Friday, 29 June 2012

May: The Sicilian Bandits

 
 
With the tentative first steps of a new-born lamb,  May stumbled in upon the Sussex coast uncertainly.  Gradually,  harsh Winter was replaced by the gentle freshness of Spring.

Although the residents of Tilling did not go so far as to gambol and frisk in the fields outside the town, many grew bolder and put heavy winter coats and boots back in the wardrobe.

In the kitchen of "Braemar,” Bunty Morrison had completed her morning’s chores. She switched on the wireless and sat down to a cup of tea with this week’s “Hampshire Courier” spread out on the table before her.

Her husband Herbert came in through the back door whistling and bent down and kissed his wife on the cheek.

“Alright for some !” he joked, taking off his uniform jacket and loosening his tie, “ I don’t know, I come in unexpectedly during the day and find you here with your feet up listening to the Savoy Orpheans on the wireless and reading the paper. That’s the life”

“Do you mind?” responded Bunty, “I’ve just sat down this minute and if for once you took the trouble to look around, you will see the house has been cleaned from top to bottom and a full load of washing is on the line. With those powers of observation, I’m surprised you manage to solve any crimes at all. Anyway, you’re one to talk. What are you doing here in the middle of the day? Haven’t you got any vital police work to do?”

“Charming, I’m sure,” he replied, “A chap tries to call in on his dear wife during his hectic day and gets accused of skiving off. I’ll have you know, Tilling’s senior police officer does not ‘skive-off’; he finds a moment to himself in his very busy schedule.”

“Oh, I stand corrected, Sir,” said Bunty equally sarcastically “Then I’m honoured that such a senior officer has found a gap in his diary – crammed as it is – to call upon his spouse.”

“Quite right. Now will Madam make amends by preparing some cheese on toast for the Inspector’s luncheon?”

“Since you asked so nicely Madam will, if Sir would take a seat?”

“Thanks, love,” said Herbert ”I was actually just passing and thought I would pop in with some exciting news”

“Good, as well as exciting, I hope?” asked Bunty, “What have you been up to?”
 

"Well, I had a visit from Algernon Wyse at the Station this morning. He wanted to thank me and the lads for sorting out the burglary by Lord Ardingly’s sister in law”
 
“The mad one in the burnous with the caravan and all those canaries?”

“Yes, that’s her. He was so worried that his wife would have a relapse because she thought her Blue Birdie had come back to haunt her.  He said it was averted because we ‘ resolved the case so quickly’ and was ‘very grateful.’”

“That’s nice,” commented Bunty, “It is rewarding when the public take the trouble to say thank you. Mind you Mr Wyse is well known in Tilling for his impeccable manners.”

“There’s more actually,” added Herbert ,  “Mr Wyse said he had written to his brother in law Cont Cecco di Faraglione in Capri, telling him what happened”

“And?”

“Well, the Count replied saying that he and his wife, Amelia were also grateful and ‘wanted to express their thanks by extending hospitality to us in Capri.’”

“What? You mean to go there on holiday?” asked Bunty incredulous

“Yes indeed. We are offered the use of the Faraglione guest accommodation on the estate for a week or two during the summer.  It’s called Villa Cercola and is supposed to be beautiful with servants and lovely terraces and gardens and the sea  nearby  for bathing. We have just to travel there and back and otherwise will be the guests of the Cont and Contessa.”

“Good heavens, Herbert. Just imagine : a holiday in Capri!  The children would love it. And the travel would be very educational. Do the rules allow you to accept?”

“Good point dear. I did wonder myself, but as I understand it, there is nothing to prohibit an officer accepting such hospitality from friends provided  it  is first declared and there is no other connection or conflict of interest involved.”

“So, we can go?”

“It seems so, love. I reviewed  the details with  the County Commissioner who double- checked with London and it seems it’s all in order. So you had better get a phrase book and polish up your Italian. You could soon be as fluent as the Mayor and Mr Pillson!”

"The only trouble is the journey," commented Bunty, "By the time we have taken the twins and all our luggage all the way there and back by train and ferry, we will be exhausted and need another holiday!"

"Good point" said Herbert, "I do have a solution, but you may think it's a little extravagant"

"What's that?"

"If  you look at this advertisement in the paper, you will see that the Orient Line offer cruises that stop off at Naples. We might cruise from Tilbury to Naples, disembark and pop over to Capri for five or six days and then catch the next liner passing for the return trip home."
 
 

 
"What a clever idea!" exclaimed Bunty scrutinising the advert, "We could sail to Naples on the Orcadia and return home on the Orion. "
 
 
"That way we manage to have three holidays instead of one and travel in luxury rather than it being just a chore. "
 
 
"But do you think we could afford it? And could you get the time off?" asked Bunty.
 
 
"I'm due some extra leave, since I was too busy to take my whole entitlement last year, so I don't think two and a half weeks in unreasonable. And we haven't had a proper holiday for several years. Finally, I think we can afford it; our bank balance is in quite good order just now."
 
 
"And, thanks to the generosity of the Cont and Contessa, we won't have to pay for the Villa Cercola," said Bunty with a finality that indicated no further  persuasion was required.
 
 
 
 


As the Morrisons settled down to discuss detailed plans for their cruise and holiday on the Isle of Capri over lunch, the High Street in Tilling teemed with shoppers and news was abundant. 

Lucia and Georgie Pillson were passing the time of day with Susan and Algernon Wyse outside Twistevants, when the shiny chrome covered roadster recently acquired by the Mapp-Flints hove into view.

“Good heavens, its enormous!” remarked Susan Wyse, who had for so long been used to her own Royce being by far the largest vehicle about the town

“Indeed, my dear,” agreed Algernon, “” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a colour quite like that before – especially for a motor car.”

“Shocking pink, I think it’s called “explained Georgie, whose somewhat outlandish fashion sense had not yet permitted him to explore this rather outré shade. “Who’s driving?”

“I do believe it’s Elizabeth, Georgie” Lucia replied, “Strange, I didn’t even know  she had a licence to drive.”

“Perhaps when she started, you didn’t need one?” quipped Georgie, “There was always that man in front with the red flag!”

“Now, now Georgie, I don’t think my Mayoress is quite that old,” replied Lucia more in amusement than admonition.

Leaving their new car parked somewhat haphazardly - although “abandoned” might again be a more accurate description - in the vicinity of the Landgate, Benjamin and Elizabeth Mapp-Flint sauntered to join their friends.

Elizabeth was again swathed in her newly-inherited sables and wore her turban with its sparkling faux emerald, whilst Benjy still looked like a bookies' runner in garish checks and a pork pie hat. He smoked a large cigar.

“How de do, all!” said Elizabeth, unveiling a positive keyboard of large white molars  in what for her approximated to a winning smile, “Such a lovely fresh morning. We couldn’t resist taking the roadster out for a spin whilst we called in for a few bits and bobs. How are we today? Any news?”

Lucia took responsibility for the first round of the bout and the skirmish began, “Couldn’t be better Elizabeth dear. What a charming motor car. New isn’t it?”

Benjy replied, “Indeed Mrs  Pillson. The Mem and I decided it was about time we had a little fun and lashed out on the jolly old roadster here. She’s quite nippy,  a real goer – the car that is - nought to sixty before you can blink. It’s the latest  model all the way from America.”

“Such an interesting colour, Major Benjy,” responded Lucia, “Quite unusual in a motor car. I didn’t know it was allowed. Quite distracting. Is it  safe?”

“Oh yes, Lulu dear, perfectly proper, quite within all the rules and regulations. We thought there were too many dull black cars around Tilling and that we would brighten things up by going for something a little less, shall we say ‘sedate’”

“I have never really thought of our Royce as ‘sedate,’’ remarked Susan Wyse acidly, “If a respectable black is good enough for the limousines of His Majesty the King, then it will be quite satisfactory for his humble subjects, Algernon and Susan Wyse”

“Well said, dear. Quite right,” added her spouse. He then doffed  his homburg hat,  bowed graciously and slowly to each person present, proffered his arm to his wife and marched away towards “Starling  Cottage.”

“Very stuck in her ways, dear Susan, I’ve always thought,” remarked Elizabeth, loudly enough to be sure that she was heard by her departing friends, “Now then, Lulu, sweet one, any news? Do tell.”  
   

Grimacing at the use of her least favourite diminutive, Lucia glared at Elizabeth through the narrowest of gimlet eyes, “Well Lil-lib, my angel, let me see. Yes, we received another card and a letter from Irene yesterday.”


“And where was that from, Mrs Lucas?” asked Benjy, endeavouring to put an end to the duel –by- epithet.


“It seems that after taking the ferry to Calais, Irene and Lucy travelled by train to Paris for a few days.


“Ah, la rive gauche. How suitable,” Elizabeth remarked, keen as ever to demonstrate her fluency in French.


“Then on the Blue Train..”


“Le Train Bleu,” interjected Elizabeth.


“Indeed, tres bleu,” replied Lucia, determined not to lose her thread, “On to Provence for a pilgrimage to the land of the impressionists, Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, you know.”


“The cove that cut his ear off,” suggested Benjy.


“Yes, Major Flint, the very one,” replied Lucia with the patience normally reserved for addressing an idiot child.


“Elizabeth and I are devoted to the French Impressionables!” added Benjy and Elizabeth nodded to signify her concurrence.


Resisting the temptation to correct him, Lucia continued, “After that, our intrepid friend and her loyal servant followed the coast across the border with Spain to Barcelona and then took the ferry over to the island of Majorca  and thence to Ibiza - the Isla Blanca of legend.”


“That’s more or less next door, isn’t it?” asked Benjy whose grasp of European geography was less firm that that of the Indian subcontinent, “Aren’t things a little dangerous over there just now, with the Civil War and all?” he asked.


“It appears so, but Irene seems to have avoided major difficulty thus far,” Lucia explained, “Though judging by her last letter, her political sympathies seem to have changed somewhat during her travels and she no longer thinks quite so much of the Germans or fascists generally.”


“Jolly good job too!” snorted Major Benjy, who had long found Irene’s pro-German sympathies amongst the least attractive of her many heartfelt beliefs.


“And is the Quaint one finding much time to paint during her Odyssey?” asked Elizabeth, a tad nervously.


“Now you come to mention it, it appears that she has,” Lucia replied, “ Irene writes that intends to produce a sequence of major works based upon what she calls her “Grand Tour’ and ‘to place familiar figures in unfamiliar settings for the purposes of allegory.’”


“And what on earth does she mean by that?” asked Elizabeth, remembering only too well her central appearances as a comic figure in Irene’s acclaimed  Picture of the Year and lately as the manic leader of  the frenzied mob in the “Stoning of St Lucia.” “I do hope that our Talented One does not intend to disgrace herself yet again!”


“From what I’ve seen in rough studies enclosed with her letters and on a post card or two, the new works do not appear quite so ...'controversial,'” explained Lucia soothingly.

"And?”

“Well, so far, there seems to be an imaginative recreation of you and me adrift on an upturned kitchen table upon the sea beneath the Old Town in Ibiza.”


 


“Good Lord!” said the Major.

“And some rather romantic studies of both you and Major Benjy and Georgie and me,” Lucia added.


“And in what activities, pray, do these ‘romantic ‘studies show us engaged?” asked Elizabeth, her voice starting to quiver.


“Dancing, Elizabeth, just dancing.”


“Dancing what, exactly?” Elizabeth asked.


“So far as I can tell, it seemed to be the tango in the moonlight, on the top of a fortification rather like our Martello Towers here in Sussex – but beneath the shadow of an island peak called ‘Es Vedra,’” Lucia explained.


 



“It could be worse,” commented Major Benjy, “At least this time we are not represented as drunk, mad or with frothing at the mouth with homicidal intent,”


“I suppose so,” agreed Elizabeth, “And is that all?”


“Irene has also depicted me declaiming to the sea below and also playing the piano by the side of a pool under the Mediterranean moon. Quite charmingly, I feel,” said Lucia.


“Playing your ‘Moonlight Serenade’?” asked Elizabeth.





“It is quite possible that Irene has chosen to depict me giving my interpretation of the first movement of the ‘Moonlight Sonata.’ I will enquire of her when occasion permits,” answered Lucia stiffly.


“And do we know what Irene’s future plans are?”


“She indicated that she intended to return to the mainland from Ibiza and then travel by train to Florence and Rome – ‘for the Art’ - and then to the South –‘for the Passion and the Romance’. Irene feels she is 'destined to visit Sicily and, in particular, Taormina.'”


“After which her little house here in Tilling is named,” commented Elizabeth, “I suppose it's just as well that her house wasn't called 'Timbuktu.' Let us hope that Irene,  her virtue and her paintings all return to us in one piece.”


“Indeed, Elizabeth,” said Lucia, “And now, what about you? We have seen so little of you since the auction in London. What of your news?”


“Well Mrs Pillson, we have been having a whale of a time since our stroke of good luck!” enthused Major Benjy, only to be summarily interrupted by Elizabeth.

“What my brave Benjy means, Lulu dearest, is that we have been so busy since the dear beloved Maharani was taken from us so tragically, but fortunately constant activity has taken our minds off our grief and distress.”


“Oh, I see Elizabeth, a blessed distraction from the bleakness of mourning,” said Lucia, far from convinced of the sincerity of either Elizabeth's remark or her own observation, “And what have you been doing?”

"Oh, this and that you, know. My Benjy boy and I have  long wanted a motorcar to make it easier to pop into Tilling and up to Town occasionally. It will be so convenient. We also thought we might indulge ourselves with a few other distractions.”

"Or distract yourselves with a few indulgences?" added Georgie smiling.

“Most amusing, Pillson old boy," said Benjy wholly un-amused, "Oh yes, I treated myself to some super new golf clubs and some cigars. Elizabeth is just off  to Miss Greele to arrange for some fine Indian silk to be made up into frocks for the summer and I’m going to order a few choice items for the cellar at  ‘Grebe.’”


“I thought ‘Grebe’ was too low-lying to have a cellar, Major,” remarked Georgie with unusual practicality, “Won’t it flood?”

“Point taken, Pillson, just a figure of speech; 'wines and spirits for the larder' then.”

“Hopefully you and all our other intimes  in Tilling will enjoy some of our new luxuries, since we hope to be entertaining rather more in the future,” said Elizabeth grandly.

“Sounds delightful,” said Georgie exchanging an ironic glance with Lucia.


"We thought we would also inquire about cruising holidays. We have seen some wonderful ones advertised in the newspapers recently,”  added Elizabeth, “It has been such a  long and hard winter that we feel we really could do with a break in the sunshine. We had wondered if we might secure a passage on the maiden voyage of the new Queen Mary to Cherbourg and New York.”

"How very exciting," remarked Georgie,

"Yes, how thrilling," added Lucia, without much conviction, "And have you booked?"

"Sadly no, most disappointing," Elizabeth  drawled in a manner designed to irk those hearing her and amply succeeding in doing so. "The booking office at Cunard-White Star Line told me that she will depart fully laden, as bookings were sold out long ago. No amount of special pleading could secure us a ticket."

"How tarsome!" sympathised Georgie, "According to the newspapers the passenger list will read like a chapter  from "Who's Who", full to the gunnels with knights, peers, dignitaries  and famous artists. It's boats that have 'gunnels' isn't it?"

Ignoring Georgie's final question,  Benjy explained airily, "In any event, we thought a  cruise would suit us better and we are looking into what is available in the next few weeks."

"I shall just have to satisfy my curiosity about the new liner by joining you and the ladies of the Luncheon Club on the little visit whilst it is docked in Southampton. My Benjy boy and I will just have to cope with our disappointment and make do with a luxury tour around the sunny Western Mediterranean instead! "
                             


 "How lovely!” replied Lucia weakly. Her worst fears regarding the consequences of the new riches of the Mapp-Flints appeared to be being confirmed in spades. 


"Just as the “Moonlight Sonata” was “her” tune and “intimes” was “her” word, the position of social arbiter in Tilling was “hers” exclusively. A rich Elizabeth Mapp-Flint was so much more dangerous than one fallen on hard times in genteel poverty. Lucia recognised this and steeled herself for the renewed battle for dominance that undoubtedly lay ahead.   

    
In addition to planning the family holiday in Capri, Bunty Morrison was engaged during the following few days in making final arrangement for the second outing of the Tilling Ladies' Luncheon Club.


This time the destination was Southampton to the west of Tilling.

Leofric's Charabancs of Brinton was again engaged to transport the members and assorted children on their excursion to view the latest Cunard liner, RMS Queen Mary before her maiden voyage  from Southampton.



James and Dorothy Morrison were excited at the prospect of seeing what the “Daily Mail" informed them was "the longest, heaviest and tallest ship in the world."

 “Do you know, mum,” asked James, “The Queen Mary is huge; she weighs 81,000 tonnes and is 1,020 feet long?”


Before Bunty could answer, Dorothy added, “And has 12 decks and her anchors each weigh 16 tonnes!”


“Yes, children, amazing isn’t it?” Bunty replied, “You never know, you might be making a voyage on a big ship like that one day."


“Really, mum?” the twins replied in unison.


“We’ll just have to see. Of course much depends on how you behave, so you had better be good. I read in the paper that the Queen Mary's three whistles can be heard over ten miles away”


“Perhaps we will be able to hear it when it passes Tilling on the way to Southampton?” asked James.


“Absolutely dear, so you had better listen out for it tomorrow morning. The ship is supposed to sail by at about ten o clock. It stops at Southampton, where we are going to see it and then goes to Cherbourg in France and over the Atlantic to New York in America”


“Can we go into Tilling and look out for it from the Belvedere as well as Southampton, mum?” asked Dorothy


“A very good idea, Dot,” said Bunty “And remember what I said about being good.”


“We will mum,” replied the twins in unison as they disappeared through the kitchen door into the garden.



The current "Official Guide to Tilling" explained that “the belvedere and gun garden in Tilling had long been used by the inhabitants of Tilling to keep ‘watch and ward’ and repel potential invaders. As late as 1859, the battery had been furnished with seven cannon, which were removed when the War Department realised that it had become obsolete for defensive purposes. The property was later leased to the Corporation of Tilling and became a popular promenade and 'look-out' for inhabitants and visitors alike.
 

After the Great War, public subscription in Tilling funded the purchase of field pieces which were displayed in the gardens with a huge anchor trawled up in Tilling Bay by a local fishing craft.”

The belvedere commanded charming views, stretching to the white cliffs of Dover eastward and to Fairlight on the west, while there was a delightful panorama of passing shipping in Tilling Bay directly opposite.

On this May morning, the belvedere resembled a congenial  summer fete, with local adults and children strolling about enjoying the sunshine and greeting friends and neighbours.

Diva Plaistow, assisted as ever by her servant Janet, added to the jollity by setting up a trestle table complete with tea urn, soft drinks and savoury and sweet snacks. Business was brisk and an orderly queue soon developed.

Elizabeth and Benjamin Mapp-Flint announced their arrival by  loud and dissonant honking on the horn of their shocking pink roadster. As had become their wont, the nouveau riche couple abandoned their vehicle as close as possible to their destination. Today, it partially obstructed the entrance to the belvedere, causing much grumbling and complaint.

“Good morning, Diva dear,” said Elizabeth as she ignored those waiting and made for the head of the queue, “Such a kind idea to provide delicious refreshments for us all today! I don't suppose you will be charging?”

“Of course we will!” replied Diva, more than  a little irked.

“Oh, I thought you were just finding a use for your old stock. These éclairs seem a tad ‘limp’ and do you really think these sardine tartlets are all they ought to be?" 

“I’ll have you know they were all made fresh this morning, Elizabeth. Everyone has said they are delicious. If you would care to sample them, kindly take your turn in the queue!”  

“Thank you for the tempting offer, Diva dear, but I think we will forego the pleasure today. As I have said many-a-time, I always think there’s enough trouble in the world. Come Benjy, let’s go and find a good vantage point.”

“Really!”  hissed Diva, visibly red in the face, “That woman never misses an opportunity to slander my pastries. One of these days....."

Pleased to have discommoded her old friend so easily, Elizabeth  Mapp-Flint pulled her sables around her more tightly and joined a group nearby which included the Pillsons, Wyses  and Bartletts.


“How de do, Worship, Mr Georgie, Padre  and Mr Wyse!” cooed Elizabeth.

 “And not forgetting the lovely faeries” added Benjy raising his pork pie hat to Susan Wyse and Evie Bartlett, who squeaked shrilly at this gallant, if wholly inaccurate, appellation.

After an energetic round of handshaking, hat-raising and bowing (mainly from Algernon Wyse, who seemed intent upon combining all three simultaneously) Elizabeth Mapp-Flint began the conversation with what was the usual opening  gambit in Tilling, “Such a delicious morning. How lovely to see you all here.  Such eager beavers, all anxious to catch first sight of our new Queen! Any news?”

“Indeed  Mrs Mapp-Flint, ‘tis more like a Coronation and demonstrating our fealty than mere sight-seeing,” added Algernon Wyse with yet another bow.

“Quite, Mr Wyse” said Elizabeth, adding bitterly, "I wouldn’t go that far. If truth be known,  I lost quite a lot of money when my shares in the old White Star Line plummeted to virtually nothing, so I’m not really sure that I owe Cunard anything of the kind!”

Knowing full well that any talk of shares might raise the ugly spectre of the West African mining stock Siriami upon which his wife had materially augmented her fortune and the Mapp-Flints had spectacularly diminished theirs, Georgie thought it timely to change the subject. “Jolly good idea of Mrs Plaistow’s to set up shop this morning and provide  us with refreshments. Very enterprising!”

“Aye, tis  a bonny idea of Mistress Plaistow, I feg,” agreed the Padre, indicating that Highland Scots was to be his chosen dialect du jour, “ Och aye, I ken that the guid widow's got a keen eye for making a baubee or two, that's for sure. Many a mickle macks a muckle, ye ken!”
Upon this remark, the irony implicit in it was immediately apparent  to several of those present, as was so often the case when the parsimonious  parson remarked upon the materialism of others, but in the interests of continued harmony, remained unspoken.

“Actually Worship, I was going to wait until our next Council Meeting, but I might as well raise it now,” said Elizabeth in her most serious tone, normally reserved for querying her bill with her butcher or the delicate matter of inquiring after missing under-garments at the laundry.

“Yes, sindaca mia,” replied Lucia sweetly, “Whatever can it be?”

“Well, Worship, you can see the crowd gathered around, what I can only call 'Diva’s pitch'?”

“Yes, I’m sure we can all see quite well.”

“Good. I was going to inquire if it was entirely proper for anyone to set out her stall in such a way as to create an obstruction  and to carry on business for profit without a licence or permit from the Council,” explained Elizabeth.

At this point Georgie wondered if the shocking pink roadster abandoned across the entrance to the belvedere did not constitute an even greater obstruction but, as was often his prudent habit, remained silent.

“An interesting question, Elizabeth dear, “ drawled Lucia in what Georgie called "her Oxford voice," usually reserved for trunk calls and when chairing the Bench of Tilling Magistrates, "I will of course consult my Town Clerk at the earliest convenient opportunity," she lied, "But as I understand it, the belvedere is actually Council property and any permission required would fall to be given by the Council as owner. I do not think any formal licence is required  but, in any event, believe that as  Mayor I have sufficient authority to speak on behalf of the Council.”

“And?” asked Elizabeth

“I hereby authorise Mrs Plaistow’s delightful little refreshment stand!” chimed Lucia with a silvery laugh, which her loyal Mayoress found profoundly irritating.

Before Mrs Mapp-Flint could object further, Major Benjy cried out, "Look everyone, just on the horizon! Do you see the three funnels? It’s the Queen Mary, God bless her!”

With these words, the assembled crowd moved towards the front of the belvedere and pointed their binoculars, telescopes and naked eyes towards the celebrated blur on the horizon for which they had been waiting. 






 
Next to the Mayor and her intimes on the belvedere stood the Morrisons. To ensure an unobstructed view, Herbert lifted James and Dorothy up onto the barrel of a venerable cannon, which pointed out into Tilling Bay.

Dorothy looked through her father’s binoculars and gave a running commentary on what was happening on board. She described the funnels  and rows of lifeboats and could even make out figures standing along the railings on each deck.
 
The toy telescope James used proved less effective, but this did not stop him pronouncing  upon what he saw with the addition of statistics on tonnage, length and speed gleaned from recent editions of his mother’s  “Daily Mail.”

All too soon, the Queen Mary completed her passage across the horizon of Tilling Bay and, out of sight of the good folk of Tilling, continued on its passage to dock in Southampton.

The twins cried out in disappointment when the liner finally passed out of view and the throng in the belvedere started to drift away  with thoughts of lunch at home.

“That was great, Dad!” exclaimed James as he slid off the cannon.

“Oh, yes,”  enthused Dorothy, handing back the binoculars to Herbert to be put back in their leather case.

“Glad you enjoyed it,” said Bunty, “That  was only a taster. We’re going on a trip on the charabanc with the Luncheon Club tomorrow to see the Queen Mary in Southampton – provided you’re good, of course.”

“We will!” chirruped the twins, “Will we be able to  go on board?”

“Yes, we will,” Bunty replied, “We are to be given a guided tour and should get to see everything from the bridge to the engine room. Now, let’s go home for some lunch.”
 
On the morning of their visit to Southampton, where the new Queen Mary was docked,  the members of Tilling Ladies' Luncheon Club and their guests gathered outside the Trader's  Arms in readiness for  their coach from Leofric's Charabancs of Brinton.
As the ladies and children boarded, Bunty Morrison ticked them off the list on her clipboard and with a broad smile reported all were “present and correct.”
"Thank you Mrs Morrison," said Lucia, glancing down the list of the party, "I see Mrs Twistevant and her sister aren't coming today?"   
"Yes, Mrs Pillson," answered Bunty, "It seems that Mrs Twistevant's invitation was 'lost in the post'. By the time this was realised, we had filled all the places on the trip."
"What a shame!" said Lucia with a faint smile, "We must all look forward to enjoying their company on our next outing."
Bunty also smiled and merely nodded. She knew full well that the Mayor was as aware as she was that, after their boisterous behaviour on the Club's previous outing to the Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia, the sisters were far from ideal travelling companions. It was no accident that no invitation was received by Florence Twistevant, for none had been posted.
As she sat down on the charabanc next to Diva Plaistow, Lucia made a mental note of the Social Secretary's commendable initiative and resolved to encourage it in future.
As the May morning was clement, the hood on the charabanc was left down and the passengers were able to enjoy the passing countryside and refreshing Spring air un-interrupted.
Tilling was soon left far behind as the charabanc followed the coast westwards past historic Hastings, genteel Eastbourne and sunny Newhaven.   
A comfort-break and morning tea was taken at a roadside café outside Brighton. Without the unruly Twistevants, the party reassembled and re-boarded promptly and obediently, as Lucia had ordained, and good time was made as Diva’s brother Leofric drove on through sedate Worthing, picturesque Arundel and busy Chichester.
Throughout the trip, a pleasant hum of conversation prevailed.
Ensconced within her sables and wearing her formidable turban with its faux emerald, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint maintained a condescending monologue throughout much of the journey.  With Elizabeth sitting next to Susan Wyse who was similarly clad, an unkind onlooker might have been prompted to inquire about the whereabouts of Baby Bear or even Goldilocks herself. Predictably, no-one present possessed sufficient malice or courage to ask the question.
As Elizabeth spoke, looks of amusement or frustration were silently exchanged between several of her closest friends and neighbours on board. More than one eyebrow was raised.
"My Benjy boy and I were so distrait that we were too late to secure a passage on the maiden voyage to Cherbourg and New York, but sadly, there was none to be had!"
"You must have been disappointed," commented Lucia amiably.
"To be honest, we think in retrospect that it's just as well that we couldn't book."
"And why was that?" asked Diva Plaistow.
"Well, we have had such a stressful few months, what with the tragic loss of the dear Maharani, what we really needed was rest and relaxation in the sunshine. The obvious answer was a cruise in the Mediterranean."
Sensing what was about to be disclosed and fearing the worst, Bunty Morrison asked "And what cruise have you chosen Mrs Mapp-Flint?"
"We have booked First Class passage with the Orient Line on RMS Orcadia, Mrs Morrison. Fourteen days of sunshine and luxury. We can hardly wait!"
"What a coincidence!” remarked Bunty, "We have just booked passage on the same voyage - until Naples anyway!"
"How lovely..." said Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, with remarkably little conviction, since she did not take kindly to having her thunder stolen - even entirely innocently.
During the uneasy lull that followed, everyone struggled to bring up a less awkward subject.
Diva Plaistow sought to fill the  vacuum  by changing the subject, "And have you had any news from our Quaint Irene, Mrs Pillson?"
"Yes, indeed," replied Lucia," Only this morning, I received a lovely, newsy letter from her.  After leaving Rome, Irene travelled to Naples for a few days and then on to Sicily. "
"How exciting!" replied Diva, "And what is she doing there?"
"I gather she plans to spend some weeks in what she calls her 'spiritual home and destiny' in Taormina. She plans to paint her 'magnum opus' there but she hasn't divulged any further details."
"Fascinating!" commented Diva.
 Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, having suffered more than once at Irene's talented hands, chose to remain silent.
Conversation then turned to the wonders that they were about to witness aboard the new liner. As ever, the Morrison twins maintained a running commentary about the places and people they had spied from their elevated position on board. Their excitement mounted as the journey progressed through Hampshire.  Havant gave way to Fareham and Southampton finally appeared on the road signs.
By noon, the charabanc pulled onto the quayside at Southampton and its passengers craned their necks upward at the numerous decks of the magnificent new Queen which towered regally above them.
As the passengers gathered their coats and bags and prepared to disembark, they heard a loud roar and the repeated honking of a horn. In a cloud of dust and cacophony of noise, a motor bike and side car skidded to a halt immediately in front of the charabanc.

"What on earth is that?" cried Diva Plaistow

"It looks as though we shall have two extra members for the tour, Mrs Morrison," said Lucia with a resigned sigh.

When the cloud of dust and exhaust fumes had lifted, the ladies of the Luncheon Club could make out Florence Twistevant clad in oilskins and a leather flying helmet, not unlike those worn by pilots in the War. Sitting astride a Triumph motor cycle she repeatedly revved the engine before eventually contriving to switch it off.

Next to her in the side car, similarly clad, sat her sister Nellie waving amiably with one hand and holding her trusty hip flask in the other.

 



"Hello, Mrs Pillson, hello Ladies!" said Florence, as she heaved herself from the saddle of the motorbike.

"Lovely to see you both!" lied Lucia, "How ingenious of you to have found a way to join us today! I didn't know you rode a motor bicycle. How very daring!"

"When we knew there was no room for us on the charabanc, we decided to make our own way here. We so wanted to look around the new ship. So, I just grabbed the  bike and sidecar we use for deliveries - and here you are!  I didn't even tell Harold I was taking it."

"I didn't know you even had a licence," commented Lucia.

"I learned during the War with the Ambulance Service actually, dear," explained Florence with a familiarity Lucia did not feel was entirely merited, " Although it's been twenty years, you never forget." 

"Like riding a bike, so to speak," added Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, dryly, "Now, if Mrs Twistevant and her sister are quite ready, do you think we might go on board? Lovely though this surprise may be for us all, the main purpose of our visit is, after all, to look around the Queen Mary."

"Indeed, Elizabeth," replied Lucia, "If  you will bear with us, Mrs Morrison and I will report into the Cunard-White Star office over there and find our guide."

Whilst the President and Social Secretary made  arrangements, the party readied itself to board.

It took some minutes and many shrieks  and giggles to extricate Nellie from the sidecar. It was noted that she was somewhat unsteady on her feet when walking over to join the group next to the charabanc.

"Poor Nellie, she must be tired after her long journey in the side car," said Susan Wyse with concern.


"I think you'll find Nellie and Florence may have broken their journey for refreshments more than once," remarked Elizabeth.


"You mean she is under the influence of alcohol?" mouthed Susan, shocked.

 
"Absolutely, sweet innocent one, you could smell it on Florence's breath a mile off !"

By the time Lucia and Bunty returned with their guide, the Deputy Purser,  the Twistevant sisters had explained to any member of the group who would listen, that they had broken their journey at public houses in Hastings, Arundel and Havant for a restorative port and lemon or two, "to keep out the cold." They also wondered loudly whether "further refreshments" of an alcoholic nature would be served on board.

Lucia assured them that their account of their adventurous journey  was "very interesting" and that she hoped that "a reviving cup of strong tea would be on offer shortly," prior to suggesting that the sisters add themselves to the rear of the group, so that the tour could proceed.

As the latecomers  obediently tottered off to assume their designated position, Lucia signalled to her loyal lieutenant Bunty Morrison to keep an eye on them. Bunty smiled weakly at the prospect of watching over these elderly delinquents in addition to her lively nine year olds, who had by now reached a fever pitch of excitement going up the gangway to board the ship.

As the Deputy Purser led the party aboard, they were greeted by a group of officers delegated to accompany the ladies of Tilling on their tour.


An avalanche of information began immediately,  much to the delight of the Morrison twins who soaked up the data like sponges. They knew it would be invaluable to impress their friends at school the next day.


They soon learned that construction of the ship, then known only as “Hull Number 534” began ages ago – in December 1930 at the John Brown yard in Clydebank. The twins had no idea where Clydebank was, but Bunty later informed them it was in Scotland.



After some delay – which Bunty explained was caused by a shortage of funds, remedied by a loan  from the government and the merger of Cunard and the White Star Line - work was completed and she was launched in September 1934.



James studiously jotted in his notebook that  the Queen Mary could sail at an average speed of over thirty knots and that it cost over three and a half million pounds to complete construction and fitting out.

After this  initial torrent of facts and figures,  the party set off on its tour. Their guide explained that much of the interior was designed by the Bromsgrove Guild and featured the latest fashionable style, called “art deco.” 

Many fine contemporary sculptures and paintings were displayed in the splendid public rooms and several well-known artists were commissioned to make pieces,  including Edward Wadsworth and A Duncan Carse. In reality, these artists were entirely unknown to the twins or the  ladies of Tilling, but no need was found to admit this.

As the party walked around the spectacularly modern and luxurious interior, they heard that more than fifty different woods from throughout the Empire had been used.


The thickly carpeted grand salon or first class dining room spanned three storeys in height, anchored by wide columns.   On the wall was a huge map showing the twin tracks of the winter/spring and summer/autumn  transatlantic crossing. During voyages, a motorised model of the liner would show the position en route. Naturally, that morning the model sat stationary in Southampton.  
In addition to the sumptuous main dining room, they were shown the separate first class  a la carte Verandah Grill on the sun deck at the upper aft of the ship.

With her professional interest in catering,  Diva Plaistow was interested to note that the grill was converted into the "Starlight Club" at night. She mused on the possibility of converting the front parlour of  “Wasters”  to become Tilling’s “Moonlight Club,” so as to derive an income in the evenings when Ye Olde Tea Shoppe was closed, but however hard she tried, found it impossible to work out how  a dance floor, band and tables could be accommodated. 


       
The tour took in the lecture hall, music studio and libraries. It even included sight of the engine room with its massive turbines. There were children’s nurseries for all three classes. By the time she saw the beauty salon and Jewish prayer room, Lucia remarked, “They seem to have thought of everything.”



Everyone was staggered at the range of facilities available on board.  On the sporting front there were outdoor paddle tennis courts and two indoor swimming pools .  

The tour did not pass entirely without incident. Unfortunately, whilst viewing the second class swimming pool, Florence Twistevant’s sister Nellie contrived to tread upon the only slippery patch and fell in. Nellie's noisy arrival created a veritable tsunami in the pool, coupled with loud cries of "Help, I can't swim!"


 
Fortunately a junior rating, who had been mopping the patch in question and brought about its slipperiness, was on hand to throw in a life belt and extricate her. Nellie was led away sobbing to be dried out, so as to be able to re-join the group.



Later, on the bridge, the ladies were being given a brief talk by no less a figure than the august captain, Sir Edgar T Britten.  Whilst Sir Edgar was explaining that the shock proof compass was “one of the largest magnetic compasses in the world,” Florence Twistevant grew bored and began to mimic him with sea-faring phrases such as “Hail me hearties” and “Heave -ho the main sail.”

If the truth be known, in the absence of the refreshments promised by Lucia, Florence had been enjoying frequent  recourse to her trusty hip flask, which had been nearly full on boarding and was now quite empty.

Notwithstanding her sister’s mishap, Florence maintained a cheerful mood, making what she considered witty remarks throughout the tour. When Elizabeth Mapp-Flint and Susan Wyse entered the forward observation lounge in front of her, Florence thought it time for another topical nautical reference and shouted, “Avast behind!”


Though both Elizabeth and Susan heard the remark quite clearly, each assumed it must have been directed at the other and happily no repercussions followed.

As the tour concluded with tea and cakes in the elegant grand salon, Lucia made a brief but sincere speech of thanks and invited the group to show its appreciation in the usual way.


Led energetically by James and Dorothy Morrison, an enthusiastic and prolonged round of applause ensued. The Deputy Purser modestly raised his hand in acknowledgement and remarked that he had “never guided a party quite like this before.”

As the group made its way to the charabanc, Lucia and Bunty helped Florence and Nellie down the gangway to the dockside . It was agreed that they were both far too “tired” to risk returning on their motor bike. They were accordingly placed in their familiar seat at the rear of the charabanc where they slept soundly until it passed under the Landgate in Tilling some hours later.



 

Next morning, over breakfast at “Mallards House”, Lucia said to Georgie, “ I’ve thought it over during the night and made a decision.”


“What decision?”


“Really Georgie, sometimes I think you never listen to a word I say. I told you last night about how Florence Twistevant and her sister behaved so badly on our trip.”
 


“Oh that,” replied Georgie, trying to appear attentive but struggling to do so before he had finished his first cup of tea of the day, “Tell me then, what have you decided?”
 


“You will appreciate that although I have risen to become Mayor of Tilling and Chairman of its Bench of Magistrates, some here still regard me as a ‘parvenu’ or even an ‘arriviste.’”
 


“At least they would have to be fluent in French to say so,”  joked Georgie, adding, "That rules out most of Tilling."
 


“I'm serious,   if you are going to make light of it, I shall not tell you what I’ve decided,” admonished Lucia.


“I’m sorry, Lucia, just my little play on words. Do carry on. I promise to be good!”


“Very well then,” continued Lucia, “Harold Twistevant is one of the most influential men in Tilling: shopkeeper, landlord, Councillor and Magistrate. His family – ghastly though it may be – has lived in Tilling for centuries. How will it look if I, who have only been here for a few years, were to banish his wife Florence from the Tilling Ladies’ Luncheon Club?”
 


“Oh, I see what you mean,” replied Georgie, “But on the other hand you can’t really have the Twistevant ladies having too many ports and lemon and running amok on every occasion.
 


“Indeed,” remarked Lucia, “Only this morning I hear that Florence disgraced herself further than we knew yesterday.  Apparently when the Deputy Purser – a charming young man by the way - was showing her the way to disembark down the gangway, she behaved what I can only describe as ‘improperly.’”
 


“What on earth did Florence do?” asked Georgie enthralled, “The mind boggles!”
 


“If you will pardon the vulgarity, I believe the word is... ‘goosed.’”
 


On hearing this Georgie doubled up in fit of laughter, knocking over the toast rack in the process.
 


“It’s all very well to laugh Georgie,” said Lucia in her “Oxford voice, ” "But I believe that, technically, molesting the Deputy Purser uninvited in that way amounts to ‘common assault.’ 'Very common', if you ask me.  I remember my Justices Clerk explaining to me that guilt  in criminal cases such this all depends upon proving a ‘mens rea’ and an ‘actus reus’.  In short, Florence was fortunate not to be arrested.”
 


Though he was tempted to suggest that there had certainly been a "mens rea" involved, Georgie’s essential good nature prevailed.  He knew better than to go too far in making jokes at the expense of his wife and instead remarked, “I take your point about the gravity of the situation. Now, what are you going to do?”
 


“It will clearly risk upsetting too many locals to eject Mrs Twistevant from my Luncheon Club. I think it safer simply to let the Club ‘drift into desuetude. ‘”
 


“You mean, let it ‘die a natural death’ from disuse?” asked Georgie.
 


“Precisely! I will explain to certain members that my busy schedule means I simply cannot find time to attend our monthly luncheons, delightful though they might be.”


“And if you don’t have meetings or outings, there’s no opportunity for Florence and Nellie to show you all up,” suggested Georgie.

“Absolutely, dear Georgie. Now shall we try to raise our minds from the mire of inebriation and impropriety, forced upon us by such dreadful behaviour and enjoy un po di musica? This morning, diffy though it may be, nothing less that the divine Beethoven will do!”






Although Bunty Morrison had been irritated that Florence and Nellie Twistevant had found a means to "stow away" on the trip to the Queen Mary, she could not afford to dwell on what had taken place. With the twins at school and her husband at work, Bunty was free to focus on the urgent matter of preparations for the coming holiday.



By the  late afternoon, all requisite clothes were laundered,  folded and packed and four suitcases were lined up  in the hall of "Braemar" ready for departure next morning.



Similar preparations were also being carried out at "Grebe" by Elizabeth Mapp-Flint who ensured that Benjy spent most of the day on the golf links and did not get under her feet whilst packing.



By the time Benjy reappeared for tea, the Mapp-Flint's motley collection of venerable luggage - which like its owners had seen a great deal of shikarri in its time -  also stood packed in shipshape and Bristol fashion.


 


By 8.30 next morning, Benjamin and Elizabeth Mapp-Flint had boarded the train for London and sat reading their morning newspapers in a First Class carriage.



Remembering only too well what happened last time they travelled First Class with the Tilling and District Railway Company,  Elizabeth made a point of standing behind her husband in the ticket office as he bought the tickets and paid appropriately. To make assurance doubly sure, she scrutinised the tickets carefully and placed them in her handbag and settled back in her seat confident that she would not again be in the dock facing charges before Tilling Magistrates.



Two compartments away sat the Morrison family. The twins James and Dorothy were beside themselves with excitement and all eagerly anticipated the holiday to come.



As she sat, Bunty Morrison opened her handbag and extracted the wallet containing their travel documents. She checked and re-checked the details of the embarkation notice from the Orient line, their tickets, passports and travellers cheques.



Confident that all was in order she  felt able to relax a little  and chatted with the twins and attempted to answer their myriad questions about the RMS Orcadia and its ports of call en route to Naples.



On reaching London, both the Mapp-Flints and Morrisons and their respective valises  transferred  easily to the Boat Train to Tilbury with the help of amiable porters.


It seemed as though they had hardly taken their seat when Tilbury hove into view and the prow of the RMS  Orcadia  loomed above them.



 

The Mapp-Flints and Morrisons found the stress and worry of rail travel with heavy luggage lifted from their shoulders as soon as they had boarded the RMS Orcadia.


Their cases were whisked away on the dockside and awaited them when they had been escorted to their cabins.

Herbert and Bunty were delighted with their spacious and airy stateroom on B Deck, which was beautifully furnished and boasted several portholes giving a splendid view. There was a connecting door to an adjoining cabin which would accommodate the twins.   

 

They were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by freshly cut flowers, fruit and a beribboned box of fine Belgian chocolates. To top it all, they were touched also to find a bottle of champagne on ice with a note which read, "With the compliments, thanks and best wishes of Susan and Algernon Wyse, Wishing you a bon voyage!"


As Bunty attended to the unpacking, James and Dorothy next door quickly agreed who should have which bunk bed and that this would be reversed on the journey home.


As this went on, Herbert looked through the Programme of Events which was left with various other useful material in the Welcome Pack on the dressing table. He was pleased that the most vexing question to be answered that day would be which sitting to choose for dinner that evening.


 


Meanwhile the Mapp-Flints were also settling into their smaller cabin below on C deck. Adequate though it was, it boasted only one porthole and lacked flowers, fruit or chocolates. In contrast to the luxurious twin divans in the Morrison’s airy stateroom on the deck above, there were bunk beds.


Unlike the James and Dorothy, the Mapp-Flints were not overjoyed with these sleeping arrangements. A lengthy and somewhat ill-tempered debate ensued, until it was agreed that Elizabeth should occupy the lower bunk.


Benjy took this with rather bad grace and continued muttering about how difficult it would be to climb the little ladder to his bunk, given the war wounds suffered whilst serving his King and Country.


Elizabeth was oblivious to this, but did wonder how husband would manage the ladder after a whiskey and soda or two. “Constant vigilance,” she determined was “The only answer.” She would "have to monitor Benjy’s consumption of alcohol even more closely than usual - for his own good."

 

Once unpacking was completed, all the passengers from Tilling made their way aloft on deck to witness the Orcadia leaving the dockside and setting out on her voyage. In keeping with tradition, streamers were thrown to and from the dock with much shouting and waving and many cheers.

 

The Morrisons joined in the waving to the crowd on terra firma even though they knew no-one there; it just seemed the polite thing to do.
 

 
When the ship had left Tilbury and reached the open sea, most passengers returned to their cabins to prepare for dinner. There the Morrisons found an invitation to join the Captain and senior officers  for cocktails and to dine with him at his table that evening.   


Bunty felt a mixture of pleasure at the honour of such an  invitation and nervousness at what seemed an impending social ordeal, mixing with such elevated folk.


Herbert sensed his wife's unease and said, "Don't  worry love. It will be a lovely evening in interesting company. Just be yourself and enjoy it. We'll be together and it will be fine. You'll see."


Bunty felt comforted by Herbert's reassurance and busied herself taking the twins to childrens' tea in the dining room. Both James and Dorothy adored  being able to order a la carte  and thoroughly enjoyed  their meal of steak and chips with trifle to follow. They were soon happily tucked up in their bunks, leaving their parents free for the evening. Bunty did however pop back at intervals to check and found them both sound asleep.


Both Bunty and Herbert were relieved that attendance at the captain's drinks reception was simplified by the convention on cruises of avoiding formal dress on the first evening.


Herbert in his lounge suit and Bunty in a smart cocktail dress felt comfortable as they met the captain and were introduced to their fellow guests.  These included a High Court Judge, a British Consul travelling to take up his appointment in Naples, a Stockbroker and their respective  wives.  This bourgeois assembly was varied somewhat by the presence of Lord and Lady Desborough and a lady novelist and her paid companion.


After the reception, the Captain escorted his guests into dinner.  As might be expected, most heads in the mirrored first class salon turned to see their Captain and his distinguished guests come to table.  Both Herbert and Bunty  felt unashamedly proud to have scaled such a social pinnacle and vowed never to forget the evening.


As  the first course was served, a slight commotion arose at the far end of the dining room with the arrival of two latecomers. Turning to look over his shoulder, Herbert caught sight of the entrance of the Mapp-Flints, who rather noisily and with some difficulty eventually located their table.


Unfortunately, this being their first cruise  neither Benjy nor Elizabeth were aware that black tie was not normally worn on this particular evening. Their solecism was compounded by the sad fact that both had set out to impress on their cruising debut. Benjy  chose to wear the dress uniform of his regiment, complete with campaign medals.


For her part, Elizabeth  appeared in a formal gown with a full suite of the faux jewels found in the trunk of the late Maharani, as though she were being presented at Court. The costume was completed and made unforgettable by the finishing touch of a fascinator fashioned from finest and longest ostrich plumes, which had  been last worn at the Great Durbar in Delhi in 1911.


The awkwardness of the situation only became clear to the Mapp-Flints  during their first course, when Elizabeth hissed to Benjy in coded language "Benjy dear, as Lucia would put it, We're the only ones in Hitum. Everyone else is in Scrub!"


"Too late now, Elizabeth" replied Benjy, downing a glass of hock and indicating to the waiter that he required another, "We  had better brazen it out now. Let's just enjoy a jolly good dinner."

Apart from removing her headgear, as discreetly as she could,  when pretending to recover a dropped evening glove from under the table, Elizabeth for once obeyed her husband to the letter. Later, the Mapp-Flints danced the foxtrot under the moon over the Bay of Biscay.
   


The first full day at sea began with the fullest of full English breakfasts served in the palatial dining salon.


Hebert challenged the twins to a  game of  "Who can name anything that's not on the menu?" and won quite easily.


Replete, the family moved on to the sun deck and settled down to enjoy the bright early summer morning in the fresh sea air.


Whilst the grown-ups chatted or read, the twins set off to explore the ship, having received firm instructions that they were to obey all "Private" or  "No Entry" signs to the letter.


The inquisitive  nine year olds  first located the nursery, which they deemed far  too young for them and next the library, which they thought marginally too old. Their greatest delight, however, came on finding the swimming pool, which they agreed looked terribly inviting and simply begged to be enjoyed.



After standing at the very prow of the Orcadia and watching the dolphins or porpoise (they weren't sure which) speeding effortlessly along first on one bow and then on the other, the pair headed for what they felt confident was called the "stern." There, they were mesmerised by the immensity of the vast white wake created by the huge propellers of the liner  and the cacophony of noise created by the screaming flock of gulls circling above.



When they returned to their parents they found they had both "just closed their eyes for a moment or two" and  soon put a stop to that with urgent requests to be taken for a swim. In the end they settled for a game of deck quoits with Herbert before lunch and a promise of swimming in due course.

 



Meanwhile, the Mapp-Flints were only now stirring, having thoroughly enjoyed their "good dinner" the night before to the fullest.

 

 

Elizabeth Mapp-Flint remembered blearily that it had taken her husband several attempts to negotiate what she had called "his sweet little ladder to the Land of Nod."


In the cold light of morning,  a hung-over Major Flint had no time for "little ladders" or the "land of"  anywhere. He could not face breakfast and could only contemplate a cup of hot strong tea.

The Mapp-Flints agreed that they would "spend the day quietly" and did so.
As the cruise continued, each day fell into an enjoyable  pattern.  After breakfast, there was relaxation on deck in the sunshine with some swimming and deck games. Lunch was delicious and lengthy with a myriad of choices.


Most afternoons there were a variety of activities to enjoy, from illustrated talks to tea dances to whist or bridge. On occasion, the Morrisons and the Mapp-Flints would find deck chairs in a quiet spot and just watch the ever-changing sea pass by.





In the evenings there were a variety of distractions apart from sumptuous dinners. These included dancing to the ship's band, film shows, yet more cards, games of Bingo or "Housie" and a fancy dress ball. Some couples preferred just  to relax on deck  in the moonlight and enjoy their drinks in the cool of the evening.




Once in the warmer climes of the Mediterranean, after negotiating the Bay of Biscay and passing through the straits of Gibraltar, organised games for children and adults took place in the pool. Both James and Dorothy won colourful ribbons in races for their age group.

During the slapstick Mediterranean version of the high jinks that traditionally took place on the crossing of the Equator, crew men dressed up as King Neptune and his court and doused many a willing volunteer in shaving foam or water.

Benjy in his antique red and white striped swimming costume, which modestly extended below this elbows and knees, took part along with the Morrison twins and, like them, was pleased to receive his commemorative certificate  from the mythical Monarch of the Ocean, otherwise known as the  Orcadia's Chief Engineer.

 



 

Memorably,  Major Benjy and Herbert were persuaded to take part in a pillow fight on a greasy pole some feet above the pool.  Fortunately,  after several attempts, both made contact with the other simultaneously with well-aimed blows. Each Tillingite fell into the water at precisely the same moment and the contest was declared an honourable draw.


A proud Elizabeth Map-Flint declared afterwards "Well done, Benjy boy!"  

 
Towelling himself dry, her husband replied, "Now  you understand why I was  called 'Sporting Benjy ' in my Regiment!"

Afterwards, over tea in the lounge, both couples agreed that no-one in Tilling would believe them if they described the marine duel.  On balance, it was agreed not to trouble Tilling with the knowledge that it had ever taken place.

"Mind you, I can't really imagine that Pillson fellow joining in such a joust," said Benjy dismissively.

"Much too boisterous and manly, Benjy dear!" cooed Elizabeth, "And anyway, I don't think Mr Georgie would want to risk getting his.... 'hair' wet , do you?"

Neither Herbert nor Bunty felt it fair to join in mocking Georgie Pillson, whilst he was not there to defend himself.  Over time, they had come to appreciate Georgie Pillson's many good qualities and after-all, he had never done them any harm.

Accordingly, they remained silent and it was Benjy who answered his wife's question, "I'm not sure it's 'his' hair that he would be getting wet, but I know what you mean.  The answer is most certainly, 'No'"

Whilst the Mapp-Flints laughed at their own wit, Bunty Morrison changed the subject to the next day's port of call.

Happy periods at sea  on board the RMS Orcadia were interspersed with delightful opportunities to explore various interesting places.  



A brief stop was made at Gibraltar, allowing passengers to stretch their legs ashore.  This enabled the gentleman to give their linen suits and Panama hats an airing, whilst the ladies enjoyed showing off their cotton frocks in floral print and matching sun-hats,  packed specifically for this purpose.
 


In Gibraltar, the visitors relished the quaint Englishness of  pillar boxes and telephone kiosks and bars and restaurants where English was spoken. Most of the visitors found time to take in the Moorish Castle, Alameda Gardens and Parade Ground as well as the top of the Rock itself.


Most photographers managed to capture a picture of one of the Barbary apes, running freely in the only stronghold of their breed in Europe.

Sadly, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint felt that “those ghastly creatures ran around rather too freely” since her souvenir photograph clearly showed   “her” ape biting her finger, instead of eating the proffered morsel of banana.


Fortunately, she was able to obtain an early tetanus injection on returning to the ship. Benjamin Mapp-Flint kept a close eye on his wife afterwards, for signs of hydrophobia,  in case the ape was rabid, but detected no more frothing at the mouth than was usual in his often combative spouse. It is not reported how the ape in question fared.


After a frenetic hour or two ashore, the happy cruisers found it pleasant to return “home” in time for afternoon tea and a rest or competitive game of deck quoits before the rigours of dinner that evening.

Docking in Marseilles, the second city of France, both the Morrisons and Mapp-Flints opted for a guided tour from the pleasant vantage point of a horse-drawn carriage. This ensured that as many sights of interest as possible were seen in the time available in maximum comfort and with minimum of effort.
 
The passengers learnt from their guide and coachman that in the preceding year over 15,000 ships with total tonnage of more than 32 million and 829,000 passengers had passed in and out of the great port.  As ever, the studious James noted this down in his notebook.

The tour took in the Museum of Fine Art, with its impressive array of paintings and sculpture,  the Old Port and the famous Church of Notre Dame de La Garde with its interior of coloured marble and steeple surmounted by a large gilt statue of the virgin .  They also had an opportunity to take the air in the charming Pharo Park and to travel along the three miles of the Promenade de la Corniche along the seashore.

Visitors  familiar with the books of Alexander Dumas were interested to visit the Château d’If.  Both Morrison twins were fascinated to hear the grim history of this famous prison on a small island that the south entrance to the harbour. Famous literary inmates  included the Count of  Monte Cristo and Abbe Faria.

The group enjoyed some free time, during which they were able to explore the famous street, La Canebiere, with its chic shops, hotels and fine restaurants, before returning to the dockside for embarkation.

After reboarding, whilst Herbert and Bunty were changing in their stateroom, there came a knock at the door from a steward, bearing a telegram on a silver tray.

Bunty, fearing bad news from home, looked on anxiously as her husband quickly opened it. It read:  "REGRET TO TROUBLE YOU ON HOLIDAY STOP IRENE AND LUCY ARE HELD CAPTIVE BY BANDITS  NEAR  TAORMINA SICILY STOP PLEASE LIAISE WITH CONSULATE IN NAPLES AND RENDER  ALL ASSISTANCE STOP REGARDS EMMELINE PILLSON."
 "I'm so sorry, love," said Herbert, "I really didn't think work would follow us on holiday! But you know I have to go and try to sort this out. Sounds a bit like 'Goodbye, Dolly Grey' doesn't it?'"

"Don't worry, Herbert,  I understand it goes with your job. Apart from your duty,  you owe it to Miss Coles as a neighbour to do your best to rescue her. If the twins and I were kidnapped in a strange land, I hope any true Tillingite nearby would try to do something!"

"Thanks for being so understanding.  It wouldn't look too good if I said 'Sorry girls, I'm on my hols. I suggest you find someone else!'" joked Herbert.
Still holding the telegram,  Herbert headed on deck to locate his dinner companion, Mr Travers, who was on his way to Naples to take up the post of British Consul.

Both men instantly recognised that urgent action was required on landing and, within an hour, the Consul Designate had spoken on a ship-to-shore line to make the necessary arrangements in Naples. A car and interpreter would be made available and would be waiting on the dockside when the Orcadia reached port.

Bunty and the twins would be accommodated as guests at the Consulate, whilst Herbert was busy trying to rescue the damsels in distress in Sicily.

Having done all he could for the moment, including sending a telegram in response to Emmeline Pillson in Tilling,  Herbert could see no reason why he should not briefly resume his holiday for the imminent completion of the voyage of some 2296 miles from Tilbury to Naples.

News of events in Sicily soon spread around the ship, and during dinner, the Captain proposed a toast to those on his table "To the health and safe-keeping of Miss Coles and her maid, Lucy! "which was unanimously made.
The Mapp-Flints approached the Morrisons after dinner,  whilst coffee was being served in the lounge.
"We were so shocked to hear what has befallen our dear, sweet Quaint One, Inspector Morrison. Quite devastated," said Elizabeth with a smile as broad as it was insincere, whilst dabbing her entirely dry eyes with the corner of her handkerchief, "Is there anything we could possibly do to assist?" knowing what the answer would be.
"I would, of course, respectfully ask to be associated with the remarks of my good lady wife!" added Benjy, as if he were engaged in a bibulous mess dinner in Poona many decades before.
Both Herbert and Bunty knew that, at best, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint cordially loathed Irene Coles, whom she famously once loudly and publicly described as a "disgrace to her sex." 
Irene Coles' colourful clashes with Elizabeth had near legendary status in Tilling from the unfortunate incident during the election campaign for Tilling Council, when Irene and a band of urchins had demonstrated with banners and a hand-bell against Elizabeth as, "the Foe of the Poor" to devastatingly accurate and hilarious mimicry too numerous to mention.
Smiling, Herbert took these sentiments with a huge pinch of salt and simply expressed his thanks for their good wishes for the task  ahead.
 
 



The hours sped by until the Orcadia docked in Naples.  Bunty and Herbert explained to the twins that "Dad had to go away for a few days to attend to some business", but would rejoin them in Naples ready to go over to Capri.


Both James and Dorothy tried to make this as easy as possible and not only accepted this without fuss, but promised to be extra specially good for Mum until they were reunited.


As soon as the Orcadia had docked, two figures hurried up the gangway and asked urgently to see Inspector and Mrs Morrison.


When they answered a knock at their cabin door, Bunty and Herbert were surprised to see a tall and imposing woman of a certain age fashionably dressed and sporting a monocle.


Bunty immediately recognised the lady as the Contessa di Faraglione, who had visited her brother Algernon Wyse in Tilling only last year.


Since Herbert had not met the Contessa, Bunty took the initiative and introduced her, "Herbert, may I present to you, Amelia, Contessa di Faraglione, the sister of Mr Algernon Wyse."

Herbert inclined his head in the slightly Germanic manner he employed when greeting Emmeline Pillson in Tilling, smiled and said "How do you do, Contessa."

Amelia duly reciprocated,” May I present my husband, Cecco, Cont di Faraglione."

Following the introduction, Cecco, dapper in a well-cut suit and hand-made shoes with elegantly coiffed hair and moustache stepped forward and bowed. He suavely kissed Bunty's hand and shook Herbert's whilst saying "Welcome to Napoli. I am sorry that your visit has coincided with this unfortunate incident. But Sicilians- what can you do?"

Lacking in any degree of self-consciousness, Amelia, lit a cigarette at the end of a lengthy holder in mother of pearl and continued, "Please pardon this intrusion, but we have heard from brother Algernon about what has happened to your Miss Coles in Sicily and thought we must come and offer you our assistance."

"How very kind Contessa," said Herbert, "We are fortunate that the new British Consul is on board and had kindly agreed to provide me with a car and interpreter to go to Sicily."

“Nonsense Inspector, I am at your complete disposal in this emergency. I will drive you there myself and act as your interpreter. My Bugatti Coupe Napoleon Imperiale will get you there more quickly than any vehicle from the car pool at the Consulate   especially with me driving!”

“There is no point in trying to refuse,” commented Amelia, “Once Cecco has decided - that’s it. Resistance is futile.”

Bowing to what appeared to be the inevitable, Herbert thanked the Count for his kind offer and accepted gratefully.

“And while the men folk are away, I will be happy to take care of Mrs Morrison and the bambini and show them something of our glorious Napoli! And I long to hear all the news from your dear little Tilling!” said Amelia with a flourish.

“But will that be convenient?” asked Bunty, “I understood your home is on Capri?”

“Yes, dear, the Palazzo Faraglione is on Capri, but we also maintain a townhouse here on the mainland. It is quite modest, only twenty or so bedrooms, receiving rooms, gallery and ballroom et cetera. Homely, but it suits us to have a pied- a-terre  -  so convenient for occasions such as this.”

“We will be happy to accommodate you there if you would prefer, but as arrangements have been made at the Consulate, we thought you might not wish to disappoint them?” suggested the Count.

“Yes, quite right, “answered Herbert, “The new Consul has been very kind and we should stick to our plans. However, I’m sure my wife and children would very much appreciate seeing you, whilst we are tied up in Sicily.”

“Not literally, I hope, Inspector,” joked the Count, “Now, I think we should begin our journey to Taormina with all haste. My Bugatti awaits us on the dock.” 
   
As the Bugatti sped through the busy streets of Naples, Herbert's  knuckles grew whiter as he came to understand the basis of the Count’s pride in his driving ability.



When he complimented the Count on his skill, as he nonchalantly overtook a large bus in a narrow  Neapolitan  street, whilst lighting a cigarette, Cecco replied casually, “Oh, yes, I learned to drive this way in Argentina. My old friend Juan was a very good teacher.”



Only some years later,  did it eventually dawn on Herbert that his driver had been instructed by the legendary five times world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio.



When silence fell during their breakneck  journey, Herbert, as the English do, felt it incumbent on him to fill the vacuum with polite conversation.

   



During their journey of some three hundred and fifty miles, the Bugatti sped along highways with names that sounded exotic and romantic to Inspector Morrison,  at least when compared to the more prosaic by-ways of Sussex.

Via after via was navigated, ranging from Ferrante to Barbato Stefano and Guiseppe Paesano to Lago Trasimeno.




More or less following the coastline southwards from the mid-calf to the toe of Italy, signs flashed by for  places such as Salerno, Sapri, Amantia and Eufemia as they raced to Reggio de Calabria to catch the ferry from the mainland to Messina.

Herbert could not afford to waste time looking at the passing countryside, but leafed diligently through the file on the incident handed to the Count by the police. He tried to decipher the Italian as best he could and for some time studied intently the photograph of what he assumed was the chief suspect.


Before arriving in Sicily, he needed to have familiarised himself with the circumstances leading to the kidnapping and learned much more about the kidnappers.


He quizzed the Count about how and when Irene and Lucy were captured.

It transpired that Miss Coles and Lucy had moved on from Taormina to the west of the island.
Irene had been painting the rugged landscape "en pleine air" just outside the mountain village of Montelepre, which means "The Mountain of the Hare."
A day or so after the pair had disappeared, a ransom note claiming a substantial sum for their safe return, was delivered to the British Consulate in Palermo and notified to Mrs Pillson in Tilling. The note made it clear that if the ransom was not paid in full within ten days neither would be seen alive again.   
Not unreasonably, Herbert had a foreigner's preconception of the likely identity of such criminals in Sicily. "Are the kidnappers Mafiosi, Count?" he asked.
“No, I am pleased to say," the  Count replied, "The mountain bandits in Sicily have nothing to do with the city Mafioso. They are a breed unto themselves and have their own unique and special code of honour and morals. However, that is not to say that they will not carry out their threat. The ladies are in extreme danger, believe me.
"But, in what way are they unique?" asked Herbert, intrigued.
"They certainly operate outside the law indulge in robbery, smuggling and even kidnapping for ransom, but they are much more than that"
"Sorry to repeat myself,  but in what way?"
"They consider themselves ‘the friends of the poor’ and give freely of their plunder of the rich to the poor."
"Oh, I see," said Herbert," In England, we had such a hero many centuries ago in the time of King Richard and the Crusades. He was an outlaw who hid in the forest with his followers and was famous for robbing the rich to give to the poor"
"You mean Robin Hood?" asked the Count, who knew English folklore better than Herbert knew that of Sicily.
"Exactly, Count" said Herbert, "Given that these bandits are reputed to  help the poor as well as themselves, I suppose they are very popular in the countryside?"
"They certainly are, Inspector," confirmed the Count, "The bandits tend also to be separatists, anti-communist and anti-Mafioso. One can understand why the rural poor in Sicily look up to them."
"And are unlikely to give us any help in apprehending one of them?"
"Absolutely  not!  The bandits from the mountains in the west of Sicily consider themselves to be "the honourable men" and are no common criminals. We will have a very difficult task to free the ladies and can expect no help from the locals."
"Yes, Count, I'm beginning to understand how hard it will be. Do we know any more about their leader? That’s him in the photograph isn’t it?" 


 

"Yes, it is, Inspector.  He is the best known bandit just now and is already something of a legend. My wife tells me he has what she called 'the looks of a matinee idol. 'His name is Salvatore D'Angelo. The people call him ‘Turrido,’ which is the diminutive for Salvatore.  He is, as you say, ‘a real Robin Hood.’ He declares that his aim is 'to feed the poor and win freedom for Sicily.'"
“It's just a shame that innocent people like Irene and Lucy, get caught up in such things"
 
"It was always thus, old chap," laughed the Count, betraying much time spent in England on account of his English wife, one of the Wyses of Whitchurch, "But let us not get downhearted. Between us, we shall find a way to find them and then free them."  
"I'm sure we shall," replied Herbert, staring into the darkness ahead.
 

The Bugatti arrived at the dockside in Reggio di Calabria just in time to catch the last ferry of the day to Messina.

Whilst the Count purchased their tickets, Herbert was able to find a telephone and to ring Bunty at the British Consulate in Naples.

Herbert reassured his wife that they had arrived safely and would try to find somewhere to stay in Taormina that night. If all went according to plan, in the morning they would be travelling to Montelepre where Irene and Lucy were last sighted. 

Once she had confirmed all was well with Herbert, Bunty said that she and the children had spent an enjoyable day with the Countess Amelia, seeing some of the sights of Naples. "Tomorrow," she explained, "We are going to visit Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. If time permits, we may even be taken on the Amalfi Drive over the mountains of the Salerno Coast. But I do feel guilty going on day-trips whilst you are having to deal with such risky business and may be in danger."

"Don’t worry about that. It’s much easier for me if I can be sure you are in safe hands and pleasantly occupied whilst I’m away,” said Herbert, “I really am pleased, dear. Also, it will be very educational for the twins.  Please be sure to pass on my gratitude to the Countess and make sure that James and Dorothy thank her"

"Yes, Herbert. Actually the Countess said 'Don't be so formal. Please call me ‘Amelia.’' So I did, but do you think that's alright?"

"You did exactly the right thing.  Amelia calls you ‘Bunty’ doesn't she?"

"Yes, she does."

"Well, that's alright then," said Herbert, "I'd love to see Mrs Mapp-Flint's face, if she saw you calling a Countess by her first name!"

"There have been a few funny moments with Amelia that you would have enjoyed," added Bunty, "She just doesn’t care. She talks about Mrs Wyse as 'my silly sister-in-law, fat Susan'"

"No!" said Herbert in time-honoured Tilling fashion

"The Countess had lots to say about Tilling," added Bunty, "She says she adored charging about the High Street with her huge shopping basket and thought Major Benjy terribly amusing. She called him 'my flirt' and loved the idea of' making Mrs Mapp-Flint jealous. She called her ‘his wife, you know, that big, angry woman with the huge white teeth, who spoke sweet words, but who had the dead eyes of an assassin.'”

"No!"said Herbert again, continuing, "Sorry dear, I really need to go now or I'll miss the ferry. Take care. I'll phone again as soon as I can. It may be in a few days time, so don’t worry. Keep busy and make the best of Naples.  Kiss the twins for me."

 There followed a click and the purr of an Italian dialling tone.


     
    

The British consulate in Palermo had arranged for a venerable car from their pool to be delivered by a lady driver to await the ferry on the dockside. The services of the chauffeuse were politely declined since the journey into the mountains was deemed too dangerous to justify  risking the  life of a third person and since Count Cecco wished to drive himself. 

Rooms  for the night had been booked in a nearby hotel and Herbert and the Count were soon sitting down to supper, over which they made plans for the next day.

It was agreed that they would drive to Montelepre and book into the inn there.  The Count reassured  Herbert that given the bandits' fame in the locality, if they simply explained publicly that they wished to meet with Salvatore D'Angelo it would soon become apparent whether the kidnappers wished this meeting to take place.


Herbert had many questions for  Count Cecco about what he called the "modus operandi" of the mountain bandits.  If the rendezvous took place under a "white flag," so to speak, "need the visitors fear being detained and held to ransom like Irene and Lucy?  That really would be embarrassing."


"No, Inspector, these mountain men have their own strict code of ethics.  It will be a matter of honour for them that we should come to no harm if we approach them under a flag of truce. But tell me. Getting to meet D'Angelo is one thing, but freeing the ladies is something else entirely. What have you got in mind? Ordinary powers of persuasion are not likely to be enough.  Apart from wanting and needing the ransom money, the bandits will lose a lot of face if they are seen meekly to relinquish their hostages. What have you got up your sleeve?"

"Naturally I take your point entirely," Herbert replied, "But I would ask you to trust me. I do have some idea as to the best way to free them, but I can't really reveal any more to you at this point."


"Of course, Herbert old chap, I have every faith in you. Let us have a brandy after our meal and then get some rest. Tomorrow promises to be an interesting day."

Next morning, the borrowed Riley headed westwards through the mountains, wheezing rather at higher altitudes. At regular intervals during the journey, Cecco remarked how unfavourably its performance compared to his Bugatti. Other than this motoring critique, however, the atmosphere was tense and silent. Neither Cecco  driving nor his passenger was really in the mood for small-talk.

By noon they had reached the village of  Montelepre and, as planned, checked into its  only hotel. On completing the registration formalities, the hotelier asked the guests the purpose of their visit.  As he had intended, Cecco responded with complete frankness, "We hope to arrange to meet with Salvatore D'Angelo. We understand he is currently nearby and has two friends of my companion from England staying with him. Do you know Mr D' Angelo?"   

The hotelier replied in the affirmative and  that he might be able to arrange for the message to be passed on.
Cecco indicated that he and his companion would  lunch in  the trattoria next door  and await a response.

Hardly had the visitors finished their post prandial coffees, than the hotelier came in and passed on the message that D'Angelo would  see them that afternoon.
Parked outside was an ancient lorry of the type used by local farmers to ferry their produce to market.

Cecco and Herbert were bound and placed  on the back amongst some bales of hay and crates of squawking chickens. They were blindfolded and covered with some rather smelly sacking.
Deprived of sight, both men tried to work out the route taken during their twenty minute journey,  but if truth were known had no idea where they were heading or the way back.

The captives were relieved when they felt the aged vehicle rattle to a halt. Seconds later, their blindfolds were roughly removed and the blinding Sicilian day light burst in.
Still bound and blinking, Cecco and Herbert were led into a barn forming one side of a rectangular farmyard. Alone, they heard the door locked as their guard left them and headed over to the farm house.
Fifteen minutes later, the door was unlocked and flung open. With the sun behind him, all Cecco and Herbert could make out was the dark shape of a male silhouetted in entrance.

As their eyes grew accustomed to the brightness of daylight, their visitor  strode in.   "Greetings gentlemen," he said in surprisingly fluent English, "Welcome to Sicily. I assume that you have come to see me about the ladies from England currently staying with us? " 
   
   
"Thank you  Mr D'Angelo" said Herbert, taking the initiative, stretching out his hand and shaking that of his host  enthusiastically with a direct and meaningful look, continuing, "We certainly have. They are both well, I trust?"

"They are in perfect health, Inspector. You will have an opportunity to see for yourself shortly."  
   
"And now ," said D'Angelo, "Count, you will be taken to meet our other guests  from England. There are a few matters I wish to discuss with Inspector Morrison here."

In response to an anxious glance from the Count, Herbert said, "It's quite alright Count. I'm sure I will join you shortly."

As the Count was led out of the barn towards the farm house, Herbert broke the silence, "Thank you for being prepared to speak to me alone. Mr D' Angelo "said Herbert.

"I think it rather strange to stay on such formal terms at a time like this, don't you Inspector? Please call me "Turrido" ; everyone here does."

"Thank you, Turrido. And you must call me Herbert"

"Very well, Herbert. Now to business. How did you know?"

"Your photograph on your police file. Your hand is clearly giving the signal. The same one as in any number of portraits from popes to politicians to kings and emperors, from your Garibaldi to our King Edward VII.I am aware that Mussolini and his fascists has made our brotherhood illegal in Italy in recent years, but know it has deep enough roots here to survive and flourish."

 

"You are entirely correct in your view, Inspector. And you confirmed your suspicion with your handshake when we first met?"

"Precisely Turrido. And as a brother, I must ask you to do me the great favour of releasing your captives to me."

"I thought that was what you wanted!" smiled Turrido, "My problem in acceding to your request is the impact on my reputation. We are men of honour but we are also concerned to avoid any loss of face. Mountain bandits are not supposed to show weakness."

"I may be able to find a way to enable you to release your hostages without loss of face" replied Herbert," But I need to speak to Miss Coles. If I might be permitted to speak to her?"

"Very well," replied Turrido, "Let us do it now."  

Turrido duly took Herbert to see "the ladies from England."

Herbert had been expecting to find Irene and Lucy chained up in a padlocked cell or dingy cellar. Instead, he found himself in the farmhouse kitchen, which was bathed in sunlight and permeated with the unmistakable welcoming smells of freshly-baked bread and coffee.

Rather than being manacled, Irene was absorbed in capturing the likeness in charcoal of a pretty young girl sat posing on the opposite side of  the kitchen table.

Lucy stood at the sink drying dishes washed by an elderly lady clad in black. The face of Lucy's companion was wrinkled by sun and hard work over decades but her eyes sparkled with vitality and good humour.

Turrido spoke first, "Gentlemen, may I present my mother Elena and my daughter Vittoria."

Only on hearing Turrido's words did Irene break her concentration on her drawing and look up. "Why, Inspector Morrison, it's you!  How kind of you to come looking for us! How on earth did you find us?"

Herbert explained about his cruise on the Orcadia, the telegram from Lucia and the Count's help in travelling from Naples to Sicily."

"I should have guessed that my beloved Lucia, the noblest of women, would come to our assistance in our moment of need. I shall always be grateful to her!" adding as a belated afterthought, "And to you and the Count!"

"Don't mention it, Miss Coles. All in a day's holiday! "said Herbert with uncharacteristic sarcasm, entirely unnoticed  by she to whom it was directed.

When Turrido, Elena and Vittoria had had tactfully withdrawn to enable the Inspector to speak privately  to  Irene, Herbert continued, "I'm  so pleased to find that you and Lucy are in good health and  can see that you have not been mistreated."

"Absolutely Inspector, they are the loveliest people," replied Irene, "Much preferable to some of the dreadful old bores back in Tilling; so many Philistines. Especially old Mapp. Lucy says I'm 'carto-phobic'  and she's quite right!  I was the only artist amongst them and those Grundys could do was drive me out. In some ways we shall be sad to leave - if we ever have the choice."

"I  can understand what you  mean, Miss Coles,  but the sad truth is however agreeable you find it here, you are being held to ransom . I think I can negotiate your freedom but we will have to think of a way of doing it which will not involve any disgrace or loss of face for your captors"

At this point Count Cecco,  who had been listening to the conversation intently, interrupted, "If you will do me the honour, I took the precaution of bringing quite a substantial sum in cash  with me, precisely for this kind of eventuality.  I would be happy to make it available to obtain the ladies'  liberty and 'pay rent for their stay here', if it will assist"

"Thank you for your generosity, Count. That will be most helpful ." said Herbert, adding with a meaningful look at  Irene, " I'm sure Miss Coles and Lucy will be most grateful."

"Oh yes, Count,  we are very grateful." vouchsafed Irene,  after a pause sufficiently long as to demonstrate conclusively that the prompt from the Inspector had been entirely necessary, "Please be assured, we will find a way of repaying your generosity to  us."

Whilst he listened to Irene, Herbert had been thoughtfully turning over the many charcoal sketches in the portfolio  on the table in the kitchen, "Actually Miss Coles, I think the solution to our little problem lies here in front of us: it's staring us in the face."

"What is it? "asked Irene and the Count simultaneously. Lucy did not feel it was her place to join in this interrogation, but paid the closest  attention.

"We have just to make sure it is known that you have been here as a guest,  working upon charcoal studies of Turrido's  mother and daughter as the basis of a portrait commissioned by Turrido," explained Herbert, "I think this is quite plausible.  After all, you have such a good reputation as a leading artist at home and after all were the creator of last year's "Picture  of the Year" in our country.

"Excellent  Inspector," remarked the Count "That way, we will all be freed  to return home unscathed and the honour of Turrido is not sullied."

"And the D'Angelo family will have the joy of my beautiful portrait to treasure forever," added Irene with characteristic immodesty."

"And might I suggest that you repay the Count for his 'donation' to secure your freedom by offering to  paint the Count and his Countess?"

"Of course I will, Inspector," replied Irene, "And, as a gesture of gratitude to you for rescuing us, I will also paint you and Mrs Morrison as soon as we all get back to Tilling."

"How nice," said Herbert weakly,  worried about Irene's depiction of Mr Hopkins from the fishmongers in his bathing drawers and vowing to himself never to be immortalised in similar fashion.   

At this point Turrido re-entered the kitchen. He was pleased to agree to all the proposals put to him and to accept both the cash from Count Cecco and the promise from Irene Coles to complete and forward the portrait of his mother and daughter  within one month.     

Later that day, as Count Cecco drove the ancient Riley away from  Montelepre, he asked Herbert  how he thought he had managed to secure the freedom of Irene and Lucy.

"Well Count, I was able to bring several powerful forces to bear on the problem confronting us. No-one should ever underestimate the power of  either Freemasonry or a substantial sum in cash."

"Nor can one overestimate the power of the code of honour  of the Sicilian bandit or his love for his mother and only daughter," added Count Cecco.

"Quite right!" said Herbert, "And speaking as a simple Sussex policeman,  I can't wait to get back to Bunty and the twins in Naples and begin our holiday at long last!"   



 Copyright reserved in all appropriate territories  Deryck Solomon 2013

 

  



 

 




 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 


 
  



 
 




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