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The Captain got into the car hurriedly. He waved to the group on the steps until he was out of sight.
Lucia went back into the house, but the s.p.a.cious rooms and high ceilings only added to her unhappiness. She almost longed for the comfort of the tiny old cottage and the familiar sight of the green bed.
She wandered about listlessly; she was quite alone. Nana had gone back to her lace making, and Beppi was in the garden. The old man and his wife--the Captain's faithful servants--were in the kitchen.
In the library Lucia stopped before the rows of books and tried to read their t.i.tles. But she gave it up and looked at the pictures, that amused her for a little while, for she thought they were beautiful, but she did not understand them. She could not give anything her undivided attention for her thoughts were on the way with the Captain, and she was fighting against the unhappiness that threatened to overpower her.
"Surely he will come back," she said, to a copy of Andrea del Sarto's St. John that hung above the mantel. "This cruel war has taken my real father; it cannot take my G.o.dfather too." She gave herself a little shake, "It is that I am lonely that I think such sad thoughts, I will go out to the garden and pick flowers for the soldiers."
Accordingly she found her basket and scissors and spent the rest of the afternoon in the garden. When her basket was piled high she put on her hat very carefully, regarding it from every angle of the Florentin mirror. It was the first hat she had ever owned and she was very proud of it.
When it was tilted to her satisfaction she took up the basket and went out by the garden gate.
The hospital was a little over a mile away. Lucia had visited it with Captain Riccardi. It had formerly been a private villa and its terraced gardens went down to the water's edge.
Lucia knew the way and she loitered along, enjoying the newness of the scenes about her. Everything and everybody were so different, the fishermen with their bright sashes and Roman striped stocking caps, the old women and the young girls in their bright dresses, with great gold loops hanging from their ears. Even the sound of their voices was different as they called out greetings to one another.
Lucia decided that the very first thing she would do when the Captain came home would be to ask him for a pair of gold earrings.
So occupied was she with her thoughts that she reached the gate to the hospital before she realized it. She lifted the heavy knocker; an old man opened the door.
"This is not visiting day, little one," he said, as he looked down at Lucia.
"Oh, I am not visiting," she replied, "I brought these few flowers for the sick soldiers; will you take them?"
"Indeed I will." The old man held out his hand. "Do you want the basket back again?"
"Oh, no, there's no hurry for that, I will get it the next time I come," Lucia replied. "I mean to bring flowers every day or two for the soldiers."
"That is very kind of you," the old man smiled, "I'll take these right up."
Lucia nodded and turned to go back along the road. The sun was setting over the water, and below the bay beckoned invitingly. She looked and decided to go home that way.
She took a path that led to the water's edge. It was steep, for that part of the coast rose high above the water. She was tired when she reached the bottom and sat down to rest on the low stone wall.
The soft lapping of the water made her drowsy, and she slipped to the sand, leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes.
There was not a sound but the soothing voice of nature, the ripple of the water, the sighing of the wind and the occasional cry of a sea bird.
All the sounds together seemed to rock Lucia in a sort of lullaby, and it was not many minutes before she was asleep.
When she awoke it was quite dark and she was conscious of a difference in the voice of the water. A heavy regular splash, splash, grew nearer and nearer as she listened. If she had been accustomed to living near the water she would have recognized it as the rhythmic stroke of oars, but she did not, and it was not until a shape loomed up in the dusk a little farther down the beach that she realized it was a boat.
She got up and walked towards it. If it was a fisherman's boat she wanted to see it, even if it meant being late to supper.
But it was not a fisherman's boat, it was a light, high-sided row boat and the man in it stood up and pushed forward on his stout oars.
He made a landing on the sand before Lucia reached him, and he jumped out hurriedly.
Whatever his business was it occupied all his thoughts, for he did not look to right or left but ran straight to the wall. Another figure came out of the shadows to meet him. They spoke in whispers, but Lucia was near enough to hear what they said.
She listened out of curiosity for it struck her as being rather strange that a man dressed in beautiful dark clothes, with a hat such as she had seen the men in Rome wear, should be out on the beach whispering in the shadow of the wall to a boatman.
When she had listened she was even more surprised.
"It's all right, I've fixed it, you can get aboard her at midnight."
The boatman's voice was husky and very mysterious.
"Be sure and be here on time," the man replied, "this spot is safe, wait until the guard has pa.s.sed and then land. If there is any danger, whistle."
The boatman nodded. "It's a risky business," he objected.
"You will be well paid for it," the man answered sharply. "Now go."
Lucia watched him disappear into the dusk and waited until the boatman had rowed out of sight. Then she straightened her hat and started for home, thinking very hard as she hurried along.
AN INTERRUPTED SAIL
When Lucia reached the road above she ran as fast as she could. She had been so startled at what she had heard that her thoughts were confused. But as she hurried along her mind cleared.
"Perhaps they are all right, and the man is just going for a row," she said to herself. But the memory of the boatman's words returned to her.
"It's a risky business."
She did her best to attach no importance to it, but back in her brain was the firm conviction that the man with the hat was one of the Austrians that Roderigo had spoken of. "An Italian citizen on the face of things, but in their hearts--" Lucia instinctively mimicked Roderigo's gesture. She knew too, that argue though she might, she would interfere.
When she reached the garden she heard Beppi crying and saw a light in his window above. Beppi did not cry very often and by the sound she thought he was in pain.
She hurried into the house and ran upstairs. Nana met her at the door of Beppi's room; she was wringing her hands.
"So you are back," she cried, "well, praise the Saints for that, I thought I should lose you both on the same day."
"'Lose us,' what are you talking about?" Lucia demanded, pus.h.i.+ng past her to the bed.
"Beppino mio, what has happened?" she asked, though there was little need to question for a deep cut in Beppi's cheek, from which the blood spurted freely, was answer enough.
"My face, Lucia, it hurts me so, make it stop bleeding," Beppi pleaded, "I fell on a big rock in the garden."
"Caro mio, how long ago?" Lucia asked excitedly, "here quick, Nana, get me some hot water, I will wash it as I saw Sister Veronica wash the soldiers. There, there, darling, it will soon be better."
With trembling fingers Nana and the old servant, Amelie, brought a basin and a towel, and Lucia bathed the wound. It was a deep cut and poor Beppi winced as the water touched it.
After a little the blood stopped and Lucia bound up his head in soft white cloths.