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The Artist's Wife

  History/Biography of Ary Stillman  

P U B L I C A T I O N S  >  F R A N C E S    S T I L L M A N ' S    E U R O P E    D I A R Y

CHAPTER I..........Going from Here to There

CHAPTER II..........Mishap in Milan

CHAPTER III..........Venice

CHAPTER IV..........Florence

CHAPTER V..........Siena

CHAPTER VI..........Rome

CHAPTER VII..........Assisi

CHAPTER VIII..........Nice

CHAPTER IX..........Barcelona

CHAPTER X..........Solsona

CHAPTER XI..........Gerona

CHAPTER XII..........Paris in the Fall

Wednesday, June 11th

This page in my journal has remained blank for many days. Now perhaps I am sufficiently removed from the nightmarish impact of that morning in Milan to be able to record it.

I shall never forget the sensation of standing by the train, alone and bewildered. One suitcase was in the train — Ary had fought his way through the crowd of people to place it there. The other was by my side.

"The train will pull out in a few minutes and Ary isn't here, and what shall I do!" He had disappeared so suddenly; he had dashed from the train pale and trembling, and as he ran past me he had shouted, "My wallet! My passport!"

Eventually something must have galvanized me into action, for I recall jumping on the train and running through the cars. I don't know how I managed to find the suitcase and drag it down from the rack overhead — it is terribly heavy. And then I was on the platform again and the train was chugging away from the station and I was gazing after it.

"Surely Ary will be back soon" I thought. "I'll stand right here and wait." So I waited, and waited, and waited. I watched the station clock — ten minutes, fifteen minutes, half an hour. People rushed past rite, jostling me. I had a confused impression of more trains departing — porters and baggage and goodbyes. And then it quieted down and I was the only person on the platform with the exception of an Italian peasant woman, who eyed me curiously.

By this time an hour had passed arid I was frantic. I pictured Ary running out into the street in his excitement and being knocked down by an auto — lying unconscious in a hospital bed — perhaps involved somehow with the robbers and being spirited away by them.

The Italian woman was questioning me. I answered her in English. She shook her head. "Finally I said "Marito" and I made a gesture to indicate his disappearance. “Ah, suo marito – se a perdudo!" cried, and she burst forth into a torrent of Italian. By this time there were other people on the platform and they all gathered around the woman and me, and they all talked at once and I couldn't understand a word and the din was terrible. I could feel myself getting hysterical. Then someone exclaimed "Americano!" and I looked, and there was a man in uniform with the sign "American Express" on his cap. He was a thin, meek-looking little man, but to me he seemed an angel. I poured out my story to him. I told him I had no money; I had given it all to Ary to change into lire. He said I shouldn't worry, and the next thing I remember I found myself sitting in the station restaurant with a hot drink in front of me and my baggage near the table.

Suddenly a loud speaker boomed out "Madame Stillman! Madame Stillman!" I was wanted at the information desk. The American Express official took me there and acted as interpreter. They gave me the most puzzling message. "A Frenchman, Monsieur Stillman, is on the way from Switzerland and wants Madame Stillman to wait for him at the station."

I thought "This is a dream and I will wake up any moment." But it wasn't a dream, and I let the guide take me back to the restaurant table and I sat there I don't know how long, my head in a whirl. The most fantastic thoughts floated through my mind, and terrible feelings of guilt. Why had I encouraged Ary to come to Europe, why hadn't we stayed in our studio in New York, I know how excitable he is...

And then suddenly there was Ary running toward me and he looked terribly disheveled and he was laughing and crying at the same time and he hugged me and kissed me and talked incoherently.

Pretty soon I got him to sit down at the table and I ordered some cognac for him and eventually he quieted down a bit. But whenever he tried to tell me of his adventures during the past few hours he became terribly excited. So I told him we would talk about it later, and that it would be best now to take a taxi to the American Consulate.

At the Consulate they were sympathetic and helpful. We would have to go to the Police Station to declare our loss and to receive an affidavit which would serve in the place of the missing passport. The following day would be a holiday and the Consulate would be closed, so there would be no purpose in remaining in Milan. We could take the late afternoon train to Venice and apply for a new passport at the Consulate there.

The note we carried from the Secretary at the Consulate worked wonders in whisking us past long lines of people waiting in the musty halls of the Police Station. But the filling out of the papers was a lengthy procedure. There were endless questions to be answered, about the loss, about Ary's status and his antecedents for generations back. All this information was taken down by a serious looking young man with horn rimmed glasses After each answer from Ary there was a long consultation between the young man and a girl who spoke a little English, and served as interpreter. Then the serious young man typed it out, with two fingers, on a battered typewriter of ancient vintage. At one point the questioning was halted for fifteen or twenty minutes, while the young man, with the help of the girl, tried to find out if we know his cousins who live in Chicago...

It seemed that countless hours passed, but finally we found ourselves on the train bound for Venice. In the beginning Ary and I were alone in the compartment. The documents from the police station were pinned safely in his inside coat pocket, together with our travelers' checks and whatever cash the thieves had left us. We sat in silence for some time. Then Ary said "You know, the American businessman told me something and I believe he was right."

"What American businessman and what did he say?" I asked.

"He was on the train. It was bound for Switzerland. I didn't realize it when the train first began to move. I had been rushing from one compartment to another, looking for you, and then it began to dawn on me that when I gave up running after the thieves I must have jumped on the wrong train. I was frantic. And then somehow I found myself in a compartment where four men were sitting.

"It's strange" he continued "how in all my excitement I had such a clear picture of these men. It was a first class compartment, and the men were all very distinguished looking and proper as to their attire. They looked as if they were relaxing after a good breakfast and they were smoking cigars. They were startled when I burst in on them and one of them —an elderly Italian— seemed annoyed at my intrusion. He was formal looking with a white shirt and stiff collar.

"My passport was stolen" I told them, "and my wife is alone in Milan and I must get back to her. She is waiting for me on the platform and she has no money and no passport, and she doesn't speak the language. You must stop the train, I must get back to her."

"I had spoken to the men in French. The Italian in the stiff white collar obviously understood me, but he turned his head and looked out of the window. Then a man in the corner spoke in English. You are an American, aren't you?' He made me sit down and tried to quiet me. He offered to lend me money, but that wasn't necessary, as there was one wallet which the thieves hadn't discovered. He told me he is an American engineer and he has an office in Milan, and he gave me his card to present at the Embassy there. And he said 'As far as your wife is concerned, don't worry —she's all right— women know how to take care of themselves in an emergency.' Then he turned to The Italian in the stiff collar and asked him about telephoning to the station in Milan. The Italian said: "The train stops at Lake Como, but only for one minute. You will have to wait until we reach the Swiss border to telephone."

"I listened to all this with half an ear" Ary told me. "I made up my mind I would phone you from Lake Como. I walked out into the corridor and stood there. The conductor came up to ask for my ticket. I told him in French what had happened. I was pretty excited and I don't know whether he understood what I told him but he went quickly away and didn't ask any more questions, only watched me from afar. I think they were all afraid to come anywhere near me. I stayed there in the corridor and I must have been shaking — waves of anxiety would come over me and sometimes I would think I must jump from the train and run back to you.

"It seemed to me that many hours passed as I stood there. Suddenly the train began to slow down and I saw we were approaching a station. "It must be Lake Como'' I thought. I pulled down the window and started waving my arms and shouting. And then I rushed to the door and they opened it and I jumped down. I ran across the tracks, with the conductor following me.

"They all thought I was French at the Lake Como station" he said. "The telephone operator was a supercilious sort of fellow, and he refused to telephone for me. I shouted at him and used every profanity I could think of. I really didn't know I commanded the French language to that extent. The people around me, several dozen of them, were all bewildered and trying to decipher what had happened to me. Finally the stationmaster appeared. He took me into his office and put in a call for Milan. He took it for granted I was French. As he was telephoning, a train pulled in, a local train, on the way back to Milan. So the stationmaster instructed the young fellow who had previously refused me, to phone to Madame Stillman to wait for me at the station, and he boarded the train with me to see that I would get started safely.

"The train was a local and it made stops almost like a street-car in an American city. Every time the train would stop I would be impatient at the loss of time. I stood near the entrance not far from the door, and people kept pushing me as they came in and out, but I wanted to be ready to jump out of the train as soon as it arrived. I felt easier than before, and I kept thinking about the American engineer's advice, that women know how to take care of themselves.

"Still, it seemed as if it was days since I had left you, and I couldn't help worrying. Then we finally reached Milan I was on the platform before the train had entirely stopped, and I started to run in the direction where I left you standing. And then the American Express man was coming toward me and calling to me that my wife is sitting in the cafe and everything is all right."

Ary stopped, exhausted after having finished his story. I looked out of the window. It had grown dark; we had just passed Padua and were nearing Venice. I felt sure we could count on Venice, with all its glamour, to distract Ary's thoughts from the mishap in Milan.

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