katy, with her eyes fixed on the little travelling map in her guide book. `Do you realize that, Polly dear? He and his companions sailed these very seas before us, and we shall see the sights they saw - Circe's Cape and the Isles of the Sirens, and Polyphemus himself, perhaps - who knows?'

The Marco Polo had just cast off her moorings, and was slowly steaming out of the crowded port of Genoa into the heart of a still rosy sunset. The water was perfectly smooth; no motion could be felt but the engine's throb. The trembling foam of the long wake showed glancing points of phosphorescence here and there, while low or the eastern sky a great silver planet burned like a signal lamp.

`Polyphemus was a horrible giant. I read about him once, and I don't want to see him,' observed Amy, from her safe protected perch in her mother's lap.

`He may not be so bad now as he was in those old times. Some missionary may have come across him and converted him. If he were good, you wouldn't mind his being big, would you?' suggested Katy.

`N-o,' replied Amy doubtfully, `but it would take a great lot of missionaries to make him good, I should think. One all alone would be afraid to speak to him. We shan't really see him, shall we?'

`I don't believe we shall, and if we stuff cotton in our ears, and look the other way, we need not hear the sirens sing,' said Katy, who was in the highest spirits. `And oh, Polly dear, there is one delightful thing I forgot to tell you about! The captain says he will stay in Leghorn all day tomorrow taking on freight, and we shall have plenty of time to run up to Pisa and see the cathedral and the Leaning Tower and everything else. Now, that is something Ulysses didn't do! I am so glad I didn't die of measles when I was little, as Rose Red used to say!' She gave her book a toss into the air as she spoke, and caught it again as it fell, very much as the Katy Carr of twelve years ago might have done.

`What a child you are!' said Mrs Ashe approvingly, you never seem out of sorts or tired of things.'

`Out of sorts! I should think not! And pray why should I be, Polly dear?'

Katy had taken to calling her friend `Polly dear' of late - a trick picked up half unconsciously from Lieutenant Ned. Mrs Ashe liked it; it was sisterly and intimate, she said, and made her feel nearer Katy's age.

`Does the tower really lean?' questioned Amy - `far over, I mean, so that we can see it?'

`We shall know tomorrow,' replied Katy. `If it doesn't, I shall lose all my confidence in human nature.'

Katy's confidence in human nature was not doomed to be impaired. There stood the famous tower, when they reached the Place dei Duomo in Pisa, next morning, looking all aslant, exactly as it does in the pictures and the alabaster models, and seeming as if in another moment it must topple over, from its own weight, upon their heads. Mrs Ashe declared that it was so unnatural that it made her flesh creep, and when she was coaxed up the winding staircase to the top, she turned so giddy that they were all thankful to get her safely down to firm ground again. She turned her back upon the tower, as they crossed the grassy space to the majestic old Cathedral, saying that if she thought about it any more, she should become a disbeliever in the attraction of gravitation, which she had always been told all respectable people must believe in.

The guide showed them the lamp, swinging by a long, slender chain, before which Galileo is said to have sat and pondered while he worked out his theory of the pendulum. This lamp seemed a sort of own cousin to the attraction of gravitation, and they gazed upon it with respect. Then they went to the Baptistery to see Niccolo Pisano's magnificent pulpit of creamy marble, a mass of sculpture supported on the backs of lions, and the equally lovely font, and to admire the extraordinary sound which their guide evoked from a mysterious echo, with which he seemed to be on intimate terms, for he made it say whatever he would, and almost `answer back'.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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