This real life drama, more replete with thrills and heart throbs and the excitement of the chase than any plot the movies have ever known, is the aftermath of what was regarded as one at the most delightful of the many international romances which the war brought into being.
Miss Loranda Batchelder met Count Piccio at a dinner in Paris during the year of the armistice. She was finishing her education at the Ecole Lamartine. She was only sixteen, and was under the chaperonage of her mother, the widow of David Batchelder, a millionaire Louisiana lumberman.
Count Piccio was at the time air attache at the Italian Embassy in Paris. He was the Italian "ace of aces," having brought down during his war service forty-two enemy airplanes.
The day after the dinner at which the Count and the American heiress met he took her up for a trip in his plane. When Loranda stepped out of it after an hour's ride high above the clouds which hung low over Paris that afternoon, she astonished her waiting mother by announcing that she and the Count were engaged and wanted to be married immediately.
But Mrs. Batchelder raised serious objections. She thought Loranda too young to marry and she objected to her having for her husband a man nearly three times her age. She tried to break up the match by cutting her daughter's studies short and hurrying her back to America.
The Count promptly followed his sweetheart here and soon Mrs. Batchelder felt compelled, against her better judgment, to yield to the lovers' demands. They were married in New York, and went at once to Paris and later to Italy, where Count Piccio was made a general and placed at the head of the army's aviation service.
Very soon it became manifest that the wartime romance which had begun so blissfully thousands of feet above Paris had come to earth with a vengeance. The Countess complained to her friends of her husband's utter inability to understand the nature of an American-born woman.
Their quarrels became more frequent, more bitter. The ugly climax was reached one night when they were entertaining friends at dinner.
One of the men guests expressed the belief that a married woman has a perfect right to attend the theater with a man other than her husband, and the Countess said she agreed with him. This angered the Count, who has no sympathy with the liberty many American wives enjoy. He picked up an onyx clgarette box and hurled it at his wife.
Soon after this the Countess went to Paris and started suit for divorce. The courts, however, refused her demand on the ground that divorce is not recognised under the Italian law.
She had taken the child to Paris with her. One day it mysteriously disappeared. Detectives whom the Countess put on the case finally found that the baby had been spirited away by its father and was at his home in Rome.
Shrewdly pretending that she was glad to be rid of the child and had no deslre to reclaim it, the Countess returned to Rome. The Count was so deceived by her pretence that little by little he began to relax the vigilance with which the baby had been guarded.
This was exactly what the Countess wanted. She disguised herself as a wealthy American widow, and, under the name of Mrs. A. Plume, of New York, took rooms at a quiet little hotel close to Count Plcclo's home. She bribed and smiled her way into the confidence of the nursemaids who had the baby in charge, and one day the baby vanished.
The Countess fled to Naples with the child and what happened after that has already been told.
The American heiress will not yet admit her defeat. She hopes to enlist the aid of the United States government in recovering her baby.
"My husband cast my love aside like a faded flower," says Countess Piccio.
"Our life has always been a hell of misunderstandings," says the Count.
In spite of this mutual bitterness some of thelr friends cherish the hope of a reconciliation. The basis of this hope lies in the parents' devotion to the child. Either of them would make almost any sacrifice for its sake.
The Galveston Daily News - Friday, August 15, 1924