The tale of a mariner who, having no use for women, found a pearl of great price
I'M going to make a real man of him, and he’s going to marry a real woman.”
I met Vanderdassen in a great hotel in Vancouver. We happened to be sitting in the lobby and we fell into conversation. He had a sonorous voice, an amazing beard and brows like crags, and he wore enormous square-toed shoes. Leaning forward with his hands dangling over his knees, he told me that he had made money. He had made plenty of it. Born in Nova Scotia, at the age of fourteen he had shipped as cabin-boy in a full-rigged ship.
“Yes, sir!” And in ten years he was a master of sail.
He was visiting British Columbia for the benefit of his nephew, who was studying art. Not that he had much faith in the art business; he believed in the sea. In his day there was nothing like the sea for a young man with spunk. Leaning back, he informed me he was not inferring that his nephew lacked spunk. He was fond of the lad and had taken him in hand when his father died. His brother’s son. His brother had gone in for art too, had married a foolish chit, and had been able to leave nothing behind but this boy and a bag of debt. The mother had married again. “That went without saying.” An undertaker this time. Well, he hoped that the burying business would give her all the money she was able to get rid of. But if the lad was bent on following his father’s art, he was going to see to it that he did not make his father’s mistakes. He leaned forward again.
“No fool chit for him. I’m going to make a proper man of him, and he’s going to marry a proper woman.”
A few minutes later he went off, stepping across the lobby with immense strides. I wondered what was this herculean mariner’s idea of a proper woman.
SOME evenings afterward, we were eating dinner in the great hotel, Vanderdassen, the nephew and myself. Vanderdassen was talking in his resonant voice of an incident on a voyage to Shanghai;
“ . . . T tell ye, Mr. Sharpies,’ I said, ‘this is the third time I’ve caught you at it, damme if it isn’t!
And if I catch you at it again you stay in your stateroom till we make port.’ Well ...”
Looking up from my chop, I saw two women enter. They followed a waiter to a table; and before sitting down, the younger of the two, the dark one with the heavy-lidded eyes, pulled off her gloves and glanced round the room. When the eyes beneath the drooping lids came to our table I noticed that they paused for a few moments on Vanderdassen.
The following morning Vanderdassen and I went through the crowded lobby toward the revolving doors. A liner was just in from the Orient and another was due to sail for Australia, and travelers from China and Japan were rubbing shoulders with travelers bound for the Pacific Island ports and Sydney. As we passed a group of potted palms, I noticed the two ladies I had observed in the dining room the previous evening, seated at a table that was littered with the day’s papers. The dark one with the heavy lids was looking casually through the morning news. She raised her head, and 1 remarked that her eyes paused meditatively on Vanderdassen. Then she made some remark to her companion, who also looked at Vanderdassen. I wondered if she was impressed with his astounding beard.
We turned down the wide thoroughfare of Georgia Street in the direction of Stanley Park. It was one of those rare days in the awakening of the year that are to be experienced only on the British Columbia coast; the air from the north was heady like wine chilled by the snows, yet ambrosial with the breath of sjiring, the sort of air that one feels one wants to take in gulps. The nephew had set off earlier with sketch-pad and pencils.
“Gone to draw,” Vanderdassen informed me, “this figure of a woman in the mountains that the sightseeing car conductor talked about while crossing the rockies.”
He lit a cigar and emitted smoke which rose from the tangled expanse of his beard like the cloud of a forest fire.
“Oh, well,” he added, “ ’tain’t so bad, so long as the figures of the women he draws stay right up in the hills.” He strode along, sending out puffs and smacking the sidewalk with his broad feet.
“You are afraid of an unfortunate love affair?” I asked.
He blew out smoke.
“Oh, I don’t say that. But in other things he’s dooced like his father.”
“An impressionable age, of course,” I remarked.
“Ay! an age that has an eye for nothing but polished brass and painted ports. But before signing articles with a woman for a life voyage you want to know how she’ll act when under the weather.” He took the cigar from his lips and made a large gesture with it held between his fingers. “I tell ye, I’ve seen dapper-looking craft I wouldn’t sail a mile down the river from Quebec in.”
While I was pondering this dark reference to dapperlooking craft as applied to women, his sonorous voice went on:
“Being a seafaring man, I judge women as I judge ships.” He flicked a length of ash on to the sidewalk several feet ahead of us. “She may look pretty . s she’s towed down the harbor, but has she the lines of a vessel that’ll act well in a pounding sea and a snorting head gale?”
“Now, that,” I replied, with as much shrewdness as I was capable of, “takes some telling.”
“True enough. But I can tell ye this, there have been times when I was uncommon thankful for stout timbers.”
“You are referring to ships?” 1 queried.
“Oh, ay. When the Almighty set my course, I guess He laid it wide of matrimony.” He gave a rolling laugh that came right up from his chest.
In the park we seated ourselves near the pavilion, on a bench beside a stretch of lawn. The lawn was flanked by long beds in which were tulips set in orderly lines, the yellow and scarlet of their blooms giving them the appearance of battalions drawn up stiffly on dress parade; from a row of cages beside a pond came the occasional screech of a cockatoo; beyond a white wing flung up by the fountain of the pool was the verge of a wood, where the young grepf of unfolding leaves Jnrust boldly amidst the sombre hue of the tapering pines.
Vanderdassen lit another cigar and stretched out his long legs; the toes of his polished shoes glistened in the sun. We had been sitting there the best part of half an hour, when a voice spoke behind us—
“ Un beau place.”
We turned our heads.
Pvound a rhododendron bush stepped the young lady of the hotel, followed by her companion. They sat down at the other end of the bench. I discreetly took stock of them.
The younger I thought decidedly good-looking she had—but you have no doubt seen some attractive French-Canadian brunettes. The other had auburn hair, a pinched nose, the mouth of a woman inured to chronic disappointment, and steel-blue eyes that stared straight before her with the expression of one who is ever mindful of the fact that the exigencies of life demand strong self-control. Not mother and daughter, surely, I thought.
The younger sighed. “It is beautiful,” she said in French.
“Do you remember, Hortense, the day we stopped before the steps of Notre Dame to buy the tulips from the old woman with the basket?”
“I wish to say again that I think this is most unwise.” The oddness of the reply made me look once more, this time more frankly. My eyes met those of the younger lady. She smiled. It was a matter of courtesy, merely, to raise my hat; then I was about to dismiss this slight sociality, when she said, now in English—
“What exquisite flowers!”
“A subject for an artist.”
“I was remarking the same thing,” I replied.
“You paint, perhaps?”
“No,” I told her; “but my friend has a nephew who is studying art.”
“A splendid gift.” She bent forward to look past me at Vanderdassen, who drew in his legs and made a clawing motion at his cap. She smiled again, charmingly. Vanderdassen plunged his fingers in his beard. “To be able to depict a scene like this! It must be immense!”
“Ay!” said Vanderdassen, stroking the beard and looking searchingly at the blooms—“a pretty talent.” At this moment the elder lady, Hortense, gave a short cough. Somehow or other the sound conveyed to me an idea of humorous and contemptuous comment. I glanced at her. She was looking across the lawn, her hands folded in her lap.
Vanderdassen pulled out his watch. We rose. Then the young lady rose, followed by Hortense, who got up without relaxing from her poker-like consistency. We walked off together. I found myself beside Hortense. I say that I found myself beside Hortense. It was all perfectly natural; we had fallen into conversation, were going the same way, were staying in the same hotel. Yet, as I brought up the rear with Hortense, I had a vague impression of something done adroitly. But it was all so perfectly natural that I dismissed it as an absurdity.
After a few commonplace remarks, to which Hortense made monosyllabic replies, I relapsed into silence and watched the two in front. Vanderdassen, walking with the spread of the legs that marks a man accustomed to the lift of a ship and with his hands behind his back, appeared to be paying particular attention to what his companion had to say. Occasionally he nodded and stroked his beard. In Granville Street we separated, the ladies turning into a store.
Sensible young woman, that,” observed Vanderdassen. “Seems to have sound ideas. Is interested in art and wants to meet Richard. I’ve accepted an invitation for the three of us to take tea to-morrow afternoon in their sitting-room. Is that all right?”
“Oh, quite,” I told him. But I was not a little astonished.
'VTEXT afternoon I tapped at the door of Mdlle.
La Fague’s room. The door was opened by Hortense. Vanderdassen and his nephew had already arrived, and the former, with his hands spread out on his knees, was conversing with Mdlle. La Fague.
“We had almost given you up,” said Mdlle. La Fague. “Hortense, tell them to send up tea.”
Hortense, who had seated herself bolt upright on the extreme edge of a chair, stepped to the telephone and told them to send up tea.
We drank the tea. Vanderdassen took a sip that must have half-emptied his cup; then, replacing the cup in its saucer, which he held in the palm of his hand, he popped into his mouth a tiny cake decorated with a strip of vivid green peel and chewed it up seemingly with the greatest relish. After which he put the cup and saucer back on the tray and brushed his beard to remove any possible crumbs. He looked in a fatherly manner at Mdlle. La Fague. I suddenly felt inclined to laugh, ,vour being here drinking tea striking me as absurd. Vanderdassen took out a cigar.
Mdlle. La Fague smiled at me charmingly and patted the couch by her side. I went over. Hortense was sitting, still on the extreme edge of the chair, like a stucco figure with an empty teacup in its hand. Mdlle. La Fague took charge of the conversation.
“Your friend’s nephew and I have been talking about art,” she said. “So interesting. How immense it must be to have ideas!”
I glanced at the nephew, who, as he lolled back with a cigarette drooping from his lips, looked as though he had never had an idea in his life.
“Why,” I said, laughing, “don’t you have any?”
“I did once, perhaps.”
“Once? Do you mean you haven’t any now?” I asked.
Her eyes as she regarded me grew sombre.
“Louise!” said Hortense, like a figure in a waxwork show suddenly come to life.
Mdlle. La Fague sighed. I wondered at the suggestion of something tragic in her mien and words, and would have liked to enquire what this solitary idea was, only somehow the question seemed indecent. She was playing with a large black pearl that was suspended from her neck by a silver chain.
“You are looking at my pearl,” she said. “For a long
time I have been trying to find another to match it, but they tell me that a black pearl of its size is not easily obtained. I call it my tear. Do you not think it is like a great black tear?”
I agreed that she was not.
“Very different,” Vanderdassen went on sonorously, “to the young gal that Richard seems to be over his head in love with back home in Winnipeg. That’s why I’m glad to bring him away for a spell ... I tell ye, Bristow, if he came to me and said he was fixing to marry a young woman like this, now, I’d think he was showing sound judgment.”
I looked at the lustrous object with interest. So this was a real pearl! I had thought it was paste. Vanderdassen spread his hands on his knees and bent forward to examine it, while the nephew gaped with an unlit cigarette drooping from his lips. Hortense got up to put her cup and saucer on the tray, and by the way the cup rattled, her hand seemed to be shaky. Vanderdassen took his cigar from his mouth.
“There’s a man right here in Vancouver who might be able to locate one for ye,” he said. “A Greek by the name of Gabriel. I knew him twenty years ago in Montreal.”
Mdlle. La Fague’s heavy eyelids drooped. She shook her head.
“I’m afraid not. You see, I have tried so many. In Europe, even.” “No harm in asking him,” persisted Vanderdassen. “He’s in that line of business.”
Mdlle. La Fague appeared to ponder. Then to my surprise she unfastened the chain round her neck and gave it with the pearl to Vanderdassen.
“You are very kind; although I can hardly hope . . . But don’t lose my most precious tear.”
“Never fear,” Vanderdassen assured her, weighing the pearl and chain in the hollow of his capacious hand.
“For a pearl of the same lustre and size,” said Mdlle. La Fague, who was leaning back with her eyes nearly closed, “I would not mind giving a thousand dollars Then my tear will have found its mate.”
We took our departure a few minutes later.
“She had no hesitation in trusting you with the pearl,” I remarked.
“Hoosh-toosh!” Vanderdassen replied, “she knows who I am well enough.”
“What do you base your opinion on?” I asked.
THE following morning Vanderdassen and I set out to visit his friend, Gabriel. He had the pearl and chain in his vest pocket. We discussed the tea party of the previous day.
“The cut of her.”
“Common sense there,” said Vanderdassen. “She’s not one of these flibberty-gibberty sort.”
“But,” I objected, “on such a short acquaintance ...” He waved my objection aside with one of his large gestures.
“I like the cut of her,” he said. “Show me a vessel shaking out her tops’ls off Flattery and I’ll tell ye how she’ll act at the Horn.”
There was something so confounding in his nautical observations that I made no comment.
“And,” he continued, blowing out cigar-smoke, “she must have money, saying she’s willing to pay a thousand dollars for what she calls a ‘black tear’—a queer way to describe the bauble, to my way of thinking.” “Tears suggest grief,” I remarked.
“Ay! so they do. But you don’t connect grief with her, do ye?” he asked.
The question made me pause. Who was this young lady who spoke with regret of the death of all ideas but one? And what was this surviving, solitary object of thought? At once the worth of the pearl seemed in the nature of a test of her character. If the pearl proved to be false . . . Continued on page 50 “Suppose,” I suggested, “the pearl’s not genuine.”
“Hoosh-toosh! If so, would she let me take it to an expert?” Vanderdassen objected.
This seemed reasonable.
We turned into a store, the window of which was a glittering affair that was draped with blue velvet and had a bluevelvet bust in its centre adorned with gems. At the back of the store, at a table with a reading-lamp, sat Gabriel. He got up and came forward. This jeweller with the name of an archangel had a bald nob, a smooth round face with a magnifying glass in its eye, and a short frame that bore eloquent testimony to the consequences of a sedentary life and a too generous diet.
“So you’re not away yet, Mr. Vanderdassen,” he said, removing the glass.
“See here, Gabriel,” said Vanderdassen, forking in his vest pocket, “what d’ye make of this?”
Gabriel screwed the glass back in his eye and took up the pearl. He scrutinized it, turning it round in his fat fingers.
“Oy, oy!” he exclaimed. “You have something here!”
“A valuable pearl, I believe,” said Vanderdassen.
Gabriel, still peering at the pearl, put his head on one side and curled the corner of his lips.
“I should say a thousand dollars,” he replied, “or maybe twelve hundred.”
So the pearl was genuine.
“I’ve brought it to ye,” Vanderdassen told him, “on behalf of a young lady.”
“Does she want to sell?” asked Gabriel.
“No; she wants to buy.”
“Ay; she’s on the lookout for another to match it,” Vanderdassen explained.
Gabriel pondered. “I don’t know of one anywhere. But I can try.”
“That’s what I told her,” said Vanderdassen, “seeing it’s your line of business.”
Gabriel took the pearl to the table at the rear of the store, where he weighed it and made measurements. Then he returned it to Vanderdassen. After some talk, in which dealers and agents were mentioned, we went out.
On our return to the hotel we went straight up to Mdlle. La Fague’s room, where Vanderdassen gave her back the pearl.
“This is really most kind of you,” she said, fastening the chain round her neck.
“Gabriel,” Vanderdassen said, “is wiring at once to Montreal.”
“I can hardly hope . . .” said Mdlle. La Fague. “You see, I have tried so many in Montreal.”
“This is a dealer by the name of Budie,” Vanderdassen informed her.
“Budie?” said Mdlle. La Fague meditatively, glancing at Hortense, who had been reading the newspaper and was sitting with her hands folded on the paper in her lap. “Have I already tried Budie, Hortense?”
Hortense was staring at the wall in a manner that suggested she could see a long way beyond it. There was a pink spot in her cheeks. She gave her short cough.
“Not yet,” she replied.
It was drawing near lunch-time, and we departed.
ONE morning Mdlle. La Fague told us that her companion, Hortense, had had to set out the previous evening for a remote village, the name of which I forget, in the Province of Quebec. She had been informed by telegram that an aunt lay dying, and had left in a flurry, seemingly very much upset. We expressed condolence. I imagined Hortense, if she arrived before her relative’s decease, sitting by the bed and awaiting the moment of dissolution with her unfailing poker-like consistency.
Mdlle. La Fague was spending a good deal of time in the company of the nephew. You see, she was so interested in his art. They would go off together, usually after lunch, with sketch-pad and pencils, the nephew carrying a collapsible stool in each hand, and Mdlle. La Fague charmingly dressed in a blue coat-frock and a turban hat. This pleased Vanderdassen, who stroked his beard and said: “It’ll do the youngster good to have the company of a gal different to that flibberty-gip he knocks around with at home.” We were out for a walk one day when he broached the subject.
“Ye know, Bristow,” he said, liked the cut of that gal the first time I clapped eyes on her. I wouldn’t mind if they made a match of it.”
“And yet I’ve heard you say.” I returned, “that a vessel may . . .”
“Both interested in art,’’ he broke in sonorously, gesturing largely with a cigar held in his fingers. “Why, they’d be well suited to each other—damme if they wouldn’t!”
“I was going to remark,” I said, “that I’ve heard you say that a vessel . ” “I believe in a man,” he interrupted again, “judging for himself. I’ve always, held that he should use the faculties the Almighty has given him and judge for himself. And I judge her as a sensible sort of gal that’d make a good wife for Richard . . . What were ye saying about a ship?”
I forbore to reply.
ONE day Vanderdassen was able to tell Mdlle La Fague that Gabriel had received a wire from Budie in Montreal, saying that he had obtained a pearl. Budie was despatching the pearl to Vancouver immediately. When she fyeard the news—we had gone up to her sittingroom, and she was dressed for going out —she appeared to be seized with a strong emotion: her fingers tightened on the back of a chair, her face grew pale, while her eyes nearly closed.
“Another tear!” she murmured.
“You seem strangely moved,” I remarked.
When her lids lifted, there was a world of sadness in her dark orbs.
“I am, Mr. Bristow,” she replied; “but there are those who will be even more profoundly shaken.”
Strange words. I burned with curiosity. Who were these others who, by her acquisition of a second pearl, would also be engulfed in this mysterious sorrow? But under her melancholy gaze I felt that I could not ask. Such a question seemed to overstep.the bonds of common decency.
HOOSH-TOOSH!” said Vanderdassen, “I don’t attach any importance to it—all this talk about pearls being tears.”
“I haven’t noticed her wearing it, ’ I observed, “since that afternoon when we took tea.”
“Gals,” Vanderdassen said, “get queer ideas and are given to sentimentalizing. She’s been crossed in love, maybe. But she’ll get over it.”
“But are you wise on such a slight acquaintance,” I said, “to encourage this intimacy between your nephew . . .?” He made a large gesture. “I trust my own judgment, Bristow Why, damme! there have been times when, if I couldn’t have trusted my own judgment, I
wouldn’t be here now to tell the tale.” In a week the pearl arrived, and
Vanderdassen had a telephone call from Gabriel, who stated that in size, weight and appearance it was the twin brother of the one we had shown him. We went up to Mdlle. La Fague’s room
“How annoying!” she said. “When I knew that a pearl was being sent I
telegraphed at once to Quebec for money But unfortunately it didn’t occur to me to instruct the bank to send it by wire. However, I have several hundred
dollars . . . ”
Vanderdassen made another large gesture. “Hoosh-toosh! Leave that to me. I’ll arrange it in the meantime.” “You are really more than good,” said Mdlle. La Fague. “But my draft will be here in a few days.”
Vanderdassen and I walked to Gabriel’s. The jeweller took the pearl from a box and placed it on a square of velvet on the counter.
“A perfect match,” he said. “We are fortunate.” He went on to explain that Budie had had to buy the pearl, paying cash. His, Gabriel’s, price to Mr. Vanderdassen’s friend would have to be a little over a thousand dollars. There was Budie’s profit, and necessarily he had to ask a small commission. Altogether a matter of $1,150.
Vanderdassen gave him a cheque on a local bank for that amount.
When we got back to Mdlle. La Fague’s sitting-room we found her lying on the couch. On her forehead was a handkerchief, and beside her was a saucer containing vinegar.
“One of my wretched headaches,” she explained. “I think it must be this little excitement about the pearl.”
We expressed our sympathy Vanderdassen opened the case and showed her the pearl. She raised her head and examined it.
“It might be my own,” she said. “So at last my tear has found its mate. If it was not for my wretched head I would get it out, and we would compare them. Is it very expensive?”
Vanderdassen explained in detail the transaction.
“I'm indeed grateful to^you,” she said. “My money will be here any day now. But, of course, you will hold the pearl...” “Hoosh-toosh!” Vanderdassen expostulated. “Nonsense!” He put the pearl in its case on the chair beside her.
A pallor crept into Mdlle. La Fague’s face, and she put her head back and closed her eyes. When she had assured us that she would be herself after a night’s rest, we went out, stepping soundlessly on the carpeted floor.
THE following morning we went up to Mdlle. La Fague’s sitting-room. In answer to our knock the door was opened by a maid with a duster round her head and a broom in her hand. The room, she told us, was vacant, and she was cleaning it. Silently, we went down in the elevator and stepped to the office. The clerk informed us that Mdlle. La Fague had checked out late the previous night. No, she had not stated her destination. We pondered deeply.
“Let’s go and see Gabriel,” I suggested. We got our hats, and went silently down the street. A hideous conception slowly formed in my mind.
“Mr. Gabriel,” I said, “would you kindly wire Budie, asking him the description of the person from whom he purchased that pearl? Reply paid.” “Nothing wrong, I hope,” he said quickly.
In ten hours the reply arrived: “Tall thin woman with auburn hair and blue eyes and habit of folding hands at waist. Said name was Madame Suzanne Brillet —Budie.”
“Hortense!” I exclaimed.
Vanderdassen raised his hands and brought them down on the counter, one after the other—bim-bam!
“Done!” he shouted. “They get what Budie paid for the pearl, and the pearl back!’ The next moment he was pounding up the street.
“Now for the police!” I said excitedly. He made no reply, but pounded terrifically for the hotel In the lobby he said to me.
“And honestly, Bristow, I liked the cut of that gal!” and strode toward a waiting elevator
That was the last I saw of him. A few hours later, the clerk told me that Mr. Vanderdassen and his nephew had checked out.