"Roderigo Vicello!" she exclaimed, when she looked up at him.
Roderigo swayed and would have fallen if she had not supported him.
"I can not go," he said weakly. "I am too tired, and I want to go. I have watched her out of sight, but I am too tired to follow."
Lucia looked at him intently. It seemed to her impossible that a man, and a soldier, could bother to think of a girl at such a time. She took his arm firmly and shook him.
"Do you know how to blow up a bridge that is mined?" she demanded excitedly.
"Yes, pull out the pin," Roderigo replied, "if it is a time fuse," he spoke slowly and painstakingly.
"Pin?" Lucia exclaimed impatiently, "I don't understand, you will have to come. Listen, the Austrians are just a little way off across the river, they must not cross the bridge."
Roderigo was alert at once. The light came back into his eyes and his body stiffened.
"What are you saying?" he demanded. "Do you mean, they are coming from that side?"
"Yes," Lucia exclaimed, "there is no time to spare; hurry, I will help you."
She put her strong, young arm about his waist, and by leaning most of his weight on her shoulder he managed to crawl along. Lucia was half crazy with impatience, but she suited her step to his, and helped him all she could.
At last they reached the lower door. She opened it hurriedly and the bridge was in sight, but so were the Austrians. They were so near that what had seemed one solid mass now resolved itself into individual shapes. To Lucia it seemed as if a great sea of men were rushing down upon them.
The exertion from the walk made Roderigo sway, and just before they reached the bridge he fell forward. Lucia crouched down beside him, and begged and pulled until he was on the bridge.
"Now where is it? Tell me what to do," she begged, "see they are almost here."
With a tremendous effort Roderigo pulled himself to the edge of the bridge and located the mine. In a voice that was so weak that Lucia could hardly hear it he gave the directions. Lucia obeyed.
"When will it go off?" she demanded. "Will we have time to get away?"
Roderigo shrugged his shoulders.
"You will," he said. "Run as fast as you can, I don't know how long it will take."
Lucia did not wait to argue. She caught him under his arms and dragged him back to the convent as fast as she could.
Roderigo had given up all hope, but as they drew nearer to the door of the convent, the wish to live asserted itself, and he got to his feet and ran with Lucia. They did not stop until they were safe on the road beyond. The last inhabitant of Cellino was out of sight, and it seemed as if they were alone.
They waited, Lucia supporting Roderigo's head in her arms.
The explosion came, there was a crash, and then a great shaking of the earth. Lucia listened, her eyes flashing.
"Wait here," she said to Roderigo, "I will return at once." She ran hurriedly back to the convent and down again to the door.
The old bridge was ruined. Great pieces of it were torn out and had fallen high on the banks. The center span was entirely gone, and the river, broad and impassable, ran smoothly between the jagged ends.
Lucia did not stand long in contemplation of the scene before her. She hurried back to the road. A sister was beside Roderigo, and Lucia went to her.
"It is not safe back in there," she said, pointing to the convent. "A shell may hit it."
The sister nodded.
"It hardly matters," she replied quietly. "No place is safe. We will take him there; he is too ill to be carried far."
Lucia agreed, and between them they carried the unconscious Roderigo back to the ward and laid him gently on one of the beds.
Sister Francesca turned back the cuffs of her robe and began doing what she could. As she worked she talked.
"We were all ordered to leave," she said; "but when we were well along the road I turned back. It seemed so cowardly to go when we were most needed. The rest thought that by night the Austrians would be in possession, but I could not believe it."
She was a little woman with a soft voice and big blue eyes, and she spoke with such gentle assurance that Lucia felt comforted.
"They will not come to-night," she said, "for the bridge is down, and our troops will surely be able to force them back."
Sister Francesca nodded.
"I hope so. At any rate, there will be wounded and my place is here."
At the word "wounded," the vivid picture of the smoke-choked valley, the shell explosion, and the still form of the Italian soldier flashed before Lucia's mind.
"What am I doing here?" she said impatiently. "There are wounded now and perhaps we can save them."
She did not offer any further explanation, but slipped out of the big room and hurried back to the road once more.
The sun had set and twilight gleamed patchy through the clouds of smoke. It was still light enough to see, and Lucia hurried to the gate. The first sight that she had of Cellino made her stop and shudder. The church was in ruins, and every pane of glass was broken in the entire village. In their haste the refugees had thrown their belongings out of their windows to the street below, and then had gone off and left them. Great piles of furniture and broken china littered the way, and stalls had been tipped over in the market place.
No one stopped Lucia; the town was deserted. She ran hurriedly across to the North Gate, afraid of the ghostly shadows and unnatural sights. At the gate a splendid sight met her eyes.
From the convent she had only seen the Austrians, the wall had cut off her view of the west. But now she commanded a view of the whole field, and to her joy the Italians were advancing as steadily from the west as the Austrians from the east. They would meet at the river, and at the memory of the bridge Lucia threw back her head and laughed. It was not a merry laugh, but a grim triumphant one, and it held all the relief that she felt.
But, splendid as the sight before her was, she did not stay long to look at it. Below, somewhere in the valley, the Italian soldier of the shining white teeth and the pennies was lying wounded, or dead, and nothing could make Lucia stop until she found him.
The heavy artillery fire had let up a little, and the shells were not quite so many.
Lucia started to run. She had made up her mind earlier in the day that if she moved fast enough she would escape being hurt. She unconsciously blamed the slowness of the Italian soldier for his injury. She passed her cottage half-way down the hill. It was still standing, but a shell had dropped on the little goat-shed and blown it to pieces. One of the uprights and the door, which was made of stout branches lashed together with cord, still stood. The door flapped drearily and added to the desolation of the scene.
Lucia did not stop to investigate the damage, but hurried ahead. She was afraid the light would fade before she reached the wounded soldier.
At the end of the road in the bottom of the valley she was just between both sides, the shells dropped all about her and she stood still, bewildered and frightened.
The high mountains on either side made sounding boards for the noise, and the roar of the guns seemed to double in volume.
A voice almost under her foot made her jump, and she saw the Italian soldier. She did as he commanded, and he pulled her towards him.
He was very weak, and when he moved one leg dragged behind him. He tried to crawl with Lucia into the shell hole close by. She saw what he was doing and did her best to help. When they finally rolled down into the shell hole, the man groaned.
Lucia could feel that his forehead was wet with great drops of perspiration. She found his water bottle and gave him a drink.
"What's happened?" he asked, speaking close to her ear.
Lucia told him as much as she knew.
"Then the bridge has gone?" There was hope in his voice.
"Gone for good. They can never cross it, and our men are just over there."
"How can I get you back?" she asked. "The convent is so far away."
The soldier shook his head. "You can't. We are caught here between the two fires, it would be certain death to move. What made you come back?"
"To find you," Lucia replied. "I could not come sooner, there was so much to do. I even forgot you, but when I remembered, I ran all the way and now I am helpless."
"Don't give up," the Italian replied. "You must have courage for both of us, for I am useless. My leg has been badly injured by a piece of shell, and I cannot even crawl."
"Then there is nothing to do but wait for the light," Lucia was trembling all over. "Oh, what a long day it has been!"
"But the dawn will come soon," the soldier tried to cheer her, "and then perhaps the stretcher-bearers will find us. If they do not—"
"If they do not, I will find a way to take you to the convent," Lucia replied with sudden spirit, and with the same determination that had resulted in her blowing up the bridge, she added to herself:
"He shall not die!"
The long night set in, and the soldier, wearied from his long wait, dropped to sleep in spite of the noise. Lucia's tired little body rested, but her eyes never relaxed their watch in the darkness.
The fire kept up steadily, and at irregular intervals a star-shell would illuminate the high mountains. Towards midnight there was an extra loud explosion, and once more the terrifying flames seemed to encircle Cellino.
Lucia wondered dully what had been struck. The church was gone, and she supposed this was the town hall. It looked too near, as far as she could judge, for the convent.
Her ears were becoming accustomed to the sound, and she thought the fire from both sides was being concentrated towards the south. The shells near them lessened, and at last stopped. Before dawn the Italian stirred, and called out in his sleep.
Lucia spoke to him, but he did not answer; he was so exhausted that he was soon unconscious again.
Lucia watched the east, and tried to imagine Beppi safe and sound in a town far away from this terrible din, but she could be sure of nothing. She remembered Roderigo's words, 'She is safe,' and knew that he must have meant Maria. Surely Beppi and Nana were with her and Aunt Rudini; it could not be otherwise.
With a guilty start she remembered Garibaldi. Where was she, and what had become of her in all the terrors of yesterday? Lucia could not remember having noticed her after she left the footbridge. Was she safe in the mountains, or lying dead in a shell hole?
"My Garibaldi, poor little one, she would not understand, and she will think I neglected her."
Tears of pity and weariness stung Lucia's cheeks. The thought of her little goat, suffering and neglected, seemed to be more than she could bear. She buried her head in her arm and cried softly. The tears were a relief to her, and long after she had stopped sobbing they trickled down her cheeks.
She fell into a light doze now that her watch was so nearly ended, and did not waken until the east was streaked with gray. She might not have awakened then, had it not been for a cold, wet nose burrowing in her neck, and a plaintive, "Naa, Naa!"
She sat up suddenly to discover Garibaldi, covered with mud from her ears to her tail, looking very woe-begone, standing beside her. Regardless of the mud Lucia threw her arms around her pet, and for once in her life the little goat seemed to return her caress.
When Lucia lifted her head there was a smile on her lips, and the old light of determination shone in her eyes. She got to her knees slowly and looked about her. The guns were booming back and forth, but their position seemed to be changed. The Austrian guns still sounded from across the river, but their range was much farther south.
Lucia looked towards the west. None of the guns that were there the night before could be heard. With a throb of joy she realized that the booming now came from the town.
"Had the Italians crept up and into Cellino during the night?" The very idea was so exciting that she could not rest until she made sure.
She stood up and walked over to the road. The gate had an odd appearance in the half light. She walked up the hill a little way, rubbing her eyes as she went. Something behind the wall seemed to appear suddenly, emit a puff of smoke, and then disappear.
Lucia had never seen a big gun in her life, and she did not know that one was hidden securely in the cover of the wall near the ruins of the church, for so quietly had the great monster arrived, and so stealthily had the soldiers worked, that its sudden appearance seemed almost a miracle.
Lucia put it down as one, and offered her prayer of thankfulness from the middle of the muddy road. Then the work at hand took the place of her surprise, and she ran back to her wounded soldier and roused him gently. He opened his eyes; they were bright with fever, and he tossed restlessly.
Lucia tried to move him, but could not. He was very big, and she could not pull him as she had the slender Roderigo.
As she stopped to consider, the walls of Cellino suddenly seemed to let loose a fury of smoke and flame. Nothing that had happened during the day before equalled it. The big guns boomed and the smaller ones sent out sharp, cracking noises that were even more terrifying.
Poor Lucia dropped to her face again, and Garibaldi cowered beside her.
Nothing seemed to happen. The shells did not fall near them as she had expected, and after her first fright had passed, she got to her feet again.
Tugging at the soldier was useless, and an idea was forming in her mind. She ran as fast as she could up the hill to the cottage, calling Garibaldi to follow.
At the shed she stopped and looked at the door. It was light, and she soon tore it away from its support. Then she went into the cottage and came back with a rope. She made a loop and put it over the goat's head. Then with two long pieces she contrived a harness and hitched the door to it. One end dragged on the ground, and the other was about a foot above it. The rope was crossed on the goat's back and tied firmly to the long ends of the door that did duty as shafts. Garibaldi was too disheartened to protest, and Lucia had little trouble in leading her down the hill.
The soldier was delirious when she reached him, but he was so weak that it was an easy matter to roll him on to the improvised stretcher.
Lucia took hold of one shaft, and with Garibaldi pulling too, they started off.
It was a long and weary climb, but at last they reached the cottage.
The terrible jolting had been agony for the soldier. He regained consciousness on the way, and from time to time a groan escaped him. But when he was in the house he did his best to smile, and crawled onto the mattress that Lucia had pulled to the floor.
She made haste to take off his knapsack, and under his direction she dressed the ugly wound in his thigh. Her fingers, only used to rough work, moved clumsily, but she managed to make him a little more comfortable. He smiled up at her bravely.
"Poor little one, you are tired. Go and eat," he whispered. And Lucia, after she saw his head sink back on the pillow, found a stale loaf of black bread and began to munch it slowly.
The soldier pointed to his knapsack and told her to eat whatever she found in it.
"There should be some of my emergency rations left," he said faintly.
Lucia found some dried beef and offered it to him, but he shook his head and asked for a drink of water. She gave it to him, but his eyes closed and his head fell back as he drank. She ate all the beef and a cake of chocolate that she found; and then went to the door to look out.
Cellino was enveloped in smoke and she could not see the gate. The guns were barking, and little spurts of white smoke seemed to punctuate each separate fire. Away to the east the enemy's guns were still booming.
Lucia realized that a hard battle was under way, and that it would be useless to try to get help until there was a lull. She returned to the room and looked down at the soldier. He was moaning softly, and his eyes looked up at her beseechingly.
"Are you suffering very much?" she asked softly.
The man nodded, his eyes closed, and a queer pallor came over his face. Lucia was suddenly terrified. She felt very helpless in this battle with death, but her determination never left her.
She ran to the door. Poor Garibaldi was still standing hitched to the stretcher. Lucia went to her and led her back to the door of the cottage. She looked half-fearfully, half-angrily at the town above her.
"He shall not die!" she said between her teeth, and went back into the house.
The transfer from the bed to the stretcher was very difficult to manage, for the poor soldier was beyond helping himself. But Lucia succeeded without hurting him too much, and once more the strange trio started out on their climb.
They were in no great danger, for only an occasional shell burst near them. The fighting was going on below the east wall. Lucia and Garibaldi toiled up the hill, each one using every bit of their strength.
The soldier was limp and lifeless, his head rolled with every bump. He looked like one dead, but Lucia refused even to consider such a possibility. She urged Garibaldi on and tugged with determined persistence.
They were just below the wall when Lucia stopped to rest. The little goat was staggering from the exertion, and she was out of breath. She looked at the gate, it was only a little way off, but it seemed miles, and she wondered if she could go on.
She looked up at the wall. A man dressed in a uniform unlike the Italian soldiers was looking down at her. Lucia called to him just as he jumped to the ground. She held her breath expecting to see him hurt, but he landed on his feet and ran to her.
"For the love of Pete, what have you got there?" he asked in a language that Lucia did not understand.
She looked up at him bewildered.
"I do not understand what you say, but the soldier is very sick. Please help me carry him to the convent," she said hurriedly.
"Hum, well you may be right," the big man laughed, "but I guess what you want is help."
He leaned over the wounded Italian.
"Pretty far gone, but there's hope. Steady now, I've got you." He lifted the man gently in his arms and carried him on his back.
Lucia watched him with admiration shining in her eyes. She followed with the goat through the gate.
Once in the town she could hardly believe her eyes. Soldiers seemed to be everywhere, shouting and calling from one to the other. She saw the little guns that were making all the sharp, clicking noises, and she knew that just below, and on the other side of the river, the Austrians were fighting desperately.
They passed many wounded as they hurried along, and to each one the big man would call out cheerily. Lucia wished she could understand what he said, or even what language he spoke. It was not German, of course, and she did not think it was French.
"Perhaps he was a tourist?" she asked him shyly, but he shook his head.
"I don't get you, I'm sorry. I'm an American, you see."
"Oh, Americano!" Lucia clapped her hands delightedly. "I am glad, I thought so, American is the name of the tourists, just as I guessed," she replied. "I have heard of Americans and I have seen some in the summer, but they were not like you."
She looked up in his face and smiled.
The American did not understand a word of her Italian, but he saw the smile, and answered it with a good-natured grin.
"You're a funny kid," he said. "I wish I could find out what you are talking about, and where you got ahold of that queer rig and the goat."
They had reached the other gate by now, and they hurried through it and to the convent.
Several of the sisters had returned, and there were doctors and nurses all busy in the long room where, the night before, Lucia had left Roderigo and Sister Francesca.
The American laid the soldier down on one of the beds, and hurried to one of the doctors.
"Saw this youngster dragging this man on a sort of stretcher hitched to a goat," he said. "He's pretty bad. Better look at him."
The doctor nodded. Lucia stood beside her soldier and waited. She was almost afraid of what the doctor would say. He leaned over him and began taking off his muddy uniform, while the American helped. When he had examined the wound, he hurried over to a table and came back with a queer looking instrument. To Lucia it looked like a small bottle attached to a very long needle.
"Don't, don't, you are cruel!" she protested, as he pushed it slowly into the soldier. She put out her hand angrily, but the American pulled her back.
"It's all right," he said soothingly. "It's to make him well."
Lucia shook her head, and the doctor turned to her. He spoke excellent Italian.
"It is to save his life, child, and it doesn't hurt him, I promise you. Now tell me, where did you find him?"
Lucia explained hurriedly. The story, as it came from her excited lips, sounded like some wild, distorted dream. The doctor called to Sister Francesca.
"Is this child telling me the truth?" he asked wonderingly.
"As far as I know," she said; "and that boy in the third cot blew up the bridge. I know she went out to find the wounded."
The doctor did not reply at once. He was hunting for the soldier's identification tag. When he found it, he read it and whistled.
"Captain Riccardi!" he exclaimed. "By Jove, we can't let him die."
It could not be said that the doctor redoubled his efforts, for he was working his best then, but he added perhaps a little more interest to his work.
The American helped him, and Lucia, at a word from Sister Francesca, hurried to her and helped her with what she was doing. It was not until many hours later that she stopped working, for more wounded were being brought in every few minutes by the other stretcher-bearers, and there was much to do. But at last there was a lull, and Lucia ran through the long corridor and down to the door.
She opened it a crack and looked out. Before her, stretched along the banks of the river, were countless Austrian soldiers, staggering and fighting in a wild attempt to run away from the guns in the wall that mowed them down pitilessly. The officers tried to drive them on, but the men were too terrified, they could not advance under such steady fire. A little farther on, there was the beginning of a rude bridge. The enemy had evidently tried to build it during the night, but had been forced to abandon it after the Italians reached their new position.
As Lucia watched, the men seemed to form in some sort of order, and retreat back into the hills. Their guns stopped suddenly, and only the Italian fire continued.
It was a horrible scene, and in spite of the splendid knowledge that an undisputed victory was theirs, Lucia turned away and closed the door behind her. She ran up to the big door and out on the road.
There were signs of the battle all about her in the big shell holes in the road, and in the ruins still smoking inside the walls, but there was no such sight as she had just witnessed, and she took a deep breath of the warm fresh air.
She shaded her eyes and looked down the road.
Garibaldi, freed from her harness, was lying down in the sunshine, and as Lucia watched her she saw a familiar figure running towards her. She saw it stop and pat the goat. With a cry of joy she recognized Maria, bedraggled and muddy, but without doubt Maria. She ran forward to meet her.
"Maria, where have you come from?" she called as the older girl threw herself into her out-stretched arms and began to cry.
"Oh, from miles and miles away! I have been running since late last night," she sobbed.
"But what has happened? Beppi, Nana, are they safe?" Lucia demanded.
"Yes, yes, they are all safe with mother," Maria replied.
"Then why did you come back?" Lucia persisted.
"Oh, I could not bear it!" Maria tried to stifle her sobs. "All yesterday, as we ran away from the guns, I kept thinking—back there, there is work and I am running away. I knew that you were here, and I thought you were killed. Nana was half crazy with fear and we could get nothing out of her."
"But Beppi, he is safe, and aunt is taking care of him?" Lucia insisted.
"Oh, he is safe, of course, and so excited over his adventure, but he was crying for you last night, and we had hard work to comfort him."
Maria paused, and Lucia looked into her eyes. There was a question there and she knew that her cousin did not give voice to it. She put her arm around her and led her back towards the convent.
"Come," she said, smiling with something of her old mischievousness. "There is much to be done, and I will take you to Sister Francesca. She will tell you where to begin."
Maria followed her.
Lucia went back to the ward and did not stop until she stood beside Roderigo's bed. He was asleep, but his brows were drawn together in a worried frown. Lucia put her finger on her lip and turned to her cousin and pointed. Maria looked; a glad light came into her eyes, and without a sound she fell on her knees beside the bed.
Lucia left her and went over to Sister Francesca. She was awfully tired, and her arms were numb, but she did not dare stop for fear she would not be able to begin again.
"What can I do?" she asked.
Sister Francesca pointed to two empty buckets. "Go out to the well and fill those. We need more water badly," she said, without looking up.
Lucia picked up the pails and walked to the end of the room, through a little side door and into a cloister. In the center of it was an old well that she worked by turning an iron wheel.
Lucia drew the water and poured it into her pails, and started back with them. It had been all her tired arm could do to lift the empty ones, but now each step made sharp pains go up to her shoulders. She staggered along with them, fighting hard against the dizziness in her head, but when she was half-way down the ward everything began to swim before her. She swayed, lost her balance, and would have fallen had not a strong arm caught her. The pails fell to the floor, the water splashing over the tops.
Through the singing in her ears she heard an angry voice.
"Poor youngster, whoever sent her out for water? Seems to me she's earned a rest. Here, sister, help me, will you?"
Then Maria's soft voice came to her.
"Lucia dear, don't look like that!" she cried excitedly. "Here, senor, put her on the bed, so."
She felt herself being lifted ever so gently, and then the soothing comfort of a mattress and a pillow stole over her and she fell sound asleep.
She did not wake up until late in the afternoon. The sun was setting and the long ward was in deep shadow. She opened her eyes for a minute and then closed them again. She was too blissfully comfortable to make any effort.
She was conscious first of all of a strange quiet. The guns seemed to have very nearly stopped, there was only a faint rumble in the distance, and an occasional sputter from the guns near by.
The enemy had retreated beyond, far into the hills, and for the time being Cellino was safe. Lucia guessed as much and smiled to herself.
People tiptoed about the room near her, and she could hear their voices indistinctly. She did not try to hear what they said, she was too tired to think. She snuggled closer in the soft pillows and sighed contentedly, but before long a voice near her separated itself from the rest, and she heard:
"We will go to my beautiful Napoli, you and I, and I will show you the water, blue as the sky, and we will be very happy, and by and by you will forget this terrible war, as a baby forgets a bad dream."
Lucia opened one eye and moved her head so that she could see the speaker. He was Roderigo, of course, and he was holding Maria's hand and talking very earnestly.
Lucia eavesdropped shamelessly. She was curious to hear what her cousin would say.
"But surely you will not fight again!" Maria's voice was pleading. "You are so sick, they will not send you back again."
"But I must go back, my wound is not a bad one and I will be well in no time, and I must go back. Think how foolish it would be, if I was to say, 'Oh, yes, I fought for two days in the great war.' You would be ashamed of me, and that little cousin of yours, Lucia, she would think me a fine soldier."
Lucia laughed aloud and the voices stopped.
Maria's cheeks flushed and she jumped up.
"Are you awake, dear?" she asked hurriedly, "then I will go and tell Sister Francesca and the Doctor."
She hurried off. Lucia sat up and looked at Roderigo. She was a sorry sight in her muddy clothes, and her hair fell about her shoulders.
"You are a fine soldier, Roderigo Vicello," she said impulsively, "and I would say so if you had only fought for one day, for I know how brave you are. But you are right to want to go back."
"Yes, I am right," Roderigo replied. He stretched out his hand and Lucia slipped hers into it.
"We have been comrades, you and I," he said, "and we understand why."
Lucia nodded gravely. She felt suddenly very proud.
The Doctor came back a minute later with Maria.
"Well, are you rested enough to be moved?" he asked, smiling.
"Oh, yes I am quite all right," Lucia assured him.
"Well, I wouldn't brag too much," the Doctor laughed. "You'll find you are pretty shaky. Sister Francesca has a little room fixed for you and some clean clothes; how does that sound?"
Lucia smiled in reply, and the American came over at the Doctor's call.
"Think you can manage to carry the little lady, Lathrop?" he asked.
Lucia felt the strong arms lift her, as if she weighed no more than a feather. He carried her down the ward and up a flight of stairs. Sister Francesca was waiting for them at the door of the little room. It had been one of the sister's cells. With her help Lucia was soon in a coarse white nightgown and tucked in between clean sheets.
The Doctor came in to see her a little later.
"How is my soldier of the pennies?" she asked, and then as she realized he would not understand she added, "the one I brought up the hill."
"Oh, Captain Riccardi, he's still very ill, but he is going to pull through all right."
"Oh, I am glad," she said. "I was so afraid, he looked so queer."
"Well, don't worry any more," the Doctor replied, "and now what do you want?"
Lucia sighed contentedly.
"Something to eat, if you please," she said shyly, "I am very hungry."
AN INTERRUPTED DREAM
A week passed, a week of lazy luxury between cool linen sheets for Lucia, and she enjoyed her rest to its fullest extent. Every one in the convent, which was now a hospital, and running smoothly with capable American nurses, made a great fuss over her, and she had so much care that sometimes she was just the least bit bored. When the week was over, and she was feeling herself again, she grew restless and clamored to get up. Even the sheets, and the delicious things she had to eat, could not keep her contented. At last the Doctor said she might go out for a few hours into the sunshine, and the whole hospital hummed with the news.
Maria, in a white apron and cap, helped her dress, and went with her down the stone steps and out into the convent garden.
The first thing that met her eye was Garibaldi, clean and lazy, lying contentedly in the sun. She came over and seemed delighted to see her mistress once more.
"But you are so clean, my pet!" Lucia exclaimed. "And your coat looks as if it had been brushed," she added, wonderingly.
"It was. The big American, Senor Lathrop, makes so much fuss over her, you would think she was a fine horse."
"What about Senor Lathrop?" a laughing voice demanded. "Oh, drat this language, I keep forgetting." He stopped and then said very slowly in Italian: "Good morning, how are you this morning?"
"Oh, I am very well, and you," Lucia replied, "you have been very good to take such care of Garibaldi."
"Garibaldi? I don't understand," Lathrop replied.
Lucia pointed to the goat and said slowly. "That is her name."
"Name! The goat's name Garibaldi!" Lathrop exclaimed, and added in English, "Well I'll be darned!"
"Not just Garibaldi," Lucia corrected him. "Her name is 'The Illustrious and Gentile Senora Guiseppe Garibaldi,' but we call her Garibaldi for short."
Lathrop understood enough of her reply to catch the name. He threw back his head and laughed uproariously.
"All that for a goat! No wonder she was a good sport with a name like that to live up to!"
He stood for a long time looking at the poor, shaggy animal before him, then he laughed again and went into the convent.
"He is a funny man," Lucia said wonderingly. "Why should he laugh because of Garibaldi's name?"
"Oh, he meant no disrespect," Maria reasoned. "Americans all laugh at everything. The nurses are the same, they are always laughing. If anything goes wrong and I want to stamp my foot, they laugh."
Lucia was somewhat mollified. "What is the news?" she demanded, "I have been up there in my little room for so long, no one would tell me anything. Sister Francesca would smile and say, 'Everything is for the best, dear child,' when I asked for news of the front, and I was ashamed to ask again, but you tell me."
"Oh, there is nothing but good news," Maria replied. "We are gaining everywhere. The night after the battle, some of our soldiers built a bridge over the river and crossed, and when the Austrians rallied for a counter-charge they were ready for them and took them by surprise."
Maria paused, and her eyes filled with tears. "And only think, Lucia, if you had not destroyed the bridge and warned the Captain of the beggar man, we might have been taken by surprise, and Cellino would be an Austrian village. Oh, I tell you the ward rings with your praise. The men talk of nothing else."
"Nonsense, I did not do it alone. How about your Roderigo? He is the one who deserves the praise. But tell me, how is my soldier of the pennies? I am never sure that the Doctor tells me truly how he is."
"Why do you call him 'your soldier of the pennies'?" Maria asked. "His name is Captain Riccardi, and he is very brave. Every one knows about him, and some of the boys say he is the bravest man in the Italian army."
"Perhaps he is," Lucia laughed, "but he is my soldier of the pennies, just the same, that's the name I love him by."
"But I don't understand," Maria protested, "did you know him before?"
"Yes and no," Lucia teased. "I did not know his name, or what he looked like, but I knew there was a soldier of the pennies somewhere."
"But tell me," Maria begged. "I am so curious."
Lucia laughed. "Very well, it is a queer thing. Listen. Do you remember how for a few days about a week before this battle, I only brought two pails of milk to your stall in the morning?"
"Well, the rest of the milk went to Captain Riccardi, but I did not know it. You see, one day Garibaldi ran away and went far up into the hills. I think the guns frightened her, and of course I went after her. I found her on a little plateau quite far up, and because I was tired I sat down to rest, keeping tight hold of her, you may be sure. I was dreaming and thinking, and oh, a long way off, when suddenly I heard a voice above me. I looked up; my, but I was frightened, I can tell you, but I could see no one. The voice said: 'Little goat herder, will you give me a drink of milk?'"
"Go on!" Maria exclaimed. "What did you do?"
"I am ashamed to say," Lucia replied, "I was so frightened that I ran back down the mountain as if the evil spirit were after me, and I did not stop until I was safe at home. Then I began to think. Of course, at first I had thought only of an Austrian, but when I stopped to think, I knew that Austrians don't speak such Italian—low and very soft this was, as my mother used to speak, and your Roderigo. Well, then of course, I wanted to die of shame; I had run away from one of the soldiers. I thought about it all night, and I could not sleep. Just before dawn I got up very softly and went down to the shed. I filled two pails half-full and carried them up to the same place.
"I could not see or hear any one, but I left them, and that afternoon I went back to see if it had been taken away. There were the empty pails, and beside them a strip of paper with four pennies wrapped up inside.
"After that, I took the milk up every day to the plateau, but I never saw or heard the soldier again. Sometimes he would write me a little note and say 'thank you,' to me, but always there was the money. So that is why I called him my soldier of the pennies; do you see?"
"Oh, yes, how splendid!" Maria was delighted. "And to think it was Captain Riccardi all the time. No wonder now that he talks sometimes in his sleep of the little goat-herder and her flowered dress. He was an observer, Roderigo told me. That is a very important thing to be, and he was hidden high up in a tree. That is why you did not see him."
Lucia thought of the telephone.
"I know now, of course, for I saw him climb up it and talk over the wire to the soldiers miles away," she exclaimed. "But how could I think to look in a tree for a soldier?" she laughed.
A bell tinkled, and Maria sprang up.
"I must go, it is my time to be on duty," she said, smoothing her apron and settling her cap importantly, "I will come back when I can."
Lucia looked envious. "Do not be long," she called after her.
She settled back with a sigh, and the little goat came over to have her neck patted. Lucia stroked it lovingly.
"Garibaldi," she said aloud, "we are in a dream, you and I, and soon we will both wake up and find ourselves back in the white cottage with Nana scolding because we are late for supper. And we'll be sorry too, won't we? For that will mean that the beautiful sheets and the soft pillow will vanish the way they do in the fairy tales, and this lovely garden will go too."
"But what if there were another one to take its place?" a voice inquired from the doorway.
THE FAIRY GODFATHER
Lucia turned and looked up quickly. She was startled and not a little embarrassed at having her confidence overheard.
Through the door that led from the ward the American was pushing a bed on wheels. Lucia had seen that same bed many times before. It had belonged to the old Mother Superior of the convent, and many a bright morning she had seen it out in the garden as she sat at her desk in the schoolroom above.
She looked at the white pillow half expecting to see the old wrinkled face of Mother Cecelia, but instead Captain Riccardi looked up at her and smiled.
"See, I've found you at last," he said, as Lathrop pushed the bed beside Lucia's chair. "I was beginning to think that you were just a dream child, and that I had imagined about the milk."
Lucia laughed gayly.
"No, Captain, that was not a dream, or I hope it wasn't, for if the milk was not real then I dreamed about the pennies, and the sick soldiers never got them."
"Sick soldiers! Did you give away the money?"
"Oh yes, sir, how could I keep it? I did not know you were a Captain, I thought—"
"You thought I was just a poor soldier, eh?"
"Well, yes, if you will excuse me for saying so, I did, but anyway I would not have kept the money."
"How can you ask? Why because, to accept pay for something—and such a little thing as a pail of milk—"
"No, just one, they were only half-full, but no matter. I wanted to give away the milk, not sell it, and so I put the pennies in the box at church."
"And all the time I thought you were perhaps buying pretty ribbons with it."
Captain Riccardi shook his head. "But I might have known better."
"Ribbons!" Lucia scorned the idea. "What do I need with such foolishness, with a war going on just under my nose! I had other things to think about, I can tell you, and other ways to spend my pennies."
The Captain looked at her gravely. Then he took her hand and patted it gently.
"You are a brave and true little Italian," he said, "and I can never hope to pay you for what you have done. You will have to look for your reward in your own heart. It ought to be a very happy and contented heart, I should think."
Lucia's cheeks flushed with pride.
"Oh, it is, Captain Riccardi," she said, "it is indeed, and I am quite content. If you heard what I said just now about the dream, you must not think that I don't want to go back to the cottage—I do, and I want so much to see my Beppino and Nana again—only—"
"Tell me about that 'only' Lucia," the Captain said gently. "That is what I want to hear, and then perhaps I will have something to tell you."
"Oh, it is nothing but silliness," Lucia protested, "how can it matter?"
"Never mind, tell me," the Captain insisted.
"But you will laugh. What do big men know of fairy stories!"
"Lots, sometimes—I believe in fairies."
Lucia looked into the smiling eyes incredulously, "You, a soldier!"
"Of course, haven't I told you that I thought you were a fairy when I first saw you, and by the Saints, I did too. Do you know, I first discovered you way down in the valley. You were with your goats. I looked at you through my glass, and your pretty flowered dress, and the kerchief you wore over your hair, made me think of the little girls at home."
"Ah, then you come from the south, too?" Lucia laughed. "I knew it."
"How do you?" the Captain demanded.
Lucia shook her head sadly.
"No, my mother came from Napoli. When I was a little girl she used to tell me all about the sunshine and the flowers, and the blue water in the bay, and old grandfather Vesuvius always frowning and puffing in the distance. Oh, I tell you I feel sometimes as if I had been there, but, of course, that is silly," she broke off, laughing, "for I have never been away from Cellino."
"Would you like to go away to the south and live there?" Captain Riccardi asked slowly.
"Oh, yes, of course. I dream sometimes that I am a princess and that a wicked fairy has turned me into a goat-herder and forced me to live here where it is so very cold sometimes, and then I wish hard for a good fairy to come and set me free, and take me on a magic carpet away to a garden full of flowers. There," she smiled shyly, "that is what I was thinking of out loud when you came a minute ago."
The Captain did not laugh, except with his eyes. His voice was very grave as he asked.
"Wouldn't a prince or a fairy godfather do just as well?"
"Oh, yes, even better," Lucia replied seriously.
"Well then, what would you say if I told you that I am a fairy godfather, and that I can spirit you to a garden even nicer than this, where it is always summer?"
"I would surely say you were telling me fairy tales," Lucia replied frankly.
The Captain laughed delightedly.
"But I'm not, Lucia," he said seriously. "I'm telling you the truth. Down in the south I have a big house set in the very heart of a beautiful garden, and I live there all by myself."
"Oh!" Lucia's big eyes were full of genuine sympathy.
"A long time ago, I used to have a little sister like you, but she died, and since then I have been ever and ever so lonely. How would you like to come and be my sister? I'd take awfully good care of you, and Garibaldi."
For an instant Lucia's eyes danced with happiness, but it was only for an instant, then her face fell.
"Oh, I would like that Captain, so very much," she said, "but I could not leave Beppino and Nana."
Captain Riccardi looked at her in silence for a moment, then he said slowly, "Of course, you couldn't. I forgot them for the moment. But of course I meant to include them in the invitation. I am very fond of Beppino already. We had quite a chat that day in the cave."
"Oh, but you don't mean it!" Lucia jumped up excitedly. "To live with you and Nana and Beppi and Garibaldi in a garden,—oh! but of course, it is not so, and I shall presently wake up."
"Wake up in the little white cottage and milk the goats and trudge to town with the heavy pails?" the Captain said.
Lucia nodded soberly.
"Not it I can help it, you won't," he added with decision. "You'll never do another stroke of hard work again."
"But are there no goats in your garden to milk, and no work to do?" Lucia looked bewildered.
"Yes, but there's a lot of people to do it,—so many in fact, that all you will have to do is to pick flowers and tell Beppi and me fairy stories. Will you come?"
"Oh!" Lucia stamped her foot. "If this is only a dream!" she exclaimed half angrily, "I shall surely die of misery when I wake up."
"It's no dream, little sister, it's true, and it won't be long before you realize it. This leg is going to take a long time in healing, but as soon as it is better we will go home, then when I am well enough to go back to fight, you will stay in the garden and keep it looking beautiful for me until I return."
For a full moment Lucia stared into the Captain's eyes, while the wonderful truth dawned on her, then her emotion being far beyond words, she threw her arms around him and kissed him heartily.
"Lucia, Lucia, such exciting news, come here at once!" Maria ran up the stairs excitedly.
Lucia, who was busy helping Sister Francesca put away the clean sheets, dropped what she was doing and ran down the corridor.
"What is it!" she demanded. "Have the Austrians surrendered?"
"No," Maria stopped, breathless from her haste, "that is, not yet, though Roderigo says—"
"Oh, oh, oh!" Lucia protested. "Don't start on what Roderigo says, or we will never learn the news."
Maria pouted. "For that I have a good mind not to tell you," she threatened.
"Then I shall go downstairs myself and find out," Lucia replied, not one whit disturbed.
"Then I may as well tell you," Maria laughed, "for the ward hums with it. The King is coming—think of it—he is coming to Cellino to-morrow, and he is to go through the hospital and see all the wounded. Only fancy, our King!"
"Who told you?" Lucia's eyes flashed excitedly. Her loyal little Italian heart beat with eager anticipation.
"Do you suppose I can see him?" she demanded, "but of course, I must, even if I have to hide under the Captain's bed. He is sure to stop and speak to my Captain," she added with pride.
"Oh, Roderigo says that he always stops and speaks to all the wounded and shakes their hands, and is very kind and so sorry always when they are badly hurt. Roderigo says he has talked to soldiers who have won decorations, and the King himself pins them on—just think of it!"
Lucia gave a profound sigh.
"If he ever spoke to me," she said solemnly, "I would die of joy."
It was several days after Lucia and the Captain had talked in the garden, and Lucia was beginning to grow accustomed to the wonderful idea. Her dreams were coming true at last, and she had to admit to herself that she always believed that they would. Captain Riccardi was truly a fairy godfather in her eyes, and she proved her gratitude for his kindness in a hundred little ways a day. It never seemed to enter her mind that all he was offering, wonderful as it was, could not pay her for her courage in saving his life.
She insisted upon laying all the credit on his shoulders, and with a smile and a shrug the Captain accepted the double share, and determined in his big heart to be worthy of it.
When Lucia and Maria went down to the ward a little later, the patients were indeed humming with the news. Every face wore a smile of keen joy, and the nurses hurried about to be sure everything was in perfect order.
Lucia was well enough now to go wherever she pleased, and after she had talked for a few minutes with Captain Riccardi, and made sure that Maria had not exaggerated, she went out of the convent with the intention of going into town. Some of the refugees had returned, but so far there had been no news of Senora Rudini, Nana, or Beppi, and she was growing anxious.
As she walked down the broad steps, she saw Lathrop coming towards her. Lucia was particularly fond of the big American, and she smiled as she saw him.
"Hello!" he greeted.
Lucia returned the salutation.
"Do you know that the King is coming?" she demanded.
Lathrop understood the word King, and as the town was talking of nothing else he guessed what she meant.
"Yes," he replied in Italian, "nice—glad—you."
"Oh, but you are so funny. How I wish you could speak so that I could understand you!" she said.
Lathrop shook his head. "There she goes again, I didn't get even one word this time."
He put his hand in his pocket and drew out a letter.
"See," he said, pointing to it.
Lucia nodded. Lathrop scratched his head.
"You—in—letter," he said painstakingly, "Girl, American."
"Oh, you have put me in your letter? How nice!" Lucia said. "What did you say?"
"I get you, but I'm blest if I can tell you, and it's a shame, too. You're such a little winner, you and your Mrs. Garibaldi, that I'd like to be able to tell you so. But I guess it's hopeless."
All of which Lucia listened to politely, but without the first idea of its meaning.
She nodded towards the gate and they walked towards it together. Lathrop mailed his letter, and they stopped to look at the ruins. Lucia questioned some soldiers who were clearing the streets as best they could.
The town hall, at the end of the market-place, was still standing, and to-day it was draped in Italian flags. It looked older and more dignified than ever, amid the ruins, and the flag floated bravely in the crisp fall breeze. Lucia and Lathrop stopped to look at it. Lucia's eyes sparkled and she threw an impulsive kiss towards it. Lathrop saluted respectfully.
As they turned to go back they noticed a crowd of soldiers and some of the townspeople gathered about the gate.
"What can the matter be?" Lucia exclaimed, hurrying forward. "Perhaps it is the King."
They ran to the gate and questioned some of the soldiers.
"More refugees returning," one of them explained. "See there's a whole line of them, it is a good sight, and a good time that they have chosen. Now we will not look so like a deserted place when the King comes."
"Oh, perhaps some of them can give me news of Beppino," Lucia exclaimed, forcing her way through the crowd.
Almost the first person she saw as she ran down the road was Maria's mother. She was walking along beside several other women, and with a start Lucia realized that she looked thin and wan.
"Aunt Rudini!" she called excitedly, "you are back at last. Oh, Maria will be so glad!"
Senora Rudini looked up, fear and hope in her eyes.
"Maria!" she exclaimed, "where is she?"
"At the convent. She is helping to nurse the soldiers," Lucia replied.
"Oh, and I thought she was dead or a prisoner. She lay down beside me one night, and the next morning she was gone; I have been terrified." The old woman was wringing her hands.
"But she is safe, go and see," Lucia protested, "I have just left her."
Maria's mother needed no urging, she ran as fast as her stiff joints would allow towards the hospital. But she had not gone very far when she returned.
"I am a selfish old woman," she said, "thinking first of myself, when of course you want news of Nana. Well, look yonder in that farm wagon."
Lucia did not wait to hear more. She darted off and met the wagon before it reached the turn in the road.
"Beppi! Nana!" she called.
The man who was driving stopped, and Nana slid down from the straw, right into Lucia's waiting arms. She was so glad to see her, that she could only babble foolishly. All during her long journey, and her stay in strange villages, she had thought of nothing but Lucia in the hands of the enemy, and she was nearly crazy with relief and joy to find her safe again.
At last Lucia quieted her. "Where is Beppino?" she asked, "surely he is with you?"
Something in the straw of the wagon moved, and the old driver pointed his whip at a mop of black hair, and laughed.
Beppi was asleep of course. Lucia's strong young arms lifted his little body out, and hugged and kissed him. Beppi woke up, and at sight of her he shouted with joy.
It was a happy and excited family that walked through the town and down to the little white cottage.
Lucia had so much to say, and Nana would not listen nor believe all the wonderful things she tried to tell her, but at last, from lack of breath, she stopped exclaiming and crying, and Lucia pushed her gently onto the green bed, took Beppi on her lap, and began the recital of her wonderful news in earnest.
"The King! The King!"
"Viva! Viva!" A great cry rose within the walls of Cellino, and swelled to a mighty cheer, as a gray automobile drove slowly through the Porto Romano, and stopped in the market-place opposite the town hall.
The soldiers who had so bravely defended the town were lined up ready for inspection, and as the King lifted his hand to salute the colors, a silence, as profound and as moving as the cheer had been, fell over the crowd.
Lucia, with Beppi held tightly by the hand, was on the edge of the crowd. She trembled with excitement as she looked at the greatest, and best-loved man in all Italy.
"See!" she whispered excitedly to Beppi, "that is the King—our King! Look at him well, for we may never be lucky enough to see him again in our whole lives."
Beppi's big eyes were round with wonder. He looked. His gaze fastened on the shining sword. Then the memory that he might some day be a General returned to him, and he drew himself up very straight. As the King passed on his inspection, his little hand went up in a smart salute.
His Majesty stopped, smiled, and returned the salute gravely.
Beppi waited until he had walked on, then he buried his face in Lucia's skirts, and wept from sheer joy.
Lucia's pride knew no bounds. Her heart was beating wildly, but she stood very still until the King went into the town hall, then she picked Beppi up in her arms and ran excitedly across the town and out to the convent.
"We can see him again, darling, so stand very still," she said. "He is coming to see the soldiers."
They watched the gate eagerly, and before long the gray car came through it very slowly. A crowd of people surrounded it, cheering and throwing flowers. The King smiled and bowed to them all. Lucia's eyes never left his face. Suddenly she saw him lean forward excitedly as the big car stopped. Beppi tugged at her skirts.
"Look at Garibaldi, she is blocking the way."
Lucia looked, and to her horror she saw her pet standing in the middle of the road, her four hoofs planted firmly in the mud, and her head lowered.
"Oh, the wretch," Lucia exclaimed, darting forward. "Come here at once!" she called.
Garibaldi looked around and obediently trotted off. The car started, and the King waved especially to Lucia as he passed, but even so great an honor could not compensate her. She was mortified to tears that her goat should have been guilty of lese majeste.
No entreaties on Beppi's part could make her stay to wait for the King's return. She left him with a soldier, and went around the corner of the convent, followed by the disgraced Garibaldi.
She sat down on a bench and sighed.
"Of course you're only a goat," she said scornfully, "but I did think you had more sense than to do anything as terrible as that. Do you know who that was that you made to stop? That was the King, do you hear?"
Garibaldi walked away indifferently.
"Oh, I am disgusted with you forever," Lucia exclaimed with a shrug of disdain. "You will stay here until he goes away again, and then I shall take you home and tie you up."
Garibaldi paid no attention to the threat. Perhaps she knew how empty it would prove to be.
"Lucia, Lucia, my child, where are you?" Sister Francesca's voice trembled as she called.
"Here I am, sister," Lucia jumped up. "Do you want me?"
"Oh, my dear, I have looked everywhere for you. Come with me at once."
Lucia followed, wondering at the expression in the nun's usually placid face. But Sister Francesca did not stop to give any explanations. She led the way hurriedly back to the front door, of the convent, and up the steps through the ward of smiling men, and only stopped when she reached the door of Captain Riccardi's private room.
"Go in, my dear," she said, giving Lucia a little push. "The Captain wants to speak to you."
Lucia opened the door and found herself face to face with the King.
She was too astonished, and far too thrilled to speak. She must have shown some of her feeling in her eyes, for the Captain, who was in bed, laughed.
"Here she is, Your Majesty," he said.
The King stepped forward and put his hand on her shoulder.
"So you are the brave little girl whom I must thank for saving Captain Riccardi's life, and for blowing up the bridge?"
Lucia was still tongue-tied. She swallowed hard and tried to stop her heart from beating so fast.
"Yes, yes, sir—Your Majesty," she said at last. "I and Garibaldi."
"Garibaldi?" The King could not restrain a smile.
"The goat, sir," the Captain explained.
"Oh, I see, and what did you say his name was?"
"Garibaldi's a her, Your Majesty, and so she had to be Senora Garibaldi."
Lucia was fast forgetting her embarrassment.
"'The Illustrious and Gentile Senora Guiseppi Garibaldi,' that's her real name, but of course, it's too long for every day."
"Yes, I should suppose so, particularly if you were in a hurry," the King laughed softly.
"Was that Senora Garibaldi that we came nearly running over?" he asked.
"Oh yes, it was, but please, Your Majesty, don't be angry with her. You see, she really didn't know you were the King."
"Angry, why I should say not. Before I leave, yon must introduce me to her, I couldn't leave without seeing such a really important person."
Lucia clapped her hands delightedly.
"Oh, she will be so proud!" she exclaimed.
The King turned to the officer who stood beside him and nodded, then he shook Captain Riccardi's hand. "I congratulate you on the addition to your household," he said, smiling. "Come with me, Lucia," he continued, "I have something for you, and I want to give it to you where all the soldiers can see."
Lucia followed in a dream. She stood very still at the end of the ward, and watched the men salute as the King stood before them.
She did not hear what he said to them, for her head was swimming, but she saw him turn to her, and her heart missed a beat as he pinned a medal on her faded bodice.
"In appreciation of your courage and loyalty," the King said, and Lucia's eyes looked into his for a brief, but never-to-be-forgotten moment.
GOOD-BY TO CELLINO
It was over a month before Captain Riccardi was well enough to be moved, but at last the beautiful day for the departure for the south came.
"Do you really mean we are going?" Beppi demanded.
"Of course we are, darling," Lucia replied, laughing. She was so excited that she could hardly wait to dress Beppi and Nana with the patience that such an undertaking required. Nana had a new dress, Aunt Rudini made it with Maria's help, and though it was too somber for Lucia's color loving eyes, it was a new dress and she fastened it on Nana's bent shoulders with a glow of pride.
"There now!" she exclaimed when it was on and Nana's stringy gray hair had been reduced to some sort of order.
"Turn around and let me see you."
Nana turned. She was in a flutter of excitement, although she would not have admitted it for the world.
"Don't waste any more time over an old woman," she said, sharply. "I am tidy and that is enough."
"You are more than tidy, Nana, you look beautiful," Lucia exclaimed. "Now do sit still and don't do anything."
"There's nothing to be done that has not already been done," Nana replied as she sat on the edge of the green bed and folded her hands on her lap. Lucia nodded in satisfaction and turned her attention to Beppi.
He had a new suit too, and the broad sailor collar on it was embroidered with emblems and stars.
Beppi was delighted, and Lucia helped him on with it as he danced and hopped, first on one foot and then to the other.
"I'm a sailor," he announced, "a real sailor! See the bands on my arm."
"Fickle one," Lucia protested as she tied the flaring red tie, with loving fingers, "I thought you were going to be a soldier like our Captain."
Beppi thrust his small hands in his trouser pockets.
"I am when I grow up," he replied seriously, "but I can be a sailor in the meantime, can't I?"
"Yes, of course," Lucia agreed, "and now put on your shoes, dear, it must be late, and it would never do to keep the Captain waiting."
"Go and dress yourself then," Nana said, "and don't make yourself look too gay, it is not seemly."
Lucia tossed her head and laughed.
"Ah, but I will, my new bodice is so beautiful; all bright flowers, and my skirt is blue—I know the Captain will like it—and we are going to the South where all the girls wear bright colors—I expect my dress will look very somber."
Nana did not reply, she grumbled a little to herself, and Lucia pulled out the drawer of the dresser and very carefully took out her new possessions. She put them on slowly as if to prolong the pleasure.
"When she was ready she looked at as much of herself as she could see in the small mirror, and smiled happily.
"I look very nice, I think," she said frankly.
"Then we are ready," Nana exclaimed, getting up, "we had better start up the hill."
"Yes, do let's go," Beppi insisted, "I know we are going to be late."
"Oh, but we have plenty of time," Lucia replied. "Go along both of you, I will follow with Garibaldi."
"Such foolishness," Nana grumbled, "to take a goat in a train; there are many goats in the South. Why don't you wait until you get there and leave Garibaldi to Maria with the rest?"
Lucia looked at her grandmother in consternation, but she did not stop to argue with her. She left the house and went to the shed; repaired now enough to make a shelter to keep out the rain.
Garibaldi was firmly tied to one of the posts.
"Come, my pet," Lucia whispered, "we are going away and I have a ribbon for your neck, see?"
"Now come," she coaxed, "we must go up to the convent, that nice American Mr. Lathrop is going to put you in a box. You won't like it, poor dear, but it's the only way they let goats travel."
Garibaldi seemed to understand something of the importance of the occasion, for she walked along beside her little mistress with lowered head.
Lucia waited until Nana and Beppi had disappeared through the gate before she started. She knew there was plenty of time and she wanted to be alone.
She stood in the doorway of the cottage and looked at the poor, tumbled little room. She felt suddenly very forlorn and lonely.
"Good-by, little room," she said softly, "I will never, never forget you. It isn't as if you were going very far away from me for we have given you to Maria, she and Roderigo will take good care of you, and some day perhaps I will come back for a tiny visit," she said.
A plaintive "Naa" from Garibaldi made her turn. As she left the room her eyes lingered on the green bed.
Captain Riccardi was sitting up, fully dressed, and waiting for them in the garden of the convent.
At sight of Lucia his eyes danced with fun.
"Well, little sister of mine, how are you?" he greeted.
"Oh, I am so excited, Senor," Lucia replied. "Is it nearly time to go?"
"No, not for a couple of hours," the Captain laughed.
"Are we really going in an automobile?" Beppi demanded, "like the one the King came in?"
"Yes, just like that, and then we go in a train for a long time," the Captain explained.
"Do we sleep in the train?" Beppi's eyes were as round as saucers.
"No," the Captain shook his head, "we sleep in a lovely house that belongs to a friend of mine in Rome."
Beppi tried to be polite but Captain Riccardi saw the disappointment in his eyes, and patted his small head.
"Are you sorry?" he laughed.
"Oh, no, he is not," Lucia contradicted hastily, "he will like sleeping in Rome, won't you, my pet?"
Beppi hung his head. "I will like it," he admitted, "but it will not be as exciting as sleeping on a train."
"No, of course it won't, but it will be lots more comfortable, and you see I have to think of that," the Captain explained, "but I promise you some day we will sleep in a train, and on a boat, or any old place you like, how's that?"
"I will tell you afterwards," Beppi replied noncommittally.
"I must go and find Maria," Lucia said, "I have not told her half the things I want to. She won't take proper care of my goats, I know, but no matter, I will do my best to tell her what to do."
She went into the convent. Maria was busy in the ward, but at Lucia's beckon she left what she was doing and went to her.
"Come over by Roderigo's bed," Lucia said, "we have only a little time to talk before we leave."
"Oh, but you must be excited!" Maria exclaimed.
"Look at her eyes," Roderigo laughed, "of course she is."
"Well, and why not," Lucia demanded, "wouldn't you be?" Roderigo shivered.
"If I were going this day, back to Napoli, I would die from joy," he said.
"Nonsense, that's what Lucia said about the King's speaking to her," Maria reminded, "but she's still alive, and the King not only spoke to her but kissed her too."
"Do you know," Lucia said quietly, "sometimes I think perhaps I am dead and this is Heaven."
"Heaven!" Roderigo laughed, "never, it is much too cold, see the sick yellow sun up there." He pointed to the window, "in Heaven the sun is hot and the sky is blue, just as you will find it to-morrow. Oh, but I envy you. What wouldn't I give—" He hesitated and looked at Maria, "No, I would not go if I could; I am happy here."
Maria's smile rewarded him.
"But surely after the war," Lucia said, "you will both come to Napoli to live."
"Perhaps," Roderigo assented, "after the war."
They were silent for a moment, aware for the first time of what the coming separation would mean. Then Roderigo exclaimed gayly,
"But how solemn we are! We must laugh. I tell you, Lucia, when you see my old grandfather Vesuvius you must give him my best respects, for mind if you are not respectful to him he may do you some harm."
"Oh, I will be very careful," Lucia laughed, "but I will never call that cross old, smoking mountain my grandfather, I can promise you that."
"Haven't you some friends that Lucia could see?" Maria inquired, "or could she perhaps take a message to your family."
"No." Roderigo shook his head, "she will not be near them, but perhaps—" He turned to Lucia, "if you are ever walking along the shore below Captain Riccardi's place, you may meet a soldier, an old man with a scar on his face; if you do, he is my uncle Enrico."
"But what does he do on the beach?" Maria inquired.
"Oh, he watches to see that no one rows out to the boats in the bay without a passport, there are plenty of men who would like to leave without permission," Roderigo explained, "My uncle is there to keep them safe in Italy."
"Are they Austrians?" Lucia inquired.
"They are Italian citizens on the face of things," he replied, "but in their hearts—" An expressive gesture finished the sentence.
Just as Maria was about to ask another question Beppi ran into the ward.
"Lucia, Lucia, come quickly, the American is packing Garibaldi up in a box, and you are missing all the fun."
Lucia jumped up.
"Oh I must go and help," she exclaimed, "I will see you again for good-by."
She followed Beppi to the garden and found Lathrop nailing on the top to a big wooden crate. From between the slats Garibaldi looked out reproachfully.
Lucia petted and consoled her until it was time to go.
Garibaldi left first in a wagon; she was going all the way by train. Lucia had many misgivings but she watched the wagon out of sight with a smile.
Her thoughts were soon diverted by the arrival of a big automobile. Captain Riccardi was helped in by the doctor and Lathrop, and after repeated good-bys Lucia took her place beside him.
The car started off slowly, they were going to take the train at a point several miles south.
Lucia watched the walls of Cellino grow dim against their background of bare mountains. It was her first departure, and it marked a new period in her life.
IN THE GARDEN
"How does my little sister like her new home?"
Captain Riccardi was sitting in a comfortable chair in the warmth and sunshine of his garden. He looked very much stronger than on his departure from Cellino. A month under the southern sky had done much to make him well again, and as he sat looking at Lucia he was turning over in his mind the possibility of returning to the front. Lucia was picking flowers near him, she had a basket over her arm and a big pair of scissors.
Her cheeks, that had been so pale, were flushed and round, and an expression of happy contentment took the place of the excited sparkle in her eyes.
She dropped down on the ground beside the Captain as he spoke, and looked up at him.
"That is the very first time you have asked me that," she said, "and we have been here for a long time. You know I think it is very, very wonderful, what could be more beautiful than this garden, but I am getting lazy, the sun is so warm and there is so little to do." She looked puzzled.
"That's quite as it should be," the Captain replied, "you are too young to work."
"Oh, that is what you always say," Lucia protested, "I am too young and Nana is too old, and Beppi—"
"Beppi is too lazy," the Captain laughed, "he is always asleep under the flower bushes, but tell me," he continued gravely, "are you ever homesick?"
"Homesick." Lucia considered for a moment, "For Maria, yes, but for Cellino, no. I like to think of it, but I want always to live here."
"Good," the Captain smiled, "then you won't mind my going away?"
"Back to fight?" Lucia inquired.
The Captain nodded. "My wound is healed and I am well enough; they need all the men they can get up there, you know."
"I know," Lucia looked very unhappy, "what terrible times there have been since we came here; everything has gone wrong. Why I wonder, our soldiers are as brave as ever. What has made us lose so much lately?"
A baffled look stole over the Captain's face and he shook his head sorrowfully.
"No one knows, my dear," he said, "we have suffered terrible losses, every plan that we make is known to the enemy."
"Do you remember the beggar you saw on the road the day you followed the two Austrian soldiers?"
"Well, there are many men like that in Italy, some are disguised as beggars and some as just working men, but they are everywhere, and through them our plans are given to the enemy."
"But surely the police could arrest them," Lucia protested, "they must all be Austrians or Germans."
"They are, of course, but they have lived here among us for so long that it is hard to tell them from ourselves; they speak, act and look as we do."
"But they think as our enemies," Lucia added, "I understand. What very bad men they must be, just to think that but for them we might have won this horrible war by now."
"Perhaps," the Captain agreed, "but if they are here and we can't find them out then we must win the war in spite of them, and that is why I am going back."
"When?" Lucia asked. She was suddenly very unhappy for the memory of the attack was still vivid, and she dreaded to think of her newly found godfather's returning to the dangers and hardships of the front, but she was too brave and too wise to say so. She kept a stiff upper lip and her eyes were dry as they discussed the plans.
"I think I will leave in a day or two now that my mind is made up," the Captain said, "it will take me quite awhile to return to my Company, and I may have to wait in Rome for orders, so the sooner I am off the better."
"Yes, I suppose so," Lucia replied slowly. "Oh, but how we will miss you, I cannot bear to think," she added impulsively.
"Then you must write to me often," the Captain laughed, "I get so few letters and I will treasure them. I will want to know just how you and Beppi and Nana spend each day, and what tricks Garibaldi is up to."
"I shall tell you everything," Lucia promised, eagerly, "every tiny little thing, and you will write back?"
"Yes, as often as I can," the Captain promised. He got up from his chair and started to walk toward the house. When he was halfway up the path Beppi dashed through the garden gate and ran to him.
"Oh, but I have had a fine morning," he declared, "you will never guess where I have been."
"You do look excited," the Captain smiled, "it must have been a very nice place, tell us about it."
"Then come back and sit down," Beppi insisted, taking his hand. The Captain returned to his chair and Beppi perched on the arm of it.
"Now begin," Lucia said, "we are listening."
"Well," Beppi took a long breath. "This afternoon I was tired of playing in the garden and I went out into the road. Nana was sound asleep and did not hear me, and when I had walked a little ways I met two boys; one of them was bigger than me and the other one was littler. We said hello, and one of them asked me my name, and I told him, and then the big one said he guessed I couldn't fight—" Beppi stopped and turned two accusing eyes at Lucia, "that was because I had on these old stockings. I told you, sister, that I'd be laughed at unless I went barefoot, same as always."
"Never mind about that," the Captain interposed, laughing, "tell us the rest."
"Well, I told him I could, and we did, of course, and I won," he continued proudly, "and after that we were friends, and they asked me if I'd ever been to the shore, and I said; not right to it, so they took me. We went down a hill and pretty soon we were right by the ocean, and the waves were coming in all frothy white on the blue water, and I took off my shoes and stockings—"
"Oh, Beppi," Lucia protested.
"Yes, I did," Beppi repeated, "I certainly did and we had a fine time, I can tell you, and here comes the exciting part. While we were on the beach a soldier came along; he was walking on the wall and he had a big gun. The two boys ran to him and I went with them. He asked me my name and where I lived, and I told him, and he said he had a nephew in the war, and one of the boys asked him how Roderigo Vicello was, and when I heard that name I just shouted, 'Why I know him,' and then I told them all about the bridge and the King giving Roderigo a medal, and everything. They were all glad, I can tell you, and I guess these boys won't say I can't fight again in a hurry," he added triumphantly.
"Oh, that is exciting news!" Lucia exclaimed, "Roderigo told me he had an uncle here. Did he have a big scar on his face, Beppino?"
"Yes," Beppi replied eagerly, "he got it in the Tripoli war. He is a very brave man, I think, but he says he'd rather fight than guard the shore, but of course he has to do as he's told, because he's a soldier."
"And I suppose that means you don't have to do what you're told until you're one," the Captain laughed, "what will Nana say when she hears you ran away?"
"Who's going to tell her?" Beppi inquired, "Lucia won't, and I don't think you will," he added with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
"No, I suppose I won't after that," the Captain replied, laughing, "that is if you will promise to be very good and mind Lucia while I am away."
"Away?" Beppi queried, "where are you going?"
"Back to fight," the Captain replied, "and perhaps I shall be gone for a long, long time, and of course, while I am gone I shall expect you to take care of your sister."
"Oh, Lucia can take care of herself," Beppi laughed, "she always has, and of Nana and me, too, but I'll be good if you say so, only can't I go down to the shore once in a while?"
"Of course, darling," Lucia answered for the Captain, "but you must tell Nana where you are going."
"No, I will tell you I think," Beppi said gravely.
The Captain got up and he walked beside him to the house. There was a chance that the bright sword might be taken from its chamois case, and Beppi never missed a chance of seeing it if he could help it.
Lucia, left alone in the garden, looked out over the low wall to the west. The bay of Naples stretched out blue and glistening in the last rays of the sun, and the gray of the old house took on a soft pink tint.
"It is a fairy palace, I believe." Lucia buried her face in her basket and whispered to the flowers.
"I wonder if it will disappear when my fairy godfather goes away, or if it will stay and be ours to keep for him until he comes back, for he must come back, he must, he must, he must," she finished almost angrily.
BACK TO FIGHT
A big gray car, very like the one that had come to Cellino, drove up before the door of the Riccardi villa two days later.
The Captain, once his mind was made up, did not waste any time in carrying out his plans. He was eager to rejoin his comrades in the north, but when the time came to leave he was very sorry to say good-by to Lucia. She had found a warm and secure spot in his big heart, and he knew he would miss her gay chatter and the laughing expression of her eyes.
All the household were on the steps to say good-by, even Nana had been prevailed upon to leave her seat in the garden by the well, and her lace bobbins, long enough to see him off.
Beppi danced about excitedly. "Oh, please hurry up and end the old war," he cried impatiently, "and come back, we will be so lonely without you. I promise to be very, very good."
"That's right, and when I come home I shall bring you all the souvenirs I promised; an Austrian helmet and a piece of shell," the Captain replied.
"And your sword, don't forget that," Beppi reminded him.
"Oh no, of course I won't forget that," the Captain swung Beppi high in the air above his head and kissed him, then he turned to Lucia.
"I will be good too," she promised, laughing.
"Of course you will, but you must be happy too, that is the most important of all," the Captain said seriously. "Be sure and pick all the flowers in the garden and stay out in the sunshine all day."
"And may I take the flowers to the hospital?" Lucia asked, "we have so many in the house, and the sick soldiers would love them so."
"Yes, do what you like with them," the Captain replied, "but be careful, don't do anything dangerous, you are such a spunky little fire-brand, that I can't help worrying."
"Oh, but you mustn't, I will be so very careful. Besides there is nothing to do down here, it is not like Cellino."
"Well, you can't always be sure," the Captain said, his eyes twinkling, "if there was any danger you'd be sure to be in the heart of it."
"No, I will close my eyes tight," Lucia promised, "and walk in the other direction, that is, unless it was something very, very important."
"I thought so. Well, I guess you'll be safe here, safer than you've ever been before, anyway," the Captain said, "and now good-by."
He kissed her low, broad forehead, very gently.
"Good-by, fairy godfather, come back soon." Lucia tried not to let her voice tremble.
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 spacious 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 titles. 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 godfather 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 passed 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, pushing 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.
"Stay by me," Beppi begged, "don't go way downstairs, I am afraid."
"Poor angel," Amelie cried, "he won't be left alone; old Amelie will bring up the little sister's dinner and she can eat by his bedside," and she hurried off, crooning to herself as she went to the kitchen below.
Nana, now that she knew that Beppi was not going to die, started scolding him for not looking where he was going, but Lucia sent her downstairs.
"He is too tired to listen to-night, Nana, and anyway he will be careful. Do go away and rest a little, you must be tired."
When Nana had left, Lucia returned to the bed and sat down. She did not have any idea what time it was, and she knew that it would be impossible to leave Beppi until he was quiet. She hardly touched the tempting tray that Amelie brought her, and her voice trembled as she asked what time it was.
"Ten minutes after seven," Amelie told her after she had carefully consulted the big hall clock.
"Oh!" Lucia was surprised and relieved. She thought she must have slept for hours, but now she realized that in reality she had only dozed for a few minutes.
She took Beppi's hand and set about putting him to sleep. It was a difficult task. She told him story after story, but at the end of each his eyes were bright and his demand for another one as insistent as ever.
Lucia kept time by the chimes of the clock, and at ten she turned out the light.
"I am coming to bed beside you," she explained as Beppi protested, "I think the light will hurt your head." She took off her dress and slipped on her nightgown. Beppi snuggled contentedly into her arm, and she went on with her stories.
"Sing to me," he asked at last, sleepily, "your song," and Lucia began very softly to sing.
"O'er sea the silver star brightly is glowing, Rocked now the billows are. Soft winds are blowing, Come to my bark with me. Come sail across the sea. Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia."
Beppi's even breathing rewarded her efforts. She slipped her arm from under his head and stole softly out of the room just as the clock chimed eleven. She put on her dress hurriedly.
The house was very still as she crept downstairs and out into the garden. The stars were out and it was an easy matter to find her way. She ran until she reached the path that led to the shore, then she moved very cautiously. She hoped to reach the guard, tell him what she had heard, and then go home, but when she reached the beach she realized that she was too late.
There was no guard in sight, but her ears detected the splash of oars, and she knew that the boatman was coming. She crouched down beside the wall and waited. She watched him pull his boat up on shore and then walk swiftly off in the opposite direction from her.
She did not know what to do, and she was frightened—badly frightened. The broad shining water on one side and the hill on the other seemed to hem her in, and she felt lost. It was not like the mountains of Cellino, where she knew every path.
She crouched down by the wall and waited. Another figure joined the boatman, and they stood still, a little farther up the beach. Lucia knew it was the man she had seen that afternoon, and she knew too that in a very few seconds they would turn around and come back to the boat.
With a courage born of fear she jumped up and before she quite realized what she was doing she was tugging at the boat.
It was not very high up on the beach for the boatman had left it so that it would be easily shoved off. Fortunately the tide was going out. Lucia's arms were strong and she pushed with a will. The boat found the water and drifted silently away.
Her feet were wet, but she did not realize it. She crept back to the beach and flattened herself against the wall. The men returned. They too kept in the shadow of the wall. It was not until they were almost brushing against Lucia that the boatman noticed that his boat was gone.
"The Saints preserve us!" he exclaimed. "It has been spirited away. I knew I should be punished for doing such a black deed."
"Spirits, nonsense!" the man spoke angrily. "It is your own stupid carelessness, you did not pull it up on shore far enough. You rattlebrain idiot, I've a good mind to kill you for this. See, there is your boat out there—empty—go and get it. Do you hear?"
"But how?" the boatman wrung his hands desperately. "I do not know how to swim. I will die. Santa Lucia, Saint of sailormen, spare me," he screamed as the man lifted his heavy cane to strike him.
"Don't you dare strike that man!" Lucia exclaimed, "he did pull his boat up on shore, but I pushed it off. I heard you this afternoon, and I knew you wanted to go away to that big ship out there, and perhaps sail to Austria. I know what you are, you two-faced man. You speak, you laugh, you scold in Italian, and all the time your black heart is Austrian."
"You shall not go away from here. I, Lucia Rudini, tell you, you shall not!"
"Santa Lucia! A miracle!" The boatman trembled with fear, but the man was not so superstitious. He caught Lucia's arm and shook her roughly.
"You did it, you little fiend, well, you shall get what you deserve for your meddling." He motioned to the frightened boatman. "Get me a rope, I'll make a gag of my handkerchief; hurry man, if you are found you will be shot."
"But I dare not, I dare not, she is the spirit of Santa Lucia. She came when I called. The Saints have mercy!"
With a growl of disgust the man turned from him and caught both of Lucia's wrists in his firm clasp. Then he lifted his cane.
"She must not tell until we are well away," he said, and brought the cane down heavily. It was his intention to stun Lucia, but he had miscalculated when he expected her to stand still and receive the blow.
She dodged to the right and began kicking and struggling. The boatman wrung his hands and screamed for help.
It was not many minutes before the guard, attracted by the noise, came running towards them. The man's back was towards him, but Lucia saw him and stopped struggling.
The man raised his cane again but this time he stopped, because the muzzle of a gun was pressing him between the shoulder blades.
Lucia turned to the guard and explained hurriedly. In the starlight she could see that he had a long scar across his face, and she felt very secure.
"I know your nephew, Roderigo," she ended, "he helped me blow up the bridge in Cellino."
The soldier nodded.
"I know about that, Senorina," he said respectfully, "and the rest of your fine deeds. You were born for the work it seems. Move an inch and off comes your head," he turned furiously on the man who had tried to edge away. Then he continued in the soft, courteous tones he had been using. "I hope some day you will do me the honor of telling me of the attack yourself," he said. "It is sometimes very lonely here while I am on guard."
His gentle tone, and above all the flattering respect he showed, gave Lucia back her courage.
"Of course I will come," she said, "just as soon as my little brother is better. He fell and cut his head, and, and—well, I guess I'd better be going back, he may awaken and be frightened. Good night."
"Good night, Senorina," the soldier replied, "I am proud to have seen you."
"Now then,—" his voice became harsh again as he turned to his prisoners, "go along, one wink of your eyelid in the wrong direction and I will shoot."
He marched them off quickly, and Lucia, because the affair seemed finished, started for home.
THE END OF THE STORY
"Tell me a story," Beppi demanded when she was lying beside him once more, "I'm all awake again and my face hurts."
"What shall it be about?" Lucia asked, stroking his hair. She was still trembling from the reaction of her adventure, and Beppi's warm little body snuggled close in her arms was comforting.
"Go on with the story about the soldier and the bad girl that teased him, and the good girl that was the fairy princess."
"Very well, but shut your eyes. Let me see," Lucia began, "the soldier went off to the war, and when he came back he was wounded and the good girl took care of him, and they decided to be married and live happily ever after. And the bad girl when she saw the poor soldier wounded was sorry she had teased him, and she never did it again. And because she was good all kinds of nice things happened to her. She found her fairy godfather, and he had a magic carpet, and first thing you know she was in the middle of a beautiful garden with her little—"
"Oh, bother, I knew that wasn't a real story," Beppi protested. "It's just about Roderigo and Maria and the Captain and you. And oh, Lucia, how silly you are, you called yourself the bad girl when really you're the goodest in the whole world."
"Am I, Beppino mio?" Lucia laughed. "I don't think so."
"Well, I say you are," Beppi replied, drowsily, "and the Captain thinks so too, so—" He dropped off to sleep.
"I wonder if he would say so if he had seen me to-night," Lucia mused, "I had to do it, it was the only way, but oh, dear, I do hope I don't ever hear any more wicked men again." She yawned and looked towards the window. The first gray light of dawn streaked the sky.
"I guess I'll stay in the garden with Beppi and Nana and Garibaldi, and wait for my fairy god-father's return," she said as she closed her eyes.
As if to echo her words a faint "naa," came up from the stable yard below. Garibaldi was agreeing with her mistress.