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In the Wilderness   By: (1864-1950)

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IN THE WILDERNESS

By Robert Hichens

BOOK I HERMES AND THE CHILD

CHAPTER I

Amedeo Dorini, the hall porter of the Hotel Cavour in Milan, stood on the pavement before the hotel one autumn afternoon in the year 1894, waiting for the omnibus, which had gone to the station, and which was now due to return, bearing Amedeo hoped a load of generously inclined travelers. During the years of his not unpleasant servitude Amedeo had become a student of human nature. He had learnt to judge shrewdly and soundly, to sum up quickly, to deliver verdicts which were not unjust. And now, as he saw the omnibus, with its two fat brown horses, coming slowly along by the cab rank, and turning into the Piazza that is presided over by Cavour's statue, he prepared almost mechanically to measure and weigh evidence, to criticize and come to a conclusion.

He glanced first at the roof of the omnibus to take stock of the luggage pile there. There was plenty of it, and a good deal of it was leather and reassuring. Amedeo had a horror of tin trunks they usually gave such small tips. Having examined the luggage he sent a searching glance to two rows of heads which were visible inside the vehicle. The brawny porters hurried out, the luggage chute was placed in position, the omnibus door was opened, and the first traveler stepped forth.

A German of the most economical type, large, red and wary, with a mouth like a buttoned up pocket, was followed by a broad waisted wife, with dragged hair and a looped up gown. Amedeo's smile tightened. A Frenchman followed them, pale and elaborate, a "one nighter," as Amedeo instantly decided in his mind. Such Frenchmen are seldom extravagant in hotels. This gentleman would want a good room for a small price, would be extremely critical about the cooking, and have a wandering eye and a short memory for all servants in the morning.

An elderly Englishwoman was the fourth personage to appear. She was badly dressed in black, wore a tam o' shanter with a huge black headed pin thrust through it, clung to a bag, smiled with amiable patronage as she emerged, and at once, without reason, began to address Amedeo and the porters in fluent, incorrect, and too carefully pronounced Italian. Amedeo knew her the Tabby who haunts Swiss and Italian hotels, the eternal Tabby drastically complete.

A gay Italian is gaiety in flight, a human lark with a song. But a gloomy Italian is oppressive and almost terrible. Despite the training of years Amedeo's smile flickered and died out. A ferocious expression surged up in his dark eyes as he turned rather bruskly to scrutinize without hope the few remaining clients. But suddenly his face cleared as he heard a buoyant voice say in English:

"I'll get out first, Godfather, and give you a hand."

On the last word, a tall and lithe figure stepped swiftly, and with a sort of athletic certainty, out of the omnibus, turned at once towards it, and, with a movement eloquent of affection and almost tender reverence, stretched forth an arm and open hand.

A spare man of middle height, elderly, with thick gray hair, and a clean shaven, much lined face, wearing a large loose overcoat and soft brown hat, took the hand as he emerged. He did not need it; Amedeo realized that, realized also that he was glad to take it, enjoyed receiving this kind and unnecessary help.

"And now for Beatrice!" he said.

And he gave in his turn a hand to the girl who followed him.

There were still two people in the omnibus, the elderly man's Italian valet and an Englishman. As the latter got out, and stretched his limbs cramped with much sitting, he saw Amedeo, with genuine smiles, escorting the two girls and the elderly man towards the glass roofed hall, on the left of which was the lift. The figure of the girl who had stepped out first was about to disappear. As the Englishman looked she vanished. But he had time to realize that a gait, the carriage of a head and its movement in turning, can produce on an observer a moral effect... Continue reading book >>




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