Countess Piccio's Thrilling Fight For Her Baby
Just Like the Movies, Only Far More Exciting—the Battle of the American Heiress With Her Noble Husband, the Italian "Ace of Aces"
A small but swift and stanch motor boat left an obscure wharf in Naples the other day, threaded its way through the traffic that crowded the beautiful bay and made its way out toward the broad Mediterranean.
For its only passengers it carried a pretty young woman and a child of two years. The woman was the former Loranda Batchelder, the Chicago heiress, and now wife of Count Pier Ruggero Piccio
, the famous Italian aviator, and the child she pressed so closely in her arms was her own.
It was no pleasure trip the Countess was making on this swiftly moving motor boat. She was fleeing from an angry and vindictive husband and making a desperate attempt to put the child he wanted to snatch from her forever beyond the reach of him and the Italian law.
With eyes red from weeping the Countess eagerly scanned the waters for some pursuing boat. But none of the numerous craft she could see in every direction betrayed any interest in the boat on whose speed she was pinning her hopes of escaping her husband.
The Countess soon discovered that it was from the air and not the water that danger first threatened. Before she was far enough from Naples to feel much security she saw silhouetted against the distant sky the speck-like shapes of a squadron of aircraft.
The sight brought to the Countess's cheek a still deeper pallor and to her lips a gasp of dismay. Had her husband called to his aid all the resources of the Italian aviation service in his effort to rob her again of her child?
Within a few minutes she knew this was the truth. As the specks in the sky grew larger she could see they were Italian hydroplanes and were following the same course as her boat. Soon they were near enough for her to recognize one of them as the plane in which Count Ruggero, a general in the army and head of the aviation service, usually flew.
"Faster!" cried the frantic Countess, hoping against hope that her boat might yet outstrip these roaring monsters of the air. When she realized how impossible this was, she shook a trembling fist at her pursuers and vowed they would have to kill her before they could rob her of her precious baby.
But the danger that threatened her from the skies was not, as the Countess soon found out, the one most imminent. A wireless message from Count Piccio had sent a party of Italian aviation officers who happened to be in Corsica to meet the runaway wife in a motor boat.
Before the pursuing planes were near enough to swoop down to the water and taxi around their prey, this craft came alongside. The officers on board drew their revolvers and compelled the engineer of the Countess's boat to bring it to a stop.
The desperate Countess was about to fling herself into the sea when the officers who were carrying out her husband's orders seized her. They dragged her and her frightened baby on board their boat and turned back to Corsica.
Arrived there they locked their helpless prisoners in a hotel room to await the arrival of Count Piccio. Once inside the room the Countess barricaded the door by piling in front of it all the heaviest furniture she could move.
When Count Piccio came and found himself barred from his wife's hiding place he summoned soldiers and policemen, who attacked the door with axes and forced a way into the room.
As the Count crossed the threshold he saw his wife, the baby in her arms, cowering in its farthest corner.
"You coward!" the frenzied woman shrieked. "You, the hero of Italy, calling out a whole army to pursue a defenceless woman whose only crime is that she wants to save her baby from your tyrannies."
The Count's reply was to stride across the room and lay hold of the child. For a minute he tugged and the mother tugged as desperately as they dared on this frail bit of frightened humanity.
Then the mother, apparently fearing that the child might be injured, suddenly released her hold and fell in a faint. The Count paused not a moment, but stalked out of the room, bearing the screaming baby victoriously in his arms.