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
I..........Going from Here to There
II..........Mishap in Milan
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
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
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
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