Marny’s Shadow by Francis Hopkinson Smith
Story type: Literature
If you know the St. Nicholas–and if you don’t you should make its acquaintance at once–you won’t breakfast upstairs in that gorgeous room overlooking the street where immaculate, smilelees waiters move noiselessly about, limp palms droop in the corners, and the tables are lighted with imitation wax candles burning electric wicks hooded by ruby-colored shades, but you will stumble down a dark, crooked staircase to the left of the office-desk, push open a swinging, green baize door studded with brass tacks, pass a corner of the bar resplendent in cut glass, and with lowered head slip into a little box of a place built under the sidewalk.
Here of an afternoon thirsty gentlemen sip their cocktails or sit talking by the hour, the smoke from their cigars drifting in long lines out the open door leading to the bar, and into the caffe beyond. Here in the morning hungry habitues take their first meal–those whose life-tickets are punched with much knowledge of the world, and who, therefore, know how much shorter is the distance from where they sit to the chef’s charcoal fire.
Marny has one of these same ragged life-tickets bearing punch-marks made the world over, and so whenever I journey his way we always breakfast together in this cool, restful retreat, especially of a Sunday morning.
On one of these mornings, the first course had been brought and eaten, the cucumbers and a’ special mysterious dish served, and I was about to light a cigarette–we were entirely alone–when a well-dressed man pushed open the door, leaned for a moment against the jamb, peered into the room, retreated, appeared again, caught sight of Marny, and settled himself in a chair with his eyes on the painter.
I wondered if he were a friend of Marny’s, or whether he had only been attracted by that glow of geniality which seems to radiate from Marny’s pores.
The intruder differed but little in his manner of approach from other strangers I had seen hovering about my friend, but to make sure of his identity–the painter had not yet noticed the man–I sent Marny a Marconi message of inquiry with my eyebrows, which he answered in the negative with his shoulders.
The stranger must have read its meaning, for he rose quickly, and, with an embarrassed look on his face, left the room.
“Wanted a quarter, perhaps,” I suggested, laughing.
“No, guess not. He’s just a Diffendorfer. Always some of them round Sunday mornings. That’s a new one, never saw him before. In town over night, perhaps.”
“What’s a Diffendorfer?”
“Did you never meet one?”
“No, never heard of one.”
“Oh, yes, you have; you’ve seen lots of them.”
“Do they belong to any sect?”
“What are they, then?”
“Just Diffendorfers. Thought I’d told you about one whom I knew. No? Wait till I light my cigar; it’s a long story.”
“Anything to do with the fellow who’s just gone out?”
“Not a thing, though I’m sure he’s one of them. You’ll find Diffendorfers everywhere. First one I struck was in Venice, some years ago. I can pick them out now at sight.” Marny struck a match and lighted his cigar. I drew my cup of coffee toward me and settled myself in my chair to listen.
“You remember that little smoking-room to the right as you enter the Caffe Quadri,” he began; “the one off the piazza? Well, a lot of us fellows used to dine there–Whistler, Rico, Old Ziem, Roscoff, Fildes, Blaas, and the rest of the gang.
“Jimmy was making his marvellous pastels that year” (it is in this irreverent way that Marny often speaks of the gods), “and we used to crowd into the little room every night to look them over. We were an enthusiastic lot of Bohemians, each one with an opinion of his own about any subject he happened to be interested in, and ready to back it up if it took all night. Whistler’s pastels, however, took the wind out of some of us who thought we could paint, especially Roscoff, who prided himself on his pastels, and who has never forgiven Jimmy to this day.
“Well, one night, Auguste, the headwaiter–you remember him, he used to get smuggled cigarettes for us; that made him suspicious; always thought everybody was a spy–pointed out a man sitting just outside the room on one of the leather-covered seats. Auguste said he came every evening and got as close as he could to our table without attracting attention; close enough, however, to hear every word that was said. If I knew the man it was all right; if I didn’t know him, he suggested that I keep an eye on him.
“I looked around, and saw a heavy-featured, dull-looking man about twenty-five, dressed in a good suit of well-cut clothes, shiny stove-pipe silk hat, high collar with a good deal of necktie, a big pearl pin, and a long gold watch-chain which went all around his neck like an eye-glass ribbon. He had a smooth-shaven face, two keen eyes, a flat nose, square jaw, and a straight line of a mouth.
“I didn’t know the man, didn’t want to know him, fellows in silk hate not being popular with us, and I didn’t keep an eye on him except long enough to satisfy myself that the man was only one of those hungry travellers who was adding to his stock of information by picking up the crumbs of conversation which fell from the tables, and not at all the kind of a person who would hold me or anybody else up in a sotto portico or chuck me over a bridge. Then again, I was twenty pounds heavier than he was, and could take care of myself.
“Some nights after this I was dining alone, none of the boys having shown up owing to a heavy rain, when Auguste nudged me, and there sat this stranger within ten feet of my table. He dropped his eyes when he saw me looking at him, and began turning the sheets of a letter he had in his hand. I was smoking one of Auguste’s cigarettes, and checking the menu with a lead-pencil, when it slipped from my hand and rolled between the man’s feet. He rose, picked up the pencil, laid it beside my plate, and without a word returned to his seat, that same curious, inquisitive, hungry look on his face you saw a moment ago on that fellow’s who has just gone out. Auguste, of course, lost all interest in my dinner. If he wasn’t after me then he was after him; both meant trouble for Auguste.
“I shifted my chair, opened the ‘Gazetta’ to serve as a screen, and looked the fellow over. If he were following me around to murder me, as Auguste concluded–he always had some cock-and-bull story to tell–he was certainly very polite about it. I could see that he was not an Italian, neither was he a German nor a Frenchman. He looked more like a well-to-do Dutchman–like one of those young fellows you and I used to see at the Harmonie Club in Dordrecht, or on the veranda of the Amstel, in Amsterdam. They look more like Americans than any other people in Europe.
“The next night I was telling the fellows some stories, they crowding about to listen, when Auguste whispered in my ear. I turned, and there he was again, his eyes watching every mouthful I swallowed, his ears taking in everything that was said. The other fellows had noticed him now, and had christened him ‘Marny’s Shadow.’ One of them wanted to ask him his business, and fire him into the street if it wasn’t satisfactory, but I wouldn’t have it. He had said nothing to me or anybody else, nor had he, so far as I knew, followed me when I went out. He had a perfect right to dine where he pleased if he paid for it–and he did–so Auguste admitted, and liberally, too. He could look at whom he pleased. The fact is, that but for Auguste, who was scared white half the time, fearing the Government would get on to his cigarette game, no one would have noticed him. Besides, the fellow might have his own reasons for remaining incog., and if he did we all knew he wouldn’t have been the first one.
“A few days after this I was painting up the Zattere near San Rosario–I was making the sketch for that big Giudeeca picture–the one that went to Munich that year–you remember it?–lot of figures around a fruit-stand, with the church on the right and the Giudeeca and Lagoon beyond–and had my gondolier Marco posing some twenty feet away with his back turned toward me, when my mysterious friend walked out from a little calle tins side of the church, looked at Marco for a moment without turning his head–he didn’t see me–and stopped at a door next to old Pietro Varni’s wine-shop. He hesitated a moment, looking up and down the Zattere, opened the door with a key which he took from his pocket, and disappeared inside. I beckoned to Marco, and sent him to the wine-shop to find Pietro. When he came (Pietro was agent for the lodging-rooms above, and let them out to swell painters–we couldn’t afford them–fifty lira a week, some of them more) I said:
“‘Pietro, did you see the chap that went upstairs a few moments ago?’
“‘Do you know who he is?’
“‘Yes, he is one of my gentlemen. He has the top floor–the one that Signore Almadi used to live in. The Signore Almadi is gone away.’
“‘How long has he been here?’
“‘About a month.’
“‘Is he a painter?
“‘No, I don’t think so.’
“‘What is he, then?’
“‘Ah, Signore, who can tell? At first his letters were sent to me–now he gets them himself. The last were from Monte Carlo, from the Hotel–Hotel–I forget the name. But why does the Signore want to know? He pays the rent on the day–that is much better.’
“‘Where does he come from?’
“Pietro shrugged his shoulders.
“‘That will do, Pietro.’
“There was evidently nothing to be gotten out of him.
“The next day we had another rainstorm–regular deluge. This time it came down in sheets; campos running rivers; gondolas half full of water, everything soaked. I had a room in the top of the Palazzo da Mula on the Grand Canal just above the Salute and within a step of the traghetto of San Giglio. By going out of the rear door and keeping close to the wall of the houses skirting the Fondamenta San Zorzi, I could reach the traghetto without getting wet. The Quadri was the nearest caffe, anyhow, and so I started.
“When I stepped out of the gondola on the other side of the canal and walked up the wooden steps to the level of the Campo, my mysterious friend moved out from under the shadow of the traghetto box and stood where the light from the lantern hanging in front of the Madonna fell upon his face. His eyes, as usual, were fixed on mine. He had evidently been waiting for me.
“I thought I might just as well end the thing then as at any other time. There was no question now in my mind that the fellow meant business.
“I turned on him squarely.
“‘You waiting for me?’
“‘I want you to go to dinner with me.’
“‘Anywhere you say.’
“‘I don’t know you.’
“‘Yes, that’s what I thought you would say.’
“‘Do you know me?’
“‘Know my name?’
“‘Yes, your name’s Marny.’
“‘Where do you want to dine?’
“‘Anywhere you say. How will the Quadri do?’
“‘In a private room?’ I said this to see how he would take it. He still stood in the full glare of the lantern.
“‘No, unless you prefer. I would rather dine downstairs–more people there.’
“‘All right–lead the way, I’ll follow.’
“It was the worst night that you ever saw. Hardly a soul in the streets. It had set in for a three days’ storm, I knew; we always had them in Venice during December. My friend kept right on without looking behind him or speaking to me; over the bridge, through the Campo San Moise and so on to the Piazza and the caffe. There were only half a dozen fellows inside when we entered. These greeted me with the yell of welcome we always gave each other on entering, and which this time I didn’t return, I knew they would open their eyes when they saw us sit down together, and I didn’t want any complications by which I would be obliged to introduce him to anybody. I hated not to be decent, but you see I didn’t know but I’d have to hand him over to the police before I was through with him, and I wanted the responsibility of his acquaintance to devolve on me alone. Roscoff either wouldn’t or didn’t take in the situation, for he came up when we were seated, leaned over my chair, and put his arm around my neck. I saw a shade of disappointment cross my companion’s face when I didn’t present Roscoff to him, but he said nothing. But I couldn’t help it–I didn’t see anything else to do. Then again, Roscoff was one of those fellows who would never let you hear the end of it if anything went wrong.
“The man looked at the bill of fare steadily for some minutes, pushed it over to me, and said: ‘You order.’
“There was nothing gracious in the way he said it–more like a command than anything else. It nettled me for a moment. I don’t like your buttoned-up kind of a man that gives you a word now and then as grudgingly as if he were doling out pennies from a pocket-hook. But I kept still. Then I was on a voyage of discovery. The tones of his voice jarred on me, I must admit, and I answered him in the same peremptory way. Not that I had any animosity toward him, but so as to meet him on his own ground.
“‘Then it will he the regular table d’hote dinner with a pint of Chianti for each,’ I snapped out. ‘Will that suit you?’
“‘Yes, if you like Chianti.’
“‘I do when it’s good.’
“‘Do you like anything better?’ he asked, as if he were cross questioning me on the stand.
“‘Well, Valpocelli of ’82.’ That was the best wine in their cellar, and cost ten lire a bottle.
“‘Is there anything better than that?’ he demanded.
“‘Yes, Valpocelli of ’71. Thirty lire a bottle. They haven’t a drop of it here or anywhere else.’
“Auguste, who had been half-paralyzed when we sat down, and who, in his bewilderment, had not heard the conversation, reached over and placed the ordinary Chianti included in the price of the dinner at my elbow.
“The man raised his eyes, looked at August with a peculiar expression, amounting almost to disgust, on his face, and said:
“‘I didn’t order that. Take that stuff away and bring me a bottle of ’82–a quart, mind you–if you haven’t the ’71.’
“All through the dinner he talked in monosyllables, answering my questions but offering few topics of his own; and although I did my best to draw him out, he made no statement of any kind that would give me the slightest clew as to his antecedents or that would lead up either to his occupation or his purpose in seeking me out. He didn’t seem to wish to conceal anything about himself, although of course I asked him no personal questions, nor did he pump me about my affairs. He was just one of those dull, lifeless conversationalists who must be probed all the time to get anything out of. Before I was half through the dinner I wondered why I had bothered about him at all.
“All this time the fellows were off in one corner watching the whole affair. When Auguste brought the ’82, looking like a huge tear bottle dug up from where it had rusted for two thousand years, Roscoff gave a gasp and crossed the room to tell Billy Wood that I had struck a millionnaire who was going to buy everything I had painted, including my big picture for the Salon, all of which was about as close as that idiot Roscoff ever got to anything.
“When the bill was brought Diffendorfer turned his back to me, took out a roll of bills from his hip-pocket, and passed a new bank-note to Auguste with a contemptuous side wiggle of his forefinger and the remark in English in a tone intended for Auguste’s ear alone: ‘No change.’
“Auguste laid the bill on his tray and walked up to the desk with a face struggling between joy over the fee and terror for my safety. A fellow who lived on ten-lire wine and who gave money away like water must murder people for a living and have a cemetery of his own in which to bury his dead. He evidently never expected to see me alive again.
“Dinner over and paid for, my host put on his coat, said ‘Good-night’ with rather an embarrassed air, and without looking at anyone in the room–not even Roscoff, who made a move as if to intercept him–Roscoff had some pictures of his own to sell–walked dejectedly out of the caffe and disappeared in the night.
“When I crossed the traghetto the following evening the storm had not abated. It was worse than on the previous night; the wind was blowing a gale and whirling the fog into the narrow streets and choking up the archways and sotti portici.
“As my foot touched the nagging of the Campo, Diffendorfer stepped forward and laid his hand on my arm.
“‘You are late,’ he said. He spoke in the same crisp way he had the night before. Whether it was an assumed air of bravado, or whether it was his natural ugly disposition, I couldn’t tell. It jarred on me again, however, and I walked on.
“He stepped quickly in front of me, as if to bar my way, and said, in a gentler tone:
“‘Don’t go away. Come dine with me.’
“‘But I dined with you yesterday.’
“‘Yes, I know–and you hated me afterward. I’ll be better this time.’
“‘I didn’t hate you, I only—-‘
“‘Yes, you did, and you had reason to. I wasn’t myself, somehow. Try me again to-day.’
“There was something in his eyes–a troubled, disappointed expression that appealed to me–and so I said:
“‘All right, but on one condition: it’s my dinner this time.’
“‘And my wine,’ he answered, and a satisfied look came into his face.
“‘Yes, your wine. Come along.’
“The fellow’s blunt, jerky way of speaking had somehow made me speak in the same way. Our talk sounded just like two boys who had had a fight and who were forced to shake hands and make up. My own curiosity as to who he might be, what he was doing in Venice, and why he was pursuing me, was now becoming aroused. That he should again throw himself in my way after the stupid dinner of the night before only deepened the mystery.
“When we got inside, just as we were taking our seats at one of the small tables in that side room off the street, a shout of laughter came from the next room–the one we fellows always dined in. I had determined to get inside of the fellow at this sitting, and thought the more retired table better for the purpose. Diffendorfer jumped to his feet on hearing the laughter, peered into the room, and, picking up his wet umbrella, said:
“‘Let’s go in there–more people.’ I followed him, and drew out another chair from a table opposite one at which Roscoff, Woods, and two or three of the boys were dining. They all nudged each other when we came in, and a wink went around, but they didn’t speak. They behaved precisely as if I had a girl in tow and wanted to be left alone.
“This dinner was exactly like the first one. Diffendorfer ordered the same wine–Valpocelli, ’82, and ate each course that Auguste brought him, with only a word now and then about the weather, the number of people in Venice, and the dishes. The only time when his face lighted up was when a chap named Cruthers, from Munich, who arrived that morning and who hadn’t been in Venice for years, came up and slapped me on the back and hollered out as he dragged up a chair and sat down beside me: ‘Glad to see you, old man; what are you drinking?’
“I reached for the ’82–there was only a glass left–and was moving the bottle within reach of my friend’s hand when Diffendorfer said to Auguste:
“‘Bring another quart of ’82;’ then he turned and said to the Munich chap: ‘Sorry, sir, it isn’t the ’71, but they haven’t a bottle in the house.’
“I was up a tree, and so I said:
“‘Cruthers, let me present you to my friend, Mr. Diffendorfer.’ My companion at mention of his name sprang up, seized Cruthers’s fingers as if he had been a long-lost brother, and pretty nearly shook his hand off. Cruthers said in reply:
“‘I’m very glad to meet you. If you’re a friend of Marny’s you’re all right. You’ve got all you ought to have in this world.’ You must have known Cruthers–he was always saying that kind of frilly things to the boys. Then they both sat down again.
“After this quite a different expression came into the man’s face. His embarrassment, or ugliness of temper, or whatever it was, was gone. He jumped up again, insisted upon filling Cruthers’s glass himself, and when Cruthers tasted it and winked both of his eyes over it, and then got up and shook Diffendorfer’s hand a second time to let him know how good he thought it was, and how proud he was of being his guest, Diffendorfer’s face even broke out into a smile, and for a moment the fellow was as happy as anybody about him, and not the chump he had been with me. He was evidently pleased with Cruthers, for when Cruthers refused a third glass he said to him: ‘To-morrow, perhaps’–and, beckoning to Auguste, said, in a voice loud enough for us all to hear: ‘Put a cork in it and mark it; we’ll finish it to-morrow.’
“Cruthers made no reply, not considering himself, of course, as one of the party, and, nodding pleasantly to my companion, joined Woods’s table again.
“When dinner was over, Diffendorfer put on his hat and coat, handed me my umbrella, and said:
“‘I’m going home now. Walk along with me?’
“It was still raining, the wind rattling the swinging doors of the caffe. I did not answer for a moment. The dinner had left me as much in the dark as ever, and I was trying to make up my mind what to do next.
“‘Why not stay here and smoke?’ I asked.
“‘No, walk along with me as far as the traghetto, please,’ and he laid his hand in a half-pleading way on my arm.
“Again that same troubled look in his face that I had seen once before made me alter my mind. I threw on my coat, picked up my umbrella, nodded to the boys, who looked rather anxiously after me, and plunged through the door and out into the storm.
“It was the kind of a night that I love,–a regular howler. Most people think the sunshine makes Venice, but they wouldn’t think so if they could study it on one of these nights when a nor’easter whirls up out of the Adriatic and comes roaring across the lagoons as if it would swallow up the dear old girl and sweep her into the sea. She don’t mind it. She always comes up smiling the next day, looking twice as pretty for her bath, and I’m always twice as happy, for I’ve seen a whole lot of things I never would have seen in the daylight. The Campanile, for one thing, upside down in the streaming piazza; slashes of colored light from the shop-windows soaking into the rain-pools; and great, black, gloomy shadows choking up alleys, with only a single taper peering out of the darkness like a burglar’s lantern.
“When we turned to breast the gale–the rain had almost ceased–and struggled on through the Ascensione, a sudden gust of wind whirled my umbrella inside out, and after that I walked on ahead of him, stopping every now and then to enjoy the grandeur of it all, until we reached the traghetto. When we arrived, only one gondola was on duty, the gondolier muffled to his eyes in glistening oilskins, his sou’wester hat tied under his chin.
“Once on the other side of the Canal it started in to rain again, and so Diffendorfer held his own umbrella over me until we reached my gate on the Fondamenta San Zorzi, in the rear of my quarters. He stood beside me under the flare of the gas-jets while I fumbled in my pocket for my night-key–I had about decided to invite him in and pump him dry–and then said:
“‘I live a little way from here; don’t go in; come home with me.’
“A strange feeling now took possession of me, which I could not account for. The whole plot rushed over me with a force which I must confess sent a cold chill down my back. I began to think: This man had forced himself upon me not once, but twice; had set up the best bottle of wine he could buy, and was now about to steer me into a den. Then the thought rose in my mind–I could handle any two of him, and if I give way now and he finds I am over-cautious or suspicious, it will only make it worse for me when I see him again. This was followed by a common-sense view of the whole situation. The mystery in it, after all, if there was any mystery, was one of my own making. To ask a man who had been dining with you to come to your lodging was neither a suspicious nor an unusual thing. Besides, while he had been often brusque, and at times curt, he had shown me nothing but kindness, and had tried only to please me.
“My mind was made up instantly. I determined to follow the affair to the end.
“‘Yes, I’ll go,’ and I pulled my umbrella into shape, opened it with a flop, and stepped from the shelter of the doorway into the pelt of the driving rain.
“We kept on up the Fondamenta, crossed the bridge by the side of the Canal of San Vio as far as the Caffe Calcina, and then out on the Zattero, which was being soused with the waves of the Giudecca breaking over the coping of its pavement. Hugging the low wall of Clara Montalba’s garden, he keeping out of the wind as best he could, we passed the church of San Rosario and stopped at the same low door opening into the building next to Pietro’s wine-shop–the one I had seen him enter when I was painting. The caffe was still open, for the glow of its lights streamed out upon the night and was reflected in the rain-drenched pavement. Then a thought struck me:
“‘Come in here a moment,’ I said to him, and I pushed in Pietro’s door.
“‘Pietro,’ I called out, so that everybody in the caffe could hear, ‘I’m going up to Mr. Diffendorfer’s room. Better get a fiasco of Chianti ready–the old kind you have in the cellar. When I want it I’ll send for it.’ If I was going into a trap it was just as well to let somebody know whom I was last seen with. The boys had seen me go out with him, but nobody knew where he lived or where he had taken me. I was ashamed of it as soon as I had said it, but somehow I felt as if it were just as well to keep my eyes open.
“Diffendorfer pushed past me and called out to Pietro, in a half-angry tone:
“‘No, don’t you send it. I’ve got all the wine we’ll want,’ turned on his heel, held his door open for me to pass in, and slammed it behind us.
“It was pitch-dark inside as we mounted the stairs one step at a time until we reached the second flight, where the light from a smouldering wick of a fiorentina set in a niche in the wall shed a dim glow. At the sound of our footsteps a door was opened in a passageway on our left, a head thrust out, and as suddenly withdrawn. The same thing happened on the third landing. Diffendorfer paid no attention to these intrusions, and kept on down a long corridor ending in a door. I didn’t like the heads–it looked as if they were waiting for Diffendorfer to bring somebody home, and so I slipped my umbrella along in my hand until I could use it as a club, and waited in the dark until he had found the key-hole, unlocked the door, and thrown it open. All I saw was the gray light of the windows opposite this door, which made a dim silhouette of Diffendorfer’s figure. Then I heard the scraping of a match, and a gas-jet flashed.
“‘Come in,’ called Diffendorfer, in a cheery tone. ‘Wait till I punch up the fire. Here, take this seat,’ and he moved a great chair close to the grate.
“I have seen a good many rooms in my time, but I must say this one took the breath out of me for an instant. The walls were hung in old tapestries, the furniture was of the rarest. There were three or four old armchairs that looked as if they had been stolen out of the Doge’s Palace.
“Diffendorfer continued punching away at the fire until it burst into a blaze.
“In another moment he was on his feet again, saying he had forgotten something. Then he entered the next room–there were three in the suite–unlocked a closet, brought back a mouldy-looking bottle and two Venetian glasses, moved up a spider-legged, inlaid table, and said, as he placed the bottle and glasses beside me:
“‘That’s the Valpocelli of ’71. You needn’t worry about helping yourself; I’ve got a dozen bottles more.’
“I thought the game had gone far enough now, and I squared myself and faced him.
“‘See here, Mr. Diffendorfer,’ I said, ‘before I take your wine I’ve got some questions to ask you. I’m going to ask them pretty straight, too, and I want you to answer them exactly in the same way. You have followed me round now for two weeks. You invite me to dinner–a man you have never seen before–and when I come you sit like a bump on a log, and half the time I can’t get a word out of you. You spend your money on me like water–none of which I can return, and you know it–and when I tell you I don’t like that sort of thing you double the expense. Now, what does it all mean? Who are you, anyway, and where do you come from? If you’re all right there’s my hand, and you’ll find it wide open.’
“He dropped into his chair, put his head into his hands for a moment, and said, in a greatly altered tone:
“‘If I told you, you wouldn’t understand.’
“‘Yes, I would.’
“‘No, you wouldn’t–you couldn’t. You’ve had everything you wanted all your life–I haven’t had anything.’
“‘Me!–what rot! You’ve got a chair under you now that will sell for more money than I see in a year.’
“‘Yes–and nobody to sit in it; not a man who knows me or wants to know me.’
“‘But why did you pick me out?’
“‘Because you seemed to be the kind of a man who would understand me best. I watched you for weeks, though you didn’t know it. You’ve got people who love you for yourself. You go into Florian’s or the Quadri and you can’t get a chance to swallow a mouthful for fellows who want to shake hands with you and slap you on the back. When I saw that, I got up courage enough to speak to you.
“‘When that first night you wouldn’t introduce me to your friend Roscoff, I saw how it was and how you suspected me, and I came near giving it up. Then I thought I’d try again, and if you hadn’t introduced Mr. Cruthers to me, and if he hadn’t drank my wine, I would have given it up. But I don’t want them to like me because I’m with you. I want them to like me for myself, so they’ll be glad to see me when I come in, just as they are glad to see you.
“‘I come from Pennsylvania. My father owns the oil-wells at Stockville. He came over from Holland when he was a boy. He sent me over here six months ago to learn something about the world, and told me not to come back till I did. I got to Paris, and I couldn’t find a soul to talk to but the hotel porter; then I kept on to Lucerne, and it was no better there. When I got as far as Dresden I mustered up courage to speak to a man in the station, but he moved off, and I saw him afterward speaking to a policeman and pointing to me. Then I came on down here. I thought maybe if I got some good rooms to live in where people could be comfortable, I could get somebody to come in and sit down. So I bought this lot of truck of an Italian named Almadi–a prince or something–and moved in. I tried the fellows who lived here–you saw them sticking their heads out as we came up–but they don’t speak English, so I was as bad off as I was before. Then I made up my mind I’d tackle you and keep at it till I got to know you. You might think it queer now that I didn’t tell you before who I was or how I came here, or how lonesome I was–just lonesome–but I just couldn’t. I didn’t want your pity, I wanted your friendship. That’s all.’
“He had straightened up now, and was leaning back in his chair.
“‘And it was just dead lonesomeness, then, was it?’ and I held out my hand to him.
“‘Yes–the deadliest kind of lonesome. Kind makes you want to fall off a dock. Now, please drink my wine’–and he pushed the bottle toward me–‘I had a devil of a hunt for it, but I wanted to do something for you you couldn’t do for yourself.’
“We fellows, I tell you, took charge of Diffendorfer after that, and a ripping good fellow he was. We got that high collar off of him, a slouch hat on his head instead of his stove-pipe, and a pipe in his mouth, and before the winter was over he had more friends than any fellow in Venice. It was only awkwardness that made him talk so queer and ugly. And maybe we didn’t have some good times in those rooms of his on the Zattere!”
Marny stopped, threw away the end of his cigar, laid a coin under his plate for the waiter and another on top of it for Henri, the chef, reached for his hat, and said, as he rose from his seat, and flecked the ashes from his coat-sleeve:
“So now, whenever I see a poor devil haunting a place like this, looking around out of the corner of his eye, hoping somebody will speak to him, I say that’s a Diffendorfer, and more than half the time I’m right.”