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A Friend Of Gioberts: Being A Reminiscence Of Seventeen Years Ago
by [?]

Here I am at the “Feder” in Turin–as dirty a hotel, be it said passingly, as you’ll find out of Ireland, and seventeen long years it is since I saw it first. Italy has changed a good deal in the meanwhile–changed rulers, landmarks, systems, and ideas; not so my old acquaintance, the Feder! There’s the dirty waiter flourishing his dirtier napkin; and there’s the long low-ceilinged table-d’hote room, stuffy and smoky, and suffocating as ever; and there are the little grinning coteries of threes and fours round small tables soaking their rolls in chocolate, and puffing their “Cavours,” with faces as innocent of soap as they were before the war of the liberation. After all, perhaps, I’d have no objection if some friend would cry out, “Why, Con, my boy, you don’t look a day older than when I saw you here in ’46, I think! I protest you have not changed in the least. What elixir vitae have you swallowed, old fellow? Not a wrinkle, nor a grey hair,” and so on. And yet seventeen years taken out of the working part of a man’s life–that period that corresponds with the interval between after breakfast, we’ll say, and an hour before dinner–makes a great gap in existence; for I did very little as a boy, being not an early riser, perhaps, and now, in the evening of my days, I have got a theory that a man ought to dine early and never work after it. Though I’m half ashamed, on so short an acquaintance with my reader, to mention a personal incident, I can scarcely avoid–indeed I cannot avoid–relating a circumstance connected with my first visit to the “Hotel Feder.”

I was newly married when I came abroad for a short wedding-tour. The world at that time required new-married people to lay in a small stock of Continental notions, to assist their connubiality and enable them to wear the yoke with the graceful ease of foreigners; and so Mrs O’D. and I started with one heart, one passport, and–what’s not so pleasant–one hundred pounds, to comply with this ordinance. Of course, once over the border–once in France–it was enough. So we took up our abode in a very unpretending little hotel of Boulogne-sur-Mer called “La Cour de Madrid,” where we boarded for the moderate sum of eleven francs fifty centimes per diem–the odd fifty being saved by my wife not taking the post-prandial cup of coffee and rum.

There was not much to see at Boulogne, and we soon saw it. For a week or so Mrs O’D. used to go out muffled like one of the Sultan’s five hundred wives, protesting that she’d surely be recognised; but she grew out of the delusion at last, and discovered that our residence at the Cour de Madrid as effectually screened us from all remark or all inquiry as if we had taken up our abode in the Catacombs.

Now when one has got a large stock of any commodity on hand–I don’t care what it is–there’s nothing so provoking as not to find a market. Mrs O’D.’s investment was bashfulness. She was determined to be the most timid, startled, modest, and blushing creature that ever wore orange-flowers; and yet there was not a man, woman, or child in the whole town that cared to know whether the act for which she left England was a matrimony or a murder.

“Don’t you hate this place, Cornelius?”–she never called me Con in the honeymoon. “Isn’t it the dullest, dreariest hole you have ever been in?”

“Not with you.”

“Then don’t yawn when you say so. I abhor it. It’s dirty, it’s vulgar, it’s dear.”

“No, no. It ain’t dear, my love; don’t say, dear.”

“Billiards perhaps, and filthy cigars, and that greenish bitter–anisette, I think they call it–are cheap enough, perhaps; but these are all luxuries I can’t share in.”