Puslapio vaizdai
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"You'll stop all those American tricks when you 've married her, though?"

"Oh, then, to be sure," declared Fava, "she 'll have to learn a few lessons. But that bird is still in the tree."

"Courage!" Camillo laughed. "Put on a mask and propose at the carnival ball." "By the way," Azeglio inquired, "when the carnival ball comes along, shall we have to invite them? A box costs a hundred lire, you know."

The faces of the three lieutenants grew long.

That night, in barracks, Camillo counted his savings, shrugged, blew out the lamp, sat down to review his condition.

A light from the troopers' dormitories passed over the courtyard and entered his room, a small white chamber arranged with that neat simplicity which distinguishes the born soldier. Here stood his military chest, there his narrow bed, and, over his varnished boots all precisely alined against the wall, hung his uniforms, helmet, revolver, and long, straight sword. Near the window, beside the shaving-shelf, were tacked some photographs of his parents and sisters. A table covered with books, a lamp, an arm-chair, completed his property.

In the courtyard a trumpet wailed the silenzio. The lights, except one in each dormitory, went out. Camillo looked up at the moon, which was struggling, like a soul in the toils of circumstance, to break through the clouds. His face of a young medieval knight grew firm.

"Since I cannot give my children a fortune, they must have honors, honors, and honors. Ah, yes, I'll have to rise quickly now. If only another war would come!"

Camillo had not been content with learning cavalry tactics and memorizing historic problems of strategy. For years, as if Italy's future depended upon his knowledge, he had studied the regimen, equipment, and field-work of infantry, the transportation of ammunition and food, the latest, most intricate forms of intrenchment, the conduct of sieges, ballistics, powders, projectiles-the whole com

plicated science of modern warfare. And nothing interested him more than the new coöperation of aëroplanes and artillery.

But a day of battle might come when the aviators had all been disabled, when volunteers would be needed to soar and spy, in order to save a brigade, a division, an army. That would be the chance for him if he knew how to fly.

One day he revisited Baron di Campoformio.

The Villa Campoformio, in the country-side north of Florence, was a white stucco house in a spacious garden of ilexand cypress-trees. High walls, surmounted by large stone urns, inclosed the grounds: one rang a bell in the gate-post, and, after five minutes or so, a man-servant in a green baize apron pushed back the bolts. Camillo, dismounting, left his horse with this servitor. The baron, clad in an old tweed coat, his thin hair blown by the breeze, his boots incrusted with loam, was helping the gardener tie up the rose-bushes with straw.

Campoformio led Camillo into the drawing-room, a large apartment hung in yellow brocade, where a sporting widower's tastes had almost eclipsed the influence of the dead American wife. Another servant brought vermuth and seltzer, cigarettes and cigars. The baron's weatherbeaten face wore a quizzical look as he asked:

"Well, Signore Icarus?"
Camillo smiled in turn.

"It 's true," he confessed, "that I came to ask for a little ride in the sky."

"Oh, I knew you would. It was easy to see that you'd never rest till you 'd driven a biplane yourself. Am I right?" "I should like to do that, too."

"Good enough! The more of us that can fly, the worse we shall beat the Austrians. I take it you 're not afraid of heights?"

"I was born on a mountain."

"Your nerves are all right in these fatal days of peace?"

Camillo held out his strong brown hands, palms down, with fingers spread, at arm's length. They did not move any

more than if carved out of Pavonazzetto marble.

"Bravo! A cavalry officer able to do that in Florence must have a constitution of iron-or be related to all the saints!"

They rode down to the flying-field. A biplane, propelled by mechanics and fieldhands, emerged from its hangar.

Campoformio insisted that Camillo also put on a fleece-lined jacket, an aviator's helmet, and gloves. Well muffled, they climbed the frame, the pilot taking the steering-seat, the passenger the perch behind, against the gasolene-tank. The baron raised his hand in the air. A mechanic gave the propeller a whirl and darted away. The engine began a deafening clatter. The biplane moved forward gently, then faster and faster. Camillo realized that the ground was ten, twenty, thirty feet beneath him, and blurred by the speed of this flight.

When had they left the turf?

Suddenly they shot up a steep hill of air, ran level, shot up again. The pressure of wind seemed to flatten Camillo's chest; he could hardly expel his breath. The oxygen that rushed into his lungs made him feel drunk. He wanted to laugh. aloud, to shout in triumph, to shake his fist at the clouds. He felt as if he had never really lived till this moment.

With a nod, Campoformio bade him look down.

On every side the earth was unrolling in billows, hills flattening, highways and villages dwindling, forests melting to patches of grayish haze. Far behind, through the brilliant, transparent disk produced by the whirling propellers, Camillo saw Florence shrinking like some magical carpet of brown and silvery mottles, like Balzac's peau de chagrin, which diminished at every wish. The Arno became a thread; the heights beyond sank into their valleys, and Mount Cuccioli, slowly crumbling, was lost in the distance.

Camillo looked ahead. Mount Rinaldi, Fiesole, Mount Ceceri were bowing before this miracle, this great bird, ridden. by men, that swept over them at the altitude of a thousand feet. The white ham

lets whirled round and scattered like chickens below the hawk. The hill streams, all their secrets revealed, writhed in their channels and wriggled away to the south. And ahead, the snow-capped mountains, so haughty till now in their supremacy, were beginning to crouch, like ranks of cowardly Titans preparing for flight.

"Now I know how God feels in his heavens!" Camillo thought. "At last man comes into his own! At last our divinity abases the world!" And, to Campoformio, who was looking back at him. strangely, he gave an exalted, dazed smile.

"Are you dizzy?" the pilot demanded, his howl no more than a sigh in the roar of engine and wind.

"Go on! go on! go on!" cried Camillo. The words, driven back into his throat, set him to coughing.

The baron put the aëroplane round in a banking curve, descended five hundred feet at one swoop, raced homeward. Florence, creeping forth over the rim of the world, expanded from a puddle to a wide, flashing lake of roofs. The hills beyond, as the biplane dipped again, emerged from bluish mists, regained their courage, held up their heads as before. Below appeared pastures that seemed like table-cloths raised to catch the aëroplane safe in their folds. And into their folds the machine descended so softly that one could not tell when it left the air and ran on the ground.

A few rods away two hangars appeared. Familiar faces surrounded the biplanethe faces of the baron's mechanics. What, they had skimmed the world and unerringly regained this obscure little spot?

Camillo was further amazed to learn that they had flown only thirteen minutes. Campoformio gave him another keen glance.

"You were dizzy up there?"

"Not at all. I felt a bit tipsy at first." "Next time you won't notice that. If, indeed, you wish to go on?"

"Go on! Per Baccho! nothing can stop me now!"

"Then look here; while you 're at it,

why not go after the military brevet for aviators? I'll be your teacher, and guaranty that in two months' time you'll pass the tests with flying colors."

"But that is too much to ask of you!" "Nonsense! I hope we two can engage in a patriotic act."

Camillo, overjoyed, accepted the baron's offer.

He made haste to tell Frossie of his intention. But she, frightened, protested: "Not aëroplanes, too!"

He laughed indulgently.

"That old omnibus is as safe as a boat. The air is n't a void, after all, but a big, soft cushion, buoyant and strong, like the

sea.

And to think we humans have been so long in finding it out!"

Mr. Goodchild, at least, understood Camillo's enthusiasm. Long ago Aurelius had thought of inventing the flying-machine himself; but other projects had intervened, and finally some one else had grasped the laurels that might have been his.

"Still," he reflected, his old ardor renewed by Camillo's adventure, "the science of aviation is n't perfected yet. Above all, there's a need of some infallible safety-device. If I went to work on it, devoted my mind entirely to the problem, most likely I could put an end to the accidents. But of course that kind of research would soon require a workshop."

He thought of a certain workshop across the sea, of a little ramshackle house, of Maple Lane, and all the surrounding vistas. The countless friendly aspects of Zenasville rose before him again, their attractiveness intensely enhanced by distance and time. It seemed like many years since he had bade those dear, homely regions good-by.

But now and then letters reached him from home. Dr. Numble, a faithful correspondent, was still at work on the Magnum Opus-St. Louis of France was passing into a new incarnation. Ira Inchkin, for all his complaints about the hardware. business, found time to describe his wife's latest feat on the town-hall stage. Her portrayal of Hedda Gabler "had knocked

the breath right out of the 'Zenasville Recorder's' dramatic critic." Selina Inchkin,

for her part, neglected to dwell on that triumph. Perhaps she was too much excited by Aggie's wedding. She wrote:

Would a thousand times that I had been with you at those nuptials! Radiant as the dawn, I see my precious Aglaia descending from the bliss-embowered altar, clinging with fond, shy sweetness to the strong arm of he who henceforth shall be her sturdy oak, her one in all, her soul-mate! How nature must have warbled its hymns of joy in that solemn and beauteous blend, when they who previously mankind had known as twain were united into one, by Heaven's holy ordnance! And so they went forth into life, like unto a symphony of angel's wings, tender and true, as Poe says, “evermore."

Aurelius, as he folded up this rhapsody, mused:

"Good, warm-hearted folks, eager to share our joys, and willing to share our griefs! Old friends are good. Yes, yes, old friends, old places, old habits are hard to lose."

He was then sitting at his favorite table in the Café Hirsch. A cup of coffee smoked before him, and by the table the waiter, Otto, drooped in melancholy rumination. On all sides sat painters, poets, journalists, most of them shabby, many lean and pale, the curious dress and airs of some betraying their essential triviality. Their chatter was unintelligible; they did not glance at Mr. Goodchild; their whole little circle buzzed on, day after day, oblivious to the stranger. Yet there was scarcely one of their enthusiasms that Aurelius could not have shared and understood, if they had given him the chance and he had spoken half a dozen foreign languages.

Even Constantine Farazounis seemed to have deserted him.

"So," said Otto, in the born pessimist's sepulchral tones of satisfaction, "to-day already you feel lonely, Mr. Gootschild, yust like me!"

"For the moment I was thinking of my

own home. But, as Epictetus has written, 'When you have lost anything external, keep in mind what you have got instead of it.' And somewhere else he tells us, 'Be pleased with the present, and contented with whatever it 's the season for.' No, Otto, to be lonely, or, in other words, discontented, is to be ungrateful, is to reproach Divine Providence, which is wiser than we are, and brings all changes for our ultimate benefit."

And fortified by these thoughts, oblivious to Otto's sour grimace, Aurelius got out his writing-pad and briskly set to work.

That night, from his window, he saw Camillo and Frossie in the garden. The young soldier, in his pearl-gray cavalry cape, the young girl, in a pale satin cloak, stood close together, lost in each other's gaze. Before Aurelius could turn away, Camillo lifted Frossie's pince-nez and reverently kissed her eyelids.

"So soon!"

Presently the father's thoughts went out toward England, to Aglaia.

He strove to see her amid the moors of Devonshire, in the country-house of which she wrote so sparingly, among the Bellegrams, of whom she only said that "They were just what she had expected." Now, as often at night since she had gone away, Mr. Goodchild felt restless, was desolate with more than a fond parent's loneliness, grew apprehensive without cause, unless there came to him through space a faint thrill of travail from the brain he had begotten.

What if Aggie were unhappy at this moment!

She had a new life to learn, new points of view to conform to, new alliances to swear. Henceforth she would belong to her own race no more than to her father. And here, in the garden, another international marriage was in preparation! Thallie, at least, might marry an American, that Reginald Dux. But was her attachment to him really serious?

It seemed serious enough next day, when Reginald unexpectedly appeared in Florence.

He had finally lured the Ghillamoors from sleety Paris down into the Tuscan winter, which, knowing nothing about it, he vowed would afford the very climate to make little Rosalie quite well again. Hector Ghillamoor and his wife came to Florence none too confident of this, but, rather, prepared to take their child still farther south. An hour after their arrival at the Hotel Alexandra, just as a cold, hard rain set in, Reginald escaped them. He slipped away to the Pension Schwandorf. At his voice in the hall, Thallie laid both hands against her breast and closed her eyes.

With their first devouring glance, each found the other more desirable even than the cherished mental image. Their fingers touching, both suddenly felt impulse straining against convention's barrier. It seemed incredible that they had to meet so formally, after all those secret, febrile hours apart, when imagination, undaunted in the solitary watches of the night, had brought to both a sense of intimacy almost as vivid as actual experience. Now to shake hands again as mere acquaintances, to utter ordinary greetings, was like waking outside the closed portals of a place where one had passed ecstatic hours in dreams. For all he said was, "You see, I did come back!" And she, with lips tightened so that they might not tremble, “You did, did n't you, after all?”

"Everything seems the same," he ventured. With a kindling eye he looked round on the homely gewgaws of the hall, which once on a time had been material for his derision.

"The garden has changed," she answered, and through the French windows of the parlor he saw the last rose-petals falling in the rain.

"So it has, by George!"

She watched his profile as a devotee regards the likeness of a saint. Her gaze caressed his crisp blond locks, his highbridged, rather dictatorial nose, his lesssalient, capricious chin. She sighed with satisfaction, as if before a work of art, while observing the rich, dark fabric of his coat, the cravat in such aristocratic

taste, the discreet glimmer of his scarfpin and his watch-chain. She exulted in his whole look of smartness and superiority. Her heart seemed to melt in its own warmth at realization that this splendid youth had condescended to return to her, and now might any day propose to her!

If only she dared to let him know at once her humble gratitude, her passion for prompt requital! If only she might throw herself into his arms forthwith and cry: "I worship you! To me you are like a god! None but you shall ever have me! In return, I only ask that you never love any one but Thallie!"

"Do they smoke here?" he inquired, in the short-clipped, careless speech that always seemed to her so well-bred, so distinguished. And without waiting for her reply he lighted an Egyptian cigarette.

Next day Lieutenant Fava again had to bear the sight of Thallie and Reginald strolling unchaperoned through Florence.

If it rained, they wandered into museums, where, amid a beautiful profusion, they saw little besides each other. If the wind bit hard, they sauntered into churches. There, beyond groves of pillars, in a diffused effulgence, the sonorous progress of the mass provided a mystic obbligato to their whispers. Revisiting Giacinta's tea-room, they sat in the very corner where Thallie had regained her wits after finding him in Italy. Sending, as once before, a long look into the mirror, she realized that the bud had finally become the full-blown flower.

From a near-by table, "Moloch's wife," the mountainous woman with the sprouting moles, stopped her gormandizing long enough to beam on them approvingly.

Again in Via Tornabuoni, they saw a shop-window filled with dominoes and masks, red, white, and green.

"A carnival ball!" exclaimed Reginald. "What luck!"

He went in to ask questions, paid for a box, bespoke a red domino. Later, on the street, they encountered the Ghillamoors.

Thallie was presented to the blackhaired woman of the Cherbourg tender.

Mrs. Ghillamoor was a handsome, graceful person just under thirty years, pale, showing some of that haggardness which comes to those who follow an unnatural regimen in order to keep thin. Her hat, her furs, her gown, the jewel at her neck, were unobtrusive even in their extreme modernity. Her whole manner proclaimed, by the perfection of its amiable restraint, that she had never known a time when she had not been a lady.

Thallie's spirits, a moment ago so high, sank to her heels. She told herself bitterly, "This is the sort of woman he 's accustomed to!" She felt that in comparison with this perfected creature all her faults must be revealed to Reginald. In an agony of self-distrust, she wondered what she might say or do that disagreed with Mrs. Ghillamoor's pattern for behavior.

"You 've been here long?" asked the latter in a softly modulated voice.

"I'm living here," Thallie replied. "I live quite near to where you 're staying, in the Pension Schwandorf." Too late she caught herself up, blushed painfully. No doubt this overpowering stranger would consider that a plea for intimacy!

But Mrs. Ghillamoor did not notice her confusion. Sweetly smiling, she remarked:

"It seems to me that Reggie did n't half describe the charms of Florence in the winter-time."

Hector Ghillamoor, towering beside her in a belted overcoat, showed on his gladiator's face an enigmatical grin. He said to Reginald:

"Want a talk with you to-night."

"Make it seven o'clock," suggested Mrs. Ghillamoor. "And, for goodness' sake! Reggie, be on time for once!" As though from force of habit, she gave the young man a tap on the elbow with the back of her slim gloved hand, a sort of proprietary motion, half disparaging and half affectionate, that Thallie knew was meant for her to see. Next moment the married woman's eyes, good humor disguising the inquisitiveness in their depths,

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