The Beautiful Lady by Booth Tarkington
Nothing could have been more painful to my sensitiveness than to
occupy myself, confused with blushes, at the center of the whole
world as a living advertisement of the least amusing ballet in Paris.
To be the day's sensation of the boulevards one must possess an
eccentricity of appearance conceived by nothing short of genius; and
my misfortunes had reduced me to present such to all eyes seeking
mirth. It was not that I was one of those people in uniform who carry
placards and strange figures upon their backs, nor that my coat was of
rags; on the contrary, my whole costume was delicately rich and well
chosen, of soft grey and fine linen (such as you see worn by a marquis
in the pe'sage at Auteuil) according well with my usual air and
countenance, sometimes esteemed to resemble my father's, which were
not wanting in distinction.
To add to this my duties were not exhausting to the body. I was
required only to sit without a hat from ten of the morning to midday,
and from four until seven in the afternoon, at one of the small tables
under the awning of the Cafe' de la Paix at the corner of the Place de
l'Opera—that is to say, the centre of the inhabited world. In the
morning I drank my coffee, hot in the cup; in the afternoon I sipped
it cold in the glass. I spoke to no one; not a glance or a gesture of
mine passed to attract notice.
Yet I was the centre of that centre of the world. All day the
crowds surrounded me, laughing loudly; all the voyous making those
jokes for which I found no repartee. The pavement was sometimes
blocked; the passing coachmen stood up in their boxes to look over at
me, small infants were elevated on shoulders to behold me; not the
gravest or most sorrowful came by without stopping to gaze at me and
go away with rejoicing faces. The boulevards rang to their
laughter—all Paris laughed!
For seven days I sat there at the appointed times, meeting the eye
of nobody, and lifting my coffee with fingers which trembled with
embarrassment at this too great conspicuosity! Those mournful hours
passed, one by the year, while the idling bourgeois and the travellers
made ridicule; and the rabble exhausted all effort to draw plays of
wit from me.
I have told you that I carried no placard, that my costume was
elegant, my demeanour modest in all degree.
"How, then, this excitement?" would be your disposition to
inquire. "Why this sensation?"
It is very simple. My hair had been shaved off, all over my ears,
leaving only a little above the back of the neck, to give an
appearance of far-reaching baldness, and on my head was painted, in
ah! so brilliant letters of distinctness:
Tous les Soirs
Such was the necessity to which I was at that time reduced! One
has heard that the North Americans invent the most singular
advertising, but I will not believe they surpass the Parisian.
Myself, I say I cannot express my sufferings under the notation of
the crowds that moved about the Cafe' de la Paix! The French are a
terrible people when they laugh sincerely. It is not so much the
amusing things which cause them amusement; it is often the strange,
those contrasts which contain something horrible, and when they laugh
there is too frequently some person who is uncomfortable or wicked. I
am glad that I was born not a Frenchman; I should regret to be native
to a country where they invent such things as I was doing in the Place
de l'Opera; for, as I tell you, the idea was not mine.
As I sat with my eyes drooping before the gaze of my terrible and
applauding audiences, how I mentally formed cursing words against the
day when my misfortunes led me to apply at the Theatre Folie-Rouge for
work! I had expected an audition and a role of comedy in the Revue;
for, perhaps lacking any experience of the stage, I am a Neapolitan by
birth, though a resident of the Continent at large since the age of
fifteen. All Neapolitans can act; all are actors; comedians of the
greatest, as every traveller is cognizant. There is a thing in the air
of our beautiful slopes which makes the people of a great instinctive
musicalness and deceptiveness, with passions like those burning in
the old mountain we have there. They are ready to play, to sing—or to
explode, yet, imitating that amusing Vesuvio, they never do this last
when you are in expectancy, or, as a spectator, hopeful of it.
How could any person wonder, then, that I, finding myself suddenly
destitute in Paris, should apply at the theatres? One after another, I
saw myself no farther than the director's door, until (having had no
more to eat the day preceding than three green almonds, which I took
from a cart while the good female was not looking) I reached the
Folie-Rouge. Here I was astonished to find a polite reception from the
director. It eventuated that they wished for a person appearing like
myself a person whom they would outfit with clothes of quality in all
parts, whose external presented a gentleman of the great world, not
merely of one the galant-uomini, but who would impart an air to a
table at a cafe' where he might sit and partake. The contrast of this
with the emplacement of the establishment on his bald head-top was to
be the success of the idea. It was plain that I had no baldness, my
hair being very thick and I but twenty-four years of age, when it was
explained that my hair could be shaved. They asked me to accept, alas!
not a part in the Revue, but a specialty as a sandwich-man. Knowing
the English tongue as I do, I may afford the venturesomeness to play
upon it a little: I asked for bread, and they offered me not a role,
but a sandwich!
It must be undoubted that I possessed not the disposition to make
any fun with my accomplishments during those days that I spent under
the awning of the Cafe' de la Paix. I had consented to be the
advertisement in greatest desperation, and not considering what the
reality would be. Having consented, honour compelled that I fulfil to
the ending. Also, the costume and outfittings I wore were part of my
emolument. They had been constructed for me by the finest tailor; and
though I had impulses, often, to leap up and fight through the noisy
ones about me and run far to the open country, the very garments I
wore were fetters binding me to remain and suffer. It seemed to me
that the hours were spent not in the centre of a ring of human
persons, but of un-well-made pantaloons and ugly skirts. Yet all of
these pantaloons and skirts had such scrutinous eyes and expressions
of mirth to laugh like demons at my conscious, burning, painted head;
eyes which spread out, astonished at the sight of me, and peered and
winked and grinned from the big wrinkles above the gaiters of Zouaves,
from the red breeches of the gendarmes, the knickerbockers of the
cyclists, the white ducks of sergents de ville, and the knees of the
boulevardiers, bagged with sitting cross-legged at the little tables.
I could not escape these eyes;—how scornfully they twinkled at me
from the spurred and glittering officers' boots! How with amaze from
the American and English trousers, both turned up and creased like
folded paper, both with some dislike for each other but for all other
It was only at such times when the mortifications to appear so
greatly embarrassed became stronger than the embarrassment itself
that I could by will power force my head to a straight construction
and look out upon my spectators firmly. On the second day of my
ordeal, so facing the laughers, I found myself facing straight into
the monocle of my half-brother and ill- wisher, Prince Caravacioli.
At this, my agitation was sudden and very great, for there was no
one I wished to prevent perceiving my condition more than that old
Antonio Caravacioli! I had not known that he was in Paris, but I could
have no doubt it was himself: the monocle, the handsome nose, the
toupee', the yellow skin, the dyed-black moustache, the splendid
height—it was indeed Caravacioli! He was costumed for the automobile,
and threw but one glance at me as he crossed the pavement to his car,
which was in waiting. There was no change, not of the faintest, in
that frosted tragic mask of a countenance, and I was glad to think
that he had not recognized me.
And yet, how strange that I should care, since all his life he had
declined to recognize me as what I was! Ah, I should have been glad to
shout his age, his dyes, his artificialities, to all the crowd, so to
touch him where it would most pain him! For was he not the vainest man
in the whole world? How well I knew his vulnerable point: the
monstrous depth of his vanity in that pretense of youth which he
preserved through superhuman pains and a genius of a valet, most
excellently! I had much to pay Antonio for myself, more for my father,
most for my mother. This was why that last of all the world I would
have wished that old fortune-hunter to know how far I had been
Then I rejoiced about that change which my unreal baldness
produced in me, giving me a look of forty years instead of
twenty-four, so that my oldest friend must take at least three stares
to know me. Also, my costume would disguise me from the few
acquaintances I had in Paris (if they chanced to cross the Seine), as
they had only seen me in the shabbiest; while, at my last meeting with
Antonio, I had been as fine in the coat as now.
Yet my encouragement was not so joyful that my gaze lifted often.
On the very last day, in the afternoon when my observances were most
and noisiest, I lifted my eyes but once during the final
half-hour—but such a one that was!
The edge of that beautiful grey pongee skirt came upon the lid of
my lowered eyelid like a cool shadow over hot sand. A sergent had just
made many of the people move away, so there remained only a thin ring
of the laughing pantaloons about me, when this divine skirt presented
its apparition to me. A pair of North- American trousers accompanied
it, turned up to show the ankle- bones of a rich pair of stockings;
neat, enthusiastic and humorous, I judged them to be; for, as one may
discover, my only amusement during my martyrdom—if this misery can be
said to possess such alleviatings—had been the study of feet,
pantaloons, and skirts. The trousers in this case detained my
observation no time. They were but the darkest corner of the
chiaroscuro of a Rembrandt—the mellow glow of gold was all across
the grey skirt.
How shall I explain myself, how make myself understood? Shall I be
thought sentimentalistic or but mad when I declare that my first sight
of the grey pongee skirt caused me a thrill of excitation, of
tenderness, and—oh-i-me!—of self- consciousness more acute than all
my former mortifications. It was so very different from all other
skirts that had shown themselves to me those sad days, and you may
understand that, though the pantaloons far outnumbered the skirts,
many hundreds of the latter had also been objects of my gloomy
This skirt, so unlike those which had passed, presented at once
the qualifications of its superiority. It had been constructed by an
artist, and it was worn by a lady. It did not pine, it did not droop;
there was no more an atom of hanging too much than there was a portion
inflated by flamboyancy; it did not assert itself; it bore notice
without seeking it. Plain but exquisite, it was that great
rarity—goodness made charming.
The peregrination of the American trousers suddenly stopped as
they caught sight of me, and that precious skirt paused, precisely in
opposition to my little table. I heard a voice, that to which the
skirt pertained. It spoke the English, but not in the manner of the
inhabitants of London, who seem to sing undistinguishably in their
talking, although they are comprehensible to each other. To an Italian
it seems that many North-Americans and English seek too often the
assistance of the nose in talking, though in different manners, each
equally unagreeable to our ears. The intelligent among our lazzaroni
of Naples, who beg from tourists, imitate this, with the purpose of
reminding the generous traveller of his home, in such a way to soften
his heart. But there is some difference: the Italian, the Frenchman,
or German who learns English sometimes misunderstands the American:
the Englishman he sometimes understands.
This voice that spoke was North-American. Ah, what a voice! Sweet
as the mandolins of Sorento! Clear as the bells of Capri! To hear it,
was like coming upon sight of the almond-blossoms of Sicily for the
first time, or the tulip-fields of Holland. Never before was such a
"Why did you stop, Rufus?" it said.
"Look!" replied the American trousers; so that I knew the pongee
lady had not observed me of herself.
Instantaneously there was an exclamation, and a pretty grey
parasol, closed, fell at my feet. It is not the pleasantest to be an
object which causes people to be startled when they behold you; but I
blessed the agitation of this lady, for what caused her parasol to
fall from her hand was a start of pity.
"Ah!" she cried. "The poor man!"
She had perceived that I was a gentleman.
I bent myself forward and lifted the parasol, though not my eyes I
could not have looked up into the face above me to be Caesar! Two
hands came down into the circle of my observation; one of these was
that belonging to the trousers, thin, long, and white; the other was
the grey-gloved hand of the lady, and never had I seen such a
hand—the hand of an angel in a suede glove, as the grey skirt was the
mantle of a saint made by Doucet. I speak of saints and angels; and to
the large world these may sound like cold words.—It is only in Italy
where some people are found to adore them still.
I lifted the parasol toward that glove as I would have moved to
set a candle on an altar. Then, at a thought, I placed it not in the
glove, but in the thin hand of the gentleman. At the same time the
voice of the lady spoke to me—I was to have the joy of remembering
that this voice had spoken four words to me.
"Je vous remercie, monsieur," it said.
"Pas de quoi!" I murmured.
The American trousers in a loud tone made reference in the idiom
to my miserable head: "Did you ever see anything to beat it?"
The beautiful voice answered, and by the gentleness of her sorrow
for me I knew she had no thought that I might understand. "Come away.
It is too pitiful!"
Then the grey skirt and the little round-toed shoes beneath it
passed from my sight, quickly hidden from me by the increasing crowd;
yet I heard the voice a moment more, but fragmentarily: "Don't you see
how ashamed he is, how he must have been starving before he did that,
or that someone dependent on him needed—"
I caught no more, but the sweetness that this beautiful lady
understood and felt for the poor absurd wretch was so great that I
could have wept. I had not seen her face; I had not looked up —even
when she went.
"Who is she?" cried a scoundrel voyous, just as she turned.
"Madame of the parasol? A friend of monsieur of the ornamented head?"
"No. It is the first lady in waiting to his wife, Madame la
Duchesse," answered a second. "She has been sent with an equerry to
demand of monseigneur if he does not wish a little sculpture upon his
dome as well as the colour decorations!"
"'Tis true, my ancient?" another asked of me.
I made no repartee, continuing to sit with my chin dependent upon
my cravat, but with things not the same in my heart as formerly to the
arrival of that grey pongee, the grey glove, and the beautiful voice.
Since King Charles the Mad, in Paris no one has been completely
free from lunacy while the spring-time is happening. There is
something in the sun and the banks of the Seine. The Parisians drink
sweet and fruity champagne because the good wines are already in their
veins. These Parisians are born intoxicated and remain so; it is not
fair play to require them to be like other human people. Their deepest
feeling is for the arts; and, as everyone had declared, they are
farceurs in their tragedies, tragic in their comedies. They prepare
the last epigram in the tumbril; they drown themselves with enthusiasm
about the alliance with Russia. In death they are witty; in war they
have poetic spasms; in love they are mad.
The strangest of all this is that it is not only the Parisians who
are the insane ones in Paris; the visitors are none of them in
behaviour as elsewhere. You have only to go there to become as lunatic
as the rest. Many travellers, when they have departed, remember the
events they have caused there as a person remembers in the morning
what he has said and thought in the moonlight of the night.
In Paris it is moonlight even in the morning; and in Paris one
falls in love even more strangely than by moonlight.
It is a place of glimpses: a veil fluttering from a motor-car, a
little lace handkerchief fallen from a victoria, a figure crossing a
lighted window, a black hat vanishing in the distance of the avenues
of the Tuileries. A young man writes a ballade and dreams over a bit
of lace. Was I not, then, one of the least extravagant of this mad
people? Men have fallen in love with photographs, those greatest of
liars; was I so wild, then, to adore this grey skirt, this small shoe,
this divine glove, the golden-honey voice—of all in Paris the only
one to pity and to understand? Even to love the mystery of that lady
and to build my dreams upon it?—to love all the more because of the
mystery? Mystery is the last word and the completing charm to a young
man's passion. Few sonnets have been written to wives whose matrimony
is more than five years of age—is it not so?
When my hour was finished and I in liberty to leave that horrible
corner, I pushed out of the crowd and walked down the boulevard, my
hat covering my sin, and went quickly. To be in love with my mystery,
I thought, that was a strange happiness! It was enough. It was
romance! To hear a voice which speaks two sentences of pity and silver
is to have a chime of bells in the heart. But to have a shaven head is
to be a monk! And to have a shaven head with a sign painted upon it is
to be a pariah. Alas! I was a person whom the Parisians laughed at,
Now that at last my martyrdom was concluded, I had some
shuddering, as when one places in his mouth a morsel of unexpected
flavour. I wondered where I had found the courage to bear it, and how
I had resisted hurling myself into the river, though, as is known,
that is no longer safe, for most of those who attempt it are at once
rescued, arrested, fined, and imprisoned for throwing bodies into the
Seine, which is forbidden.
At the theatre the frightful badge was removed from my head-top
and I was given three hundred francs, the price of my shame, refusing
an offer to repeat the performance during the following week. To
imagine such a thing made me a choking in my throat, and I left the
bureau in some sickness. This increased so much (as I approached the
Madeleine, where I wished to mount an omnibus) that I entered a
restaurant and drank a small glass of cognac. Then I called for
writing-papers and wrote to the good Mother Superior and my dear
little nieces at their convent. I enclosed two hundred and fifty
francs, which sum I had fallen behind in my payments for their
education and sustenance, and I felt a moment's happiness that at
least for a while I need not fear that my poor brother's orphans might
become objects of charity—a fear which, accompanied by my own hunger,
had led me to become the joke of the boulevards.
Feeling rich with my remaining fifty francs, I ordered the waiter
to bring me a goulasch and a carafe of blond beer, after the
consummation of which I spent an hour in the reading of a newspaper.
Can it be credited that the journal of my perusement was the one which
may be called the North-American paper of the aristocracies of Europe?
Also, it contains some names of the people of the United States at the
hotels and elsewhere.
How eagerly I scanned those singular columns! Shall I confess to
what purpose? I read the long lists of uncontinental names over and
over, but I lingered not at all upon those like "Muriel," "Hermione,"
"Violet," and "Sibyl," nor over "Balthurst," "Skeffington-Sligo," and
"Covering-Legge"; no, my search was for the Sadies and Mamies, the
Thompsons, Van Dusens, and Bradys. In that lies my preposterous
You will see to what infatuation those words of pity, that sense
of a beautiful presence, had led me. To fall in love must one behold
a face? Yes; at thirty. At twenty, when one is something of a
poet—No: it is sufficient to see a grey pongee skirt! At fifty, when
one is a philosopher—No: it is enough to perceive a soul! I had done
both; I had seen the skirt; I had perceived the soul! Therefore, while
hungry, I neglected my goulasch to read these lists of names of the
United States again and again, only that I might have the thought that
one of them—though I knew not which—might be this lady's, and that
in so infinitesimal a degree I had been near her again. Will it be
estimated extreme imbecility in me when I ventured the additional
confession that I felt a great warmth and tenderness toward the
possessors of all these names, as being, if not herself, at least her
I am now brought to the admission that before to-day I had
experienced some prejudices against the inhabitants of the
North-American republic, though not on account of great experience of
my own. A year previously I had made a disastrous excursion to Monte
Carlo in the company of a young gentleman of London who had been for
several weeks in New York and Washington and Boston, and appeared to
know very much of the country. He was never anything but tired in
speaking of it, and told me a great amount. He said many times that in
the hotels there was never a concierge or portier to give you
information where to discover the best vaudeville; there was no
concierge at all! In New York itself, my friend told me, a facchino,
or species of porter, or some such good-for-nothing, had said to him,
including a slap on the shoulder, "Well, brother, did you receive
your delayed luggage correctly?" (In this instance my studies of the
North-American idiom lead me to believe that my friend was
intentionally truthful in regard to the principalities, but mistaken
in his observation of detail.) He declared the recent willingness of
the English to take some interest in the United-Statesians to be a
mistake; for their were noisy, without real confidence in themselves;
they were restless and merely imitative instead of inventive. He told
me that he was not exceptional; all Englishmen had thought similarly
for fifty or sixty years; therefore, naturally, his opinion carried
great weight with me. And myself, to my astonishment, I had often seen
parties of these republicans become all ears and whispers when
somebody called a prince or a countess passed by. Their reverence for
age itself, in anything but a horse, had often surprised me by its
artlessness, and of all strange things in the world, I have heard them
admire old customs and old families. It was strange to me to listen,
when I had believed that their land was the only one where happily no
person need worry to remember who had been his great- grandfather.
The greatest of my own had not saved me from the decoration of the
past week, yet he was as much mine as he was Antonio Caravacioli's;
and Antonio, though impoverished, had his motor- car and dined well,
since I happened to see, in my perusal of the journal, that he had
been to dinner the evening before at the English Embassy with a great
company. "Bravo, Antonio! Find a rich foreign wife if you can, since
you cannot do well for yourself at home!" And I could say so honestly,
without spite, for all his hatred of me,—because, until I had paid my
addition, I was still the possessor of fifty francs!
Fifty francs will continue life in the body of a judicial person a
long time in Paris, and combining that knowledge and the good
goulasch, I sought diligently for "Mamies" and "Sadies" with a
revived spirit. I found neither of those adorable names—in fact,
only two such diminutives, which are more charming than our Italian
ones: A Miss Jeanie Archibald Zip and a Miss Fannie Sooter. None of
the names was harmonious with the grey pongee — in truth, most of
them were no prettier (however less processional) than royal names. I
could not please myself that I had come closer to the rare lady; I
must be contented that the same sky covered us both, that the noise of
the same city rang in her ears as mine.
Yet that was a satisfaction, and to know that it was true gave me
mysterious breathlessness and made me hear fragments of old songs
during my walk that night. I walked very far, under the trees of the
Bois, where I stopped for a few moments to smoke a cigarette at one of
the tables outside, at Armenonville.
None of the laughing women there could be the lady I sought; and
as my refusing to command anything caused the waiter uneasiness, in
spite of my prosperous appearance, I remained but a few moments, then
trudged on, all the long way to the Cafe' de Madrid, where also she
How did I assure myself of this since I had not seen her face? I
cannot tell you. Perhaps I should not have known her; but that night
I was sure that I should.
Yes, as sure of that as I was sure that she was beautiful!
Early the whole of the next day, endeavoring to look preoccupied,
I haunted the lobbies and vicinity of the most expensive hotels,
unable to do any other thing, but ashamed of myself that I had not
returned to my former task of seeking employment, although still
reassured by possession of two louis and some silver, I dined well at
a one-franc coachman's restaurant, where my elegance created not the
slightest surprise, and I felt that I might live in this way
However, dreams often conclude abruptly, and two louis always do,
as I found, several days later, when, after paying the rent for my
unspeakable lodging and lending twenty francs to a poor, bad painter,
whom I knew and whose wife was ill, I found myself with the choice of
obtaining funds on my finery or not eating, either of which I was very
loath to do. It is not essential for me to tell any person that when
you seek a position it is better that you appear not too greatly in
need of it; and my former garments had prejudiced many against me, I
fear, because they had been patched by a friendly concierge.
Pantaloons suffer as terribly as do antiques from too obvious
restorations; and while I was only grateful to the good woman's needle
(except upon one occasion when she forgot to remove it), my costume
had reached, at last, great sympathies for the shade of Praxiteles,
feeling the same melancholy over original intentions so far
misrepresented by renewals.
Therefore I determined to preserve my fineries to the uttermost;
and it was fortunate that I did so; because, after dining, for three
nights upon nothing but looking out of my window, the fourth morning
brought me a letter from my English friend. I had written to him,
asking if he knew of any people who wished to pay a salary to a young
man who knew how to do nothing. I place his reply in direct
"Henrietta Street, Cavendish Square, May 14.
"My dear Ansolini,—Why haven't you made some of your relatives do
something? I understand that they do not like you; neither do my own,
but after our crupper at Monte Carlo what could mine do, except
provide? If a few pounds (precious few, I fear!) be of any service to
you, let me know. In the mean time, if you are serious about a
position, I may, preposterously enough, set you in the way of it.
There is an old thundering Yankee here, whom I met in the States, and
who believed me a god because I am the nephew of my awful uncle, for
whose career he has ever had, it appears, a life-long admiration, sir!
Now, by chance, meeting this person in the street, it developed that
he had need of a man, precisely such a one as you are not: a sober,
tutorish, middle-aged, dissenting parson, to trot about the Continent
tied to a dancing bear. It is the old gentleman's cub, who is a
species of Caliban in fine linen, and who has taken a few too many
liberties in the land of the free. In fact, I believe he is much a
youth of my own kind with similar admiration for baccarat and good
cellars. His father must return at once, and has decided (the cub's
native heath and friends being too wild) to leave him in charge of a
proper guide, philosopher, courier, chaplain, and friend, if such can
be found, the same required to travel with the cub and keep him out
of mischief. I thought of your letter directly, and I have given you
the most tremendous recommendation—part of it quite true, I suspect,
though I am not a judge of learning. I explained, however, that you
are a master of languages, of elegant though subdued deportment, and I
extolled at length your saintly habits. Altogether, I fear there may
have been too much of the virtuoso in my interpretation of you; few
would have recognized from it the gentleman who closed a table at
Monte Carlo and afterwards was closed himself in the handsome and
spectacular fashion I remember with both delight and regret. Briefly,
I lied like a master. He almost had me in the matter of your age; it
was important that you should be middle-aged. I swore that you were
at least thirty-eight, but, owing to exemplary habits, looked very
much younger. The cub himself is twenty-four.
"Hence, if you are really serious and determined not to appeal to
your people, call at once upon Mr. Lambert R. Poor, of the Hotel
d'Iena. He is the father, and the cub is with him. The elder Yankee is
primed with my praises of you, and must engage someone at once, as he
sails in a day or two. Go—with my blessing, an air of piety, and as
much age as you can assume. When the father has departed, throw the
cub into the Seine, but preserve his pocket-book, and we shall have
another go at those infernal tables. Vale! J.G.S."
I found myself smiling—I fear miserably—over this kind letter,
especially at the wonder of my friend that I had not appealed to my
relatives. The only ones who would have liked to help me, if they had
known I needed something, were my two little nieces who were in my own
care; because my father, being but a poet, had no family, and my
mother had lost hers, even her eldest son, by marrying my father.
After that they would have nothing to do with her, nor were they
asked. That rascally old Antonio was now the head of all the
Caravacioli, as was I of my own outcast branch of our house—that is,
of my two little nieces and myself. It was partly of these poor
infants I had thought when I took what was left of my small
inheritance to Monte Carlo, hoping, since I seemed to be incapable of
increasing it in any other way, that number seventeen and black would
hand me over a fortune as a waiter does wine. Alas! Luck is not always
a fool's servant, and the kind of fortune she handed me was of that
species the waiter brings you in the other bottle of champagne, the
gold of a bubbling brain, lasting an hour. After this there is always
something evil to one's head, and mine, alas! was shaved.
Half an hour after I had read the letter, the little paper- flower
makers in the attic window across from mine may have seen me shaving
it—without pleasure—again. What else was I to do? I could not well
expect to be given the guardianship of an erring young man if I
presented myself to his parent as a gentleman who had been sitting at
the Cafe' de la Paix with his head painted. I could not wear my hat
through the interview. I could not exhibit the thick five days'
stubble, to appear in contrast with the heavy fringe that had been
spared;—I could not trim the fringe to the shortness of the stubble;
I should have looked like Pierrot. I had only, then, to remain bald,
and, if I obtained the post, to shave in secret—a harmless and
It was well for me that I came to this determination. I believe it
was the appearance of maturity which my head and dining upon thoughts
lent me, as much as my friend's praises, which created my success with
the amiable Mr. Lambert R. Poor. I witness that my visit to him
provided one of the most astonishing interviews of my life. He was an
instance of those strange beings of the Western republic, at whom we
are perhaps too prone to pass from one of ourselves to another the
secret smile, because of some little imperfections of manner. It is a
type which has grown more and more familiar to us, yet never less
strange: the man in costly but severe costume, big, with a necessary
great waistcoat, not noticing the loudness of his own voice; as
ignorant of the thousand tiny things which we observe and feel as he
would be careless of them (except for his wife) if he knew. We laugh
at him, sometimes even to his face, and he does not perceive it. We
are a little afraid that he is too large to see it; hence too large
for us to comprehend, and in spite of our laughter we are always
conscious of a force—yes, of a presence! We jeer slyly, but we
respect, fear a little, and would trust.
Such was my patron. He met me with a kind greeting, looked at me
very earnestly, but smiling as if he understood my good intentions,
as one understands the friendliness of a capering poodle, yet in such
a way that I could not feel resentment, for I could see that he looked
at almost everyone in the same fashion.
My friend had done wonders for me; and I made the best account of
myself that I could, so that within half an hour it was arranged that
I should take charge of his son, with an honourarium which gave me
great rejoicing for my nieces and my accumulated appetite.
"I think I can pick men," he said, "and I think that you are the
man I want. You're old enough and you've seen enough, and you know
enough to keep one fool boy in order for six months."
So frankly he spoke of his son, yet not without affection and
confidence. Before I left, he sent for the youth himself, Lambert R.
Poor, Jr.,—not at all a Caliban, but a most excellent-appearing, tall
gentleman, of astonishingly meek countenance. He gave me a sad, slow
look from his blue eyes at first; then with a brightening smile he
gently shook my hand, murmuring that he was very glad in the prospect
of knowing me better; after which the parent defined before him, with
singular elaboration, my duties. I was to correct all things in his
behaviour which I considered improper or absurd. I was to dictate the
line of travel, to have a restraining influence upon expenditures; in
brief, to control the young man as a governess does a child.
To all of his parent's instructions Poor Jr. returned a dutiful
nod and expressed perfect acquiescence. The following day the elder
sailed from Cherbourg, and I took up my quarters with the son.
It is with the most extreme mortification that I record my ensuing
experiences, for I felt that I could not honourably accept my salary
without earning it by carrying out the parent Poor's wishes. That
first morning I endeavoured to direct my pupil's steps toward the
Musee de Cluny, with the purpose of inciting him to instructive study;
but in the mildest, yet most immovable manner, he proposed Longchamps
and the races as a substitute, to conclude with dinner at La Cascade
and supper at Maxim's or the Cafe' Blanche, in case we should meet
engaging company. I ventured the vainest efforts to reason with him,
making for myself a very uncomfortable breakfast, though without
effect upon him of any visibility. His air was uninterruptedly mild
and modest; he rarely lifted his eyes, but to my most earnest argument
replied only by ordering more eggs and saying in a chastened voice:
"Oh no; it is always best to begin school with a vacation. To
I should say at once that through this young man I soon became an
amateur of the remarkable North-American idioms, of humour and
incomparable brevities often more interesting than those evolved by
the thirteen or more dialects of my own Naples. Even at our first
breakfast I began to catch lucid glimpses of the intention in many of
his almost incomprehensible statements. I was able, even, to penetrate
his meaning when he said that although he was "strong for aged
parent," he himself had suffered much anguish from overwork of the
"earnest youth racquette" in his late travels, and now desired to
"create considerable trouble for Paris."
Naturally, I did not wish to begin by antagonizing my pupil — an
estrangement at the commencement would only lead to his deceiving me,
or a continued quarrel, in which case I should be of no service to my
kind patron, so that after a strained interval I considered it best to
We went to Longchamps.
That was my first mistake; the second was to yield to him
concerning the latter part of his programme; but opposition to Mr.
Poor, Jr. had a curious effect of inutility. He had not in the least
the air of obstinacy,—nothing could have been less like rudeness; he
neither frowned not smiled; no, he did not seem even to be insisting;
on the contrary, never have I beheld a milder countenance, nor heard a
pleasanter voice; yet the young man was so completely baffling in his
mysterious way that I considered him unique to my experience.
Thus, when I urged him not to place large wagers in the pesage,
his whispered reply was strange and simple—"Watch me!" This he
conclusively said as he deposited another thousand-franc note, which,
within a few moments, accrued to the French government.
Longchamps was but the beginning of a series of days and nights
which wore upon my constitution—not indeed with the intensity of
mortification which my former conspicuosity had engendered, yet my
sorrows were stringent. It is true that I had been, since the age of
seventeen, no stranger to the gaieties and dissipations afforded by
the capitals of Europe; I may say I had exhausted these, yet always
with some degree of quiet, including intervals of repose. I was tired
of all the great foolishnesses of youth, and had thought myself done
with them. Now I found myself plunged into more uproarious waters than
I had ever known I, who had hoped to begin a life of usefulness and
peace, was forced to dwell in the midst of a riot, pursuing my
There is no need that I should describe those days and nights.
They remain in my memory as a confusion of bad music, crowds,
motor-cars and champagne of which Poor Jr. was a distributing centre.
He could never be persuaded to the Louvre, the Carnavalet, or the
Luxembourg; in truth, he seldom rose in time to reach the museums, for
they usually close at four in the afternoon. Always with the same
inscrutable meekness of countenance, each night he methodically danced
the cake-walk at Maxim's or one of the Montemarte restaurants, to the
cheers of acquaintances of many nationalities, to whom he offered
libations with prodigal enormity. He carried with him, about the
boulevards at night, in the highly powerful car he had hired, large
parties of strange people, who would loudly sing airs from the
Folie-Rouge (to my unhappy shudderings) all the way from the fatiguing
Bal Bullier to the Cafe' de Paris, where the waiters soon became
And how many of those gaily dressed and smiling ladies whose
bright eyes meet yours on the veranda of the Theatre Marigny were
provided with excessive suppers and souvenir fans by the inexhaustible
Poor Jr.! He left a trail of pink hundred-franc notes behind him, like
a running boy dropping paper in the English game; and he kept showers
of gold louis dancing in the air about him, so that when we entered
the various cafes or "American bars" a cheer (not vocal but to me of
perfect audibility) went up from the hungry and thirsty and borrowing,
and from the attendants. Ah, how tired I was of it, and how I
endeavoured to discover a means to draw him to the museums, and to
Notre Dame and the Pantheon!
And how many times did I unwillingly find myself in the too
enlivening company of those pretty supper-girls, and what jokings
upon his head-top did the poor bald gentleman not undergo from those
same demoiselles with the bright eyes, the wonderful hats, and the
How often among those gay people did I find myself sadly dreaming
of that grey pongee skirt and the beautiful heart that had understood!
Should I ever see that lady? Not, I knew, alas! in the whirl about
Poor Jr.! As soon look for a nun at the Cafe' Blanche!
For some reason I came to be persuaded that she had left Paris,
that she had gone away; and I pictured her—a little despairingly—on
the borders of Lucerne, with the white Alps in the sky above her,—or
perhaps listening to the evening songs on the Grand Canal, and I would
try to feel the little rocking of her gondola, making myself dream
that I sat at her feet. Or I could see the grey flicker of the pongee
skirt in the twilight distance of cathedral aisles with a chant
sounding from a chapel; and, so dreaming, I would start spasmodically,
to hear the red-coated orchestra of a cafe' blare out into "Bedelia,"
and awake to the laughter and rouge and blague which that dear pongee
had helped me for a moment to forget!
To all places, Poor Jr., though never unkindly, dragged me with
him, even to make the balloon ascent at the Porte Maillot on a windy
evening. Without embarrassment I confess that I was terrified, that I
clung to the ropes with a clutch which frayed my gloves, while Poor
Jr. leaned back against the side of the basket and gazed upward at the
great swaying ball, with his hands in his pockets, humming the strange
ballad that was his favourite musical composition:
"The prettiest girl I ever saw
Was sipping cider through a straw-aw-haw!"
In that horrifying basket, scrambling for a foothold while it
swung through arcs that were gulfs, I believed that my sorrows
approached a sudden conclusion, but finding myself again upon the
secure earth, I decided to come to an understanding with the young
Accordingly, on the following morning, I entered his apartment and
addresses myself to Poor Jr. as severely as I could (for, truthfully,
in all his follies I had found no ugliness in his spirit—only a
good-natured and inscrutable desire of wild amusement) reminding him
of the authority his father had deputed to me, and having the
venturesomeness to hint that the son should show some respect to my
To my consternation he replied by inquiring if I had shaved my
head as yet that morning. I could only drop in a chair, stammering to
know what he meant.
"Didn't you suppose I knew?" he asked, elevating himself slightly
on his elbow from the pillow. "Three weeks ago I left my aged parent
in London and ran over here for a day. I saw you at the Cafe' de la
Paix, and even then I knew that it was shaved, not naturally bald.
When you came here I recognized you like a shot, and that was why I
was glad to accept you as a guardian. I've enjoyed myself considerably
of late, and you've been the best part of it,—I think you are a
wonderation! I wouldn't have any other governess for the world, but
you surpass the orchestra when you beg me to respect your years! I
will bet you four dollars to a lead franc piece that you are younger
than I am!"
Imagine the completeness of my dismay! Although he spoke in tones
the most genial, and without unkindness, I felt myself a man of
tatters before him, ashamed to have him know my sorry secret, hopeless
to see all chance of authority over him gone at once, and with it my
opportunity to earn a salary so generous, for if I could continue to
be but an amusement to him and only part of his deception of Lambert
R. Poor, my sense of honour must be fit for the guillotine indeed.
I had a little struggle with myself, and I think I must have wiped
some amounts of the cold perspiration from my absurd head before I was
able to make an answer. It may be seen what a coward I was, and how I
feared to begin again that search for employment. At last, however, I
was in self-control, so that I might speak without being afraid that
my voice would shake.
"I am sorry," I said. "It seemed to me that my deception would not
cause any harm, and that I might be useful in spite of it — enough to
earn my living. It was on account of my being very poor; and there are
two little children I must take care of. — Well, at least, it is over
now. I have had great shame, but I must not have greater."
"What do you mean?" he asked me rather sharply.
"I will leave immediately," I said, going to the door. "Since I am
no more than a joke, I can be of no service to your father or to you;
but you must not think that I am so unreasonable as to be angry with
you. A man whom you have beheld reduced to what I was, at the Cafe' de
la Paix, is surely a joke to the whole world! I will write to your
father before I leave the hotel and explain that I feel myself
"You're going to write to him why you give it up!" he exclaimed.
"I shall make no report of espionage," I answered, with, perhaps,
some bitterness, "and I will leave the letter for you to read and to
send, of yourself. It shall only tell him that as a man of honour I
cannot keep a position for which I have no qualification."
I was going to open the door, bidding him adieu, when he called
out to me.
"Look here!" he said, and he jumped out of bed in his pajamas and
came quickly, and held out his hand. "Look here, Ansolini, don't take
it that way. I know you've had pretty hard times, and if you'll stay,
I'll get good. I'll go to the Louvre with you this afternoon; we'll
dine at one of the Duval restaurants, and go to that new religious
tragedy afterwards. If you like, we'll leave Paris to-morrow. There's
a little too much movement here, maybe. For God's sake, let your hair
grow, and we'll go down to Italy and study bones and ruins and delight
the aged parent! — It's all right, isn't it?"
I shook the hand of that kind Poor Jr. with a feeling in my heart
that kept me from saying how greatly I thanked him—and I was sure
that I could do anything for him in the world!
Three days later saw us on the pretty waters of Lake Leman, in the
bright weather when Mont Blanc heaves his great bare shoulders of ice
miles into the blue sky, with no mist-cloak about him.
Sailing that lake in the cool morning, what a contrast to the
champagne houpla nights of Paris! And how docile was my pupil! He
suffered me to lead him through the Castle of Chillon like a new-born
lamb, and even would not play the little horses in the Kursaal at
Geneva, although, perhaps, that was because the stakes were not high
enough to interest him. He was nearly always silent, and, from the
moment of our departure from Paris, had fallen into dreamfulness, such
as would come over myself at the thought of the beautiful lady. It
touched my heart to find how he was ready with acquiescence to the
slightest suggestion of mine, and, if it had been the season, I am
almost credulous that I could have conducted him to Baireuth to hear
There were times when his mood of gentle sorrow was so like mine
that I wondered if he, too, knew a grey pongee skirt. I wondered over
this so much, and so marvellingly, also, because of the change in him,
that at last I asked him.
We had gone to Lucerne; it was clear moonlight, and we smoked on
our little balcony at the Schweitzerhof, puffing our small clouds in
the enormous face of the strangest panorama of the world, that august
disturbation of the earth by gods in battle, left to be a land of
tragic fables since before Pilate was there, and remaining the same
after William Tell was not. I sat looking up at the mountains, and he
leaned on the rail, looking down at the lake. Somewhere a woman was
singing from Pagliacci, and I slowly arrived at a consciousness that I
had sighed aloud once or twice, not so much sadly, as of longing to
see that lady, and that my companion had permitted similar sounds to
escape him, but more mournfully. It was then that I asked him, in
earnestness, yet with the manner of making a joke, if he did not think
often of some one in North America.
"Do you believe that could be, and I making the disturbance I did
in Paris?" he returned.
"Yes," I told him, "if you are trying to forget her."
"I should think it might look more as if I were trying to forget
that I wasn't good enough for her and that she knew it!"
He spoke in a voice which he would have made full of ease —
"off-hand," as they say; but he failed to do so.
"That was the case?" I pressed him, you see, but smilingly.
"Looks a good deal like it," he replied, smoking much at once.
"So? But that is good for you, my friend!"
"Probably." He paused, smoking still more, and then said, "It's a
benefit I could get on just as well without."
"She is in North America?"
"No; over here."
"Ah! Then we will go where she is. That will be even better for
you! Where is she?"
"I don't know. She asked me not to follow her. Somebody else is
The young man's voice was steady, and his face, as usual, showed
no emotion, but I should have been an Italian for nothing had I not
understood quickly. So I waited for a little while, then spoke of old
Pilatus out there in the sky, and we went to bed very late, for it was
out last night in Lucerne.
Two days later we roared our way out of the gloomy St. Gotthard
and wound down the pass, out into the sunshine of Italy, into that
broad plain of mulberries where the silkworms weave to enrich the
proud Milanese. Ah, those Milanese! They are like the people of Turin,
and look down upon us of Naples; they find us only amusing, because
our minds and movements are too quick for them to understand. I have
no respect for the Milanese, except for three things: they have a
cathedral, a picture, and a dead man.
We came to our hotel in the soft twilight, with the air so balmy
one wished to rise and float in it. This was the hour for the
Cathedral; therefore, leaving Leonardo and his fresco for the
to-morrow, I conducted my uncomplaining ward forth, and through that
big arcade of which the people are so proud, to the Duomo. Poor Jr.
showed few signs of life as we stood before that immenseness; he said
patiently that it resembled the postals, and followed me inside the
portals with languor.
It was all grey hollowness in the vast place. The windows showed
not any colour nor light; the splendid pillars soared up into the air
and disappeared as if they mounted to heights of invisibility in the
sky at night. Very far away, at the other end of the church it seemed,
one lamp was burning, high over the transept. One could not see the
chains of support nor the roof above it; it seemed a great star, but
so much all alone. We walked down the long aisle to stand nearer to
it, the darkness growing deeper as we advanced. When we came almost
beneath, both of us gazing upward, my companion unwittingly stumbled
against a lady who was standing silently looking up at this light, and
who had failed to notice our approach. The contact was severe enough
to dislodge from her hand her folded parasol, for which I began to
There was a hurried sentence of excusation from Poor Jr., followed
by moments of silence before she replied. Then I heard her voice in
"Rufus, it is never you?"
He called out, almost loudly,
Then I knew that it was the second time I had lifted a parasol
from the ground for the lady of the grey pongee and did not see her
face; but this time I placed it in her own hand; for my head bore no
shame upon it now.
In the surprise of encountering Poor Jr. I do not think she
noticed that she took the parasol or was conscious of my presence,
and it was but too secure that my young friend had forgotten that I
lived. I think, in truth, I should have forgotten it myself, if it had
not been for the leaping of my heart.
Ah, that foolish dream of mine had proven true: I knew her, I knew
her, unmistaking, without doubt or hesitancy—and in the dark! How
should I know at the mere sound of her voice? I think I knew before
Poor Jr. had taken a step toward her as she fell back; I could
only see the two figures as two shadows upon shadow, while for them I
had melted altogether and was forgotten.
"You think I have followed you," he cried, "but you have no right
to think it. It was an accident and you've got to believe me!"
"I believe you," she answered gently. "Why should I not?"
"I suppose you want me to clear out again," he went on, "and I
will; but I don't see why."
Her voice answered him out of the shadow: "It is only you who make
a reason why. I'd give anything to be friends with you; you've always
"Why can't we be?" he said, sharply and loudly. "I've changed a
great deal. I'm very sensible, and I'll never bother you again —
that other way. Why shouldn't I see a little of you?"
I heard her laugh then—happily, it seemed to me,—and I thought I
perceived her to extend her hand to him, and that he shook it briefly,
in his fashion, as if it had been the hand of a man and not that of
the beautiful lady.
"You know I should like nothing better in the world—since you
tell me what you do," she answered.
"And the other man?" he asked her, with the same hinting of
sharpness in his tone. "Is that all settled?"
"Almost. Would you like me to tell you?"
"Only a little—please!"
His voice had dropped, and he spoke very quietly, which
startlingly caused me to realize what I was doing. I went out of
hearing then, very softly. Is it creible that I found myself
trembling when I reached the twilit piazza? It is true, and I knew
that never, for one moment, since that tragic, divine day of her pity,
had I wholly despaired of beholding her again; that in my most
sorrowful time there had always been a little, little morsel of
certain knowledge that I should some day be near her once more.
And now, so much was easily revealed to me: it was to see her that
the good Lambert R. Poor Jr., had come to Paris, preceding my patron;
it was he who had passed with her on the last day of my shame, and
whom she had addressed by his central name of Rufus, and it was to his
hand that I had restored her parasol.
I was to look upon her face at last—I knew it—and to speak with
her. Ah, yes, I did tremble! It was not because I feared she might
recognize her poor slave of the painted head-top, nor that Poor Jr.
would tell her. I knew him now too well to think he would do that, had
I been even that other of whom he had spoken, for he was a brave, good
boy, that Poor Jr. No, it was a trembling of another kind—something I
do not know how to explain to those who have not trembled in the same
way; and I came alone to my room in the hotel, still trembling a
little and having strange quickness of breathing in my chest.
I did not make any light; I did not wish it, for the precious
darkness of the Cathedral remained with me—magic darkness in which I
beheld floating clouds made of the dust of gold and vanishing
melodies. Any person who knows of these singular things comprehends
how little of them can be told; but to those people who do not know of
them, it may appear all great foolishness. Such people are either too
young, and they must wait, or too old—they have forgotten!
It was an hour afterward, and Poor Jr. had knocked twice at my
door, when I lighted the room and opened it to him. He came in,
excitedly flushed, and, instead of taking a chair, began to walk
quickly up and down the floor.
"I'm afraid I forgot all about you, Ansolini," he said, "but that
girl I ran into is a—a Miss Landry, whom I have known a long—"
I put my hand on his shoulder for a moment and said:
"I think I am not so dull, my friend!"
He made a blue flash at me with his eyes, then smiled and shook
"Yes, you are right," he answered, re-beginning his fast pace over
the carpet. "It was she that I meant in Lucerne—I don't see why I
should not tell you. In Paris she said she didn't want me to see her
again until I could be—freiendly—the old way instead of something
considerably different, which I'd grown to be. Well, I've just told
her not only that I'd behave like a friend, but that I'd changed and
felt like one. Pretty much of a lie that was!" He laighed, without any
amusement. "But it was successful, and I suppose I can keep it up. At
any rate we're going over to Venice with her and her mother to-morrow.
Afterwards, we'll see them in Naples just before they sail."
"To Venice with them!" I could not repress crying out.
"Yes; we join parties for two days," he said, and stopped at a
window and looked out attentively at nothing before he went on: "It
won't be very long, and I don't suppose it will ever happen again. The
other man is to meet them in Rome. He's a countryman of yours, and I
believe—I believe it's—about—settled!"
He pronounced these last words in an even voice, but how slowly!
Not more slowly than the construction of my own response, which I
heard myself making:
"This countryman of mine—who is he?"
"One of your kind of Kentucky Colonels," Poor Jr. laughed
mournfully. At first I did not understand; then it came to me that he
had sometimes previously spoken in that idiom of the nobles, and that
it had been his custom to address one of his Parisian followers, a
vicomte, as "Colonel."
"What is his name?"
"I can't pronounce it, and I don't know how to spell it," he
answered. "And that doesn't bring me to the verge of the grave! I can
bear to forget it, at least until we get to Naples!"
He turned and went to the door, saying, cheerfully: "Well, old
horse-thief" (such had come to be his name for me sometimes, and it
was pleasant to hear), "we must be dressing. They're at this hotel,
and we dine with them to-night."
How can I tell of the lady of the pongee—now that I beheld her?
Do you think that, when she came that night to the salon where we were
awaiting her, I hesitated to lift my eyes to her face because of a
fear that it would not be so beautiful as the misty sweet face I had
dreamed would be hers? Ah, no! It was the beauty which was in her
heart that had made me hers; yet I knew that she was beautiful. She
was fair, that is all I can tell. I cannot tell of her eyes, her
height, her mouth; I saw her through those clouds of the dust of
gold—she was all glamour and light. It was to be seen that everyone
fell in love with her at once; that the chef d'orchestre came and
played to her; and the waiters—you should have observed them!—made
silly, tender faces through the great groves of flowers with which
Poor Jr. had covered the table. It was most difficult for me to
address her, to call her "Miss Landry." It seemed impossible that she
should have a name, or that I should speak to her except as "you."
Even, I cannot tell very much of her mother, except that she was
adorable because of her adorable relationship. She was florid,
perhaps, and her conversation was of commonplaces and echoes, like my
own, for I could not talk. It was Poor Jr. who made the talking, and
in spite of the spell that was on me, I found myself full of
admiration and sorrow for that brave fellow. He was all gaieties and
little stories in a way I had never heard before; he kept us in quiet
laughter; in a word, he was charming. The beautiful lady seemed
content to listen with the greatest pleasure. She talked very little,
except to encourage the young man to continue. I do not think she was
brilliant, as they call it, or witty. She was much more than that in
her comprehension, in her kindness—her beautiful kindness!
She spoke only once directly to me, except for the little things
one must say. "I am almost sure I have met you, Signor Ansolini."
I felt myself burning up and knew that the conflagration was
visible. So frightful a blush cannot be prevented by will-power, and
I felt it continuing in hot waves long after Poor Jr. had effected
salvation for me by a small joke upon my cosmopolitanism.
Little sleep visited me that night. The darkness of my room was
luminous and my closed eyes became painters, painting so radiantly
with divine colours—painters of wonderful portraits of this lady.
Gallery after gallery swam before me, and the morning brought only
What a ride it was to Venice that day! What magical airs we rode
through, and what a thieving old trickster was time, as he always
becomes when one wishes hours to be long! I think Poor Jr. had made
himself forget everything except that he was with her and that he must
be a friend. He committed a thousand ridiculousnesses at the stations;
he filled one side of the compartment with the pretty chianti-bottles,
with terrible cakes, and with fruits and flowers; he never ceased his
joking, which had no tiresomeness in it, and he made the little
journey one of continuing, happy laughter.
And that evening another of my foolish dreams came true! I sat in
a gondola with the lady of the grey pongee to hear the singing on the
Grand Canal;—not, it is true, at her feet, but upon a little chair
beside her mother. It was my place—to be, as I had been all day,
escort to the mother, and guide and courier for that small party.
Contented enough was I to accept it! How could I have hoped that the
Most Blessed Mother would grant me so much nearness as that? It was
not happiness that I felt, but something so much more precious, as
though my heart- strings were the strings of a harp, and sad,
beautiful arpeggios ran over them.
I could not speak much that evening, nor could Poor Jr. We were
very silent and listened to the singing, our gondola just touching
the others on each side, those in turn touching others, so that a
musician from the barge could cross from one to another, presenting
the hat for contributions. In spite of this extreme propinquity, I
feared the collector would fall into the water when he received the
offering of Poor Jr. It was "Gra-a-az', Mi-lor! Graz'!" a hundred
times, with bows and grateful smiles indeed!
It is the one place in the world where you listen to a bad voice
with pleasure, and none of the voices are good—they are harsh and
worn with the night-singing—yet all are beautiful because they are
They sang some of our own Neapolitan songs that night, and last of
all the loveliest of all, "La Luna Nova." It was to the cadence of it
that our gondoliers moved us out of the throng, and it still drifted
on the water as we swung, far down, into sight of the lights of the
"Luna d'ar-gen-to fal-lo so-gnar—
Ba-cia-lo in fron-te non lo de-star. . . ."
Not so sweetly came those measures as the low voice of the
beautiful lady speaking them.
"One could never forget it, never!" she said. "I might hear it a
thousand other times and forget them, but never this first time."
I perceived that Poor Jr. turned his face abruptly toward hers at
this, but he said nothing, by which I understood not only his wisdom
but his forbearance.
"Strangely enough," she went on, slowly, "that song reminded me of
something in Paris. Do you remember"—she turned to Poor Jr.—"that
poor man we saw in front of the Cafe' de la Paix with the sign painted
upon his head?"
Ah, the good-night, with its friendly cloak! The good, kind night!
"I remember," he answered, with some shortness. "A little faster,
"I don't know what made it," she said, "I can't account for it,
but I've been thinking of him all through that last song."
Perhaps not so strange, since one may know how wildly that poor
devil had been thinking of her!
"I've thought of him so often," the gentle voice went on. "I felt
so sorry for him. I never felt sorrier for any one in my life. I was
sorry for the poor, thin cab-horses in Paris, but I was sorrier for
him. I think it was the saddest sight I ever saw. Do you suppose he
still has to do that, Rufus?"
"No, no," he answered, in haste. "He'd stopped before I left. He's
all right, I imagine. Here's the Danieli."
She fastened a shawl more closely about her mother, whom I, with a
ringing in my ears, was trying to help up the stone steps. "Rufus, I
hope," the sweet voice continued, so gently,—"I hope he's found
something to do that's very grand! Don't you? Something to make up to
him for doing that!"
She had not the faintest dream that it was I. It was just her
The next afternoon Venice was a bleak and empty setting, the jewel
gone. How vacant it looked, how vacant it was! We made not any effort
to penetrate the galleries; I had no heart to urge my friend. For us
the whole of Venice had become one bridge of sighs, and we sat in the
shade of the piazza, not watching the pigeons, and listening very
little to the music. There are times when St. Mark's seems to glare at
you with Byzantine cruelty, and Venice is too hot and too cold. So it
was then. Evening found us staring out at the Adriatic from the
terrace of a cafe' on the Ledo, our coffee cold before us. Never was a
greater difference than that in my companion from the previous day.
Yet he was not silent. He talked of her continually, having found
that he could talk of her to me—though certainly he did not know why
it was or how. He told me, as we sat by the grey- growing sea, that
she had spoken of me.
"She liked you, she liked you very much," he said. "She told me
she liked you because you were quiet and melancholy. Oh Lord, though,
she likes everyone, I suppose! I believe I'd have a better chance with
her if I hadn't always known her. I'm afraid that this damn Italian—I
beg your pardon, Ansolini!—"
"Ah, no," I answered. "It is sometimes well said."
"I'm afraid his picturesqueness as a Kentucky Colonel appeals to
her too much. And then he is new to her—a new type. She only met him
in Paris, and he had done some things in the Abyssinian war—"
"What is his rank?" I asked.
"He's a prince. Cheap down this way; aren't they? I only hope"
—and Poor Jr. made a groan—"it isn't going to be the old story—and
that he'll be good to her if he gets her."
"Then it is not yet a betrothal?"
"Not yet. Mrs. Landry told me that Alice had liked him well enough
to promise she'd give him her answer before she sailed, and that it
was going to be yes. She herself said it was almost settled. That was
just her way of breaking it to me, I fear."
"You have given up, my friend?"
"What else can I do? I can't go on following her, keeping up this
play at second cousin, and she won't have anything else. Ever since I
grew up she's been rather sorrowful over me because I didn't do
anything but try to amuse myself—that was one of the reasons she
couldn't care for me, she said, when I asked her. Now this fellow
wins, who hasn't done anything either, except his one campaign. It's
not that I ought to have her, but while I suppose it's a real
fascination, I'm afraid there's a little glitter about being a
princess. Even the best of our girls haven't got over that yet. Ah,
well, about me she's right. I've been a pretty worthless sort. She's
right. I've thought it all over. Three days before they sail we'll go
down to Naples and hear the last word, and whatever it is we'll see
them off on the 'Princess Irene.' Then you and I'll come north and
sail by the first boat from Cherbourg.
"I—I?" I stammered.
"Yes," he said. "I'm going to make the aged parent shout with
unmanly glee. I'm going to ask him to take me on as a hand. He'll
take you, too. He uses something like a thousand Italians, and a man
to manage them who can talk to them like a Dutch uncle is what he has
always needed. He liked you, and he'll be glad to get you."
He was a good friend, that Poor Jr., you see, and I shook the hand
that he offered me very hard, knowing how great would have been his
embarrassment had I embraced him in our own fashion.
"And perhaps you will sail on the 'Princess Irene,' after all," I
"No," he shook his head sadly, "it will not happen. I have not
been worth it."
That Naples of mine is like a soiled coronet of white gems,
sparkling only from far away. But I love it altogether, near or far,
and my heart would have leaped to return to it for its own sake, but
to come to it as we did, knowing that the only lady in the world was
there. . . . Again, this is one of those things I possess no knowledge
how to tell, and that those who know do know. How I had longed for the
time to come, how I had feared it, how I had made pictures of it!
Yet I feared not so much as my friend, for he had a dim, small
hope, and I had none. How could I have? I—a man whose head had been
painted? I—for whom her great heart had sorrowed as for the thin,
beaten cab-horses of Paris! Hope? All I could hope was that she might
never know, and I be left with some little shred of dignity in her
Who cannot see that it was for my friend to fear? At times, with
him, it was despair, but of that brave kind one loves to see — never
a quiver of the lip, no winking of the eyes to keep tears back. And I,
although of a people who express everything in every way, I understood
what passed within him and found time to sorrow for him.
Most of all, I sorrowed for him as we waited for her on the
terrace of the Bertolini, that perch on the cliff so high that even
the noises of the town are dulled and mingle with the sound of the
thick surf far below.
Across the city, and beyond, we saw, from the terrace, the old
mountain of the warm heart, smoking amiably, and the lights of Torre
del Greco at its feet, and there, across the bay, I beheld, as I had
nightly so long ago, the lamps of Castellamare, of Sorrento; then,
after a stretch of water, a twinkling which was Capri. How good it was
to know that all these had not taken advantage of my long absence to
run away and vanish, as I had half feared they would. Those who have
lived here love them well; and it was a happy thought that the
beautiful lady knew them now, and shared them. I had never known quite
all their loveliness until I felt that she knew it too. This was
something that I must never tell her—yet what happiness there was in
I stood close to the railing, with a rambling gaze over this
enchanted earth and sea and sky, while my friend walked nervously up
and down behind me. We had come to Naples in the late afternoon, and
had found a note from Mrs. Landry at our hotel, asking us for dinner.
Poor Jr. had not spoken more than twice since he had read me this kind
invitation, but now I heard a low exclamation from him, which let me
know who was approaching; and that foolish trembling got hold of me
again as I turned.
Mrs. Landry came first, with outstretched hand, making some talk
excusing delay; and, after a few paces, followed the loveliest of all
the world. Beside her, in silhouette against the white window lights
of the hotel, I saw the very long, thin figure of a man, which, even
before I recognized it, carried a certain ominousness to my mind.
Mrs. Landry, in spite of her florid contentedness, had sometimes a
fluttering appearance of trivial agitations.
"The Prince came down from Rome this morning," she said nervously,
and I saw my friend throw back his head like a man who declines the
eye-bandage when they are going to shoot him. "He is dining with us. I
know you will be glad to meet him."
The beautiful lady took Poor Jr.'s hand, more than he hers, for he
seemed dazed, in spite of the straight way he stood, and it was easy
to behold how white his face was. She made the presentation of us both
at the same time, and as the other man came into the light, my mouth
dropped open with wonder at the singular chances which the littleness
of our world brings about.
"Prince Caravacioli, Mr. Poor. And this is Signor Ansolini."
It was my half-brother, that old Antonio!
Never lived any person with more possession of himself than
Antonio; he bowed to each of us with the utmost amiability; and for
expression—all one saw of it was a little streak of light in his
"It is yourself, Raffaele?" he said to me, in the politest manner,
in our own tongue, the others thinking it some commonplace, and I knew
by his voice that the meeting was as surprising and as exasperating to
him as to me.
Sometimes dazzling flashes of light explode across the eyes of
blind people. Such a thing happened to my own, now, in the darkness.
I found myself hot all over with a certain rashness that came to me. I
felt that anything was possible if I would but dare enough.
"I am able to see that it is the same yourself!" I answered, and
made the faintest eye-turn toward Miss Landry. Simultaneously bowing,
I let my hand fall upon my pocket—a language which he understood, and
for which (the Blessed Mother be thanked!) he perceived that I meant
to offer battle immediately, though at that moment he offered me an
open smile of benevolence. He knew nothing of my new cause for war;
there was enough of the old!
The others were observing us.
"You have met?" asked the gentle voice of Miss Landry. "You know
"Exceedingly!" I answered, bowing low to her.
"The dinner is waiting in our own salon," said Mrs. Landry,
interrupting. She led the way with Antonio to an open door on the
terrace where servants were attending, and such a forest of flowers on
the table and about the room as almost to cause her escort to stagger;
for I knew, when I caught sight of them, that he had never been wise
enough to send them. Neither had Poor Jr. done it out of wisdom, but
because of his large way of performing everything, and his wish that
loveliest things should be a background for that lady.
Alas for him! Those great jars of perfume, orchids and hyacinths
and roses, almost shut her away from his vision. We were at a small
round table, and she directly in opposition to him. Upon her right was
Antonio, and my heart grew cold to see how she listened to him.
For Antonio could talk. At that time he spoke English even better
than I, though without some knowledge of the North- American idiom
which my travels with Poor Jr. had given me. He was one of those
splendid egoists who seem to talk in modesty, to keep themselves
behind scenes, yet who, when the curtain falls, are discovered to be
the heroes, after all, though shown in so delicate a fashion that the
audience flatters itself in the discovery.
And how practical was this fellow, how many years he had been
developing his fascinations! I was the only person of that small
company who could have a suspicion that his moustache was dyed, that
his hair was toupee, or that hints of his real age were scorpions and
adders to him. I should not have thought it, if I had not known it.
Here was my advantage: I had known his monstrous vanity all my life.
So he talked of himself in his various surreptitious ways until
coffee came, Miss Landry listening eagerly, and my poor friend making
no effort; for what were his quiet United States absurdities compared
to the whole-world gaieties and Abyssinian adventures of this Othello,
particularly for a young girl to whom Antonio's type was unfamiliar?
For the first time I saw my young man's brave front desert him. His
mouth drooped, and his eyes had an appearance of having gazed long at
a bright light. I saw that he, unhappy one, was at last too sure what
her answer would be.
For myself, I said very little—I waited. I hoped and believed
Antonio would attack me in his clever, disguised way, for he had
always hated me and my dead brother, and he had never failed to prove
himself too skilful for us. In my expectancy of his assault there was
no mistake. I comprehended Antonio very well, and I knew that he
feared I might seek to do him an injury, particularly after my
inspired speech and gesture upon the terrace. Also, I felt that he
would, if possible, anticipate my attempt and strike first. I was
willing; for I thought myself in possession of his vulnerable
point—never dreaming that he might know my own!
At last when he, with the coffee and cigarettes, took the knife in
his hand, he placed a veil over the point. He began, laughingly, with
the picture of a pickpocket he had helped to catch in London. London
was greatly inhabited by pickpockets, according to Antonio's
declaration. Yet, he continued, it was nothing in comparison to Paris.
Paris was the rendezvous, the world's home, for the criminals,
adventurers, and rascals if the world, English, Spanish,
South-Americans, North-Americans,— and even Italians! One must beware
of people one had met in Paris!
"Of course," he concluded, with a most amiable smile, "there are
many good people there also. That is not to be forgotten. If I should
dare to make a risk on such a trifle, for instance, I would lay wager
that you"—he nodded toward Poor Jr.—"made the acquaintance of
Ansolini in Paris?"
This was of the greatest ugliness in its underneath significance,
though the manner was disarming. Antonio's smile was so cheerful, his
eye-glass so twinkling, that none of them could have been sure he
truly meant anything harmful of me, though Poor Jr. looked up, puzzled
Before he could answer I pulled myself altogether, as they say,
and leaned forward, resting my elbows upon the table. "It is true,"
and I tried to smile as amiably as Antonio. "These coincidences occur.
You meet all the great frauds of the world in Paris. Was it not
there"—I turned to Mrs. Landry—"that you met the young Prince here?"
At this there was no mistaking that the others perceived. The
secret battle had begun and was not secret. I saw a wild gleam in
Poor Jr.'s eyes, as if he comprehended that strange things were to
come; but, ah, the face of distress and wonder upon Mrs. Landry, who
beheld the peace of both a Prince and a dinner assailed; and, alas!
the strange and hurt surprise that came from the lady of the pongee!
Let me not be a boastful fellow, but I had borne her pity and had
adored it—I could face her wonder, even her scorn.
It was in the flash of her look that I saw my great chance and
what I must try to do. Knowing Antonio, it was as if I saw her
falling into the deep water and caught just one contemptuous glance
from her before the waves hid her. But how much juster should that
contempt have been if I had not tried to save her!
As for that old Antonio, he might have known enough to beware. I
had been timid with him always, and he counted on it now, but a man
who has shown a painted head-top to the people of Paris will dare a
"As the Prince says," replied Mrs. Landry, with many flutters,
"one meets only the most agreeable people in Paris!"
"Paris!" I exclaimed. "Ah, that home of ingenuity! How they paint
there! How they live, and how they dye—their beards!"
You see how the poor Ansolini played the buffoon. I knew they
feared it was wine, I had been so silent until now; but I did not
care, I was beyond care.
"Our young Prince speaks truly," I cried, raising my voice. "He is
wise beyond his years, this youth! He will be great when he reaches
middle age, for he knows Paris and understands North America! Like
myself, he is grateful that the people of your continent enrich our
own! We need all that you can give us! Where should we be—any of us"
(I raised my voice still louder and waved my hand to Antonio),—"where
should we be, either of us" (and I bowed to the others) "without you?"
Mrs. Landry rose with precipitousness, and the beautiful lady,
very red, followed. Antonio, unmistakably stung with the scorpions I
had set upon him, sprang to the door, the palest yellow man I have
ever beheld, and let the ladies pass before him.
The next moment I was left alone with Poor Jr. and his hyacinth
For several minutes neither of us spoke. Then I looked up to meet
my friend's gaze of perturbation.
A waiter was proffering cigars. I took one, and waved Poor Jr.'s
hand away from the box of which the waiter made offering.
"Do not remain!" I whispered, and I saw his sad perplexity. "I
know her answer has not been given. Will you present him his chance
to receive it—just when her sympathy must be stronger for him, since
she will think he has had to bear rudeness?"
He went out of the door quickly.
I dod not smoke. I pretended to, while the waiters made the
arrangements of the table and took themselves off. I sat there a
long, long time waiting for Antonio to do what I hoped I had betrayed
him to do.
It befell at last.
Poor Jr. came to the door and spoke in his steady voice.
"Ansolini, will you come out here a moment?"
Then I knew that I had succeeded, had made Antonio afraid that I
would do the thing he himself, in a panic, had already done — speak
evil of another privately.
As I reached the door I heard him call out foolishly, "But Mr.
Poor, I beg you—"
Poor Jr. put his hand on my shoulder, and we walked out into the
dark of the terrace. Antonio was leaning against the railing, the
beautiful lady standing near. Mrs. Landry had sunk into a chair beside
her daughter. No other people were upon the terrace.
"Prince Caravacioli has been speaking of you," said Poor Jr., very
"Ah?" said I.
"I listened to what he said; then I told him that you were my
friend, and that I considered it fair that you should hear what he
had to say. I will repeat what he said, Ansolini. If I mistake
anything, he can interrupt me."
Antonio laughed, and in such a way, so sincerely, so gaily, that I
"Very good!" he cried. "I am content. Repeat all."
"He began," Poor Jr. went on, quietly, though his hand gripped my
shoulder to almost painfulness,—"he began by saying to these ladies,
in my presence, that we should be careful not to pick up chance
strangers to dine, in Italy, and—and he went on to give me a
repetition of his friendly warning about Paris. He hinted things for a
while, until I asked him to say what he knew of you. Then he said he
knew all about you; that you were an outcast, a left-handed member of
his own family, an adventurer—"
"It is finished, my friend," I said, interrupting him, and gazed
with all my soul upon the beautiful lady. Her face was as white as
Antonio's or that of my friend, or as my own must have been. She
strained her eyes at me fixedly; I saw the tears standing still in
them, and I knew the moment had come.
"This Caravacioli is my half-brother," I said.
Antonio laughed again. "Of what kind!"
Oh, he went on so easily to his betrayal, not knowing the
United-Statesians and their sentiment, as I did.
"We had the same mother," I continued, as quietly as I could.
"Twenty years after this young—this somewhat young—Prince was born
she divorced his father, Caravacioli, and married a poor poet, whose
bust you can see on the Pincian in Rome, though he died in the
cheapest hotel in Sienna when my true brother and I were children.
This young Prince would have nothing to do with my mother after her
second marriage and—"
"Marriage!" Antonio laughed pleasantly again. He was admirable.
"This is an old tale which the hastiness of our American friend has
forced us to rehearse. The marriage was never recognized by the
Vatican, and there was not twenty years—"
"Antonio, it is the age which troubles you, after all!" I said,
and laughed heartily, loudly, and a long time, in the most good-
natured way, not to be undone as an actor.
"Twenty years," I repeated. "But what of it? Some of the best men
in the world use dyes and false—"
At this his temper went away from him suddenly and completely. I
had struck the right point indeed!
"You cammorrista!" he cried, and became only himself, his hands
gesturing and flying, all his pleasant manner gone. "Why should we
listen one second more to such a fisherman! The very seiners of the
bay who sell dried sea-horses to the tourists are better gentlemen
than you. You can shrug your shoulders! I saw you in Paris, though you
thought I did not! Oh, I saw you well! Ah! At the Cafe de la Paiz!"
At this I cried out suddenly. The sting and surprise of it were
more than I could bear. In my shame I would even have tried to drown
his voice with babblings but after this one cry I could not speak for
a while. He went on triumphantly:
"This rascal, my dear ladies, who has persuaded you to ask him to
dinner, this camel who claims to be my excellent brother, he, for a
few francs, in Paris, shaved his head and showed it for a week to the
people with an advertisement painted upon it of the worst ballet in
Paris. This is the gentleman with whom you ask Caravacioli to dine!"
It was beyond my expectation, so astonishing and so cruel that I
could only look at him for a moment or two. I felt as one who dreams
himself falling forever. Then I stepped forward and spoke, in
thickness of voice, being unable to lift my head:
"Again it is true what he says. I was that man of the painted
head. I had my true brother's little daughters to care for. They were
at the convent, and I owed for them. It was also partly for myself,
because I was hungry. I could find not any other way, and so—but that
I turned and went stumblingly away from them.
In my agony that she should know, I could do nothing but seek
greater darkness. I felt myself beaten, dizzy with beatings. That
thing which I had done in Paris discredited me. A man whose head-top
had borne an advertisement of the Folie-Rouge to think he could be
making a combat with the Prince Caravacioli!
Leaning over the railing in the darkest corner of the terrace, I
felt my hand grasped secondarily by that good friend of mine.
"God bless you!" whispered Poor Jr.
"On my soul, I believe he's done himself. Listen!"
I turned. That beautiful lady had stepped out into the light from
the salon door. I could see her face shining, and her eyes —ah me,
how glorious they were! Antonio followed her.
"But wait," he cried pitifully.
"Not for you!" she answered, and that voice of hers, always before
so gentle, rang out as the Roman trumpets once rang from this same
cliff. "Not for you! I saw him there with his painted head and I
understood! You saw him there, and you did nothing to help him! And
the two little children—your nieces, too,— and he your brother!"
Then my heart melted and I found myself choking, for the beautiful
lady was weeping.
"Not for you, Prince Caravacioli," she cried, through her tears,
—"Not for you!"
All of the beggars in Naples, I think, all of the flower-girls and
boys, I am sure, and all the wandering serenaders, I will swear, were
under our windows at the Vesuve, from six o'clock on the morning the
"Princess Irene" sailed; and there need be no wonder when it is known
that Poor Jr. had thrown handfuls of silver and five-lire notes from
our balcony to strolling orchestras and singers for two nights before.
They wakened us with "Addio, la bella Napoli, addio, addio!" sung
to the departing benefactor. When he had completed his toilet and his
coffee, he showed himself on the balcony to them for a moment. Ah!
What a resounding cheer for the signore, the great North-American
nobleman! And how it swelled to a magnificent thundering when another
largess of his came flying down among them!
Who could have reproved him? Not Raffaele Ansolini, who was on his
knees over the bags and rugs! I think I even made some prolongation of
that position, for I was far from assured of my countenance, that
I was not to sail in the "Princess Irene" with those dear friends.
Ah no! I had told them that I must go back to Paris to say good-bye to
my little nieces and sail from Boulogne—and I am sure they believed
that was my reason. I had even arranged to go away upon a train which
would make it not possible for me to drive to the dock with them. I
did not wish to see the boat carry them away from me.
And so the farewells were said in the street in all that crowd.
Poor Jr. and I were waiting at the door when the carriage galloped
up. How the crowd rushed to see that lady whom it bore to us, blushing
and laughing! Clouds of gold-dust came before my eyes again; she wore
once more that ineffable grey pongee!
Servants ran forward with the effects of Poor Jr. and we both
sprang toward the carriage.
A flower-girl was offering a great basket of loose violets. Poor
Jr. seized it and threw them like a blue rain over the two ladies.
A hundred bouquets showered into the carriage, and my friend's
silver went out in another shower to meet them.
"Addio, la bella Napoli!" came from the singers and the violins,
but I cried to them for "La Luna Nova."
"Good-bye—for a little while—good-bye!"
I knew how well my friend liked me, because he shook my hand with
his head turned away. Then the grey glove of the beautiful lady
touched my shoulder—the lightest touch in all the world —as I stood
close to the carriage while Poor Jr. climbed in.
"Good-bye. Thank you—and God bless you!" she said, in a low
voice. And I knew for what she thanked me.
The driver cracked his whip like an honest Neapolitan. The horses
sprang forward. "Addio, addio!"
I sang with the musicians, waving and waving and waving my
handkerchief to the departing carriage.
Now I saw my friend lean over and take the beautiful lady by the
hand, and together they stood up in the carriage and waved their
handkerchiefs to me. Then, but not because they had passed out of
sight, I could see them not any longer.
They were so good—that kind Poor Jr. and the beautiful lady; they
seemed like dear children—as if they had been my own dear children.