Copyright
F. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) Smith.

The street of the two friends online

. (page 11 of 16)
Online LibraryF. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) SmithThe street of the two friends → online text (page 11 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


spiration. "Sure, Lena, de best is none too
goot. Dot's right. Eh, Ike?"

And Ike, standing by, agreed, and added:
"Veil, Abey, I guess dis is goot-bye for sure.



264 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

Say, if you was to see Klotz, tell him ve von't
touch dem fancy Lyons silks until he caples.
Unt, Abey, listen. Tell him, also, dot dem
babies' dress goods dot Lieber vired for is a bum
lot."

"All aboard!" insisted the red-faced guard,
slamming and locking the compartment doors.

The pigeon was in tears, being the last to es-
cape, while the young American girl, leaning out
of the corridor window, and whose auburn hair
was as neat as her trim blue tailor-made, told
the lingering young man who had brought the
long-stemmed roses, and whose repartee oscil-
lated between, "Ha! Ha! Really!" and "I
think it was awfully clever in you," "that the
Cathedral of Cologne has the Parthenon stung
to death."

Possibly she had a sneaking idea when she
said it that she would some day be married to
the young man in the historic edifice with the
hornetlike quality. She was young, and im-
aginative, and besides, "Popper," she told the
lingering one, "gives me everything I ask for."

Again, as I squeezed my way through this



UNDINE 265

transatlantic menagerie, my mind reverted
to my dignified old Frenchman. I began
to wonder what he thought of it all. He,
whose melancholy presence had impressed
me most, and whom I frankly felt sorry for,
although we had so far only exchanged the
common courtesy of fire to an unlighted
cigarette.

A fluttering of handkerchiefs, the bleat of a
horn, a hiss of steam, and we slipped out of the
big station, past the waving crowd of friends,
past a bunch of crushed violets in a pool of train
grease, and out into the warm sunshine of La
Belle France.

Was my old Frenchman safe and aboard? I
wondered.

Presently I discovered him in the car ahead
in the middle seat of a crowded compartment,
sitting with his arms folded beneath his old-
fashioned valise with an embroidered cover; and
he sat there, staring straight ahead of him out
of those sad, hollow eyes of his; Le Petit Pari-
sien, which he had been reading, refolded care-
fully on his knees.



266 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

Again it was evident to me he could not under-
stand a word of English.

Boulogne is always busy unloading fish and
getting more; the steam trawlers bring them in
by tons. Below the clambering, picturesque
old town in the great basin of the port, flanked
by its giant quays, were massed to-day the fleet
of fishing boats in from the night's catch -
sails of Van Dyck brown, rich as bitumen; sails
of salmon and of pale emerald green.

There is nothing that lies afloat or ashore in
Boulogne that is not made for hard service;
spars reenforced with iron, tough brown nets,
giant anchor chains, and heavy hawsers. The
big-booted fishermen are of the grizzled pirate
type, and the women are pretty a race apart.
Over the coal-dusted and greasy cobbles click-
clack their neat sabots. They have trim feet
and slim ankles, these active Boulognese.

To-day the quay was alive. Sturdy-chested
Norman horses strained in their traces, hauling
drays loaded with crates for Rio, trunks for New
York, and cases of salt herring. On the quay's



UNDINE 267

edge of granite lay, spilled in their slime, piles
of sharks, the cheapest cast-off of the catch.
The heavy-booted fishermen lurched by, glad
to be home, touching elbows with every type,
from the outcast of the port to the immaculate,
brass-buttoned cockney steward off the Chan-
nel boat; while the donkey engines growled and
the teamsters swore.

Through this moving mass along the quay,
the Americans were now picking their way to
the fat tug lying in wait ready to run out to the
liner. Beyond the tug's bow lay a veil of
pearly mist, a gauze hiding the open sea. The
air was soft and caressing, and as still in the
misty sunlight as the oily-green water beneath.

I looked about me over the tug's deck, and
there sat my old Frenchman well aft and alone.
He was leaving France, the land he loved, and
I saw him run his eyes over the quaint roofs of
the rambling old town towering above him, as
if he longed to catch one more glimpse of the
fair green land beyond.

The babble of the train was now a thing of the
past. Few spoke on the waiting tug, and most



268 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

of the women had taken to the cabin, smelling of
lukewarm tea and bilge. Up on the bridge,
the French captain, a short, thick-set little
man, with the eye of an eagle, paced back
and forth, listening for the liner's signal, his fat,
sun-tanned hands thrust deep in the pockets of
his pea-jacket.

Half an hour passed in silence. I turned to
the agent of the line, an old friend of mine.

"She's late, Bob," I ventured.

He nodded. "Head winds from Rotterdam,
no doubt," he declared. "Hark!"

"Voo! Omm! Oomm!" boomed faintly from
beyond the veil.

"There she is," said we.

The captain spat out the butt of his cigarette,
and bellowed to his mate below:

"Eh, ben!" he roared. " Sacre nom (Tun
chienl Depeches-toi la-bas!"

Like a flash, the tug became animated. For-
ward and aft hawsers were cast loose. The bell
in the engine room clanked sharp and insistent
to the accompaniment of the "Sacre bon Dieus"
and the "Voyons!" and "Sapristis!" from the



UNDINE 269

bridge; and we headed through the mist for the
waiting liner.

I turned to catch sight of my old Frenchman.
He was standing erect, with his back to me, his
handkerchief to his eyes.

Through the sea-dimmed porthole struggled the
gray light of morning, now that half a day and a
night lay between us and Boulogne; and without
rushed the sweeping, mountainous water, the surg-
ing tops of whose grim craters the head wind de-
capitated, hurling the salt spray viciously on high,
while she plunged and lifted this good Dutch ship,
taking the onslaught, rising in her giant strength
with the tons of water that smashed over her
bow, smothering her lower deck, scurrying, swish-
ing, bubbling, chuckling down her scuppers.

It was a morning when her woodwork whined
and creaked as she rolled and rose cheerful
old morning in a dog's sea when the smoking-
room lights were lit for early habitues; merry old
morning when your bathtub emptied itself over
your shoulders, and your sizzling sausage, and
crisp, grilled ham, and sputtering eggs have a



270 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

tendency to slide, and are stopped by the table
rack, which hurts your wrist bones.

"Bad vedder!" laughed Fritz, who had kept
my griddle cakes hot. It was a morning when,
as late as ten, not a fountain pen was in use in
the stale "Social Hall," and the lounges held
huddled forms under home-knitted shawls, and
the empty glass of lemonade, rolling beneath the
unidentified dead, played hide and seek with the
empty cup of bullion until both were sent off to
the pantry by the deck steward.

I began to wonder how my old Frenchman was
weathering it.

The next morning broke in crisp, sparkling
sunshine. The sea ran high under a blue sky,
and, with the brilliant sunlight and a steadily
rising barometer, the ship became cheerful. My
old Frenchman was not long in getting on deck.
He passed me as I stood lighting my pipe; and
again, as he made the turn of the long, clean
deck, he paced rapidly by me, his hands clasped
behind him, staring ahead of him with that same
stolid erectness I had noticed at the Gare du
Nord. A desire seized me to speak to him, and



UNDINE 271

yet I hesitated. I felt he wished to be left alone.
I watched him discreetly; and not once did I see
his gaze meet the eyes of a passenger; and more
than once I thought I detected him turn his head
away from the women he passed. Just a slight
turn of the head, scarcely noticeable ; but it was so
evident, nevertheless, that I became interested.

For the third time he had made the round of the
deck, and was drawing abreast of me. He had
passed me by a few yards, when I saw him stop,
turn, seem, for a moment, to hesitate, and then,
as if he had made a sudden decision, he strode
toward me, and lifted his cap. My hand went to
my own. I saw he was struggling to speak.

"Forgive me, Monsieur," he began. Again
his voice trembled, though I saw he was bravely
trying to control it.

"Bonjour, Monsieur,'* I replied, in greeting.

He made an effort to smile, but the smile died,
and he continued in a low, gentle voice:

"You you will, I pray, forgive me, Mon-
sieur, but" he put his hand wearily to his fore-
head " I am, Monsieur, as you must see, a miser-
able and most unhappy man. It is because of this,"



272 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

he resumed slowly, in a broken voice, "that I have
taken the great liberty to speak to you."

The hollow eyes now swam with tears which
he was unable to control.

'You speak French, Monsieur?" he resumed
faintly. "It is good to hear it. I who am alone
among strangers, whose language I cannot under-
stand."

"Ah, my poor Monsieur!" I exclaimed when
he had finished. "There is no one who can bet-
ter understand than myself. Come, let us take
a turn together. You shall see. It will do you
good. The good promenade, as you say in
France, rinses the eyes, changes the ideas."

He fumbled for his card.

"Permit me," he said, as he offered it to me
while I searched for my own, and read:



JEAN PAUL PAVIGNON



As we turned through the windy passage to star-
board, he halted abruptly, and gripped my arm.



UNDINE 273

"I I cannot go there," he faltered.

I looked at him in surprise.

"But there's less wind," I explained.

"I know," he replied. "It is, however, where
the ladies go. If if you do not mind, Mon-
sieur "

" Certainly, Monsieur, since you do not wish it."

"I cannot pass them," he interposed, in a
voice that was half audible. "I I am in-
capable of passing a woman now without weep-
ing. My wife is dead."

"My poor Monsieur!" I exclaimed.

There was no mistaking now either the reason
or the genuineness of his grief. He shook vis-
ibly as he gripped a stanchion, steadying him-
self.

" You see what a pitiful state I am in,"
he resumed, after a struggling pause. "I am
incapable of controlling my emotions. Since
my wife died, seven years ago, I have not known
a single happy hour. I am alone. Do you
know what it means to be alone, Monsieur? It
is like a living death."

He gazed at me out of his streaming eyes, his



274 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

hand still gripping the stanchion. He paused
again to steady his voice.

"And now I must go to your country to the
New Orleans," he resumed. "I have inherited
a little property there. Oh, a very modest one.
I am, as you see, poor, but there have been legal
complications, and there was no other way but
to go myself."

He said this thoughtfully, awed by the mag-
nitude of the journey he had undertaken, alone
as he was.

From that moment a desire seized me to cure
this unfortunate man of his grief. The task was
not an easy one. To rescue him from the depths of
neurasthenia to which he had fallen I knew would
occupy most of my waking hours on board.

One does not endeavour to cheer up those who
are in the depths of despair by taking them to a
problem play. One turns to vaudeville, and I
knew where my real vaudeville existed in the
smoking room, as usual. I may say, I have
rarely sailed without discovering within this
sanctum of nicotine, cards, and more drinks, an
excellent troup, ready to amuse you from 11



UNDINE 275

A. M. until midnight. True, ladies were ad-
mitted; but I was even willing to run the risk,
knowing, as I did, Monsieur Pavignon's tragic
antipathy to their presence.

"Allans! Allans!" I coaxed, gripping him by
the arm. "Come, let us go to the smoking
room. A little vermouth will do neither of us
any harm. We shall have a good chat, quite as
if we had met on the boulevard," I added, as he
hesitated, until by sheer insistence I led him,
still protesting, toward the smoking-room door.

"Not a word of the past," I said to him as I
jerked open the heavy door by its brass ring.
"Not a word of the past! You promise me?"

He nodded sadly in acquiescence, and the
mask smiled faintly.

"After you," I said, though he graciously drew
back while I held the door open until he had
crossed its brass threshold.

We found a table in a snug corner next to the
bar, where the sandwiches were freshest, and
the vermouth warmed him; or was it the feeling
of sudden companionship that, little by little, as
we talked, brought a new light into his hollow



276 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

blue eyes, and loosened the seams in the tragic
mask until there crept the warm blood into his
cheeks; and at last a timid smile, as if at first it
had feared to assert itself.

It seems that both this good Monsieur Pavig-
non and myself had once hunted, at different
periods of our lives, hares in the fields back of
Valmondois. It even seems we had eaten the
good soup of Madame Pinet at the same inn.
And we were reminiscing over Valmondois, its
small, dull village, and its surrounding pastures
and woodlands, when a big voice thundered over
my shoulder:

"I take it you're 'n American."

I looked up as the owner of the voice leaned
unceremoniously across our table for the matches,
struck one, straightened up and lighted the end
of a long Havana.

He was a giant in build, nearly bald, heavy,
and vigorous; clean-shaven, with a genial smile
that creased the wrinkles deep under his double
chin. Monsieur Pavignon looked up, too, with
an expression of silent amazement at the sans-
gene of the intruder.



UNDINE 277

"My friend, Monsieur Pavignon," I said, wav-
ing a more formal introduction.

Monsieur Pavignon rose instantly to his feet
and bowed gravely.

"Jenkin's my name. Pleased to know yer."

His hand closed over Pavignon's in a hearty
shake.

"Yes," I replied. "I am an American."

He drew up a camp stool, planting his great
fists on the table, and his big feet beneath.

" What'll yer have, boys? " he inquired briskly,
while we politely protested. We were still lei-
surely sipping our vermouth. "Wa'n't that a
peach of a night?" he chuckled. "Goin' some,
eh? Well, say about one o'clock wow!
How'd yer stand it? My wife says to me," he
added, turning to Pavignon.

*I regret Monsieur Pavignon does not speak
English," I interposed, to relieve Pavignon's
embarrassment.

"Tell him if he could hear my French, he'd
git a club." Jenkins laughed. " Been over long? "

"I live in France," I replied.

"The hell you say!" And he whipped out a



278 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

card from the waistcoat pocket opposite the
cigars.



JAMES E. JENKINS



PRESIDENT OF THE LITTLE
FORKS FURNITURE CO.



"If you ever git out to Little Forks give us a
call," said he. " Well, sir, speaking of France, me.
and my partner was to Versailles a couple of days
ago, and I wanter tell yer" here his big fist
struck the table with conviction "we seen right
there in that there palace, chairs just as well glued
and pegged as we kin turn out in Little Forks to-
day. And them they told us was more'n two
hundred years old. Wa'n't that right, Sam?"
he shouted back of him to his partner, who was
finishing one of the long cigars and a friendly
deal in the opposite corner, and who strikingly
resembled Jenkins, save that he was less bald.

"Sure!" came in reply.

"Veil, vhy not?" interrupted a third voice,
emanating from a short, fat young man, whose
moonlike face was set with a pair of beadlike



UNDINE 279

eyes, and whose pudgy left hand was embla-
zoned with three emerald rings. "For dot
swell, high-toned voodvork de old country is de
best sure dot's right."

"Shake hands with my friend, Mr. Blaumen-
gast," insisted Jenkins.

" Blaumen^'Z," corrected the one with the
emerald rings, his moonlike face, as he smiled,
hah* burying his eyes two black beads that
twinkled with prosperity.

Monsieur Pavignon again rose and bowed.
Mr. Blaumenheil returned it to perfection with
his heels together. He was used to receiving
customers.

"Bleased!" said Blaumenheil, in a voice as
soft as sealskin.

By this time, Monsieur Pavignon's embar-
rassment had subsided. He sat there, smiling,
amused as a child at these bizarre strangers. I
saw, too, that, despite his lack of English, he
was remarkably quick to catch the gist of what
they said a seventh sense with the Latin
race. Especially this was true in regard to Mr.
Blaumenheil, who was rich in descriptive gesture.



280 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

So interested was I in the gradual change in my
patient, that, for the moment, I had missed
what Blaumenheil was saying.

"Unt vhen I come fierst to A-merica I didn't
haf a cent, unt now I'm vorth a million. Feel
dem rings. Vas you never to my blace? Here,
I show you. Dot is something to see." And
Blaumenheil produced for our inspection a pack
of illustrated post cards. "I got de finest blea-
sure park on de beach. Look here, mit real
trees in de promenade garten; cost me a lot of
money. Unt here ist de ballroom. Unt here,
look, ist de wine stube. Dot is also something
to see. Unt here ist my tee-ater, vhere I make
a big hit mit dot * Merry Vidow' show last sum-
mer; unt now next summer I gif dem opera
bouffes. Sure come down, unt I gif you a goot
time. Von't cost you a cent. Naw if you
hafn't seen de old beach in ten years. Veil, you
vouldn't know it now. Unt de goot olt days is
gone, too. Now I haf to pay goot big money

for dem soft-shell crabs, unt in de olt days -
i

vhat! Did you never know dot? Dot was a
olt game, sure. Vhen dem soft-shell crabs vas



UNDINE 281

too high, ve used to go down to Fulton Market,
unt buy up de stiffs; chuck 'em in de lard, chuck
'em out again, unt dey ate like sugar."

Monsieur Pavignon's smile was now a delight.

"Well, say!" shrilled a large lady in a knitted
sweater, sweeping into the smoking room on a
voyage of discovery. "Here they are, Min.
Say, we've been looking all over for you."

Monsieur's face became suddenly grave.

"My wife," confided Jenkins.

"Bleased," said Blaumenheil, as he rose and
bowed dapperly. And the second bugle call
blew for luncheon, much to Monsieur Pavignon's
relief.

The days went by, and the smoking room
found Monsieur Pavignon and myself in our
favourite corner nightly, and into which now
came the partners from Little Forks and their
wives. The ever good-humoured Blaumenheil,
a jolly little widow from San Francisco, with
pretty teeth, and the trim young American girl
to whom the young man had brought the long-
stemmed roses; and she sang to us snatches from



282 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

music halls to the accompaniment of a mando-
lin and guitar, tinkled by two rival deck suitors,
both fresh from college, and who had gained the
confidence of her "mommer" by passing the
olives.

The advent of these ladies in our corner pro-
duced, the first evening, a singular impression
upon my patient. Helpless as he was to get out,
he bravely made the best of it like the thorough-
bred he was, and, although more than once when
the strain grew intense, I saw a vestige of the old
look creep into his eyes, out of sheer camaraderie
for me, I believe, he mastered his emotion,
and grew genial with the rest.

Indeed, his popularity was such that they
heralded him now with cheers as we entered the
smoking room after dinner, where he was well
belaboured with the bad French of the trim
American girl, the San Francisco widow, and a
certain Mrs. Casey, whose husband kept a large
hotel. Fat, good-natured Mrs. Casey, whose
solitaire earrings made Mr. BlaumenheiPs em-
eralds look like glass.

It was Mrs. Casey who rang the first hearty



UNDINE 283

laugh out of Monsieur Pavignon after my care-
ful translation florid Mrs. Casey, with her
hazel Irish eyes full of kindly devilment.

"That's right!" she repeated to me, with
true Irish hospitality. "If you're iver in need
of a good sirloin steak four inches through, with-
out any rheumatism in it, you come up to the
Princess Marie Louise. We'll take care of you."

I translated. Monsieur Pavignon seemed in
pain. His features contracted, he choked with
the stifled laughter of years set free. He apolo-
gized when he regained his breath, and wiped
his eyes. Ah ! It did me good to see him, dear
old Pavignon, for I knew the game was won; and
in my enthusiasm I whispered in Mrs. Casey's
small, crimson ear:

"Whin ye git to Heaven, there'll be an angel
waiting to presint ye with a diamond ring for
the good work ye've done to-night. Mind what
I'm tellin' ye!"

And I think she understood, bless her heart!

Little by little I had watched him shed the
haunted mantle of his neurasthenia. The tragic
mask was gone. To-night there was a new light



284 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

in his eyes. He paced no longer with his hands
clasped behind him. He stuck them jauntily
in his pockets, and filled his lungs with the tang
of the good salt sea.

As we walked the deck together late that night,
long after the smoking room had closed, Pavig-
non grew strangely silent. We had forged ahead,
breasting the lee side, past the flapping wind-
break of canvas, when he stopped abruptly, and
held out his hand.

: 'You have made me very happy," he said
simply, and I thought I detected for the first
time in days the old tremor in his voice as he
added: "How can I ever repay you?"

"But you have," I laughed, as we swung in
step again past the empty chairs until we gained
the companionway and he bade me good-night.

I was at work on a manuscript in the smoking
room the next morning when he entered, called
to me a cheery "Bonjour!" selected a table in a
far corner, and, opening an old-fashioned port-
folio, extracted from its leather depths a mass of
papers, which he arranged neatly before him,



UNDINE 285

and, like myself, was soon busy with his pen.
The wind had changed to southwest again, and
both decks and the smoking room were deserted.
Not until the second bugle call for luncheon did
he look up from his work. Evidently some
papers relative to his property in New Orleans,
thought I, although I was naturally not indis-
creet enough to inquire.

All that afternoon, as we rolled in a heavy sea,
his pen scratched on while I worked; and the next
day, and the following, found him as diligently at
his task. To-night even our merry corner was
deserted, for the sea ran high, one deck being
untenable, and the lee deck being little better.

We were struggling along with linked arms on
the spray-thrashed lee side before going to bed,
when he again point-blank mentioned his debt
to me.

"Nonsense!" I believe I exclaimed by way of
turning an embarrassing subject.

"You see," he continued, despite my effort
to change his trend of mind, "I am poor. I
have nothing to offer you, my friend, in return.
And so, knowing you write, I I have a little



286 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

story for you," he continued. "I have, indeed,
just been able to finish it to-night. I did not
think I should get through before we landed, but
I have worked steadily, as you may have ob-
served. Once I wrote a little myself," he went
on earnestly. "Before the death of my wife.
Indeed, you must know that the story I have to
the best of my modest talent been able to com-
plete for you, although you will find, I fear, the
latter chapters somewhat condensed, I began
many years ago. After the death of my wife,
I said to myself: 'I shall continue the task.
It will serve to distract my mind/ But my sor-
row was too great. Besides, I found it utterly
impossible to write of a woman. Moreover, I
was forced to earn my bread, and in my modest
position in the administration of the company
of gas, where I worked daily in Paris, the hours
are long, as you know."

He drew from his overcoat pocket a tight roll
of manuscript, and thrust it into my hand.

"I have entitled it 'Undine,' " said he. "The
story," he went on rapidly to explain as we
turned in out of the wet, "begins, as you will see,



UNDINE 287

with a shipwreck in the tropics. The only sur-
vivor, a young man, finds himself upon a desert
island, where, in his lonely wanderings, he one
day discovers two skeletons those of a woman
and a man. Presently he sees beyond, on a
point of sand, a charming silhouette; that of a
young girl bathing blonde, seventeen, ador-
able, lithe, with blue eyes deep as the azure sea.
She had grown up, survived, like some wild bird
on the island. Finally she makes known to him,
in her strange jargon, and by signs, that the skel-


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryF. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) SmithThe street of the two friends → online text (page 11 of 16)