Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“
[graphic]

"Though he left his clown's suit at home, who would know the difference?""

Domenico and Federico reverently served the tea.

"But your papa!"

Mr. Goodchild was still down-town, pursuing inspiration through the fancied haunts of Fiammetta and Rodolfo.

"And I am to miss that dear man?" "No; stay to dinner," Thallie blurted out, then turned red at her effrontery.

"Blessed child! That will be easier another day. And your work, Thallie? This little one, you should know, is going to be an artist.'

"A soprano?"

"Bah! Are there no other kinds of artists besides singers? Aglaia, there, is the prima donna of the family."

The song-birds smiled politely at Aglaia; but when she mentioned Valentino Mughetto, an argument broke forth in Italian. Some, maintaining that Mughetto was an excellent teacher, cited singers who "owed him everything." Others offered examples of his pupils' errors. Above the clatter of talk rose fragments of operatic airs, delivered in an affected way, to illustrate by parody the maestro's. faults. As the noise increased, the demigods' self-repression ended in a flurry of gestures. Only the greatest tenor maintained composure. With a sleepy grin, he began to stuff bread-crumbs into the fingers of Mme. Linkow's gloves.

[ocr errors]

The maternal German was whispering to Aglaia:

"Pay no attention to these magpies! Mughetto is all right. Whatever he tells you—"

"But if he tells me that I 've ruined my voice?"

The smile faded from Mme. Linkow's wholesome face. She responded gently "Then you, at least, would find courage to resign yourself that day, not in afteryears, when you had spent much time and money all in vain."

A steely flash was quickly hidden by Aglaia's lashes.

"And your limb?" queried Frossie, timidly. "It 's all right now?"

"Himmel, that leg of mine is now the best barometer in Europe! But what of

[blocks in formation]

"Monsieur Alphonse Zolande." "I don't know him. He has many pupils?" "No others yet."

"And how old is he?"
"Oh, ages!"

Mme. Linkow compressed her lips. "Maybe some day I would drop in on you and your Monsieur Zolande, old as the hills, in his so-roomy studio."

"Then you'll really come back?"

"Will I really-look at her, Luisa! Is n't she a picture? But now at least we must run and do our shopping. Where are my gloves? Oh, the wretch! Only let me get hold of you!"

The demigods paid their respects to the young hostesses. They surrounded the three Graces with a sudden urbanity, with the cordiality of persons on the point of fleeing boredom. Their valuable voices assumed a dulcet tone:

"To see you again, Signorina. A thousand thanks, Signorina." And in English: "Good-a-by, Signorina. Good-a-by."

"Auf wiedersehen, Aglaia; we must soon talk of this again. Auf wiedersehen, my Frossie! Auf wiedersehen, Little Beautiful! My love to your good papa!"

The touring-car started with a roar. As it turned the corner, the greatest tenor was striving to tie Mme. Linkow's green veil around Gennaro's head.

lie.

"Was n't it wonderful!" sighed Thal

Aglaia, departing for her bedroom, offered no response.

That visit had excited her tremendously. That technical chatter had resounded deep in her being like a clarioncall. The erratic charm of those singers had struck from her heart-strings a chord of perfect harmony. Now she felt more

intensely than ever that only amid such surroundings, and while following such fortunes, could she realize her most profound desires.

She believed in the dynamic force of an unfaltering ambition, in the power of the mind to alter physical states, attract prosperity, enrich the future. It was only necessary that one should expect success with perfect confidence. She recalled the career of Mary Garden, whose voice was said to be inferior to her determination. A long shudder ran through her body, as if freeing her person once for all of every indecision and foreboding. She was pervaded by an almost supernatural assurance, while the image of Mughetto, who had presumed to set a limit to her possibilities, dwindled and disappeared.

It would be necessary to find another teacher, able to perceive that sheer will power was going to efface her disabilities, as if she stood, believing, in the Grotto of Lourdes. Yet such a man was not discovered in a day, at least in Florence. Soon she might have to lead the Goodchild family to Milan, Paris, or Berlin..

And she resumed her practice. Indeed, she now worked so long that she was seldom ready to accompany her sisters on their evening walks.

One afternoon, while out walking with Thalia, Euphrosyne drew her sister past the Nobles' Club. There stood Lieuten-, ant Olivuzzi in the doorway with three officers of his regiment. Solemnly he bowed, and would have let it go at that; but Frossie, summoning all her courage, hesitated and looked back. Lieutenant Olivuzzi was instantly beside them.

She got out the words:
"You 're quite a stranger."
"Excoose, Signorina?"

"I say you 're quite a stranger at our house."

She repeated the sentence in her best Italian; Thallie echoed her in French. His lustrous eyes sent out a flash, his clear pallor was dashed with crimson, beneath his fierce little black mustaches his fine teeth glistened in a breathless smile. "You permit?"

[blocks in formation]

As he found nothing to say at once, and the silence was unbearable, she gave a meaningless, strained laugh.

"And now we must really be going," she stammered.

The absurdity of this remark was worst of all. But Lieutenant Olivuzzi did not seem to think so. He inclined his head, put into his farewell a wealth of admiration and respect, watched them till they turned into the Lungarno.

"Old Slyboots!" laughed Thallie, squeezing Euphrosyne's plump arm. When the other would have protested, she added, her voice suddenly all rich and warm, "But suppose I had a little boasting of my own to do?" And she poured out her story of the young man of the boat-deck.

"Thallie! All this time, and not a word!"

"But now I can hardly wait for you to see him," Thallie cried, meaning in her heart, "Now I can hardly wait for you to see how much more wonderful he is than any lieutenant."

Her impatience was soon gratified.

In the hall of the pension they found Cyril Bellegram huddled on a divan, sucking his empty pipe, staring before him resentfully. Some stranger, some mere caller, had preëmpted his bench beneath the palmetto! In fact, a young man was lounging out there now in an irritating state of nattiness and self-assurance, in cream-colored flannels and a widebrimmed panama of the finest texture, his rose-hued stockings rivaling the gardenplats, the smoke of his cigarette contaminating the aroma of the blossoms. It was Reginald Dux.

He had arrived the night before from Rome with Hector Ghillamoor. At this moment the latter was visiting an Italian friend near Quarto; but Reginald had been waiting in the garden for an hour. Now it was nearly dinner-time.

What prevented his dining at the pension?

"I was just waiting to be asked."

Aglaia appeared, and Mr. Goodchild. "Mr. Dux-from the ship, you know," Thalia explained demurely. She nudged Frossie as a hint to back her up, then sent Aglaia a swift look which said, "It 's he, the one I confessed about that night in Paris!"

"Welcome, young sir," cried Mr. Goodchild, taking the other's hand, and beaming. "The face is perfectly familiar. Wait a second! It was in the smokingroom on that memorable voyage!"

The pleasures and discomforts of that voyage, which they had shared, bound them together with the ties of strange adventure. Mr. Goodchild displayed such emotion as some old veteran of Jason's Argo might have shown on meeting, long afterward, one who had passed with him through the perils of mysterious seas, questing the Golden Fleece. "Yes, that was a trip to remember," he affirmed, his eyes turning toward the pink sky at recollection. "And did you see the whale that day? And did you suffer from that storm when we first set out from New York?" While Thallie and Frossie were up-stairs changing into dinner-frocks, he described in detail an invention by which he intended to make sea-sickness obsolete -a bed balanced by hydraulics, guarantied to maintain an equilibrium no matter how the ship behaved.

"That's very interesting; but has n't it been tried?"

"Not properly."

They dined at eight. Cyril Bellegram was persuaded to join them. Mr. Goodchild ordered Chianti for his guests, and with the coffee, which was served beneath the palm-tree, a green cordial made in the monastery of Certosa. The girls sampled this liqueur and found it "rather like candy."

"You 've been all this while in Florence and never tried it before?"

Mr. Goodchild explained that his family did not feel the need of stimulants. The foreign custom of taking alcohol with meals was doubtless reasonable, because of climatic peculiarities; at home, he felt sure, there was no such necessity. In

deed, American idealism had already realized this fact. Mr. Bryan was virtually a Prohibitionist; the secretary of the navy had forbidden fermented beverages on the war-ships. Aurelius predicted that in fifty years the United States would be entirely dry.

"Oh, well," cried Reginald Dux, raising his second glass of chartreuse, "by that time I'll be too old to care."

The three Graces found something manly in his recklessness.

His well-shaped head, covered with blond hair closely clipped, was held erect in the pose of one sure of his importance in whatever company. His slightly aquiline nose and drooping eyelids still suggested an aristocratic hauteur, but his sensitive mouth, always ready to curl upward at the corners, from time to time abated this effect. Nevertheless, one perceived that he was used to surroundings more luxurious than these. As the rattle of dishes was wafted from the kitchen, Thallie began to feel apologetic.

His rose-colored cravat was ornamented with a large pink pearl; his finger-ring was set with a cabochon ruby of unusual size; his shirt, of the finest silk, was woven with tiny, lustrous stripes of pink. Cyril Bellegram, even in his dinner-jacket, looked rusty by comparison. Aglaia, leaning forward, inquired:

"Do you expect to remain in Florence long?"

At that moment Lieutenant Olivuzzi appeared. Stiff, grave, correct in every gesture, he ushered forward a young man in a uniform identical with his-a young man with rat-tail mustaches, swarthy, bony, of an extraordinary ugliness, yet distinguishable at first glance as a person of good breeding.

"Lieutenant Fava of the Magenta Cav

alry!"

Lieutenant Fava sat down beside Thallie, and all discussed the weather.

So warm for the end of September! Olivuzzi managed to announce that for the last three nights all Florence had sat panting in the piazzas, listening to the bands. Aurelius acknowledged:

[ocr errors]

"That's something we 've yet to do. I mean, take in the night life of the town.' "Is it possible! Why not this evening? We might go to the Café Marco."

Five minutes later they were on their way.

They walked down the Lungarno. Mr. Goodchild tramped between Frossie and Thalia; Cyril Bellegram and Lieutenant Fava flanked that phalanx; the rear-guard -and how this had happened two of the three Graces did not know -was composed of Aglaia, Reginald, and Olivuzzi. Pedestrians took to the gutter amiably; eight pairs of feet struck the pavement in unison; some one began, in imitation of a bugle, the bersaglieri marching-tune.

They skirted the colonnades of the Uffizi, where the shapes of famous Florentines stared down like brooding wraiths. They passed through alleyways where shadows effaced half a dozen centuries. They arrived before the bright café; a babble of voices and violins gushed forth to them. They entered a long room, crowded, smoky, a-glitter with reflected lights.

A table had just been vacated near the band-platform. Waiters came running with more chairs. Frossie and Thallie exchanged a resolute glance. When all were seated, one saw, beside the latter, Reginald, and by the former, Olivuzzi. Aglaia, expressionless, sat between her father and Lieutenant Fava.

But there was one chair too many. "Ask them to leave it," called Mr. Goodchild, gaily. "Who knows but another friend may come along? Besides, according to the Hebrew cabala, the number nine would be more auspicious than the number eight."

"You 're superstitious, sir?"

"At any rate, many famous men have been so, even Pythagoras."

They ordered ices, beer in steins, vermuth and seltzer, syrups diluted with cold

water.

The waiters, their trays balanced high, moved through the smoke-clouds behind the close-packed heads. Everywhere appeared grotesque and classic profiles

cheeks distended with food, mustaches dripping beer, shaven lips in which the cigarettes were an anachronism. Here and there a group of dark-eyed women made one reflect that Italian charms were hardly intended for the modern costume. An old ragamuffin, beaked, withered, displaying the tusks and ear-rings of a brigand, shambled from table to table, croaking the praises of his basketful of oysters. Two fat fellows began to shout at each other across their glasses; strains from "Aïda" pierced the din; a crash of dishes resounded.

"It 's quieter at the Café Hirsch," remarked Aurelius, with a dazed smile. As no one heard him, he prepared to enter into the spirit of the hour.

Thallie's color was feverish; her eyes shone brilliantly; now and then a shivering laugh escaped her as Reginald, his elbow planted alongside of hers, whispered satirical comments on persons round about. Euphrosyne, on the contrary, was pale and serious. When Lieutenant Olivuzzi attempted a phrase, slowly, almost reluctantly, she turned her face toward his, and their mutual gaze was fused by an intense, questioning solemnity. Aglaia, catching Cyril Bellegram's eye, showed a rueful smile which seemed to say, "The garden would have pleased us better?" His response was not as warm as usual.

But in that pandemonium none could be staid for long. They made jokes that needed much translating before every one. perceived the point. Fresh glasses appeared. Mr. Goodchild found a cigar between his fingers.

"Dad!"

"When in Rome, or, rather, in the Café Marco-'

He accepted a light, pursed his lips, blew a puff of smoke into the air, stared round him with a look half startled and half proud. His daughters watched him apprehensively.

"How odd! The taste is quite different from the smell."

Gradually a strange titillation penetrated Mr. Goodchild's brain, ran through his limbs, set his fingers and his toes to

« AnkstesnisTęsti »