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tress. Reginald, however, felt irritation because it was not he who had avenged that insolence.
"Keep your mask on," Camillo Olivuzzi whispered in Thallie's ear.
"I see one has to," she agreed, refastening the elastics with unsteady fingers.
"But naturally," said Fava, "when one has a smile to make the lights seem dim!"
And presently they observed that Princess Tchernitza also had clapped on a mask, bright green to match her gown, and large enough to conceal at least the center of her visage. Through this disguise she fixed her eyes on Mr. Goodchild.
"Well, sir," she demanded of him in her bassoon-like voice.
"I find it stupendous, ma'am. It 's like a kaleidoscope!"
"A kaleido- Ah, to be sure-a caleidoscopio, though considerably larger." "The endless repetition of red, white, and green!"
"Yes, fortunately the regulations permitted a green dress, or I should not have come. I wear only green, purple, and gold, for those are the colors harmonizing with my personality. Before I knew better, I affected gray, and misfortunes heaped themselves upon me. Gray brought me poverty, just as the habitual use of crimson would cause me sooner or later to commit a crime of passion."
"Good heavens! ma'am!"
"Oh, these are established facts. Anybody who ignores them risks a cataclysm. But all are not affected by these colors in the same way. For example, tell me your full name and date of birth."
Receiving his answer, the Bulgarian made a mental calculation.
"The numerical potency of 'Aurelius Goodchild' in relation to this nativity is unfortunate. You must change your name."
"But it seems a little late-"
"Then you must take a secret name, propitious for you, and always identify yourself with it. Let me think. Ha! You could not do better than to call yourself, in your subconscious mind, Augustus
Autocrator, after the Egyptian title of the first Roman emperor, of whom, by the way, a friend of mine happens to be the reincarnation. And you must remember never to wear brown or lavender! Brown would bring you duels, while lavender would produce an appetite insatiable for liquor. In addition to all this, you must be sure to vibrate in the key of C Major!"
Leaning across the partition of the box, oblivious to the racket from the dancingfloor, Princess Tchernitza went on to describe at length the science of numbers and colors as developed by the Florentine theosophists. Her obesity made her curiously imposing; her deep voice issued from behind the mask like the utterance of a pythoness from the curtains of a sanctuary, and in the uproar of the carnival her statements seemed like the rigmaroles of an oracle heard in the ancient mysteries. Aurelius, who always swallowed such ideas at a gulp, could hardly deny a feeling that this meeting was predestined, that this monstrous personage had been sent by Providence to show him how to end the incoherencies of his existence. Tense in his robe of red muslin, with shivers running down his spine, he no longer scanned the crowd for that unappreciated comic genius, Nella Tesore, the International Star.
The maskers cavorted on the floor, here jigging in clusters, there skipping in long strings, or forming an eddy round some acrobat who whirled his partner off her feet. "Look!" cried Azeglio, pointing toward the far curve of the boxes. "Campoformio!" But the others could not discern the baron through that brilliant haze.
"No matter; he will come over when he catches sight of us," Camillo told Frossie. "At last you shall see the good fellow who is helping me to win my military brevet."
"I wish he did n't exist," said Frossie. "But all my efforts toward advancement are on your account."
"I want no honors that you have to risk your life for," she answered. And
pressing his hand, she turned her masked face away.
From below, some dapper officers, anxious to be invited to the box, made gestures to the three lieutenants. Azeglio and Fava motioned them to be off.
"We were right, I hope, Monsieur," Lieutenant Fava asked Reginald, with a smile that seemed to cover a subtle bitter
"Perfectly, Monsieur," the other replied, concealing his chagrin. From the first these wretched soldiers had behaved as if the box were theirs! To retrieve his self-respect, Reginald ordered more champagne.
Thallie, with a glance at her father, consented to take another sip-"just a thimbleful." Like most ardent persons who find themselves amid unusual excitement, she began to feel her inhibitions weakening, as if the atmosphere around her were a vast, insidious solvent, replete as it was with fluttering hues and swimming lights, pulsating with melody and laughter, informed with the emanations of a thousand reckless minds. She threw open her domino, which stifled her as if it had been the encumbrance of old humdrum, prudent teachings: and her young form, emerging from that shapeless chrysalis, was charming in the new sophistication of its garniture. Reginald stared at Thallie's throat, milk-white, encircled by the double crease.
"How about that dance?"
Fava objected. "A lady could not go on the floor with all those rascals." His protest dwindled to a curse as Reginald and Thallie slipped out of the box.
In the corridor an odalisk jingled by, an Apache in pursuit. Two masks were squeaking at each other in the disguised falsetto customary at Italian carnivals. A Turk appeared, walking on his hands, followed by shouting friends. Thallie and Reginald, dodging past these zanies, reached the dancing-floor.
The band was playing "Smile of April."
Reginald put his arm round Thallie. A shiver passed through her, similar to that which she had felt at her
first swallow of champagne, and she closed her eyes as they glided into a waltz.
The revolving couples engulfed them: they floated through a sea of languorous humanity. A confused fragrance was exhaled from these innumerable corsages, bouquets, and coiffures. From all sides came unsteady bursts of mirth, stifled protestations, murmurs that blended with the softness of the flutes. Here and there, on a countenance from which both the satin and the natural shield had been withdrawn, was visible a look that may have been the epitome of Reginald's and Thallie's own sensations. She, gazing up at him, felt all the sentimental instincts of her life fuse into an immense desire to show her gratitude to this splendid lover. He, glancing down at her, was more deeply stirred by the concealing mask than if he had seen her face.
The music stopped, but still there passed through their temples the rhythm of the waltz, still there coursed through their veins the stimulation of that dance performed so exquisitely in accord, as though these two beings had been commanded by a single impulse. Then they saw far off, through the illusive mist of lights and dust, the box occupied by Mr. Goodchild, Frossie, and the three lieutenants. And that spot was for both of them a dwindled, vague reminder of everything prosaic, to which the expanded heart could
not return so soon.
A flight of steps near by ascended to the balconies. The white balustrades, entangled with confetti, resembled the approaches to some submarine palace of an Eastern legend, fashioned of nacre, festooned with such vivid weeds as lie beneath enchanted seas. Thallie and Reginald ran up the stairs like truants from the actual world.
On a landing, in a pillared embrasure which no one else had yet discovered, they found an open window. A mild breeze caressed them, rich with the perfume of this almost vernal night. Thallie lifted the ruffle of her mask. In the starlight her mouth was like a crimson flower.
"How delicious the air is!" she
breathed. "It blows from the park. The Cascine is only a block away from here."
"A queer night," he answered in unsteady tones; for he knew that to-night he was at the first real crisis of his life.
Long ago, in those summer days when he had rediscovered her in Florence, he had been like one who, for lack of livelier occupation, takes out a skiff upon a tranquil little stream. Condescendingly he had drifted between banks of unpretentious verdure, which formed a prospect quite unlike the scenes that his romanticism craved-broad waters which reflected mountain-peaks transfigured by the afterglow, which mirrored, beneath the fading shore, à carved marble terrace surrounded by Olea fragrans trees. But, as he went on floating down the stream, he had come to perceive in this naïve retreat a charm not furnished by the landscapes of his dreams. He had said to himself, "There, round that turn ahead, is surely a still prettier view; I can't turn back until I 've seen it." Seeing it, he had mused, "Some men would be content to live in such a place." And, as he drifted on, new thoughts, as simple as his surroundings, arrayed themselves against his old, precociously extravagant ideals. Then for a while he had buried in his heart the fact that such scenes as these could please him, as if there were something shameful in appreciating unelaborated beauty. But new vistas kept opening before him, all winsome, all refreshing, as idyllic as a panorama of unspoiled young love. Presently, he no longer reflected, with a smile, "At least this spot would do for the amusement of a day." Instead, with ardor almost triumphant over snobbishness, he wondered, "Even for a lifetime I might be happiest here." And finally, when he heard from far upstream a faint outcry bidding him return, had he not drifted too far, had not the current grown too strong for him to make that long pull back?
To-night all his hesitation had evaporated in this spring-like air, in this embrasure where a bacchanalian uproar melted into the silence of the stars.
Many a youth, at the very height of his infatuation, is not as he was yesterday or as he will be to-morrow. Romance, choosing the moment of unique seductiveness, has whirled him up on flaming wings to regions of unexampled devotion and nobility. Then, indeed, the least worthy lover may become the person that his girl imagines him to be, raised far above all cowardice, all calculation, all his normal flaws. So Reginald, oblivious at last to every thought but this, that the time had come when he must say to her, "Yes, marry me, for somehow I cannot live without you!"
But how could he say that here, in this place where every minute they risked some ribald interruption?
The sweet breeze was still blowing from the park, only a block away. He saw on the opposite footpath, beyond a line of waiting vehicles, a man staring up at the window. It was Baron di Campoformio's chauffeur.
Reginald leaned across the sill.
The chauffeur, removing his cap, showed his teeth in a grin of recognition. "Can you give me half an hour?"
The fellow shrugged uncertainly. Reginald twisted a bank-note round some silver. The packet clinked on the footpath.
The chauffeur ran to crank Campoformio's car.
"Think, Thallie, on a night like this just you and I and the Cascine!" "Out there!"
"No one need see us. But when we come back perhaps we 'll let them know."
She thought, "He means that when we come back we 'll be engaged!" She lowered her head, her throat pulsing, her body seeming to thrill, in its shimmering new frock, with the emotions that her mask concealed. Then with a resolute. movement she pulled the hood of her domino over her bright curls. Breathless, she said, "All right." And it was Thallie, not Reginald, who led the way. As they hastened through a corridor behind the balcony, the carnival rout