They didn’t speak again until Carolina was ten, when she discovered him standing in the hard sun on the side of that same road, glaring down at what seemed to be a tangle of women’s dresses and sticks, embellished here and there by lengths of the same twine she’d seen the gardener use to tie sweet peas to their leafy towers.
Carolina had been engaged that day in her own explorations. It had recently come to her attention that many of the things adults had told her about the world were not true. Her mother was rarely tired, as she claimed: it was just that she preferred spending her days in her own rooms to speaking with Carolina or her father. This realization led Carolina to begin testing other claims. She unleashed an entire stream of overheard curses at a stand of undeserving daffodils and discovered that her tongue did not, in fact, turn black. She slept with a coin her father had given her under her pillow for a week, then carried it carefully to the lake and threw it in, but a swan boat did not emerge from the rings inside of rings that spread on the dark water, as she had wished.
As a result, Carolina had decided to test the limits of her more immediate surroundings. She knew that the road led over the hill to the Turri villa, which she had passed a hundred times. But in the opposite direction, the path forked. One branch led to the small town she sometimes visited with her mother to buy books or cloth. The other turned into her father’s forest, but their carriage had never gone down it in Carolina’s memory. From the carriage window, she could only catch a short glimpse of treetops brushing over a shady lane. Then the mysterious road turned sharply and vanished in the woods.
“Where does it go?” Carolina had asked a few weeks before, holding back the carriage’s thick curtains.
“Nowhere, darling,” her mother had told her. “It may have gone to the river once. There’s nothing there now.”
This answer only inflamed Carolina’s suspicions. Carolina’s mother had told her there was nothing in the old gardener’s shed, but on investigation, Carolina had discovered that it was crammed with treasure: jars full of colored glass, brown paper packets decorated with drawings of flowers and vegetables, enough burlap to make a wedding dress, and spiderwebs spun so large they could catch a child.
Determined to see for herself where the road led, Carolina struck out across her father’s lawn and tramped through the forest that claimed that corner of his property, using a system she had developed for not walking in circles in the woods, a fate she knew often befell less clever travelers. Quite simply, she walked from tree to tree, always choosing one slightly to the east, which was where she judged that the road must run. But despite her new system and some admirable self-control in resisting the blandishments of a number of intriguing flowers that beckoned from beyond her chosen path, she emerged from the brambles still in sight of her own gate.
Her disappointment was interrupted almost immediately by the sight of Turri and his machine.
“What does it do?” she called, picking her way through the stubble of yearling trees that had bravely taken root in the parched grass between the road and the forest.
Turri glanced up at her for a moment and then resumed glaring at the wreckage. “It’s a trap for angels,” he said.
Before Carolina could decide whether this was a joke, a lie, or some new category, the pile of silk and sticks burst into flames.
For one long breath, pale blue and gold fire swept over the delicate folds, caressing the cloth without consuming it. Then the sticks began to crack, and the twine charred and curled.
Carolina leapt onto the pile, stamping madly. After just a few measures of her strange dance, the fire was vanquished. She stood in the ruins of the machine, the ghost of the fire rising as faint smoke around her bare knees, and looked at Turri.
He looked back at her with the sudden keen interest of a scientist whose specimen has been unwise enough to reveal some extraordinary trait: a bird repeating the name he had mumbled in his sleep, a mouse struggling to rise on two feet, a fish that lights up as the sun drops into the sea.
Troubled by his gaze, Carolina extracted herself from the wreckage. “I hope I didn’t break anything,” she said, retreating into politeness in this completely unmapped territory.
Carolina’s eyes narrowed. The inexplicable laughter of adults always filled her with rage.
At the change in her expression, Turri composed himself immediately. “I’m not laughing at you,” he said. “I wouldn’t dare. You might strike me with lightning.”
With this, he knelt and began to roll the remains of his experiment into a bundle, as thick as a man and nearly as tall. When he rose to his feet he pulled it with him, propping it upright in the road. The jumble of sticks and fabrics gave the overall effect of a beloved scarecrow, brightly adorned for burial.
He seemed slightly surprised to discover that Carolina had not disappeared from the scene. “Do I know your name?” he asked.
“Carolina,” she said.
“Carolina,” he repeated. Then he tilted his head with all the dignity of one grown man acknowledging a debt to another. “Thank you.”
Carolina tilted her head in return.
As Turri turned away, she stepped back into the shade. Nothing broke the silence of the bright afternoon except the crunch of Turri’s boots. A strip of turquoise silk, escaped from the bundle, trailed in the road, raising a thin plume of golden dust behind him.