THE VEILED LADY
And Other Men And Women
F. Hopkinson Smith
THE VEILED LADY OF STAMBOUL LORETTA OF THE SHIPYARDS A COAT OF RED LEAD MISS MURDOCK,—"SPECIAL" THE BEGUILING OF PETER GRIGGS MISS JENNINGS'S COMPANION SAM JOPLIN'S EPIGASTRIC NERVE MISS BUFFUM'S NEW BOARDER CAPTAIN JOE AND THE SUSIE ANN "AGAINST ORDERS" MUGGLES'S SUPREME MOMENT
To my Readers:
This collection of stories has been labelled "The Veiled Lady" as being the easiest way out of a dilemma; and yet the title may be misleading. While, beyond doubt, there is between these covers a most charming and lovable Houri, to whom the nightingales sing lullabies, there can also be found a surpassingly beautiful Venetian whose love affairs upset a Quarter, a common-sense, motherly nurse whose heart warmed toward her companion in the adjoining berth, a plucky New England girl with the courage of her convictions, and a prim spinster whose only consolation was the boarder who sat opposite.
Nor does the list by any means end here. Rough sea-dogs, with friendly feelings toward other dogs, crop up, as well as brave Titans who make derricks of their arms and fender-piles of their bodies. Here, too, are skinny, sun-dried Excellencies with a taste for revolutions, well-groomed club swells with a taste for adventure and cocktails, not to mention half a dozen gay, rollicking Bohemians with a taste for everything that came their way.
Perhaps it might have been best to enclose each story in a separate cover, and then to dump the unassorted lot upon the table, where those who wished could make their choice. And yet, as I turn the leaves, I must admit that, after all, the present form is best, since each and every incident, situation, and bit of local color has either passed before or was poured into the wide-open eyes and willing ears of your most humble and obedient servant
A Staid Old Painter.
150 East 34th Street, New York, March 13, 1907.
THE VEILED LADY OF STAMBOUL
Joe Hornstog told me this story—the first part of it; the last part of it came to me in a way which proves how small the world is.
Joe belongs to that conglomerate mass of heterogeneous nationalities found around the Golden Horn, whose ancestry is as difficult to trace as a gypsy's. He says he is a "Jew gentleman from Germany," but he can't prove it, and he knows he can't.
There is no question about his being part Jew, and there is a strong probability of his being part German, and, strange to say, there is not the slightest doubt of his being part gentleman—in his own estimation; and I must say in mine, when I look back over an acquaintance covering many years and remember how completely my bank account was at his disposal and how little of its contents he appropriated.
And yet, were I required to hold up my hand in open court, I would have to affirm that Joe, whatever his other strains might be, was, after all, ninety-nine per cent. Levantine—which is another way of saying that he is part of every nationality about him.
As to his honesty and loyalty, is he not the chosen dragoman of kings and princes when they journey into far distant lands (he speaks seven languages and many tribal dialects), and is he not today wearing in his buttonhole the ribbon of the order of the Mejidieh, bestowed upon him by his Imperial Highness the Sultan, in reward for his ability and faithfulness?
I must admit that I myself have been his debtor—not once, but many times. It was this same quick-sighted, quick-witted Levantine who lifted me from my sketching stool and stood me on my feet in the plaza of the Hippodrome one morning just in time to prevent my being trodden under foot by six Turks carrying the body of their friend to the cemetery—in time, too, to save me from the unforgivable sin among Orientals, of want of reverence for their dead. I had heard the tramp of the pall-bearers, and supposing it to be that of the Turkish patrol, had kept at work. They were prowling everywhere, day and night, and during those days they passed every ten minutes—nine soldiers in charge of an officer of police—all owing to the fact that some five thousand Armenians, anxious to establish a new form of government, had been wiped out of existence only the week before.
Once on my feet (Joe accomplished his purpose with the help of my suspenders) and the situation clear, I had sense enough left to uncover my head and stand in an attitude of profound reverence until the procession had passed. I can see them now—the coffin wrapped in a camel's-hair shawl, the dead man's fez and turban resting on top. Then I replaced my hat and finished the last of the six minarets of the mosque gleaming like opals in the soft light of the morning.
This act of courtesy, due so little to my own initiative, and so largely to Joe's, gained for me many friends in and about the mosque—not only those of the dead man, one of whom rowed a caique, but among the priests who formed the funeral cortege—a fact unknown to me until Joe imparted it. "Turk-man say you good man, effendi," was the way he put it. "You stoop over yourselluf humble for their dead."
On another occasion Joe again stood by my side when, with hat off and with body in a half kotow, I sat before the Pasha, who was acting chief of police after that stormy Armenian week—it was over really in five days.
"Most High Potentate," Joe began, translating my plain Anglo-Saxon "Please, sir," into Eastern hyperbolics, "I again seek your Excellency's presence to make my obeisance and to crave your permission to transfer to cheap paper some of the glories of this City of Turquoise and Ivory. This, if your Highness will deign to remember, is not the first time I have trespassed. Twice before have I prostrated myself, and twice has your Sublimity granted my request."
"These be troublous times," puffed his Swarthiness through his mustache, his tobacco-stained fingers meanwhile rolling a cigarette; a dark-skinned, heavily-bearded Oriental, this Pasha, with an eye that burned holes in you. "You should await a more peaceful season, effendi, for your art."
"On account of the Armenians, your Excellency?" I ventured to inquire with a smile.
"Yes." This, in translation by Joe, came with a whistling sound, like the escaping steam of a radiator.
"But why should I fear these disturbers of the peace, your Supreme Highness? The Turk is my friend, and has been for years. They know me and my pure and unblemished life. They also know by this time that I have been one of the chosen few among nations who have enjoyed your Highness's confidence, and to whom you have given protection." Here my spine took the form of a horseshoe curve—Moorish pattern. "As to these dogs of Armenians" (this last was Joe's, given with a growl to show his deep detestation of the race—part of his own, if he would but acknowledge it), "your Excellency will look out for them." He WAS looking out for them at the rate of one hundred a day and no questions asked or answered so far as the poor fellows were concerned.
At this the distinguished Oriental finished rolling his cigarette, looked at me blandly—it is astonishing how sweet a smile can overspread the face of a Turk when he is granting you a favor or signing the death warrant of an infidel—clapped his hands, summoning an attendant who came in on all fours, and whispered an order in the left ear of the almost prostrate man. This done, the Pasha rose from his seat, straightened his shoulders (no handsomer men the world over than these high-class Turks), shook my hand warmly, gave me the Turkish salute—heart, mouth, and forehead touched with the tips of flying fingers—and bowed me out.
Once through the flat leather curtain that hid the exit door of the Pasha's office, and into the bare corridor, I led Joe to a corner out of the hearing of the ever-present spy, and, nailing him to the wall, propounded this query:
"What did the High-Pan-Jam say, Joe?"
Hornstog raised his shoulders level with his ears, fanned out his fingers, crooked his elbows, and in his best conglomerate answered:
"He say, effendi, that a guard of ein men, Yusuf, his name—I know him—he is in the Secret Service—oh, we will have no trouble with him—" Here Joe chafed his thumb and forefinger with the movement of a paying teller counting a roll. "He come every morning to Galata Bridge for you me. He say, too, if any trouble while you paint I go him—ah, effendi, it is only Joe Hornstog can do these things. The Pasha, he know me—all good Turk-men know me. Where we paint now, subito? In the plaza, or in the patio of the Valedee, like last year?"
"Neither. We go first to the Mosque of Suleiman. I want the view through the gate of the court-yard, with the mosque in the background. Best place is below the cafe. Pick up those traps and come along."
Thus it was that on this particular summer afternoon Joe and I found ourselves on the shadow side of a wall up a crooked, break-neck street paved with rocks, each as big as a dress-suit case, from which I got a full view of the wonderful mosque tossing its splendors into the still air, its cresting of minarets so much frozen spray against the blue.
The little comedy—or shall I say tragedy?—began a few minutes after I had opened my easel—I sitting crouched in the shadow, my elbow touching the plastered wall. Only Joe and I were present. Yusuf, the guard, a skinny, half-fed Turk in fez and European dress, had as usual betaken himself to the cafe fronting the same sidewalk on which I sat, but half a block away; far enough to be out of hearing, but near enough to miss my presence should I decamp suddenly without notifying him. There he drank some fifty cups of coffee, each one the size of a thimble, and smoked as many cigarettes, their burned stubs locating his seat under the cafe awning as clearly as peanut-shells mark a boy's at the circus. I, of course, paid for both.
So absorbed was I in my work—the mosque never was so beautiful as on that day—I gave no thought to the fact that in my eagerness to hide my canvas from the prying sun I had really backed myself into a small wooden gate, its lintel level with the sidewalk—a dry, dusty, sun-blistered gate, without lock or hasp on the outside, and evidently long closed. Even then I would not have noticed it, had not my ears caught the sound of a voice—two voices, in fact—low, gurgling voices—as if a fountain had just been turned on, spattering the leaves about it. Then my eye lighted, not only on the gate, but upon a seam or split in the wood, half-way up its height, showing where a panel was sometimes pushed back, perhaps for surer identification, before the inside wooden beam would be loosened.
So potent was the spell of the mosque's witchery that the next instant I should have forgotten both door and panel had not Joe touched the toe of my boot with his own—he was sitting close to me—and in explanation lifted his eyebrow a hair's breadth, his eyes fixed on the slowly sliding panel—sliding noiselessly, an inch at a time. Only then did my mind act.
What I saw was first a glow of yellow green, then a mass of blossoms, then a throat, chin and face, one after another, all veiled in a gossamer thin as a spider's web, and last—and these I shall never forget—a pair of eyes shining clear below and above the veil, and which gazed into mine with the same steady, full, unfrightened look one sometimes sees on the face of a summer moon when it bursts through a rift in the clouds.
"Don't move and don't look," whispered Joe in my ear, a tone in his voice of one who had just seen a ghost. "Allah! Ekber! Yuleima!"
"Who is she?" I answered, craning my neck to see the closer.
"No speak now—keep still," he mumbled under his breath.
It may have been the gossamer veil shading a rose skin, making pink pearls of the cheeks and chin and lending its charm to the other features; or it may have been the wonderful eyes that made me oblivious of Joe's warning, for I did look—looked with all my eyes, and kept on looking.
Men have died for just such eyes. Even now, staid old painter as I am, the very remembrance of their wondrous size—big as a young doe's and as pleading, their lids fringed by long feathery lashes that opened and shut with the movement of a tired butterfly—sends little thrills of delight scampering up and down my spine. Bulbuls, timid gazelles, perfumed narghilehs, anklets of beaten gold strung with turquoise, tinkling cymbals, tiny turned-up slippers with silk tassels on their toes—everything that told of the intoxicating life of the East were mirrored in their unfathomed depths.
Most of these qualities, I am aware, are found in many another pair of lambent, dreamy eyes half-hidden by the soft folds of a yashmak—eyes which these houris often flash on some poor devil of a giaour, knowing how safe they are and how slim his chance for further acquaintance. Strange tales are told of their seductive power and strange disappearances take place because of them. And yet I saw at a glance that there was nothing of all this in her wondering gaze. Her eyes, in fact, were fixed neither on Joseph nor on me, nor did they linger for one instant on the beautiful mosque. It was my canvas that held their gaze. Men and mosques were old stories; pictures of either as astounding as a glimpse into heaven.
Again Joe bent his head and whispered to me, his glance this time on the mosque, on the hill, on the cafe, where Yusuf sat sipping his coffee, talking to me all the time out of the corner of his mouth.
"Remember, effendi, if Yusuf come we go way chabouk. You look at your picture all time—paint—no look at her. If Yusuf come and catch us it make trouble for her—make trouble for you—make more trouble for me. Police Pasha don't know she come to this garden—I think somebody must help her. You better stop now and go cafe. I find Yusuf. I no like this place."
With this Hornstog rose to his feet and began packing the trap, still whispering, his eyes on the ground. Never once did he look in the direction of the houri peering through the sliding panel.
The clatter of a horse's hoofs now resounded through the still air. A mounted officer was approaching. Joe looked up, turned a light pea-green, backed his body into the gate with the movement of an eel, put his cheek close to the sliding panel, and whispered some words in Turkish. The girl leaned a little forward, glanced at the officer as if in confirmation of Joseph's warning, and smothering a low cry, sprang back from the opening. The next instant my eye caught the thumb and forefinger of a black hand noiselessly closing the panel. Joe straightened up, pulled himself into the position of a sentinel on guard, saluted the officer, who passed without looking to the right or left, drew a handkerchief from his pocket, and began mopping his head.
"What the devil is it all about, Joe? Why, you look as if you had had the wind knocked out of you."
"Oh, awful close, awful close! I tell you—but not here. Come, we go 'way—we go now—not stay here any more. If that officer see the lady with us the Pasha send me to black mosque for five year and you find yourself board ship on way to Tripoli. Here come Yusuf—damn him! You tell him you no like view of mosque from here—say you find another place to-morrow—you do this quick. Hornstog never lie."
On my way across the Galata Bridge to my quarters in Pera that same afternoon Joe followed until Yusuf had made his kotow and we had made ours, the three ending in a triple flight of fingers—waited until the guard was well on his way back to the Pasha's office—it was but a short way from the Stamboul end of the Galata—and drawing me into one of the small cafes overlooking the waters of the Golden Horn, seated me at the far end near a window where we could talk without being overheard. Here Joe ordered coffee and laid a package of cigarettes on the table.
"My! but that was like the razor at the throat—not for all the hairs on my head would I had her look out the small hole in the door when Serim come along. Somebody must be take care of you, you Joe Hornstog, that you don't make damn big fool of yourselluf. Ha! but it make me creep like a spider crawl."
I had pulled up a chair by this time and was facing him.
"Now what is it? Who is the girl? Who was the chap on horseback?"
"That man on the horse is Serim Pasha, chief of the palace police. He has eyes around twice; one in the forehead, one in each ear, one in the behind of his head. He did not see her—if he did—well, we would not be talk now together—sure not after to-morrow night."
"But what has he got to do with it? What did you say her name was? Yuleima?"
"Yes, Yuleima. What has Serim to do with her? Well, I tell you. If she get away off go Serim's head. Listen! I speak something you never hear anywhere 'cept in Turk-man's land. I know it all—everything. I know her prince—he knows me. I meet him Damascus once—he told me some things then—the tears run his cheeks down like a baby's when he talk—and Serim know I know somethings! Ah! that's why he not believe me if he catch me talk to her. Afterward I find more out from my friend in Yuleima's house—he is the gardener. Put your head close, effendi."
I drew my chair nearer and listened.
"Yuleima," began Joe, "is one womans like no other womans in all—"
But I shall not attempt the dragoman's halting, broken jargon interspersed with Italian and German words—it will grate on you as it grated on me. I will assume for the moment—and Joe would be most thankful to have me do so—that the learned Hornstog, the friend of kings and princes, is as fluent in English as he is in Turkish, Arabic, and Greek.
It all began in a caique—or rather in two caiques. One was on its way to a little white house that nestles among the firs at the foot of the bare brown hill overlooking the village of Beicos. The other was bound for the Fountain Beautiful, where the women and their slaves take the air in the soft summer mornings.
In the first caique, rowed by two caique-jis gorgeously dressed in fluffy trousers and blouses embroidered in gold, sat the daughter of the rich Bagdad merchant.
In the second caique, cigarette in hand, lounged the nephew of the Khedive, Mahmoud Bey; scarce twenty, slight, oval face with full lips, hair black as sealskin and as soft, and eyes that smouldered under heavy lids. Four rowers in blue and silver attended his Highness, the amber-colored boat skimming the waters as a tropical bird skims a lagoon.
The two had passed each other the week before on the day of the Selamlik (the Turkish holiday) while paddling up the Sweet Waters of Asia—a little brook running into the Bosphorus and deep enough for caiques to float, and every day since that blissful moment my lady had spent the morning under the wide-spreading plane-trees shading the Fountain Beautiful—the Chesmegazell—attended by her faithful slave Multif, her beautiful body stretched on a Damascus rug of priceless value, her eager eyes searching the blue waters of the Bosphorus.
On this particular morning—my lady had just stepped into her boat—the young man was seen to raise himself on his elbow, lift his eyelids, and a slight flush suffused his swarthy cheeks. Then came an order in a low voice, and the caique swerved in its course and headed for the dot of white and gold in which sat Multif and my lady. The Spanish caballero haunts the sidewalk and watches all day beneath his Dulcinea's balcony; or he talks to her across the opera-house or bull-ring with cigarette, fingers, and cane, she replying with studied movements of her fan. In the empire of Mohammed, with a hundred eyes on watch—eyes of eunuchs, spies, and parents—love-making is reduced to a passing glance, brief as a flash of light, and sometimes as blinding.
That was all that took place when the two caiques passed—just a thinning of the silken veil, with only one fold of the yashmak slipped over the eyes, softening the fire of their beauty; then a quick, all-enfolding, all-absorbing look, as if she would drink into her very soul the man she loved, and the two tiny boats kept each on its way.
The second act of the comedy opens in a small cove, an indent of the Bosphorus, out of sight of passing boat-patrols—out of sight, too, of inquisitive wayfarers passing along the highroad from Beicos to Danikeui. Above the cove, running from the very beach, sweeps a garden, shaded by great trees and tangles of underbrush; one bunch smothering a summer-house. This is connected by a sheltered path with the little white house that nestles among the firs half-way up the steep brown hill that overlooks the village of Beicos.
The water-patrol may have been friendly, or my lady's favorite slave resourceful, but almost every night for weeks the first caique and the second caique had lain side by side in the boat-house in the cove, both empty, except for one trusty man who loved Mahmoud and who did his bidding without murmur or question, no matter what the danger. Higher up, her loose white robes splashed with the molten silver of the moon filtering through overhanging leaves, where even the nightingale stopped to listen, could be heard the cooing of two voices. Then would come a warning cry, and a figure closely veiled would speed up the path. Next could be heard the splash of oars of the first caique homeward bound.
Locksmiths are bunglers in the East compared to patrols and eunuchs. Lovers may smile, but they never laugh at them. There is always a day of reckoning. A whisper goes around; some disgruntled servant shakes his head; and an old fellow with baggy trousers and fez, says: "My daughter, I am surprised" or "pained" or "outraged," or whatever he does say in polite Turkish, Arabic, or Greek, and my lady is locked up on bread and water, or fig-paste, or Turkish Delight, and all is over. Sometimes the young Lothario is ordered back to his regiment, or sent to Van or Trebizond or Egypt for the good of his morals, or his health or the community in which he lives. Sometimes everybody accepts the situation and the banns are called and they live happy ever after.
What complicated this situation was that the girl, although as beautiful as a dream—any number of dreams, for that matter, and all of paradise—was a plebeian and the young man of royal blood. Furthermore, any number of parents, her own two and twice as many uncles and aunts, might get together and give, not only their blessing, but lands and palaces—two on the Bosphorus, one in Bagdad and another at Smyrna, and nothing would avail unless his Imperial Highness the Sultan gave his consent. Fruthermore, again, should it come to the ears of his August Presence that any such scandalous alliance was in contemplation, several yards of additional bow-strings would be purchased and the whole coterie experience a choking sensation which would last them the balance of their lives.
Thus it was that, after that most blissful night in the arbor—their last—in which she had clung to him as if knowing he was about to slip forever from her arms, both caiques were laid up for the season; the first tight locked and guarded in the palace of the young man's father, five miles along the blue Bosphorus as the bird flies, and the second in the little boat-house in the small indent of a cove under the garden holding the beloved arbor, the little white house, and My Lady of the diaphanous veil and the all-absorbing eyes.
With the lifting of the curtain on the third act, the scene shifts. No more Sweet Waters, no more caiques nor stolen interviews, the music of hot kisses drowned in the splash of the listening fountain. Instead, there is seen a sumptuously furnished interior the walls wainscoted in Moorish mosaics and lined by broad divans covered with silken rugs. Small tables stand about holding trays of cigarettes and sweets. Over against a window overlooking a garden lounges a group of women—some young, some old, one or two of them black as coal. It is the harem of the Pasha, the father of Mahmoud, Prince of the Rising Sun, Chosen of the Faithful, Governor of a province, and of forty other things beside—most of which Joe had forgotten.
Months had passed since that night in the arbor. Yuleima had cried her eyes out, and Mahmoud had shaken his fists and belabored his head, swearing by the beard of the Prophet that come what might Yuleima should be his.
Then came the death of the paternal potentate, and the young lover was free—free to come and go, to love, to hate; free to follow the carriage of his imperial master in his race up the hill after the ceremony of the Selamlik; free to choose any number of Yuleimas for his solace; free to do whatever pleased him—except to make the beautiful Yuleima his spouse. This the High-Mightinesses forbade. There were no personal grounds for their objection. The daughter of the rich Bagdad merchant was as gentle as a doe, beautiful as a star seen through the soft mists of the morning, and of stainless virtue. Her father had ever been a loyal subject, giving of his substance to both church and state, but there were other things to consider, among them a spouse especially selected by a council of High Pan-Jams, whose decision, having been approved by their imperial master, was not only binding, but final—so final that death awaited any one who would dare oppose it. At the feast of Ramazan the two should wed. Yuleima might take second, third, or fortieth place—but not first.
The young prince gritted his row of white teeth and flashed his slumbering eyes—and they could flash—blaze sometimes—with a fire that scorched. Yuleima would be his, unsullied in his own eyes and the world's, or she should remain in the little white house on the brown hill and continue to blur her beautiful eyes with the tears of her grief.
Then the favorite slave and the faithful caique-ji—the one who found the little cove even on the darkest night—put their heads together—two very cunning and wise heads, one black and wrinkled and the other sun-tanned and yellow—with the result that one night a new odalisque, a dark-skinned, black-haired houri, the exact opposite of the fair-skinned, fair-haired Yuleima, joined the coterie in the harem of the palace of the prince. She had been bought with a great price and smuggled into Stamboul, the story ran, a present from a distinguished friend of his father, little courtesies like this being common in Oriental countries, as one would send a bottle of old Madeira from his cellar or a choice cut of venison from his estate, such customs as is well known being purely a matter of geography.
The chief blackamoor, a shambling, knock-kneed, round-shouldered, swollen-paunched apology for a man, with blistered, cracked lips, jaundiced pig eyes, and the skin of a terrapin, looked her all over, grunted his approval, and with a side-lunge of his fat empty head, indicated the divan which was to be hers during the years of her imprisonment.
One night some words passed between the two over the division of bonbons, perhaps, or whose turn it was to take afternoon tea with the prince—it had generally been the new houri's, resulting in considerable jealousy and consequent discord—or some trifle of that sort (Joe had never been in a harem, and was therefore indefinite), when the blackamoor, to punctuate his remarks, slashed the odalisque across her thinly covered shoulders with a knout—a not uncommon mode of enforcing discipline, so Joe assured me.
Then came the great scene of the third act—always the place for it, so dramatists say.
The dark-skinned houri sprang up, rose to her full height, her eyes blazing, and facing her tormentor, cried:
"You blackguard"—a true statement—"do you know who I am?"
"Yes, perfectly; you are Yuleima, the daughter of the Bagdad merchant."
The fourth act takes place on the outskirts of Stamboul, in a small house surrounded by a high wall which connects with the garden of a mosque. The exposure by the eunuch had resulted in an investigation by the palace clique, which extended to the Bagdad merchant and his family, who, in explanation, not only denounced her as an ungrateful child, cursing her for her opposition to her sovereign's will, but denied all knowledge of her whereabouts. They supposed, they pleaded, that she had thrown herself into the Bosphorus at the loss of her lover. Then followed the bundling up of Yuleima in the still watches of the night; her bestowal at the bottom of a caique, her transfer to Stamboul, and her incarceration in charge of an attendant in a deserted house belonging to the mosque. The rumor was then set on foot that it was unlawful to look steadily into the waters of the Bosphorus or to attempt the salvage of any derelict body floating by.
The prince made another assault on his hair and tightened his fingers, this time with a movement as if he was twisting them round somebody's throat, but he made no outcry. It is hard to kick against the pricks in some lands.
He did not believe the bow-string pillow-case and solid-shot story, but he knew that he should never look upon her face again. What he did believe was that she had been taken to some distant city and there sold.
For days he shut himself up in his palace. Then, having overheard a conversation in his garden between two eunuchs—placed there for that purpose—he got together a few belongings, took his faithful caique-ji, and travelled a-field. If what he had heard was true she was in or near Damascus. Here would he go. If, after searching every nook and cranny, he failed to find her, he would return and carry out his sovereign's commands and marry the princess—a woman he had never laid his eyes on and who might be as ugly as sin and as misshapen as Yuleima was beautiful. It was while engaged in this fruitless search that he met Joseph, to whom he had poured out his heart (so Joe assured me, with his hand on his shirt-front), hoping to enlist his sympathies and thus gain his assistance.
All this time the heartbroken girl, rudely awakened from her dream of bliss, was a prisoner in the deserted house next the mosque. As the dreary months went by her skin regained its pinkness and her beautiful hair its golden tint,—walnut shells and cosmetics not being found in the private toilet of the priests and their companions. When the summer came a greater privilege was given her. She could never speak to any one and no one could speak to her—even the priests knew this—but a gate opening into the high-walled garden was left unlocked now and then by one of the kind-hearted Mohammedans, and often she would wander as far as the end of the wall overlooking the Mosque of Suleiman, her attendant always with her—a black woman appointed by Chief-of-Police Selim, and responsible for her safety, and who would pay forfeit with her head if Yuleima escaped.
"And you think now, effendi," concluded Joe, as he drained his last cup of coffee (Hornstog's limit was twenty cups at intervals of three minutes each), "that Joe be big damn fool to put his foots in this—what you call—steel trap? No, no, we keep away. To-morrow, don't it, we take Yusuf and go Scutari? One beautiful fountain at Scutari like you never see!"
"But can't her father help?" I asked, ignoring his suggestion. His caution did not interest me. It was the imprisoned girl and her suffering that occupied my thoughts.
"Yes, perhaps, but not yet. I somethings hear one day from the gardener who live with her father, but maybe it all lie. He say Serim come and say—" Again Joe chafed his thumb and forefinger, after the manner of the paying teller. "Maybe ten thousand piastres—maybe twenty. Her father would pay, of course, only the Sultan might not like—then worse trouble—nothing will be done anyhow until the wedding is over. Then, perhaps, some time."
I did not go to Scutari the next day. I opened my easel in the patio of the Pigeon Mosque and started in to paint the plaza with Cleopatra's Needle in the distance. This would occupy the morning. In the afternoon I would finish my sketch of Suleiman. Should Joe have a fresh attack of ague he could join Yusuf at the cafe and forget it in the thimbleful that cheers but does not inebriate.
With the setting up of my tripod and umbrella and the opening of my color-box a crowd began to gather—market people, fruit-sellers, peddlers, scribes, and soldiers. Then a shrill voice rang out from one of the minarets calling the people to prayer. A group of priests now joined the throng about me watched me for a moment, consulted together, and then one of them, an old man in a silken robe of corn-yellow bound about with a broad sash of baby blue, a majestic old man, with a certain rhythmic movement about him which was enchanting, laid his hand on Joseph's shoulder and looking into his eyes, begged him to say to his master that the making of pictures of any living or dead thing, especially mosques, was contrary to their religion, and that the effendi must fold his tent.
All this time another priest, an old patriarch with a fez and green turban and Nile-green robe overlaid with another of rose-pink, was scrutinizing my face. Then the corn-yellow fellow and the rose-pink patriarch put their heads together, consulted for a moment, made me a low bow, performed the flying-fingers act, and floated off toward the mosque.
"You no go 'way, effendi," explained Joe. "The priest in green turban say he remember you; he say you holy man who bow yourselluf humble when dead man go by. No stop paint."
The protests of the priests, followed by their consultation and quiet withdrawal, packed the crowd the closer. One young man in citizen's dress and fez stood on the edge of the throng trying to understand the cause of the excitement.
Joe, who was sitting by me assisting with the water-cup, gazed into the intruder's face a moment, then closed upon my arm with a grip as if he'd break it.
"Allah! Mahmoud Bey!" he whispered. "Yuleima's prince. That's him with the smooth face."
The next instant the young man stood by my side.
"The people are only curious, monsieur," he said in French. "If they disturb you I will have them sent away. So few painters come—you are the first I have seen in many years. If it will not annoy you, I'd like to watch you a while."
"Annoy me, my dear sir!" I was on my feet now, hat in hand. (If he had been my long-lost brother, stolen by the Indians or left on a desert island to starve—or any or all of those picturesque and dramatic things—I could not have been more glad to see him. I fairly hugged myself—it seemed too good to be true.) "I will be more than delighted if you will take my dragoman's stool. Get up, Joe, and give—"
The request had already been forestalled. Joe was not only up, but was bowing with the regularity and precision of the arms of a windmill, his fingers, with every rise, fluttering between his shirt-stud and his eyebrows. On his second upsweep the young prince got a view of his face—then his hand went out.
"Why, it is Hornstog! We know each other. We met in Damascus. You could not, monsieur, find a better dragoman in all Constantinople."
Only three pairs of eyes now followed the movements of my brush, the crowd having fallen back out of respect for the young man's rank, Yusuf having communicated that fact to those who had not recognized him.
When the light changed—and it changed unusually early that morning, about two hours ahead of time (I helped)—I said to the prince:
"It may interest you to see me finish a sketch in color. Come with me as far as Suleiman. We can sit quite out of the sun up a little back street under a wall, and away from everybody. I began the drawing yesterday. See!" and I uncovered the canvas.
"Ah, Suleimanyeh! The most beautiful of all our mosques. Yes, certainly I'll go."
Joe dug his knuckles into my thigh, under pretence of steadying himself—he was squatting beside me like a frog, helping with the water-cups—and gasped: "No; don't take him—please, effendi! No—no—"
I brushed Joe aside and continued: "We can send for coffee and spend the afternoon. I'll have some chairs brought from the cafe. Pick up everything, Joe, and come along."
On the way to the crooked, break-neck street my thoughts went racing through my head. On one side, perhaps, a tap on the shoulder in the middle of the night; half a yard of catgut in the hands of a Bashi-Bazouk; an appeal to our consul, with the consciousness of having meddled with something that did not concern me. On the other a pair of tear-stained, pleading eyes. Not my eyes—not the eyes of anybody that I knew—but the kind that raise the devil even in the heart of a staid old painter like myself.
Joe followed, with downcast gaze. He, too, was scheming. He could not protest before the prince, nor before Yusuf. That would imply previous knowledge of the danger lurking in the vicinity of the old wall. His was the devil and the deep sea. Not to tell the prince of Yuleima's whereabouts, after their combined search for her, and the fees the prince had paid him, would be as cruel as it was disloyal. To assist in Mahmoud's finding her would bring down upon his own head—if it was still on his shoulders—the wrath of the chief of police, as well as the power behind him.
Once under the shadow of the wall, the trap unpacked, easel and umbrella up, and water-bottle filled, Joe started his windmill, paused at the third kotow, looked me straight in the eye, and, with a tone in his voice, as if he had at last come to some conclusion, made this request:
"I have no eat breakfast, effendi—very hungry—you please permit Joe go cafe with Yusuf—we stay ONE hour, no more. Then I bring coffee. You see me when I come—I bring the coffee myselluf."
He could not have pleased me more. How to get rid of them both was what had been bothering me.
I painted on, both of us backed into the low gate with the sliding panel, my eyes on the mosque, my ears open for the slightest sound. We talked of the wonderful architecture of the East, of the taper of the minarets, of the grace and dignity of the priests, of the social life of the people, I leading and he following, until I had brought the conversation down to the question:
"And when you young men decide to marry are you free to choose, as we Europeans are?" I was feeling about, wondering how much of his confidence he would give me.
"No; that's why, sometimes, I wish I was like one of the white gulls that fly over the water."
"I don't understand."
"I would be out at sea with my mate—that's what I mean."
"Have you a mate?"
"I had. She is lost."
I kept at work. White clouds sailed over the mosque; a flurry of pigeons swept by; the air blew fresh. With the exception of my companion and myself the street was deserted. I dared not go any further in my inquiries. If I betrayed any more interest or previous knowledge he might think I was in league against him.
"The girl, then, suffers equally with the man?" I said, tightening one of the legs of my easel.
"More. He can keep his body clean; she must often barter hers in exchange for her life. A woman doesn't count much in Turkey. This is one of the things we young men who have seen something of the outside world—I lived a year in Paris—will improve when we get the power," and his eyes flashed.
"And yet it is dangerous to help one of them to escape, is it not?"
The hour was nearly up. Joe, I knew, had fixed it, consulting his watch and comparing it with mine so that I might know the coast was clear during that brief period should anything happen.
"I was tempted to help one yesterday," I answered. "I saw a woman's face that has haunted me ever since. She may not have been in trouble, but she looked so." Then quietly, and as if it was only one of the many incidents that cross a painter's path, I described in minute detail the gate, the sliding panel, the veiled face and wondrous eyes, the approach of the officer, the smothered cry of terror, the black finger and thumb that reached out, and the noiseless closing of the panel. What I omitted was all reference to Joe or his knowledge of the girl.
Mahmoud was staring into my eyes now.
"Where was this?"
"Just behind you. Lift your head—that seam marks the sliding panel. She may come again when she sees the top of my umbrella over the wall. Listen! That's her step. She has some one with her—crouch down close. There's only room for her head. You may see her then without her attendant knowing you are here. Quick! she is sliding the panel!"
Outside of Paris, overlooking the Seine, high up on a hill, stands the Bellevue—a restaurant known to half the world. Sweeping down from the perfectly appointed tables lining the rail of the broad piazza; skimming the tree-tops, the plain below, the twisting river, rose-gold in the twilight, the dots of parks and villas, the eye is lost in the distant city and the haze beyond—the whole a-twinkle with myriads of electric lights.
There, one night, from my seat against the opposite wall (I was dining alone), I was amusing myself watching a table being set with more than usual care; some rich American, perhaps, with the world in a sling, or some young Russian running the gauntlet of the dressing-rooms. Staid old painters like myself take an interest in these things. They serve to fill his note-book, and sometimes help to keep him young.
When I looked again the waiter was drawing out a chair for a woman with her back to me. In the half-light, her figure, in silhouette against the cluster of candles lighting the table, I could see that she was young and, from the way she took her seat, wonderfully graceful. Opposite her, drawing out his own chair, stood a young man in evening dress, his head outlined against the low, twilight sky. It was Mahmoud!
I sprang from my seat and walked straight toward them. There came a low cry of joy, and then four outstretched arms—two of them tight-locked about my neck.
"Tell me," I asked, when we had seated ourselves, Yuleima's hands still clinging to mine. "After I left you that last night in the garden, was the boat where we hid it?"
"Who rowed you to the steamer?"
"My old caique-ji."
"And who got the tickets and passports?"
LORETTA OF THE SHIPYARDS
For centuries the painters of Venice have seized and made their own the objects they loved most in this wondrous City by the Sea. Canaletto, ignoring every other beautiful thing, laid hold of quays backed by lines of palaces bordering the Grand Canal, dotted with queer gondolas rowed by gondoliers, in queerer hoods of red or black, depending on the guild to which they belonged. Turner stamped his ownership on sunset skies, silver dawns, illuminations, fetes, and once in a while on a sweep down the canal past the Salute, its dome a huge incandescent pearl. Ziem tied up to the long wall and water steps of the Public Garden, aflame with sails of red and gold: he is still there—was the last I heard of him, octogenarian as he is. Rico tacks his card to garden walls splashed with the cool shadows of rose-pink oleanders dropping their blossoms into white and green ripples, melting into blue. As for me—I have laid hands on a canal—the Rio Giuseppe—all of it—from the beginning of the red wall where the sailors land, along its crookednesses to the side entrance of the Public Garden, and so past the rookeries to the lagoon, where the tower of Castello is ready to topple into the sea.
Not much of a canal—not much of a painting ground really, to the masters who have gone before and are still at work, but a truly lovable, lovely, and most enchanting possession to me their humble disciple. Once you get into it you never want to get out, and, once out, you are miserable until you get back again. On one side stretches a row of rookeries—a maze of hanging clothes, fish-nets, balconies hooded by awnings and topped by nondescript chimneys of all sizes and patterns, with here and there a dab of vermilion and light red, the whole brilliant against a china-blue sky. On the other runs the long brick wall of the garden,—soggy, begrimed; streaked with moss and lichen in bands of black-green and yellow ochre, over which mass and sway the great sycamores that Ziem loves, their lower branches interwoven with zinnober cedars gleaming in spots where the prying sun drips gold.
Only wide enough for a barca and two gondolas to pass—this canal of mine. Only deep enough to let a wine barge through; so narrow you must go all the way back to the lagoon if you would turn your gondola; so short you can row through it in five minutes; every inch of its water surface part of everything about it, so clear are the reflections; full of moods, whims, and fancies, this wave space—one moment in a broad laugh coquetting with a bit of blue sky peeping from behind a cloud, its cheeks dimpled with sly undercurrents, the next swept by flurries of little winds, soft as the breath of a child on a mirror; then, when aroused by a passing boat, breaking out into ribbons of color—swirls of twisted doorways, flags, awnings, flower-laden balconies, black-shawled Venetian beauties all upside down, interwoven with strips of turquoise sky and green waters—a bewildering, intoxicating jumble of tatters and tangles, maddening in detail, brilliant in color, harmonious in tone: the whole scintillating with a picturesqueness beyond the ken or brush of any painter living or dead.
On summer days—none other for me in Venice (the other fellow can have it in winter)—everybody living in the rookeries camps out on the quay, the women sitting in groups stringing beads, the men flat on the pavement mending their nets. On its edge, hanging over the water, reaching down, holding on by a foot or an arm to the iron rail, are massed the children—millions of children—I never counted them, but still I say millions of children. This has gone on since I first staked out my claim—was a part of the inducement, in fact, that decided me to move in and take possession—boats, children, still water, and rookeries being the ingredients from which I concoct color combinations that some misguided people take home and say they feel better for.
If you ask me for how many years I have been sole owner of this stretch of water I must refer you to Loretta, who had lived just five summers when my big gondolier, Luigi, pulled her dripping wet from the canal, and who had lived eleven more—sixteen, in all—when what I have to tell you happened.
And yet, Loretta's little mishap, now I come to think of it, does not go back far enough. My claim was really staked out before she was born (I am still in possession—that is—I was last year, and hope to be this), and her becoming part of its record is but the sticking of two pins along a chart,—the first marking her entrance at five and the second her exit at sixteen. All the other years of my occupation—those before her coming and since her going—were, of course, full of the kind of joy that comes to a painter, but these eleven years—well, these had all of this joy and then, too, they had—Loretta.
I was in the bow of the gondola when the first of these two pins found its place on the chart, working away like mad, trying to get the exact shadow tones on a sun-flecked wall. Luigi was aft, fast asleep, his elbow under his head: I never object, for then he doesn't shake the boat. Suddenly from out the hum of the children's voices there came a scream vibrant with terror. Then a splash! Then the gondola swayed as if a barca had bumped it, and the next thing I knew Luigi's body made a curve through the air, struck the water, with an enormous souse, and up came Loretta, her plump, wet little body resting as easily on Luigi's hand, as a tray rests on a waiter's. Another sweep with his free arm, and he passed me the dripping child and clambered up beside her. The whole affair had not occupied two minutes.
That was a great day for me!
Heretofore I had been looked upon as a squatter: possessing certain rights, of course, and more or less welcome because of sundry lire expended for the temporary use of fishing boats with sails up,—but still an interloper. Now I became one of the thousand families and the million children. These were all in evidence in less than ten seconds; the peculiar quality of that scream had done it; not only from the top story of the highest rookery did they swarm, but from every near-by campo, and way back to the shipyards.
Luigi pushed the gondola to the quay and I lifted out the water-soaked, blue-lipped little tot, her hair flattened against her cheeks (she was laughing now,—"It was nothing," she said, "my foot slipped,") and placed her in the hands of the longest-armed fishwife; and then Luigi disappeared into a door, level with the quay, from which he reappeared ten minutes later in a suit of dry clothes, the property of a fisherman, and of so grotesque a fit, the trousers reaching to his knees and the cuffs of the coat to his elbows, that he set the population in a roar. My Luigi, you might as well know, is six feet and an inch, with the torso of a Greek god and a face that is twin to Colleone's, and, furthermore, is quite as distinguished looking as that gentleman on horseback, even if he does wear a straw hat instead of a copper helmet. After this Loretta became part of my establishment, especially at luncheon time, Luigi hunting her up and bringing her aboard in his arms, she clinging to his grizzled, sunburned neck. Often she would spend the rest of the day watching me paint.
All I knew of her antecedents and life outside of these visits was what Luigi told me. She was born, he said, in the shipyards, and at the moment lived in the top of the rookery nearest the bridge. She had an only sister, who was ten years older; the mother was the wife of a crab fisherman who had died some years before; the two children and mother were cared for by a brother crab fisherman. His son Francesco, if report were true, was to marry the sister when she turned fifteen, Francesco being four years older. This last reference to Francesco came with a shake of the head and a certain expression in Luigi's eyes which told me at once that his opinion of the prospective groom was not for publication—a way he has when he dislikes somebody and is too polite to express it.
"Fishes for crabs, like his father?" I asked.
"Yes, crabs and young girls," he answered with a frown. "A poor lot, these crab catchers, Signore. Was it the charcoal or a brush you wanted?"
Francesco did not interest me,—nor did the grownup sister; nor the mother, over whom Luigi also shrugged his shoulders. It was Loretta's chubbiness that delighted my soul.
Even at five she was a delightful little body, and full of entrancing possibilities. One can always tell what the blossom will be from the bud. In her case, all the essentials of beauty were in evidence: dark, lustrous velvety eyes; dazzling teeth—not one missing; jet-black hair—and such a wealth of it, almost to her shoulders; a slender figure, small hands and feet; neat, well-turned ankles and wrists, and rounded plump arms above the elbows.
"What do you intend to do, little one, when you grow up?" I asked her one morning. She was sitting beside me, her eyes following every movement of my brush.
"Oh, what everybody does. I shall string beads and then when I get big like my sister I shall go to the priest and get married, and have a ring and new shoes and a beautiful, beautiful veil all over my hair."
"So! And have you picked him out yet?"
"Oh, no, Signore! Why, I am only a little girl. But he will surely come,—they always come."
These mornings in the gondola continued until she was ten years old. Sometimes it was a melon held high in the air that tempted her; or a basket of figs, or some huge bunches of grapes; or a roll and a broiled fish from a passing cook-boat: but the bait always sufficed. With a little cry of joy the beads would be dropped, or the neighbor's child passed to another or whatever else occupied her busy head and small hands, and away she would run to the water steps and hold out her arms until Luigi rowed over and lifted her in. She had changed, of course, in these five years, and was still changing, but only as an expanding bud changes. The eyes were the same and so were the teeth—if any had dropped out, newer and better ones had taken their places; the hair though was richer, fuller, longer, more like coils of liquid jet, with a blue sheen where the sky lights touched its folds. The tight, trim little figure, too, had loosened out in certain places—especially about the chest and hips. Before many years she would flower into the purest type of the Venetian—the most beautiful woman the world knows.
At sixteen she burst into bloom.
I have never seen a black tulip, not a real velvet-black, but if inside its shroud of glossy enfoldings—so like Loretta's hair—there lies enshrined a mouth red as a pomegranate and as enticing, and if above it there burn two eyes that would make a holy man clutch his rosary; and if the flower sways on its stalk with the movement of a sapling caressed by a summer breeze;—then the black tulip is precisely the kind of flower that Loretta bloomed into.
And here the real trouble began,—just as it begins for every other pretty Venetian, and here, too, must I place the second pin in my chart.
It all came through Francesco. The older sister had died with the first child, and this crab catcher had begun to stretch out his claws for Loretta. She and her mother still lived with Francesco's father, who was a widower. The mother kept the house for all,—had done so for Francesco and her daughter during their brief married life.
In her persecution Loretta would pour out her heart to Luigi, telling how they bothered her,—her mother the most of all. She hated Francesco,—hated his father,—hated everybody who wanted her to marry the fisherman. (Luigi, poor fellow, had lost his only daughter when she was five years of age, which accounted, I always thought, for his interest in the girl.)
One morning she called to him and waited on the quay until he could hail a passing barca and step from the gondola to its deck and so ashore. Then the two disappeared through the gate of the garden.
"She is too pretty to go alone," he explained on his return. "Every day she must pay a boy two soldi, Signore, to escort her to the lace factory—the boy is sick today and so I went with her. But their foolishness will stop after this;—these rats know Luigi."
From this day on Loretta had the Riva to herself.
So far there has been introduced into this story the bad man, Francesco, with crab-like tendencies, who has just lost his wife; the ravishingly beautiful Loretta; the girl's mother, of whom all sorts of stories were told—none to her credit; big tender-hearted Luigi Zanaletto, prince of gondoliers, and last, and this time least, a staid old painter who works in a gondola up a crooked canal which is smothered in trees, choked by patched-up boats and flanked by tattered rookeries so shaky that the slightest earth quiver would tumble them into kindling wood.
There enters now another and much more important character,—one infinitely more interesting to my beautiful Lady of the Shipyards than any grandfather gondolier or staid old painter who ever lived. This young gentleman is twenty-one; has a head like the Hermes, a body like the fauns, and winsome, languishing eyes with a light in their depths which have set the heart of every girl along his native Giudecca pitapatting morning, noon, and night. He enjoys the distinguished name of Vittorio Borodini, and is the descendant of a family of gondoliers—of the guild of the Castellani—who can trace their ancestral calling back some two hundred years (so can Luigi; but then Luigi never speaks of it, and the Borodinis always do). Being aristocrats, the Zanalettos and Borodinis naturally fraternize, and as they live in the same quarter—away up on the Giudecca—two miles from my canal—the fathers of Vittorio and Luigi have become intimate friends. Anything, therefore, touching the welfare of any one of the descendants of so honorable a guild is more or less vital to the members of both families.
At the moment something HAD touched a Borodino—and in the most vital of spots. This was nothing less than the heart of young Vittorio, the pride and hope of his father. He had seen the "Rose of the Shipyards," as she was now called, pass the traghetto of the Molo, off which lay his gondola awaiting custom,—it was on one of the days when the two-soldi boy acted as chaperon,—and his end had come.
It had only been a flash from out the lower corner of the left eye of Loretta as she floated along past the big columns of the Palazzo of the Doges, but it had gone through the young gondolier and out on the other side, leaving a wound that nothing would heal. She had not intended to hurt him, or even to attract him;—he only happened to be in the way when her search-light illumined his path.
Vittorio knew at a glance that she came from the rookeries and that he, the scion of a noble family, should look higher for his mate, but that made no difference. She was built for him and he was built for her, and that was the end of it: not for an intrigue—he was not constructed along those lines—but with a ring and a priest and all the rest of it. The main difficulty was to find some one who knew her. He would not,—could not, confront her; nor would he follow her home; but something must be done, and at once: a conclusion, it will be admitted, than an incalculable number of young Vittorios have reached, sooner or later, the world over.
When, therefore, a rumor came to his ears that Luigi the Primo was protecting her—the kind of protection that could never be misunderstood in Luigi's case—a piece of news which his informer was convinced would end the projected intrigue of the young gondolier, then and there and for all time, Vittorio laughed so loud and so long, and so merrily, that he lost, in consequence, two fares to San Giorgio, and came near being reprimanded by the Gastaldo for his carelessness.
That was why late one afternoon (I was painting the sunset glow) just as Loretta reached the edge of the quay on her way home, a young fellow, in white duck with a sash of dark red silk binding and hanging from his waist and a rakish straw hat tipped over his handsome face, shot his gondola alongside mine and leaned over to whisper something in Luigi's ear. And that was why the girl in her long black shawl stopped, and why Luigi immediately changed gondolas and made for the quay, and why they all talked together for a moment, the girl flashing and the boy beaming, and that was why, too, they all three disappeared a moment later in the direction of the high rookery where lived the baffled, love-sick Francesco, his anxious father, the much-talked-about mother, and the Rose of the Shipyards.
In a garden where the soil is so rich that a seedling of five—a mere slip—blooms into flower before a foolish old painter can exhaust the subjects along the canal, it is not surprising that a love affair reaches its full growth between two suns. Not since the day she had tumbled into the canal had she gone so headover-heels—both of them. Nor did Luigi pull them out. He helped in the drowning, really.
He was talking to himself when he came back—a soft light in his eyes, a smile lingering around the corners of his up-turned, grizzled mustache.
"It is good to be young, Signore, is it not?" was all he said, and at once began bundling up my traps.
Before the week was out,—nay, before the setting of two suns—every gossip along the Riva—and they about covered the population—had become convinced that Loretta was lost to the Quarter. Unless a wedding ring was to end it all Vittorio would never be so bold in his attentions to Loretta, as to walk home with her nights and wait for her mornings.
Luigi shook his head, but he did not help the gossips solve the problem. He had had trouble enough already with Vittorio's father.
"A common wench from the yards, I hear, Luigi!" he had blazed out—"and you, I understand, brought them together—you,—who have been my friend for—"
"Stop, Borodini! Not another word! You are angry, and when you are angry you are stupid. I carried that girl in my arms when she was a baby! I have watched over her ever since. A wench! Not one of your own daughters has a heart so white. If Vittorio is so great a coward as to listen to their talk I'll keep her for his betters."
All this snapped out of Luigi's eyes and rolled from under his crisp mustache as he repeated the outbreak to me. What the end might be neither the Giudecca nor San Giuseppe could decide. The Borodinis were proud; Vittorio's father was one of the gondoliers belonging to the palace and always rowed the good Queen Margherita when she came incognito to Venice,—a post which greatly enhanced his social station. Vittorio was the only son, and already a member of the traghetto, young as he was. But then, were there any girls better than Loretta, or as good? She helped her mother; she paid her share of the rent to Francesco's father; she gave to the poor box. That she was the sunshine of the Quarter every one knew who heard her sweet, cheery voice. As to her family, it was true that her mother was a Sicilian who boiled over sometimes in a tempest of rage, like Vesuvius,—but her father had been one of them. And then again, was she not the chosen friend of Luigi, the Primo, and of the crazy painter who haunted the canal? The boy and his father might be glad, etc., etc.
The only persons who were oblivious to the talk were the two lovers. Their minds were made up. Father Garola had promised, and they knew exactly what to do, and when and where to do it. In the meantime the Riva was a pathway of rose-tinted clouds constructed for the especial use of two angels, one of whom wore a straw hat with a red ribbon canted over his sunburnt face, and the other a black shawl with silken fringe, whose every movement suggested a caress.
The one disgruntled person was Francesco.
He had supposed at first that, like the others, Vittorio would find out his mistake;—certainly when he looked closely into the pure eyes of the girl, and that then, like the others, he would give up the chase;—he not being the first gay Lothario who had been taught just such a lesson.
Loretta's answer to the schemer, given with a toss of her head and a curl of her lips, closed Francesco's mouth and set his brain in a whirl. In his astonishment he had long talks with his father, the two seated in their boat against the Garden wall so no one could overhear.
Once he approached Luigi and began a tale, first about Vittorio and his escapades and then about Loretta and her coquetry, which Luigi strangled with a look, and which he did not discuss or repeat to me, except to remark—"They have started in to bite, Signore," the meaning of which I could but guess at. At another time he and his associates concocted a scheme by which Vittorio's foot was to slip as he was leaving Loretta at the door, and he be fished out of the canal with his pretty clothes begrimed with mud;—a scheme which was checked when they began to examine the young gondolier the closer, and which was entirely abandoned when they learned that his father was often employed about the palace of the king. In these projected attacks, strange to say, the girl's mother took part. Her hope in keeping her home was in Loretta's marrying Francesco.
Then, dog as he was, he tried the other plan—all this I got from Luigi, he sitting beside me, sharpening charcoal points, handing me a fresh brush, squeezing out a tube of color on my palette: nothing like a romance to a staid old painter; and then, were not both of us in the conspiracy as abettors, and up to our eyes in the plot?
This other plan was to traduce the girl. So the gondoliers on the traghetto began to talk,—behind their hands, at first: She had lived in Francesco's house; she had had a dozen young fishermen trapesing after her; her mother, too, was none too good. Then again, you could never trust these Neapolitans,—the kitten might be like the cat, etc., etc.
Still the lovers floated up and down the Riva, their feet on clouds, their heads in the heavens. Never a day did he miss, and always with a wave of her hand to me as they passed: down to Malamocco on Sundays with another girl as chaperon, or over to Mestre by boat for the festa, coming home in the moonlight, the tip of his cigarette alone lighting her face.
One morning—the lovers had only been waiting for their month's pay—Luigi came sailing down the canal to my lodgings, his gondola in gala attire,—bunches of flowers tied at each corner of the tenda; a mass of blossoms in the lamp socket; he himself in his best white suit, a new red sash around his waist—his own colors—and off we went to San Rosario up the Giudecca. And the Borodinis turned out in great force, and so did all the other 'inis, and 'olas, and 'ninos—dozens of them—and in came Loretta, so beautiful that everybody held his breath; and we all gathered about the altar, and good Father Garola stepped down and took their hands; and two candles were lighted and a little bell rang; and then somebody signed a book—somebody with the bearing of a prince—Borodini, I think—and then Luigi, his rich, sunburned face and throat in contrast with his white shirt, moved up and affixed his name to the register; and then a door opened on the side and they all went out into the sunlight.
I followed and watched the gay procession on its way to the waiting boats. As I neared the corner of the church a heavily-built young fellow ran past me, crouched to the pavement, and hid himself behind one of the tall columns. Something in his dress and movement made me stop. Not being sure, I edged nearer and waited until he turned his head. It was Francesco.
The skies were never more beautiful that May, the blossoms of the oleanders and the almond trees never more lovely. Not only was my own canal alive with the stir and fragrance of the coming summer, but all Venice bore the look of a bride who had risen from her bath, drawn aside the misty curtain of the morning, and stood revealed in all her loveliness.
The sun shone everywhere, I say, but to me its brightest rays fell on a garden full of fig trees and flat arbors interwoven with grapevines, running down to the water where there was a dock and a gondola—two, sometimes,—our own and Vittorio's—and particularly on a low, two-story, flat-roofed house,—a kaleidoscope of color—pink, yellow, and green, with three rooms and a portico, in which lived Vittorio, a bird in a cage, a kitten-cat and the Rose of the Shipyards.
It is a long way round to my canal through San Trovaso to the Zattere and across the Giudecca to Ponte Lungo, and then along the edge of the lagoon to this garden and dovecote, but that is the precise route Luigi, who lived within a stone's throw of the couple, selected morning after morning. He always had an excuse:—he had forgotten the big bucket for my water cups, or the sail, or the extra chair; and would the Signore mind going back for his other oar? Then again the tide was bad, and after all we might as well row down the lagoon; it was easier and really shorter with the wind against us—all nonsense, of course, but I never objected.
"Ah, the Signore and dear Luigi!" she would cry when she caught sight of our gondola rounding into the landing. Then down the path she would skip, the joyous embodiment of beauty and grace, and help me out, Luigi following; and we would stroll up under the fig trees, and she would begin showing me this and that new piece of furniture, or pot, or kettle, or new bread knife, or scissors, or spoon, which Vittorio had added to their store since my last visit. Or I would find them both busy over the gondola,—he polishing his brasses and ferro, and she rehanging the curtains of the tenda which she had washed and ironed with her own hands.
In truth it was a very happy little nest that was tucked away in one corner of that old abandoned garden with its outlook on the broad water and its connecting link with the row of neighbors' houses flanking the side canal,—and no birds in or out of any nest in all Venice ever sang so long and so continuously nor were there any others so genuinely happy the livelong day and night as these two.
Did I not know something of the curious mixture of love, jealousy, and suspicion which goes into the making-up of an Italian, it would be hard for me to believe that so lovely a structure as this dovecote, one built with so much hope and alight with so much real happiness, could ever come tumbling to the ground. We Anglo-Saxons flame up indignantly when those we love are attacked, and we demand proofs. "Critica," that bane of Venetian life—what this, that, or the other neighbor tattles to this, that, and the other listener, we dismiss with a wave of the hand, or with fingers tight clenched close to the offender's lips, or by a blow in the face. Not so the Italian. He also blazes, but he will stop and wonder when his anger has cooled; think of this and that; put two and two together, and make ten of what is really only four. This is what happened to the nest under the grapevines.
I was in my own garden at the Britannia leaning over the marble balcony, wondering what kept Luigi—it was past ten o'clock—when the news reached me. I had caught sight of his white shirt and straw hat as he swung out behind the Salute and headed straight toward me, and saw from the way he gripped his oar and stretched his long body flat with the force of each thrust, that he had a message of importance, even before I saw his face.
"A Dio, Signore!" he cried. "What do you think? Vittorio has cursed Loretta, torn her wedding ring from her finger, and thrown it in her face!"
"Yes,—he will listen to nothing! He is a crazy fool and I have done all I could. He believes every one of the lies that crab-catching brute of a Francesco is telling. It would be over by to-night, but Loretta does not take it like the others: she says nothing. You know her eyes—they are not like our Giudecca girls. They are burning now like two coals of fire, and her cheeks are like chalk."
I had stepped into the gondola by this time, my first thought being how best to straighten out the quarrel.
"Now tell me, Luigi—speak slowly, so I do not miss a word. First, where is Loretta?"
"She was putting on her best clothes when I left—those she bought herself. She will touch nothing Vittorio gave her. She is going back to her mother in an hour."
"But what happened? Has Francesco—?"
"Francesco has not stopped one minute since the wedding. He has been talking to the fish-people,—to everybody on the side street, saying that Loretta was his old shoes that he left at his door, and the fool Vittorio found them and put them on—that sort of talk."
"And Vittorio believes it?"
"He did not at first,—but twice Francesco came to see Loretta with messages from her mother, and went sneaking off when Vittorio came up in his boat, and then that night some one would tell him—'that fellow meets Loretta every day;' that he was her old lover. These people on the Giudecca do not like the San Giuseppe people, and there is always jealousy. If Vittorio had married any one from his own quarter it would have been different. You don't know these people, Signore,—how devilish they can be and how stupid."
"That was why he threw the ring in her face?"
"No and yes. Yesterday was Sunday, and some people came to see her from San Giuseppe, and they began to talk. I was not there; I did not get there until it was all over, but my wife heard it. They were all in the garden, and one word led to another, and he taunted her with seeing Francesco, and she laughed, and that made him furious; and then he said he had heard her mother was a nobody; and then some one spoke up and said that was true—fools all. And then Loretta, she drew herself up straight and asked who it was had said so, and a woman's voice came—'Francesco,—he told me—' and then Vittorio cried—'And you meet him here. Don't deny it! And you love him, too!—' and then the fool sprang at her and caught her hand and tore the ring from her finger and spat on it and threw it on the ground. He is now at his father's house."
"And she said nothing, Luigi?" The story seemed like some horrible dream.
"No, nor shed a tear. All she did was to keep repeating—'Francesco! Francesco! Francesco!' I got there at daylight this morning and have been there ever since. I told her I was coming for you. She was sitting in a chair when I went in,—bolt up; she had not been in her bed. She seems like one in a trance—looked at me and held out her hand. I tried to talk to her and tell her it was all a lie, but she only answered—'Ask Francesco,—it is all Francesco,—ask Francesco.' Hurry, Signore,—we will miss her if we go to her house. We will go at once to our canal and wait for her. They have heard nothing down there at San Giuseppe, and you can talk to her without being interrupted, and then I'll get hold of Vittorio. This way, Signore."
I had hardly reached the water landing of my canal ten minutes later when I caught sight of her, coming directly toward me, head up, her lips tight-set, her black shawl curving and floating with every movement of her body—(nothing so wonderfully graceful and nothing so expressive of the wearer's moods as these black shawls of the Venetians). She wore her gala dress—the one in which she was married—white muslin with ribbons of scarlet, her wonderful hair in a heap above her forehead, her long gold earrings glinting in the sunshine. All the lovelight had died out of her eyes. In its place were two deep hollows rimmed about by dark lines, from out which flashed two points of cold steel light.
I sprang from my gondola and held out my hand:
"Sit down, Loretta, and let me talk to you."
She stopped, looked at me in a dazed sort of way, as if she was trying to focus my face so as to recall me to her memory, and said in a determined way:
"No, let me pass. It's too late for all that, Signore. I am—"
"But wait until you hear me."
"I will hear nothing until I find Francesco."
"You must not go near him. Get into the gondola and let Luigi and me take you home."
A dry laugh rose to her lips. "Home! There is no home any more. See! My ring is gone! Francesco is the one I want—now—-NOW! He knows I am coming,—I sent him word. Don't hold me, Signore,—don't touch me!"
She was gone before I could stop her, her long, striding walk increasing almost to a run, her black shawl swaying about her limbs as she hurried toward her old home at the end of the quay. Luigi started after her, but I called him back. Nothing could be done until her fury, or her agony, had spent itself. These volcanoes are often short-lived. We looked after her until she had reached the door and had flung herself across the threshold. Then I sent Luigi for my easel and began work.
The events that have made the greatest impression upon me all my life have been those which have dropped out of the sky,—the unexpected, the incomprehensible,—the unnecessary—the fool things—the damnably idiotic things.
First we heard a cry that caused Luigi to drop canvas and easel, and sent us both flying down the quay toward the rookery. It came from Loretta's mother;—she was out on the sidewalk tearing her hair; calling on God; uttering shriek after shriek. The quay and bridge were a mass of people—some looking with staring eyes, the children hugging their mothers' skirts. Two brawny fishermen were clearing the way to the door. Luigi and I sprang in behind them, and entered the house.
On the stone floor of the room lay the body of Francesco, his head stretched back, one hand clutching the bosom of his shirt. Against the wall stood Loretta; not a quiver on her lips; ghastly white; calm,—the least excited person in the room.
"And you killed him!" I cried.
"Yes,—he thought I came to kiss him—I did, WITH THIS!" and she tossed a knife on the table.
The days that followed were gray days for Luigi and me. All the light and loveliness were gone from my canal.
They took Loretta to the prison next the Bridge of Sighs and locked her up in one of the mouldy cells below the water line—dark, dismal pockets where, in the old days, men died of terror.
Vittorio, Luigi, and I met there the next morning. I knew the chief officer, and he had promised me an interview. Vittorio was crying,—rubbing his knuckles in his eyes,—utterly broken up and exhausted. He and Luigi had spent the night together. An hour before, the two had stood at Francesco's bedside in the hospital of San Paulo. Francesco was still alive, and with Father Garola bending over him had repeated his confession to them both. He was madly in love with her, he moaned, and had spread the report hoping that Vittorio would cast her off, and, having no other place to go, Loretta would come back to him. At this Vittorio broke into a rage and would have strangled the dying man had not the attendant interfered. All this I learned from Luigi as we waited for the official.
"This is a frightful ending to a happy life—" I began when the officer appeared. "Let them talk to each other for just a few moments. It can do no harm."
The official shook his head. "It is against orders, Signore, I cannot. He can see her when she is brought up for examination."
"They will both have lost their senses by that time," I pleaded. "Can't you think of some way? I have known her from a child. Perhaps an order from headquarters might be of some use." We were standing, at the time, in a long corridor ending in a door protected by an iron grating. This led to the underground cells.
The chief fastened his eyes on me for an instant, turned abruptly, called to an attendant, gave an order in a low voice and, with the words to Vittorio—"You are not to speak to her, remember," motioned the sobbing man toward the grating. Luigi and I followed.
She came slowly out of the shadows, first the drawn face peering ahead, as if wondering why she had been sent for, then the white crumpled dress, and then the dark eyes searching the gloom of the corridor. Vittorio had caught sight of her and was clinging to the grating, his body shaking, his tears blinding him.
The girl gave a half-smothered cry, darted forward and covered Vittorio's hands with her own. Some whispered word must have followed, for the old light broke over her face and she would have cried out for joy had not Luigi cautioned her. For a moment the two stood with fingers intertwined, their bowed foreheads kept apart by the cold grating. Then the boy, straining his face between the bars, as if to reach her lips, loosened one hand, took something from his pocket and slipped it over her finger.
It was her wedding ring.
Summer has faded, the gold of autumn has turned to brown, and the raw, cold winds of winter have whirled the dead leaves over rookeries, quay, and garden. The boats rock at their tethers and now and then a sea gull darts through the canal and sweeps on to the lagoon. In the narrow opening fronting the broad waters lawless waves quarrel and clash, forcing their way among the frightened ripples of San Giuseppe, ashy gray under the lowering sky.
All these months a girl has clung to an iron grating or has lain on a pallet in one corner of her cell. Once in a while she presses her lips to a ring on her left hand, her face lighting up. Sometimes she breaks out into a song, continuing until the keeper checks her.
Then spring comes.
And with it the painter from over the sea.
All the way from Milan as far as Verona, and beyond, there have been nothing but blossoms,—masses of blossoms,—oleander, peach, and almond.
When the train reaches Mestre and the cool salt air fans his cheek, he can no longer keep his seat, so eager is he to catch the first glimpse of his beloved city,—now a string of pearls on the bosom of the lagoon.
Luigi has the painter's hand before his feet can touch the platform.
"Good news, Signore!" he laughs, patting my shoulder. "She is free!"
"Yes,—she and Vittorio are back in their garden. Borodini told the whole story to the good Queen Mother when she came at Easter, and the king pardoned her."
"Pardoned her! And Francesco dead!"
"Dead! No such good luck, Signore,—that brute of a crab-fisher got well!"
A COAT OF RED LEAD
My offices are on the top floor of a high building overlooking the East River and the harbor beyond—not one of those skyscrapers punctured with windows all of the same size, looking from a distance like huge waffles set up on end—note the water-line of New York the next time you cross the ferry and see if you don't find the waffles—but an old-fashioned sort of a high building of twenty years ago—old as the Pyramids now, with a friendly janitor who comes to me when I send for him instead of my going to his "Office" when he sends for me; friendly elevator boys who poke their heads from out their iron cages and wait five seconds until I reach them, and an obliging landlord who lets me use his telephone.
Mawkum, my chief draftsman—when you have only one it is best to label him "Chief" to your clients; they think the others are off building bridges for foreign governments, or lunching at Delmonico's with railroad presidents—my chief draftsman, I say, occupies the room opening into mine. His outlook is a brick wall decorated with windows, behind which can be seen various clerks poring over huge ledgers, a section of the roof topped with a chimney, and in the blue perspective the square, squat tower of the Produce Exchange in which hangs a clock. Both of these connecting rooms open on the same corridor, a convenient arrangement when clients wish to escape without being seen, or for the concealing of bidders who are getting plans and specifications for the same tenders, especially when two of them happen to turn up at the same moment.
Mawkum manages this, and with such adroitness that I have often seen clients, under the impression that the drafting-room was full, sit patiently in my office and take their turn while he quietly munches his sandwich behind closed panels—an illusion sustained by a loud "Good-morning" from my chief addressed to the circumambient air, followed by the slamming of the corridor door. When I remonstrate with Mawkum, insisting that such subterfuges are beneath the dignity of the office, he contends that they help business, and in proof quotes the old story of the unknown dentist who compelled a suffering prince to call the next day at noon, claiming that his list was full, when neither man, woman nor child had been in his chair for over a week—fame and fortune being his ever after.
When Mawkum gets tired of inspecting the brick wall and the industrious clerks and the face of the clock, he strolls leisurely into my room, plants himself at my window—this occurs during one of those calms that so often come to an office between contracts—and spends hours in contemplating the view.
To me the stretch of sky and water, with its dividing band of roof, tower and wharf, stretching from the loop of steel—that spider-web of the mighty—to the straight line of the sea, is a never-ending delight. In the early morning its broken outline is softened by a veil of silver mist embroidered with puffs of steam; at midday the glare of light flashing from the river's surface makes silhouettes of the ferry-shuttles threading back and forth weaving the city's life; at twilight the background of purple is bathed in the glory of the sunset, while at night myriads of fireflies swarm and settle, tracing in pencillings of fire the plan of the distant town.
Mawkum, being commercially disposed, sees none of these things; his gaze is fixed on the panting tugs towing chains of canal boats; on the great floats loaded with cars and the stately steamers slowing down opposite their docks. Today he develops an especial interest.
"That's the Tampico in from Caracas and the Coast," he says, leaning across my desk, his fat hand resting on my letter file. "She's loaded pretty deep. Hides and tallow, I guess. 'Bout time we heard from that Moccador Lighthouse, isn't it? Lawton's last letter said we could look for his friend in a month—about due now. Wish he'd come." And he yawned wearily.
Mawkum's yawn indicated the state of his mind. He had spent the previous three weeks in elaborating the plans and specifications for a caisson to be used under a bridge pier—our client assuring him that he had, to use his own words, "a dead sure thing on the award." When the bids were opened, Mawkum congratulated him on his foresight and offered to attend the funeral in a body, the client's bid being some thirty per cent too high. Little episodes like this add a touch of gayety to the hours spent in the top of the high building.
Mawkum's yawn over—it is generally in three sections, but can sometimes be curtailed—I interrupted hurriedly with:
"What sort of a structure is it?" I knew, but I wanted some other employment for his mouth.
"First order, screw pile, about a hundred and twenty feet high, stuck on a coral reef at the mouth of the harbor. 'Bout like our Fowey Rocks, off the Florida coast. She's backing in." His eyes were still on the Tampico, the floes of North River ice hemming her in on all sides. "Passengers'll be off in an hour. Wonder how they like our climate—little chilly for pajamas."
Here Mawkum strolled into his room and began overhauling the contents of a rack of drawings piled one on top of the other like cordwood, labelled: "Screw Pile Structures."
The next morning there came a timid knock at Mawkum's door—the knock of a child with matches to sell, or of one of those dear sisters who collect for the poor. At a second summons, a little louder than the first, the chief, with an impatient air, slid from the high stool facing his drawing board, and threw wide the door.
I craned my head and discovered a small, ivory-tinted individual in a Panama hat, duck trousers and patent-leather shoes. Wrapped about his shrivelled frame, one red-lined end tossed gallantly over his shoulder, was an enormous Spanish capa. This hid every part of his body from his chin to the knees of his cotton ducks. From where I sat he looked like a conspirator in the play, or the assassin who lies in wait up the dark alley. Once inside he wrinkled his shoulders with the shivering movement of a horse dislocating a fly, dropped the red-lined end of the capa, removed his Panama and began a series of genuflections which showed me at once that he had been born among a people who imbibed courtesy with their mother's, or their cocoanut's, milk.
"I am look' for the Grandioso Engineer," said the visitor. "I am Senor Garlicho—" Then a shade of uncertainty crossed his face: Mawkum was still staring at him. "It is a mistake then, perhaps? I have a letter from Senor Law-TON. Is it not to the great designer of lighthouse which I speak?" This came with more bows—one almost to the floor.
The mention of Lawton's name brought Mawkum to his senses. He placed his fat hand on his vest, crooked his back, and without the slightest allusion to the fact that the original and only Grandioso occupied the adjoining room, motioned the visitor to a seat and opened the letter.
I thought now it was about time I should assert my rights. Pushing back my chair, I walked rapidly through my own and Mawkum's room and held out my hand.
"Ah, Senor, I am delighted to meet you," I broke out in Spanish. (Here I had Mawkum—he did not understand a word.) "We have been expecting you; our mutual friend, Mr. Lawton, has given me notice of your coming—and how is the Senor and his family?" And in a few minutes we three were seated at my desk with Mawkum unrolling plans, making sketches on a pad, figuring the cost of this and that and the other thing; I translating for Mawkum such statements as I thought he ought to know, thus restoring the discipline and dignity of the office—it never being wise to have more than one head to a concern.
This partial victory was made complete when his ivory-tinted Excellency loosened his waistcoat, dived into his inside pocket and, producing a package of letters tied with a string, the envelopes emblazoned with the arms and seal of the Republic of Moccador, asked if we might be alone. I immediately answered, both in Spanish and English, that I had no secrets from Senor Mawkum, but this did not prove satisfactory and so Mawkum, with a wink to me, withdrew.
Mawkum gone, the little man—it is inconceivable how small and withered he was; how yellow, how spidery in many of his motions, especially with his fingers stained with cigarettes, how punctilious, how polite, how soft and insinuating his voice, and how treacherous his smile—a smile that smiled all alone by itself, while the cunning, glittering eyes recorded an entirely different brain suggestion—Mawkum gone, I say, the little man examined the door to see that it was tight shut, glanced furtively about the room, resumed his seat, slowly opened the largest and most flaringly decorated envelope and produced a document signed with a name and titles that covered half the page. Then he began to talk at the rate of fifty words to the second; like the rattle of a ticker in a panic: of Alvarez, the saviour of his country—his friend!—his partner; of the future of Moccador under his wise and beneficent influence, the Lighthouse being one of the first improvements; of its being given to him to erect because of his loyalty to the cause, and to the part he had taken in overturning that despot, the Tyrant Paramba, who had ruled the republic with a rod of iron. Now it was all over—Paramba was living in the swamps, hunted like a dog. When he was caught—and they expected it every day—he would be brought to the capital, San Juan, in chains—yes, Senor, in chains—and put to work on the roads, so that everybody could spit upon him—traitor! Beast, that he was! And there would be other lighthouses—the whole coast was to be as light as day. Senor Law-TON had said he could speak with perfect confidence—he was doing so, trusting to the honor of the Grandiose—the most distinguished—etc., etc. And now—this in a summing-up voice with a slower movement, about twenty words to the second—would the Grandioso go in as a partner in these ventures? The income he could assure me would be so fixed that the light dues alone would pay for the structure in two years—think of it, Senor, in two years—perhaps less!—and forever after we could both sit down and receive a small fortune, I by the Tampico in drafts signed by his Excellency, and he in his own hacienda surrounded by the patriots who honored him and the wife and children he adored.