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again enveloped them. These scampering figures, bizarre and ravishing, these dust-adulterated scents of musk and roses, these sounds of kisses snatched in corners amid scufflings and squeals, distorted like the fumes of a too-dangerous wine the inspiration that one had caught back there from the immaculate stars. Thallie clung fast to Reginald's arm, as if, assailed from every side by a half-comprehended menace, she knew no refuge so safe as the beloved. He, when he felt her warm and yielding pressure, quickened his pace with a swift access of virility. "By George!" he thought, "let one of these monkeys so much as look at her, and I'll knock his head clear off!"
A wide staircase fell away before them, choked with masqueraders. Setting his shoulder to the crowd, he dragged her down the steps. In this press, which gave out a heat of many glowing bodies, the smell of alcohol, sachets, tobacco, and moist flesh was as enervating as the steam of Circe's caldron. A tipsy Greek warrior suspected the charms concealed by Thallie's domino, and risked an amorous whisper. Though she blushed to her forehead, she made no sign of protest, for fear that a brawl might keep them from the park.
At the foot of the staircase she saw the thin little man in the pig's head of papiermâché, his shirt-bosom stained with the champagne that Fava had thrown over him. Flattened beside the entrance to the foyer, indifferent to the jostling of the mob, he looked at her steadily through his bestial disguise. Now, however, she found him more uncanny than absurd, a sort of symbol posted at the door, a figure, with its brutish head-gear and its foppish evening dress befouled with wine, that seemed to propose an almost sinister riddle.
But Reginald drew her eagerly into the foyer, where Campoformio's chauffeur was waiting for them.
The motor-car stood thrumming at the curb, Half a dozen shabby idlers sprang forward to hold the door. The interior of the limousine was revealed, upholstered
in plum-colored cloth, a yellow plush rug trailing over the tufted cushions, some silver objects gleaming in a rack between the doors. This limousine, once the equipage of the American Baroness di Campoformio, still had the appearance of a dainty little boudoir.
Thallie, her foot already on the step, drew back. The motor-car did not look at all as she had thought it would. And in a flash her intuition told her that this tête-à-tête with Reginald was also liable to exceed her expectations.
"Hurry up!" he urged, his hand insistent on her arm.
"No! no! A stranger's automobile—” "I tell you he's a friend of mine. I've stayed at his house. It 's Campoformio, that I stopped with out by Quarto."
"Then-then-go ask him. Let's go back and ask him if he minds"What nonsense!"
She saw the indignation in his face, quailed, became limp. His hands-o or was it terror lest he might hate her otherwise?-drove Thallie forward. She huddled into the farthest corner of the limousine. The plum-colored upholstery dispelled an odor of stale cigarette-smoke which recalled to her the studio in Via de' Bardi.
The door slammed shut. At the lowered window appeared the chauffeur's broad face.
away; the avenue expanded into a square; ahead loomed the tall stone towers of the Cascine gate. The motor-car glided to a standstill: the rays of its lamps, illumining a distant mass of ilex-leaves, were strained through iron bars.
"Behold, Signorino!" the chauffeur exclaimed, with a triumphant gesture.
Thallie leaned toward Reginald imploringly.
"You see, it's really closed." "You seem far from sorry!" "Please don't be angry with me!" "So," he muttered, "I was mistaken in your wishes."
"Ah, if you could understand!"
"Then, if the gates had been open?" "Yes," she assented, with a febrile eagerness. "Yes, if the gates had been open; but they 're not."
"We'll take another drive. In ten minutes we can reach San Miniato."
In a stifled voice she protested:
"San Miniato is n't the Cascine. Tomorrow we'll come here. To-morrow afternoon-"
And to mock him still more there issued from the park, through the iron bars that reached across his path, the breeze, sweet with leaves and moss, that seemed to blow from regions of eternal spring.
He had opened his mouth to order, "Drive us back," when he saw a figure approaching through the shadows.
Into the glare of the lamps there shambled a senile wreck whose military cap was decked with tattered braid, whose red-rimmed eyes were surrounded with wrinkles like old sword-cuts, whose nose resembled a potato, whose ragged white mustaches concealed his chin. This creature, advancing with assurance, peered into the limousine. When he caught sight of Thallie's shimmering dress and satin mask, the vacuity of his countenance gave place to such a grimace as a ghost might show while contemplating the follies that enamoured him when he was flesh and blood.
"L'Hascine è chius'," he croaked. "The park is shut."
"Who's this?" demanded Reginald of the chauffeur.
"The gate-keeper, Signorino." "He has the keys?"
"No! no!" pleaded Thallie, then shrank into the corner.
The chauffeur inquired:
"Hast thou the keys, old one?"
His grimace maliciously expanding, the wraith repeated to Reginald, in the roughest dialect of Florence:
"Impossible to-night, my little prince. The park is shut."
But Reginald produced a fifty-lire note. The ancient, who had seemed, a moment since, beyond desire of every sort, now showed in his filmy eyes a gleam of cupidity. Yet he only wavered, shaking his head, groaning excuses, mumbling of the danger he would run, until a second bank-note had been added to the first. Then, with a last despairing oath that he was ruined, he snatched the money and hobbled to the bars.
"Make haste!" called the old voice, quickened by greed and fear. "Make haste! Make haste!"
The motor-car, springing through the gateway, was engulfed by the Cascine.
Its windows blank, its panels faintly glistening in the starlight, the limousine pursued a radiant path, as elusive as that which leads to happiness in dreams. Ahead, the nocturnal landscape kept leaping forth in unnatural hues and extraordinary forms. But that foliage, just as the car attained it, faded into obscurity again. And behind, the darkness, swimming together, blotted everything, as if the phantasmal mingling of leaf and light had been a visionary's paradise, which ceases to exist when one attempts to penetrate its borders.
After the automobile had passed by, a vast silence again descended from the heavens and enwrapped the park.
And that progress was noted by other eyes than those of the impelling universe. Here and there, amid denuded thickets pale with statues, from marble benches encircled by the graves of last year's flowers, rose the heads of those who had been
able to evade without a bribe the old gate-keeper's barrier against nature. A white-haired, ruminant priest, who could not sleep at home, reflected, with the worldly wisdom gained from many confessionals, "In that automobile are two persons who may some day repent this hour, but will never quite regret it." Farther on, a poor young poet, who lived for the most part on dreams of art and love, murmured sadly, "She who rides with him in such an equipage must be very beautiful, or at least must be beautified by elegance and the occasion. Yet I doubt if he who rides with her has soul enough to immortalize this moment even with a couplet. Alas! if only I were he!" And, near the far end of the park, a cowherd from the Cascine stables said to his sweetheart, with a hoarse laugh: "Like us two, eh? But for all their fine little house on wheels no happier to-night than you and I!"
Perhaps not so happy..
The motor-car was returning. From the Piazzale del Re, where the trees fell away in a wide circle, one could already see the street-lamps twinkling beyond the gates. The wheels revolved more slowly. The chauffeur, half turning in his seat, called out:
"Signorino, maybe I still have time for one more turn around the park?"
The window dropped open. "No; drive to the Pension Schwandorf."
In five minutes they were there.
The young man, stepping out upon the sidewalk, attempted to help her from the limousine. She avoided his hand. Her domino floated loose; her face, at last unmasked, gleamed through the shadows like alabaster as she ran up the steps. The door burst open; the white vestibule received her. The door slammed shut, fell ajar from that impact, once more revealed her fluttering domino, which quickly diminished in the depths of the dim hall. His hand still raised, he stared toward the spot where she had last been visible.
Finally he reentered the limousine.
"To the opera-house, Signorino?" "Eh? Why, yes, I suppose so." As the chauffeur was about to start, Reginald began to fumble with more
The Italian, with a look of reproach, laid one hand dramatically on his breast.
"Ah, Signorino," he protested. And when he had stuffed this second fee into his pocket, the faithful Antonio drove back in dashing style to the Politeamal Fiorentino.
Now the whole edifice seemed trembling with excitement. Wild laughter and blares of music, the sound of popping corks and smashing glass, merged with a steady roar that issued from the auditorium above a torrent of helmets, garlands, peaked hats, disheveled wigs, and pinchbeck crowns. For an instant Reginald was amazed to find these revels not only still in progress, but more violent than ever. It seemed to him that all this license ought to be spent by now, and superseded by remorse. He felt as alien here as a young Daniel moving through Babylonian orgies.
A girl in the conventional dress of Cleopatra, her gauzy skirts in ribbons, her vulture head-dress awry, barred his way, laid her henna-stained fingers on his shoulder, demanded half indignantly: "Come, now! For me, at least, you will smile?" He pushed by her with a hostile glare. The laughter of the crowd pursued him down a corridor. The door of the box was before him. Recoiling, turning on his heel, he hastened toward the
But that would be the act of a fool! It was necessary to go back there to the box, rejoin the people of whom he was still the host, offer some story. "See here, in Heaven's name, a little common sense!" while he was able to retrace After a
Mr. Goodchild, in his robe of red glazed muslin, still sat in the shadow of the obese Bulgarian. Camillo and Frossie, oblivious to everything except each other, were whispering together. Azeglio
and Fava stood languidly tossing confetti at the dancers. Here nothing was changed.
"You see, I'd have been here much sooner, but I met some friends. Campoformio-"
"Campoformio was here just now with Mr. Holland.”
"Of course. To be sure.
So he told me. But before that. One after the other! Or else I'd have been here instantly."
"Is Thallie with Mr. Holland, then?" "No, the fact is, she did n't feel well She asked me to take her home. You see, I'd have been here much sooner-"
Mr. Goodchild, turning pale, asked quickly:
"What ails her? What is the matter with my daughter?"
Reginald wanted to vault the box-rail and conceal himself among the dancers. Putting on the wretched imitation of a smile, he managed to get out the words: "The heat and noise-"
"What a pity, Monsieur," said Fava, with a homicidal look, "that you didn't take my advice!"
But Mr. Goodchild's hands were trembling on his knees.
"Young sir, it is not necessary to break bad news to me so slowly."
"Really, on my word of honor, it's only a touch of vertigo."
"Vertigo!" cried the father, leaping to his feet. "That might be the beginning of anything!"
"No! no! She asked me particularly to tell you it was nothing. She'd rather you did n't bother. In fact, she wants to be alone."
"Because she does n't want to spoil our pleasure," Frossie retorted, rising. "Come, Dad."
"It may be the beginning of cholera," gasped Aurelius, frozen with horror, staring wildly at them all.
Azeglio burst out laughing.
"Calm yourself, Signore. This year there is no cholera anywhere in Italy."
And Reginald, his shoulders bent in unaccustomed lines, continued to stutter:
"I tell you it's nothing, absolutely nothing. She won't thank you, you
know! A headache! The noise and heat-"
Nevertheless, Frossie was already in the doorway. The Magenta Cavalry, with the resignation of good soldiers to the unexpected, were putting on their pearl-gray capes. Mr. Goodchild was trying to withdraw his fingers from Princess Tchernitza's hand, as fat as a pincushion, blazing with sapphires and emeralds too gorgeous to be real.
"My daughter, ma'am! Pardon me, but my daughter 's been taken ill! We don't know yet what it is. We think it's not cholera-”
"Cholera! Bah! One moment. My day at home is Tuesday. Drop in, and I'll finish telling you about the astral colors."
"Yes, yes! the astral colors! I implore you, ma'am! My daughter!"
friend of mine who does crystal-gazing, a very clairvoyant person. Tuesday, and don't forget, because I feel somehow that you and I are kindred spirits, that we have met elsewhere, if not in a previous existence, at least on the Ripa-banks of Devachân-"
But Aurelius, forgetting his manners for the first time in his life, had rushed into the corridor.
In the street, all scuffling along between a walk and a dog-trot, they passed Campoformio's chauffeur, who doffed his cap respectfully.
Aurelius and Frossie darted into the pension. The lieutenants lighted Toscana cigars and set out for the cavalry barracks. Reginald returned slowly to his hotel.
He locked his bedroom door. He paced the floor. From time to time he stopped before a looking-glass, stared at his face, exclaimed in the tones of one newly roused from intoxication, "What, is it you?"
The stimulations of the evening were
dispelled. Even the charm of all these weeks had been dissolved. The pinions of romance, after lifting him high above himself, had shriveled, at the contact of reality, and let him drop back to earth.
On each side, indeed, there had been a disillusionment and a revulsion so intense that his past expectations of felicity now appeared insane. He saw between himself and Thallie an abyss which had opened in one moment like the fissure of an earthquake, which he took for a gulf eternally impassable.
"No, we were never meant for each other. I must have been crazy to think so. What's more, she knows it now as well as I." And as though she were there before him, he cried accusingly, "You do know it, you ought to have known it from the first, as well as I!" And soon: "They were right, the GhillaGood Lord! if I 'd taken their advice! Or if I were back where I stood before I ever met her!"
Presently the old fancies, that had often come to him before his journey into Italy, returned, in poignant contrast to the mockery of this night. Somewhere, amid the darkness, perhaps in the direction of Lake Como, she existed in the flesh-the sumptuous mistress of his previous ideals, whose image had been dimmed by this blundering infatuation?
And at last a delicious relief pervaded his despondency, with the thought that life might hold out opportunities as tempting as before.
"When we 're in wrong, we owe it to ourselves to struggle out." Though he repeated that aloud, he still heard the voice of conscience, whispering of mankind's traditional obligations. Soon, however, lifting his head defiantly, "But she told me with her own lips that she felt she could never lay eyes on me again." And this speech of hers, the true causes of which he did not know enough to fathom, became for him the open sesame to liberty.
Next morning, while Florence was still dim, Reginald and his baggage left the Hotel Alexandra. John Holland, glancing down from a window, saw him drive away. For some time the historian's keen gray eyes remained fixed on the summit of Mont' Oliveto, growing the graver as the illumination of the sunrise spread.
At the railroad station Reginald caught a train for Naples. As the engine was puffing out of Florence, he thought:
"After all, decency demands that I send some plausible excuse from Naplesa death or something-a sort of loophole. For if I should want to come back-"
But he knew in his heart that he would not come back.
(To be continued)