Peeps at People
скачать книгу бесплатно
"Quite so," retorted the young woman, and there the conversation stopped.
I wonder if she was right? If I thought she was, I'd devote the rest of my life to seeing Ian Maclaren at home; but I can't help feeling that she was wrong. The man was so entirely courteous, after I finally cornered him, that I don't see how it could have been any one else than the one I sought; for, however much one may object to this popular author's dialect, England has sent us nothing finer in the way of a courteous gentleman than he.
An endeavor to find Rudyard Kipling at home is very much like trying to discover the North Pole. Most people have an idea that there is a North Pole somewhere, but up to the hour of going to press few have managed to locate it definitely. The same is true of Mr. Kipling's home. He has one, no doubt, somewhere, but exactly where that favored spot is, is as yet undetermined. My first effort to find him was at his residence in Vermont, but upon my arrival I learned that he had fled from the Green Mountain State in order to escape from the autograph-hunters who were continually lurking about his estate. Next I sought him at his lodgings in London, but the fog was so thick that if so be he was within I could not find him. Then taking a P. & O. steamer, I went out to Calcutta, and thence to Simla. In neither place was he to be found, and I sailed to Egypt, hired a camel, and upon this ship of the desert cruised down the easterly coast of Africa to the Transvaal, where I was informed that, while he had been there recently, Mr. Kipling had returned to London. I immediately turned about, and upon my faithful and wobbly steed took a short-cut catacornerwise across to Algiers, where I was fortunate enough to intercept the steamer upon which the object of my quest was sailing back to Britain.
He was travelling incog. as Mr. Peters, but I recognized him in a moment, not only by his vocabulary, but by his close resemblance to a wood-cut I had once seen in the advertisement of a famous dermatologist, which I had been told was a better portrait of Kipling than of Dr. Skinberry himself, whose skill in making people look unlike themselves was celebrated by the publication of the wood-cut in question.
He was leaning gracefully over the starboard galley as I walked up the gang-plank. I did not speak to him, however, until after the vessel had sailed. I am too old a hand at interviewing modest people to be precipitate, and knew that if I began to talk to Mr. Kipling about my mission before we started, he would in all probability sneak ashore and wait over a steamer to escape me. Once started, he was doomed, unless he should choose to jump overboard. So I waited, and finally, as Gibraltar gradually sank below the horizon, I tackled him.
"Mr. Kipling?" said I, as we met on the lanyard deck.
"Peters," said he, nervously, lighting a jinrikisha.
"All the same," I retorted, taking out my note-book, "I've come to interview you at home.Are you a good sailor?"
"I'm good at whatever I try," said he. "Therefore you can wager a spring bonnet against a Kohat that I am a good sailor."
"Excuse me for asking," said I. "It was necessary to ascertain. My instructions are to interview you at home. If you are a good sailor, then you are at home on the sea, so we may begin. What work are you engaged on now?"
"The hardest of my life," he replied. "I am now trying to avoid an American lady journalist. I know you are an American by the Cuban flag you are wearing in your button-hole. I know that you are a lady, because you wear a bonnet, which a gentleman would not do if he could. And I know you are a journalist, because you have confessed it. But for goodness' sake, madam, address me as Peters, and I will talk on forever. If it were known on this boat that I am Kipling, I should be compelled to write autographs for the balance of the voyage, and I have come away for a rest."
"Very well, Mr. Peters," said I. "I will respect your wishes. Why did you go to South Africa?"
"After color. I am writing a new book, and I needed color. There are more colored people in Africa than anywhere else. Wherefore – "
"I see," said I. "And did you get it?"
"Humph!" he sneered. "Did I get it? It is evident, madam, that you have not closely studied the career of Rudyard – er – Peters. Did he ever fail to get anything he wanted?"
"I don't know," I replied. "That's what I wanted to find out."
"Well, you may draw your own conclusions," he retorted, "when I speak that beautiful and expressive American word 'Nit.'"
I put the word down for future use. It is always well for an American to make use of her own language as far as is possible, and nowhere can one gain a better idea of what is distinctively American than from a study of English authors who use
Americanisms with an apology – paid for, no doubt, at space rates.
"Have you been at work on the ocean?" I inquired.
"No," said he. "Why should I work on the ocean? I can't improve the ocean."
"Excuse me," said I. "I didn't know that you were a purist."
"I'm not," said he. "I'm a Peters."
There was a pause, and I began to suspect that beneath his suave exterior Mr. Kipling concealed a certain capacity for being disagreeable.
"I didn't know," I said, "but that you had spent some of your time interviewing the boilers or the engines of the ship. A man who can make a locomotive over into an attractive conversationalist ought to be able to make a donkey-engine, for instance, on shipboard, seem less like a noisy jackass than it is."
"Good!" he cried, his face lighting up. "There's an idea there. Gad! I'll write a poem on the donkey-engine as a sort of companion to my McAndrews Hymn, and, what is more, I will acknowledge my debt to you for suggesting the idea."
"I'm much obliged, Mr. – er – Peters," said I, coldly, "but you needn't. You are welcome to the idea, but I prefer to make my own name for myself. If you put me in one of your books, I should become immortal; and while I wish to become immortal, I prefer to do it without outside assistance."
Peters, n? Kipling, immediately melted.
"If you were a man," said he, "I'd slap you on the back and call the steward to ask you what you'd have."
"Thank you," said I. "Under the circumstances, I am glad I am not a man. I do not wish to be slapped on the back, even by a British author. But if you really wish to repay me for my suggestion, drop your unnatural modesty and let me interview you frankly. Tell me what you think – if you ever do think. You've been so meteoric that one naturally credits you with more heart and spontaneity than thought and care."
"Very well," said he. "Let the cross-examination begin."
"Do you ride a bicycle?" I asked.
"Not at sea," he replied.
"What is your favorite wheel?" I asked.
"The last that is sent me by the maker," he answered.
"Do you use any tonic – hair, health, or otherwise – which you particularly recommend to authors?" I asked.
"I must refuse to answer that question until I have received the usual check," said Mr. – er – Peters.
"Do you still hold with the Spanish that Americans are pigs, and that New York is a trough?" I asked.
"There are exceptions, and when I last saw New York I was not a conscious witness of any particularly strong devotion to the pen," he answered, uneasily and evasively.
"Do you like the American climate?" I asked.
"Is there such a thing?" he asked, in return. "If there is, I didn't see it. You Americans are in the experimental stage of existence in weather as in government. I don't think you have as yet settled upon any settled climate. My experience has been that during any week in any season of the year you have a different climate for each day. I can say this, however, that your changes are such that the average is uncomfortable. It is hot one day and cold the next; baking the third; wintry the fourth; humid the fifth; dry the sixth; and on the seventh you begin with sunshine before breakfast, follow it up with rain before luncheon, and a sleigh ride after dinner."
It was evident that Mr. – er – Peters had not lost his powers of observation.
"Why have you left Vermont, Mr. Kipling?" I asked.
"Peters!" he remonstrated, in a beseeching whisper.
"Excuse me, Mr. Peters," said I. "Why have you left Vermont, Mr. Peters?"
"That is a delicate question, madam," he replied. "Are you not aware that my house is still in the market?"
"I am instructed," said I, drawing out my check-book, "to get an answer to any question I may choose to ask, at any cost. If you fear to reply because it may prevent a sale of your house, I will buy the house at your own price."
"Forty thousand dollars," said he. "It's worth twenty thousand, but in the hurry of my departure I left fifty thousand dollars' worth of notes stored away in the attic."
I drew and handed him the check.
"Now that your house is sold," said I, "why, Mr. Peters, did you leave Vermont?"
"For several reasons," he replied, putting the check in his pocket, and relighting his jinrikisha, which had gone out. "In the first place, it was some distance from town. I thought, when I built the house, that I could go to New York every morning and come back at night. My notion was correct, but I discovered afterwards that while I could go to New York by day and return by night, there was not more than five minutes between the trains I had to take to do it. Then there was a certain amount of human sympathy involved. The postman was fairly bent under the weight of the letters I received asking for autographs. He came twice a day, and each time the poor chap had to carry a ton of requests for autographs."
"Still, you needn't have replied to them," I said.
"Oh, I never tried to," he said. "It was the postman who aroused my sympathy."
"But you didn't give up trying to live in your own house that had cost you $20,000 for that?" I said.
"Well, no," he answered. "Frankly, I didn't. There were other drawbacks. You Americans are too fond of collecting things. For instance, I went to a reception one night in Boston, and I wore a new dress-suit, and, by Jove! when I got home and took my coat off I found that the tails had been cut off – I presume by souvenir-hunters! Every mail brought countless requests for locks of my hair; and every week, when my laundry came back, there were at least a dozen things of one kind or another missing, which I afterwards learned had been stolen off the line by collectors of literary relics. Then the kodak fiends, that continually lurked about behind bushes and up in the trees and under the piazzas, were a most infernal nuisance. I dare say there are 50,000 unauthorized photographs of myself in existence to-day. Even these I might have endured, not to mention visitors who daily came to my home to tell me how much they had enjoyed my books. Ten or a dozen of these people are gratifying, but when you come down to breakfast and find a line stretching all the way from your front door to the railway station, and excursion trains coming in loaded to the full with others every hour, it ceases to be pleasant and interferes seriously with one's work. However, I never murmured until one day I observed a gang of carpenters at work on the other side of the street, putting up a curious-looking structure which resembled nothing I had ever seen before. When I had made inquiries I learned that an enterprising circus-manager had secured a lease of the place for the summer, and was erecting a grand-stand for people who came to catch a glimpse of me to sit on.
"It was then that the thread of my patience snapped. I don't mind writing autographs for eight hours every day; I don't mind being kodaked if it makes others happy; and if any Boston relic-hunter finds comfort in possessing the tails of my dress-coat he is welcome to them; but I can't go being turned into a side-show for the delectation of a circus-loving people, so I got out."
I was silent. I knew precisely what he had suffered, and could not blame him.
"I suppose," I said, sympathetically, "that this means that you will never return."
"Oh no," said he. "I expect to go back some day, but not until public interest in my personal appearance has died out. Some time somebody will discover some new kind of a freak to interest you people, and when that happens I will venture back for a day or two, but until then I think I will stay over here, where an illustrious personage can have a fit in the street, if he wants to, without attracting any notice whatsoever. There are so many great people over here, like myself and Lord Salisbury and Emperor William, that fame doesn't distinguish a man at all, and it is possible to be happy though illustrious, and to enjoy a certain degree of privacy."
Just then the English coast hove in sight, and Mr. Kipling went below to pack up his mullagatawny, while I drew close to the rail and reflected upon certain peculiarities of my own people.
They certainly do love a circus!
THE DE RESZKES
On my return to London I received a message from my principals at home suggesting that, in view of the possibilities of opera next winter, an interview with the famous brothers De Reszke would be interesting to the readers of the United States. I immediately started for Warsaw, where, I was given to understand, these wonderful operatic stars were spending the summer on their justly famous stock-farm.
I arrived late at night, and put up comfortably at a small and inexpensive inn on the outskirts of the city. Mine host was a jolly old Polander, who, having emigrated to and then returned from America, spoke English almost as well as a citizen of the United States. He was very cordial, and assigned me the best room in his house without a murmur or a tip. Anxious to learn how genius is respected in its own country, I inquired of him if he knew where the De Reszkes lived, and what kind of people they were.
"Oh, yais," he said, "I know dem De Reszkes ferry vell already. Dey haf one big farm back on dher hills. I gets my butter undt eggs from dhose De Reszkes."
"Indeed!" said I, somewhat amused. "They are fine fellows, both of them."
"Yais," he said. "I like dem vell enough. Deir butter is goot, undt deir eggs is goot, but deir milk is alvays skimmed. I do not understandt it vy dey shouldt skim deir milk."
"I presume," said I, "that their voices are in good condition?"
"Vell," he replied, "I dondt know much apout deir foices. I dondt effer speak to dem much. Ven I saw dem lost dey could make demselves heardt. But, you know, dey dondt needt deir foices much already. Dey keep a man to sell deir butter undt eggs."
"But of course you know that they are renowned for their vocal powers," I suggested.
"I dondt know much apout 'em," he said, simply. "Dey go avay for a year or two every six months, undt dey come back mit plenty ohf money ohf one kind undt anodder, but I subbosed dey made it all oudt ohf butter undt eggs. Vot is dose focal bowers you iss dalking apout? Iss dot some new kindt ohf chiggens?"
I gave the landlord up as a difficult case; but the next day, when I called at the castle of the two famous singers, I perceived why it was that in their own land they were known chiefly as farmers.
"The De Reszkes?" said I, as I entered their castle, some ten miles out of Warsaw, and held out my hands for the brothers to clasp.
It was a superb building, with a fa?ade of imposing quality, and not, as I had supposed, built of painted canvas, but of granite. To be sure, there were romantic little balconies distributed about it for Jean to practise on, with here and there a dark, forbidding casement which suggested the most base of ?douard's bass notes; but generally the castle suggested anything but the flimsy structure of a grand-opera scene.
Their reply was instant, and I shall never forget the magnificent harmony of their tones as they sang in unison:
"Miss Witherup – Miss Wi-hith-hith-erup?" they inquired.
"The sa-ha-ha-hay-hame!" I sang, and I haven't a bad voice at all.
"We are glad," sang Jean, in tenor tones.
"We are glad," echoed ?douard, only in bass notes, and then they joined together in, "We are glad, we are glad, to see-hee-hee-hee you."
I wish I could write music, so that I could convey the delightful harmonies of the moment to the reader's ear, particularly the last phrase. If a typographical subterfuge may be employed, it went like this:
Start on C, and go a note lower on each line, and you will get some idea of the exquisite musical phrasing of my greeting.
"Excuse me, Jean," said ?douard, "but we are forgetting ourselves. It is only abroad that we are singers. Here we are farmers, and not even yodellists."
"True," said Jean. "Miss Witherup, we must apologize. We recognized in you a matin?e girl from New York, and succumbed to the temptation to try to impress you; but here we are not operatic people. We run a farm. Do you come to interview us as singers or farmers?"
"I've come to interview you in any old way you please," said I. "I want to see you at home."
"Well, here we are," said ?douard, with one of his most fascinating smiles. "Look at us."
"Tell me," said I, "how did you know I was a matin?e girl? You just said you recognized me as one."
"Easy!" laughed Jean, with a wink at his brother. "By the size of your hat."
"Ah, but you said from the United States," I urged. "How did you know that? Don't English matin?e girls wear large hats?"
"Yes," returned ?douard, with a courteous bow, "but yours is in exquisite taste."
Just then the telephone-bell rang, and Jean ran to the receiver. ?douard looked a trifle uneasy, and I kept silent.
"What is it, Jean?" ?douard asked in a moment.
"It's a message from the Countess Poniatowska. She says the milk this morning was sour. Those cows must have been at the green apples again," replied the tenor, moodily.
"It's very annoying," put in ?douard, impatiently. "That stage-carpenter we brought over from the Metropolitan isn't worth a cent. I told him to build a coop large enough for those cows to run around in, and strong enough to keep them from breaking out and eating the apples, and this is the third time they've done this. I really think we ought to send him back to New York. He'd make a good target for the gunners to shoot at over at the Navy Yard."
"What are the prospects for grand opera next year, Mr. De Reszke?" I asked, after a slight pause.
"Pretty good," replied Jean, absently. "Of course, if the milk was sour, we'll have to send another can over to the Countess."
"I suppose so," said ?douard; "but the thing's got to stop. I don't mind losing a little money on this farm at the outset, but when it costs us $1500 a quart to raise milk, I don't much like having to provide substitute quarts, when it sours, at sixteen cents a gallon, just because a fool of a carpenter can't build a cow-coop strong enough to keep the beasts away from green apples."
I had to laugh quietly; for, as the daughter of a farmer, I could see that these spoiled children of fortune knew as much about farming as I knew about building light-houses.
"Perhaps," I suggested, "it wasn't the green apples that soured the milk. It may have been the thunder-storm last night that did it."
"That can't be," said Jean, positively. "We have provided against that. All our cows have lightning-rods on them; we bought them from a Connecticut man, who was in here the other day, for $500 apiece, so you see no electrical disturbance could possibly affect them. It must have been the apples."
"I suppose I had better tell Plan?on to take the extra quart over himself at once and explain to the Countess," said ?douard.
"Plan?on here too?" I cried, in sheer delight.
"Yes; but it's a secret," said Jean. "The whole troupe is here. Plan?on has charge of the cows, but nobody knows it. I wouldn't send Plan?on," he added, reverting to ?douard's suggestion. "He'll stay over there all day singing duets with the ladies. Why not ask Scalchi to attend to it? She's going to town after the turnip seed this morning, and she can stop on her way."
"All right," said ?douard; "I imagine that will be better. Plan?on's got all he can do to get the hay in, anyhow."
?douard looked at me and laughed.
"We are hard workers here, Miss Witherup," he cried. "And I can tell you what it is, there is no business on earth so exacting and yet so delightful as farming."
"And you are all in it together?" I said.
"Yes. You see, last time we were all in New York we were the most harmonious opera troupe there ever was," ?douard explained, "and it was such a novel situation that Jean and I invited them all here for the farming season, and have put the various branches of the work into the hands of our guests, we two retaining executive control."
"Delightful!" I cried.
"Melba has charge of the dairy, and does a great deal of satisfactory rehearsing while churning the butter. You should hear the Spinning Song from 'Faust' as she does it to the accompaniment of a churn. Magnificent!"
"And you ought to see little Russitano and Cremonini rounding up the chickens every night, while Bauermeister collects the eggs," put in Jean; "and Plan?on milking the cows after Maurel has called them home; and that huge old chap Tamagno pushing the lawn-mower up and down the hay-fields through the summer sun – those are sights that even the gods rarely witness."
скачать книгу бесплатно