Friday, 29 June 2012

July: The Remarkable Recrudescence of Smuggling in Tilling


 



From the moment Count Cecco’s Phantom drove off leaving him on the front steps of the Villa Cercola, Herbert Morrison determined to make the very best of the remainder of his holiday in Capri.

Before he could take a step, James and Dorothy hurtled out of the door and flung themselves upon him with cries of “Dad’s back. Hooray!”

Bunty smiled and picked up his overnight valise as Herbert walked up the steps with a laughing twin under each arm.

As he had hoped, the family was able to enjoy the following days. The pattern which had developed before Herbert was called away was immediately restored, with long relaxed breakfasts followed by happy days on the beach or in the well-kept terraced gardens of the villa.

Meals varied between local trattorias or picnics in the countryside to sumptuous dinners by candlelight on the jasmine scented terrace prepared by the attentive Mrs Ponti, who soon became the twins’ adored Auntie Valentina.  


Without being the least intrusive, the Faragliones were much in evidence throughout the rest of the holiday. Together or singly, they often popped into the Villa Cercola and joined in with whatever their young guests were doing that day, whether it be sitting in the gardens watching the children play or heading off to bathe at the beach.

Quite often during her visits, Amelia would enliven proceedings with gossip from home in Tilling extracted from letters from “dear fat Susan” or “stuffy brother Algernon.”

Since their return from their Mediterranean cruise, the Mapp-Flints had caused several stirs with what were generally disapproved of as conspicuous displays of their newly acquired wealth.

“It’s  so funny!” drawled Amelia,  “My brother and sister in law and their circle are so discomforted by this ostentation. It seems that those who detest the nouveau riche most are only slightly less 'nouveau' themselves. Old money  - like my Cecco – or the Ardingly’s  - either just don’t notice or find it killingly funny.”

“So what have the Major and Mrs Mapp-Flint been up to, Amelia?” asked Herbert, “What can they have done that’s upset so many people?”

“Quite a few things it seems, Herbert,” she replied, “Benjy grandly announced over tea and bridge at Diva’s that he intended to institute the Tilling Polo Club and acquire a string of ponies for himself.  Just like the one he ran in Poona when he was a subaltern. It seems he intended to play on the Town Salts and anticipated that one day Tilling might rank alongside Smith’s Lawn.”

“And what happened?” asked Bunty.

“Susan says ‘practical issues intervened since it soon emerged that the only other potential team member was the milkman. Unfortunately after much thought, he decided his old grey mare wasn’t really suited to complete the milk round in the morning and play several energetic chukkas in the afternoon.’”
“I can see that," remarked Herbert drily, exchanging a smile with Bunty, “Bert’s old mare Doris must be thirty if she’s a day. Perhaps not ideal for polo?”

“So that idea bit the dust,” remarked the Countess brightly, “And the Major has settled instead  on buying a hunter for the coming season.”

“How interesting,”  said Bunty, “I suppose he will hunt with the Ardingly?”

“Apparently so,” replied Amelia, “Though Elizabeth was heard to say that  'With his extensive experience and indeed skill in the equestrian field, my Benjy-boy is considering establishing a new hunt to service our area – something along the lines of ‘The Tilling and Camber Hunt. 'I look forward to serving many a stirrup cup at the Meet foregathered just outside the hornbeam hedge at 'Grebe.'”

“No!” said Bunty and Herbert in unison, in time-honoured Tilling fashion.

“Elizabeth is understood to have inquired of Miss Greele about being measured for a new equestrienne habit - including a stylish top hat and veil.”

“And will Mrs Mapp-Flint ride side saddle?” asked Herbert, struggling manfully to keep a straight face, “It seems rather ambitious. I seem to remember that she scorned the idea of riding a bicycle when that first began in Tilling.”


“So it appears,” answered Amelia, “But first they are undertaking an extensive search for a suitably docile  - and above-all sturdy - mount for her.”   

"Probably for the best,” added Bunty returning to her book.

 "Any other news, Contessa?" asked Herbert, his appetite duly wetted.

"Susan says a surprising amount of conflict has arisen since Mrs Mapp-Flint announced that she and her husband would be  founding and sponsoring a  new competition for first novels under the auspices of the Tilling Institute."

"I hadn't heard of that before," commented Herbert, "To  make up for being excluded from the Hanging Committee for the Art Exhibition, I suppose?"

"So it seems Herbert," replied Amelia, "The Mapp-Flints funded a new competition for unpublished writers to be judged by the Padre, Mr Twistevant and that Miss Legg who stayed with them a few summers ago."

"Isn't she that Rudolfo da Vinci, the author? The one that writes those romantic novels?" asked Bunty.

"Yes, dear, I believe she is," replied Herbert, continuing, " And what was the cause of the row?"

"Well, all the great and good in Tilling submitted entries," replied the Countess, "My brother produced a picaresque piece in which his ancestor Sir Algernon de Wyse, after many acts of derring-do, founded the dynasty that came to be known as the Wyses of Whitchurch."

"Sounds riveting," commented Bunty politely.

"Possibly dear," replied Amelia sceptically, "The real trouble arose when Lucia produced a story about a beautiful young Warwickshire girl called Emmeline Smythe, apparently loosely based upon Dame Catherine Winterglass, who rose from being a down-trodden governess to achieving fame and fortune by prudent investment in shares and ultimate damery after a dedicated programme of charitable works."

"So, how could that have caused any problems?" asked Herbert innocently.

"All might have been well had not Mrs Mapp-Flint produced a manuscript in which her devastatingly glamorous heroine, Eliza Napp of Maidstone rose from respectable origins as a hard working schoolmistress to earn a fortune by dealing in stocks. She also applied much of her fortune in good works and rose to become the Mayor of the seaside town of Pilling and was rewarded with damehood."

"Oh dear!" commented Bunty and Herbert in unison, "And  each claims the other has appropriated the story-line?"

"Got it in one!" riposted Amelia with a grin, "Elizabeth alleges that Lucia has filched her plot and has  arranged an early appointment to obtain advice from her solicitor Mr Causton."

"Doesn't Mr Causton act for Mrs Pillson too?" asked Herbert.

"Indeed, he does," replied Amelia, "But it seems that Mrs Pillson has expressed a preference to obtain advice from leading King's Counsel in her former husband's chambers in Grey's Inn who is a leading authority in the field of copyright."

"You would  think that Lucia and Elizabeth would get tired after so many bitter arguments over such a long time, but they never seem to weary of it or learn," commented Bunty, "Surely they're much too old to carry on like this with these public rows year after year?"

"I know what you mean," replied Amelia, "But it seems it adds the spice that they need in life? Perhaps it's these very confrontations that keep them young?"     
    
"Thank you for sharing with us your sister-in-law's news from home, Amelia" said Bunty, "It really has been a highlight of each day here. Such fun."

"Think nothing of it, my dear," laughed the Contessa,  "It was much more amusing for me to share them with someone who knows all the main characters - or should I say 'protagonists'? I so miss trooping around your lovely High Street with my huge wicker basket at marketing time. I just loved saying 'Any news?' to everyone I met, secure in the knowledge that so much gossip would be exchanged in such a short time! It's nice to share and queue - so very English!"

"I  appreciate how you feel, but sometimes it doesn't seem quite so charming when you see it every day," commented Herbert, "It can get a little... heated."

"That's part of the pleasure, don't you think?" replied Amelia, "And they say the Italians are passionate. They have nothing on Tillingites when they have their teeth into some controversy whether it be devious machinations on the hanging committee or shenanigans over alleged breach of copyright. I would back one Elizabeth in full sail against a troop of Caprese contadinas any day!"

"Naturally we bow to your insight, Amelia," replied Herbert, with a suavity that pleased him (and amused Bunty) no end.

Cecco and I will be so sad to see you leave," added Amelia, "We have so enjoyed your stay with us. We only regret it was interrupted."

"The only thanks are due from us," replied  Herbert, "It was my pleasure to give whatever help I could."

"We were wondering  if you would dine with us at the Palazzo tonight to mark your last evening in Capri?" asked the Countess.

Exchanging an affirmatory  glance with his wife, Herbert replied, "How kind Amelia. We would love to join you. Thank you very much."

"Good. I'm so pleased. I hope we may have a pleasant surprise for you. Au reservoir!"

That evening, when James and Doris had been put to bed, Bunty and Herbert finished dressing for dinner and set off hand-in-hand for the short walk from the Villa Cercola to the Palazzo Faraglione.

The air was warm and heady with  pine, rosemary and jasmine that was now indelibly imprinted upon their senses as the scent of summer in Capri.

The evening was still and silent, save for the gentle lapping of waves on the seashore below and intermittent birdsong.

"You look lovely love," said Herbert quietly, as he pressed the bell and waited to be admitted.

"Thanks Herbert. You look very smart. I think we have scrubbed up quite well for a pair from the wrong end of Tilling!"

"That was a long time ago. I don't suppose anyone would have believed that we would end up dining with a Count and Countess in a palace in Capri. It's a long, long way from Twistevant's tenements  down by the station."

Before Bunty could reply, the door opened and the Faraglione butler greeted them and led the couple to join their hosts on the terrace overlooking the formal gardens.

As they entered, Count Cecco rose and walked over to greet them, gallantly kissing Bunty's hand and shaking Herbert's. "Welcome! We are having champagne cocktails. Will you join us?"

"Delighted Count," replied Herbert and was promptly handed a long stemmed cocktail glass by a periwigged footman.

"Now, we have your first surprise of the evening," said the Count, leading them towards a sofa on which sat his Countess and what, from the back, appeared to be a young woman in a chic evening gown."Molyneux" thought Bunty...

As the Countess and her companion turned round, the Morrisons immediately recognised their fellow guest.

"Miss Coles, what a lovely surprise!" exclaimed Herbert, offering his hand, "Forgive me for not knowing you immediately, but I ...."

"You didn't recognise me in a frock? Go on admit it, you naughty constable!"

"OK,  you have me Miss Coles!"  laughed Herbert, "But, if you don't mind me saying. It's a very attractive innovation. You might consider doing  it more often."

"I can't really promise that, I'm afraid, but I have been dressing mainly like one of Garibaldi's red shirts during most of my stay here - and smoking a meerschaum pipe, but I don't think that would have gone down too well tonight.  So here you are!"

"Well, thank you Miss Coles" added Bunty, "We appreciate the gesture and you look divine!"

"When in Capri, do as the Caprese do!"  laughed Irene, "Cecco and Amelia explained that this was your last evening with them and kindly invited me to join you. I could hardly turn down the opportunity to see you and to thank you again for all you did for Lucy and me in Sicily! I do hope you don't mind?"

"Of course, not," replied Bunty, "We are so pleased to see you. Only today, we were wondering how you were getting on. It will be marvellous to know before we return home to Tilling."

"Is Lucy here with you?" asked Herbert.

"Sadly no," answered Irene," I rushed on ahead to make sure of seeing you before you left. Lucy is in Naples overseeing the packing and shipping of the paintings I have completed on the trip so far. I am pleased to say there are quite a few. Lucy should join me tomorrow."


"I'm pleased that your tour has been productive," said Herbert, "And how did things progress with  Turrido after the Count and I left?"


"Swimmingly actually," said Irene, "Turrido was thrilled with the portrait of his mother, wife and daughter  and allowed me to paint him too. Once they were finished, they held a party for friends and family at which the portraits were officially unveiled and we ate, drank and danced late into the night. Mad fandangos or was it tarantellas? It was that memorable that I really can't remember!"


"How wonderful, Miss Coles. We were all so worried for you both."


"Well, it's thanks to your husband and the clever way that he handled Turrido, that Lucy and I literally lived to tell the tale," added Irene, "And this brings me to the reason I rushed to catch you before you left to go home. I do hope you will accept this painting as a small token of our thanks for saving us - and of apology for interrupting your well-earned holiday."


As Irene spoke, she removed a cover from a painting leaning on a nearby table disclosing a portrait of Herbert wearing his trade mark homburg hat with Mount Etna in the background.


 

"Oh  Miss Coles, it's marvellous," enthused Bunty,  "What a wonderful gift!"

"It is superb,  Miss Coles, but really you shouldn't have. I was only too pleased to lend a hand. I didn't think you would give us anything like this."


"It's my pleasure, Inspector. How else could I  thank you? It's what I do. All I do, really.  Please say you'll accept it. It would mean the world to Lucy and me."

"When you put it like that, how could we not?" responded Herbert, We would be honoured to have it. Thank you so much."


Cecco and Amelia joined Herbert and Bunty in admiring the portrait before Cecco arranged for it to be taken away and packed in readiness for shipping  home.

As the Faragliones and their guests sat down to enjoy their second  cocktail, the butler entered and whispered in the Count's ear, following which the hosts promptly excused themselves and hastily left the room.


As they departed, quizzical glances and polite  small talk were exchanged between the remaining guests until the party reconvened.


The Count and Countess returned accompanied by a short, elderly man in evening dress, including what appeared to be the insignia of several foreign orders.
Instinctively Herbert, Bunty and Irene rose as their hosts and their final dinner guest joined them.  

  
Count Cecco stepped forward and introduced his final guest, “Your Majesty, may I present to you Mrs Bunty Morrison of Tilling in England?”


During this process, it had become clear to Bunty what was about to happen. Only the purchase of postage stamps for the children’s numerous holiday postcards had prepared her remotely for what was taking place.

The face on the stamps had now come to life in front of her.  She was about to meet Victor Emmanuel III , by the Grace of God and the will of the Nation, King of Italy,  Sardinia, Cyprus and Jerusalem, Duke of Savoy, Count of Maurienne, Prince, Marquis and Perpetual Vicar of the Holy Roman Empire, Prince of Piedmont, Carignano, Oneglia, Poirino, Trino and Armenia, Prince Bailiff of the Duchy of Aosta, Duke, Count  and Baron of far too many other  exotic places to mention - as well as Overlord of Monaco  and Roccabruna and noble Patrician of Venice.



Remembering her oft-practiced curtsy to Queen Mary outside “Mallards House” when the twins had made their presentation on behalf of the children of Tilling, Bunty essayed a more than respectable one to the King, who acknowledged it with a regal incline of the head and gracious smile, not entirely unlike that evinced by the Mayor of Tilling.
Less used to such intricate manoeuvres in conventional ladies wear, Irene’s curtsy was slightly less controlled, but passed without incident.
Herbert remembered seeing the face before him on the portrait in the silver frame in the home of the Wyses, "Starling Cottage" back in Tilling.  He bowed from the waist and clicked his heels in a slightly Germanic fashion which, if truth be known, owed more to  Eric Von Stroheim in a film with Marlene Dietrich recently seen at the Bijou Cinema at home than established court etiquette in Riva di Chieri or Borgomanero.




After presentations  were completed, the King enjoyed a champagne cocktail and exchanged family news with the Count, whilst the others listened dutifully, “My cousin Cecco and I have holidayed here in Capri since childhood. Our Palazzo is nearby.  I for one find it the very best place to escape the pressures of life. Don’t you agree Cecco?”

“Indeed, Sir,” he replied, “It is pleasant to get away and enjoy a simpler life for at least part of the year.”

“In a marble palace with a hundred rooms and a permanent staff of fifty,” thought Herbert, “Not exactly roughing it,” but said nothing.

Similar thoughts occurred to both Bunty and Irene.  Bunty concluded it might be best not to invite the Faragliones to stay at “Braemar” but, as ever, was the soul of discretion, as for once in her short life was Irene.

It was one thing to terrorise Elizabeth Mapp-Flint in Tilling, where it was invariably expected of her, but another entirely to try to do the same to an actual reigning monarch, “rather than someone who just thinks she is,” mused Irene, sipping her cocktail, “I must be getting old!”

Countess Amelia broke into these private thoughts by suggesting that they go into dinner. The King took her arm and led the way into the dining room, followed by Herbert with Irene. Bunty completed the procession, escorted by Count Cecco.

Dinner that evening was memorable, with a succession of delicacies accompanied by the finest wines, served on priceless Sevres tableware and Venetian crystal.     

Happily, conversation during dinner in Capri did not approach the contentious, which was not always the case at functions in Sussex graced by the presence of Tilling's leading artist and enfant terrible.

The King was interested to hear of Herbert and Cecco's trip to Sicily and the creative approach adopted by Herbert to secure the release of Irene and Lucy.
As a patron of the arts, he expressed an interest in Irene's work and was aware that she had exhibited at the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy and had been responsible for the Picture of the Year, "Yes, I remember it well," he pronounced, between mouthfuls of turbot, "A play on Botticelli's Venus with a blowsy Victorian matron in a jaunty pose accompanied by an inebriated superannuated cherub. An empty bottle of whiskey, if I remember correctly? A very striking work! Most diverting.  My congratulations, Miss Coles."

With wholly untypical modesty, Irene replied demurely, "Thank you Sir, I'm so surprised and pleased that you have even seen any of my work let alone approved of it"

Talk of art and artists was followed by discussion of the recent record crossing of the Atlantic by the Hindenburg in under forty-six hours and the new-fangled "talking clock" on the telephone in England.  
    
The King asked Cecco if he had played any tennis lately. Conversation soon moved on to the recent Wimbledon Championships and the famous victories by Helen Jacobs and Fred Perry.

This topic also prompted Amelia to recount to her dinner companions a story extracted from her most recent letter from Susan Wyse.

The King appeared fascinated to learn that in an effort to overshadow the largesse showered by Lucia upon her Tilling Ladies' Luncheon Club, newly prosperous Elizabeth Mapp-Flint had borne the expense of taking a party from her Tilling Working Club to Men's Finals Day at the All England Tennis Club Championships at Wimbledon.

By now, all present, including the King of Italy, were well aware of the key protagonists in the bibelot of the Sussex Riviera and that one of them had featured prominently in the Picture of the Year.

"Well, the trip went smoothly with Diva Plaistow's brother Leofric from Brinton driving the charabanc as usual," explained Amelia,  pausing only to cut her filet mignon, until Florence Twistevant and her sister Nellie discovered the refreshment marquee served rather more than strawberries and cream."

"And what exactly happened?" asked the King, more interested than one would have expected from a head of state.

"They said, they thought Pimms was a non-alcoholic fruit punch and what with it being so hot, they found it so very refreshing that they drank an awful lot of it...and I mean  an awful lot..and with dramatic effect"

"So, what happened, Amelia?" asked Bunty.

"It is reported that Florence and her sister began to sing "Sussex by the Sea" very loudly and to lead a conga around the Centre Court.  The Duke and Duchess of York were in the Royal Box with Queen Mary at the time and, by all reports, when play was interrupted, they were far from amused."


"I  assume Mrs Mapp-Flint was mortified?" asked Herbert.

"I'll say!" exclaimed Amelia, to a guffaw from the King who appeared to find the scenario hilarious," She was livid. It seems both sisters were later arrested, when  they became 'excessively enthusiastic'  in seeking an autograph and a celebratory kiss from Mr Perry. They were only released from police custody when Mr Perry eventually declined to press charges after very lengthy supplication from Mrs Mapp-Flint and a donation to a nominated charity."   

As the dinner continued pleasantly, the King demanded to hear more stories of the tangled web that constituted normal life in Tilling, "I should love to accompany you on a visit one day," he remarked to his hostess, "Do you think we might go marketing together with our huge baskets to gather the news of the day?"

"I don't know if etiquette allows Kings to carry their own baskets, Sir!" she replied.

"And it must be extremely complicated having two Queens, is it not?" he asked.

"At least two," muttered Irene, sotto voce, whilst beckoning a footman to pour another glass of a  particularly delicious Chassagne Montrachet.

At this point the Countess rose and suggested that the ladies retire to allow the gentlemen to enjoy their port and a cigar

"I would quite like some port and a cigar too!" protested Irene.

"Don't worry, Miss Coles, I fully intend to have some brandy and a cheroot. I do hope you will join me!" adding, as she walked off with her arm around Irene's waist "Now Cecco, try not to linger too long."

Count Cecco and the gentlemen gallantly stood as the Amelia, Bunty and Irene left them and vowed to re-join the ladies shortly, "Missing you already my dear," joked the Count, as the door closed behind her. His Countess laughed.   
   

As port and brandy were served and cigars cut and lit, the King complemented  his host on a splendid dinner.

“Thank you, Sir,” replied Cecco, “It has made it a special occasion that you were able to join us this evening.”

“My pleasure, family always comes  first. Don’t you think, Morrison?”

“Indeed, Sir” replied Herbert, “As I get older I come to understand that more and more.”

“A good thing too,” said the King, exhaling a cloud of smoke from his Havana, “I understand from Cecco that in addition to your triumph in Sicily, you were instrumental in resolving the little difficulty which arose concerning the condition of his lady friend on the mainland?”

“Yes, Sir, I was able to suggest a practical solution to his problem. It seemed to provide a comfortable way forward for everyone concerned.”

“Including Amelia” added the Count, “I have to admit she has been  very understanding over the whole thing. She had even started to knit something as a gift for the baby. Most touching”

“A remarkable  woman. You are a lucky chap,” added the King, “You have the gift of an admirably kind and sophisticated wife and the benefit of wise counsel from your friends. Let us drink to kindness and wisdom!”

Whilst the gentlemen joined the King in his toast, the ladies had settled comfortably on the terrace.

The Countess sat alone at a table and, as was her practice after dinner, removed her rings and dealt a fiendishly complex game of patience, using two decks. As she had done in Tilling, Amelia maintained a running commentary as one card followed another.

As  the Countess played on, Bunty and Irene strolled on the terrace, “Who would have thought that we would be dining with the King of Italy?” asked Bunty.

“Just wait until Mapp hears. She’ll have a fit!” laughed Irene, “Also the King told me he admired my painting of Herbert and has asked me to paint his portrait. I’m to go over to the Palazzo tomorrow and make some preliminary sketches.”

“No!” said Bunty.

“So the Grundy’s of Tilling can go and put that in their pipes and smoke it instead of harping on about my painting of the Stoning and what Lucy did to it!”

“Congratulations Irene dear” said Amelia, who had been listening to the conversation, “Might I make one tiny practical suggestion if you want all to go well with His Majesty?”

“Of course, Countess,” replied Irene, who did not normally countenance any intrusion upon her artistic judgement, but was this evening on her very best behaviour.

“The King, as you might expect, is a proud man. It goes with the job. His subjects call him ‘Re Soldato – the Soldier King’ and ‘Re Vittorioso - the Victorious King’. Unfortunately he is also only five feet tall and a tad sensitive about it. In fact, he is also nicknamed ‘Re Tappo – the Bottle-top King’.”

“Oooh, I see!”  said Bunty and Irene in unison.

“Given that he is a little touchy on the issue, it might be prudent to suggest that he be seated in the portrait, don’t you think?”

“Thank you Amelia. Such good advice!” replied Irene, “I will follow it – and dedicate the portrait to you”

“Grazie mille” said the Countess, “Ah, here they are.”

When the gentlemen entered the terrace, Count Cecco nodded to a footman who stepped forward with a silver salver.

The King smiled and addressed the company," I now have a  pleasant duty. Inspector Morrison, I am pleased to meet you tonight and to have the opportunity to express the thanks of the people of Italy and my family for your brave and ingenious assistance both in Sicily and nearer to home. I  am delighted to honour your invaluable contribution by awarding you the Order of the Crown of Italy."



The King hung the distinguished Order on its red and white silk ribbon around Herbert's neck and presented him with the sparkling dress star in its padded red leather case.

He then kissed Herbert on both cheeks in congratulation and shook him warmly by the hand as those watching broke spontaneously into warm applause.

At first taken aback, Herbert soon recovered his composure and stuttered, "Well, thank you, Sir, I never dreamed....What an enormous honour. I only did what anyone would do in the circumstances. I'm just so pleased that it worked out so well for everyone concerned."

"You are too modest by half, Herbert" said Cecco, "You coped with difficult circumstances admirably and deserve to be recognised. Don't be so English - just enjoy it!"

"Hear, hear!" added the King laughing.

"I'm not entirely sure that I agree with you, but I'm not going to argue," replied Herbert as Bunty and Irene admired the decoration.

"We could all do with some more refreshment after this excitement!" exclaimed Amelia, "Champagne, I think!"

Shortly, the Countess also suggested some music.

Unlike certain prominent houses in Tilling, the gramophone was not frowned upon in the Palazzo Faraglione.

Before long, the strains of the year's biggest hit, "The Way You Look Tonight" cascaded across the marble terrace above the inky, literally midnight blue of the sea.

To conclude a memorable evening, Count Cecco beckoned Irene to the floor, whilst Herbert invited Countess Amelia to join him.

The offer of the King of Italy was accepted with a smile by Mrs Bunty Morrison of Tilling.

Then they danced.  
 

 
Next morning, the Morrisons felt depressed as they prepared to leave Villa Cercola. Their last breakfast on their beloved jasmine-scented terrace was as delightful as ever with Mrs Ponti fussing constantly, catering for their every need.

All too soon, the luggage was packed into the boot of the Faraglione Phantom and Mrs Ponti and Count Cecco and Amelia stood ready to wave them off .

As the Count and Countess were hugging the twins, a footman brought forward a small black and white bundle and placed it before the children.

"You didn't think we would let you go without something to remember us by?" laughed Cecco.

"This is little Felix," explained Amelia, "Auntie Valentina told us that you wanted a puppy more than anything else in the world."

"So here you are," added Cecco, "Take him home with you, with our love."

"Oh, thank you!" cried the twins, "He's lovely! Can we really keep him Dad? Mum?"

"Don't worry, all the practicalities have been attended to," explained  Cecco, "His passage has been booked and paid for with you on the Orcadia and all the formalities addressed."

"In that case, it seems we should welcome baby Felix to the family and take him home with us to Tilling.  I think you should thank Count Cecco and Countess Amelia for their kind gift and all their hospitality to us all," said Herbert to the twins.

The ensuing minutes passed in a flurry of tears and kisses, thanks and hugs until the Morrisons boarded the Phantom and sped away, leaving the Count, Countess and Auntie Valentina waving moist-eyed on the steps of Villa Cercola.


 
 
The journey from the Villa to the dock and over the Bay to Naples flew by as the Morrisons stored away as many memories as they could of this day of sparkling sea and blazing sun in a cloudless sky.

They were soon walking up the familiar gangway onto the Orcadia receiving salutes and warm welcomes from officers and men in a  whirl of white P & O uniforms and gold braid.

The twins accompanied a rating who led a scampering Felix to his quarters and satisfied themselves that he was settled comfortably before returning to their parents. "It's alright Dad, they said we can come and visit Felix at any time whilst we're at sea," explained James.

"We can even take him for a walk around the deck,  provided he's on a lead," added Doris.

"How lovely, "commented Bunty as they were conducted to the same state rooms on A deck that they occupied on their outward voyage.

Fresh flowers and chocolates awaited them together with a bottle of champagne on ice provided with "best wishes for a bon voyage" by Amelia and Cecco.

"Typical of them," commented Herbert, "After all they've done for us!"

"So kind. I will sit down tomorrow and write a letter of thanks for all their hospitality and gifts. There's so much to  cover."

"Can we all go on deck to wave good-bye to Naples?" asked the twins.

"Absolutely!" replied Herbert, "Now,  where are those streamers?"    
   

Once the Orcadia had pulled away from the dockside in Naples, the twins quickly made their way to see Felix and spent the rest of the afternoon playing with him and grooming with the brushes thoughtfully supplied by the Faragliones.


Bunty and Herbert returned to their stateroom to unpack and attend to practicalities such as booking their preferred sitting for dinner and reviewing the programme of events for the coming days.

Before long, a steward entered with fresh towels and to check all was in order.  Bunty remembered him from their outward journey and said she was pleased to see him again.


"Likewise Madam," he replied pleasantly, "We are very happy to have you with us on board again and hope you enjoy the rest of your cruise."

As they chatted about their stay in Capri, the steward disclosed that, after the Morrisons disembarked in Naples, the Mapp-Flints, "made a terrible fuss, complaining about their cramped dark cabin and demanding to be moved to the stateroom vacated by the Morrisons."

"And what happened?" asked Herbert.

"The Purser wouldn't hear of it," explained the steward, "Word has it that it grew quite heated when The Major tried to offer the Purser a fiver for his assistance."

"Oh dear," said Bunty wearily.

"The Purser said it was Company policy that passengers should remain in the accommodation allocated to them and that, in any event, he did not accept bribes. They then swept off shouting that they would be sending  urgent telegram to their solicitor and to the Chairman of P&O."


"And what happened then?"

"Nothing Madam" replied the steward, "Our telegram operator was not asked to send anything by the Mapp-Flints and nothing more was heard about it."


"I'm pleased there was no more unpleasantness," added Bunty, "I'm sorry there was so much trouble"

"It's not unusual, Madam.  It seems Major and Mrs Mapp-Flint found other things to occupy them  during the rest of the voyage and forget about wanting your stateroom," he added mysteriously, adding, as he closed the door behind him, "If that's all Mr and Mrs Morrison, I will leave you to settle in. Good afternoon."
  

On their first evening aboard, once the twins had been put to bed, Herbert and Bunty made their way to the first class dining room where they were pleased to be shown to  the Captain's  table.


As in their outward journey, their dinner companions included the genial Captain and officers such as the Senior Purser and Ship's Doctor.

The party was mixed with a retired ambassador, mill owner, barrister with their respective wives and one solitary lady, a glamorous peripatetic dressage instructor, who was introduced as "Pandora la  Gueriniere, the Comtesse de Baucher ."

 
"Delighted to meet you darlings!" exclaimed  their new and exotic companion, "You must call me 'Pan' and I shall call you 'Bunty' and 'Herbert'! So much nicer to be informal on board,  don't you  think?"


Naturally, the Morrisons assented only too willingly, pleased that their meals were unlikely to be dull. They then joined their new friend in a toast "Bon Voyage!"

Dinner was dominated by an entertaining monologue from Pandora outlining first her marital history, including a whirlwind romance culminating in marriage to the Comte de Baucher in Shanghai over a memorable weekend in Shanghai in 1933, "Ah dearest Henri!" she exclaimed. 

Pandora went on to describe her "dazzling career in the cut-throat world of international dressage." After classical training in Spain, Portugal and Germany and qualification as a "bereiter," Pandora had accepted several lucrative posts as chef d'equipe in the Middle East, declaring proudly,  "Darlings, I am renowned in the Federation d'Equitation International as 'that English woman who put the 'kur' in Kurdistan.' It was me  who brought passage to India and introduced the half-pass to the Khyber Pass."

Her companions found they had little to contribute to this prolonged meditation upon such an arcane topic and continued to be mute during her detailed account of her most recent sojourn teaching the mysterious equestrian arts in Egypt, where the latest entry upon her curriculum vitae was "teaching side saddle to the mistress of King Fuad, for my sins. Darlings, you simply cannot imagine.... "


When the onslaught of Pandora's reminiscences eventually subsided, conversation was possible amongst the others at the table. Bunty asked the Purser if Major and Mrs Mapp-Flint from Tilling had enjoyed the rest of their voyage after they had left them at Naples.

The Purser discreetly chose to omit any mention of the Mapp-Flint's aspirations regarding the stateroom vacated by the Morrisons, but found several other  memorable incidents to relate. 


The table was amused to hear about various of the escapades of Tilling's Mayoress and her life's partner during on their way back to England. "First there was the incident at the Fancy Dress Ball," the Purser explained, "The Major entered into the spirit of the thing and came dressed as an Arab Prince. "

 "And how did that cause a problem?" asked Herbert.

"The trouble was  that his costume -  entirely coincidentally - precisely resembled the habit and head gear of the recently-appointed Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Antioch, who was travelling with us and was watching the fancy dress parade.  It seems the Archbishop  took a dim view of what he regarded as 'ridicule.'"

"What happened?" asked Pandora, fascinated.

"We offered to help the Major change into something less controversial and contentious, but he wouldn't hear of it. He said he had taken part in fancy dress on many a voyage on the P & O returning from Bombay over the years without complaint; in fact, on the Apollo Bunder he had won several prizes for his imaginative garb.. "


"I suppose by then he had enjoyed a good few drinks?" asked Herbert perceptively.

"Indeed, he had" replied the Purser, "And Mrs Mapp-Flint didn't help much by what she called 'encouraging my dear, sweet hubby to stand up for his rights to wear the fancy dress of his choice without let or hindrance - as befits a loyal officer of the King, now retired."

"And then what?" asked Bunty.

"Well, we had the bizarre sight of an irate geriatric Orthodox Archbishop squaring up to a squiffy Arab Prince,  who, for the sake of authenticity, carried a stuffed camel under his arm,  with Florence Nightingale - for that was Mrs Mapp-Flint's chosen character - trying to come between them and occasionally swinging her  lamp quite aggressively  at the Archbishop."

"Good Lord," remarked Herbert, "At least in Tilling parties don't usually descend into fisticuffs."

"I suppose you would have had to arrest them, if they did?" asked Bunty, "How embarrassing to have to take the Mayoress into custody. It would make things more than a little tense in the queue at Twistevants, let alone over tea at Mrs Plaistow's."

"Fortunately, common sense prevailed when the Major was distracted by the offer of a whiskey and soda and the heat evaporated."

"Oh good," commented Bunty who, if truth be known, was ever so slightly disappointed that peace had broken out.

"Then, the next night during our Gala Race Night we had the incident of Mrs Mapp-Flint's disqualification."
 

"What on earth happened this time?" asked Pandora intrigued. Pandora was rapidly becoming a "Mappophile."

"Well, you know that we have a horse racing evening. When several ladies operate handles  -rather like the ones they use to hoist the sails on yachts - and a kind of shuttle that pulls a wooden racehorse towards them. There are seven or eight horses in  a row and the lady who turns the handles fastest and makes her horse cross the line first, wins!"
"Oh yes, we saw it on the first leg of our journey. It's great fun" remarked Herbert, "Especially with all the betting on the outcome."

"Well,  that was the point," commented the Purser, warming to his task, " Mrs Mapp-Flint was, shall we say, a tad more bulky and muscular than the other ladies in the race. "

"And?" asked Pandora.


"Word has it, that her husband contrived to obtain excellent odds on his wife to win her race and placed a very substantial wager on it."


"And so what happened?" asked Bunty.


"When the race began Mrs Mapp-Flint sprang into an early lead with the Major cheering lustily 'Come on Liz, old girl. Win it for your Benjy boy! You lovely filly!'"


"And then?"


"Unfortunately,  Mrs Mapp-Flint tried to emphasise her superiority and put in an exceptional effort for the final few yards. Sadly, this seemed to place excess stress upon the apparatus and a loud creak and splintering was heard as her horse zoomed backwards to the starting line, leaped off the course and broke in half!"


"No!" exclaimed the Morrisons  in unison, as any true Tillingite would in the circumstances.

"Was the poor horse put down?" joked Pandora. 

"I believe not, but the Mapp-Flints were very put out" replied Herbert.  

The Purser smiled and continued,  "As  you might imagine, there followed an enormous brouhaha led by the Major, who was mortified at his massive loss and called loudly for the race to be declared void and for a re-run to take place."


"And naturally their requests fell on deaf ears?" suggested Herbert.


"Quite correct, Inspector Morrison," replied the Purser.


"And Mrs Mapp-Flint threatened to consult her Solicitor and to complain to  the Chairman of P & O?"


"Indeed, she did,  Mrs Morrison.  Sadly, their luck did not seem to improve when we reached Cannes,"  continued the Purser, "Remembering their success at the Casino in Monte Carlo whilst on their honeymoon, the Mapp-Flints made a bee-line for the gaming tables as soon as we docked."


"And they were not quite so fortunate on this occasion?" asked Pandora, who by now had developed a deep fascination for Tilling and its deliciously entertaining Mapp-Flints.

 "I regret to report that they incurred considerable losses at chemin de fer," explained the Purser gravely, "And when at the end of the evening their extent became apparent, things grew somewhat heated."

"The entente wasn't too cordiale then?" laughed Pandora.


"Anything but, I'm afraid" explained the Purser, "First, the Major claimed that there was 'something rum afoot ' and that 'you just can't trust Johnny foreigner.'"


"Not exactly helpful on their home turf," observed Herbert drily, "And?"


"Mrs Mapp-Flint complained that they had plied her 'Benjy with beaucoup de complimentary absinthes -  for which he had an unfortunate weakness - and that this had amounted to a deliberate and pre-mediated attempt to impair son judgement.'"


"Because the Major being a simple soldier and essentially a studious soul was unused to 'strong wine'?" asked Herbert sarcastically.


"She didn't go that far" replied the Purser, "But by now the casino authorities had lost patience and called the gendarmes. It was necessary for me to attend at the gendarmerie and arrange for their release later that night, just before we sailed."  


“So, the Mapp-Flints had quite an eventful cruise,” commented Pandora, "If I remember correctly, the more memorable incidents  included dressing in white tie on the first night, being bitten by a gibbon in Gibraltar, causing an  affray at the Fancy Dress Ball, destroying the Horse Racing apparatus and being arrested in Cannes after a fracas in the casino. Quite a list.  More than enough for several postcards home.”

“Not quite all, I’m afraid,” sighed the Purser, “There was also the little problem with the donkey.”

“What on earth was that?” asked Bunty

“When we were docked in Messina the Mapp-Flints joined the excursion to view Mount Etna. The last stage of the trip to the lip of the volcano is taken by donkey. It’s very popular with tourists. Normally of course there aren’t any problems and it passes without incident....”

The Purser’s voice tailed off as he recalled the event.
“Don’t keep us on tenterhooks, Purser, do tell us what happened,” pleaded Pandora.

“Well, it was all going swimmingly and the ascent was proceeding as usual with the line of donkeys making their way slowly up to the summit. I assume that’s what volcanoes have or is it ‘crown? Don’t know really...anyway, to the top.”

“And?” cried several at the table.

“And, it seems Mrs Mapp-Flint became irritated when her steed grew slower and slower and lagged at the back of the line, slipping further and further behind.”

“Poor donkey,” whispered Bunty to Herbert, “Fancy having to carry all that weight up a volcano. It must have been exhausted.”

“Losing patience, Mrs Mapp-Flint decided to spur her donkey on and gave it a massive smack on the posterior shouting, 'Avanti presto mio burro! Avanti!'  She later said 'I was only trying to encourage the dear sweet thing, just as Mary might have done on the way to Bethlehem. It’s in the Bible.’”

“The resemblance must have been striking,” added Herbert, “So strange it has never occurred to us before.”

“Unfortunately, it seems the lady did not know her own strength and the donkey found new reserves of his and bolted at an amazing rate past the rest of the line and disappeared in the direction of the smoky lip of the volcano.  All we could hear for several minutes was the loud braying of the frightened donkey and the distressed rider screaming. ‘Stop this instant you disgusting creature! Stop at once! You can’t do this to me! Prego! I am the Mayoress of Tilling!”

“No!” exclaimed Herbert, Bunty and Pandora, who by now considered herself an honorary Tillingite – by adoption, ”And what happened?”

“The donkey was found grazing happily just below the summit, quite well and unharmed” explained the Purser.

“And Mrs Mapp-Flint?” asked Bunty solicitously.

“After a protracted search,  Mrs Mapp-Flint was found sitting sobbing and bedraggled in the middle of a large prickly pear bush from which she was experiencing considerable difficulty in extricating herself,” he replied.

“And Mrs Mapp-Flint indicated that she would be consulting her solicitor and writing to the Chairman of P & O?” suggested Herbert.

“Indeed Inspector, although 'bawled’ might be more accurate than ‘indicated’” replied the Purser, smiling.
   
"I do hope things eventually settled down and  that the Major and Mrs Mapp-Flint were able to enjoy the rest of their holiday," commented Bunty.

"Now you come to mention it, I do believe they were," explained the Purser, "They seemed to 'pal up' with Mr and Mrs Bott, who boarded in Messina and somehow things seemed a lot calmer after that."

"I do so hate the idea of 'palling-up'; it's so very 'other ranks,'" remarked Pandora, adding,  "I thought Majors in the King's Indian Army were sticklers for form? Even as a girl, I wouldn't dream of 'palling up' - even in the Brownies."

"I think you could say that the Major had  a 'chequered career' in the Army," commented Herbert, who was privy to the ups and downs of the Major's service in India, but did not propose to divulge details to the Comtesse, or anyone else, that evening.

Sensing the need  not to intrude further, Bunty added, "Anyway, I'm so pleased to hear that the rest of the trip went well and that they made some new friends."

"We didn't hear much more from them," commented the Purser, "They seemed to enjoy the company of the Botts and after that, we weren't threatened with their solicitors or complaints to our Chairman."

"And who were these Botts then ?"asked Pandora, coming straight to the point, as was her invariable habit.

"Mr Bott  - Maurice - was a successful bookmaker from Hastings. His wife was called Rowena - usually shortened to 'Ro,'" explained the Purser, continuing, "Mr Bott dressed in loud check suits in tweed and a porkpie hat, like the Major, and Mrs Bott was....shall we say..... 'Junoesque,' just like Mrs Mapp-Flint.  It was rumoured that Mr Bott  'sailed quite close to the wind' and that his extensive business interests didn't bear too close an inspection."
 
"You mean, he was a gangster?" asked Bunty.

"I certainly did not think that Hastings had any kind of underworld, Purser," exclaimed Pandora, "I was at school at Rodean,  just down the coast, and never dreamed there were sordid goings on just a few miles away. If only I had known I would have deserted prep in the Remove and rushed down the coast road to join in immediately!"

"I confess that I  also had never really seen Hastings as a hot-bed of organised crime or any material criminality," observed  Herbert, "Perhaps the town  needs more extensive monitoring?"

"The officers  and crew of the Orcadia were simply relieved that the Mapp-Flints were distracted by their new chums so that they could enjoy some peace and get on with their work during the remainder of the voyage," laughed the Purser, adding "Look at the time, if we hurry we can get good seats on deck for tonight's film. I seem to remember it's 'Keep Your Seats Please.'"

"Oh, good," said Pandora, "Mind if I join you? They  didn't often show George Formby films in Egypt. I do so love 'When I'm Cleaning Windows.' It reminds me of home!" 

  
The Morrisons thoroughly enjoyed their voyage home from Naples. At sea, the twins were kept busy making regular visits to play with Felix and walk him around the deck and by the myriad activities from swimming in the pool to deck games such as quoits and badminton.
Using information posted daily by the Navigation Officer the children assiduously kept their travel journal and Cruising Log:


Day/ Time                                     Remarks
Thursday/0600                  Departed Naples berth

0700                                      Coasting close to Capri
0200                                      Fine and sunny.  Calm sea
1231                                        Coasting close to Stromboli
0433                                        Entered Straits of Messina
1500                                        Passed Messina
1515                                         Passed Reggio
1540                                        Left Messina Strait
1640                                        Off Cape Spartivento, Italy

Friday/0530                         Entered Gulf of Patras
0634                                       Pilot embarked off Patras
0654                                       Anchored off Patras
1200                                       Fine and sunny
1800                                       Departed Patras
2030                                       Passed between Zante and Cephalonia

Saturday/0628                     Entered Straits of Messina
0753                                       Cleared Straits of Messina
0923                                       Off Lipari
1030                                       Off Salina
1200                                       Fine and sunny. Rippled sea
1707                                        Ponza
2300                                       Passed Elba

Sunday/0225                        Rounded Cape Corse, northern point of Corsica
0800                                      Anchored off Cannes
o200                                       Fine and sunny

Monday/ 0300                     Departed Cannes
1700                                       Steaming close to West coast of Majorca
1742                                        Passed Port Soller

Tuesday/1200                      Fine and sunny
o600                                       Europe Point, crossed Gibraltar Bay


Wednesday/0115                 Rounded Cape St Vincent
0616                                       Embarked Pilot off River Tagus entrance
0800                                      Berthed Lisbon
1200                                       Fine and sunny


Thursday/0600                   Departed berth, Lisbon
0724                                       Disembarked Pilot off River Tagus
1000                                       Passed between Burling Is. and the mainland of Portugal
1200                                       Fine and sunny
2045                                       Rounded Cape Villano and entered the Bay of Biscay


Friday/1200                         Fine and sunny
1445                                       Rounded Ushant, left Bay of Biscay

Saturday/0700                    Off Nab Tower, embarked Southampton Pilot
0700                                       Arrived berth, Southampton


DISTANCES BETWEEN PORTS

LONDON to NAPLES                      2,296 miles

NAPLES to PATRAS                     489 miles

PATRAS to CANNES                       841 miles

CANNES to LISBON                        1,071 miles

LISBON to SOUTHAMPTON        898 miles


TOTAL DISTANCE STEAMED ON CRUISE

MILES (NAUTICAL)                      5,595 miles

MILES (STATUTE)                         6,445


TOTAL TIME AT SEA                   11 days 13 hours 18 minutes

TOTAL TIME IN PORT                 3 days 3 hours 12 minutes

TOTAL TIME ON CRUISE           4 days 16 hours 30 minutes.



On board, days fell into a pleasurable round, beginning with tea and biscuits, served in the cabin by a jolly steward,  followed by a leisurely breakfast, chosen from a  seemingly limitless menu.

Herbert and Bunty usually passed their morning on deck, enjoying the  sun and sea air, watching the waves and milling sea gulls over books and magazines, whilst James and Doris spent time with Felix.   Somehow, they also found room for a fabulous lunch, before an afternoon around the pool or in whist drives or tea dances.


The twins looked forward to the children's menus at tea-time and usually opted for their favourite steak and chips before apple pie or junket.

When the children were in bed, Bunty and Herbert relaxed  over dinner at the Captain's table with an entertaining mix of  companions from many walks of life. They became fond of Pandora who, in her turn, was devoted to the  Morrisons and promised faithfully to look them up in Tilling as soon as she possibly could.

Each evening offered a range of diversions after dinner such as race meetings, classical music, housie, films or dancing.   All too soon, the last night came and the passengers each made a special effort to devise original costumes for the Gala Landfall Dinner and Fancy Dress Ball.

 
If truth be known, the majority of costumes at the Fancy Dress Ball were only too predictable.

No–one was particularly surprised when Herbert appeared in plus fours, Norfolk jacket, deer stalker hat, smoking a pipe and peering through a magnifying glass, “Mr Sherlock Holmes, we assume?”  inquired the Chief Purser from behind his fan as Lady Hamilton.

Bunty departed rather further from her normal persona by donning jodhpurs, dashing white silk scarf and a flying helmet to become celebrated aviator, Amy Johnson.

Only the Morrisons knew exactly whom Pandora was portraying as she entered the dining salon with a flourish.

“Let me see now,” said Herbert, examining Pandora’s costume painstakingly with his magnifying glass and taking thoughtful puffs upon his meerschaum, “A hint of mothballs from a rather old green skirt trimmed with what appears to be tiger skin, a Windsor cloak , a certain amount of 'padding' - if you will pardon the expression - and a surprisingly large wicker shopping basket. Who can this be? Do you have any idea, Miss Johnson?”

Laughing, Bunty exclaimed, “Although I would not claim to be a Dr. Watson, Mr Holmes, if I am not mistaken, I would venture an elementary guess that we have here no less a personage than Mrs Elizabeth Mapp-Flint of 'Grebe,' devoted spouse of Major Benjamin Mapp–Flint, Indian Army retired, the current Mayoress of Tilling in Sussex!”

“Absolutely, my dear; it's 'ma petite homage'!” beamed Pandora, “You don’t really have to be the brilliant and insightful  Sherlock Holmes  or even the intrepid Amy Johnson to tell who I am – I hope! I have enjoyed hearing so much about your extraordinary Elizabeth over the last few days – her breaking of door chains, featuring in the Picture of the Year and going to sea on kitchen tables and all. I just had to pay my own little tribute; so here you are – voila!  Now, it is very tiring being such a treasured figure, I really must have some champagne immediately!”



After the commotion of arriving in Southampton and disembarking, Herbert and Bunty Morrison breathed a huge sigh in unison as they fell back into their  seats in their railway carriage.

Herbert ticked off his mental checklist, "Bunty, the twins, Felix, me, our luggage, tickets, wallet, house keys - all in order - now it's time to relax, phew..."

As James and Doris laughed and played with Felix, Bunty turned to Herbert, "Thanks Herbert, that was a wonderful: the holiday of a lifetime. We all enjoyed ourselves."

"We certainly did," replied  Herbert, "I'm only sorry that we were interrupted.  I can't believe I had to leave you alone with the children - twice."

"It wasn't your fault," sympathised Bunty, "You had to help out - it was only right. It made it even better when you were able to get back to us."

"Thanks, love."

"And who would have thought that we would have a stateroom on "A" deck"?

"Or dine at the Captain's table?"

"Or be on first name terms with a Count and Countess?"

"Or dance with the King of Italy?" added Herbert.

"Or come home with a new member of the family?" suggested James.

Herbert raised an eyebrow and looked at Bunty, who added quickly, "I think Jim means Felix, dear."

"Oh..." replied Herbert, privately disappointed. Before they knew it, their train was pulling into Tilling Station and the holiday was over




 At  noon several days later,  the kitchen at “Braemar” was hot and steamy,  as Bunty returned from putting  yet another load of washing out to dry. Beneath the line of clothes fluttering in the breeze that had blown straight in from the English Channel, James and Doris played with Felix who was delighting in his new surroundings and learning how to retrieve the ball.  He rushed back with it,  tail wagging and pranced about begging for it to be thrown again. The twins were thrilled that their puppy never tired of this game and were happy to oblige for hours at a time.

Before she closed the kitchen door, Bunty shouted down the garden, “Try not to exhaust Felix children. Remember he’s only a puppy.”

“We won’t mum!” they cried, continuing precisely as before.

At that moment, Herbert also came in and removed his uniform jacket, “Thought I’d pop in for a quick bite of lunch as I was passing on my way back from Hastings,” he said, sitting at the kitchen table, asking “Did you have a good morning?”

“Fine dear,” Bunty replied, putting tea and a sandwich before him, “I went into Tilling this morning and just finished the final load of holiday washing.”

“A little different from the Villa and having Signora Ponti?” remarked Herbert.

“You could say that,” she replied, sipping her tea.

“Any news in Tilling?”

“I saw Mr and Mrs Wyse waiting in their car outside Twistevants and spoke through the window.  She said she hoped we had a pleasant holiday. Mr Wyse said something about a ‘villeggiatura.’  I just smiled.  I must try and look it up.”

“And has much been going on whilst we were away?”

“Not really,” replied Bunty, “Everyone was impressed to hear about your adventures in Sicily, but the issue with Cecco’s lady friend isn’t common knowledge.”

“Good, I’m pleased about that”

“And they are all excited to hear that Miss Coles has been commissioned to paint the portrait of the King of Italy,” Bunty added.

“Your dance partner!” laughed Herbert, “I bet that made a few of them change their tune after the business of Lucy slashing the picture of the Stoning? Any other news?”

“Mrs Wyse said the row between the Mayor and her Mayoress over the copyright in their stories died  out after a flurry of letters between solicitors. They both withdrew from the competition and Mr Wyse won quite easily.”

“Not like either of them to give up without prolonging the drama,” remarked Herbert, “I wonder why?”

“Apparently the Mapp-Flints have been very preoccupied with their new friends the Botts. They met them on the cruise after we disembarked at Naples.”

“Really?  What happened” asked Herbert.

“A few days after the Mapp-Flints arrived home , the Botts checked into  the Traders Arms  and said they were 'visiting their dear new friends.' The four of them were seen out and about in Tilling looking at the Landgate and the Ypres Tower. They  took in the view from the Church and the belvedere and viewed the town plate. The played bridge in the card room at Mrs Plaistow’s. Apparently, they were extremely noisy, laughing and making jokes all the time. Not just Mr Bott; Mrs Bott was sometimes even louder.”

“I’m sure that went down well with Mrs Plaistow,” commented Herbert.

“Several days, Major Flint took Mr Bott to play golf and the ladies went with them shrieking and guffawing all around the course. They ruffled a few feathers in the clubhouse and virtually drank the bar dry, apparently.  Mrs Plaistow says the wives have been going around Tilling arm-in-arm like shop girls on a day trip to Margate. She said they made Mr Georgie's sisters - Miss Hermy and Miss Ursy - seem like elderly maiden aunts. you know, positively sedate and respectable.”
“How interesting,” nodded Herbert.

"They have each had matching summer frocks made by Miss Greele. One with huge roses and the other bright  poppies."


"I suppose that offended Mrs Plaistow?" asked Herbert, remembering the bitter war of the applique chintz roses and poppies some time before between the ladies in question."

"Quite correct, dear," replied Bunty, "I never realised that you noticed all these petty squabbles amongst our ladies - let alone remembered them in such detail."

"Police training; notice everything and forget nothing," replied Herbert with a smile, "So what else have they been up to?"

"They also had Miss Greele make some huge picture hats each dressed with the flowers on their dress. They had to send away to France to find ones big enough. Mrs Plaistow said 'When I saw Mr Bott and the Major, both portly in their check tweed and pork pie hats, escorting their wives out of the saloon bar of the Traders Arms, it looked like something out of 'Alice in Wonderland', just like Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee had married identical twin sisters in matching flowery frocks and chapeaux. That, or the music hall!'"



"Quite a sight; I wish I had seen it" said Herbert. 

“And then, the Mapp-Flints held a very showy dinner party out at 'Grebe' in honour of the Botts. The Pillsons, Wyses and Bartletts were there.  No expense was spared. They served  lobster a la Riseholme, just like Mrs Pillson's, which apparently put her nose out of joint, no end.”

“As it always does.  And?”

“To top it off, Mrs Mapp-Flint  said they were going to have a ‘delicious, teensy-weensy, po di musica’ afterwards. Naturally, Mrs Pillson thought she would be called upon to play the piano, as usual and was preparing herself to perform. She took off her evening gloves and was stretching her fingers and everything.”

“And what happened?”

“Well,  not only was the Mayor not asked to play, but the Botts announced that they would be ‘presenting for your enjoyment our interpretation of 'The Moonlight Sonata,' that one by the German chap Ludvig Van Beethoven’ and went on to play it - with him on the kazoo and Mrs Bott on the spoons. Apparently it was ‘quite unlike anything heard in Tilling before – or since.’”

“Like a turn at a costermonger's wedding breakfast?”

“Absolutely. Mrs Wyse said ‘Algernon was quite bereft after the 'performance' and simply bowed in the general direction of the Botts, as amiably as he could. Mrs Bartlett squeaked twice and hurriedly left the room. The appalled expression on Mrs Pillson’s face was an absolute picture.’”

“I’ll bet,” said Herbert, “And what did she say?”

“I think the term is 'stunned'. It took her several moments to gather her composure, but when eventually she did, all she could manage was a very faint ‘How charming! and then said she had a migraine and asked if Cadman had yet arrived to take them home to ‘Mallards House.’”

“Did Mr Georgie say anything?”

“After a strained silence he was heard to say ‘How original. I didn’t know Beethoven transposed the piece for comb and paper. You simply must lend me a copy!”

“Thanks Bunty, that has cheered me up no-end after a trying morning,” laughed Herbert.


“I’m sorry dear, here have I been gossiping about the trivial goings-on in Tilling and I haven’t asked you about your first day back at work. How did it go?”

“Mostly routine thanks, but we have been having some disturbing information about a sudden increase in contraband in the area.”



“What does that mean?” asked Bunty, “Isn’t that smuggling? I thought that might be a problem over at Seaport or Folkestone, where they have lots of traffic to the Continent, but wouldn’t have expected it in Tilling. It always seems such a quiet and respectable place.”


"It's not like what we learned at school" commented  Herbert, "Do you remember?
'Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark - Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!'"



"I certainly do. It was always one of my favourites. Kipling wasn't it? I used to like the fact that all that lawlessness might be going on in our respectable little town. You don't normally associate our Tilling with such romantic derring-do."


"Anything but, nowadays, I'm afraid," replied Herbert, "Today it's not just about spirits, tobacco and a few bales of silk. Now, it's gold and watches and even worse, it's morphine, heroin and cocaine. There's no romance;  it's just a nasty business, built on profit and suffering."


"I see what you mean," said Bunty, "So, what are you going to do about it?"


"All we can do is wait and watch for the moment. We have our intelligence from London and locally. We have a good idea where the stuff is coming in and where it's going. We just need to find out how. Hopefully it will be a matter of good police practice, although a little luck wouldn't come amiss."    
 
   
As  Inspector Morrison finished his sandwich and tea and drove his Riley back into Tilling and Bunty continued with her household chores, the Mapp-Flints and their newest and best friends, the Botts were just beginning their more extravagant luncheon in the dining room at “Grebe.”


“Jolly good turbot that, Elizabeth!” enthused Maurice Bott, wiping his mouth energetically with the napkin tucked into his collar.


“So glad you enjoyed it, Maurice dear,” purred Elizabeth, “I shall pass on your compliment to cook. I hope that the filets mignon will be to the same standard.”


“Damn fine hock too, Benjy old boy” added Maurice, once again draining his glass and looking at it meaningfully


“We’ll have some more then, don’t you think?” answered the Major, beckoning Withers to replenish the glasses of his guests  and naturally his own.     
    

As the lunch progressed and the hock was succeeded by an agreeable claret, conversation turned to the shared dismay of all present over the desultory returns currently  available from government gilts and bank deposits.


Hoping “to help their dear new friends,” Maurice Bott was persuaded by Rowena and eventually conceded most reluctantly that - exceptionally unusually - there was now a rare opportunity to invest in his import export business that guaranteed exceptional returns year in year out.


“Why don’t you and Liz go and take a turn around the gardens whilst Benjy and I enjoy a cigar and talk about the fine details, Ro old girl?” suggested Maurice with an expensive wave of the arm, just as though he were the host.


Having not lost quite all her normal sharpness, the actual chatelaine of “Grebe” was not entirely happy about the proposal and more particularly leaving her impressionable spouse alone when “mellowed” by a good lunch. “You would think he owns the place” sprang to mind. Sensing this, Rowena took her arm and whisked her surprised hostess through the French windows before she had time to utter a word.


Oblivious to this not very subtle subtext, Benjy simply leaned forward and poured himself another glass of claret whilst his guest helpfully assumed - or perhaps "usurped" - the role of host and  selected a pair of Havana cigars from the humidor on the groaning sideboard.


By the time the gentlemen had finished their wine and two further glasses of what Benjy called “a passable Armagnac” agreement in principle had been reached between them as to the surprisingly large amount which the Mapp-Flints would be permitted to invest in Botts Enterprises of Hastings Limited and as to Benjy’s early appointment to the board.   
     

“Here come the fairies, bless ‘em!” remarked Benjy jovially as the ladies re-entered the dining room.  Each man stood ceremoniously, if a little unsteadily, and bowed to each fairy as gallantly as he could manage and then fell  back into his chair amidst gales of laughter.


At this point, Rowena Bott looked quizzically at her husband who smiled and winked, a little too oleaginously  for the taste of Elizabeth Mapp, who took-in and interpreted the exchange with the speed and accuracy one might expect of a true Tillingite.


Before Elizabeth could corner her inebriated other half and extract from him an account of exactly what had transpired during her enforced perambulation around her own garden –“A cross between a ‘route march’ and being ‘frogmarched'” she thought, in passing – Rowena seized the initiative.


“I know,  why don’t we all pile into your roaster dash into Tilling this afternoon? I need to pop in at Miss Greele’s for my new frock  and hats. We can have a little walk after our lovely dinner and then Mo and me will treat you to tea at Mrs Plaistow’s. How about it?”


“Rather!” replied Benjy reaching for the decanter in pursuit of his third glass of Armagnac, “I’ll drive!”


Although the prospect of another afternoon with the Botts horrified her, Elizabeth knew she could not afford to leave Benjy unattended and at their as yet undefined tender mercies. Nor could she allow him to drive a pony and trap let alone the powerful roadster in this condition.


“Charming idea, Rowena,” responded Elizabeth through monumentally large and gritted teeth, whilst slapping the back of her husband’s hand and pointedly  moving away the decanter, “Perhaps just for an hour or so. I shall drive. Now just let me find my sables.” 
     

With a velocity that would have shocked the worthies on the Bench of Tilling Magistrates and undoubtedly provoked the most severe  penalty  available to them, the Mapp-Flint's roadster powered its way into the venerable  town on its ancient hill.


"Parking," as such,  did not form part of the motoring lexicon of Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, and so, as had become her habit, her vehicle came to a halt and was "abandoned" in the vicinity of the Landgate, far enough away to avoid structural damage but close enough to obstruct both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.


The nominated  driver for the afternoon grew increasingly frustrated as her guests effectively impeded her access to the Major as they tottered gaily down the street in the direction of Miss Greele's celebrated dressmaking emporium.


Oblivious to his wife's mounting chagrin, Benjy entered into the spirit of the post prandial promenade and linked arms with the Botts, with Maurice on his left and  Rowena on the right. The laughing triptych resembled carefree Lancashire mill girls on a Wakes Week day trip to Blackpool in a cinema film lately made by Miss Gracie Fields


In the meantime, bringing up the rear, impeded by her heavy and voluminous furs and excluded from the centre of things,  the Mayoress of Tilling endeavoured to keep up with the lightly tripping trio, hissing,  "Benjy dearest,  might I have a word?" and the coy, "Pray do speak to your Elizabeth, sweet one!" but her imprecations fell on deaf ears, particularly when Rowena burst into, "Oh, I  do like to be beside the seaside" and was soon joined by her male companions in a discordant, superannuated barbershop chorus.


As they made their dissonant progress, the three jovial bears followed by their disgruntled Goldilocks came upon Georgie Pillson sitting on a camping chair behind his easel opposite the crooked chimney of his former home "Mallards Cottage."


Polite as ever, Georgie stood up upon their approach and raised his straw boater with its pretty pink and pale green ribbon and greeted them,  "Good afternoon. Lovely to see you all on such a fine day. I do hope I'm not in your way, but I wanted to try to capture this blessed chimney again. Such a bizarre angle and so very tricky.  However, the light is particularly radiant today, don't you think?"


"Indeed it is, Mr Georgie," replied Elizabeth,"How delicious for you to enjoy our lovely Tilling by painting 'en pleine air' as the say 'en France.' I'm sure you remember our new intimes: Mr Maurice and Mrs Rowena Bott - all the way from historic Hastings?"


"Of course I do. How could I possibly forget?" said Georgie without trace of irony, bowing in the manner made fashionable in his circle  by Algernon Wyse.


"Pleased to meet you again, I'm sure!" enthused Rowena Bott, with a bob one might expect from an accommodating chamber maid  on being invited to dance the foxtrot by her employer at the Christmas Ball in the servants' hall.     
      

Neither Major Flint nor Maurice Bott troubled to speak to Georgie Pillson, but continued their stuttering progress along the middle of the road, “Never could stand the man, old boy,” confided Benjy, as he paused and swayed, “Just couldn’t understand how he came to marry that Lucia. Damn fine woman, you know. With all those daubs and tatting and such, I used to call him ‘Mistress Milliner Michelangelo..’”


“Or ‘Genteel Governess Giotto’?” suggested Maurice.


“Perhaps, ‘Winsome Waitress Whistler’?” added Benjy.


“Or ‘Dainty Duchess Da Vinci?’”


“Saucy Shop-girl Sergeant?”


“How about ‘Buxom Barmaid Botticelli'?”


“Or ‘Comely Chambermaid Constable'?”  The middle-aged delinquents then fell, heaving with laughter into each other’s arms in paroxysms of  delight at their  brilliance and consummate wit.


By now, Elizabeth and Rowena had caught up with their giggling unsteady spouses as they approached the portals of Miss Greele’s establishment. The brass bell reverberated loudly as they entered. 
   

As the gentlemen took their ease  upon the cane chairs thoughtfully provided by the counter for the convenience of Miss Greele's clientele, or more particularly  their long-suffering husbands, the fairies flew on gossamer wings into the magic glade that was Madame's fitting room.

Amidst cries of approval and gales of what passed for girlish glee, Elizabeth  and Rowena tried on their newest summer frock and matching picture hat, each a veritable Village Flower Show of vivid blooms corresponding precisely with those upon the garment below.

Eventually,  Titania and Pease-Blossom emerged from their fairy dell and modelled their new costumes to  duly enthusiastic  Bottom and Quince, who both pronounced their other halves to be as glamorous as any starlet of stage or silver screen.    
     
“Such lovely bright blooms on your hats,” commented Benjy, who did not normally notice such trifles, but suspected it might be apt to top up the credit side in the ledger of his wife’s affections since he had steadfastly been ignoring her for the last hour or so.

“Thank you, Benjy,” cooed Rowena, “I never found the artificial flowers available to dress my chapeaux sufficiently large or choice in this country and have always felt obliged to have them crafted for me in a specialist atelier over in Dieppe.”

“They are made by hand by a closed order of visually impaired Carmelite nuns and imported specially,” added Maurice grandly.

“How worthwhile,” remarked Elizabeth absently, whilst turning full circle in front of a mirror to view her Junoesque floral fecundity from every angle before pronouncing herself satisfied.  
  
On leaving the dressmakers, the quartet were loaded with large parcels containing the new summer dresses and impressive candy-striped hat boxes  tied with extravagant silk ribbon. Their rotundity combined with the grandiosity of the hat boxes made the gentlemen’s task as their ladies’ beasts of burden both awkward and tiring.


A few yards down the street, the party met Diva Plaistow who was returning from the vets with her Irish terrier, Paddy.


“How de do, Diva dear” said Elizabeth, commenting on the clement weather and again introducing “our newest intimes.”


“Just been taking Paddy to the vets,” telegraphed Diva.


“Not mange again, surely?” inquired Elizabeth with her patented attitude of solicitude and unutterable distaste.
  
“A sore pad, actually,” bridled Diva, “I really don’t know why you always insist on saying he has mange, Elizabeth, just because it was suspected once, a long time ago.”

“Whatever you say, sweet one,” replied Elizabeth blithely unconvinced and with a patronising air that could not have infuriated her best friend more if she had accused her dog of being rabid.


As these pleasantries continued Paddy – as was his invariable wont –grew bored and decided to investigate the pile of boxes being transported from Miss Greele’s to the Bott’s accommodation at the Traders Arms and now laid temptingly on the pavement before him as their bearers rested their tired arms.

“Stop it Paddy, naughty boy!” yelled Diva, as her dog set about worrying the candy striped ribbon adorning the lid of one of the hat boxes. Just as his mistress reached down to restrain him, Paddy dextrously yanked the top off one box, causing the item of headgear within to fly out and tumble down the street on the stiffening sea breeze, scattering artificial flowers hither and thither as it flew along.    

Simultaneously, what appeared to be a false bottom fell out of the box and a veritable cloud of crystalline white powder swirled around them, as though there had been a mishap in a bakery.

“What on earth is that stuff?” cried Elizabeth, whilst Diva tried to restrain Paddy, who had started to lick up the snowy residue with great relish and efficiency.
Whilst  this melee as going on, Maurice and Rowena Bott looked ashen and, after a pause that seemed like  an eternity, picked up the battered hat, its box, ribbons and as much of the white powder as they could scrape off the pavement and rushed off towards the Traders Arms.
“What on earth was that all about? Why have they both charged off?” asked Benjy, “I thought we were going on to tea at Mrs Plaistow’s after dropping off the frocks  and hats?”
Before anyone could answer, Diva screamed, “Good heavens! What's wrong with Paddy? It looks like he’s been poisoned!”
There, before the remaining threesome, lay Paddy on his back with his head tilted to one side, glassy eyed with his tongue protruding between his teeth. There were traces of white powder around his nose and mouth. His breathing was shallow and irregular, but at least he was still alive.
“I thought it was bad enough when my Paddy was nearly killed by that foul sardine tartlet intended for you, Elizabeth  – but now this!” wailed Diva.
  
Elizabeth was privately offended that Diva appeared to be suggesting she would prefer if her human best friend and not her dog was again lying prostrate before her.   Perhaps wisely, she said nothing. 
   
At this juncture, fate smiled upon both Diva and Paddy as PC Hopkins turned the corner on his regular beat and took in the scene of canine and human distress. He immediately took control.

Before long, Paddy had been carried to the vets and had his stomach pumped, the powdery white evidence at the scene of the crime had been swept up and sent for analysis and the Mapp-Flints were being served strong tea in the office of Inspector Morrison at Tilling Police Station  
   
Whilst Inspector Morrison was out of his office, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint took the opportunity to interrogate her husband on what had transpired when she had been forced  to circumnavigate the gardens at "Grebe," leaving him alone in the dining room with Maurice Bott.

By now Benjy was beginning to feel the effect of the large quantity of wines and spirits imbibed over the course of a lengthy and, even by his standards,  bibulous luncheon.

Elizabeth was deaf to his plaintive requests for an aspirin and repeated her demand to know what had gone on in her absence. Groaning with an ursine  growl and holding one hand to his throbbing temple, Benjy finally gave way to the onslaught and began to unburden himself.

As Herbert Morrison re-entered his office, he heard a female wailing, "You did what?  How much? Oh, Benjy, how could you be so stupid?" 

Although Herbert had considerable information to convey, he thought he should first address the cause of the on-going contretemps.

"Now, now Mrs Mapp-Flint, would it help to talk about what happened between the Major and Mr Bott?

Elizabeth Mapp-Flint needed  no further excuse whatsoever to share the reason for her current distress, "Oh, Inspector, you wouldn't believe anyone could be such a gullible cretin!"  Giving a meaningful nod towards her groaning spouse, she continued, "Whilst I was dragged into the garden after lunch by that dreadful Rowena Bott,  he goes and gives that Bott fellow a cheque for Five thousand pounds for  shares in a company we know nothing about! Would you believe it? And we don't really know the fellow or his company  from Adam. We only met them a fortnight ago. I'm afraid my husband is just an idiot. I really don't know what we shall do"

"I must admit that really wasn't the wisest thing to do," suggested Herbert, "We have made some quick checks and I'm sad to say we cannot find any company or business called 'Botts Enterprises of Hastings Limited' or any other corporation owned by the Botts."

"So we have lost all that money?" cried Elizabeth in anguish as Benjy sat stiffly to attention  and stared ahead, silent and apparently catatonic.

"Fortunately things may not be as bleak as you feared," said Herbert with a smile, "We do have some positive news for you. I have just received a telephone call from Seaport to confirm that Mr and Mrs Bott have been apprehended and arrested by the police as they were trying to  board tonight's ferry to Dieppe."

"That's something anyway," replied Elizabeth.

"On being searched, Mr Bott was found to have the Major's cheque still un-cashed in his wallet. It should be quite a simple matter to stop the payment and so that problem no longer exists. I trust you will press charges, so that they may be brought to trial for seeking to defraud you?"

"Thank heavens!" croaked Benjy and then resumed his trancelike state.

"You can count on us to press charges, Inspector" replied Elizabeth, continuing, "And what exactly have they been up to, Inspector? Only today did it dawn on me that the Botts had ulterior motives as regards our fortune. What else has been going on?"

"The Botts will be charged with the smuggling of narcotics,  I'm afraid, Mrs Mapp-Flint. Both of them have extensive criminal records for a range of offences from deception to fraud to trafficking drugs.  Quite clever really. When their normal base in Hastings came under suspicion, the Botts arranged for supplies of morphine and cocaine to be shipped over from France to Tilling, concealed in false bottoms in the large  boxes used for your new hats. They also concealed heroin in some of the larger artificial flowers."

"Don't tell me. It was the roses and camellias?" asked Elizabeth, "Rowena always insisted that only her dresses and hats featured them and that I should have the poppies and cornflowers. She said 'Elizabeth dear, poppies and cornflowers suit your peach-like complexion so.'  Now we know! Poppycock!"

"And all that white powder on the pavement?" asked Benjy.

"Cocaine, I'm afraid," answered the Inspector, leafing through several pages of laboratory reports before him

"So, poor Paddy has been ingesting cocaine?"

"I'm afraid so," said Herbert, "But the Vet says he will not be addicted and will recover with rest."

"Oh good," replied Elizabeth, "I'm not so sure about Diva though. I doubt I shall ever hear the end of it."


 
All rights reserved in all appropriate territories  Deryck Solomon 2014
 



 




 

2 comments:

  1. Reading this over evening cocktails (ok, decaf coffee), watching the sun setting. Felt like I was there with all these dear friends and ... THE KING OF ITALY! Oh, my! Wait until word of this gets back to Tilling.

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  2. Are these stories available in print (book) form?

    ReplyDelete