"Daddy!" she said once, "couldn't we go out to Australia or America, or somewhere where nobody would know us, and make a fresh life for ourselves?"
A gleam of hope flitted for a moment over the sad face.
"I've thought of that, Lorna. Perhaps I've been too morbid. It seemed to me that every Englishman must know of what I had been accused. And I had no credentials to offer. Now, with a five years' reference from the Ferroni Company in Naples I might have a chance of a job in Australia. It's worth considering—for your sake, child, if not for mine."
During the whole of the first week of the holidays Lorna amused herself as best she might in their little lodgings in Naples. While her father was at the office she read or sewed, or played on a wretched old piano, which had little tune in it but was better than nothing. The evenings were her golden times, for then they would go out together, sometimes into the Italian quarters of the city, or sometimes by tram into the suburbs, where there were beautiful promenades with views of the sea. In these walks she grew to be his companion, and instead of shrinking from him as in former days, she met him on a new footing and gave him of her best. Together they planned a home in a fresh hemisphere, and talked hopefully of better things that were perhaps in store for them over the ocean. And so life went on, and father and daughter might have realized their vision, and have emigrated to another continent where no one knew their name or their former history, and have made a fresh start and won comparative success, but Dame Fortune, who sometimes has a use for our past however bitterly she seems to have mismanaged it, interfered again, and with fateful fingers re-flung the dice.
It certainly did not seem a fortunate circumstance, but quite the reverse, when the grandchildren of their landlady, who occupied the etage above their rooms, sickened with measles. Lorna had never had the complaint, and it was, of course, most important that she should not convey germs back to the Villa Camellia, so it was a vital necessity to move her immediately out of the area of infection. Signora Fiorenza, harassed but sympathetic, suggested a visit to Capri, where her sister, Signora Verdi, who owned a little orange farm and had a couple of spare bedrooms, would probably take her in for the remainder of the holidays, which would give the necessary quarantine before returning to the school.
Mr. Carson jumped at the opportunity, and Lorna was told to pack her bag.
"But Daddy, Daddy!" she remonstrated. "I don't want to leave you. Just when we're happy together must I run away? Do measles matter? I'd rather have them and stay here. I would indeed."
"Don't be silly, Lorna. Miss Rodgers wouldn't thank you to start an epidemic. Of course you must go to Capri. It's a splendid opportunity. Signora Verdi has a nice little villa. Cheer up, child. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll take you myself to-morrow, stay over Sunday, and come again and spend the next week-end with you. I can get an extra day or two of holiday if I want, and the Casa Verdi is a quiet spot, quite out of the way of tourists. We can have the orange groves to ourselves and see nobody. If I catch the early boat I'm not likely to be troubled with English trippers; that's one good business."
"Daddy! You darling! Oh, that would be glorious! I'd go to the North Pole if you'd come too. Two week-ends with you in Capri! What fun. We'll have the time of our lives!"
To poor Lorna, who so seldom had the opportunity of enjoying family outings, this visit indeed was an event. She packed her bag joyously, and was all excitement to start.
Following his usual custom of avoiding the vicinity of English people, Mr. Carson decided not to go to Capri by the ordinary steamer that conveyed pleasure-seekers, but to secure passages in a cargo vessel which was crossing with supplies. To Lorna the mode of conveyance was immaterial; she would have sailed cheerfully on a raft if necessary. She rather enjoyed the picturesque Neapolitan tramp steamer with its cargo of wine barrels and packing cases, and its crew of bare-footed, red-capped seamen, talking and gesticulating with all the excitability of their Southern temperament. The voyage across the blue bay was longer than that to Fossato, and she sat in a cozy nook among the casks, and watched first the white houses of Naples fading away, then the distant mountains of the coast, then the gay sails of the fishing craft that plied to and fro over the water.
It was sunset when they reached the beautiful island of Capri, a pink ethereal sunset that flooded headland and rock, orange orchard and vineyard, in a faint and luminous opal glow. Their vessel anchored outside the quay of the Marina Grande, and signaled for a boat to take them off. A little skiff put out from the beach, and into this they and their luggage were transferred. The transparent crystal water over which they rowed was clear as an aquarium, and alive with gorgeous medusae whose pink tentacles seemed to flash with the colors of the sunset; to gaze down at them was like watching a flock of sea-butterflies flitting across a background of undulating green.
They landed at the jetty, walked to the shore, and after securing a carriage started on a long drive uphill to the terreno of Signora Verdi. Capri, betwixt the glow of the fading sunset and the light of the rising full moon, was a veritable land of romance, with its domed eastern-looking houses set in a mass of vines and lemon trees, and the luscious scent of its many flowers wafted on the evening air. It seemed no less attractive in the morning, when, after drinking their coffee in a rose-covered arbor that stood at the bottom of their landlady's orange grove, they wandered away through the bosco and up on to the open hillside. Here Flora had surely played a trick to plant golden genista against the intense sapphire blue of a Capri sea, and she must have emptied her apron all at once to have spangled the rough grass with cistus, anemone, and starry asphodel. Below them lay a stretch of rugged rocks and turquoise bay, with no sound to break the silence but the tinkling of goat-bells, or the piping of a little dark-eyed boy who practiced a rustic flute as he minded his flock. To poor Mr. Carson, wearied with the noise and clamor of Naples, it was a veritable Paradise, a haven of refuge, a breathing space in the dreary pilgrimage of his sad life. On the top of this sunlit, rock-crowned islet he gained a short period of peace and rest before he once more shouldered his heavy burden.
"If I could live all my days here, Lorna, who knows, I might learn to forget," he said wistfully.
"Oh, Dad! We must find a way out somehow. You can't go on like this! It's killing you. Why have we to suffer under this unjust accusation? Why should some one else do a shameful deed and shift the blame on to you? Is there no plan by which you could clear your name?"
"I've asked myself that question, Lorna, through many black hours, but I've never hit on an answer."
"I hate the man who's wronged you," she sobbed passionately. "Yes! I hate him—hate him—hate him—and all belonging to him. Is it wicked to hate? I can't help it when it's my own father's honor that's at stake. Oh, Daddy, Daddy, if I could only 'get even' I'd be content. It seems so hard to let the wicked prosper and just do nothing. Why should some people have all the laughter of life and others all the tears?"
Lorna parted reluctantly from her father on Monday morning. He sailed by a very early boat, so that the sun had not yet risen high, as, after watching his vessel leave the harbor, she turned from the Marina to walk back to the Casa Verdi. Half of the little town was still asleep. There were no signs of life in the hotel, where the wistaria was blooming in a purple shower over the veranda, and green shutters barred the lower windows of most of the villas. A few peasant people were stirring about; three dark-eyed girls, as straight as Greek goddesses, were coming down the steep path from Anacapri with orange baskets on their heads, and their hands full of posies of pink cyclamen; a mother with a child clinging to her yellow-bordered skirt was taking an earthenware pitcher to the well for water; a persistent bell in the little church of S. Costanzo was calling some to prayers, and others were starting the ordinary routine of the day, attending to animals, cutting salads in their gardens, spreading out fishing-nets, or getting ready the hand barrows on which they sold their wares. In the gleaming morning light the beautiful island seemed more than ever like a radiant jewel set in a sapphire sea. Lorna had left the winding highroad, and was taking a short cut up flights of steep steps between the flowery gardens of villas, where geraniums grew like weeds, and every bush seemed a mass of scented blossoms. She was passing a small flat-topped eastern house, whose gatepost bore the attractive title of "La Carina," when she suddenly heard her own name called, and turning round, startled and surprised, what should she see peeping over the cactus hedge but the smiling face and blonde bobbed locks of Irene. The amazement was mutual.
"Hello! What are you doing in Capri?"
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm staying up on the hill!"
"And we're staying at this villa!"
"To think of meeting you!"
"Sporting, isn't it? Come inside the garden! I can't talk to you down there in the road."
That her chum should actually also have come to Capri for the holidays seemed a marvelous piece of luck to Lorna.
"We decided quite in a hurry," explained Irene. "Dad heard this little place was to let furnished, and took it for three weeks. The Camerons have taken that big pink house over there, with the umbrella pine in the garden. Peachy is staying with them. Isn't it absolutely ripping? I was only saying yesterday I wished you were here too. And my cousin Marjorie Anderson and her friends are stopping at the hotel, just down below. We're having the most glorious times all together. Here's Vincent! Vin, you remember meeting Lorna at school? She's actually staying in Capri! No, don't go, Lorna! Sit down and talk! Now I've found you I mean to keep you. We're not generally up so early, but Dad wants to catch the first steamer. He has to get back to Naples this morning."
"My father has gone already by a sailing vessel."
"Then you are alone? Oh, I say! You must spend most of your time with us. It's a lucky chance that has blown you our way, isn't it? We seem quite a cluster of Camellia Buds in Capri."
So Lorna, who had expected a very quiet, not to say dull, visit at the Casa Verdi during her father's absence, found herself instead in the midst of hospitable friends who extended cordial invitations to her for every occasion.
"By all means let your friend join us," agreed Mrs. Beverley, in answer to her daughter's urgent request. "We've heard so much about Lorna in your letters. She seems a nice girl. I remember I was quite struck with her when I saw her at your school carnival. One more or less makes no difference for picnics. It must certainly be slow for her up there with only an Italian landlady to talk to, poor child."
Capri was an idyllic place for holiday-making. The beautiful climate, perfect at this season of the year, made living out of doors a delight. Every day the various friends met together, and either went for excursions or passed happy hours in each other's gardens. The Camerons had several young people staying with them as well as Peachy, and the party at the hotel proved a great acquisition. This consisted of Captain Hilton Preston and his sister Joyce, their married sister Kathleen and her husband, Mr. Frank Roper, and Marjorie Anderson, who was traveling under their chaperonage. They were fond of the sea, and had at once made arrangements to hire a boat and a boatman for their visit, so that they might have as much pleasure as possible on the water during their short stay.
"We shan't be able to paddle about on the Mediterranean when we get home," said Captain Preston with mock tragedy. "My leave will soon be up and I shall be off to India again. It's a case of 'Let's enjoy while the season invites us.' These rocks and bays and coves are simply magnificent. We've decided to go to the Blue Grotto to-day. Who cares to join us?"
This was an expedition which could only be undertaken when the sea was absolutely calm, so, as even the Mediterranean may be treacherous, and sudden squalls can lash its smooth surface into waves, it was wise to take advantage of a cloudless day.
"We'll start early, so as to arrive there before the steamer, and have the grotto to ourselves, instead of going in with a rabble of tourists," decreed Hilton Preston.
"Four boatfuls of us will be a big enough party," agreed Vincent. "They say the best light is at about eleven."
The group of friends therefore set off from the Marina in their various craft. The row along the base of the precipitous craggy shore was most beautiful, the water swarmed with gayly-colored sea-stars and jelly-fish, and on the rocks at the edge of the waves grew gorgeous madrepores, and other "frutti di mare." The Blue Grotto is one of the wonders of Italy, but to explore it is not a particularly easy matter, for its entrance is scarcely three feet in height.
"My! Have we got to squeeze under there!" exclaimed Peachy wonderingly, looking at the tiny space at the foot of the crag through which they would be obliged to pass.
"Not in these boats, of course," said Vincent. "The skiffs are waiting, and if we just leave it to the boatmen they'll show us how to manage."
The tiny craft that were in readiness for visitors now came forward, and the party was transferred to them. Three passengers were taken in each skiff, and were required to lie flat on their backs in the bottom of the boat. The boatman paddled to the entrance of the grotto, then also lying on his back he directed the skiff into a low passage, working his way along by pulling at a chain which was fastened to the roof of the rocky corridor. In a short space of time they shot into an enormous cavern, 175 feet in length, and over 40 feet in height. Here for a moment or two all seemed dazzled, but as their bewildered vision gradually grew accustomed to the light they saw that everything in the grotto, walls, sea, or any objects, appeared of a heavenly blue color. The faces of their friends, their own hands, the water when they scooped it up and dropped it again, all were turned to sapphire, while articles under the sea gleamed with a beautiful silver shade. The girls bared their arms and enjoyed dipping them to obtain this effect. The glorious blue of the cave was indescribable.
"I feel like a mermaid at the bottom of the ocean," exulted Peachy.
"Or a cherub in the sky!" said Jess.
"Why is it blue though?" asked Lorna.
"Because of the refraction of light," explained Mrs. Beverley from the next boat. "We see a kind of concentrated reflection of the sky sent to us under the sea. If it were a gray day outside it would be gray in here too. Some people think that the Mediterranean has risen, and that once the water in this grotto was much lower, so that boats could sail in and out of it quite easily. Do you see that landing-place over there? It leads to some broken steps and a blocked-up passage that tradition says wound up through the cliff right to the villa of Tiberius. Perhaps it was a secret way by which he thought he might escape if danger threatened him."
"How I'd love to explore it," sighed Irene.
"It only goes a little way before it is blocked. It's hardly worth landing to look at it. Be careful, Renie! If you lean over the edge of the boat so far you'll be upsetting us, and, although we might look very delightful and silvery objects under the water, I'm not at all anxious to offer myself for the experiment."
"Why don't they enlarge the entrance?" asked Vincent.
"Because nobody is sure whether by doing so they might or might not spoil the beautiful effect of blue light in the grotto. It's too risky a venture to try. Besides in present conditions the boatmen make a great deal of money by taking tourists into the grotto. If it were very easy to get in they could not charge so much. It's a little mine of wealth to the Capri fisherfolk now, though years ago they used to say the place was haunted, and tell terrible tales about it. They said fire and smoke had been seen issuing from the entrance, that creatures like crocodiles crept in and out, that every day the opening expanded and contracted seven times, that at night the Sirens sang sweetly there, that any young fishermen who ventured to sail near disappeared and were never seen again, and that the place was full of human bones."
"What a gruesome record," declared Vincent. "I agree with Renie though, I'd like to explore that passage with a strong bicycle lamp, or an electric torch. Who knows what we might find if we looked about—a coin that Tiberius had dropped out of his pocket, or one of the Sirens' hairpins, or a crocodile's tooth at least. Yes, I must positively come again, Mater. Just to prove the truth of your stories."
"Silly boy," laughed his mother. "I expect every stone of the place has been well turned over in search of treasure. Trust the fisher people not to lose a chance. Now our stay here's limited by the official tariff to a quarter of an hour, and if we stop any longer we shall have to pay our dues a second time. If you're ready so am I. Tell the first boat to go on. Don't forget we must lie on our backs again to scrape through the entrance."
The Cameron Clan
Lorna had never realized before how much of life can be compressed into a few days. The interval between her father's departure for Naples and his return for the week-end was spent almost entirely with her friends. It marked for her an altogether new phase of existence. She had read in books about jolly families of brothers and sisters, and parties of young people, but her own experience was strictly limited to school. Here in Capri, for the first time she tasted the delights of which she had often dreamed, and found herself cordially included in a charmed circle. Though the Beverleys were mainly responsible for thus taking her up, the Camerons also offered much kindness. "The Cameron Clan" as they called themselves, consisted of father, mother, Jess, and two brothers, Angus and Stewart, and almost every evening the young folk would meet at their villa and gather round a wood fire in the salon. Though the days were so warm the nights were chilly, and it was cheerful to watch the blazing logs. What times they had together! It was an established rule that everybody contributed some item to the general entertainment, and in spite of fierce denials even the least accomplished were compelled to perform. It brought out quite unexpected talent. Peachy, who had always declared her music "wasn't up to anything," charmed the company by lilting darkie melodies or pathetic Indian songs, Captain Preston remembered conjuring tricks which he had learned in India, Mr. Roper proved a genius at relating short stories, and Mrs. Cameron could recite old ballads with the fervor of a medieval minstrel. The walls of the Italian salon seemed to melt away and change to a wild moorland or a northern castle as she declaimed "Fair Helen of Kirconnell," "The Lament of the Border Widow," "Bartrum's Dirge," or "The Braes o' Yarrow."
"Modern people want more poetry in their veins," she insisted. "I've no patience with the stuff most of them read. There's more romance in one of those stories of ancient times than you'd find in a whole boxful of the latest library books. People weren't ashamed of their feelings then, and they put them into beautiful words. Nowadays it seems to me they've neither the feelings nor the language to clothe them in. I'm a century or two too late. I ought to have lived when the world was younger."
If his wife adored her native ballads Mr. Cameron, on his part, had a good stock of Scottish songs, and would trill them out in a fine baritone voice, the audience joining with enthusiasm in the choruses of such favorites as "Bonny Dundee," "Charlie is my Darling," and "Over the Sea to Skye."
"There's a ring about Jacobite melodies that absolutely grips you," said Mrs. Beverley, begging for "Wha wad na fecht for Charlie," and "Farewell Manchester." "Perhaps it's in my blood, for my ancestors were Jacobites. One of them was a beautiful girl in 1745, and sat on a balcony to watch her prince ride into Faircaster. The cavalcade came to a halt under her window and 'Charlie' looked up and saw her, and asked her to dance at the ball that was being given that night in the town. She was greatly set up by the honor, and handed the tradition of it down the family as something that must never be forgotten. Oh! I'd have fought for the 'Hieland laddie' myself if I'd been a man in his days. Is the spirit of personal loyalty dead? We give patriotic devotion to our country, but love such as that of an ancient Highlander for his hereditary chief seems absolutely a thing of the past."
While their elders entertained the circle with northern legends or border ballads the young people also did their share, and contributed such choice morsels as ghost stories, adventures in foreign lands, or weird tales of the occult. Stewart, who was an omnivorous reader of magazines, tried to demonstrate the romance of modern literature, though he could never convince his mother of its equality with old-world favorites. Marjorie Anderson, who had a sweet voice, loved soldier ditties, and caroled them much to the admiration of Captain Preston, who always managed to contrive to get a seat near her particular corner of the fireside.
"I believe those two are 'a match,'" whispered Peachy to Irene one evening.
"So do I. They met first when Marjorie was at school. Dona told me all about it, and it was quite romantic. They'd have seen more of each other only, after the armistice, his regiment was ordered out to India. He's home on leave now. He wrote to Marjorie all the time he was away, regularly. She's tremendous friends with his sisters, and they asked her to join them on this tour. Looks suspicious, doesn't it?"
"Rather! I hope it will really come off," answered Peachy, looking sympathetically at the attractive pair whose chairs always seemed to gravitate together. "She's pretty! And his brown eyes are the twinkliest I've ever seen! Yes! I'm prepared to give them my blessing! I only wish he'd get on with it. Why doesn't somebody give him a push over the brink and make him propose? He's marking time, and for two cents I'd tell him so myself. I guess his eyes would pop out, but I shouldn't care! Don't be alarmed! I promise I won't interfere. But onlookers see the most of the game, and with an affair like this under my very nose I'll be mad if they don't fix-it up."
Captain Preston was hardly likely to conduct his love-making under full fire of inquisitive eyes, but he generally managed to appropriate Marjorie on walks or excursions; they strolled out together to admire the moon, hunted for orchids on the hills, searched the beach for shells, and saw enough of one another's society to satisfy the most ardent matchmakers. It was an established fact that these two should always sit together in boat or carriage, but the rest of the party revolved like a kaleidoscope. Lorna sometimes found herself escorted by Stewart or Angus, sometimes by Charlie or Michael Foard, the friends who were staying with them, and oftener still by Vincent Beverley, whose fair hair, blue eyes, and merry face—so like Irene's—specially attracted her. She was so unaccustomed to have a cavalier at all that it seemed wonderful to her that any one should take the trouble to carry her basket, pick flowers that grew out of her reach, help her up difficult steps or hand her into a rocking boat. This new aspect of the world was very sweet. Insensibly it affected her.
"Lorna's growing so pretty," commented Peachy to Irene. "She's a queer girl. At school she goes about looking almost plain and as dreary as an owl. She's suddenly jumped into life here. Anybody who hadn't seen the two sides of her wouldn't believe the difference. When she's animated she's nearly beautiful."
"I don't think she's ever been really appreciated at the Villa Camellia," replied Irene. "Mums likes her immensely. She says there's so much in her, and that she only wants 'mothering' to bring her out. As for Vin, his head's turned. He's made me vow faithfully to engineer that he sits next to Lorna in the boat to-day. Are you going with Stewart? Well, I've promised Michael if he's a particularly good boy I'll let him row me in the little skiff. I dare say Charlie will be angry, but I can't help it. The Foards are as alike as buttons in looks, but the younger one is so infinitely nicer than the other."
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday had slipped blissfully by. Except for the few hours daily during which the steamer from Naples visited Capri, with promenade deck filled with tourists, the little island was wonderfully quiet, and by keeping away from the Marina Grande or the highroads it was possible to avoid other holiday-makers. If they were not on the sea "the clan," as the whole party liked to call themselves, generally went up the hills to escape civilization. The natives had begun to know them, and though they might be offered oranges, figs, or dates by street vendors they were not continually pestered to take carriages, engage guides or donkeys, or buy picture post-cards or long strings of coral. Irene loved occasional excursions into the white town on the rock. The strict rules and convent seclusion of the Villa Camellia had given her no opportunity of sampling shops at Fossato, so, except for her half-term holiday at Naples, this was her first experience of marketing in Italy. The unfamiliar money and measures were of course confusing, but the quaint little cakes, the lollipops wrapped in fringed tissue paper of gay colors, the sugar hearts, the plaited baskets, the inlaid boxes, the mosaic brooches, the beads, and the hundred and one cheap trifles spread forth on stalls or in windows fascinated her, and drew many lire from her purse. She only knew a few words of colloquial Italian, but she used these to the best advantage, and made up the rest with nods and smiles, a language well understood by the kindly people of Capri, to whom a gesture is as eloquent as a whole sentence. Vincent, whose talents ran more towards prowess at football than a gift for languages, would often escort his sister, and conducted his bargaining by pointing to what he wanted and counting the price in lire on his five fingers, an operation that caused fits of amusement to the shopkeepers, with whom the fair young Englishman became quite a favorite. As long as Vincent could see what he wished for on sale and indicate it with a finger he got along all right, but matters grew complicated if he tried to explain himself. One day his mother, having run short of methylated spirit, for her teakettle, sent him with a bottle to buy some more. He looked the words up in a dictionary, entered a chemist's, and demanded "alcohol for burning" in his best Italian. The assistant seemed mystified, but suddenly a light flooded his intelligent face, he flew to a series of neat little drawers behind the counter, rummaged about, and in much triumph produced an "Alcock's porous plaster," which he vehemently assured Vincent would be sure to burn, and was a real English medicine, imported with great trouble and expense, and certain to cure the ailment from which he was suffering. How Vincent would have got out of the tangle, or convinced the chemist's assistant that he was not in need of medical aid, is uncertain, but at that moment Irene, who was walking with Lorna in the square, spied him through the window, and brought her chum to the rescue. Lorna's Italian was excellent; she soon unravelled the matter, returned the porous plaster to the disappointed assistant, and explained to Vincent that the local name for methylated spirit was "spirito," and that it was generally procured from an oil colorman's.
"How was I to know?" grumbled Vincent dramatically. "A fellow goes by the dictionary."
"It's always called 'alcohol' in Rome, and in some other places," pacified Lorna, who was still laughing at the mistake, "and I've bought it at a chemist's myself in Naples. Come along round the corner and we'll find the right shop. I had my own bottle filled there yesterday, so I know where to go."
On the Friday, Mrs. Cameron, who by universal consent had constituted herself organizer of the various joint expeditions, sent out invitations for a grand gathering of the Clan to go and view the ruins of the villa of Tiberius. This was one of the principal sights of the island, and, as the Preston party were not staying over the following week, it would have seemed a pity for them to miss it.
"It's a case of taking nose-bags and going for the day," said Stewart, delivering his messages at the various villas. "Meeting-place, the piazza in the town. Those who like to come up by the funicular can do so. We'll wait for them. I think the Mater will take the train and save herself some of the climb. She doesn't like these endless steps, and it's certainly a pull from our place to the town. It's worth while walking down to the Marina to get the railway."
Mrs. Beverley, Mrs. Roper, and Joyce Preston joined Mrs. Cameron in taking advantage of the little "Ferrovia Funicolare" that connected the harbor with the town, and arrived on the piazza cool and fresh compared with those who had preferred to toil up the steep path.
"I told you to come with me, Renie child," chided Mrs. Beverley. "Look how hot you are already. You'll be quite overdone before we get to the summit."
"Oh, Mums darling, I'm not tired! I've saved the fare and bought this swanky little cane instead. Look! Isn't it dinky?" protested Irene, proudly exhibiting her newly purchased treasure. "It has a leather strap and a tassel and a knob that one can suck."
"You baby," laughed her mother. "We shall have to buy you a tin trumpet. I don't believe you're out of the nursery yet."
"Tin trumpet, Mums darling? Oh! You've given me such an idea," purred Irene, running to Michael Foard and whispering some communication into his sympathetic ear, which caused him to walk back to a certain street stall and purchase nine tin whistles, with which the younger members of the party armed themselves and immediately began a desperate attempt to reproduce "The Bluebells of Scotland," hugely to the entertainment of the natives, who flocked to their doors all smiles and amused exclamations.
"Bairns! I think shame of you," declared Mrs. Cameron. "They'll take us for a wandering circus. Put those unmusical instruments in your pockets till we're clear of the town. I never heard a poor Scottish air so mangled. You may practice your band on the hills and scare the goats. Don't play it in my ears again till you catch the proper tune."
The musicians, after their first burst of enthusiasm was expended, were glad to save their breath for the climb. When houses were left behind their way wound between high walls, up, up, up, along a paved pathway among orange groves, till at last the allotments disappeared, and they were on the open hillside, among the low shrubs and the rough grass and the beautiful flowers. Irene, running up a bank in quest of bee-orchises, broke her new cane into four pieces, but was somewhat consoled by a stick which Michael cut her from a chestnut tree.
"It hasn't a knob to suck," he laughed, "but I'll tie a stick of peppermint on to the end of it if you like."
"Don't tease me, or I'll throw a squashy orange at you."
"I thought you were fond of peppermint."
"So I am, and if there's another of those creamy Neapolitans left in your pocket I'll accept it and forgive you."
"Right you are, O Queen! There are two here. Does your Majesty prefer a purple paper or a green?"
The ruins, which formed the goal of their expedition, were the remains of a once splendid villa erected by the Emperor Tiberius, and used constantly by him until his death in A.D. 37. Most of the party were disappointed to find them, as Peachy expressed it, "so very ruiny." It was difficult to picture what the original palace must have been like, for nothing was left of all the grandeur but crumbling walls, over which Nature had scattered ferns and flowers. At the very top some of the old masonry had been used to build a tiny church; this was closed, but, peeping through the grille in the door, the visitors could catch glimpses of blue-painted roof and of little model ships, placed as votive offerings by the sailors in gratitude for preservation from danger at sea. Outside this chapel was a great stone monument built so near the edge of the cliff that, when sitting on its steps, one could look down a sheer drop of several hundred feet into the blue waters below. The view from here was magnificent, and as the Clan, in turns, scanned the neighboring coast of Italy with field glasses, they believed they could even distinguish the Greek temples at Paestum. The girls described the glorious excursion they had taken there from school.
"You were lucky to be able to go all the way by char-a-banc," commented Mrs. Cameron. "Dad and I went there on our honeymoon, years and years ago, and traveled all the way from Naples by a terrible little jolting train that carried cattle-trucks and luggage-trucks as well as passenger carriages. I shan't ever forget that journey. We had to leave the station at 6.30 and when we came downstairs we found it was a pouring wet day. It was only the fact that the sleepy looking waiter at our hotel must have roused himself at 5 A.M. to prepare our coffee, and that we did not like to ask him to do it again another morning, that forced us to set off in the rain. I never felt so disinclined for an excursion in my life. Dad said afterwards if I'd given him the least hint he'd have joyfully relinquished it, but each thought the other wanted to go, so off we set. All the way to Cava it simply streamed, and we sat in our corners of the carriage secretly calling ourselves idiots, and wondering how we were going to look over temples in a deluge. But our heroism was rewarded, for just as the train crossed the brigand's marsh the rain stopped and the sun shone out, and the effect of blue sky and clouds was simply glorious. We had a great joke at Paestum. A mosquito had stung me badly on one lid so that I looked as if I had a black eye. It was most uncomfortable and painful, I remember. Well, a party of French tourists were going round the temples, and as they passed us they glanced at my eye and then at Daddy—a husband of three weeks' standing—and they murmured something to one another. I couldn't catch their words, but quite plainly they were saying: 'Oh, these dreadful English! He's evidently given her a black eye, poor thing! That's how they treat their wives!'
"The French people went on to the second temple, and Dad and I sat down to eat our lunch. We were fearfully annoyed by dogs that sat in front of us and watched every mouthful, and barked incessantly. (Did they trouble you too! How funny! They must surely be the descendants of our dogs who've inherited a bad habit.) Dad got so utterly exasperated that he said he must and would get rid of them, so he seized my umbrella, shook it furiously at them and yelled out 'Va via' in the most awful and blood-curdling voice he could command. Just at that moment the French tourists came back round the corner. They turned to one another with nods of comprehension, as if they were saying, 'There! Didn't I tell you so! See what a brute he really is,' and they cast the most sympathetic glances at me as they filed by. Isn't that true, Daddy?"
Mr. Cameron lazily removed his cigarette.
"It's a stock story, my dear, that you've told against me for the last twenty years. I won't say that it's not exaggerated. Go on telling it if you like. My back's broad enough to bear it. Shall I return good for evil? Well, as I walked through the town to-day, waiting till you came up by the funicular, I saw one of the Tarantella dancers, and I engaged the whole troupe to come to the house to-night and give us a performance. You said you wanted to see them. Will our friends here honor us with their company and help to act audience?"
It seemed an appropriate ending to such a delightful day, and all the party readily accepted the invitation. After twilight fell they assembled at the Camerons' villa and took their places in the salon, which had been temporarily cleared of some of its furniture. The Tarantella dancers, who were accustomed to give their small exhibition to visitors, brought their own orchestra with them, a thin youth who played the violin, a stout individual who plucked the mandolin, and an enthusiast who twanged the guitar. The performers were charmingly dressed in the old native costumes of the country, the men in soft white shirts, green sleeveless velvet coats, red plush knickers, silk stockings and shoes with scarlet bows, while the girls wore gay skirts, striped sashes, lace fichus, and aprons, and gold beads round their shapely throats. They danced several sprightly measures, waving tambourines and rattling castanets, or twining silk scarves together, while the musicians fiddled and strummed their hardest; then six of them stood aside and the two principal artists advanced to do a "star turn." "Romeo" sang an impassioned love song, with his hand on his heart, while "Juliette" plucked at her apron and appeared doubtful of the truth of his protestations. Then the "funny man" had his innings. He sat in a chair with a shoe in his hand and tried to smack the head of a humorist who knelt in front but always managed neatly to avoid his blows, the whole being punctuated by vigorous exclamations in Italian, and much energetic music from the orchestra.
A pretty girl sauntered next on to the scene, and sang—in a rather peacock voice—a little ditty lamenting the weather, at which a velvet-coated cavalier came to the rescue, and chanting his offer of help sheltered her with a huge green umbrella, under which they proceeded to make love, and finally executed a dance beneath its friendly shade. The whole of the little performance was very graceful and attractive, savoring so thoroughly of Southern Italy and showing the courteous manners and winning smiles to the utmost advantage. The dancers themselves seemed to have enjoyed it, and stood with beaming faces as they bowed their adieux and thanked the audience for their kind attention.
"Aren't they just too perfect," commented Peachy.
"I want to wear a velvet bodice and a green skirt with a yellow border. I want to dance the tarantella with a tambourine in my hand."
"Won't a two-step content you?" said Angus. "Mater says since the room is cleared we may just as well finish with a little hop ourselves. May I have the pleasure? Thanks so much. Mrs. Beverley's going to play for us. It's a beast of a piano but it's good enough to dance to. We mustn't notice if the bass is out of tune."
The Blue Grotto
Very early on Saturday morning Mr. Carson returned to Capri in a sailing vessel, having taken advantage of a night crossing and arriving with the dawn. Lorna had bidden her friends a temporary good-by for the week-end, refusing all kind invitations of "bring your father to see us," or "tell him he must join the Clan." She felt that her excuses for him were of the flimsiest; she said he was tired, unwell, and needed absolute rest and solitude, and begged them to forgive her if she spent the time with him alone, and, though they replied that they could understand his desire for quiet, she was conscious that they thought she might at least have volunteered an introduction. Lorna knew only too well that, if her father was aware there was the slightest danger of meeting English people, he would probably insist upon taking the next boat back to Naples; it was the consciousness of complete isolation that gave the value to his holiday. She told him indeed that she had met some of her school friends and had taken walks with them, but she mentioned that they were staying down below, nearer the Marina, and that they were not in the least likely to come up to the Casa Verdi.
"Let us take our books, Daddy," she suggested, "and go and sit on the hillside as we did last Sunday. It was quiet on that ledge of the crag, and away from everybody. The rest did you good, and I'm sure you enjoyed it."
Lying on the cliff among the flowers, with blue sky above and blue sea beneath, poor Mr. Carson allowed himself a temporary relaxation. He smoked his pipe and read his paper, and for a little while at least the hard lines round his mouth softened, and his anxious eyes grew easy. He finished his Italian journal, lay idly watching the scenery, chatted, dozed, and finally stretched out his hand for one of Lorna's books. It happened to be an Anthology of Poetry which Irene had lent her, and which contained one of the ballads that Mrs. Cameron had recited to the assembled Clan. It had struck Lorna's fancy, and she was trying to learn it by heart. Mr. Carson turned over the pages, read a few of the pieces, and was closing the little volume when his eye chanced to light upon the name written on the title page. Its effect upon him was like a charge of electricity.
"David Beverley," he gasped. "David Beverley! Lorna! Great Heavens! By all that's sacred, where did you get this?"
"Why, Dad! What's the matter? Irene lent me the book. It belongs to her father."
"Her father! You don't mean to tell me your friend's father is David Beverley?"
"Why not, Dad," whispered Lorna, looking with apprehension into his haggard, excited face.
She guessed even before he spoke what the answer was going to be.
"David Beverley is the man who ruined my life!"
The blow which had fallen was utterly overwhelming. For a moment Lorna fought against the knowledge like a drowning man battling with the waters.
"Oh, Dad! Surely there's some mistake. It can't be! Isn't it some other Beverley perhaps?"
"I know his writing only too well. There's no possibility of a mistake. Besides, I saw him in Naples—at the end of February. I haven't forgotten the shock it gave me. Why," turning almost fiercely upon Lorna, "didn't you tell me your schoolfellow's name before? Have you all this time been making friends with your father's enemy?"
"I thought I'd often talked about Renie," faltered poor Lorna. "Perhaps I never mentioned her surname. Oh, Dad! Dad! Is it really true? It's too horrible to be believed."
Lying in the soft Capri grass, with the pink cistus flowers brushing her hot cheeks, Lorna raged impotently against the tragedy of a fate which was changing the dearest friendship of her life into a feud. Irene!—the only one at school who had sympathized and understood her, who had behaved with a delicacy and kindness such as no other person had ever shown her, who had taken her into her home circle and given her the happiest time she had ever had in her shadowed girlhood; Irene with her merry gray eyes and her bright sunny hair, the very incarnation of warm-hearted genuine affection—Irene, her roommate, her buddy, her chosen confidante. How was it possible ever to regard her as an enemy? Yet had she not vowed a solemn oath to hate all belonging to the man who had so desperately injured them? Oh! The world seemed turning upside down. Loyalty to her father and love for her friend dragged different ways, and in the bitter conflict her heart was torn in two.
Mr. Carson, haunted to the verge of insanity by the terror of discovery, was now obsessed with the one idea of escape from Mr. Beverley. He no longer felt safe on the island. Any moment he dreaded to meet faces that would betray recognition of his past. The calm and content of his visit were utterly shattered, and a sudden violent impulse urged him to return to Naples.
"Capri is not large enough to hold myself and David Beverley," he declared. "We'll go back by the night boat, Lorna. Meantime we'll borrow Signor Verdi's skiff and paddle about among the rocks. I feel easier on water than on land. I like the sense of a space of ocean round me. You can't suddenly meet a man when you've plenty of sea-room, can you?"
"No, no, Dad!" said Lorna, trying to soothe him. "We can walk down the steps to the cove and get the skiff, and be quite away from everybody once we are on the sea."
She was ready to humor his every whim, for in the blackness of her trouble nothing seemed at present to really matter. The whirling eddies of her thoughts rushed through her brain in a perpetual series of questions and answers. Must hate strike the death knell of love? Surely the only thing to do with an injury is to forgive it. Would revenge wipe out the wrong or in any way solve anything? No, there would only be one more wrong done in the world, to go on in ever-widening circles of hatred and misery. Curses, like chickens, come home to roost, and "getting even" may bring its own punishment.
"Our only chance is to go away and start afresh in a new country," she sobbed. "At the other side of the Pacific we might forget—but no! Renie! Renie! If I go to the back of beyond I shan't forget you, and all you've been to me. The memory of you, darling, will last until the end of my life."
Mr. Carson found Signor Verdi working in his allotment, obtained leave from him to use the skiff, and climbing down the flight of steep steps cut in the rock, reached the cove where the boat was beached on the shingle. He had been an expert oarsman from his college days, and understood Neapolitan waters, so in a short time he and Lorna were skimming gently over the surface of the blue sea, keeping well away from rocks and out of currents, but within reasonable distance of the land. Sometimes they rowed and sometimes they drifted, hardly caring in what direction they steered so long as they circled round the island. Their only object was to stop out on the sea, and, as they had brought a picnic basket with them, there was nothing to urge their return until sunset. In the course of the afternoon they had coasted below Monte Solaro, and found themselves approaching the entrance that led to the Blue Grotto. In the mornings, when the steamer brought its crowd of tourists, there was generally quite a little fleet of skiffs to be seen here, but now, with the exception of a solitary boat, the famous cavern was deserted. To avoid passing too near to even this one craft Mr. Carson steered away from the shore, but turned his head in consternation, for loud and unmistakable cries of "help" were ringing over the water, and the occupants, frantically waving handkerchiefs, were evidently doing their utmost to attract his attention. Common humanity demanded that he must at least go and see what was the matter, so he reluctantly altered his course.
In a boat close to the entrance of the grotto were several young people, and Lorna instantly recognized Angus, Stewart, Jess, Michael, and Peachy. They appeared in much anxiety, and directly they were within hailing distance they called out their news:
"Mr. Beverley and Vincent and Irene have gone inside the grotto, and they don't seem able to get out again. We can hear them shouting for help."
The party, in their British imprudence, had not brought a boatman, and they were uncertain what to do. Their own barque was too large to go through the narrow opening into the cavern, and they looked hopefully at Mr. Carson's little skiff.
"We don't know what's happened," gulped Jess.
"They went in to explore the Roman passage."
"Just by themselves."
"They've been gone such a long time," volunteered the others.
"Listen," said Peachy.
For from out the low entrance of the grotto floated a faint far-off echoing ghost of a shout.
Lorna glanced imploringly at her father. He did not hesitate for a moment. The man who had injured him was inside the cavern, perhaps in deadly danger, and he was going to risk his own life and his daughter's to save him. And risk there undoubtedly was. A breeze had arisen and agitated the surface of the water, so that the ingress was smaller than ever and more difficult to compass. When waves lashed the tideless Mediterranean even the Capri fishermen shunned entering the grotto, for they knew its perils only too well. Telling Lorna to lie flat on her back Mr. Carson took the same position, and with infinite difficulty managed to maneuver the skiff into the rocky entrance. There was barely room, for each wave bumped it against the roof, but by clinging to the chain he worked his way along and shot through into the lake within. On the right of the cavern three figures, holding a light, stood on a kind of landing-place, while a skiff drifting far off in the shadows told its own tale.
Mr. Carson rowed at once to retrieve the truant boat, and towed it back to its owners.
"We thought we had tied it securely," explained Mr. Beverley. "We were utterly aghast when we came back and found it had drifted. It would have been a horrible experience to stay here all night. If the sea rose we might even have been imprisoned for days. We were fools to come, but I didn't realize the danger."
"The sea is much rougher already," said Mr. Carson. "It'll be a ticklish matter to get out again, and the sooner we do it the better. Will you go first and I'll follow on after?"
"It's like you, Lorna, to come to rescue us. I always called you my good angel," choked Irene, as she entered the skiff. "I thought just now I was never going to see you again in this world. Let's get out of this horrible place as fast as we can. It's like Dante's Inferno. I've never been so frightened in all my life."
One after the other the two skiffs started on their risky exit from the grotto, scraping and bumping against the roof with the water on a level with the gunwale; one wave indeed overflowed and soused them, but the next moment they sighted the sky and grazing through the entrance they gained the open water.
It was only when, in the clear afternoon daylight he turned to thank his rescuer that a flash of recognition flooded Mr. Beverley's face.
"Cedric Houghten! You! You!" he stammered, as if almost disbelieving the evidence of his own eyes.
"Yes, it is I; but having seen me, forget me," returned Mr. Carson, his dark face flushed and his hand on the oar. "It's the one favor you can do me for saving you. Let me vanish as I came, and don't try to follow me. I only hope we may never cross each other's paths again."
"Cedric! Come back!" yelled Mr. Beverley, as the skiff shot away. "Man alive! We've been searching for you for years. Don't you know that we've proved your innocence! Come back, I say, and let me tell you."
* * * * *
It was late that evening, after a very long talk with Mr. Beverley, that Lorna's father explained to her the circumstances that had cleared his name.
"David had no more embezzled the money than I, and, thank God, he has no idea I ever distrusted him. When a further sum went, Mr. Fenton set a trap, and discovered to his infinite grief that it was his own son who had been robbing the firm. It practically broke him, and he has retired from all active share in the business now. They packed young Fenton off to New Zealand to try farming instead of finance, but he's not doing any good there. Mr. Fenton, it seems, was most anxious to find me and right the injustice done me, but I had hidden myself so well under an assumed name in Naples that it was impossible for them to trace me. They advertised in the Agony column of The Times, but I avoided English papers, so never saw the advertisements. My efforts to escape notice were only too successful, and, although I didn't know it, I was actually defeating my own ends by my caution. If, as I intended, I had started for a new continent, I might so completely have broken all links with my old life that I might have gone to my grave in ignorance that my innocence was proved. It was only the marvelous chance of this afternoon's meeting that cleared up the tangle. I can look the world in the face again, now, and not fear the sight of an Englishman. Oh, the joy of having got one's honor back untarnished! Next best to that is to know it was not my friend who had wronged me. The belief in his treachery was half the bitterness of those dreadful years. Capri has been a fortunate island for us, Lorna. It's truly called the 'Mascot of Naples,' and I shall love it to the end of my days. I can take my old name again now and be proud of it. You're Lorna Houghten in future, not Lorna Carson. What a triumph to write to our relations and tell them the glorious news. I feel like a man let loose from slavery."
To Lorna also this happy consummation of all their troubles seemed a relief almost too great for expression. That Irene, her own Renie, should be the daughter of her father's favorite friend, and therefore a hereditary as well as a chosen chum, was a special delight, for it welded the links that bound them together. The future shone rosy, and she felt that wherever her life might be cast the Beverleys would always remain part and parcel of it. Perhaps the triumph she appreciated most of all was the introduction of her father to the Cameron Clan. No more hiding in out-of-the-way corners and avoiding the very sound of a British voice; henceforth they might hold up their heads with the rest and take again their true position. She was proud of her father: now that the black cloak of despair had dropped away from him, his old happier nature shone out and he seemed suddenly ten years younger. To present him into the intimate circle of her friends realized her dearest wish.
"It's been a wonderful week-end," said Peachy, standing with her girl friends on the quay to wave good-by to the Monday morning steamer that bore some of their relations back to Naples and business. "Here's Lorna with a new name, and Renie with a fresh cousin. Haven't you heard? Why, Captain Preston popped the question last night, and he and Marjorie announced their engagement at the breakfast table. Not the most romantic place to glean up congratulations, but, of course, that's just as you think about it. When I get engaged it shall be announced by moonlight, so that I can hide my blushes. I don't ever want the holidays to end. Capri's the dandiest place in Italy, and if Dad doesn't buy a villa here I'll never forgive him. You want one too, Lorna? Hooray! We'll make a Colony of Camellia Buds on the little island and spend the summer here. We may be globe-trotters and all the rest of it, but I vote we get up a good old Anglo-Saxon League and stick together for better or for worse. I'll buy a Union Jack to-day if the Cameron Clan will promise to wave the Stars and Stripes, and sing 'Yankee Doodle' with 'Auld Lang Syne.'"
"We've welded America already into the clan, dear bairn," smiled Mrs. Cameron. "No other visitor keeps us alive like you do."
"Pronounce thy wishes, O Peach of the West," laughed Stewart. "We rechristen thee Queen of the South."
"Then I summon you all some day to come back to this, my kingdom by the sea. School is school and I've got to have another term there, but I want to feel this happy island is waiting for us to return to it. You promise? Thanks! Here's a new version then of the old song—composed by Miss Priscilla Proctor, please!
'Should auld adventures be forgot And ne'er provoke a smile? Should auld adventures be forgot Upon this happy isle? For auld lang syne, my dears, for auld lang syne, We'll all return to Capri's shore for auld lang syne.'
H'm—a poor thing, but mine own!"
"There are two of us at any rate who won't forget to come back," said Lorna, linking her arm fondly in Irene's as they walked away from the quay.
* * * * *
Obvious punctuation errors repaired.
Page 63, "gardner" changed to "gardener". (Paolo, the gardener)
Page 260, "loose" changed to "lose". (to lose sight)
One instance each of A-1 and A1, and cooee and coo-e-e were retained.
Two instances each of Cartmel and Cartmell were retained.