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Chapter 20 KITTY DROPS A BANDBOX

  • "What's the matter, Jack? Whenever you smoke, your cigar goes out; you read _ewspaper by staring over the top of it; you bump into people on the streets, when there is plenty of room for you to pass; you leave your watch under th_illow and have to hike back for it; you forget, you are absent-minded. Now, what's the matter?"
  • "I don't know, Dan," said Hillard, relighting his cigar.
  • "Or you won't tell."
  • "Perhaps that's more like it."
  • "It's that woman, though you will not acknowledge it. By George, I'd like t_eet her face to face; I'd give her a piece of my mind."
  • "Or a piece of your heart!"
  • "Bah!" cried Merrihew, flipping his cigar-ash to the walk below, careles_hether it struck any of the leisurely-going pedestrians or not.
  • "You have not seen her face, Dan; I have."
  • "Oh, she may be a queen and all that; but she has an evil influence over al_he people she meets. Here's Kitty, following her round, and the Lord knows i_hat kind of trouble. She has hooked you, and presently you'll be leaving m_o get back home the best way I can."
  • "It is quite possible, my boy." And Hillard did not smile.
  • "Come, Jack, have you really got it? If you have, why, we'll pack up and leav_y the next steamer. I don't care to wander about Italy with a sick man on m_ands."
  • "Don't be hard on me, Dan," pleaded Hillard, smiling now. "Think of all th_itty Killigrews you've poured into my uncomplaining ears!"
  • "I got over it each time." But Merrihew felt a warmth in his cheeks.
  • "Happy man! And, once you see the face of this adventuress, as you call her, Kitty Killigrew will pass with all the other lasses."
  • "I?" indignantly. "Rot! She won't hold a candle to Kitty."
  • "No, not a candle, but the most powerful light known to the human eye—perfec_eauty." Hillard sighed unconsciously.
  • "There you go again!" laughed Merrihew. "You tack that sigh to everything yo_ay; and that's what I've been complaining about."
  • Hillard was human; he might be deeply in love, but this had not destroyed hi_ealthy sense of humor. So he laughed at himself.
  • Then they mused silently for a while. On either side, from their window- balcony, the lights of Lungarno spread out in a brilliant half-circle, repeating themselves, after the fashion of women, in the mirror of the Arno.
  • On the hill across the river the statue of David was visible above the Piazz_ichelangelo.
  • "You never told me what she was like," said Merrihew finally.
  • "Haven't I? Perhaps you never asked. We went through the Pitti Palace to-day.
  • I couldn't drag you from Raphael's  _Madonna of the Chair_. She is a_eautiful as that."
  • "Imagination is a wonderful thing," was Merrihew's solitary comment.
  • "Mine has not been unduly worked in this instance," Hillard declared wit_mphasis. "Beauty in women has always been to me something in the abstract, but it is so no longer. There is one thing which I wish to impress upon you, Dan. She is not an adventuress. She has made no effort to trap me. On th_ontrary, she has done all she could to keep out of my way."
  • "It's a curious business; the dinner, the mask, the veil, the mystery. I tel_ou frankly, Jack, something's wrong, and we shall both live to find it out."
  • "But what? Heaven on earth, what? Haven't I tried to figure it out till m_rain aches? I haven't gone forward a single inch. On the steps of the Formos_ told her that I loved her. There, you have it! I was in doubt till I looke_t her face, and then I knew that I had met the one woman, and that there wa_ barrier between us that was not self-imposed. Not even friendship, Dan; no_ven an ordinary thing like that. I have spoken to this woman on only tw_ccasions, and only once have I seen her face. I am not a disciple of th_heory of love at first sight. I never shall be. An educated, rational ma_ust have something besides physical beauty; there must be wit, intellect, accomplishments. Usually we recognize the beauty first, and then the othe_ttributes, one by one, as the acquaintance ripens. With me the things hav_een switched round. The accomplishments came first; I became fascinated by _oice and a mind. But when I saw her face… . Oh, well! Mrs. Sandford warned m_gainst her; the woman herself has warned me; the primal instinct of self- preservation has warned me; yet, here I am! I had not intended to bother you, Dan."
  • "It doesn't bother me, it worries me. If I have hurt you with any of m_areless jests, forgive me." Merrihew now realized that his friend was in _ad way. Still, there was a hidden gladness in his heart that Hillard, alway_ailing at his (Merrihew's) affairs, was in the same boat now, and rudderles_t that.
  • "You haven't hurt me, Dan. As a matter of fact, your gibes have been a tonic.
  • They have made me face the fact that I was on the highroad to imbecility."
  • "What shall you do?"
  • "Nothing. When we have seen Florence we'll drop down to Perugia and Rome, the_p to the Italian lakes; after that, home, if you say. The bass season will b_n then, and we've had some good sport on Lake Ontario."
  • "Bass!" Merrihew went through the pleasant foolery of casting a line, o_rawing the bait, of lifting the hook, and of reeling in. "Four pounds, Jack.
  • He fit hard, as old Joe used to say. Remember?"
  • And so naturally they fell to recounting the splendid catches of the gamies_ish in water. When the interest in this waned, Hillard looked at his watch.
  • "Only nine," he said. "Let's go over to Gambrinus' and hear the music."
  • "And drink a boot of beer. Better than moping here."
  • The Hotel Italie was but a few blocks from the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. The_ound the  _Halle_  crowded, noisy and interesting. The music was good, as i_lways is in Italy, and the beer had the true German flavor, Münchener.
  • Handsome uniforms brightened the scene; and there was flirting and laughter, in which Merrihew found opportunity to join.
  • "If Kitty should see you!"
  • "Well, what if she did? When I'm married to her it will be mutually understoo_hat so long as I do not speak to them I may look at pretty women."
  • "You seem very sure of marrying her."
  • "It's only a matter of time. The man who hangs on wins finally." Merrihew ha_ost none of his confidence.
  • "I see; they marry you to get rid of you," said Hillard. "Yes, the man wh_angs on finally wins, in love or war or fortune. But I haven't anything t_ang on to."
  • "Who knows?" said Merrihew, wagging his head.
  • From the  _Halle_  they went down-stairs to the billiard-room. The pockets i_he table bothered Merrihew; he did not care particularly for the Englis_ame; and the American table was occupied by a quartet of young Americans wh_ere drinking champagne like Pittsburg millionaires. The ventilation was s_ad that the two friends were forced to give up the game. Under the arcad_hey found a small table. It was cool and delightful here, and there was _econd boot of Munich beer.
  • Officers passed to and fro, in pairs or with women. Presently two officers, one in the resplendent uniform of a colonel, went past. Merrihew touche_illard with his foot excitedly. Hillard nodded, but his pulse was tuned to _uicker stroke.
  • "I hope he doesn't see us," he said, tipping his panama over his eyes.
  • Merrihew curled the ends of his juvenile mustache and scowled fiercely.
  • "This is his post evidently," he said. "What a smacking uniform! He must hav_ad a long furlough, to be wandering over Europe and America. If I get _hance I'm going to ask a waiter who he is."
  • "So long as he doesn't observe us," said Hillard, "I have no interest in hi_ffairs." Had he none? he wondered. "A lady? Grace of Mary, that is droll!"
  • The muscles in his jaws hardened.
  • "But you twisted his cuffs for him that night in Monte Carlo. Monte Carlo!"
  • reminiscently. "Eighteen hundred dollars, my boy, and a good fourteen still i_y inside pocket. Wasn't I lucky? But I'll never forgive Kitty for runnin_way from us. That's got to be explained fully some day."
  • "He is coming this way again, Dan," Hillard observed quietly.
  • "Ah!"
  • They waited. Hillard changed his mind; he pushed back his hat and held up hi_hin. If the man with the scar saw him and spoke he would reply. The colonel, glancing at the pair casually, halted. At first he was not certain, but as h_et the steady eyes of Hillard he no longer doubted. It was true. He turne_nd spoke to his brother officer. Merrihew's throat grew full, but not fro_ear. The man with the scar stepped over to the table and leaned with hi_ands upon it. There was a savage humor in his dark eyes.
  • "Did I not tell you that we should meet again?" he said to Hillard. "This is _leasant moment." He stood back again.
  • "Are you speaking to me?" asked Hillard, not the least perturbed. He had no_tirred in his chair, though every muscle in his body was alert and ready at _oment's call.
  • "Certainly I am speaking to you. You understand Italian sufficiently well.
  • This is the fellow," speaking to his companion, at the same time drawing of_is gloves, "this is the fellow I spoke to you about."
  • "I object to the word fellow," said Hillard, smiling grimly. "Besides, I d_ot know you."
  • "Ah, discreet!" sneered the man with the scar.
  • "Be careful, Enrico," warned the brother officer. "There are many about, and _cene is not wise. Ask the American to take a walk. You could arrange wit_ore ease."
  • "Thank you," said Hillard, "but I am perfectly comfortable where I am. If thi_entleman has anything to say, he must say it here and now."
  • "Colonel!" cried the subaltern, as his senior smoothed the gloves and place_hem carefully in his left hand, closing his fingers over them.
  • "Oh, I am calm. But I have been dreaming of this moment. Now!" The colone_eaddressed Hillard. "You meddled with an affair that night in which you ha_o concern," he began truculently.
  • "Are you quite sure?"
  • Merrihew eyed Hillard nervously. He did not understand the words, worse luck, but the tone conveyed volumes. It was crisp and angry. Hillard possessed _emper which was backed by considerable strength, and only on rare occasion_id this temper slip from his control. Thoroughly angry, Hillard was not _appy man to antagonize.
  • "Yes, I am sure. And yet, as I think it over, as I recollect the woman," wen_n the colonel, with a smile which was evil and insinuating… . "Well, I shal_ot question you. The main thing is, you annoyed me. In Monte Carlo I wa_ractically alone. Here the scene is different; it is Florence. Doubtless yo_ill understand." He struck out with the gloves.
  • But they never touched Hillard's face. His hand, expectant of this ver_ovement, caught the assailant's wrist, and, with a quick jerk, brought hi_alf-way across the table. He bore down on the wrist so fiercely that th_talian cried faintly. Hillard, with his face but a span from the other's, spoke tensely, but in an undertone.
  • "Listen carefully to what I have to say, signore. I understand perfectly, bu_ shall fight no duel. It is an obsolete fashion, and proves nothing bu_echanical skill. I do not know what kind of blackguard you are, bu_lackguard I know you to be. If you ever address me again I promise on th_ord of a gentleman to give you a whipping which will have a more lastin_ffect upon your future actions than a dozen sermons. If that will not serve, I shall appeal to the police."
  • "Poltroon!"
  • "As often as you please!" Hillard flung him off roughly.
  • A small but interested crowd had gathered by now, and Merrihew saw visions o_talian jails. Through the crowd the ever-present _carabinieri_  shouldere_heir way.
  • "It is nothing," said the colonel, motioning them to stand back, which the_id with a sign of respect. This sign gave Hillard some food for thought. Hi_ntagonist was evidently a personage of some importance.
  • "Figure of an American pig!"
  • Hillard laughed. "I might have broken your wrist, but did not. You are no_rateful."
  • The  _carabinieri_  moved forward again.
  • "The affair is over," said Hillard amiably. "This officer has mistaken me fo_ome one he knows."
  • The scar was livid on the Italian's cheek. He stood undecided for a space. Hi_ompanion laid a restraining hand on his arm. He nodded, and the two made off.
  • What might in former days have been a tragedy was nothing more than a farce.
  • But it spoiled the night for Merrihew, and he was for going back to the hotel.
  • Hillard agreed.
  • "At first I wanted you to give him a good stiff punch," said Merrihew, "but _m glad you didn't."
  • "We should have slept in the lockup over night if I had. The  _carabinieri_ould not have understood my excuses. If our friend is left-handed, he'll b_nconvenienced for a day or two. I put some force into that grip. You see, Dan, the Italian still fights his duels. Dueling is not extinct in the arm_ere. An officer who refuses to accept a challenge for a good or bad cause i_ractically hounded out of the service. It would have been a fine joke if _ad been fool enough to accept his challenge. He would have put dayligh_hrough me at the first stroke."
  • "I don't know about that," replied Merrihew loyally. "You are the crack fence_n New York."
  • "But New York isn't Florence, my boy. I'll show you some fencing to-morrow. I_y old fencing master, Foresti Paoli, is yet in Florence, I'll have hi_rrange some matches. New York affairs will look tame to you then."
  • "But what has he to do with your vanishing lady?"
  • "I should like to know."
  • "I wish I had thought to ask a waiter who the duffer is. Did you notice ho_espectful the  _carabinieri_  were?"
  • "It set me thinking. Oh, I've a premonition that we haven't seen the last o_his distinguished gentleman. Perhaps we'll find out who he is sooner than w_are to."
  • "When the time comes," said Merrihew with a laugh, "be sure you soak it t_im, and an extra one for me."
  • Early on the morrow they rode out to the Cascine, formerly a dairy-farm, bu_ow a splendid park. The bridle-paths are the finest in the world, no_xcepting those in the Bois de Bologne in Paris. They are not so long, perhaps, but they are infinitely more beautiful. Take, for instance, the lon_ath under a tunnel of enormous trees, a bridle-path where ten men may rid_breast with room to spare, and nearly half a mile in length; there is nothin_ike it.
  • "I tell you what it is, Jack; Italy may put a tax on salt and sea-water, bu_lways gives something in return; she puts up a picture-gallery or a museum, or a park like this. What do we get back in America?  _Niente!_ "
  • For two hours they romped through the park, running races, hurdling, an_laying rough pranks upon each other, such as only expert riders dare attempt.
  • They were both hardened by the long ride down to Florence, a pair of animal_s healthy as their mounts. They had determined not to sell the horses til_he last moment. A riding-master in the Via Lorenzo ii Magnifico agreed t_oard them against the time of sale.
  • In the three days in Florence they had been through the galleries and th_useums; and Merrihew, to his great delight, began to find that he could tel_ Botticelli from a Lippi at first glance. He was beginning to understand wh_eople raved over this style or that. There was something so gentle, s_eaceful in a Botticelli that he really preferred it to some of the fame_olorists, always excepting Veronese, to whom he had given his firs_dmiration.
  • For luncheon this day Hillard took him to Paoli's in the Via dei Tavolini—th_ay of the little tables. Here Merrihew saw a tavern such as he had ofte_onjured up while reading his Dumas; sausages and hams and bacons and garli_nd cheeses and dried vegetables hanging from the ceiling, abrupt passages, rough tables and common chairs and strange dishes; oil, oil, oil, even on th_op of his coffee-cup, and magnums of red and white Chianti. Hillard informe_im that this was the most famous Bohemian place in the city, the rendezvou_f artists, sculptors, writers, physicians, and civil authorities. Th_ilitary seldom patronized it, because it was not showy enough. Merrihe_njoyed the scene, with its jabber-jabber and its clatter-clatter. And he wa_till hungry when he left, but he would not admit it to Hillard, who adapte_imself to the over-abundance of oil with all the zest of an expatriate_uscan.
  • At three o'clock they went to the fencing academy of Foresti Paoli, near th_ost-office. Foresti was a fine example of the military Italian of forme_ays. He was past sixty, but was as agile as any of his celebrated pupils. A_illard had written him the night before, he was expected. He had been a pupi_f Foresti's, and the veteran was glad to see him. Merrihew saw som_nteresting bouts, and at length Foresti prevailed upon Hillard to don th_ask against an old pupil, a physician who had formerly been amateur champio_f Italy. Hillard, having been in the saddle and the open air for two weeks, was in prime condition; and he gave the ex-champion a pretty handful. Bu_onstant practice told in the end, and Hillard was beaten. It was fine spor_o Merrihew; the quick pad-pad of the feet on the mat, the short triumphan_ries as the foil bent almost double, and the flash of the whites of thei_yes behind the mask. Merrihew knew that he should love Florence all the res_f his days.
  • They were entering the Via Tornabuoni, toward the Havana cigar-store, when _oung woman came out of the little millinery shop a few doors from th_obacconist's. Immediately Hillard stepped to one side of her and Merrihew t_he other.
  • "You can not run away this time, Kitty Killigrew!" cried Merrihew joyously.
  • Kitty closed her eyes for a second, and the neat little bandbox slipped to th_idewalk.