"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"
"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."
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.”
“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.”
“And some rather romantic studies of both you and Major Benjy and Georgie and me,” Lucia added.
“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.
“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?”
“I thought ‘Grebe’ was too low-lying to have a cellar, Major,” remarked Georgie with unusual practicality, “Won’t it flood?”
"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! "
"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.
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.
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.
"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.
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
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 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.”
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.”
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!”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A proud Elizabeth Map-Flint declared afterwards "Well done, Benjy boy!"
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'"
Happy periods at sea on board the RMS Orcadia were interspersed with delightful opportunities to explore various interesting places.
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.
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.
"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.'"
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?"
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Turrido duly took Herbert to see "the ladies from England."