6.—The Last Man out of Europe
He came into the club and shook hands with me as if he hadn’t seen me for a year. In reality I had seen him only eleven months ago, and hadn’t thought of him since.
“How are you, Parkins?” I said in a guarded tone, for I saw at once that there was something special in his manner.
“Have a cig?” he said as he sat down on the edge of an armchair, dangling his little boot.
Any young man who calls a cigarette a “cig” I despise. “No, thanks,” I said.
“Try one,” he went on, “they’re Hungarian. They’re some I managed to bring through with me out of the war zone.”
As he said “war zone,” his face twisted up into a sort of scowl of self-importance.
I looked at Parkins more closely and I noticed that he had on some sort of foolish little coat, short in the back, and the kind of bow-tie that they wear in the Hungarian bands of the Sixth Avenue restaurants.
Then I knew what the trouble was. He was the last man out of Europe, that is to say, the latest last man. There had been about fourteen others in the club that same afternoon. In fact they were sitting all over it in Italian suits and Viennese overcoats, striking German matches on the soles of Dutch boots. These were the “war zone” men and they had just got out “in the clothes they stood up in.” Naturally they hated to change.
So I knew all that this young man, Parkins, was going to say, and all about his adventures before he began.
“Yes,” he said, “we were caught right in the war zone. By Jove, I never want to go through again what I went through.”
With that, he sank back into the chair in the pose of a man musing in silence over the recollection of days of horror.
I let him muse. In fact I determined to let him muse till he burst before I would ask him what he had been through. I knew it, anyway.
Presently he decided to go on talking.
“We were at Izzl,” he said, “in the Carpathians, Loo Jones and I. We’d just made a walking tour from Izzl to Fryzzl and back again.”
“Why did you come back?” I asked.
“Back to Izzl,” I explained, “after you’d once got to Fryzzl. It seems unnecessary, but, never mind, go on.”
“That was in July,” he continued. “There wasn’t a sign of war, not a sign. We heard that Russia was beginning to mobilize,” (at this word be blew a puff from his cigarette and then repeated “beginning to mobilize”) “but we thought nothing of it.”
“Of course not,” I said.
“Then we heard that Hungary was calling out the Honveds, but we still thought nothing of it.”
“Certainly not,” I said.
“And then we heard—”
“Yes, I know,” I said, “you heard that Italy was calling out the Trombonari, and that Germany was calling in all the Landesgeschutzshaft.”
He looked at me.
“How did you know that?” he said.
“We heard it over here,” I answered.
“Well,” he went on, “next thing we knew we heard that the Russians were at Fryzzl.”
“Great Heavens!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, at Fryzzl, not a hundred miles away. The very place we’d been at only two weeks before.”
“Think of it!” I said. “If you’d been where you were two weeks after you were there, or if the Russians had been a hundred miles away from where they were, or even if Fryzzl had been a hundred miles nearer to Izzl—”
We both shuddered.
“It was a close call,” said Parkins. “However, I said to Loo Jones, ‘Loo, it’s time to clear out.’ And then, I tell you, our trouble began. First of all we couldn’t get any money. We went to the bank at Izzl and tried to get them to give us American dollars for Hungarian paper money; we had nothing else.”
“And wouldn’t they?”
“Absolutely refused. They said they hadn’t any.”
“By George,” I exclaimed. “Isn’t war dreadful? What on earth did you do?”
“Took a chance,” said Parkins. “Went across to the railway station to buy our tickets with the Hungarian money.”
“Did you get them?” I said.
“Yes,” assented Parkins. “They said they’d sell us tickets. But they questioned us mighty closely; asked where we wanted to go to, what class we meant to travel by, how much luggage we had to register and so on. I tell you the fellow looked at us mighty closely.”
“Were you in those clothes?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Parkins, “but I guess he suspected we weren’t Hungarians. You see, we couldn’t either of us speak Hungarian. In fact we spoke nothing but English.”
“That would give him a clue,” I said.
“However,” he went on, “he was civil enough in a way. We asked when was the next train to the sea coast, and he said there wasn’t any.”
“No trains?” I repeated.
“Not to the coast. The man said the reason was because there wasn’t any railway to the coast. But he offered to sell us tickets to Vienna. We asked when the train would go and he said there wouldn’t be one for two hours. So there we were waiting on that wretched little platform,—no place to sit down, no shade, unless one went into the waiting room itself,—for two mortal hours. And even then the train was an hour and a half late!”
“An hour and a half late!” I repeated.
“Yep!” said Parkins, “that’s what things were like over there. So when we got on board the train we asked a man when it was due to get to Vienna, and he said he hadn’t the faintest idea!”
“Not the faintest idea. He told us to ask the conductor or one of the porters. No, sir, I’ll never forget that journey through to Vienna,—nine mortal hours! Nothing to eat, not a bite, except just in the middle of the day when they managed to hitch on a dining-car for a while. And they warned everybody that the dining-car was only on for an hour and a half. Commandeered, I guess after that,” added Parkins, puffing his cigarette.
“Well,” he continued, “we got to Vienna at last. I’ll never forget the scene there, station full of people, trains coming and going, men, even women, buying tickets, big piles of luggage being shoved on trucks. It gave one a great idea of the reality of things.”
“It must have,” I said.
“Poor old Loo Jones was getting pretty well used up with it all. However, we determined to see it through somehow.”
“What did you do next?”
“Tried again to get money: couldn’t—they changed our Hungarian paper into Italian gold, but they refused to give us American money.”
“Hoarding it?” I hinted.
“Exactly,” said Parkins, “hoarding it all for the war. Well anyhow we got on a train for Italy and there our troubles began all over again:—train stopped at the frontier,—officials (fellows in Italian uniforms) went all through it, opening hand baggage——”
“Not hand baggage!” I gasped.
“Yes, sir, even the hand baggage. Opened it all, or a lot of it anyway, and scribbled chalk marks over it. Yes, and worse than that,—I saw them take two fellows and sling them clear off the train,—they slung them right out on to the platform.”
“What for?” I asked.
“Heaven knows,” said Parkins,—“they said they had no tickets. In war time you know, when they’re mobilizing, they won’t let a soul ride on a train without a ticket.”
“Infernal tyranny,” I murmured.
“Isn’t it? However, we got to Genoa at last, only to find that not a single one of our trunks had come with us!”
“Confiscated?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Parkins, “the head baggage man (he wears a uniform, you know, in Italy just like a soldier) said it was because we’d forgotten to check them in Vienna. However there we were waiting for twenty-four hours with nothing but our valises.”
“Right at the station?” I asked.
“No, at a hotel. We got the trunks later. They telegraphed to Vienna for them and managed to get them through somehow,—in a baggage car, I believe.”
“And after that, I suppose, you had no more trouble.”
“Trouble,” said Parkins, “I should say we had. Couldn’t get a steamer! They said there was none sailing out of Genoa for New York for three days! All canceled, I guess, or else rigged up as cruisers.”
“What on earth did you do?”
“Stuck it out as best we could: stayed right there in the hotel. Poor old Jones was pretty well collapsed! Couldn’t do anything but sleep and eat, and sit on the piazza of the hotel.”
“But you got your steamer at last?” I asked.
“Yes,” he admitted, “we got it. But I never want to go through another voyage like that again, no sir!”
“What was wrong with it?” I asked, “bad weather?”
“No, calm, but a peculiar calm, glassy, with little ripples on the water,—uncanny sort of feeling.”
“What was wrong with the voyage?”
“Oh, just the feeling of it,—everything under strict rule you know—no lights anywhere except just the electric lights,—smoking-room closed tight at eleven o’clock,—decks all washed down every night—officers up on the bridge all day looking out over the sea,—no, sir, I want no more of it. Poor old Loo Jones, I guess he’s quite used up: he can’t speak of it at all: just sits and broods, in fact I doubt….”
At this moment Parkins’s conversation was interrupted by the entry of two newcomers into the room. One of them had on a little Hungarian suit like the one Parkins wore, and was talking loudly as they came in.
“Yes,” he was saying, “we were caught there fair and square right in the war zone. We were at Izzl in the Carpathians, poor old Parkins and I——”
We looked round.
It was Loo Jones, describing his escape from Europe.