Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

tingling. The lights revolved; a black cloth seemed flapping in mid-air; cold winds fanned his brow, which was suddenly bedewed with moisture. He swallowed spasmodically.

"Dad, you put down that cigar this instant!"

"Some water!" gasped Mr. Goodchild. And while he was recovering his full senses, he muttered feebly: "As Epictetus says, 'Every faculty is dangerous to the weak and uninstructed.' I've had my first and last experience in dissipation!"

To divert all minds from this misfortune, Reginald placed a hard-boiled egg on the neck of a water-bottle in which a scrap of paper had been set burning. All at once the egg was sucked into the carafe! Shouts of "Bravo!" exploded from the surrounding tables; the waiter raised. his arms despairingly, and the old bandit, with a cry of amazement, let his oysters roll over the floor.

Just then they saw John Holland.

He was standing in the doorway, his tall, thick-set figure clad in tweeds, his rugged face, which had never been handsome, deeply tanned, his calm eyes scanning the crowd with their habitual look of sophistication mingled with a subtle. sympathy. Aurelius, springing forward, seized upon his hand.

"What a pleasure!" And waving excitedly toward the empty chair, "See, we 've been keeping it for you!"

John Holland, after saluting the three Graces, took the ninth chair, and the circle was complete.

CHAPTER VIII

AGLAIA FINDS THAT WILL POWER CANNOT DO EVERYTHING

JOHN HOLLAND was quartered in the Hotel Alexandra, on the Arno, not far from the Pension Schwandorf. He had expected to be in Florence only a day or two, yet he was staying out the week. The Goodchild family proved more interesting than Mme. Bertha Linkow and the rest at Montecatini.

Late in the afternoon he entered the

pension, so familiar to all his senses with its coolness, its silences, its smells of antiquated stuffs; so prompt to evoke that melancholy which pervades a place where one has lived a different life and had another sort of thoughts. For a while, in the boudoir-office, he chatted with Mme. von Schwandorf of the past. Where was his old-time waiter? And the countess who had no change of dress, but flaunted a brave pair of diamond ear-rings? And the ancient lady in black bombazine who had danced with the last Emperor of France? Having learned that all were gone, remembering that he himself was nearly two decades advanced beyond those student-days, he strolled into the garden.

Aurelius was there. He had spent half the night perusing "The Six Cæsars" and "The History of Roman Literature." He was primed now for a score of learned arguments with Mr. Holland. “Did not Lucretius in his fifth book anticipate Darwin? Was the Saturnian meter of Latin or Etruscan origin? What was the real cause of Ovid's banishment?" But John Holland, in vacation-time, preferred to forget that he was a historian. Aurelius soon found himself telling of his life in Zenasville.

The three Graces appeared in the glass corridor.

They drew near, all fresh in their evening dresses, which clung to three forms unlike except in youth's free, supple movement. When they greeted the visitor, half diffident at his celebrity, half eager to be intimate with fame, the three faces, framed in three shades of red hair, were lifted toward his like so many blossoms, and a mingled fragrance, of simple sachets, of rich tresses, of almost adolescent corporeal purity, rejoiced his heart. When they were seated round the teatable, their poses all maintained a vague expectancy.

Cyril Bellegram came in, and Reginald Dux, and Olivuzzi, with Lieutenant Fava. Mr. Holland invited all of them to din

ner.

They drove to a restaurant in the suburbs, where tables were laid on a terrace

overlooking the wide country-side, where the white-haired proprietor recognized John Holland with a cry of pleasure, and the waiters began to run around like rabbits. Whatever the sisters ate was delicious; even the spaghetti seemed different from that of every day. Twilight fell; arc-lamps sputtered overhead; below the railing fireflies twinkled in the tree-tops; and from the horizon, sinking into obscurity beneath one long, horizontal strip of purple, an extraordinary wistfulness. stole in to them. For a time they were silent. Afar, a clear voice soared to the warm notes of a love-song, and, still throbbing, was lost in the immensity of the night.

asked him to take a special interest in you." And to Frossie: "I ordered you some books on writing. You may find something in them, here and there, that has n't yet occurred to you." With one more kindly smile he left the Goodchild family at the gate; and the garden, even to Thallie, seemed like a place from which some fine expansive foliage had withdrawn its shelter.

But Thallie soon forgot Mr. Holland in wondering if Reginald would call that afternoon.

Nearly every day he appeared from the neighborhood of Quarto, where, with his friend Hector Ghillamoor, he was staying at the villa of a Baron di Campoformio.

"It 's too late for nightingales," they The latter, who had married an Amerirepeated, with regret.

[ocr errors]

"But the moon will soon be rising.' The moon rose; Thallie's eyes turned to Reginald, and Olivuzzi's to Euphrosyne. Aglaia secretly considered Mr. Holland.

He leaned back in his chair. His large frame expressed repose and power. His face was composed as usual, but his eyes were softened, as much, it seemed, by sadness as by sympathy. He was watching Thallie, who, laughing while Reginald made jokes that smacked of vaudevilleshows, let her fair young shape lean toward the young man as a flower inclines itself toward the sun.

Next day John Holland came to the pension to say good-by.

"Going!" cried Mr. Goodchild in dis

may.

"Oh, I shall be back. Indeed, my work will keep me all winter in the neighborhood of Rome."

"That's different." And, a twinkle lighting up his faded eyes, "That permits me to go on living in anticipation."

John Holland bade the Graces farewell. When he came to Thallie, he said: "I don't think much of your Monsieur Alphonse Zolande. You'll permit me to recommend another painting-teacher?" When he had done so, turning to Aglaia: "Mughetto, however, is excellent. I feel sure he 'd do his best in any case, but I've

can, a cousin of the Ghillamoors, was now, in his early thirties, a widower. An ardent aviator, he possessed two aëroplanes. Since October had brought cooler weather, Hector Ghillamoor, at night playing cards and drinking in a pergola, in the daytime soaring high above the hills, was willing to stay on at the Villa Campoformio.

Reginald Dux was ready to remain near Florence for another reason.

Idle, with no intellectual hobbies, his mind was often invaded by romantic thoughts. He enjoyed foreign travel, which meant to him smart hotels, brighteyed ladies from Latin and Slavonic countries, the possibility of "affairs." He dreamed at times of a tempestuous adventure with some grande amoureuse out of contemporary French fiction, whom he followed in reverie through half of Europe, and finally embraced on a marble terrace redolent of olea fragans bloom, preferably above the moonlit waters of Lake Como.

Of course he had found opportunity closer to his hand. There had been some indiscreet ladies of his own society, and the disclassed fellow-countrywomen living abroad, and actresses of a certain sort, and the sirens, with the pernicious freshness of extraordinary jungle orchids, who let their elaborate dresses trail through the press of gambling-casinos and along the esplanades of bathing-beaches. And

at home there had also been one little girl in a patched shirt-waist and worn shoes whom he had met in the haze of an undergraduate adventure, and who had wept "because he was different."

Yet beneath his chaffing, nonchalant demeanor, his real nature, his legacy of sensitiveness, the traits that might have made him, with a less successful father, a practitioner in some emotional art,—suspected that all his heart-affairs were woefully undramatic in analysis. Still, dauntless because so young, he went on looking for the great experience; and because he was no more than twenty-six years old, at the approach of every woman who seemed beautiful, elegant, and more mature than he, Reginald asked himself, "Perhaps this is the one at last?"

Certainly the creature of his ideals had never at any time resembled Thallie.

She did not even resemble the girls of his own class, those young women whose simplicity of dress was nearly always artful, whose manners were subtly tinctured with sophistication, whose theoretical knowledge of the world seemed nearly to keep pace with masculine experience. At first she had amused him, like the heroine in a romance of rural setting, naïve, warm, natural, with the sweetness of a wild-flower, which, to be sure, one best appreciates when the mind is cleared of an enthusiasm for more complex blossoms. But, then, for the moment Reginald was sentimentally at liberty.

His sense of humor, rejoicing in what he would have called the "quaintness" of the Goodchild family, had led him presently into a sort of tenderness toward Thallie such as he often felt for the defenseless and the young, if to defenselessness and youth was added beauty. And, in fact, whenever he looked intently at her, he had to admit that in her special type she was a well-nigh flawless speci

men.

She sat in a wicker chair against the hanging roses, her batiste collar rolling open from the neck, one pink, lax palm upturned on her round knee, her little white slippers close together on the gravel.

Those calls-her shy punctilio, her innocent self-revelation, her attempts at wise discussion, which seemed invariably out of place-reminded him somehow of a doll's tea-party. And yet, when he scrutinized her fair, pure skin, her ripe mouth, the mingled slenderness and plumpness of her form, he felt a swift impulse to seize her face between his hands and ravish her lips. Light-haired himself, the ideal of his romantic dreams had always been brunette, interestingly pale, with raven locks and large black eyes, as lithe as a beast of prey, in every pose expressing the soul-weariness of a Russian adventuress in a Broadway melodrama. It was refreshing for Reginald to learn that he could feel this way "toward blondes." The discovery enlarged the horizon of his possibilities: he derived from it, as it were, a greater sense of competence.

And Thallie flattered him by a sort of deference that he had imagined ended in these days of careless manners. And Thallie seemed more than just diverted by his visits. And presently he felt that if he did seize her flowerlike face between his hands, did drink of those ripe lips, all her shyness would melt into the enervation of surrender, all her apparent adolescence might be transformed into the fervor of maturity. When Hector Ghillamoor suggested moving north, it was Reginald, the notorious victim of periodic boredom, who held out for a longer stay in drowsy Florence.

Ghillamoor, his herculean form stretched on a sofa in the Villa Campoformio, his face of a young gladiator showing its customary sulky smile, agreed to one week more. So Reginald's calls continued at the pension; and Lieutenant Olivuzzi, who often met him there, took it for granted that he was going to marry Thallie.

The lieutenant, for his part, still called at the Pension Schwandorf on Euphrosyne's account.

Camillo Olivuzzi was at liberty, outside the army, to call himself a count, owing to a custom which, in some Italian provinces, permitted all the sons of petty

nobles to assume the same title as the father. His parents lived with their younger children in the depths of the Abruzzi, in a dwelling half-castle and half-farm, without modern conveniences, surrounded by slipshod servants who behaved like humble members of the family, with difficulty making both ends meet. The old Count Olivuzzi derived a slender living from his land, which source of revenue he believed to be the only one a gentleman might profit by. However, he counseled his sons to marry money; and every summer, after going thin and threadbare for ten months at home, the parents convoyed their daughters to the fashionable resorts, where for some weeks they managed to live like persons well-to-do while parading the three girls before eligible young men from Rome and Milan. Their savings spent, they trailed back for another hibernation in their rickety castle, donned the old costumes by which the peasantry had long recognized them from afar, resumed their diet of polenta, sausages, and family bread, and, without books or intellectual companionship, awaited, like the hope of resurrection, next spring's extravagances.

Camillo had escaped that life.

He had gone for three years to the military school at Modena, then two years to the cavalry school at Pinerolo, and finally had done his course at Tor di Quinto, where cavalry cadets received the finishing touch. During that time, because of the exceptional social benefits bestowed upon young cavalry officers, Camillo had replaced his rural awkwardnesses with an excellent set of manners. Also, the Tripoli War breaking out in his first year with the Magenta Regiment, he had learned in the wastes of Libya invaluable lessons both of patience and initiative, had proved his spirit, and acquired the poise of those who have come hand to hand with death.

His fellow-officers were well-mannered young men, with the bodies of athletes and the brains of dandies, dare-devil riders, eager gamblers, great amateurs of women, unmoral, yet likable, now ener

getic and now indolent, by nature callous and by impulse generous. All were well bred, and many had titles of nobility. Most had entered the army, the only honorable business that occurred to them, to escape in some measure the futile existence of their class. Few, however, had any thought of rising high in their profession, or even of continuing in it for long unless the Austrians threatened to come down at last. Made as if expressly for love, war, and fatalism, they were, like so much in modern Italy, out of date, as if they contained the souls of those gay, lazy, ruthless young gallants of the Middle Ages who had been their ancestors.

But Camillo Olivuzzi was of a different fiber. ferent fiber. Perhaps the old fortress of his fathers had bestowed on him something of its bleak simplicity, just as the Abruzzi gorges may have influenced his nature with their rugged strength. The lean early years, the loneliness of those hills, had brought him a host of thoughts almost ascetic in their seriousness. flighty comrades of his military life had not altered the intentions of his boyhood days to rise high in the service of his country, to remain always the cavalier without fear and without reproach, to find as soon as possible the good woman worthy to be the mother of his children.

The

One day, in Via Tornabuoni, he had seen Euphrosyne.

He had seen a girl whose fresh coloring and bright-red hair appealed, with a delightful novelty, to all that was wholesome in his character, whose firm features suggested sanity, cheerfulness, and high ideals, whose good, healthy figure, foreshadowing a matronly solidity, seemed fashioned to withstand the charge of happy babies. And instantly he had thought, with that strange thrill which accompanies the predestined crises of a life, "Whoever she is, wherever she comes from, here is the one whom I can marry!" Acquaintance with her had not abated that conviction.

Speaking in her own tongue, she told him of Zenasville. But from her story he derived impressions of a village such as he

age of an aeroplane that gave forth sheets by with fallen jaw, started off toward the of flame.

One afternoon, straight out of a blue sky, as it were, Mme. Bertha Linkow appeared before the Pension Schwandorf!

A motor-engine racketed, a siren hooted, laughter resounded through the quiet street. The sisters, just dressed for tea, crowded the balcony of the front bedroom. At the curb a big touring-car held three women and three men. Mme. Linkow waved a green veil. A fat fellow with a large, good-natured face removed his hat. Domenico came skipping, ushered them into the garden, turned pale with awe. The fat man with the large face was the greatest living tenor!

The girls flew down-stairs. Between the peonies and the lily-beds Mme. Linkow embraced each of them with a cracking hug.

She had not changed, unless she was a trifle stouter. A collapsible hood of tan linen covered her golden hair like the casque of an Amazon; the warmth of Italy had given her Teutonic fairness the transparency of a pink poppy; and her inexhaustible vitality enveloped the three Graces as she cried:

"Ach, but how fine you look! What cheeks, what eyes, after this so-frightful summer! Now, then, all you motor-bandits, was I right when I said I would show you something nice? Wait! Introductions! Children, this is Giulietta, out of the 'Tales of Hoffmann.' Scarpia, forward! Off with your goggles; make a pretty bow! The barrel in spats is naughty Gennaro, who steals the jewels of the Madonna. Carmen, if you licked off your lip-paint you might offer each a kiss. Not you, big booby!" She gave the greatest tenor a push in the chest, then, leading him forward by the ear, "Pagliacci! Though he left his clown's suit at home, who would know the difference? hark to my voice! All that dust! My throat is ruined! Did you give back my pastils, Luisa? Then where are they? At any rate, some tea, for the love of Heaven!"

But

Domenico, who had been hovering near

kitchen at a run. All sank into chairs as Mme. Linkow called after the doorporter:

"And lots of bread and butter!"

The sisters stared at their visitors almost in disbelief.

They were all foreigners, the men robust-looking despite the deep marks that many various emotions had imprinted on their faces; the women, whom Mme. Linkow had nicknamed Carmen and Giulietta, handsome in an extravagant, exotic way. They were dressed with conventional smartness, their manners faithfully imitated custom, yet one suspected, beneath their modishness, a subtle abnormality.

But it was impossible to see them in their true complexions, for each was surrounded by the aura of celebrity. Their faces, though made familiar by countless reproductions in the public prints, did not seem like the visages of ordinary mortals. The three Graces instinctively attributed to them as many complex qualities as a German professor would weave into the character of Hamlet. All their adventures in the fields of esthetic exaltation and of fame seemed to imbue their eyes with an unbearable keenness, similar to the glances of demigods that used to turn primeval shepherds dizzy. Besides, this unexpected contact with great artists, whom the barrier of the footlights kept, for most people, in a sort of mythical atmosphere, was like a dream, during which the impossible is realized amid bizarre circumstances.

Aglaia was the first to recover from these feelings. In a tone of careless pleasure, of easy intimacy, she asked Mme. Linkow:

"How in the world did you find out where we were?”

"Why, from your friend John Holland. He is at Montecatini, too."

[ocr errors][merged small]
« AnkstesnisTęsti »