Copyright
F. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) Smith.

The street of the two friends online

. (page 10 of 16)
Online LibraryF. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) SmithThe street of the two friends → online text (page 10 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


teen or fifty-nine); 'well, well, that's too bad.
As I say, there's good and bad luck, only you
never know which way it's coming.' That was
a little joke of his. He had four little jokes like
these," Vautrin explained, " and he'd forgive you
if you didn't laugh at any of 'em. ' Well, well,
little girl,' and she'd go white as chalk and
tremble so I've seen the croupier lift his quick
eye to the chef de partie in case she fainted.
They do not like a scene down there, you know.
"I remember when I was a boy,'" Stimson
would proceed quietly- 'the same thing hap-
pened to me,' and he'd slip five hundred or even
a thousand francs in her lap and she'd get to her
feet and leave never with Stimson she had
too much respect for him for that, but she was
more grateful to him than some women are to
the man who has just saved them from drown-
ing."



"GABY" 239

For some moments Vautrin lay smoking in
silence.

I had known Vautrin to eulogize before
generally apropos of some new-found model of
his or some "fairer-than-all-the-rest" he had met
by chance and had fallen under the hypnotic
spell of her fascination. His eulogies, however,
were confined to heroines, not heroes ; glorifying
for my especial benefit a seasoned old viveur
like Stimson was new to me.

"Good old thoroughbred!" I exclaimed,
breaking the silence, while Marie slipped an old
ducking coat of mine from her shoulders and
resumed her pose.

Vautrin slowly rose on his elbow and laid
aside his pipe. His continued silence made me
for the moment forget my drawing and look up
at him questionally.

"See here! This is strictly entre nous" he
blurted out as he caught my glance. "If
I've been extravagant in my praise of Stim-
son now see here, I know you you're
a mule when it is a question of persuad-
ing you to paint anything or anybody when



240 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

the subject does not precisely fit your sense of
the artistic."

"Me?"

"Yes, you. I'm not a portrait -painter or I
wouldn't be here talking like a parrot." Vau-
trin sat up and flung out his long hand with a
vibrant gesture. "You might be rich by this
time if you hadn't been as stubborn as a mule
about refusing to paint people who didn't ap-
peal to you. You're half the time painting some
aesthetic girl for nothing, simply because her dis-
position, or complexion, or the poetry in her
eyes, or the high lights in her hair captivates
your senses of the artistic. Now, don't go up in
the air."

"Never was calmer in my life," I returned.
" What's up ? Out with it ! But I warn you if it's
a case of some fat bourgeoisie's wife you've met
who insists on being portrayed in her wedding
dress with all the jewellery of twenty years of
married life festooned upon her, I balk."

" Wrong ! ' ' cried Vautrin. " What I want you
to do is to paint Stimson yes, Stimson just
little old Stimson; just as he is, and you won't



"GABY" 241

charge him a sou for it either. Hasn't he given
enough to others? Who's ever given him any-
thing? And he's got his head set on having him-
self painted."

"Of course I'll paint him," I declared.

"Oh! he was very discreet about it. That's
why I say it's entre nous"

"I'll do my level best," I promised. "Just
Stimson that's the idea. By George! I'll
make a salon picture of him!"

" No, you won't," replied Vautrin. " Stimson's
portrait is destined for a boudoir, not a salon."

"You don't mean to say little old man Stim-
son's in love? Who with, mon Dieu? And at
his age!"
N " You're not to mention it if I tell you?"

I raised a hand, grimy with charcoal, under
oath.

" Gaby," announced Vautrin.

"The devil you say? So Stimson's in love
with Gaby?"

"Madly; and when an old-timer like Stimson
falls in love it's serious.

"Poor Stimson!" I sighed.



242 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

"That's not our affair," said Vautrin. "Be-
sides, if Gaby pleases him and now, mon
vieux, as you're not such a mule as I've known
you to be, both of you come to luncheon. Eh,
la gosse," he called to Marie, "a dejeuner!"

"Hold on!" I cried. "The glasses, Marie,
and the bottle of port. Let's drink little old
Stimson's health."

"He'll be here next week," said Vautrin as
we stood in our overcoats beside our empty
glasses while Marie, who had sipped her port
slowly, now hurried into her things.

The second act of the winter's Revue at the
Folies Bergeres was in full swing as I passed the
following night through the small iron door lead-
ing to the stage.

"Mademoiselle de Villiers?" I inquired.

"Third dressing-room to the right, Monsieur,
on the second flight," confided the red-haired
callboy as he side-stepped out of the way of
three scene shifters carrying a papier-mache
throne, dodged past a girl acrobat in purple
tights wiping the rosin dust from her hands, and



"GABY" 243

sprang up the spiral iron stairway as I followed
him.

" Mesdames en scene!" he shouted along the
heated corridor leading to the dressing-rooms,
his sharp command echoing down the narrow
hallway whose vitiated air reeked of warm flesh,
grease-paint, and perfumery.

Here and there along the line he threw a door
open and shouted his command within. He
knew the lazy ones, and his responsibility was
great.

I sat watching Gaby while she patted the
swansdown puff over her firm white neck and
arms, watched her intently while she gave a final
touch of blue to the lids of her languorous sensual
eyes eyes that seemed to-night deep violet
and unfathomable as a cat's, their pupils di-
lated and brilliant with belladonna. Studied her
superb figure at my ease while I blocked in her
salient lines in my sketchbook, the tilted lev-
elled mirror reflecting her blue-black hair glit-
tering with jewels; studied the curve of her lips
half open in repose, and the pearly whiteness of
her exquisite teeth. In the silence of the stuffy



244 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

dressing-room hung with froufrous and tights,
with the jewelled headdresses and gay bodices
that the Revue required, I glanced up now and
then as I drew, at her maid, an earnest, black-
eyed girl whose active fingers were busy with
the top hook of her mistress' corsage; nothing
could have been in stronger contrast than this
honest peasant girl hooking up Folly.

This adorable devil who once had brought
Vautrm's wash, and had kept her fete day shoes
hid in his wood-box, was no longer the same
being. Even her skin was metamorphosed to
warm ivory. She must have now and then re-
called her youth as an accident, like a nightmare
or a bad dream. Her beauty alone linked with
a will, as irresistible as her lips, had reached for
her the gamut of luxury. Briefly, she was
physical perfection, well gowned, well fed, well
jewelled. Even old Parisians, seasoned con-
noisseurs of the demi-monde, stopped to admire
her as she passed in her smart victoria. What
more could she desire? A true friend, poor but
honest. She would have laughed at you.

"Tell Duclos I shall want a column with the



"GABY" 245

portrait," she remarked without turning her
head as I rose to take my leave.

" Bonsoir, Monsieur."

" Bonsoir, Madame," I returned as she bent
to rouge her lips.

"Friday if you wish," she added. "I shall
not be free to pose for you before. You know
my address 59 bis, Avenue du Bois."

"It is understood, Madame," I replied, clos-
ing the door behind me and descending the spiral
stairs, crowded now with a bevy of gray doves
in pink satin slippers, with Eve at my elbow,
and Adam, a fat, perspiring comedian, with his
wig in his hand, at my heels. I was conscious
of a strong odour of peppermint. Adam was
chewing a cough-drop, one of which he gener-
ously tempted Eve with as I regained the busy
stage. As I opened the small iron door leading
to the auditorium I drew back to make way for
a short, dapper figure whose gray hair was
shadowed by an opera hat.

"Ah, pardon, Monsieur," he exclaimed, lift-
ing the opera hat as we nearly collided.

"Pass, I pray you, Monsieur," I returned, and



246 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

as I closed the iron door I saw him half turn with
a puzzled look as if he vaguely remembered me,
but I doubt if he did. I swung the door ajar and
watched him nimbly ascending the spiral stairs.

It was little old Stimson.

Now do not for a moment imagine that Gaby
had received me to-night out of that camara-
derie that exists among artists. Gaby is not
given to receiving poor painters from the sheer
delight of their unremunerative company. A
full page in Paris en Scene was, however, well
worth opening her door to. As to her opening
her door to Stimson, that was quite another
story. She had received me to-night with a
certain imperious and cold disdain in keeping
with her sullen beauty, and had motioned me to
the plain kitchen chair beside her dressing-table
- the same chair that Stimson now occupied to
Gaby's entire satisfaction, and by far the most
expensive seat in the house, judging from the
three strings of perfect pearls I had indicated
in my sketch.

Had Stimson reached his dotage to have be-
come so hopelessly fascinated by this woman in



"GABY" 247

the depths of whose glorious eyes there lurked
danger, and whose smile was that of a woman
who knew well how to dominate her slaves? I
wondered on my way home that night.

Within ten days the pastel of Gaby was
finished; within a fortnight Stimson's portrait
was well along, and we had become good friends.

"Just put me anywhere," he had remarked
at the first sitting. ''This I call positively
ridiculous," he had added as I lifted a big cathe-
dral chair on to the model-stand. ''You know
I haven't even had a photograph taken in twenty
years," he laughed as he took his seat, "but you
see " Then he hesitated in his embarrass-
ment and grew a little red until I got him chat-
ting over the changes in Paris and the old life at
Monte Carlo; and his small eyes would twinkle.

It was not until the fourth sitting that he com-
plimented me on the pastel of Gaby and con-
fessed to me that his portrait was destined for
the same lady. After that there were no se-
crets between us only a most difficult state
of affairs apropos of my promise to Vautrin upon
the morning I finished the portrait and declared



248 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

to Stimson that not under any consideration
would I accept a sou for the canvas.

"What?" cried Stimson. "You mean to

say " he stammered. "Why, I won't have

it. I I should feel mortified beyond words.
Come, be reasonable. You know when I was a
boy my father taught me about well, a
fan* bargain. Now you just fill out this check,
and I'll feel happier."

"But you don't know what a delight it's been
to paint you," I insisted; "besides, it is I who am
indebted to you."

He looked up in surprise.

"Ah, you don't remember," I laughed, "but
you saved my life once all of eight years ago,
at Trouville." And I confessed to him the inci-
dent of the jeweller's window and his pet yacht.

For some moments he looked thoughtfully
at the floor, twirling his eyeglasses, which he
seldom wore.

"That was the little Gull," he said slowly.
"I've got the Narvalha now. She's being over-
hauled and will be ready to cruise in June."

He glanced up with a kindly smile. "Do me



"GABY" 249

another favour," said he. "You and Vautrin
come and spend a month or so aboard with me.
"We'll cruise where we please."

Two months had slipped by on board the
Narvalha, cruising along the Italian coast, and
both Vautrin and myself were convinced we
should never do any more work. The life
aboard the Narvalha was not conducive to pro-
ducing much else but an appetite, the coma of
idleness, and an utter disregard for the future.
It is amazing how quickly the habit of luxury
can be acquired. The old working life in Paris
now seemed to us like a vague memory of the
past, and we grew to wonder how we had sur-
vived its hardships along the byways of ne-
cessity. There were memories now of sparkling
sunshine and the cool shadow of the awning on
the af t-deck memories of jolly luncheons and
still gayer dinners in the cozy saloon of the
Narvalha, whose interior was as carefully made
as the inside of Gaby's jewel case. There were
moonlight nights when the big steam yacht lay
white and still as a sleeping gull on a silver sea,



250 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

and we watched the lights twinkling from shore
and listened to the distant music of some strange
port.

Gaby had grown as dark-skinned as a Sicil-
ienne, her coat of tan lending more glory to her
eyes eyes which were now given to Gonzalez
and beneath whose dark lashes it was easy
enough to read her fascination for this far too
good-looking young Spaniard we had picked up
at Naples. I may even say rescued, for from
certain indications both Vautrin and myself
were convinced it was high time for Gonzalez to
put to sea. How many hearts he had broken
on shore was difficult to say. They might, how-
ever, have been as numerous as his debts. In
Naples we met him by chance at a late supper
after the theatre. It seemed he was an old
friend of Gaby's, and his ecstasy at meeting
her again was intense. His gestures were rapid
and effusive, as are Spaniards'. From the moment
his black eyes gleamed in recognition and he
rose from his table, advanced to ours and, baring
his perfect teeth, smiled, bent, and lifted Gaby's
jewelled hand to his lips, accepted the chair be-



"GABY" 251

side her, won Stimson's good-humoured con-
fidence, and was withal so altogether amusing
until dawn, treating Gaby with such profound
respect beneath the gayety of his stories and the
clever varnish of his perfect manners, that his
invitation as a guest on board the Narvalha Vau-
trin and I saw was a foregone conclusion. More-
over, Gaby, with the imperiousness of her beauty,
insisted, and there was nothing for Stimson to
do but to invite him to cruise with us.

Since Gonzalez came on board, Gaby had
changed for the worse, and if I had been the owner
of the Narvalha, I would have locked up the
piano and the champagne. Even MacFarlane,
the skipper, who had spent years aboard pri-
vate yachts, began to grumble in his red beard.
MacFarlane was a man who had seen hard ser-
vice in many strange waters hi his life and had
run the gamut of the sea's cruelty. The raw
danger in the plain old ships he had sailed in be-
fore he became a crack skipper of private yachts
had been far easier to weather than the intri-
cate social difficulties he had experienced among
sailing millionaires. It is true, is it not, that



252 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

there is often more danger lurking around a din-
ner table of a yacht in port than aboard a strug-
gling craft with a shifted cargo fighting her way
under her last rag? Moreover, MacFarlane
was a man who dreaded the fog worse than a
hurricane. There was something significant in
this apropos of the veil of secrecy developing be-
tween Gonzalez and the lady of the ship. In
the grim inhospitality of the open sea there was
nothing a man like MacFarlane feared more
than conspiracy. He had a big liking for Stim-
son and would have sailed him half around the
world, I honestly believe, for nothing. He drew,
however, a large salary. No more able sailing
master existed. Nothing escaped him.

It was as MacFarlane feared at dinner
that the trouble began.

The details of the affair on board the Nar-
valha on the night of the 4th of August, 1909,
have been so erroneously cited by the press that
I intend to put down here, as simply as I can,
my personal impression.

It was Gonzalez's last night on board. In



"GABY" 253

the morning he would be on his way to Spain, and
yet, despite the last evening before his departure,
Gaby's good humour all through the dinner was
a relief. She was the Gaby of the Folies Ber-
geres to-night. Everything appeared to strike
her humorously. She laughed between pauses.
Women are experts at this.

Stimson sat in his accustomed chair at the
head of the table, chatting briskly with Vautrin
and myself. We had long ago reached the cof-
fee and cigarettes. Gonzalez was seated at the
piano on Stimson's left, while Gaby sat opposite
our host, her elbows on the table, her chin in
her jewelled hands, and her eyes wandering to
Gonzalez as he played and sang to her snatches
of the love songs of his country.

I left them thus at ten minutes to midnight and
went on deck for a whiff of air. I remember the
hour ten minutes to twelve distinctly, for
as I left the saloon I glanced at the clock between
the two doors, one leading to Stimson's cabin,
the other the door that led into the companion-
way to the deck stairs. Gonzalez was still play-
mg when I reached the deck. Suddenly the



254 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

piano and the tenor voice ceased as abruptly as
if they had been stifled. Possibly two minutes
elapsed while I stood leaning over the rail in
the moonlight watching the lights from shore.
Then I was conscious of a leaping step back of
me, and Vautrin sprang across the deck and
gripped my arm.

"Quick," he gasped. "There's hell to pay
down there ! " And before I could question him,
he drove me by the back of the neck, forcing
me down the narrow flight leading to the sa-
loon. The first voice I heard was Gaby's.
" You lie ! " she screamed. " You lie ! "
Then MacFarlane sprang down the stairs past
us, his broad shoulders blocking the way. At
that instant over his left shoulder I saw a blind-
ing flash; simultaneously the sharp report of a
revolver set my ears ringing and my heart in my
throat. I was the second to reach the saloon
after MacFarlane, who was bending over Stim-
son. I saw him tear the collar of his dress
shirt open; then I turned my head. Gaby stood
against the table like a woman turned to stone.
She stood there with dilated eyes staring at us.



"GABY" 255

Gonzalez crouched beside the piano. Then I
saw Stimson's revolver drop from Gaby's hand
to the floor. Stimson groaned as MacFarlane
raised his head.

"Where?" asked Vautrin hoarsely. Mac-
Farlane raised a red-wet hand from Stimson's
side. "Through the ribs, damn her," muttered
the skipper.

Gaby stood still as if petrified. Gonzalez
made a cringing, terrified attempt to speak.
By this time the first mate and four seamen had
leaped down the stairs and into the saloon.
The mate stood over Gonzalez. One seaman
picked up the revolver, the three others sur-
rounded the statue by the table; then I saw her
slip slowly fainting to the floor.

All this had happened with astonishing rapidity.

MacFarlane now lifted the unconscious Stim-
son in his arms and passed with him into his cabin.

"Dead?" I ventured as MacFarlane laid him
on the bed.

The skipper shook his head, and, calling to the
mate, bid me leave.

Vautrin had lifted Gaby to a chair. She had



256 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

come to her senses and was now screaming in
hysteria.

"Ah! mon Dieu! Ah! mon Dieu!" Gon-
zalez kept repeating, beating his hands to his
temples. The mate returned, forced him to his
feet, drove him into Vautrin's cabin and, closing
the door, locked it from the outside.

I crossed to Stimson's door and looked in at
the ashen face on the bed. For an instant he
opened his eyes.

"Don't try to speak, Mr. Stimson," said Mac-
Farlane as he parted his lips with his thumb and
poured a cup of brandy down the wounded
man's throat.

It was not until nearly noon that the Italian
authorities came on board. An investigation
was unavoidable, and what they found lay in a
crumpled wad behind the small upright piano.
In the crumpled wad was a half -burned cigarette.
The wad consisted of ten thousand lira in bank-
notes belonging to Stimson. The cigarette had
burned through three of the banknotes. The
cigarette was Gonzalez's.

It was not until nearly five o'clock that Stim-



"GABY" 257

son again regained consciousness and the Italian
physician gave us some encouragement.

The whole dastardly affair had been planned
by Gaby, who had stolen the money from where
it lay in the drawer of the desk in Stimson's
cabin. She had passed it to the Spaniard while
he sang. Stimson's quick eyes had discovered
her and denounced her. In the scene which
followed she got his revolver, lost her head, and
in her sudden rage had shot him. All this she
confessed at the trial.

It was months before Stimson recovered, yet
not once did a word again escape his lips con-
demning the woman.

All these tragic events happened nearly
three years ago. Last winter I passed through
a cafe in Montmartre looking for Vautrin a
cafe where we met often for an aperitif. As I
glanced over the tables a woman in the shadow
of a corner raised her eyes to mine over a small
beer eyes that stared at me as if she had seen
a spectre then were lowered and hidden under
the brim of a hat flaunting a faded plume.



258 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

It was Gaby! And neither of us uttered a
word as I passed out into the fresh air. Then I
hesitated and turned back over the threshold,
greasy with the slime of the street, to say a
humane word to Folly. And she told me before
Vautrin entered, in the voice of a ghost, that
Gonzalez was still in jail, beginning an old sen-
tence for forgery, and that she had been released
the month before. But I did not mention
Stimson, hungry as I knew she was for news, for
I knew him to be at rest in a peaceful villa at
Cannes, where he occupies himself a little with
golf and largely with early bedtime hours.

As Vautrin and I often say, the honesty of so
good and faithful a little soul as Marie can never
be too much appreciated.

Just such tragedies as the above add the shadow to the
sunshine of Paris life; and it is also true that one as over-
generous as Stimson is generally the victim. F. B. S.




CHAPTER EIGHT
UNDINE



It is not very gay the life at times. To leave these good
friends of mine in Montmartre and to be ordered across the
high seas. But that unfortunately is what has happened.
Ah, yes! I know well enough that dreadful Gare du Nord
and the waiting train and Marie is always so brave at the
train, which makes it att the harder. F. B. S.




CHAPTER EIGHT

UNDINE

T DEMAND a thousand pardons, Monsieur,
but you will be very amiable to give me a
little fire."

"With pleasure, Monsieur," he returned, in a
hollow, trembling voice as he offered me the
glowing end of his cigarette.

"Thank you, Monsieur infinitely," said I
as we simultaneously lifted our hats.

"It has been a pleasure, Monsieur," he added
hoarsely as I glanced up again at this soldierly,
erect old Frenchman whom I had halted among

Ml



262 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

the crowd of Americans thronging the quay of
the Gare du Nord before the steamer special,
waiting to run to Boulogne.

During my rapid glance as we parted, his whole
personality struck me forcibly. Never had I
seen so dignified and yet so tragic a countenance.
During that brief instant there crept to the
wrinkled corners of his cavernous blue eyes the
vestige of a forced smile; then the smile died,
and there remained only the mask of his mel-
ancholy features; the high, broad forehead
framed by his silver-gray hair; the prominent
cheekbones, and the homely mouth and chin,
shielded by a moustache of iron-gray, beneath
which his jaw closed firmly.

I turned for a second glance as I strode past
him; and, to my surprise, I saw the cavernous
blue eyes were swimming in tears. Yet he
walked erect, his hands thrust behind him -
alone. Never, I repeat, had I seen a sadder-
looking man than this singularly dignified old
Frenchman, who spoke to no one, and carried
himself erect in his grief. Surely, I thought to
myself, he must have a wife, friends, children, or



UNDINE 263

even a sweetheart, despite his evident sixty odd
years, to wish him "bon voyage" upon so im-
portant a journey as from Paris to New York.
And yet, as now and then my eyes followed him,
although the black minute hand of the station
clock had crawled close to the hour to leave, he
continued to pace the quay alone. A stranger
among strangers, whose civilization it was safe
to say he knew nothing of, and whose language
it was as equally certain to venture he could not
speak.

"All aboard!" shouted the railway guard.
The short, pigeonlike young woman and her
fat mate were still blocking the narrow corridor
as I squeezed my way past to my seat, and she
kissed him again and again, and pleaded tear-
fully:

" Abey, take a safe ship back, unt come soon."
"Sure!" said he, pushing his wine-coloured,
satin-lined derby free from the beads of per-


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryF. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) SmithThe street of the two friends → online text (page 10 of 16)