CROWDED OUT!
And other Sketches

by Seranus (Susie Frances Harrison)


 


Monsieur, Madame, and the Pea Green Parrot.
——

CHAPTER I.


     I am an Englishman by birth.  Having however lived for fourteen years out in America or rather in Canada, I am only half an Englishman.  All the love for the dear old land which I am now visiting is still there, deep in my heart, but from so long a residence in another country certain differences arise of character, habit and thought, not to be easily shaken off.  I was in the Civil Service in Canada and did very well until I meddled with literature.  Discovering that I had a faculty for verse and story-telling, I was ambitious and at the same time foolish enough to work so hard at my new pursuit that I was compelled to “cut” the service, in other words to resign.  Some other Englishman got my post and I found myself, rather unexpectedly, it is true, free to write to my heart’s content.
     I got off a number of things, poems, sketches, etc., but my great work turned out to be a comedy.  I slaved at this all day and amused myself by rehearsing it in my lodgings all night.  I incurred the odium of the landlady by coaxing the maid of all work to learn a part and act it with me.  Finally I resolved to take a great step.  I would go down to New York and get my comedy produced.  That was exactly five years ago and though the comedy was not produced, I am still sanguine that it yet may be, and perhaps not in New York after all, but in a much more important creative centre.  
     I was at the time of my visit to New York perfectly unacquainted with the ways of the metropolis, and it was fortunate [page 11] for me that I possessed one friend there who if not exactly a friend at court as we say, was in truth a much more useful person to me, as, having once been young and inexperienced himself, he knew the ropes well and handled them thoroughly to his own satisfaction and with an eye to my comfort and safety.
     In the manner of cheap dives, for instance, he was invaluable.  Left to myself I either drifted to the most expensive place, for a meal short perhaps of Delmonicos, or else to a shabby and altogether-to-be-repudiated den, where the meat would be rags as well as the pudding.  But under his guidance we invariably turned up in some clean, bright, cheap and wholesome “oyster bar” or coffee room round the corner or up a lane, and where as happy as kings over our lager bier.
     One day De Kock came to me (he is a grand-nephew or something, I believe, of the great Frenchman) and said, with his knowing air,
     “You will please put on your best coat, your tall hat and a pair of gloves, for we are going to dine to-night.”
     “Have we not dined once to-day!”
     “Pish!  Pshaw!  You have had a soup, a mutton-chop, a triangle of pie, a lager beer, but you have not dined.  You are not starving, and yet you have, from my present point of view, eaten nothing the whole of this day.  Mon cher, it is necessary that you dine for once in your life.  Allons!  We go to Giuseppe, Giuseppe Martinetti with the pale wife and the pea green parrot—allons.  allons!”  To Martinetti’s accordingly we went.  I don’t know what the dinner cost.  It was dearer, certainly, than it would have been in London, but it was quite as good.  We sat at a table formed for holding four at an open window, which,  filled with exotics, overlooked Union Square, lighted by hundreds of incandescent lamps.  The room contained about twenty of these small tables, and was, I suppose, very much like other rooms of its kind to habitués of such places, but it was all new to me, and I stared and wondered accordingly.  The waiters seemed to be all foreigners, De Kock addressing them in a mythical but magical language of his own.  The tables were all full, and the people at them were mostly foreigners as well.
     “The Leicester Square of New York,” remarked De Kock, as he helped me to the delicious Chiante wine out of a basket-covered bottle into a dainty glass.  The soup was excellent, I remember.  So was the macaroni, served in the best Italian [page 12] method.  I wondered to see De Kock manipulate it in finished style, winding yards of it around his fork, and swallowing it duly without any apparent effort.  I cut mine at that time, although I have learned better now.  I recollect the asparagus, too: served by itself on a great flat dish, and shining pale and green through the clear golden sauce that was poured over it.  I was just finishing my first luscious, liquid stalk, and indulging in anticipations of my second, when the highest, the shrillest, the most piercing, and most unearthly voice I ever heard, shouted out—
     “And for goodness sake don’t say I told you!
     It was electrifying, at least to me.  I dropped my half eaten asparagus stalk and fork at the same time, and looked up to see my companion quietly going on as before.  One or two others had stopped eating too, but the majority appeared quite unruffled.  I concluded that it was the parrot to which my friend had referred.
     “The last comic song,” said the imperturbable De Kock.
     “But where is the beast!” I inquired.  “It seemed to be over my head.”
     “Oh! not so near as that.  But take my advice and don’t call it a beast, although it is a nuisance undoubtedly.  Besides, its master is not very far away from your elbow.”
     “What of that?” said I, still injured, though in a lower tone.
     ”What of that?  Ah! you shall see.  Look now!  This short, stout person with the
diamond pin and the expensive shirt front is Guiseppe.  Ah, he sees me!  Good evening, Giuseppe!”
     “Good evening, Monsieur, good evening, good evening!  De friend not like de parrot, eh?”  
     The man was smiling at me with his hands crossed behind him.  An Italian Jew I dubbed him immediately.
     “On the contrary, he admires it very much,”  said De Kock. 
     Following their eyes presently I saw the cage hanging from the centre of the room, and it a parrot as nearly pea-green in hue as it is possible for a parrot to be.
     “Tell my friend her name, Giuseppe,” said De Kock, beginning on some more asparagus.
     Giuseppe stood in his patronizing way—quite the grand signeur—with the light falling on his solitaire, making it so brilliant that it fascinated and at the same time fatigued my eyes.
     “The name of my parrot?  Monsieur De Kock, he know that well.  It is Félicité—you catch—Fé-li-ci-té.  It was the name of my wife.” [page 13]
     Then his wife was dead.  De Kock must have made a mistake. 
     “It is an unusual name for a bird, is not it?” said I.
     “Monsieur is right.  Not often—not often—you meet with a bird that name.  My first wife—my first wife, gentlemen, she was English.  You are English—ah.  Yes.  So was she.  The English are like this.”  Giuseppe took a bottle out of the cruet-stand and set it on the table in front of him.  He went on, “When an Englishman and an Englishwoman argue, they say”—here he took the bottle up very slowly and gingerly and altered his voice to a mincing and conventional tone—“Is it oil or is it vinegare?  Did you not say it was vinegare?  I thought that it was oil.  Oh! now I see that it is vinegare.”
     “Bravo!” exclaimed De Kock.  “And so you did not get on with the Englishwoman then I suppose, Giuseppe, and took Madame the next time?”  We were both laughing heartily at the man’s mimicry when once again the parrot shrieked.  “But for goodness sake don’t say I told you!”  Giuseppe walked off to speak to it and my friend and I were left alone.
     “Was Félicité the name of his first or second wife!” I asked.
     “Of his second, of course.  Didn’t you hear him say the first was an Englishwoman.”  The second is a tall, rather good-looking pale Frenchwoman.  You may see her to-night, and on the other hand you may not, she doesn’t often appear in here.  I wish she did.  I am rather fond of her myself, which is more than her husband is.  It’s pretty well known that Mr. and Mrs. Joseph do not get on comfortably.  In fact, he hates her, or rather ignores her, while she doats on him and is tremendously jealous of the parrot.”
     “What, that green thing?”
     “Well, it’s a lovely parrot, you must know, and the moment it came into his possession—he has had it about three years—he seemed to transfer whatever affection he had for his wife to that creature, with a great deal beside.  Why, he hugs it, and kisses it, and mows over it—look at him now!” 
     Sure, enough, there was Martinetti with the bird on his finger, kissing it, and otherwise making a fool of himself.  He finished by actually putting it away inside his coat in a kind of breast pocket, I should imagine,
     “All this is good for business, perhaps,” I said. [page 14]
     “What, the parrot and so on?  Oh, yes, I daresay, that has something to do with it.  Still they are a queer couple.  I come here mostly on account of the Chiante wine; you can’t get it so good at many places in New York, and besides I confess Monsieur and his wife interest me somewhat.  And the people one see here are immensely funny.  That is your English expression, isn’t it?  There are three actresses over there at the table with amis intimes;  they are “resting” now, and can cut about and dine out as much as they please.  There is a French dressmaker who lives on the floor above and is to be found here every day.  She is superbly built and hopelessly ugly, isn’t she?  There is young Lord Gurgoyle, an Englishman like yourself, you see—what the devil is he staring at like that?”
     From behind a portière which fell across the end of the room came a woman, tall, pale, and with a peculiar air of distinction about her.  Perhaps it was her very unusual pallor which so distinguished her for there was nothing absolutely fine or handsome about her countenance.  It was a weak face I thought, with an ugly red mark over the upper lip, and had she not been so very pale and so exceptionally well-dressed I should not have looked at her twice.  She wore a gown of black silk, dead-black, lustrous, and fitting her slender figure to perfection.  It was cut square and low in the front and fell away in long folds upon the floor at the back. What an apparition she made in the midst of this noisy crowd, smoking, chatting, swearing, laughing!  Especially so when I noticed that as she walked very slowly down between the tables, her lips were moving nervously and her hands clutching at her beautiful dress.  As for her eyes, they were everywhere in an instant.
     “’Tis Félicité.  You are fortunate,” murmured De Kock.  “And she is a little worse than usual.”
     “What is it?”  I demanded. “Drink?”  “Hush-sh-sh!  Mon cher, you are stupid.  It is jealousy, jealousy, my friend, with perhaps an occasional over-dose of choral.  Choral is the favourite prescription now-a-days, you must remember that.  But jealousy will do, jealousy will do.  It will accomplish a great deal, will jealousy; will destroy more, mark that!  I hope she will be quiet to-night for your sake.”
     “Is she violent?” I asked.
     “Poor thing, yes.  When she finds him now with that creature inside his coat; she will wring her hands and denounce him [page 15] and threaten to kill it—I wonder she doesn’t—then her husband will march her off behind the curtain and he will make love to the parrot again.”  Precisely what happened.  The lady soon found her husband, raised her hands tragically and broke out into excited French that was liberally sprinkled with oaths both English and French.  The mania was asserting itself, the propensity overcoming her.  It was a sad and at the same time an amusing scene, for one could not help smiling at Giuseppe’s fat unconcern as he kept his wife off at arm’s length, while all the time the parrot inside his coat was shrieking in muffled tones, “And for goodness sake don’t say I told you!”
     Finally Madame succumbed and was taken behind the curtain in a dishevelled and hysterical condition which increased De Kock’s pity for her.  We paid the waiter—or rather De Kock did—and left, not seeing Giuseppe again to speak to, though he came in and removed the parrot, cage and all.
     It was a lovely night outside, and I suggested sitting for a time in Union Square.  Finding an unoccupied bench, we each made ourselves happy with a good cigar and watched exquisite shadows of the trees above as thrown by the electric light on the pavement.
     “Wonderful effect!” remarked my friends.  “How did you enjoy your dinner?  That was a dinner, eh, and no mistake; rather have had it without the ‘episode?’  Oh!  I don’t know; you literary fellows must come in for that sort of thing as well as the rest of the world;  I should think it would just suit you.  Put them—the three of them—Monsieur, Madame and the Pea-Green Parrot—into a book, or better still, on the stage.  There’s your title ready for you too.”
     I was thinking of the same thing.
     “They are undoubtedly originals, both of them—all three,” said I, “but as far as I have seen them, there is hardly enough to go upon.”
     “What do you mean by ‘enough’?”
     “I mean, for one thing, we do not understand the woman’s mental and moral condition sufficiently to make a study of her.  You say it is jealousy, and at the same time the use of chloral.  That would have to be understood more clearly.  Then, one would like something to—”
     “Go on,”  said my friend.  “To—”
     “Happen,” said I, lighting a second cigar.
     Just then a couple of boys ran across the square.  One of them stumbled over my feet, picked himself up quickly and ran on again.  Two or three people now came, all running. De Kock jumped up.
     “Something is happening,” he said, “And with a vengeance too I fancy.  Hark!”
     The people now came fast and furious through the square, increasing in numbers every moment, but through the bustle and hurry and clatter of tongues, we could hear a woman’s voice screaming in evident distress. Mingled with it was another sound which may have mystified the general crowd, but which De Kock and I could easily place.
     “It is the parrot!”  I exclaimed, as we started to run.
     “You have your wish, mon cher, is it not so?  But take it not so fast; we will be there in time. Ciel!  what a row!”
     The steps leading up to the restaurant were thronged with people, including two of three policemen.  The dining-room was ablaze with light, and still full of visitors, most of whom, however, were moving about in a state of agitation.  The upper windows were also lighted and wide open.  The screaming suddenly ceased, but not the parrot.
     “For goodness sake don’t say I told you!” it went on, louder than ever, over and over again.
     “Damn the bird!”  exclaimed De Kock. “Policeman excuse me, but I am rather at home here. Let me go up, will you?”
     “It looks bad, sir. I’d better keep behind.”
     “Oh. It isn’t murder or anything of that sort. I know them, pretty couple, they are!”
     The next moment we were in a kind of sitting room over the restaurant proper. Madame Martinetti lay as if exhausted on a sofa while the highly excited parrot sang and screamed and tore at its cage as if for life.  Giuseppe was nowhere visible.  “Now then where’s the other?”  demanded the policeman who had just entered behind us, “There’s always two at this business. Show him up, now.”  But Madame at first would deign no explanation,  Presently on the entry of policeman No. 2 she admitted there had been a quarrel.  Yes, she had quarrelled with her dear Giuseppe, (the officers grinned) and had driven him away.  Yes, he had gone—gone forever, he had said so, never to come back, never, never! [page 17]
     “And leave this fine business to you, eh?”  No fear of that. I guess Mr. Martinetti ’ll turn up all right in the morning, however, let us make a search, Joe.”  But Giuseppe was not found;  there were no traces of a struggle, and the policemen having done all they could retired.  My friend and I, by what right I know not were the last to leave the room.  De Kock stood for some moments looking out of the window.  I approached the parrot who was still screaming.
     “If throwing a cloth over your head would stop you, I’d do it, my dear,”  said I.  To my surprise, it ceased its noise directly, and became perfectly quiet.  Madame Martinetti looked around with a contemptuous smile.
     “You have the secret as well,” said she.  The bird turned to her and then turned to me.  I became quite interested in it.  “Pretty Poll, pretty bird; would you like a cracker?”
     De Kock laughed softly at the window.  “A cracker to such a bird as that!  Ask it another.”  I actually, though with a timid air, opened the door of the cage and invited Polly to perch on my finger.  She came, looking at me intensely all the while.  I petted her little, which she took resignedly and with a faint show of wonder, then in answer to De Kock’s summons put her back in the cage.
     “I have the honour to wish madame a bonsoir,” said he, but the lady was still sulky and vouchsafed no answer.
     We were soon out in the street.
     “Do you know,” said De Kock slowly, lighting a cigar and looking up at the house,  “Do you know, I thought something had happened.”
     “And don’t you now.”
     “I am not sure,” answered my friend. [page 18]

 

CHAPTER II.


     We were pardonably curious to see the papers next morning.  The affair was dismissed in three lines, and although as De Kock swore, the case was one for Gaboriau, it certainly was not our business to look into it and in fact in a week’s time I was back in Canada, and he up to his eyes in commercial pursuits.  The main point remained clear, however, that Martinetti did not come back, nor was he found, or traced or ever heard of again.  Somebody took the business out of hand, as they say, and De Kock would occasionally write a P.S. to his letters like this—“Dined at poor Martinetti’s, Chiante as usual. Ever yours.”  Or it would be—“Drank to the production of your last new comedy at Martinetti’s.”  Once he stated that shortly after that memorable night Madame disappeared also, taking the parrot along.  “I begin to think they are a pair of deep ones and up to some big game” he wrote.  For myself, I never entirely forgot the circumstance, although it was but once vividly recalled to my mind and that was in a theatre in Montreal.  An American company from one of the New York theatres was performing some farcical comedy or other in which occurred the comic song, admirably sung and acted by Miss Kate Castleton, “For goodness sake don’t say I told you!”  The reminiscences forced upon me quite spoiled my enjoyment; I could see that pale, nervous woman, hear her screams, and hear too the fearful voice of the poor parrot.  Where is it now, thought I?  That same winter I was much occupied in making studies of the different classes of people among the French-Canadians.  The latter turn up everywhere in Montreal, and have a distinct “local color” about them which I was curious to get and hope to preserve for use some future day.  I went everywhere and talked to everybody who might be of use to me; cabmen, porters, fruit dealers and tobacconists.  I found much to interest me in the various Catholic institutions, and I was above all very fond of visiting the large, ugly gray building with the air of a penitentiary about it called the Grey Nunnery.  Going through its corridors one day I [page 19] took a wrong turning and found I was among some at least quasi-private rooms.  The doors being open I saw that there were flowers, books, a warm rug on the floor of one and a mirror on the wall of another.  The third I ventured to stop inside of, for a really beautiful Madonna and child confronted me at the door.  The next moment I saw what I had not expected to see—a parrot in a cage suspended from the window!  I made quite sure that it was not the parrot before I went up to it.  It was asleep and appeared to be all over of a dull grey color, to match the Nuns, one might have said.  I stood for quite a little while regarding it.  Suddenly it stirred, shook itself, awoke and seeing me, immediately broke out into frantic shrieks to the old refrain “And for goodness sake don’t say I told you.”
     So it was the parrot after all!  Of that I felt sure, despite the changed color, not only because of the same words being repeated—two birds might easily learn the same song, but because of the bird’s manner.  For I felt certain that the thing knew me, recognized me, as we say of human beings or of dogs and horses.  I felt an extraordinary sensation coming over me and sat down for a moment.  I seemed literally to be in the presence of something incomprehensible as I watched the poor excited bird beating about and singing in that way.  The words of the song became painfully and awfully significant—“for goodness sake don’t say I told you!”  They were an appeal to my pity, to my sense of honor, to my power of secrecy, for I felt convinced that the bird had seen something—in fact that, to use De Kock’s convenient if ambiguous phrase, something had happened!  Then to think of its recognizing me too, after so long an interval!  What an extraordinary thing to do!  But I remembered, and hope I shall never forget, how exceeding small do the mills of the gods grind for poor humanity.  I would have examined the creature at once more closely had not two of the nuns appeared with pious hands lifted in horror at the noise.  They knew me slightly but affected displeasure at the present moment.
     “Who owns this bird?” said I.  It was still screaming.
     “The good Sister Félicité.  It is her room.”
     “Can I see her?”
     “Ah! non. She is ill, so very ill.  She will not live long, cette pauvre sœur!”
     I reflected.  “Will you give her this paper without fail when I have written upon it what I wish?” [page 20]
     “Mais oui, Monsieur!”
     In the presence of the two holy women standing with their hands devoutly crossed, and of the parrot whom I silenced as well as I could, and in truth I appeared to have some influence over the creature, I wrote the following upon a leaf torn out of my scratch-book:  “To the Sœur Félicité.  A gentleman who, if he has not been made a great mistake, saw you once when you were Mdme. Martinetti, asks you now if in what may be your last moments, you have anything to tell, anything to declare, or anybody to pardon.  He would also ask—what was done to the parrot?  He, with his friend Mr. De “Kock, were at your house in New York the night your husband disappeared.”
     “Give her that,” said I  to the waiting sister, “and I will come to see how she is to-morrow.”
     That night, however, she died, and when I reached the nunnery next day it was only to be told that she had read my note and with infinite difficulty written an answer to it.
     “I am sorry I should have perhaps hastened her end,” said I.  “Before you give it to me, will you permit me to see her?”
     “Mais oui, Monsieur, if monsieur will come this way.”
     Until I gazed upon the dead I did not feel quite sure of the identity of this pious Sister of Charity.  But I only needed to look once upon the ghastly pallor, the ugly lip mark and the long slender figure on the bed before me to recognize her who has once been Mdme. Martinetti.
     “And now for the paper,” I said.
     “It will be in the room that was hers, if monsieur will accompany.”  We walked along several corridors till we reached the room in which hung the parrot.  I quite expected it to fly at me again and try to get rid of its miserable secret.  But no! it sat on its stick, perfectly quiet and rational.
     “I cannot find dat paper, it is very strange!” muttered the good sister, turning everything over and over.  A light wind playing about the room had perhaps blown it into some corner.  I assisted her in the search.
     “It surely was in an envelope?” I said to the innocent woman.
     “Yes monsieur, yes, and with a seal, for I got the cire—you call it wax—myself and held it for her, la bonne sœur.”
     “It is not always wise to leave such letters about,” I put in as meekly as I could.  “Where was it you saw it last?” [page 21]
     “On dees little table, monsieur.”
     Now, “dees little table” was between the two windows, and not far, consequently from the parrot’s cage.  My eye travelled from the table to the cage as a matter of necessity, and I saw that the bottom of it was strewn with something white—like very, very tiny scraps of paper.  “I think you need not look any further,” said I.  “Polly, you either are very clever, or else you are a lunatic and a fool.  Which is it?”
     But I never found out.  The parrot had got the letter by some means or other and so effectually torn, bitten and made away with it that nothing remained of it for identification except the wax, which it did not touch and left absolutely whole.  The secret which had been the parrot’s all along belonged to the parrot still, and after having devoured it in that fashion it became satisfied, and never—at least, as far as I am aware—reverted morbidly to the comic refrain which has but one significance for me.
     I took the bird and kept it.  I have it now with me.  It was been examined hundreds of times; for a long time I was anxious to know the secret of its changed colour, but I have never deciphered it.  It is healthy, in good condition, sweet-tempered and very fond of me.  It does not talk much, but its talk is innocent and rational.  No morbid symptoms have ever appeared in it since I took it from the nunnery in Montreal.  Its plumage is soft and thick, and perfectly, entirely gray.  My own impression is that it was naturally a gray parrot and had at that time of my sojourn in New York, either been dyed or painted that peculiar pea-green which so distinguished it then.  I wrote to De Kock before leaving for England and told him something of the story.  I have seen the last of Madame; in all probability I shall see the last of the Pea-Green Parrot, and I cannot help wondering when I enter a café or ride on an omnibus whether I shall ever run across Guiseppe Martinetti in the flesh, or whether the last of him was seen in truth, five years ago. [page 22]

 

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