THE PARTHENON BY WAY OF PAPENDRECHT
By F. Hopkinson Smith
It was mine host of the Ferry Inn at Cook-ham who was calling, and at the
top of his voice—and a big-chested voice it was—the sound
leaping into crescendo as the object of his search remained hidden. Then
he turned to me:
"He's somewheres 'round the boat house—you can't miss him—there's
too much of him!"
"Are ye wantin' me, sor?" came another shout as I rounded the squat
building stuffed with boats—literally so—bottom, top, and
"Yes—are you the boatman?"
"I am, sor—and bloody sick of me job. Do ye see that wherry shovin'
off—the one with the lady in a sweater? Yes—that's right—just
slipped under the bridge. Well, sor, what d'ye think the bloke did for me?
Look at it, sor!" (Here he held out his hand, in which lay a half-penny.)
"And me a-washin' out 'is boat, feedin' of 'is dog, and keepin' an eye on
'is togs and 'is ladies—and then shoves off and 'ands me this—a
'a'penny, sor—a 'a'penny—from the likes o' 'im to the
likes o' me! Damn 'im!"—and away went the coin into the river.
"You'll excuse me, sor, but i couldn't choke it down. Is it a punt ye're
The landlord was right—there was a good deal of him—six feet
and an inch, I should think; straight as an oar, his bared arms swinging
free; waist, thighs, and back tough as a saw-log. To this was added two
big blue eyes set in a clean-shaven face bronzed by the sun, and a double
row of teeth that would have shamed an ear of corn. I caught, too, the
muscles of his chest rounding out his boating shirt, and particularly the
muscles of the neck supporting the round head crowned with closely cropped
hair—evidently a young Englishman of that great middle class which
the nation depends upon in an emergency. My inspection also settled any
question I might have had as to why he was "William," and never "Bill," to
those about him.
The one thing lacking in his make-up—and which only came into view
when he turned his head—was the upper part of one ear. This was
clipped as close as a terrier's.
Again he repeated the question—with a deprecatory smile, as if he
already regretted his outburst.
"Is it a punt ye're wantin', sor?"
"Yes—and a man to pole it and look after me while I paint. I had old
Norris for the past few years, but I hear he's gone back to gardening.
Will you have time with your other work?"
"Time! I'll chuck my job if I don't."
"No,—you can do both,—Norris did. You can pole me out to where
I want to work; bring me my lunch when you have yours, and come for me at
night. You weren't here two years ago—were you?"
"No—I was with General French. Got this clip outside Kimberly—"
and he touched his ear. "Been all my life on the river—Maidenhead
and Bourne's End mostly—and so when my time was up I come home and
the boss here put me on."
"A soldier! I thought so. I see now why you got mad. Wonder you didn't
throw that chap into the river." I am a crank on the happiness one gets
from the giving of tips—and a half-penny man is the rock bottom of
His face straightened.
"Well, we can't do that, sor—we can't never talk back. Got to grin
and bear it or lose yer job. Learned that in the Hussahs. I didn't care
for his money—maybe it was the way he did it that set me goin'—as
if I was—Well—let it go! And it's a punt ye want?—Yes,
sor—come and pick it out."
After that it was plain sailing—or punting. The picture of that
London cad sprawling in the water, which my approval had created in his
mind, had done it. And it was early and late too (there were few visitors
that month); down by the Weir below the lock as far as Cliveden; up the
backwater to the Mill—William stretched beside me while I worked, or
pulling back and forth when a cool bottle—beer, of course—or a
kettle and an alcohol lamp would add to my comfort.
Many years of tramping and boating up and down the Thames from Reading to
Maidenhead have taught me the ins and outs of the river. I know it as I do
my own pocket (and there is more in that statement than you think—especially
during regatta week).
First comes Sonning with its rose gardens and quaint brick bridge; and
then Marlowe with that long stretch of silver bordered by nodding trees
and dominated by the robber Inn—four shillings and six for a sawdust
sandwich! Then Maidenhead, swarming with boats and city folks after dark
(it is only a step from the landing to any number of curtained
sitting-rooms with shaded candles—and there be gay times at
Maidenhead, let me tell you!). And, between, best of all, lovely Cookham.
Here the river, crazy with delight, seems to lose its head and goes
meandering about, poking its nose up backwaters, creeping across meadows,
flooding limpid shallows, mirroring oaks and willows upside down, surging
up as if to sweep away a velvet-shorn lawn, only to pour itself—its
united self—into an open-mouthed lock, and so on to a saner life in
a level stretch beyond. If you want a map giving these vagaries, spill a
cup of tea and follow its big and little puddles with their connecting
rivulets: ten chances to one it will come out right.
All this William and I took in for three unbroken weeks, my usual summer
allotment on the Thames. Never was there such a breesy, wholesome
companion; stories of his life in the Veldt; of his hospital experience
over that same ear—"The only crack I got, sor, thank God!—except
bein' 'alf starved for a week and down two months with the fever—"
neither of which seemed to have caused him a moment's inconvenience;
stories of the people living about him and those who came from London with
a "'am sandwidge in a noospaper, and precious little more," rolled out of
him by the hour.
And the poise of the man! When he lay stretched out beside me on the grass
while I worked—an old bivouac attitude—he kept still; no
twitching of legs or stretching of arms—lay as a big hound does,
whose blood and breeding necessitate repose.
And we were never separated. First a plunge overboard, and then a pull
back for breakfast, and off again with the luncheon tucked under the seat—and
so on until the sun dropped behind the hills.
The only days on which this routine of work and play had to be changed
were Sundays and holidays. Then my white umbrella would loom up as large
as a circus tent, the usual crowd surging about its doors. As you cannot
see London for the people, so you cannot see the river for boats on these
days—all sorts of boats—wherries, tubs, launches, racing
crafts, shells, punts—everything that can be poled, pulled, or
wobbled, and in each one the invariable combination—a man, a girl,
and a dog—a dog, a girl, and a man. This has been going on for ages,
and will to the end of time.
On these mornings William and I have our bath early—ahead of the
crowd really, who generally arrive two hours after sunrise and keep up the
pace until the last train leaves for Paddington. This bath is at the end
of one of the teacup spillways, and is called the Weir. There is a
plateau, a plunge down some twenty feet into a deep pool, and the usual
surroundings of fresh morning air, gay tree-tops, and the splash of cool
water sparkling in the sunlight.
To-day as my boat grated on the gravel my eyes fell on a young English
lord who was holding the centre of the stage in the sunlight. He was
dressed from head to foot in a skin-tight suit of underwear which had been
cut for him by a Garden-of-Eden tailor. He was just out of the water—a
straight, well-built, ruddy-skinned fellow—every inch a man! What
birth and station had done for him would become apparent when his valet
began to hand him his Bond Street outfit. The next instant William stood
beside him. Then there came a wriggle about the shoulders, the slip of a
buckle, and he was overboard and out again before my lord had discarded
his third towel.
I fell to thinking.
Naked they were equals. That was the way they came into the world and
that's the way they would go out. And yet within the hour my lord would be
back to his muffins and silver service, with two flunkies behind his
chair, and William would be swabbing out a boat or poling me home through
the pond lilies.
But why?—I kept asking myself. A totally idiotic and illogical
question, of course. Both were of an age; both would be a joy to a
sculptor looking for modern gods with which to imitate the Greek ones.
Both were equal in the sight of their Maker. Both had served their country—my
lord, I learned later, being one of the first to draw a bead on Spion Kop
close enough to be of any use—and both were honest—at least
William was—and the lord must have been.
There is no answer—never can be. And yet the picture of the two as
they stood glistening in the sunlight continues to rise in my memory, and
with it always comes this same query—one which will never down—Why
should there be the difference?
But the summer is moving on apace. There is another Inn and another
William—or rather, there was one several hundred years ago before he
went off crusading. It is an old resort of mine. Seven years now has old
Leah filled my breakfast cup with a coffee that deserves a hymn of praise
in its honor. I like it hot—boiling, blistering hot, and the old
woman brings it on the run, her white sabots clattering across the
flower-smothered courtyard. During all these years I have followed with
reverent fingers not only the slopes of its roof but the loops of swinging
clematis that crowd its balconies and gabies as well. I say "my" because I
have known this Inn of William the Conqueror long enough to include it in
the list of the many good ones I frequent over Europe—the Bellevue,
for instance, at Dordrecht, over against Papendrecht (I shall be there in
another month). And the Britannia in Venice, and I hope still a third in
unknown Athens—unknown to me—my objective point this year.
This particular Inn with the roof and the clematis, is at Dives, twenty
miles from Trouville on the coast. You never saw anything like it, and you
never will again. I hold no brief for my old friend Le Remois, the
proprietor, but the coffee is not the only thing over which grateful men
chant hymns. There is a kitchen, resplendent in polished brass, with three
French chefs in attendance, and a two-century-old spit for roasting. There
is the wine-cellar, in which cobwebs and not labels record the age and the
vintage; there is a dining-room—three of them—with baronial
fireplaces, sixteenth-century furniture, and linen and glass to match—to
say nothing of tapestries, Spanish leathers, shrines, carved saints,
ivories, and pewter—the whole a sight to turn bric-a-brac fiends
into burglars—not a difficult thing by the way—and then, of
course—there is the bill!
"Where have you been, M. Le Rémois?" asked a charming woman.
"To church, Madame."
"Did you say your prayers?"
"Yes, Madame," answered this good boni-face, with a twinkle.
"What did you pray for?"
"I said—'Oh, Lord!—do not make me rich, but place me next
to the rich'"—and he kept on his way rubbing his hands and
chuckling. And yet I must say it is worth the price.
I have no need of a William here—nor of anybody else. The water for
my cups is within my reach; convenient umbrellas on movable pedestals can
be shoved into place; a sheltered back porch hives for the night all my
paraphernalia and unfinished sketches, and a step or two brings me to a
table where a broiled lobster fresh from the sea and a peculiar peach
ablaze in a peculiar sauce—the whole washed down by a pint of—(No—you
can't have the brand—there were only seven bottles left when I paid
my bill)—and besides I am going back—help to ease the cares
that beset a painter's life.
But even this oasis of a garden, hemmed about as if by the froth of
Trouville and the suds of Cabourg; through which floats the gay life of
Paris resplendent in toilets never excelled or exceeded anywhere—cannot
keep me from Holland very long. And it is a pity too, for of late years I
have been looked upon as a harmless fixture at the Inn—so much so
that men and women pass and repass my easel, or look over my shoulder
while I work without a break in their confidences—quite as if I was
a deaf, dumb, and blind waiter, or twin-brother to old Coco the cockatoo,
who has surveyed the same scene from his perch near the roof for the past
None of these unconscious ear-droppings am I going to betray—delightful,
startling—improper, if you must have it—as some of them
were. Not the most interesting, at all events, for I promised her I
wouldn't—but there is no question as to the diversion obtained by
keeping the latch-string of your ears on the outside.
None of all this ever drips into my auricles in Holland. A country so
small that they build dikes to keep the inhabitants from being spilt off
the edge, is hardly the place for a scandal—certainly not in stolid
Dordrecht or in that fly-speck of a Papendrecht, whose dormer windows peer
over the edge of the dike as if in mortal fear of another inundation. And
yet, small as it is, it is still big enough for me to approach it—the
fly-speck, of course—by half a dozen different routes. I can come by
boat from Rotterdam. Fop Smit owns and runs it—(no kin of mine,
more's the pity)—or by train from Amsterdam; or by carriage from any
number of 'dams, 'drechts, and 'bergs. Or I can tramp it on foot, or be
wheeled in on a dog-wagon. I have tried them all, and know. Being now a
staid old painter and past such foolishness, I take the train.
Toot! Toot!—and I am out on the platform, through the door of the
station and aboard the one-horse tram that wiggles and swings over the
cobble-scoured streets of Dordrecht, and so on to the Bellevue.
Why I stop at the Bellevue (apart from it being one of my Inns) is that
from its windows I cannot only watch the life of the tawny-colored,
boat-crowded Maas, but see every curl of smoke that mounts from the
chimneys of Papendrecht strung along its opposite bank. My dear friend,
Herr Boudier, of years gone by, has retired from its ownership, but his
successor, Herr Teitsma, is as hearty in his welcome. Peter, my old
boatman, too, pulled his last oar some two years back, and one "Bop" takes
his place. There is another "p" and an "e" tacked on to Bop, but I have
eliminated the unnecessary and call him "Bob" for short. They made Bob out
of what was left of Peter, but they left out all trace of William.
This wooden-shod curiosity is anywhere from seventy to one hundred and
fifty years old, gray, knock-kneed, bent in the back, and goes to sleep
standing up—and stays asleep. He is the exact duplicate of
the tramp in the comic opera of "Miss Hook of Holland"—except that
the actor-sleeper occasionally topples over and has to be braced up. Bob
is past-master of the art and goes it alone, without propping of any kind.
He is the only man in Dordrecht, or Papendrecht, or the country round
about, who can pull a boat and speak English. He says so, and I am forced
not only to believe him, but to hire him. He wants it in advance, too—having
had some experience with "painter-man," he explains to Herr Teitsma.
I shall, of course, miss my delightful William, but I am accustomed to
that. And, then, again, while Bob asleep is an interesting physiological
study, Bob awake adds to the gayety of nations, samples of which crowd
about my easel, Holland being one of the main highways of the earth.
I have known Dort and the little 'drecht across the way for some fifteen
years, five of which have slipped by since I last opened my umbrella along
its quaint quays. To my great joy nothing has changed. The old potato boat
still lies close to the quay, under the overhanging elms. The same dear
old man and his equally dear old wife still make their home beneath its
hipped roof. I know, for it is here I lunch, the cargo forming the chief
dish, followed by a saucer of stewed currants, a cup of coffee—(more
hymns here)—and a loaf of bread from the baker's. The old Groote
Kirk still towers aloft—the highest building in Holland, they say;
the lazy, red-sailed luggers drift up and down, their decks gay with
potted plants; swiss curtains at the cabin windows, the wife holding the
tiller while the man trims the sail. The boys still clatter over the
polished cobbles—an aggressive mob when school lets out—and a
larger crop, I think, than in the years gone by, and with more noise—my
umbrella being the target. Often a spoilt fish or half a last week's
cabbage comes my way, whereupon Bob awakes to instant action with a
consequent scattering, the bravest and most agile making faces from behind
wharf spiles and corners. Peter used to build a fence of oars around me to
keep them off, but Bob takes it out in swearing.
Only once did he silence them. They were full grown, this squad, and had
crowded the old man against a tree under which I had backed as shelter
from a passing shower. There came a blow straight from the shoulder, a
sprawling boy, and Bob was in the midst of them, his right sleeve rolled
up, showing a full-rigged ship tattooed in India ink. What poured from him
I learned afterward was an account of his many voyages to the Arctic and
around the Horn, as the label on his arm proved—an experience which,
he shouted, would be utilized in pounding them up into fish bait if they
did not take to their heels. After that he always went to sleep with one
eye open, the boys keeping awake with two—and out of my way—a
result which interested me the more.
If my Luigi was not growing restless in my beloved Venice (it is wonderful
how large a portion of the earth I own) I would love to pass the rest of
my summer along these gray canals, especially since Bob's development
brings a daily surprise. Only to-day I caught sight of him half hidden in
an angle of a wall, surrounded by a group of little tots who were begging
him for paper pin-wheels which a vender had stopped to sell, an
infinitesimal small coin the size of a cuff button purchasing a dozen or
more. When I again looked up from a canvas each tot had a pin-wheel, and
later on Bob, that much poorer in pocket, sneaked back and promptly went
But even Bob's future beatification cannot hold me. I yearn for the white,
blinding light and breathless lagoons, and all that makes Venice the Queen
City of the World.
Luigi meets me inside the station. It takes a soldo to get
in, and Luigi has but few of them, but he is always there. His gondola is
moored to the landing steps outside—a black swan of a boat, all
morocco cushions and silk fringes; the product of a thousand years of
tinkering by the most fastidious and luxurious people of ancient or modern
times, and still to-day the most comfortable conveyance known to man.'
Hurry up, you who have never known a gondola or a Luigi! A vile-smelling,
chuggity-chug is forcing its way up every crooked canal, no matter how
narrow. Two Venetian shipyards are hammering away on their hulls or
polishing their motors. Soon the cost of production will drop to that of a
gondola. Then look out! There are eight thousand machinists in the Arsenal
earning but five francs a day, any one of whom can learn to run a motor
boat in a week, thus doubling their wages. Worse yet—the world is
getting keener every hour for speedy things. I may be wrong—I hope
and pray I am—but it seems to me that the handwriting is already on
the wall. "This way to the Museo Civico," it reads—"if you want to
find a gondola of twenty-five years ago." As for the Luigis and the
Esperos—they will then have given up the unequal struggle.
The only hope rests with the Venetians themselves. They have restored the
scarred Library, and are rebuilding the Campanile, with a reverence for
the things which made their past glorious that commands the respect of the
artistic world. The gondola is as much a part of Venice as its sunsets,
pigeons, and palaces. Let them by special license keep the Tragfaetti
intact, with their shuttles of gondolas crossing bade and forth—then,
perhaps, the catastrophe may be deferred for a few decades.
As it was in Dort and Papendrecht so it is in Venice. Except these
beastly, vile-smelling boats there is nothing new, thank God. Everything
else is faded, weather-worn, and old, everything filled with sensuous
beauty—sky, earth, lagoon, garden wall, murmuring ripples—the
same wonderful Venice that thrills its lovers the world over.
And the old painters are still here—Walter Brown, Bunce, Bompard,
Faulkner, and the rest—successors of Ziem and Rico—men who
have loved her all their lives. And with them a new band of devotees—Monet
and Louis Aston Knight among them. "For a few days," they said in
explanation, but it was weeks before they left—only to return, I
predict, as Jong as they can hold a brush.
As for Luigi and me—we keep on our accustomed way, leading our
accustomed lives. Seventeen years now since he bent to his oar behind my
cushions—twenty-six in all since I began to idle about her canals.
It is either the little canal next the Public Garden, or up the Giudecca,
or under the bronze horses of San Marco; or it may be we are camped out in
the Piazzetta before the Porta della Carta; or perhaps up the narrow canal
of San Rocco, or in the Fruit Market near the Rialto while the boats
unload their cargoes.
All old subjects and yet ever new; each has been painted a thousand times,
and in as many different lights and perspectives. And yet each canvas
differs from its fellows as do two ripples or two morning skies.
For weeks we drift about. One day Carlotta, the fishwife up the Fondamenta
della Pallada, makes us our coffee; the next Luigi buys it of some smart
café on the Piazza. This with a roll, a bit of Gorgonzola, and a bunch of
grapes, or half a dozen figs, is our luncheon, to which is added two curls
of blue smoke, one from Luigi's pipe and the other from my cigarette. Then
we fall to work again.
But this will never do! While I have been loafing with Luigi not only has
the summer slipped away, but the cool winds of October have crept down
from the Alps. There are fresh subjects to tackle—some I have never
seen. Athens beckons to me. The columns of the Parthenon loom up!
If there are half a dozen ways of getting into Papendrecht—there is
only one of reaching Athens—that is, if you start from Venice.
Trieste first, either by rail or boat, and then aboard one of the Austrian
Lloyds, and so on down the Adriatic to Patras.
It is October, remember—when every spear of grass from a six months'
drought—the customary dry spell—is burnt to a crisp. It will
rain to-morrow, or next week, they will tell you—but it doesn't—never
has in October—and never will. Strange to say, you never miss it—neither
in the color of the mountains flanking the Adriatic or in any of the ports
on the way down, or in Patras itself. The green note to which I have been
accustomed—which I have labored over all my life—is lacking,
and a new palette takes its place—of mauve, violet, indescribable
blues, and evanescent soap-bubble reds. The slopes of the hills are
mother-of-pearl, their tops melting into cloud shadows so delicate in tone
that you cannot distinguish where one leaves off and the other begins.
And it is so in Patras, except for a riotous, defiant pine—green as
a spring cabbage or a newly painted shutter—that sucks its moisture
from nobody knows where—hasn't any, perhaps, and glories in its
shame. All along the railroad from the harbor of Patras to the outskirts
of Athens it is the same—bare fields, bare hills, streets and roads
choked with dust. And so, too, when you arrive at the station and take the
omnibus for the Grand Bretagne.
By this time you are accustomed to it—in fact you rather enjoy it.
If you have a doubt of it, step out on the balcony at the front of the
hotel and look up!
Hanging in the sky—in an air of pure ether, set in films of silver
grays in which shimmer millions of tones, delicate as the shadings of a
pearl, towers the Acropolis, its crest fringed by the ruins of the
greatest temples the world possesses.
I rang a bell.
"Get me a carriage and send me up a guide—anybody who can speak
English and who is big enough to carry a sketch trap."
He must have been outside, so quickly did he answer the call. He was
two-thirds the size of William, one-half the length of Luigi, and
one-third the age of Bob.
"What is your name?"
"Then we'll drop the last half. Put those traps in the carriage—and
take me to the Parthenon."
I never left it for fourteen consecutive days—nor did I see a square
inch of Athens other than the streets I drove through up and back on my
way to work. Nor have I in all my experience ever had a more competent,
obliging, and companionable guide—always excepting my beloved Luigi,
who is not only my guide, but my protector and friend as well.
It was then that I blessed the dust. Green things, wet things, soggy
things—such as mud and dull skies—have no place in the scheme
of the Parthenon and its contiguous temples and ruins. That wonderful
tea-rose marble, with its stains of burnt sienna marking the flutings of
endless broken columns, needs no varnishing of moisture to enhance its
beauty. That will do for the façade of Burlington House with its grimy
gray statues, or the moss-encrusted tower of the Groote Kirk, but never
here. It was this fear, perhaps, that kept me at work, haunted as I was by
the bogy of "Rain to-morrow. It always comes, and keeps on for a month
when it starts in." Blessed be the weather clerk! It never started in—not
until I reached Brindisi on my way back to Paris; then, if I remember,
there was some falling weather—at the rate of two inches an hour.
And yet I might as well confess that my fourteen days of consecutive study
of the Acropolis, beginning at the recently uncovered entrance gate and
ending in the Museum behind the Parthenon, added nothing to my previous
historical or other knowledge—meagre as it had been.
Where the Venetians wrought the greatest havoc, how many and what columns
were thrown down; how high and thick and massive they were; what parts of
the marvellous ruin that High Robber Chief Lord Elgin stole and carted off
to London, and still keeps the British Museum acting as "fence"; how wide
and long and spacious was the superb chamber that held the statue the gods
loved—none of these things interested me—do not now. What I
saw was an epoch in stone; a chronicle telling the story of civilization;
a glove thrown down to posterity, challenging the competition of the
And with this came a feeling of reverence so profound, so awe-inspiring,
so humbling, that I caught myself speaking to Panis in whispers—as
one does in a temple when the service is in progress. This, as the sun
sped its course and the purple shadows of the coming night began to creep
up the steps and columns of the marvellous pile, its pediment bathed in
the rose-glow of the fading day, was followed by a silence that neither of
us cared to break. For then the wondrous temple took on the semblance of
some old sage, the sunlight on his forehead, the shadow of the future
about his knees.