Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad
Edith Van Dyne
LIST OF CHAPTERS
I. THE DOYLES ARE ASTONISHED
II. UNCLE JOHN MAKES PLANS
III. "ALL ASHORE!"
IV. SOME NEW ACQUAINTANCES AND A WARNING
V. VESUVIUS RAMPANT
VI. UNDER A CLOUD
VII. A FRIEND IN NEED
VIII. ACROSS THE BAY
IX. COUNT FERRALTI
X. THE ROAD TO AMALFI
XI. THE EAGLE SCREAMS
XII. MOVING ON
XIII. "IL DUCA"
XIV. UNCLE JOHN DISAPPEARS
XV. DAYS OF ANXIETY
XVII. THE HIDDEN VALLEY
XVIII. THE GUESTS OF THE BRIGAND
XIX. A DIFFICULT POSITION
XX. UNCLE JOHN PLAYS EAVESDROPPER
XXI. THE PIT
XXII. NEWS AT LAST
XXIII. BETH BEGINS TO PLOT
XXIV. PATSY'S NEW FRIEND
XXV. TURNING THE TABLES
XXVI. THE COUNT UNMASKS
XXVII. TATO IS ADOPTED
XXVIII. DREAMS AND DRESS-MAKING
XXIX. TATO WINS
XXX. A WAY TO FORGET
XXXI. SAFE HOME
The author is pleased to be able to present a sequel to "Aunt Jane's
Nieces," the book which was received with so much favor last year. Yet
it is not necessary one should have read the first book to fully
understand the present volume, the characters being taken to entirely
The various foreign localities are accurately described, so that those
who have visited them will recognize them at once, while those who have
not been so fortunate may acquire a clear conception of them. It was my
good fortune to be an eye witness of the recent great eruption of
Lest I be accused of undue sensationalism in relating the somewhat
dramatic Sicilian incident, I will assure my reader that the story does
not exaggerate present conditions in various parts of the island. In
fact, Il Duca and Tato are drawn from life, although they did not have
their mountain lair so near to Taormina as I have ventured to locate
it. Except that I have adapted their clever system of brigandage to the
exigencies of this story, their history is truly related. Many who have
travelled somewhat outside the beaten tracks in Sicily will frankly
vouch for this statement.
Italy is doing its best to suppress the Mafia and to eliminate
brigandage from the beautiful islands it controls, but so few of the
inhabitants are Italians or in sympathy with the government that the
work of reformation is necessarily slow. Americans, especially, must
exercise caution in travelling in any part of Sicily; yet with proper
care not to tempt the irresponsible natives, they are as safe in Sicily
as they are at home.
Aunt Jane's nieces are shown to be as frankly adventurous as the average
clear headed American girl, but their experiences amid the environments
of an ancient and still primitive civilization are in no wise
EDITH VAN DYNE.
THE DOYLES ARE ASTONISHED
It was Sunday afternoon in Miss Patricia Doyle's pretty flat at 3708
Willing Square. In the small drawing room Patricia--or Patsy, as she
preferred to be called--was seated at the piano softly playing the one
"piece" the music teacher had succeeded in drilling into her flighty
head by virtue of much patience and perseverance. In a thick cushioned
morris-chair reclined the motionless form of Uncle John, a chubby little
man in a gray suit, whose features were temporarily eclipsed by the
newspaper that was spread carefully over them. Occasionally a gasp or a
snore from beneath the paper suggested that the little man was
"snoozing" as he sometimes gravely called it, instead of listening to
Major Doyle sat opposite, stiffly erect, with his admiring eyes full
upon Patsy. At times he drummed upon the arms of his chair in unison
with the music, nodding his grizzled head to mark the time as well as to
emphasize his evident approbation. Patsy had played this same piece from
start to finish seven times since dinner, because it was the only one
she knew; but the Major could have listened to it seven hundred times
without the flicker of an eyelash. It was not that he admired so much
the "piece" the girl was playing as the girl who was playing the
"piece." His pride in Patsy was unbounded. That she should have
succeeded at all in mastering that imposing looking instrument--making
it actually "play chunes"--was surely a thing to wonder at. But then,
Patsy could do anything, if she but tried.
Suddenly Uncle John gave a dreadful snort and sat bolt upright, gazing
at his companions with a startled look that melted into one of benign
complacency as he observed his surroundings and realized where he was.
The interruption gave Patsy an opportunity to stop playing the tune. She
swung around on the stool and looked with amusement at her newly
"You've been asleep," she said.
"No, indeed; quite a mistake," replied the little man, seriously. "I've
only been thinking."
"An' such beautchiful thoughts," observed the Major, testily, for he
resented the interruption of his Sunday afternoon treat. "You thought
'em aloud, sir, and the sound of it was a bad imithation of a bullfrog
in a marsh. You'll have to give up eating the salad, sir."
"Bah! don't I know?" asked Uncle John, indignantly.
"Well, if your knowledge is better than our hearing, I suppose you do,"
retorted the Major. "But to an ignorant individual like meself the
impression conveyed was that you snored like a man that has forgotten
his manners an' gone to sleep in the prisence of a lady."
"Then no one has a better right to do that," declared Patsy, soothingly;
"and I'm sure our dear Uncle John's thoughts were just the most
beautiful dreams in the world. Tell us of them, sir, and we'll prove the
Major utterly wrong."
Even her father smiled at the girl's diplomacy, and Uncle John, who was
on the verge of unreasonable anger, beamed upon her gratefully.
"I'm going to Europe," he said.
The Major gave an involuntary start, and then turned to look at him
"And I'm going to take Patsy along," he continued, with a mischievous
The Major frowned.
"Conthrol yourself, sir, until you are fully awake," said he. "You're
Patsy swung her feet from side to side, for she was such a little thing
that the stool raised her entirely off the floor. There was a thoughtful
look on her round, freckled face, and a wistful one in her great blue
eyes as the full meaning of Uncle John's abrupt avowal became apparent.
The Major was still frowning, but a half frightened expression had
replaced the one of scornful raillery. For he, too, knew that his
eccentric brother-in-law was likely to propose any preposterous thing,
and then carry it out in spite of all opposition. But to take Patsy to
Europe would be like pulling the Major's eye teeth or amputating his
good right arm. Worse; far worse! It would mean taking the sunshine out
of her old father's sky altogether, and painting it a grim, despairing
But he resolved not to submit without a struggle.
"Sir," said he, sternly--he always called his brother-in-law "sir" when
he was in a sarcastic or reproachful mood--"I've had an idea for some
time that you were plotting mischief. You haven't looked me straight in
the eye for a week, and you've twice been late to dinner. I will ask you
to explain to us, sir, the brutal suggestion you have just advanced."
Uncle John laughed. In the days when Major Doyle had thought him a poor
man and in need of a helping hand, the grizzled old Irishman had been as
tender toward him as a woman and studiously avoided any speech or
epithet that by chance might injure the feelings of his dead wife's
only brother. But the Major's invariable courtesy to the poor or
unfortunate was no longer in evidence when he found that John Merrick
was a multi-millionaire with a strongly defined habit of doing good to
others and striving in obscure and unconventional ways to make everybody
around him happy. His affection for the little man increased mightily,
but his respectful attitude promptly changed, and a chance to reprove or
discomfit his absurdly rich brother-in-law was one of his most
satisfactory diversions. Uncle John appreciated this, and holding the
dignified Major in loving regard was glad to cross swords with him now
and then to add variety to their pleasant relations.
"It's this way, Major Doyle," he now remarked, coolly. "I've been
worried to death, lately, over business matters; and I need a change."
"Phoo! All your business is attended to by Isham, Marvin & Co. You've no
worry at all. Why, we've just made you a quarter of a million in C.H. &
The "we" is explained by stating that the Major held an important
position in the great banking house--a position Mr. Merrick had secured
for him some months previously.
"That's it!" said Uncle John. "You've made me a quarter of a million
that I don't want. The C.H. & D. stocks were going to pieces when I
bought them, and I had reason to hope I'd lose a good round sum on them.
But the confounded luck turned, and the result is an accumulation of all
this dreadful money. So, my dear Major, before I'm tempted to do
some-other foolish thing I've determined to run away, where business
can't follow me, and where by industry and perseverance I can scatter
some of my ill-gotten gains."
The Major smiled grimly.
"That's Europe, right enough," he said. "And I don't object, John, to
your going there whenever you please. You're disgracefully countryfied
and uninformed for a man of means, and Europe'll open your eyes and
prove to you how insignificant you really are. I advise you to visit
Ireland, sor, which I'm reliably informed is the centhral jewel in
Europe's crown of beauty. Go; and go whinever you please, sor; but
forbear the wickedness of putting foolish thoughts into our Patsy's
sweet head. She can't go a step, and you know it. It's positive cruelty
to her, sir, to suggest such a thing!"
The Major's speech had a touch of the brogue when he became excited, but
recovered when he calmed down.
"Why, you selfish old humbug!" cried Uncle John, indignantly. "Why can't
she go, when there's money and time to spare? Would you keep her here to
cuddle and spoil a vigorous man like yourself, when she can run away and
see the world and be happy?"
"It's a great happiness to cuddle the Major," said Patsy, softly; "and
the poor man needs it as much as he does his slippers or his oatmeal for
"And Patsy has the house to look after," added the Major, complacently.
Uncle John gave a snort of contempt.
"For an unreasonable man, show me an Irishman," he remarked. "Here
you've been telling me how Europe is an education and a delight, and in
the next breath you deliberately deprive your little daughter, whom you
pretend to love, of the advantages she might gain by a trip abroad! And
why? Just because you want her yourself, and might be a bit lonesome
without her. But I'll settle that foolishness, sir, in short order. You
shall go with us."
"Impossible!" ejaculated the Major. "It's the time of year I'm most
needed in the office, and Mr. Marvin has been so kind and considerate
that I won't play him a dirty trick by leaving him in the lurch."
Patsy nodded approval.
"That's right, daddy," she said.
Uncle John lay back in the chair and put the newspaper over his face
again. Patsy and her father stared at one another with grave intentness.
Then the Major drew out his handkerchief and mopped his brow.
"You'd like to go, mavourneen?" he asked, softly.
"Yes, daddy; but I won't, of course."
"Tut-tut! don't you go putting yourself against your old father's will,
Patsy. It's not so far to Europe," he continued, thoughtfully, "and you
won't be away much longer than you were when you went to Elmhurst after
Aunt Jane's money--which you didn't get. Mary takes fine care of our
little rooms, and doubtless I shall be so busy that I won't miss you at
all, at all."
She was in his lap, now, her chubby arms clasped around his neck and her
soft cheek laid close beside his rough and ruddy one.
"And when ye get back, Patsy darlin'," he whispered, tenderly stroking
her hair, "the joy of the meeting will make up for all that we've
suffered. It's the way of life, mavourneen. Unless a couple happens to
be Siamese twins, they're bound to get separated in the course of
events, more or less, if not frequently."
"I won't go, daddy."
"Oh, yes you will. It's not like you to be breakin' my heart by stayin'
home. Next week, said that wicked old uncle--he remoinds me of the one
that tried to desthroy the Babes in the Woods, Patsy dear. You must try
to reclaim him to humanity, for I'm hopin' there's a bit of good in the
old rascal yet." And he looked affectionately at the round little man
under the newspaper.
Uncle John emerged again. It was wonderful how well he understood the
Doyle family. His face was now smiling and wore a look of supreme
"Your selfishness, my dear Major," said he, "is like the husk on a
cocoanut. When you crack it there's plenty of milk within--and in your
case it's the milk of human kindness. Come! let's talk over the trip."
UNCLE JOHN MAKES PLANS
"The thought came to me a long time ago," Uncle John resumed; "but it
was only yesterday that I got all the details fixed and settled in my
mind. I've been a rough old duffer, Patsy, and in all my hard working
life never thought of such a thing as travelling or enjoying myself
until I fell in with you, and you taught me how pleasant it is to
scatter sunshine in the hearts of others. For to make others happy means
a lot of joy for yourself--a secret you were trying to keep from me, you
crafty young woman, until I discovered it by accident. Now, here I am
with three nieces on my hands--"
"You may say two, sir," interrupted the Major. "Patsy can take care of
"Hold your tongue," said Uncle John. "I say I've got three nieces--as
fine a trio of intelligent, sweet and attractive young women as you'll
run across in a month of Sundays. I dare you to deny it, sir. And they
are all at an age when an European trip will do them a world of good. So
off we go, a week from Tuesday, in the first-class steamer 'Princess
Irene,' bound from New York for the Bay of Naples!"
Patsy's eyes showed her delight. They fairly danced.
"Have you told Beth and Louise?" she asked.
His face fell.
"Not yet," he said. "I'd forgotten to mention it to them."
"For my part," continued the girl, "I can get ready in a week, easily.
But Beth is way out in Ohio, and we don't know whether she can go or
"I'll telegraph her, and find out," said Uncle John.
"Do it to-day," suggested the Major.
"And to-morrow you must see Louise," added Patsy. "I'm not sure she'll
want to go, dear. She's such a social butterfly, you know, that her
engagements may keep her at home."
"Do you mean to say she's engaged?" asked Mr. Merrick, aghast.
"Only for the parties and receptions, Uncle. But it wouldn't surprise me
if she was married soon. She's older than Beth or me, and has a host of
"Perhaps she's old enough to be sensible," suggested the Major.
"Well, I'll see her and her mother to-morrow morning," decided Uncle
John, "and if she can't find time for a trip to Europe at my expense,
you and Beth shall go anyhow--and we'll bring Louise a wedding present."
With this declaration he took his hat and walking stick and started for
the telegraph station, leaving Patsy and her father to canvass the
John Merrick was sixty years old, but as hale and rugged as a boy of
twenty. He had made his vast fortune on the Pacific Coast and during his
years of busy activity had been practically forgotten by the Eastern
members of his family, who never had credited him with sufficient
ability to earn more than a precarious livelihood. But the man was
shrewd enough in a business way, although simple almost to childishness
in many other matters. When he returned, quite unheralded, to end his
days "at home" and employ his ample wealth to the best advantage, he for
a time kept his success a secret, and so learned much of the
dispositions and personal characteristics of his three nieces.
They were at that time visiting his unmarried sister, Jane, at her
estate at Elmhurst, whither they had been invited for the first time;
and in the race for Aunt Jane's fortune he watched the three girls
carefully and found much to admire in each one of them. Patsy Doyle,
however, proved exceptionally frank and genuine, and when Aunt Jane at
last died and it was found she had no estate to bequeath, Patsy proved
the one bright star in the firmament of disappointment. Supposing Uncle
John to be poor, she insisted upon carrying him to New York with her and
sharing with him the humble tenement room in which she lived with her
father--a retired veteran who helped pay the family expenses by keeping
books for a mercantile firm, while Patsy worked in a hair-dresser's
It was now that Uncle John proved a modern fairy godfather to Aunt
Jane's nieces--who were likewise his own nieces. The three girls had
little in common except their poverty, Elizabeth De Graf being the
daughter of a music teacher, in Cloverton, Ohio, while Louise Merrick
lived with her widowed mother in a social atmosphere of the second class
in New York, where the two women frankly intrigued to ensnare for Louise
a husband who had sufficient means to ensure both mother and daughter a
comfortable home. In spite of this worldly and unlovely ambition, which
their circumstances might partially excuse, Louise, who was but
seventeen, had many good and womanly qualities, could they have been
developed in an atmosphere uninfluenced by the schemes of her vain and
Uncle John, casting aside the mask of poverty, came to the relief of all
three girls. He settled the incomes of substantial sums of money upon
both Beth and Louise, making them practically independent. For Patsy he
bought a handsome modern flat building located at 3708 Willing Square,
and installed her and the Major in its cosiest apartment, the rents of
the remaining flats giving the Doyles an adequate income for all time to
come. Here Uncle John, believing himself cordially welcome, as indeed he
was, made his own home, and it required no shrewd guessing to arrive at
the conclusion that little Patsy was destined to inherit some day all
The great banking and brokerage firm of Isham, Marvin & Co. had long
managed successfully John Merrick's vast fortune, and at his
solicitation it gave Major Doyle a responsible position in its main
office, with a salary that rendered him independent of his daughter's
suddenly acquired wealth and made him proud and self-respecting.
Money had no power to change the nature of the Doyles. The Major
remained the same simple, honest, courteous yet brusque old warrior who
had won Uncle John's love as a hard working book-keeper; and Patsy's
bright and sunny disposition had certain power to cheer any home,
whether located in a palace or a hovel.
Never before in his life had Uncle John been so supremely happy, and
never before had Aunt Jane's three nieces had so many advantages and
pleasures. It was to confer still further benefits upon these girls that
their eccentric uncle had planned this unexpected European trip.
His telegram to Elizabeth was characteristic:
"Patsy, Louise and I sail for Europe next Tuesday. Will you join us as
my guest? If so, take first train to New York, where I will look after
your outfit. Answer immediately."
That was a message likely to surprise a country girl, but it did not
strike John Merrick as in any way extraordinary. He thought he could
depend upon Beth. She would be as eager to go as he was to have her, and
when he had paid for the telegram he dismissed the matter from further
Next morning Patsy reminded him that instead of going down town he must
personally notify Louise Merrick of the proposed trip; so he took a
cross-town line and arrived at the Merrick's home at nine o'clock.
Mrs. Merrick was in a morning wrapper, sipping her coffee in an upper
room. But she could not deny herself to Uncle John, her dead husband's
brother and her only daughter's benefactor (which meant indirectly her
own benefactor), so she ordered the maid to show him up at once.
"Louise is still sweetly sleeping," she said, "and won't waken for hours
"Is anything wrong with her?" he asked, anxiously.
"Oh, dear, no! but everyone does not get up with the milkman, as you do,
John; and the dear child was at the opera last night, which made her
late in getting home."
"Doesn't the opera let out before midnight, the same as the theatres?"
"I believe so; but there is the supper, afterward, you know."
"Ah, yes," he returned, thoughtfully. "I've always noticed that the
opera makes folks desperately hungry, for they flock to the restaurants
as soon as they can get away. Singular, isn't it?"
"Why, I never thought of it in that light."
"But Louise is well?"
"Quite well, thank you."
"That's a great relief, for I'm going to take her to Europe with me next
week," he said.
Mrs. Merrick was so astonished that she nearly dropped her coffee-cup
and could make no better reply than to stare blankly at her
"We sail Tuesday," continued Uncle John, "and you must have my niece
ready in time and deliver her on board the 'Princess Irene' at Hoboken
at nine o'clock, sharp."
"But John--John!" gasped Mrs. Merrick, feebly, "it will take a month, at
least, to make her gowns, and--"
"Stuff and rubbish!" he growled. "That shows, Martha, how little you
know about European trips. No one makes gowns to go abroad with; you buy
'em in Paris to bring home."
"Ah, yes; to be sure," she muttered. "Perhaps, then, it can be done, if
Louise, has no other engagements."
"Just what Patsy said. See here, Martha, do you imagine that any girl
who is half human could have engagements that would keep her from
"But the requirements of society--"
"You'll get me riled, pretty soon, Martha; and if you do you'll wish you
This speech frightened the woman. It wouldn't do to provoke Uncle John,
however unreasonable he happened to be. So she said, meekly:
"I've no doubt Louise will be delighted to go, and so will I."
"Why--why--whom do you intend taking?"
"Just the three girls--Aunt Jane's three nieces. Also mine."
"But you'll want a chaperone for them."
"Propriety requires it; and so does ordinary prudence. Louise, I know,
will be discreet, for it is her nature; but Patsy is such a little
flyaway and Beth so deep and demure, that without a chaperone they might
cause you a lot of trouble."
Uncle John grew red and his eyes flashed.
"A chaperone!" he cried, contemptuously; "not any in mine, Martha
Merrick. Either we young folks go alone, without any death's head to
perpetually glower at us, or we don't go at all! Three better girls
never lived, and I'll trust 'em anywhere. Besides that, we aren't going
to any of your confounded social functions; we're going on a reg'lar
picnic, and if I don't give those girls the time of their lives my name
ain't John Merrick. A chaperone, indeed!"
Mrs. Merrick held up her hands in horror.
"I'm not sure, John," she gasped, "that I ought to trust my dear child
with an uncle who disregards so openly the proprieties."
"Well, I'm sure; and the thing's settled," he said, more calmly. "Don't
worry, ma'am. I'll look after Patsy and Beth, and Louise will look after
all of us--just as she does after you--because she's so discreet. Talk
about your being a chaperone! Why, you don't dare say your soul's your
own when Louise is awake. That chaperone business is all
humbuggery--unless an old uncle like me can be a chaperone. Anyhow, I'm
the only one that's going to be appointed. I won't wait for Louise to
wake up. Just tell her the news and help her to get ready on time. And
now, I'm off. Good morning, Martha."
She really had no words of protest ready at hand, and it was long after
queer old John Merrick had gone away that she remembered a dozen
effective speeches that she might have delivered.
"After all," she sighed, taking up her cup again, "it may be the best
thing in the world for Louise. We don't know whether that young Weldon,
who is paying her attentions just now, is going to inherit his father's
money or not. He's been a bit wild, I've heard, and it is just as well
to postpone any engagement until we find out the facts. I can do that
nicely while my sweet child is in Europe with Uncle John, and away from
all danger of entanglements. Really, it's an ill wind that blows no
good! I'll go talk with Louise."
Beth De Graf was a puzzle to all who knew her. She was a puzzle even to
herself, and was wont to say, indifferently, that the problem was not
worth a solution. For this beautiful girl of fifteen was somewhat bitter
and misanthropic, a condition perhaps due to the uncongenial atmosphere
in which she had been reared. She was of dark complexion and her big
brown eyes held a sombre and unfathomable expression. Once she had
secretly studied their reflection in a mirror, and the eyes awed and
frightened her, and made her uneasy. She had analyzed them much as if
they belonged to someone else, and wondered what lay behind their mask,
and what their capabilities might be.
But this morbid condition mostly affected her when she was at home,
listening to the unpleasant bickerings of her father and mother, who
quarrelled constantly over trifles that Beth completely ignored. Her
parents seemed like two ill tempered animals confined in the same cage,
she thought, and their snarls had long since ceased to interest her.
This condition had, of course, been infinitely worse in all those
dreadful years when they were poverty stricken. Since Uncle John had
settled a comfortable income on his niece the grocer was paid promptly
and Mrs. De Graf wore a silk dress on Sundays and held her chin a little
higher than any other of the Cloverton ladies dared do. The Professor,
no longer harrassed by debts, devoted less time to the drudgery of
teaching and began the composition of an oratorio that he firmly
believed would render his name famous. So, there being less to quarrel
about, Beth's parents indulged more moderately in that pastime; but
their natures were discordant, and harmony in the De Graf household was
When away from home Beth's disposition softened. Some of her
school-friends had seen her smile--a wonderful and charming phenomenon,
during which her expression grew sweet and bewitchingly animated and her
brown eyes radiant with mirthful light. It was not the same Beth at all.
Sometimes, when the nieces were all at Aunt Jane's, Beth had snuggled in
the arms of her cousin Louise, who had a way of rendering herself
agreeable to all with whom she came in contact, and tried hard to win
the affection of the frankly antagonistic girl. At such times the
gentleness of Elizabeth, her almost passionate desire to be loved and
fondled, completely transformed her for the moment. Louise, shrewd at
reading others, told herself that Beth possessed a reserve force of
tenderness, amiability and fond devotion that would render her adorable
if she ever allowed those qualities full expression. But she did not
tell Beth that. The girl was so accustomed to despise herself and so
suspicious of any creditable impulses that at times unexpectedly
obtruded themselves, that she would have dismissed such a suggestion as
arrant flattery, and Louise was clever enough not to wish to arouse her
cousin to a full consciousness of her own possibilities.
The trained if not native indifference of this strange girl of fifteen
was demonstrated by her reception of Uncle John's telegram. She quietly
handed it to her mother and said, as calmly as if it were an invitation
to a church picnic:
"I think I shall go."
"Nothing like that ever happened to me," remarked Mrs. De Graf,
enviously. "If John Merrick had an atom of common sense he'd have taken
me to Europe instead of a troop of stupid school girls. But John always
was a fool, and always will be. When will you start, Beth?"
"To-morrow morning. There's nothing to keep me. I'll go to Patsy and
stay with her until we sail."
"Are you glad?" asked her mother, looking into the expressionless face
"Yes," returned Beth, as if considering her reply; "a change is always
interesting, and I have never travelled except to visit Aunt Jane at
Elmhurst. So I think I am pleased to go to Europe."
Mrs. De Graf sighed. There was little in common between mother and
daughter; but that, to a grave extent, was the woman's fault. She had
never tried to understand her child's complex nature, and somewhat
resented Beth's youth and good looks, which she considered contrasted
unfavorably with her own deepening wrinkles and graying hair. For Mrs.
De Graf was vain and self-important, and still thought herself
attractive and even girlish. It would really be a relief to have Beth
out of the way for a few months.
The girl packed her own trunk and arranged for it to be taken to the
station. In the morning she entered the music room to bid the Professor
good-bye. He frowned at the interruption, for the oratorio was
especially engrossing at the time. Mrs. De Graf kissed her daughter
lightly upon the lips and said in a perfunctory way that she hoped Beth
would have a good time.
The girl had no thought of resenting the lack of affection displayed by
her parents. It was what she had always been accustomed to, and she had
no reason to expect anything different.
Patsy met her at the train in New York and embraced her rapturously.
Patsy was really fond of Beth; but it was her nature to be fond of
everyone, and her cousin, escaping from her smacking and enthusiastic
kisses, told herself that Patsy would have embraced a cat with the same
spontaneous ecstacy. That was not strictly true, but there was nothing
half hearted or halfway about Miss Doyle. If she loved you, there would
never be an occasion for you to doubt the fact. It was Patsy's way.
Uncle John also was cordial in his greetings. He was very proud of his
pretty niece, and discerning enough to realize there was a broad strata
of womanliness somewhere in Elizabeth's undemonstrative character. He
had promised himself to "dig it out" some day, and perhaps the European
trip would give him his opportunity.
Patsy and Elizabeth shopped for the next few days most strenuously and
delightfully. Sometimes their dainty cousin Louise joined them, and the
three girls canvassed gravely their requirements for a trip that was as
new to them as a flight to the moon. Naturally, they bought much that
was unnecessary and forgot many things that would have been useful. You
have to go twice to Europe to know what to take along.
Louise needed less than the others, for her wardrobe was more extensive
and she already possessed all that a young girl could possibly make use
of. This niece, the eldest of Uncle John's trio, was vastly more
experienced in the ways of the world than the others, although as a
traveller she had no advantage of them. Urged thereto by her worldly
mother, she led a sort of trivial, butterfly existence, and her
character was decidedly superficial to any close observer. Indeed, her
very suavity and sweetness of manner was assumed, because it was so much
more comfortable and effective to be agreeable than otherwise. She was
now past seventeen years of age, tall and well formed, with a delicate
and attractive face which, without being beautiful, was considered
pleasant and winning. Her eyes were good, though a bit too shrewd, and
her light brown hair was fluffy as spun silk. Graceful of carriage,
gracious of manner, yet affecting a languor unsuited to her years,
Louise Merrick was a girl calculated to draw from the passing throng
glances of admiration and approval, and to convey the impression of good
breeding and feminine cleverness.
All this, however, was outward. Neither Patsy nor Beth displayed any
undue affection for their cousin, although all of the girls exhibited a
fair amount of cousinly friendship for one another. They had once been
thrown together under trying circumstances, when various qualities of
temperament not altogether admirable were liable to assert themselves.
Those events were too recent to be already forgotten, yet the girls were
generous enough to be considerate of each others' failings, and had
resolved to entertain no sentiment other than good will on the eve of
their departure for such a charming outing as Uncle John had planned for
Mr. Merrick being a man, saw nothing radically wrong in the dispositions
of any of his nieces. Their youth and girlishness appealed to him
strongly, and he loved to have them by his side. It is true that he
secretly regretted Louise was not more genuine, that Beth was so
cynical and frank, and that Patsy was not more diplomatic. But he
reflected that he had had no hand in molding their characters, although
he might be instrumental in improving them; so he accepted the girls as
they were, thankful that their faults were not glaring, and happy to
have found three such interesting nieces to cheer his old age.
At last the preparations were complete. Tuesday arrived, and Uncle John
"corralled his females," as he expressed it, and delivered them safely
on board the staunch and comfortable ocean greyhound known as the
"Princess Irene," together with their bags and baggage, their flowers
and fruits and candy boxes and all those other useless accessories to a
voyage so eagerly thrust upon the departing travellers by their
affectionate but ill-advised friends.
Mrs. Merrick undertook the exertion of going to Hoboken to see her
daughter off, and whispered in the ear of Louise many worldly
admonitions and such bits of practical advice as she could call to mind
on the spur of the moment.
Major Gregory Doyle was there, pompous and straight of form and wearing
an assumed smile that was meant to assure Patsy he was delighted at her
going, but which had the effect of scaring the girl because she at first
thought the dreadful expression was due to convulsions.
The Major had no admonitions for Patsy, but she had plenty for him, and
gave him a long list of directions that would, as he said, cause him to
"walk mighty sthraight" if by good luck he managed to remember them all.
Having made up his mind to let the child go to Europe, the old fellow
allowed no wails or bemoanings to reach Patsy's ears to deprive her of a
moment's joyful anticipation of the delights in store for her. He
laughed and joked perpetually during that last day, and promised the
girl that he would take a vacation while she was gone and visit his old
colonel in Virginia, which she knew was the rarest pleasure he could
enjoy. And now he stood upon the deck amusing them all with his quaint
sayings and appearing so outwardly jolly and unaffected that only Patsy
herself suspected the deep grief that was gripping his kindly old
Uncle John guessed, perhaps, for he hugged the Major in a tight embrace,
whispering that Patsy should be now, as ever, the apple of his eye and
the subject of his most loving care.
"An' don't be forgetting to bring me the meerschaum pipe from Sicily an'
the leathern pocket-book from Florence," the Major said to Patsy,
impressively. "It's little enough for ye to remember if ye go that way,
an' to tell the truth I'm sending ye abroad just for to get them. An'
don't be gettin' off the boat till it stops at a station; an' remember
that Uncle John is full of rheumatics an' can't walk more n' thirty mile
an hour, an'--"
"It's a slander," said Uncle John, stoutly. "I never had rheumatics in
"Major," observed Patsy, her blue eyes full of tears but her lips trying
to smile, "do have the tailor sponge your vest every Saturday. It's full
of spots even now, and I've been too busy lately to look after you
properly. You're--you're--just disgraceful, Major!"
"All ashore!" called a loud voice.
The Major gathered Patsy into an embrace that threatened to crush her,
and then tossed her into Uncle John's arms and hurried away. Mrs.
Merrick followed, with good wishes for all for a pleasant journey; and
then the four voyagers pressed to the rail and waved their handkerchiefs
frantically to those upon the dock while the band played vociferously
and the sailors ran here and there in sudden excitement and the great
ship left her moorings and moved with proud deliberation down the bay to
begin her long voyage to Gibraltar and the blue waters of the
SOME NEW ACQUAINTANCES, AND A WARNING
For an inexperienced tourist Uncle John managed their arrangements most
admirably. He knew nothing at all about ocean travel or what was the
proper method to secure comfortable accommodations; but while most of
the passengers were writing hurried letters in the second deck gallery,
which were to be sent back by the pilot, Mr. Merrick took occasion to
interview the chief steward and the deck steward and whatever other
official he could find, and purchased their good will so liberally that
the effect of his astute diplomacy was immediately apparent.
His nieces found that the sunniest deck chairs bore their names; the
most desirable seats in the dining hall were theirs when, half famished
because breakfast had been disregarded, they trooped in to luncheon; the
best waiters on the ship attended to their wants, and afterward their
cabins were found to be cosily arranged with every comfort the heart of
maid could wish for.
At luncheon it was found that the steward had placed a letter before
Uncle John's plate. The handwriting of the address Louise, who sat next
her uncle, at once recognized as that of her mother; but she said
Mr. Merrick was amazed at the contents of the communication, especially
as he had so recently parted with the lady who had written it.
It said: "I must warn you, John, that my daughter has just escaped a
serious entanglement, and I am therefore more grateful than I can
express that you are taking her far from home for a few weeks. A young
man named Arthur Weldon--a son of the big railroad president, you
know--has been paying Louise marked attentions lately; but I cautioned
her not to encourage him because a rumor had reached me that he has
quarrelled with his father and been disinherited. My informant also
asserted that the young man is wild and headstrong and cannot be
controlled by his parent; but he always seemed gentlemanly enough at
our house, and my greatest objection to him is that he is not likely to
inherit a dollar of his father's money. Louise and I decided to keep him
dangling until we could learn the truth of this matter, for you can
easily understand that with her exceptional attractions there is no
object in Louise throwing herself away upon a poor man, or one who
cannot give her a prominent position in society. Imagine my horror,
John, when I discovered last evening that my only child, whom I have so
fondly cherished, has ungratefully deceived me. Carried away by the
impetuous avowals of this young scapegrace, whom his own father disowns,
she has confessed her love for him--love for a pauper!--and only by the
most stringent exercise of my authority have I been able to exact from
Louise a promise that she will not become formally engaged to Arthur
Weldon, or even correspond with him, until she has returned home. By
that time I shall have learned more of his history and prospects, when I
can better decide whether to allow the affair to go on. Of course I have
hopes that in case my fears are proven to have been well founded, I can
arouse Louise to a proper spirit and induce her to throw the fellow
over. Meantime, I implore you, as my daughter's temporary guardian, not
to allow Louise to speak of or dwell upon this young man, but try to
interest her in other gentlemen whom you may meet and lead her to
forget, if possible, her miserable entanglement. Consider a loving
mother's feelings, John. Try to help me in this emergency, and I shall
be forever deeply grateful."
"It's from mother, isn't it?" asked Louise, when he had finished reading
"Yes," he answered gruffly, as he crumpled the missive and stuffed it
into his pocket.
"What does she say, Uncle?"
"Nothing but rubbish and nonsense. Eat your soup, my dear; it's getting
The girl's sweet, low laughter sounded very pleasant, and served to calm
his irritation. From her demure yet amused expression Uncle John guessed
that Louise knew the tenor of her mother's letter as well as if she had
read it over his shoulder, and it comforted him that she could take the
matter so lightly. Perhaps the poor child was not so deeply in love as
her mother had declared.
He was greatly annoyed at the confidence Mrs. Merrick had seen fit to
repose in him, and felt she had no right to burden him with any
knowledge of such an absurd condition of affairs just as he was starting
for a holiday. Whatever might be the truth of the girl's
"entanglement,"--and he judged that it was not all conveyed in Martha
Merrick's subtle letter--Louise would surely be free and unhampered by
either love or maternal diplomacy for some time to come. When she
returned home her mother might conduct the affair to suit herself. He
would have nothing to do with it in any way.
As soon as luncheon was finished they rushed for the deck, and you may
imagine that chubby little Uncle John, with his rosy, smiling face and
kindly eyes, surrounded by three eager and attractive girls of from
fifteen to seventeen years of age, was a sight to compel the attention
of every passenger aboard the ship.
It was found easy to make the acquaintance of the interesting group,
and many took advantage of that fact; for Uncle John chatted brightly
with every man and Patsy required no excuse of a formal introduction to
confide to every woman that John Merrick was taking his three nieces to
Europe to "see the sights and have the time of their lives."
Many of the business men knew well the millionaire's name, and accorded
him great respect because he was so enormously wealthy and successful.
But the little man was so genuinely human and unaffected and so openly
scorned all toadyism that they soon forgot his greatness in the
financial world and accepted him simply as a good fellow and an
invariably cheerful comrade.
The weather was somewhat rough for the latter part of March--they had
sailed the twenty-seventh--but the "Irene" was so staunch and rode the
waves so gracefully that none of the party except Louise was at all
affected by the motion. The eldest cousin, however, claimed to be
indisposed for the first few days out, and so Beth and Patsy and Uncle
John sat in a row in their steamer chairs, with the rugs tucked up to
their waists, and kept themselves and everyone around them merry and
Next to Patsy reclined a dark complexioned man of about thirty-five,
with a long, thin face and intensely black, grave eyes. He was
carelessly dressed and wore a flannel shirt, but there was an odd look
of mingled refinement and barbarity about him that arrested the girl's
attention. He sat very quietly in his chair, reserved both in speech and
in manner; but when she forced him to talk he spoke impetuously and with
almost savage emphasis, in a broken dialect that amused her immensely.
"You can't be American," she said.
"I am Sicilian," was the proud answer.
"That's what I thought; Sicilian or Italian or Spanish; but I'm glad
it's Sicilian, which is the same as Italian. I can't speak your lingo
myself," she continued, "although I am studying it hard; but you manage
the English pretty well, so we shall get along famously together."
He did not answer for a moment, but searched her unconscious face with
his keen eyes. Then he demanded, brusquely:
"Where do you go?"
"Why, to Europe," she replied, as if surprised.
"Europe? Pah! It is no answer at all," he responded, angrily. "Europe is
big. To what part do you journey?"
Patsy hesitated. The magic word "Europe" had seemed to sum up their
destination very effectively, and she had heretofore accepted it as
sufficient, for the time being, at least. Uncle John had bought an
armful of guide books and Baedeckers, but in the hurry of departure she
had never glanced inside them. To go to Europe had been enough to
satisfy her so far, but perhaps she should have more definite knowledge
concerning their trip. So she turned to Uncle John and said:
"Uncle, dear, to what part of Europe are we going?"
"What part?" he answered. "Why, it tells on the ticket, Patsy. I can't
remember the name just now. It's where the ship stops, of course."
"That is Napoli," said the thin faced man, with a scarcely veiled sneer.
"And then?" repeated Patsy, turning to her Uncle.
"Then? Oh, some confounded place or other that I can't think of. I'm not
a time-table, Patsy; but the trip is all arranged, in beautiful style,
by a friend of mine who has always wanted to go abroad, and so has the
whole programme mapped out in his head."
"Is it in his head yet?" enquired Patsy, anxiously.
"No, dear; it's in the left hand pocket of my blue coat, all written
down clearly. So what's the use of bothering? We aren't there yet. By
and bye we'll get to Eu-rope an' do it up brown. Whatever happens, and
wherever we go, it's got to be a spree and a jolly good time; so take it
easy, Patsy dear, and don't worry."
"That's all right, Uncle," she rejoined, with a laugh. "I'm not worrying
the least mite. But when folks ask us where we're going, what shall we
"And then?" mischievously.
"And then home again, of course. It's as plain as the nose on your face,
Patsy Doyle, and a good bit straighter."
That made her laugh again, and the strange Italian, who was listening,
growled a word in his native language. He wasn't at all a pleasant
companion, but for that very reason Patsy determined to make him talk
and "be sociable." By degrees he seemed to appreciate her attention, and
always brightened when she came to sit beside him.
"You'll have to tell me your name, you know," she said to him; "because
I can't be calling you 'Sir' every minute."
He glanced nervously around. Then he answered, slowly:
"I am called Valdi--Victor Valdi."
"Oh, that's a pretty name, Mr. Valdi--or should I say Signor?"
"Do I pronounce it right?"
"Well, never mind if I don't; you'll know what I mean, and that I
intend to be proper and polite," she responded, sweetly.
Beth, while she made fewer acquaintances than Patsy, seemed to have cast
off her sullen reserve when she boarded the ship. In truth, the girl was
really happy for the first time in her life, and it softened her so
wonderfully and made her so attractive that she soon formed a select
circle around her. A young lady from Cleveland, who had two big
brothers, was impelled to introduce herself to Beth because of the young
men's intense admiration for the girl's beautiful face. When it was
found that they were all from Ohio, they formed a friendly alliance at
once. Marion Horton was so frank and agreeable that she managed to draw
out all that was best in Beth's nature, and the stalwart young Hortons
were so shyly enthusiastic over this, their first trip abroad, that they
inspired the girl with a like ardor, which resulted in the most cordial
relations between them.
And it so happened that several other young men who chanced to be aboard
the "Princess Irene" marked the Hortons' intimacy with Beth and
insisted on being introduced by them, so that by the time Louise had
conquered her mal-de-mer and appeared on deck, she found an admiring
group around her cousin that included most of the desirable young
fellows on the ship. Beth sat enthroned like a queen, listening to her
courtiers and smiling encouragement now and then, but taking little part
in the conversation herself because of her inexperience. Such adoration
was new to the little country girl, and she really enjoyed it. Nor did
the young men resent her silence. All that they wanted her to do, as Tom
Horton tersely expressed it, was to "sit still and look pretty."
As for Uncle John, he was so delighted with Beth's social success that
he adopted all the boys on the spot, and made them a part of what he
called his family circle.
Louise, discovering this state of affairs, gave an amused laugh and
joined the group. She was a little provoked that she had isolated
herself so long in her cabin when there was interesting sport on deck;
but having lost some valuable time she straightway applied herself to
redeem the situation.
In the brilliance of her conversation, in her studied glances, in a
thousand pretty ways that were skillfully rendered effective, she had a
decided advantage over her more beautiful cousin. When Louise really
desired to please she was indeed a charming companion, and young men are
not likely to detect insincerity in a girl who tries to captivate them.
The result was astonishing to Uncle John and somewhat humiliating to
Beth; for a new queen was presently crowned, and Louise by some magnetic
power assembled the court around herself. Only the youngest Horton boy,
in whose susceptible heart Beth's image was firmly enshrined, refused to
change his allegiance; but in truth the girl enjoyed herself more
genuinely in the society of one loyal cavalier than when so many were
clamoring for her favors. The two would walk the deck together for hours
without exchanging a single word, or sit together silently listening to
the band or watching the waves, without the need, as Tom expressed it,
of "jabbering every blessed minute" in order to be happy.
Patsy was indignant at the artfulness of Louise until she noticed that
Beth was quite content; then she laughed softly and watched matters take
their course, feeling a little sorry for the boys because she knew
Louise was only playing with them.
The trip across the Atlantic was all too short. On the fifth of April
they passed the Azores, running close to the islands of Fayal and San
Jorge so that the passengers might admire the zigzag rows of white
houses that reached from the shore far up the steep hillsides. On the
sixth day they sighted Gibraltar and passed between the Moorish and
Spanish lighthouses into the lovely waters of the Mediterranean. The
world-famed rock was now disclosed to their eyes, and when the ship
anchored opposite it Uncle John assisted his nieces aboard the lighter
and took them for a brief excursion ashore.
Of course they rode to the fortress and wandered through its gloomy,
impressive galleries, seeing little of the armament because visitors are
barred from the real fortifications. The fortress did not seem
especially impregnable and was, taken altogether, a distinct
disappointment to them; but the ride through the town in the low basket
phaetons was wholly delightful. The quaint, narrow streets and stone
arches, the beautiful vistas of sea and mountain, the swarthy, dark-eyed
Moors whose presence lent to the town an oriental atmosphere, and the
queer market-places crowded with Spaniards, Frenchmen, Jews and
red-coated English soldiers, altogether made up a panorama that was
fascinating in the extreme.
But their stay was short, and after a rush of sightseeing that almost
bewildered them they returned to the ship breathless but elated at
having "seen an' done," as Uncle John declared, their first foreign
And now through waters so brightly blue and transparent that they
aroused the girls' wonder and admiration, the good ship plowed her way
toward the port of Naples, passing to the east of Sardinia and Corsica,
which they viewed with eager interest because these places had always
seemed so far away to them, and had now suddenly appeared as if by
magic directly before their eyes.
Patsy and the big whiskered captain had become such good friends that he
always welcomed the girl on his own exclusive deck, and this afternoon
she sat beside him and watched the rugged panorama slip by.
"When will we get to Naples?" she asked.
"To-morrow evening, probably," answered the captain. "See, it is over in
that direction, where the gray cloud appears in the sky."
"And what is the gray cloud, Captain?"
"I do not know," said he, gravely. "Perhaps smoke from Vesuvius. At
Gibraltar we heard that the volcano is in an ugly mood, I hope it will
cause you no inconvenience."
"Wouldn't it be fine if we could see an eruption!" exclaimed the girl.
The captain shook his head.
"Interesting, perhaps," he admitted; "but no great calamity that causes
thousands of people to suffer can be called 'fine.'"
"Ah, that is true!" she said, quickly. "I had forgotten the suffering."
Next morning all the sky was thick with smoke, and the sun was hidden.
The waters turned gray, too, and as they approached the Italian coast
the gloom perceptibly increased. A feeling of uneasiness seemed to
pervade the ship, and even the captain had so many things to consider
that he had no time to converse with his little friend.
Signor Valdi forsook his deck chair for the first time and stood at the
rail which overlooked the steerage with his eyes glued to the grim skies
ahead. When Uncle John asked him what he saw he answered, eagerly:
"Death and destruction, and a loss of millions of lira to the bankrupt
government. I know; for I have studied Etna for years, and Vesuvio is a
second cousin to Etna."
"Hm," said Uncle John. "You seem pleased with the idea of an eruption."
The thin faced man threw a shrewd look from his dark eyes and smiled.
Uncle John frowned at the look and stumped away. He was not at all easy
in his own mind. He had brought three nieces for a holiday to this
foreign shore, and here at the outset they were confronted by an
intangible danger that was more fearful because it was not understood.
It was enough to make his round face serious, although he had so strong
an objection to unnecessary worry.
Afternoon tea was served on deck amidst an unusual quiet. People soberly
canvassed the situation and remarked upon the fact that the darkness
increased visibly as they neared the Bay of Naples. Beth couldn't drink
her tea, for tiny black atoms fell through the air and floated upon the
surface of the liquid. Louise retired to her stateroom with a headache,
and found her white serge gown peppered with particles of lava dust
which had fallen from the skies.
The pilot guided the ship cautiously past Capri and into the bay. The
air was now black with volcanic dross and a gloom as of midnight
surrounded them on every side. The shore, the mountain and the water of
the bay itself were alike invisible.
It was Saturday night, the seventh day of April, nineteen hundred and
six--a night never to be forgotten by those aboard the ship; a night
which has its place in history.
At dinner the captain announced that he had dropped anchor at the
Immacollatella Nuova, but at a safe distance from the shore, and that no
passengers would be landed under any circumstances until the fall of
ashes ceased and he could put his people ashore in a proper manner.
A spirit of unrest fell upon them all. Big Tom Horton whispered to Beth
that he did not intend to leave her side until all danger was over. The
deck was deserted, all the passengers crowding into the smoking room and
saloons to escape the lava dust.
Few kept their rooms or ventured to sleep. At intervals a loud
detonation from the volcano shook the air, and the mystery and awe of
the enveloping gloom were so palpable as almost to be felt.
Toward midnight the wind changed, driving the cloud of ashes to the
southward and sufficiently clearing the atmosphere to allow the angry
glow of the crater to be distinctly seen. Now it shot a pillar of fire
thousands of feet straight into the heavens; then it would darken and
roll skyward great clouds that were illumined by the showers of sparks
The windows of every cabin facing the volcano were filled with eager
faces, and in the smoking room Uncle John clasped Beth around the waist
with one arm and Patsy with the other and watched the wonderful
exhibition through the window with a grave and anxious face. Tom Horton
had taken a position at one side of them and the dark Italian at the
other. The latter assured Patsy they were in no danger whatever. Tom
secretly hoped they were, and laid brave plans for rescuing Beth or
perishing at her side. Louise chose to lie in her berth and await
events with calm resignation. If they escaped she would not look haggard
and hollow-eyed when morning came. If a catastrophy was pending she
would have no power to prevent it.
It was four o'clock on Sunday morning when Vesuvius finally reached the
climax of her travail. With a deep groan of anguish the mountain burst
asunder, and from its side rolled a great stream of molten lava that
slowly spread down the slope, consuming trees, vineyards and dwellings
in its path and overwhelming the fated city of Bosco-Trecase.
Our friends marked the course of destruction by watching the thread of
fire slowly wander down the mountain slope. They did not know of the
desolation it was causing, but the sight was terrible enough to inspire
awe in every breast.
The volcano was easier after that final outburst, but the black clouds
formed thicker than ever, and soon obscured the sky again.
UNDER A CLOUD
"After all," said Uncle John, next morning, "we may consider ourselves
very lucky. Your parents might have come to Naples a hundred times, my
dears, and your children may come a hundred times more, and yet never
see the sights that have greeted us on our arrival. If the confounded
old hill was bound to spout, it did the fair thing by spouting when we
were around. Eh, Patsy?"
"I quite agree with you," said the girl. "I wouldn't have missed it for
anything--if it really had to behave so."
"But you'll pay for it!" growled Signor Valdi, who had overheard these
remarks. "You will pay for it with a thousand discomforts--and I'm glad
that is so. Vesuvio is hell let loose; and it amuses you. Hundreds are
lying dead and crushed; and you are lucky to be here. Listen," he
dropped his voice to a whisper: "if these Neapolitans could see the
rejoicing in my heart, they would kill me. And you? Pah! you are no
better. You also rejoice--and they will welcome you to Naples. I have
advice. Do not go on shore. It is useless."
They were all startled by this strange speech, and the reproof it
conveyed made them a trifle uncomfortable; but Uncle John whispered that
the man was mad, and to pay no attention to him.
Although ashes still fell softly upon the ship the day had somewhat
lightened the gloom and they could see from deck the dim outlines of the
shore. A crowd of boats presently swarmed around them, their occupants
eagerly clamoring for passengers to go ashore, or offering fruits,
flowers and souvenirs to any who might be induced to purchase. Their
indifference to their own and their city's danger was astonishing. It
was their custom to greet arriving steamers in this way, for by this
means they gained a livelihood. Nothing short of absolute destruction
seemed able to interfere with their established occupations.
A steam tender also came alongside, and after a cordial farewell to the
ship's officers and their travelling acquaintances, Uncle John placed
his nieces and their baggage aboard the tender, which shortly deposited
them safely upon the dock.
Perhaps a lot of passengers more dismal looking never before landed on
the beautiful shores of Naples--beautiful no longer, but presenting an
appearance gray and grewsome. Ashes were ankle deep in the streets--a
fine, flour-like dust that clung to your clothing, filled your eyes and
lungs and seemed to penetrate everywhere. The foliage of the trees and
shrubbery drooped under its load and had turned from green to the
all-pervading gray. The grass was covered; the cornices and balconies of
the houses were banked with ashes.
"Bless me!" said Uncle John. "It's as bad as Pompey, or whatever that
city was called that was buried in the Bible days."
"Oh, not quite, Uncle," answered Patsy, in her cheery voice; "but it may
be, before Vesuvius is satisfied."
"It is certainly bad enough," observed Louise, pouting as she marked the
destruction of her pretty cloak by the grimy deposit that was fast
changing its color and texture.
"Well, let us get under shelter as soon as possible," said Uncle John.
The outlines of a carriage were visible a short distance away. He walked
up to the driver and said:
"We want to go to a hotel."
The man paid no attention.
"Ask him how much he charges, Uncle. You know you mustn't take a cab in
Naples without bargaining."
"The driver will swindle you."
"I'll risk that," he answered. "Just now we're lucky if we get a
carriage at all." He reached up and prodded the jehu in the ribs with
his cane. "How much to the Hotel Vesuvius?" he demanded, loudly.
The man woke up and flourished his whip, at the same time bursting into
a flood of Italian.
The girls listened carefully. They had been trying to study Italian
from a small book Beth had bought entitled "Italian in Three Weeks
without a Master," but not a word the driver of the carriage said seemed
to have occurred in the vocabulary of the book. He repeated "Vesuvio"
many times, however, with scornful, angry or imploring intonations, and
Louise finally said:
"He thinks you want to go to the volcano, Uncle. The hotel is the
Vesuve, not the Vesuvius."
"What's the difference?"
"I don't know."
"All right; you girls just hop in, and leave the rest to me."
He tumbled them all into the vehicle, bag and baggage, and then said
sternly to the driver:
"Ho-tel Ve-suve--Ve-suve--ho-tel Ve-suve! Drive there darned quick, or
I'll break your confounded neck."
The carriage started. It plowed its way jerkily through the dust-laden
streets and finally stopped at an imposing looking structure. The day
was growing darker, and an electric lamp burned before the entrance.
But no one came out to receive them.
Uncle John climbed out and read the sign. "Hotel du Vesuve." It was the
establishment he had been advised to stop at while in Naples. He
compared the sign with a card which he drew from his pocket, and knew
that he had made no mistake.
Entering the spacious lobby, he found it deserted. In the office a man
was hastily making a package of some books and papers and did not
respond or even look up when spoken to. At the concierge's desk a big,
whiskered man sat staring straight ahead of him with a look of abject
terror in his eyes.
"Good morning," said Uncle John. "Fine day, isn't it?"
"Did you hear it?" whispered the concierge, as a dull boom, like that of
a distant cannon, made the windows rattle in their casements.
"Of course," replied Mr. Merrick, carelessly. "Old Vesuve seems on a
rampage. But never mind that now. We've just come from America, where
the mountains are more polite, and we're going to stop at your hotel."
The concierge's eyes wandered from the man to the three girls who had
entered and grouped themselves behind him. Then they fell upon the
driver of the carriage, who burst into a torrent of vociferous but
wholly unintelligible exclamations which Uncle John declared "must be an
excuse--and a mighty poor one--for talking."
The whiskered man, whose cap was elaborately embroidered in gold with
the words "Hotel du Vesuve," seemed to understand the driver. He sighed
drearily and said to Mr. Merrick:
"You must pay him thirty lira."
"How much is that?"
"Not by a jugfull!"
"You made no bargain."
"I couldn't. He can't talk."
"He claims it is you who cannot talk."
"And prices are advanced during these awful days. What does it matter?
Your money will do you no good when we are all buried deep in ash and
The big man shuddered at this gloomy picture, and added, listlessly:
"You'll have to pay."
Uncle John paid, but the driver wouldn't accept American money. The
disconsolate concierge would, though. He unlocked a drawer, put the six
dollars into one section and drew from another two ten-lira notes. The
driver took them, bowed respectfully to the whiskered man, shot a
broadside of invective Italian at the unconscious Americans, and left
"How about rooms?" asked Uncle John.
"Take any you please," answered the concierge. "All our guests are gone
but two--two mad Americans like yourselves. The servants are also gone;
the chef has gone; the elevator conductors are gone. If you stay you'll
have to walk up."
"Where have they all gone?" asked Uncle John, wonderingly.
"Fled, sir; fled to escape destruction. They remember Pompeii. Only
Signor Floriano, the proprietor, and myself are left. We stick to the
last. We are brave."
"So I see. Now, look here, my manly hero. It's possible we shall all
live through it; I'll bet you a thousand to ten that we do. And then
you'll be glad to realize you've pocketed a little more American money.
Come out of that box and show us some rooms, and I'll help to build up
The concierge obeyed. Even the horrors of the situation could not
eliminate from his carefully trained nature that desire to accumulate
which is the prime qualification of his profession. The Americans walked
up one flight and found spacious rooms on the first floor, of which they
immediately took possession.
"Send for our trunks," said Mr. Merrick; and the man consented to do so
provided he could secure a proper vehicle.
"You will be obliged to pay high for it," he warned; "but that will not
matter. To witness the destruction of our beautiful Naples is an unusual
sight. It will be worth your money."
"We'll settle that in the dim hereafter," replied Uncle John. "You get
the trunks, and I'll take care of the finances."
When the concierge had retired the girls began to stuff newspapers into
the cracks of the windows of their sitting room, where the fine ash was
sifting in and forming little drifts several inches in thickness. Also
the atmosphere of the room was filled with impalpable particles of dust,
which rendered breathing oppressive and unpleasant.
Uncle John watched them for a time, and his brow clouded.
"See here, girls," he exclaimed; "let's hold a council of war. Do you
suppose we are in any real danger?"
They grouped around him with eager interest.
"It's something new to be in danger, and rather exciting, don't you
think?" said Beth. "But perhaps we're as safe as we would be at home."
"Once," said Louise, slowly, "there was a great eruption of Vesuvius
which destroyed the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Many of the
inhabitants were buried alive. Perhaps they thought there was no real
Uncle John scratched his head reflectively.
"I take it," he observed, "that the moral of your story is to light out
while we have the chance."
"Not necessarily," observed the girl, smiling at his perplexity. "It is
likewise true that many other eruptions have occurred, when little
damage was done."
"Forewarned is forearmed," declared Patsy. "Naples isn't buried more
than six inches in ashes, as yet, and it will take days for them to
reach to our windows, provided they're falling at the same rate they do
now. I don't see any use of getting scared before to-morrow, anyhow."
"It's a big hill," said Uncle John, gravely, "and I've no right to take
foolish chances with three girls on my hands."
"I'm not frightened, Uncle John."
"Nor I, the least bit."
"Everyone has left the hotel but ourselves," said he.
"How sorry they will be, afterward," remarked Beth.
He looked at them admiringly, and kissed each one.
"You stay in this room and don't move a peg till I get back," he
enjoined them; "I'm going out to look over the situation."
A FRIEND IN NEED
Some of Mr. Merrick's business friends in New York, hearing of his
proposed trip, had given him letters of introduction to people in
various European cities. He had accepted them--quite a bunch,
altogether--but had firmly resolved not to use them. Neither he nor the
nieces cared to make superficial acquaintances during their wanderings.
Yet Uncle John chanced to remember that one of these letters was to a
certain Colonel Angeli of the Twelfth Italian Regiment, occupying the
barracks on the Pizzofalcone hill at Naples. This introduction, tendered
by a relative of the Colonel's American wife, was now reposing in Mr.
Merrick's pocket, and he promptly decided to make use of it in order to
obtain expert advice as to the wisdom of remaining in the stricken city.
Enquiring his way from the still dazed concierge, he found that the
Pizzofalcone barracks were just behind the hotel but several hundred
feet above it; so he turned up the Strada St. Lucia and soon came upon
the narrow lane that wound upward to the fortifications. It was a long
and tedious climb in the semi-darkness caused by the steady fall of
ashes, and at intervals the detonations from Vesuvius shook the huge
rock and made its massive bulk seem insecure. But the little man
persevered, and finally with sweating brow arrived at the barracks.
A soldier carried in the letter to his colonel and presently returned to
usher Uncle John through the vast building, up a flight of steps, and so
to a large covered balcony suspended many hundred feet above the Via
Partenope, where the hotel was situated.
Here was seated a group of officers, watching intently the cloud that
marked the location of the volcano. Colonel Angeli, big and bluff, his
uniform gorgeous, his dark, heavy moustaches carefully waxed, his
handsome face as ingenuous and merry as a schoolboy's, greeted the
American with a gracious courtesy that made Uncle John feel quite at
his ease. When he heard of the nieces the Italian made a grimace and
"I am despairing, signore," said he, in English sufficiently
strangulated to be amusing but nevertheless quite comprehensible, "that
you and the sweet signorini are to see our lovely Naples under
tribulations so very great. But yesterday, in all the world is no city
so enchanting, so brilliant, so gay. To-day--look! is it not horrible?
Vesuvio is sick, and Naples mourns until the tyrant is well again."
"But the danger," said Uncle John. "What do you think of the wisdom of
our staying here? Is it safe to keep my girls in Naples during this
"Ah! Why not? This very morning the mountain asunder burst, and we who
love our people dread the news of devastation we shall hear. From the
observatory, where His Majesty's faithful servant still remains, come
telegrams that the great pebbles--what we call scoria--have ruined
Ottajano and San Guiseppe. Perhaps they are overwhelmed. But the beast
has vomited; he will feel better now, and ever become more quiet."
"I suppose," remarked Mr. Merrick, thoughtfully, "that no one knows
exactly what the blamed hill may do next. I don't like to take chances
with three girls on my hands. They are a valuable lot, Colonel, and
The boyish Italian instantly looked grave. Then he led Uncle John away
from the others, although doubtless he was the only officer present able
to speak or understand English, and said to him:
"Where are you living?"
"At the hotel named after your sick mountain--the Vesuve."
"Very good. In the bay, not distant from your hotel, lies a government
launch that is under my command. At my home in the Viala Elena are a
wife and two children, who, should danger that is serious arise, will be
put by my soldiers on the launch, to carry them to safety. Admirable, is
"Very good arrangement," said Uncle John.
"It renders me content to know that in any difficulty they cannot be
hurt. I am not scare, myself, but it is pleasant to know I have what you
call the side that is safe. From my American wife I have many of your
excellent speech figures. But now! The launch is big. Remain happy in
Naples--happy as Vesuvio will let you--and watch his vast, his gigantic
exhibition. If danger come, you all enter my launch and be saved. If no
danger, you have a marvelous experience." The serious look glided from
his face, and was replaced by a smile as bright as before.
"Thank you very much," responded Uncle John, gratefully. "I shall go
back to the girls well satisfied."
"Make the signorini stay in to-day," warned the colonel. "It is bad,
just now, and so black one can nothing at all observe. To-morrow it will
be better, and all can go without. I will see you myself, then, and tell
you what to do."
Then he insisted that Uncle John clear his parched throat with a glass
of vermouth--a harmless drink of which all Italians are very fond--and
sent him away much refreshed in body and mind.
He made his way through the ashy rain back to the hotel. People were
holding umbrellas over their heads and plodding through the dust with
seeming unconcern. At one corner a street singer was warbling, stopping
frequently to cough the lava dust from his throat or shake it from his
beloved mandolin. A procession of peasants passed, chanting slowly and
solemnly a religious hymn. At the head of the column was borne aloft a
gilded statuette of the Virgin, and although Uncle John did not know it,
these simple folks were trusting in the sacred image to avert further
disaster from the angry mountain.
On arriving home Mr. Merrick told the girls with great elation of his
new friend, and how they were to be taken aboard the launch in case of
"But how will we know when danger threatens?" asked Louise.
While Uncle John tried to think of an answer to this puzzling query
someone knocked upon the door. The concierge was standing in the
passage and beside him was a soldier in uniform, a natty cock's plume
upon his beaver hat and a short carbine over his arm.
"A guard from Colonel Angeli, Signor," said the concierge,
respectfully--the first respectful tone he had yet employed.
The soldier took off his hat with a flourish, and bowed low.
"He is to remain in the hotel, sir, yet will not disturb you in any
way," continued the whiskered one. "But should he approach you at any
time and beckon you to follow him, do so at once, and without
hesitation. It is Colonel Angeli's wish. You are in the charge of this
brave man, who will watch over your welfare."
"That settles it, my dears," said Uncle John, cheerfully, when the
soldier and the concierge had withdrawn. "This Italian friend doesn't do
things by halves, and I take it we are perfectly safe from this time
ACROSS THE BAY
Tom Horton called an hour later. He was in despair because his party had
decided to leave Naples for Rome, and he feared Beth would be engulfed
by the volcano unless he was present to protect her.
"Mr. Merrick," said the boy, earnestly, "you'll take good care of Miss
De Graf, sir, won't you? We both live in Ohio, you know, and we've just
got acquainted; and--and I'd like to see her again, some time, if she
Uncle John's eyes twinkled, but he drew a long face.
"My dear Tom," he said, "don't ask me to take care of anyone--please
don't! I brought these girls along to take care of me--three of 'em,
sir--and they've got to do their duty. Don't you worry about the girls;
just you worry about me."
That was not much consolation for the poor fellow, but he could do
nothing more than wring their hands--Beth's twice, by mistake--and wish
them good luck before he hurried away to rejoin his family.
"I'm sorry to see him go," said Beth, honestly. "Tom is a nice boy."
"Quite right," agreed Uncle John. "I hope we shall meet no worse fellows
than Tom Horton."
At noon they were served a modest luncheon in their rooms, for Signor
Floriano, having sent his important papers to a place of safety, had
resolved to stick to his hotel and do his duty by any guests that chose
to remain with him in defiance of the existent conditions. He had
succeeded in retaining a few servants who had more courage than those
that had stampeded at the first alarm, and while the hotel service for
the next few days was very inadequate, no one was liable to suffer any
During the afternoon the gloom grew denser than before, while thicker
than ever fell the rain of ashes. This was the worst day Naples
experienced during the great eruption, and Uncle John and his nieces
were content to keep their rooms and live in the glare of electric
lights. Owing to their wise precautions to keep out the heavily laden
air they breathed as little lava dust into their lungs as any people,
perhaps, in the city; but to escape all was impossible. Their eyes and
throats became more or less inflamed by the floating atoms, and the
girls declared they felt as if they were sealed up in a tomb.
"Well, my chickens, how do you like being abroad, and actually in
Europe?" enquired Uncle John, cheerfully.
Beth and Patsy smiled at him, but Louise looked up from the Baedecker
she was studying and replied:
"It's simply delightful, Uncle, and I'm glad we happened here during
this splendid eruption of Vesuvius. Only--only--"
"Only what, my dear?"
"Only it is such hard work to keep clean," answered his dainty niece.
"Even the water is full of lava, and I'm sure my face looks like a
"And you, Beth?"
"I don't like it, Uncle. I'm sure I'd prefer Naples in sunshine,
although this is an experience we can brag about when we get home."
"That is the idea, exactly," said Louise, "and the only thing that
reconciles me to the discomforts. Thousands see Naples in sunshine, but
few can boast seeing Vesuvius in eruption. It will give us considerable
prestige when we return home."
"Ah, that is why I selected this time to bring you here," declared Uncle
John, with a comical wink. "I ordered the eruption before I left home,
and I must say they've been very prompt about it, and done the thing up
brown. Eh, Patsy?"
"Right you are, Uncle. But you might tell 'em to turn off the eruption
now, because we've had enough."
"Don't like Eu-rope, eh?"
"Why, if I thought all Europe was surrounded by volcanoes, I'd go home
at once, if I had to walk. But the geographies don't mention many of
these spouters, so we may as well stick out our present experience and
hope the rest of the continent will behave better. The Major'll be
worried to death when he hears of this."
"I've sent him a cable," said Uncle John.
"What did you say?" asked Patsy, eagerly.
"'All safe and well and enjoying the fireworks.'"
"I'm glad you did that," replied the girl, deeply grateful at this
evidence of thoughtfulness. "It's bad enough for the Major to have me
away, without making him worry, into the bargain."
"Well, no one is likely to worry about me," said Beth, philosophically.
"Mother seldom reads the papers, except to get the society news,"
remarked Louise. "I doubt if she'll hear of the eruption, unless the
Major happens to tell her."
"I've cabled them all," said Uncle John. "They're entitled to know that
their kidiwinkles are in good shape."
The evening was a tedious one, although they tried to enliven it with a
game of bridge, in which Uncle John and Louise were quite proficient
and the others dreadfully incompetent. Once in a while the volcano
thundered a deep detonation that caused the windows to shiver, but the
Americans were getting used to the sound and paid little heed to it.
In the morning the wind had shifted, and although the air was still full
of dust all near-by objects were clearly visible and even the outline of
Vesuvius could be seen sending skyward its pillar of black smoke.
Colonel Angeli appeared soon after breakfast, his uniform fresh and
bright and his boyish face beaming as pleasantly as ever.
"Vesuvio is better," said he, "but the rascal has badly acted and done
much harm to our poor people. Like Herculaneum, our Boscatrecase is
covered with lava; like Pompeii our Ottajano is buried in ashes. Let me
advise you. To-day go to Sorrento, and there stay for a time, until we
can the dust brush from our streets and prepare to welcome you with the
comfort more serene. I must myself ride to the villages that are
suffering. My men are already gone, with the Red-Cross corps, to succor
whom they can. I will send to you word when you may return. Just now,
should you stay, you will be able to see nothing at all."
"I believe that is wise counsel," replied Uncle John.
"Sorrento has no ashes," continued the Colonel, "and from there you may
watch the volcano better than from Naples. To-day come the Duke and
Duchess d'Aosta to render assistance to the homeless and hungry;
to-morrow His Majesty the King will be here to discover what damage has
been caused. Alas! we have no sackcloth, but we are in ashes. I trust
you will pardon my poor Naples for her present inhospitality."
"Sure thing," said Uncle John. "The city may be under a cloud, but her
people are the right stuff, and we are greatly obliged to you for all
your kindness to us."
"But that is so little!" said the colonel, deprecatingly.
They decided to leave their heavy baggage at the Hotel du Vesuve, and
carried only their suit-cases and light luggage aboard the little
steamer that was bound across the bay for Sorrento. The decks were
thronged with people as eager to get away from the stricken city as were
our friends, and Uncle John was only enabled to secure seats for his
girls by bribing a steward so heavily that even that modern brigand was
amazed at his good fortune.
The ride was short but very interesting, for they passed under the
shadow of the smoking mountain and came into a fresh, sweet atmosphere
that was guiltless of a speck of the disagreeable lava dust that had so
long annoyed them. The high bluffs of Sorrento, with their picturesque
villas and big hotels, seemed traced in burnished silver by the strong
sunshine, and every member of Uncle John's party was glad that Colonel
Angeli had suggested this pleasant change of condition.
Small boats took them ashore and an elevator carried them swiftly to the
top of the cliff and deposited them on the terrace of the Victoria, a
beautiful inn that nestled in a garden brilliant with splendid flowers
and shrubbery. Here they speedily established themselves, preparing to
enjoy their first real experience of "Sunny Italy."
At dinner it was announced that the famous Tarantella would be danced in
the lower hall of the hotel at nine o'clock, and the girls told Uncle
John that they must not miss this famous sight, which is one of the most
unique in Sorrento, or indeed in all Italy.
As they entered the pretty, circular hall devoted to the dance Louise
gave a start of surprise. A goodly audience had already assembled in the
room, and among them the girl seemed to recognize an acquaintance, for
after a brief hesitation she advanced and placed her hand in that of a
gentleman who had risen on her entrance and hastened toward her.
He was a nice looking young fellow, Beth thought, and had a foreign and
quite distinguished air.
Presently Louise turned with cheeks somewhat flushed and brought the
gentleman to her party, introducing him to Uncle John and her cousins as
Count Ferralti, whom she had once met in New York while he was on a
visit to America.
The Count twirled his small and slender moustaches in a way that Patsy
thought affected, and said in excellent English:
"It delights me to meet Mr. Merrick and the young ladies. May I express
a hope that you are pleased with my beautiful country?"
"Are you Italian?" asked Uncle John, regarding the young man critically.
"Surely, Mr. Merrick. But I have resided much in New York, and may well
claim to be an adopted son of your great city."
"New York adopts a good many," said Uncle John, drily. "It has even been
thoughtless enough to adopt me."
The dancers entered at that moment and the Americans were forced to seat
themselves hastily so as not to obstruct the view of others. Count
Ferralti found a place beside Louise, but seemed to have little to say
to her during the course of the entertainment.
The dances were unique and graceful, being executed by a troup of
laughing peasants dressed in native costume, who seemed very proud of
their accomplishment and anxious to please the throng of tourists
present. The Tarantella originated in Ischia, but Sorrento and Capri
have the best dancers.
Afterward Uncle John and his nieces stood upon the terrace and watched
the volcano rolling its dense clouds, mingled with sparks of red-hot
scoria, toward the sky. The Count clung to Louise's side, but also tried
to make himself agreeable to her cousins. In their rooms that night
Patsy told Beth that the young foreigner was "too highfalutin' to suit
her," and Beth replied that his manners were so like those of their
Cousin Louise that the two ought to get along nicely together.
Uncle John liked his nieces to make friends, and encouraged young men
generally to meet them; but there was something in the appearance of
this callow Italian nobleman that stamped his character as artificial
and insincere. He resolved to find out something about his antecedents
before he permitted the young fellow to establish friendly relations
with his girls.
Next morning after breakfast he wandered through the lobby and paused at
the little office, where he discovered that the proprietor of this hotel
was a brother of that Floriano who managed the Hotel du Vesuve. That
gave him an excuse to talk with the man, who spoke very good English and
was exceedingly courteous to his guests--especially when they were
"I see you have Count Ferralti with you," remarked Uncle John.
"Ferralti--Count Ferralti. The young man standing by the window,
"I--I did not know," he said, hesitatingly. "The gentleman arrived last
evening, and I had not yet learned his name. Let me see," he turned to
his list of guests, who register by card and not in a book, and
continued: "Ah, yes; he has given his name as Ferralti, but added no
title. A count, did you say?"
"Yes," replied Uncle John.
The proprietor looked curiously toward the young man, whose back only
was visible. Then he remarked that the eruption of Vesuvius was waning
and the trouble nearly over for this time.
"Are the Ferraltis a good family?" asked Uncle John, abruptly.
"That I cannot tell you, Signor Merrick."
"Oh. Perhaps you know little about the nobility of your country."
"I! I know little of the nobility!" answered Floriano, indignantly. "My
dear signor, there is no man better posted as to our nobility in all
"Yet you say you don't know the Ferralti family."
The proprietor reached for a book that lay above his desk.
"Observe, signor. Here is our record of nobility. It is the same as the
'Blue Book' or the 'Peerage' of England. Either fortunately or
unfortunately--I cannot say--you have no need of such a book in
He turned the pages and ran his finger down the line of "Fs."
"Find me, if you can, a Count Ferralti in the list."
Uncle John looked. He put on his glasses and looked again. The name of
Ferralti was no place in the record.
"Then there is no such count, Signor Floriano."
"And no such noble family, Signor Merrick."
Uncle John whistled softly and walked away to the window. The young man
greeted him with a smile and a bow.
"I misunderstood your name last evening," he said. "I thought you were
"And that is right, sir," was the prompt reply. "Allow me to offer you
Uncle John took the card and read:
"CONTE LEONARDI FERRALTI,
He carefully placed the card in his pocket-book.
"Thank you," said he. "It's a fine morning, Count."
"Charming, Mr. Merrick."
Uncle John walked away. He was glad that he had not suspected the young
man unjustly. When an imposture is unmasked it is no longer dangerous.
He joined his nieces, who were all busily engaged in writing letters
home, and remarked, casually:
"You've been deceived in your Italian friend, Louise. He is neither a
count nor of noble family, although I suppose when you met him in New
York he had an object in posing as a titled aristocrat."
The girl paused, examining the point of her pen thoughtfully.
"Are you sure, Uncle John?"
"Quite sure, my dear. I've just been through the list of Italian counts,
and his name is not there. Floriano, the proprietor, who knows every
aristocrat in Italy, has never before heard of him."
"How singular!" exclaimed Louise. "I wonder why he has tried to deceive
"Oh, the world is full of impostors; but when you are on to their game
they are quite harmless. Of course we won't encourage this young man in
any way. It will be better to avoid him."
"He--he seems very nice and gentlemanly," said Louise with hesitation.
The other girls exchanged glances, but made no remark. Uncle John hardly
knew what to say further. He felt he was in an awkward position, for
Louise was the most experienced in worldly ways of his three nieces and
he had no desire to pose as a stern guardian or to deprive his girls of
any passing pleasure they might enjoy. Moreover, Louise being in love
with that young Weldon her mother so strongly objected to, she would not
be likely to care much for this Italian fellow, and Mrs. Merrick had
enjoined him to keep her daughter's mind from dwelling on her
"Oh, well, my dear," he said to her, "you must act as you see fit. I do
not imagine we shall see much of this young man, in any event, and now
that you are well aware of the fact that he is sailing under false
colors, you will know how to handle him better than I can advise you."
"I shall be very careful," said Louise slowly, as she resumed her
"Well then, girls, what do you say to a stroll around the village?"
asked their uncle. "I'm told it's a proper place to buy silk stockings
and inlaid wood-work. They come assorted, I suppose."
Beth and Patsy jumped up with alacrity, but Louise pleaded that she had
several more letters to write; so the others left her and passed the
rest of the forenoon in rummaging among the quaint shops of Sorrento,
staring at the statue of Tasso, and enjoying the street scenes so
vividly opposed to those of America. It was almost their first glimpse
of foreign manners and customs. In Naples they had as yet seen nothing
but darkness and falling ashes.
THE ROAD TO AMALFI
The Hotel Victoria faces the bay of Naples. Back of it are the famous
gardens, and as you emerge from these you find yourself upon the narrow
main street of Sorrento, not far from the Square of Tasso.
As our little party entered this street they were immediately espied by
the vetturini, or cabmen, who rushed toward them with loud cries while
they waved their whips frantically to attract attention. One tall fellow
was dressed in a most imposing uniform of blue and gold, with a high hat
bearing a cockade a la Inglese and shiny top boots. His long legs
enabled him to outstrip the others, and in an almost breathless voice he
begged Uncle John to choose his carriage: "the besta carrozza ina town!"
"We don't want to ride," was the answer.
The cabman implored. Certainly they must make the Amalfi drive, or to
Massa Lubrense or Saint' Agata or at least Il Deserto! The others stood
by to listen silently to the discussion, yielding first place to the
victor in the race.
Uncle John was obdurate.
"All we want to-day is to see the town," he declared, "We're not going
to ride, but walk."
"Ah, but the Amalfi road, signore! Surely you will see that."
"To-morrow, perhaps; not now."
"To-morrow, signore! It is good. At what hour, to-morrow,
"Oh, don't bother me."
"We may as well drive to Amalfi to-morrow," suggested Beth. "It is the
proper thing to do, Uncle."
"All right; we'll go, then."
"You take my carrozza, signore?" begged the cabman. "It is besta ina
"Let us see it."
Instantly the crowd scampered back to the square, followed more
leisurely by Uncle John and the girls. There the uniformed vetturio
stood beside the one modern carriage in the group. It was new; it was
glossy; it had beautiful, carefully brushed cushions; it was drawn by a
pair of splendid looking horses.
"Is not bellissima, signore?" asked the man, proudly.
"All right," announced Uncle John, nodding approval. "Be ready to start
at nine o'clock to-morrow morning."
The man promised, whereat his confreres lost all interest in the matter
and the strangers were allowed to proceed without further interruption.
They found out all about the Amalfi drive that evening, and were glad
indeed they had decided to go. Even Louise was pleased at the
arrangement and as eager as the others to make the trip. It is one of
the most famous drives in the world, along a road built upon the rocky
cliff that overhangs the sea and continually winds in and out as it
follows the outlines of the crags.
They had an early breakfast and were ready at nine o'clock; but when
they came to the gate of the garden they found only a dilapidated
carriage standing before it.
"Do you know where my rig is?" Uncle John asked the driver, at the same
time peering up and down the road.
"It is me, sir signore. I am engage by you. Is it not so?"
Mr. Merrick looked at the driver carefully. It was long-legs, sure
enough, but shorn of his beautiful regalia.
"Where's your uniform?" he asked.
"Ah, I have leave it home. The road is dusty, very; I must not ruin a
nice dress when I work," answered the man, smiling unabashed.
"But the carriage. What has become of the fine carriage and the good
"Ah, it is dreadful; it is horrible, signore. I find me the carrozza is
not easy; it is not perfect; it do not remain good for a long ride. So I
leave him home, for I am kind. I do not wish the signorini bella to tire
and weep. But see the fine vetture you now have! Is he not easy like
feathers, an' strong, an' molto buena?"
"It may be a bird, but it don't look it," said Uncle John, doubtfully.
"I rented the best looking rig in town, and you bring me the worst."
"Only try, signore! Others may look; it is only you who must ride. You
will be much please when we return."
"Well, I suppose we may as well take it," said the little man, in a
resigned tone. "Hop in, my dears."
They entered the crazy looking vehicle and found the seats ample and
comfortable despite the appearance of dilapidation everywhere prevalent.
The driver mounted the box, cracked his whip, and the lean nags ambled
away at a fair pace.
They passed near to the square, where the first thing that attracted
Uncle John's attention was the beautiful turnout he had hired yesterday.
It was standing just as it had before, and beside it was another man
dressed in the splendid uniform his driver had claimed that he had left
"Here--stop! Stop, I say!" he yelled at the man, angrily. But the fellow
seemed suddenly deaf, and paid no heed. He cracked his whip and rattled
away through the streets without a glance behind him. The girls laughed
and Uncle John stopped waving his arms and settled into his seat with a
"We've been swindled, my dears," he said; "swindled most beautifully.
But I suppose we may as well make the best of it."
"Better," agreed Patsy. "This rig is all right, Uncle. It may not be as
pretty as the other, but I expect that one is only kept to make
engagements with. When it comes to actual use, we don't get it."
"That's true enough," he returned. "But I'll get even with this rascal
before I've done with him, never fear."
It was a cold, raw morning, but the portiere at the Victoria had told
them the sun would be out presently and the day become more genial.
Indeed, the sun did come out, but only to give a discouraged look at the
landscape and retire again. During this one day in which they rode to
Amalfi and back, Uncle John afterward declared that they experienced
seven different kinds of weather. They had sunshine, rain, hail, snow
and a tornado; and then rain again and more sunshine. "Sunny Italy"
seemed a misnomer that day, as indeed it does many days in winter and
spring, when the climate is little better than that prevailing in the
eastern and central portions of the United States. And perhaps one
suffers more in Italy than in America, owing to the general lack of
means to keep warm on cold days. The Italian, shivering and blue, will
tell you it is not cold at all, for he will permit no reproach to lie on
his beloved land; but the traveller frequently becomes discouraged, and
the American contingent, especially, blames those misleading English
writers who, finding relief from their own bleak island in Italian
climes, exaggerated the conditions by apostrophizing the country as
"Sunny Italy" and for more than a century uttered such rhapsodies in its
praise that the whole world credited them--until it acquired personal
experience of the matter.
Italy is beautiful; it is charming and delightful; but seldom is this
true in winter or early spring.
The horses went along at a spanking pace that was astonishing. They
passed through the picturesque lanes of Sorrento, climbed the further
slope, and brought the carriage to the other side of the peninsula,
where the girls obtained their first view of the Gulf of Salerno, with
the lovely Isles of the Sirens lying just beneath them.
And now they were on the great road that skirts the coast as far as
Salerno, and has no duplicate in all the known world. For it is cut from
the solid rock of precipitous cliffs rising straight from the sea, which
the highway overhangs at an average height of five hundred feet, the
traveller being protected only by a low stone parapet from the vast gulf
that yawns beneath. And on the other side of the road the cliffs
continue to ascend a like distance toward the sky, their irregular
surfaces dotted with wonderful houses that cling to the slopes, and
vineyards that look as though they might slip down at any moment upon
the heads of timorous pilgrims.
When it rained they put up the carriage top, which afforded but partial
shelter. The shower was brief, but was shortly followed by hail as big
as peas, which threatened to dash in the frail roof of their carrozza.
While they shrank huddled beneath the blankets, the sun came out
suddenly, and the driver shed his leathern apron, cracked his whip, and
began singing merrily as the vehicle rolled over the smooth road.
Our travellers breathed again, and prepared to enjoy once more the
wonderful vistas that were unfolded at every turn of the winding way.
Sometimes they skirted a little cove where, hundreds of feet below, the
fishermen sat before their tiny huts busily mending their nets. From
that distance the boats drawn upon the sheltered beach seemed like mere
toys. Then they would span a chasm on a narrow stone bridge, or plunge
through an arch dividing the solid mountain. But ever the road returned
in a brief space to the edge of the sea-cliff, and everywhere it was
solid as the hills themselves, and seemingly as secure.
They had just sighted the ancient town of Positano and were circling a
gigantic point of rock, when the great adventure of the day overtook
them. Without warning the wind came whistling around them in a great
gale, which speedily increased in fury until it drove the blinded horses
reeling against the low parapet and pushed upon the carriage as if
determined to dash it over the precipice.
As it collided against the stone wall the vehicle tipped dangerously,
hurling the driver from his seat to dive headforemost into the space
beneath. But the man clung to the reins desperately, and they arrested
his fall, leaving him dangling at the end of them while the maddened
horses, jerked at the bits by the weight of the man, reared and plunged
as if they would in any instant tumble themselves and the carriage over
At this critical moment a mounted horseman, who unobserved had been
following the party, dashed to their rescue. The rider caught the
plunging steeds by their heads and tried to restrain their terror, at
his own eminent peril, while the carriage lay wedged against the wall
and the driver screamed pitifully from his dangerous position midway
between sea and sky.
Then Beth slipped from her seat to the flat top of the parapet, stepped
boldly to where the reins were pulling upon the terrified horses, and
seized them in her strong grasp.
"Hold fast," she called calmly to the driver, and began dragging him
upward, inch by inch.
He understood instantly the task she had undertaken, and in a moment his
courage returned and he managed to get his foot in a crack of the rock
and assist her by relieving her of part of his weight. Just above was a
slight ledge; he could reach it now; and then she had him by the arm, so
that another instant found him clinging to the parapet and drawing
himself into a position of safety.
The wind had died away as suddenly as it came upon them. The horses, as
soon as the strain upon their bits was relaxed, were easily quieted.
Before those in the carriage had quite realized what had occurred the
adventure was accomplished, the peril was past, and all was well again.
Uncle John leaped from the carriage, followed by Louise and Patsy. The
young horseman who had come to their assistance so opportunely was none
other than Count Ferralti, whom they had such good reason to distrust.
He was sitting upon his horse and staring with amazement at Beth, at
whose feet the driver was grovelling while tears flowed down his bronzed
cheeks and he protested in an absurd mixture of English and Italian, by
every saint in the calendar, that the girl had saved him from a
frightful death and he would devote his future life to her service.
"It is wonderful!" murmured Ferralti. "However could such a slip of a
girl do so great a deed?"
"Why, it's nothing at all," returned Beth, flushing; "we're trained to
do such things in the gymnasium at Cloverton, and I'm much stronger than
I appear to be."
"'Twas her head, mostly," said Patsy, giving her cousin an admiring hug;
"she kept her wits while the rest of us were scared to death."
Uncle John had been observing the Count. One of the young man's hands
hung limp and helpless.
"Are you hurt, sir?" he asked.
Ferralti smiled, and his eyes rested upon Louise.
"A little, perhaps, Mr. Merrick; but it is unimportant. The horses were
frantic at the time and wrenched my wrist viciously as I tried to hold
them. I felt something snap; a small bone, perhaps. But I am sure it is
nothing of moment."
"We'd better get back to Sorrento," said Uncle John, abruptly.
"Not on my account, I beg of you," returned Ferralti, quickly. "We are
half way to Amalfi now, and you may as well go on. For my part, if the
wrist troubles me, I will see a surgeon at Amalfi--that is, if you
permit me to accompany you."
He said this with a defferent bow and a glance of inquiry.
Uncle John could not well refuse. The young fellow might be a sham
count, but the manliness and courage he had displayed in their grave
emergency surely entitled him to their grateful consideration.
"You are quite welcome to join us," said Uncle John.
The driver had by now repaired a broken strap and found his equippage
The horses stood meekly quiescent, as if they had never known a moment's
fear in their lives. So the girls and their uncle climbed into the
vehicle again and the driver mounted the box and cracked his whip with
his usual vigor.
The wind had subsided as suddenly as it had arisen, and as they passed
through Positano--which is four hundred feet high, the houses all up and
down the side of a cliff like swallows' nests--big flakes of snow were
gently falling around them.
Count Ferralti rode at the side of the carriage but did not attempt much
conversation. His lips were tight set and the girls, slyly observing his
face, were sure his wrist was hurting him much more than he cared to
Circling around the cliff beyond Positano the sun greeted them, shining
from out a blue sky, and they wondered what had become of the bad
weather they had so lately experienced.
From now on, past Prajano and into Amalfi, the day was brilliant and the
temperature delightful. It was full noon by the time they alighted at
the little gate-house of the ancient Cappuccini-Convento, now a hotel
much favored by the tourist. Count Ferralti promised to join them later
and rode on to the town to find a surgeon to look after his injured
hand, while the others slowly mounted the long inclines leading in a
zigzag fashion up to the old monastery, which was founded in the year
From the arbored veranda of this charming retreat is obtained one of the
finest views in Europe, and while the girls sat enjoying it Uncle John
arranged with a pleasant faced woman (who had once lived in America) for
An hour later, and just as they were sitting down to the meal, Count
Ferralti rejoined them. His hand was bandaged and supported by a sling,
and in answer to Louise's gentle inquiries he said, simply:
"It was as I had feared: a small bone snapped. But my surgeon is
skillful, and says time will mend the wrist as good as new."
In spite of his courage he could eat no luncheon, but merely sipped a
glass of wine; so Uncle John, alarmed at his pallor, insisted that he
take a seat in the carriage on the return journey. Beth wanted to ride
the Count's horse home, but there was no side saddle to be had, so they
led the animal by a halter fastened behind the ricketty carriage, and
Beth mounted the box and rode beside her friend the driver.
The pleasant weather lasted until they neared Sorrento, when another
shower of rain came up. They reached their hotel damp and bedraggled,
but enthusiastic over their wonderful trip and the interesting adventure
it had incidentally developed.
THE EAGLE SCREAMS
Despite the glories of the Amalfi road our tourists decided it was more
pleasant to loiter around Sorrento for a time than to undertake further
excursions. The mornings and evenings were chill, but during the middle
of the day the air was warm and delicious; so the girls carried their
books and fancy-work into the beautiful gardens or wandered lazily
through the high-walled lanes that shut in the villas and orange groves.
Sometimes they found a gate open, and were welcomed to the orchards and
permitted to pluck freely the fragrant and rich flavored fruit, which is
excelled in no other section of the south country. Also Uncle John, with
Beth and Patsy, frequented the shops of the wood-workers and watched
their delicate and busy fingers inlaying the various colored woods; but
Louise mostly kept to the garden, where Count Ferralti, being a
semi-invalid, was content to sit by her side and amuse her.
In spite of her uncle's discovery of the false position assumed by this
young man, Louise seemed to like his attentions and to approve his
evident admiration for her. His ways might be affected and effeminate
and his conversational powers indifferent; but his bandaged wrist was a
constant reminder to all the nieces that he possessed courage and ready
wit, and it was but natural that he became more interesting to them
because just now he was to an extent helpless, and his crippled hand had
been acquired in their service.
Uncle John watched the young fellow shrewdly, but could discover little
harm in him except his attempt to deceive them in regard to his name and
position. Yet in his mature eyes there was not much about Ferralti to
arouse admiration, and the little man considered his girls too sensible
to be greatly impressed by this youthful Italian's personality. So he
allowed him to sit with his nieces in the gardens as much as he
pleased, believing it would be ungrateful to deprive the count of that
"A reg'lar chaperone might think differently," he reflected; "but thank
goodness there are no dragons swimming in our cup of happiness."
One day they devoted to Capri and the Blue Grotto, and afterward they
lunched at the Quisisana and passed the afternoon in the town. But the
charms of Sorrento were too great for Capri to win their allegiance, and
they were glad to get back to their quaint town and delightful gardens
The week passed all too swiftly, and then came a letter from Colonel
Angeli telling them to return to Naples and witness the results of the
eruption. This they decided to do, and bidding good-bye to Signor
Floriano and his excellent hotel they steamed across the bay and found
the "Vesuve" a vastly different hostelry from the dismal place they had
left in their flight from Naples. It was now teeming with life, for, all
danger being past, the tourists had flocked to the city in droves. The
town was still covered with ashes, but under the brilliant sunshine it
did not look as gloomy as one might imagine, and already thousands of
carts were busily gathering the dust from the streets and dumping it in
the waters of the bay. It would require months of hard work, though,
before Naples could regain a semblance of its former beauty.
Their friend the Colonel personally accompanied them to the towns that
had suffered the most from the eruption. At Boscatrecasa they walked
over the great beds of lava that had demolished the town--banks of
cinders looking like lumps of pumice stone and massed from twenty to
thirty feet in thickness throughout the valley. The lava was still so
hot that it was liable to blister the soles of their feet unless they
kept constantly moving. It would be many more days before the interior
of the mass became cold.
Through the forlorn, dust-covered vineyards they drove to San Guiseppe,
where a church roof had fallen in and killed one hundred and forty
people, maiming many more. The Red-Cross tents were pitched in the
streets and the whole town was one vast hospital. Ottajano, a little
nearer to the volcano, had been buried in scoria, and nine-tenths of
the roofs had fallen in, rendering the dwellings untenable.
From here a clear view of Mt. Vesuvius could be obtained. The shape of
the mountain had greatly altered and the cone had lost sixty-five feet
of its altitude. But when one gazed upon the enormous bulk of volcanic
deposit that littered the country for miles around, it seemed to equal a
dozen mountains the size of Vesuvius. The marvel was that so much ashes
and cinders could come from a single crater in so short a period.
Naples was cleaning house, but slowly and listlessly. The people seemed
as cheerful and light-hearted as ever. The volcano was one of their
crosses, and they bore it patiently. The theatres would remain closed
for some weeks to come, but the great Museo Nationale was open, and
Uncle John and his nieces were much interested in the bronze and marble
statuary that here form the greatest single collection in all the world.
It was at the Museum that Mr. Merrick was arrested for the first time
in his life, an experience he never afterward forgot.
Bad money is so common in Naples that Uncle John never accepted any
change from anyone, but obtained all his silver coins and notes directly
from the Banca Commerciale Italiana, a government institution. One
morning he drove with the girls to the museum and paid the cabman a
lira, but before he could ascend the steps the man was after him and
holding out a leaden coin, claiming that his fare had given him bad
money and must exchange it for good. This is so common a method of
swindling that Uncle John paid no heed to the demands of the cabman
until one of the Guard Municipale, in his uniform of dark blue with
yellow buttons and cap, placed a restraining hand upon the American's
Uncle John angrily shook him off, but the man persisted, and an
interpreter employed by the museum stepped forward and explained that
unless the cabman was given a good coin in exchange for the bad one the
guarde would be obliged to take him before a commissionaire, or
"But I gave him a good coin--a lira direct from the bank," declared
"He exhibits a bad one," returned the interpreter, calmly.
"He's a swindler!"
"He is a citizen of Naples, and entitled to a just payment," said the
other, shrugging his shoulders.
"You are all leagued together," said Uncle John, indignantly. "But you
will get no more money out of me, I promise you."
The result was that the stubborn American was placed under arrest.
Leaving the girls at the museum in charge of Ferralti, who had made no
attempt to interfere in the dispute but implored Uncle John to pay and
avoid trouble, the angry prisoner was placed in the same cab he had
arrived in and, with the officer seated beside him, was publicly driven
to the office of the magistrate.
This official understood no English, but he glowered and frowned
fiercely when the American was brought before him. The guarde and the
cabman stood with bared bowed heads and in low tones preferred the
charge against the prisoner; but Uncle John swaggered up to the desk and
pounded his clinched fist upon it while he roared a defiance of Italian
injustice and threatened to "bring over a few war-ships and blow Naples
into kingdom come!"
The magistrate was startled, and ordered the prisoner searched for
concealed weapons. Uncle John doubled his fists and dared the guarde to
Then the cabman was dispatched for someone who could speak English, and
when an interpreter arrived the American told him to send for the United
States consul and also to inform the magistrate that nothing but war
between America and Italy could wipe out the affront that had been
thrust upon him.
The magistrate was disturbed, and preferred not to send for the consul.
He offered to release Uncle John if he would give the cabman a good lira
in exchange for the bad one. The official fee would be five lira--or say
three lira--or even two. Uncle John flatly refused to pay anything to
anybody. Only war could settle this international complication--bloody
and bitter war. The consul must cable at once for war-ships and troops.
He would insist upon it. All compromise was now impossible!
The magistrate was frightened. The guarde's eyes bulged with horror and
he trembled visibly. It was evident they had made a grave mistake in
arresting this mad American, who was evidently a personage of great
importance and able to declare war at a moment's notice. The cabman, the
magistrate, the guarde and the interpreter put their heads together and
chattered voluble Italian--all speaking at once in excited tones--while
Uncle John continued to warn them at the top of his lungs that their
country was doomed to sudden annihilation and they were the culprits
responsible for the coming calamity.
As a result they bundled the irate American into the carriage again and
drove him poste haste back to the museum, where they deposited him upon
the steps. Then in a flash the guarde and the cabman disappeared from
sight and were seen no more.
The victor smiled proudly as his nieces rushed toward him.
"Did you have to pay another lira, Uncle?" asked Patsy, anxiously.
"Not on your life, my dear," mopping his brow vigorously. "They're a lot
of cutthroats and assassins--policemen, magistrates and all--but when
the eagle screams they're wise enough to duck."
The girls laughed.
"And did the eagle scream, then?" Patsy enquired.
"Just a little, my dear; but if it whispered it would sound mighty loud
in this mummified old world. But we've lost enough time for one day.
Come; let's go see 'Narcissus' and the 'Dancing Faun.'"
"Here's a letter from my dear old friend Silas Watson," said Uncle John,
delightedly. "It's from Palermo, where he has been staying with his
ward--and your friend, girls--Kenneth Forbes, and he wants me to lug you
all over to Sicily at once."
"That's jolly," said Patsy, with a bright smile. "I'd like to see
"I suppose he is a great artist, by this time," said Beth, musingly.
"How singular!" exclaimed Louise. "Count Ferralti told me only this
morning that he had decided to go to Palermo."
"Really?" said Uncle John.
"Yes, Uncle. Isn't it a coincidence?"
"Why, as for that," he answered, slowly, "I'm afraid it will prevent our
seeing the dear count--or whatever he is--again, at least for some
time. For Mr. Watson and Kenneth are just leaving Palermo, and he asks
us to meet him in another place altogether, a town called--called--let
me see; Tormenti, or Terminal, or something."
"Give me the letter, dear," said Patsy. "I don't believe it's Terminal
at all. Of course not," consulting the pages, "it's Taormina."
"Is that in Sicily?" he asked.
"Yes. Listen to what Mr. Watson says: 'I'm told it is the most beautiful
spot in the world, which is the same thing you hear about most beautiful
places. It is eight hundred feet above the Mediterranean and nestles
peacefully in the shadow of Mount Etna.'"
"Etna!" cried Uncle John, with a start. "Isn't that another volcano?"
"To be sure," said Beth, the geographer. "Etna is the biggest volcano in
"Does it spout?" he asked, anxiously.
"All the time, they say. But it is not usually dangerous."
"The proper thing, when you go to Eu-rope," declared Uncle John,
positively, "is to do Venice, where the turpentine comes from, and
Switzerland, where they make chocolate and goat's milk, and Paris and
Monte Carlo, where they kick high and melt pearls in champagne.
Everybody knows that. That's what goin' to Eu-rope really means. But
Sicily isn't on the programme, that I ever heard of. So we'll just tell
Silas Watson that we'll see him later--which means when we get home
"But Sicily is beautiful," protested Patsy. "I'd as soon go there as
"It's a very romantic place," added Louise, reflectively.
"Everybody goes to France and Switzerland," remarked Beth. "But it's
because they don't know any better. Let's be original, Uncle, and keep
out of the beaten track of travel."
"But the volcano!" exclaimed Mr. Merrick. "Is it necessary to stick to
volcanoes to be original?"
"Etna won't hurt us, I'm sure," said Patsy.
"Isn't there a Greek theatre at Taormina?" asked Louise.
"I've never heard of it; but I suppose the Greeks have, if it's there,"
he replied. "But why not wait till we get home, and then go to Kieth's
"You don't understand, dear. This theatre is very ancient."
"Playing minstrel shows in it yet, I suppose. Well, girls, if you say
Sicily, Sicily it is. All I'm after is to give you a good time, and if
you get the volcano habit it isn't my fault."
"It is possible the Count said Taormina, instead of Palermo," remarked
Louise, plaintively. "I wasn't paying much attention at the time. I'll
The others ignored this suggestion. Said Patsy to her uncle:
"When do we go, sir?"
"Whenever you like, my dears."
"Then I vote to move on at once," decided the girl. "We've got the best
out of Naples, and it's pretty grimey here yet."
The other nieces agreed with her, so Uncle John went out to enquire the
best way to get to Sicily, and to make their arrangements.
The steamer "Victor Emmanuel" of the Navigazione General Italiana line
was due to leave Naples for Messina the next evening, arriving at its
destination the following morning. Uncle John promptly booked places.
The intervening day was spent in packing and preparing for the journey,
and like all travellers the girls were full of eager excitement at the
prospect of seeing something new.
"I'm told Sicily is an island," grumbled Uncle John. "Here we are, on a
trip to Eu-rope, and emigrating to an island the first thing we do."
"Sicily is Europe, all right, Uncle," answered Patsy. "At least, it
isn't Asia or Africa."
That assertion seemed to console him a little, and he grew cheerful
The evening was beautiful as they embarked, but soon after leaving the
bay the little, tub-shaped steamer began to tumble and toss vigorously,
so that all the passengers aboard speedily sought their berths.
Uncle John found himself in a stuffy little cabin that smelled of tar
and various other flavors that were too mixed to be recognizable. As a
result he passed one of the most miserable nights of his life.
Toward morning he rolled out and dressed himself, preferring the deck to
his bed, and the first breath of salt air did much to restore him. Day
was just breaking, and to the right he could see a tongue of fire
flaming against the dark sky.
"What is that, sir?" he enquired of an officer who passed.
"That is Stromboli, signor, the great volcano of Lipari. It is always in
Uncle John groaned.
"Volcanoes to right of us, volcanoes to left of us volleyed and
thundered," he muttered dismally, as he fell back in his chair.
The sky brightened, and the breath of the breeze changed and came to him
laden with delicious fragrance.
"See, signore!" called the officer, passing again; "before us is mighty
Etna--you can see it clearly from the bow."
"Volcanoes in front of us, volcanoes behind us!" wailed the little man.
But he walked to the bow and saw the shores of Sicily looming in
advance, with the outline of the stately mountain rising above and
Then the sun burst forth, flooding all with a golden radiance that was
magical in its gorgeous effects. Patsy came on deck and stood beside her
uncle, lost in rapturous admiration. Beth soon followed her.
Before long they entered the Straits of Messina and passed between the
classic rock of Scylla on the Calabrian coast, and the whirlpool of
Charybdis at the point of the promontory of Faro, which forms the end of
the famous "Golden Sickle" enclosing the Bay of Messina.
"If this is really Eu-rope, I'm glad we came," said Uncle John, drawing
a long breath as the ship came to anchor opposite the Palazzo
Municipale. "I don't remember seeing anything prettier since we left New
Presently they had loaded their trunks and hand baggage, and
incidentally themselves, into the boat of the Hotel Trinacria which came
alongside in charge of a sleepy porter. After a brief examination at the
custom-house, where Uncle John denied having either sugar, tobacco or
perfumery, they followed on foot the truck laden with their worldly
possessions, and soon reached the hotel.
A pleasant breakfast followed, which they ate before a window
overlooking the busy marina, and then they drove about the town for a
time to see in a casual way the "sights." In the afternoon they took the
train for Taormina. Messina seemed a delightful place, but if they were
going to settle in Taormina for a time it would not pay them to unpack
or linger on the way.
So they rolled along the coast for a couple of hours in a quaint,
old-fashioned railway carriage, and were then deposited upon the
platform of the little station at Giardini.
"I'm afraid there has been a mistake," said the little man, gazing
around him anxiously. "There's no town here, and I told the guard to put
us off at Taormina--not this forlorn place."
Just then Beth discovered a line of carriages drawn up back of the
station. The drivers were mostly asleep inside them, although several
stood in a group arguing in fluent Italian the grave question as to
whether Signora Gani's cow had a black patch over its left shoulder, or
Some of the carriages bore signs: "Hotel Timeo;" "Grand Hotel San
Domenico;" "Hotel Castello-a-Mare;" "Grand Hotel Metropole," and so
forth. In that of the Castello-a-Mare the man was awakening and rubbing
his eyes. Uncle John said to him:
"Good morning. Had a nice rest?"
"I thank you, signore, I am well refreshed," was the reply.
"By the way, can you tell us where the town of Taormina is? I hate to
trouble you; but we'd like to know."
The man waved an arm upward, and following the motion with their eyes
they saw a line of precipitous cliffs that seemed impossible to scale.
"Do you desire to go to the Grand Hotel Castello-a-Mare?" enquired the
"Is it in Taormina?"
"Most certainly, signore."
"And you will take us?"
"With pleasure, signore."
"Oh; I didn't know. I supposed you were going to sleep again."
The man looked at him reproachfully.
"It is my business, signore. I am very attentive to my duties. If you
permit me to drive you to our splendide--our magnifico hotel--you will
confer a favor."
"How about the baggage?"
"The trunks, signor, we will send for later. There is really no hurry
about them. The small baggage will accompany us. You will remark how
excellent is my English. I am Frascatti Vietri; perhaps you have heard
of me in America?"
"If I have it has escaped my memory," said Uncle John, gravely.
"Have you been to America?" asked Beth.
"Surely, signorina. I lived in Chicago, which, as you are aware, is
America. My uncle had a fruit shop in South Water, a via which is
Chicago. Is it not so? You will find few in Taormina who can the English
speak, and none at all who can so perfectly speak it as Frascatti
"You are wonderful," said Patsy, delighted with him. But Uncle John
grew impatient to be off.
"I hate to interrupt you, Mr. Vietri," he hinted; "but if you can spare
the time we may as well make a start."
The driver consented. He gracefully swung the suit-cases and travelling
bags to the top of the vehicle and held the door open while his fares
entered. Then he mounted to his seat, took the reins, and spoke to the
horses. Some of the other drivers nodded at him cheerfully, but more as
if they were sorry he must exert himself than with any resentment at his
success in getting the only tourists who had alighted from the train.
As they moved away Uncle John said: "Observe the difference between the
cab-drivers here and those at home. In America they fight like beasts to
get a job; here they seem anxious to avoid earning an honest penny. If
there could be a happy medium somewhere, I'd like it."
"Are we going to the best hotel?" asked Louise, who had seemed a trifle
disconsolate because she had not seen Count Ferralti since leaving
"I don't know, my dear. It wasn't a question of choice, but of
necessity. No other hotel seemed willing to receive us."
They were now winding upward over a wonderful road cut in the solid
rock. It was broad and smooth and protected by a parapet of dressed
limestone. Now and then they passed pleasant villas set in orchards of
golden oranges or groves of olives and almonds; but there was no sign of
life on any side.
The road was zigzag, making a long ascent across the face of the cape,
then turning abruptly to wind back again, but always creeping upward
until an open space showed the station far below and a rambling stone
building at the edge of the cliff far above.
"Behold!" cried Frascatti, pointing up, "the Grand Hotel
Castello-a-Mare; is it not the excellenza location?"
"Has it a roof?" asked Uncle John, critically.
"Of a certainty, signore! But it does not show from below," was the
At times Frascatti stopped his horses to allow them to rest, and then he
would turn in his seat to address his passengers in the open victoria
and descant upon the beauties of the panorama each turn unfolded.
"This road is new," said he, "because we are very progressive and the
old road was most difficulty. Then it was three hours from the bottom to
the top. Now it is but a short hour, for our energy climbs the three
miles in that brief time. Shall I stop here for the sunset, or will your
excellenzi hasten on?"
"If your energy approves, we will hasten," returned Uncle John. "We love
a sunset, because it's bound to set anyway, and we may as well make the
best of it; but we have likewise an objection to being out after dark.
Any brigands around here?"
"Brigands! Ah; the signor is merry. Never, since the days of Naxos, have
brigands infested our fair country."
"When were the days of Naxos?"
"Some centuries before Christ, signor," bowing his head and making the
sign of the cross.
"Very good. The brigands of those days must, of course, be dead by this
time. Now, sir, when you have leisure, let us hasten."
The horses started and crept slowly upward again. None of the party was
in a hurry. Such beautiful glimpses of scenery were constantly visible
from the bends of the road that the girls were enraptured, and could
have ridden for hours in this glorious fairyland.
But suddenly the horses broke into a trot and dragged the carriage
rapidly forward over the last incline. A moment later they dashed into
the court of the hotel and the driver with a loud cry of "Oo-ah!" and a
crack of his whip drew up before the entrance.
The portiere and the padrone, or landlord--the latter being also the
proprietaire--came out to greet them, extending to their guests a
courteous welcome. The house was very full. All of the cheaper rooms
were taken; but of course the Signor Americain would wish only the best
and be glad to pay.
Uncle John requested them to rob him as modestly as possible without
conflicting with their sense of duty, and they assured him they would do
The rooms were adorable. They faced the sea and had little balconies
that gave one a view of the blue Mediterranean far beneath, with lovely
Isola Bella and the Capo San Andrea nestling on its bosom. To the right
towered the majestic peak of Etna, its crest just now golden red in the
The girls drew in deep breaths and stood silent in a very ecstacy of
delight. At their feet was a terraced garden, running downward two
hundred feet to where the crag fell sheer to the sea. It was glorious
with blooming flowers of every sort that grows, and the people on the
balconies imagined at the moment they had been transferred to an earthly
paradise too fair and sweet for ordinary mortals. And then the glow of
the sun faded softly and twilight took its place. Far down the winding
road could be seen the train of carriages returning from the station,
the vetturini singing their native songs as the horses slowly ascended
the slope. An unseen organ somewhere in the distance ground out a
Neapolitan folk song, and fresh and youthful voices sang a clear, high
Even practical Uncle John stood absorbed and admiring until the soft
voice of the facchino called to ask if he wanted hot water in which to
bathe before dinner.
"It's no use," said Patsy, smiling at him from the next balcony with
tears in her eyes; "There's not another Taormina on earth. Here we are,
and here we stay until we have to go home again."
"But, my dear, think of Paris, of Venice, of--"
"I'll think of nothing but this, Uncle John. Unless you settle down with
us here I'll turn milkmaid and live all my days in Sicily!"
Beth laughed, and drew her into their room.
"Don't be silly, Patsy dear," she said, calmly, although almost as
greatly affected as her cousin. "There are no cows here, so you can't be
"Can't I milk the goats, then?"
"Why, the men seem to do that, dear. But cheer up. We've only seen the
romance of Taormina yet; doubtless it will be commonplace enough
Beth's prediction, however, did not come true. The morning discovered
nothing commonplace about Taormina. Their hotel was outside the walls,
but a brief walk took them to the Messina Gate, a quaint archway through
which they passed into the narrow streets of one of the oldest towns in
Sicily. Doorways and windows of Saracen or Norman construction faced
them on every side, and every inch of the ancient buildings was
picturesque and charming.
Some of the houses had been turned into shops, mostly for the sale of
curios. Uncle John and his nieces had scarcely passed a hundred yards
into the town when one of these shops arrested their attention. It was
full of antique jewelry, antique furniture, antique laces and antique
pottery--all of the most fascinating description. The jewelry was
tarnished and broken, the lace had holes in it and the furniture was
decrepit and unsteady; but the proprietor cared nothing for such
defects. All was very old, and he knew the tourist was eager to buy. So
he scattered his wares inside and outside his salesroom, much as the
spider spreads his web for the unwary, and waited for the inevitable
tourist with a desire to acquire something ancient and useless.
The girls could not be induced to pass the shop. They entered the
square, low room and flooded the shopman with eager questions.
Notwithstanding Frascatti's assertion that few in Taormina could speak
English, this man was quite intelligible and fixed his prices according
to the impression his wares made upon the artistic sense of the young
It was while they were intently inspecting some laces that the
proprietor suddenly paused in his chatter, removed his hat and bowed
almost to the floor, his face assuming at the same time a serious and
most humble expression.
Turning around they saw standing outside the door a man whom they
recognized at once as their fellow passenger aboard the "Princess
"Oh, Signor Valdi!" cried Patsy, running toward him, "how strange to
find you again in this out-of-the-way place."
The Italian frowned, but in a dignified manner took the hand of all
three girls in turn and then bowed a greeting to Mr. Merrick.
Uncle John thought the fellow had improved in appearance. Instead of the
flannel shirt and Prince Albert coat he had affected on shipboard he now
wore a native costume of faded velvet, while a cloak of thin but
voluminous cloth swung from his shoulders, and a soft felt hat shaded
his dark eyes.
His appearance was entirely in keeping with the place, and the American
noticed that the villagers who passed doffed their hats most
respectfully to this seemingly well-known individual. But mingled with
their polite deference was a shyness half fearful, and none stopped to
speak but hurried silently on.
"And how do we happen to find you here, Signor Valdi?" Patsy was
saying. "Do you live in Taormina?"
"I am of this district, but not of Taormina," he replied. "It is chance
that you see me here. Eh, Signor Bruggi, is it not so?" casting one of
his characteristic fierce glances at the shopkeeper.
"It is so, your excellency."
"But I am glad you have come to the shadow of Etna," he continued,
addressing the Americans with slow deliberation. "Here the grandeur of
the world centers, and life keeps time with Nature. You will like it?
You will stay?"
"Oh, for a time, anyway," said Patsy.
"We expect to meet some friends here," explained Uncle John. "They are
coming down from Palermo, but must have been delayed somewhere on the
"Who are they?" asked Valdi, brusquely.
"Americans, of course; Silas Watson and Kenneth Forbes. Do you know of
"No," said the other. He cast an uneasy glance up and down the street.
"I will meet you again, signorini," he added. "Which is your hotel?"
"The Castello-a-Mare. It is delightful," said Beth.
He nodded, as if pleased. Then, folding his cloak about him, he murmured
"adios!" and stalked away without another word or look.
"Queer fellow," remarked Uncle John.
The shopkeeper drew a long breath and seemed relieved.
"Il Duca is unusual, signore," he replied.
"Duke!" cried the girls, in one voice.
The man seemed startled.
"I--I thought you knew him; you seemed friends," he stammered.
"We met Signor Valdi on shipboard," said Uncle John.
"Valdi? Ah, yes; of course; the duke has been to America."
"Isn't his name Valdi?" asked Beth, looking the man straight in the
eyes. "Has he another name here, where he lives?"
The shopman hesitated.
"Who knows?" was the evasive reply. "Il Duca has many names, but we do
not speak them. When it is necessary to mention him we use his
"Why?" asked the girl.
"Why, signorina? Why? Perhaps because he does not like to be talked
about. Yes; that is it, I am sure."
"Where does he live?" asked Patsy.
The man seemed uneasy under so much questioning.
"Somewhere in the mountains," he said, briefly. "His estates are there.
He is said to be very rich and powerful. I know nothing more,
Realizing that little additional information could be gleaned from this
source they soon left the shop and wandered into the Piazzo Vittorio
Emanuele, and from thence by the narrow lane to the famous Teatro Greco.
For a time they admired this fascinating ruin, which has the best
preserved stage of any Greek theatre now in existence. From the top of
the hill is one of the most magnificent views in Sicily, and here our
travellers sat in contemplative awe until Uncle John declared it was
time to return to their hotel for luncheon.
As they passed the portiere's desk Mr. Merrick paused to ask that
"Tell me, if you please, who is Signor Victor Valdi?"
"Yes; the Duke di Valdi, I suppose you call him."
"I have never heard of him," replied the man.
"But every one seems to know him in Taormina."
"Is it so? We have but one duke near to us, and he--. But never mind. I
do not know this Valdi."
"A thin faced man, with black eyes. We met him on the steamer coming
The portiere dropped his eyes and turned toward his desk.
"Luncheon is served, signore," he remarked. "Also, here is a letter for
you, which arrived this morning."
Uncle John took the letter and walked on to rejoin the girls.
"It seems hard work to find out anything about this Valdi," he said.
"Either the folks here do not know him, or they won't acknowledge his
acquaintance. We may as well follow suit, and avoid him."
"I don't like his looks a bit," observed Beth. "He seems afraid and
defiant at the same time, and his temper is dreadful. It was only with
great difficulty he could bring himself to be polite to us."
"Oh, I always got along with him all right," said Patsy. "I'm sure
Signor Valdi isn't as bad as he appears. And he's a duke, too, girls--a
"So it seems," Uncle John rejoined; "yet there is something queer about
the fellow, I agree with Beth; I don't like him."
"Did Mr. Watson say when he would join us here?" enquired Louise, when
they were seated at the little round table.
"No; but here's a letter from him. I'd quite forgotten it."
He tore open the envelope and carefully read the enclosure.
"Too bad," said he. "We might have stayed a few days in Messina. Watson
says he and Kenneth have stopped at Girgenti--wherever that is--to study
the temples. Wonder if they're Solomon's? They won't get to Taormina
"It won't matter," declared Patsy, "so long as they arrive then. And I'd
a good deal rather be here than in Messina, or any other place. Of
course we'll all be glad to see Kenneth."
"Mr. Watson wants us to be very careful while we are in Sicily,"
continued Uncle John, referring to the letter. "Listen to this: 'Don't
let the girls wear jewelry in public places, or display their watches
openly; and take care, all of you, not to show much money. If you buy
anything, have it sent to your hotel to be paid for by the hall porter.
And it is wise not to let anyone know who you are or how long you intend
to remain in any one place. This may strike you as an absurd precaution;
but you must remember that you are not in America, but in an isolated
Italian province, where government control is inefficient. The truth is
that the terrible Mafia is still all powerful on this island, and
brigandage is by no means confined to the neighborhood of
Castrogiovanni, as the guide books would have you believe. The people
seem simple and harmless enough, but Kenneth and I always keep our
revolvers handy, and believe it is a reasonable precaution. I don't want
to frighten you, John; merely to warn you. Sicily is full of tourists,
and few are ever molested; but if you are aware of the conditions
underlying the public serenity you are not so liable to run yourself and
your nieces into needless dangers.' How's that for a hair-curler,
"It sounds very romantic," said Louise, smiling. "Mr. Watson is such a
"But it's all rubbish about there being danger in Taormina," declared
Patsy, indignantly. "Mr. Watson has been in the wilds of the interior,
which Baedecker admits is infested with brigands. Here everyone smiles
at us in the friendliest way possible."
"Except the duke," added Beth, with a laugh.
"Oh, the duke is sour by nature," Patsy answered; "but if there really
was danger, I'm sure he'd protect us, for he lives here and knows the
"You are sure of a lot of things, dear," said her cousin, smiling. "But
it will do no harm to heed the advice, and be careful."
They all agreed to that, and Uncle John was glad to remember he had two
brand new revolvers in the bottom of his trunk, which he could use in an
emergency if he could manage to find the cartridges to load them with.
He got them out next morning, and warned his nieces not to touch the
dangerous things when they entered his room. But Patsy laughed at him,
"You are behind the times, Uncle. Beth has carried a revolver ever since
"Beth!" he cried, horrified.
"Just as a precaution," said that young lady, demurely.
"But you're only a child!"
"Even so, Uncle, I have been taught to shoot in Cloverton, as a part of
my education. Once I won a medal--think of that! So I brought my pet
revolver along, although I may never have need to use it."
Uncle John looked thoughtful.
"It doesn't seem like a girlish accomplishment, exactly," he mused.
"When I was young and went into the West, the times were a bit
unsettled, and I used to carry a popgun myself. But I never shot at a
human being in my life. There were women in the camps that could shoot,
too; but the safest place was always in front of them. If Beth has won a
medal, though, she might hit something."
"Don't try, Beth," said Louise; "you ought to make a hit without
"Thank you, dear."
As they left their hotel for a walk they came upon Count Ferralti, who
was standing in the court calmly smoking a cigarette. His right hand was
still in a sling.
No one was greatly surprised at his appearance, but Uncle John uttered
an exclamation of impatience. It annoyed him that this fellow, whose
antecedents were decidedly cloudy, should be "chasing around" after one
of his nieces, Beth and Patsy smiled at each other significantly as the
young man was discovered, but Louise, with a slight blush, advanced to
greet Ferralti in her usual pleasant and cordial way.
There was no use resenting the intrusion. They owed a certain
consideration to this boyish Italian for his assistance on the Amalfi
road. But Uncle John almost wished he had left them to escape as best
they might, for the obligation was getting to be decidedly onerous.
While Ferralti was expressing his astonishment at so "unexpectedly"
meeting again his American friends, Uncle John discovered their English
speaking cocchiere, Frascatti Vietri, lolling half asleep on the box of
"Would your energy like to drive us this morning?" he asked.
"It is my duty, signore, if you wish to go," was the reply.
"Then you are engaged. Come, girls; hop in, if you want to ride."
The three nieces and Uncle John just filled the victoria. The count was
disconsolate at being so cleverly dropped from the party, but could
only flourish his hat and wish them a pleasant drive.
They descended the winding road to the coast, where Frascatti took the
highway to Sant' Alessio, a charming drive leading to the Taormina Pass.
"By the way," Uncle John asked the driver, "do you know of a duke that
lives in this neighborhood?"
The laughing face of the Sicilian suddenly turned grave.
"No, signore. There is the Prince di Scaletta; but no duke on this side
"But on the other side?"
"Oh; in the mountains? To be sure there are noblemen there; old estates
almost forgotten in our great civilization of to-day. We are very
progressive in Taormina, signore. There will be a fountain of the ice
cream soda established next summer. Quite metropolitan, ne c'e?"
"Quite. But, tell me, Frascatti, have you a duke in the mountains back
"Signore, I beg you to pay no attention to the foolish stories you may
hear from our peasants. There has been no brigandage here for
centuries. I assure you the country is perfectionly safe--especial if
you stay within the town or take me on your drives. They know me,
signore, and even Il Duca dares not trifle with my friends."
"Why should he, Frascatti, if there is no brigandage? Is it the Mafia?"
"Ah, I have heard that Mafia spoken of, but mostly when I lived in
America, which is Chicago. Here we do not know of the Mafia."
"But you advise us to be careful?"
"Everywhere, illustrissimo signore, it is well to be what you call the
circumspection. I remember that in the State street of Chicago, which is
America, peaceful citizens were often killed by bandits. Eh, is it not
"Quite probable," said Uncle John, soberly.
"Then, what will you? Are we worse than Americans, that you fear us?
Never mind Il Duca, or the tales they foolishly whisper of him. Here you
may be as safe and happy as in Chicago--which is America."
He turned to his horses and urged them up a slope. The girls and Uncle
John eyed one another enquiringly.
"Our duke seems to bear no good reputation," said Beth, in a tone so low
that Frascatti could not overhear. "Everyone fears to speak of him."
"Singular," said Uncle John, "that Patsy's friend turns out to be a
mystery, even in his own home. I wonder if he is a leader of the Mafia,
or just a common brigand?"
"In either case," said Patsy, "he will not care to injure us, I am sure.
We all treated him very nicely, and I just made him talk and be
sociable, whether he wanted to or not. That ought to count for something
in our favor. But my opinion is that he's just a gruff old nobleman who
lives in the hills and makes few friends."
"And hasn't a name, any more than Louise's count has. Is it customary,
my dear, for all Italian noblemen to conceal their identity?"
"I do not know, Uncle," answered Louise, casting down her eyes.
UNCLE JOHN DISAPPEARS
Uncle John grew to love Taormina. Its wildness and ruggedness somehow
reminded him of the Rockies in the old pioneer days, and he wandered
through all the lanes of the quaint old town until he knew every cornice
and cobblestone familiarly, and the women who sat weaving or mending
before their squalid but picturesque hovels all nodded a greeting to the
cheery little American as he passed by.
He climbed Malo, too, a high peak crowned by a ruined castle; and also
Mt. Venere, on the plateau of which an ancient city had once stood. His
walking tours did him good, and frequently while the girls lay stretched
upon the grass that lined the theatre enclosure, to idle the time or
read or write enthusiastic letters home, Uncle John, scorning such
laziness, would take his stick and climb mountains, or follow the rough
paths that diverged from the highway just beyond the Catania Gate.
The tax gatherer whose tiny office was just inside the gate came to know
the little gentleman very well, and although he could speak no English
he would bob his grizzled head and murmur: "Buon giorno, signore!" as
the stranger passed out on his daily stroll.
One afternoon Mr. Merrick went down the hill path leading from the
Castello-a-Mare to Capo di San Andrea, and as he passed around a narrow
ledge of rock came full upon two men seated upon a flat stone. One was
Valdi and the other Ferralti, and they seemed engaged in earnest
conversation when he interrupted them. The Count smiled frankly and
doffed his hat; the Duke frowned grimly, but also nodded.
Uncle John passed on. The path was wild and little frequented. He felt
in his side pocket and grasped the handle of his revolver; but there was
no attempt to follow or molest him. Nevertheless, when he returned from
the beach he came up the longer winding roadway and was glad of the
company of a ragged goatherd who, having no English, entertained "Il
Signore" by singing ditties as he drove his goats before him.
The misgivings Uncle John had originally conceived concerning Count
Ferralti returned in full force with this incident; but he resolved to
say nothing of it to his nieces. Silas Watson would be with them in a
couple of days more and he would consult the shrewd lawyer before he
took any decisive action.
Next morning after breakfast he left his nieces in the garden and said
he would take a walk through the town and along the highway west, toward
"I'll be back in an hour or so," he remarked, "for I have some letters
to write and I want them to catch the noon mail."
So the girls sat on the terrace overlooking the sea and Etna, and
breathed the sweet air and enjoyed the caressing sunshine, until they
noticed the portiere coming hastily toward them.
"Pardon, signorini," he said, breathlessly, "but it will be to oblige me
greatly if you will tell me where Signor Ferralti is."
"He is not of our party," answered Patsy, promptly; but Louise looked up
as if startled, and said: "I have been expecting him to join us here."
"Then you do not know?" exclaimed the portiere, in an anxious tone.
"Know what, sir?" asked the girl.
"That Signor Ferralti is gone. He has not been seen by any after last
evening. He did not occupy his room. But worse, far worse, will I break
you the news gently--his baggage is gone with him!"
"His baggage gone!" echoed Louise, greatly disturbed. "And he did not
tell you? You did not see him go?"
"Alas, no, signorina. His bill is still unsettled. He possessed two
large travelling cases, which must have been carried out at the side
entrance with stealth most deplorable. The padrone is worried. Signor
Ferralti is American, and Americans seldom treat us wrongfully."
"Signor Ferralti is Italian," answered Louise, stiffly.
"The name is Italian, perhaps; but he speaks only the English," declared
"He is not a rogue, however. Assure your master of that fact. When Mr.
Merrick returns he will settle Count Ferralti's bill."
"Oh, Louise!" gasped Patsy.
"I don't understand it in the least," continued Louise, looking at her
cousins as if she were really bewildered. "I left him in the courtyard
last evening to finish his cigar, and he said he would meet us in the
garden after breakfast. I am sure he had no intention of going away. And
for the honor of American travellers his account here must be taken care
"One thing is singular," observed Beth, calmly. "There has been no train
since last you saw him. If Count Ferralti has left the hotel, where
could he be?"
The portiere brightened.
"Gia s'intende!" he exclaimed, "he must still be in
Taormina--doubtless at some other hotel."
"Will you send and find out?" asked Louise.
"I will go myself, and at once," he answered. "And thank you,
signorina, for the kind assurance regarding the account. It will relieve
the padrone very much."
He hurried away again, and an uneasy silence fell upon the nieces.
"Do you care for this young man. Louise?" asked Beth, pointedly, after
the pause had become awkward.
"He is very attentive and gentlemanly, and I feel you have all wronged
him by your unjust suspicions," she replied, with spirit.
"That does not answer my question, dear," persisted her cousin. "Are you
especially fond of him?"
"What right have you to question me in this way, Beth?"
"No right at all, dear. I am only trying to figure out our doubtful
position in regard to this young man--a stranger to all of us but you."
"It is really none of our business," observed Patsy, quickly. "We're
just a lot of gossips to be figuring on Count Ferralti at all. And
although this sudden disappearance looks queer, on the face of it, the
gentleman may simply have changed his boarding place."
"I do not think so," said Louise. "He liked this hotel very much."
"And he may have liked some of its guests," added Patsy, smiling. "Well,
Uncle John will soon be back, and then we will talk it over with him."
Uncle John was late. The portiere returned first. He had been to every
hotel in the little town, but none of them had received a guest since
the afternoon train of yesterday. Count Ferralti had disappeared as if
by magic, and no one could account for it.
Noon arrived, but no Uncle John. The girls became dispirited and
anxious, for the little man was usually very prompt in keeping his
engagements, and always had returned at the set time.
They waited until the last moment and then entered the salle a manger
and ate their luncheon in gloomy silence, hoping every moment to hear
the sound of their uncle's familiar tread.
After luncheon they held a hurried consultation and decided to go into
town and search for him. So away they trooped, asking eager questions
in their uncertain Italian but receiving no satisfactory reply until
they reached the little office of the tax gatherer at the Catania Gate.
"Ah, si, signorini mia," he answered, cheerfully, "il poco signore
passato da stamattini."
But he had not returned?
They looked at one another blankly.
"See here," said Patsy; "Uncle John must have lost his way or met with
an accident. You go back to the hotel, Louise, and wait there in case he
returns home another way. Beth and I will follow some of these paths and
see if we can find him."
"He may have sprained an ankle, and be unable to walk," suggested Beth.
"I think Patsy's advice is good."
So Louise returned through the town and the other girls began exploring
the paths that led into the mountains from every turn of the highway.
But although they searched eagerly and followed each path a mile or more
of its length, no sign of life did they encounter--much less a sight of
their missing uncle. The paths were wild and unfrequented, only on the
Catania road itself a peasant now and then being found patiently
trudging along or driving before him a donkey laden with panniers of
oranges or lemons for the markets of Taormina.
On some of the solitary rocky paths they called to Uncle John by name,
hoping that their voices might reach him; but only the echoes replied.
Finally they grew discouraged.
"It will be sunset before we get back, even if we start this minute,"
said Beth, finally. "Let us return, and get some one to help us."
Patsy burst into tears.
"Oh, I'm sure he's lost, or murdered, or kidnapped!" she wailed. "Dear,
dear Uncle John! Whatever shall we do, Beth?"
"Why, he may be at home, waiting for us to get back. Don't give way,
Patsy; it will do no good, you know."
They were thoroughly tired when, just at sunset, they reached the hotel.
Louise came to meet them, and by the question in her eyes they knew
their uncle had not returned.
"Something must be done, and at once," said Beth, decidedly. She was the
younger of the three girls, but in this emergency took the lead because
of her calm and unruffled disposition and native good sense. "Is
Frascatti in the courtyard?"
Patsy ran to see, and soon brought the vetturino into their sitting
room. He could speak English and knew the neighborhood thoroughly. He
ought to be able to advise them.
Frascatti listened intently to their story. He was very evidently
"Tell me, then, signorini," he said, thoughtfully; "is Senor Merreek
"Why do you ask?" returned Beth, suspiciously. She remembered the
warning conveyed in Mr. Watson's letter.
"Of course, I know that all the Americans who travel are rich,"
continued Frascatti. "I have myself been in Chicago, which is America.
But is Signor Merreek a very rich and well acquainted man in his own
country? Believe me, it is well that you answer truly."
"I think he is."
The man looked cautiously around, and then came nearer and dropped his
voice to a whisper.
"Are you aware that Il Duca knows this?" he asked.
Beth thought a moment.
"We met the man you call Il Duca, but who told us he was Signor Victor
Valdi, on board the ship, where many of the passengers knew my uncle
well. If he listened to their conversation he would soon know all about
John Merrick, of course."
Frascatti wagged his head solemnly.
"Then, signorina," he said, still speaking very softly, "I assure you
there is no need to worry over your uncle's safety."
"What do you mean?" demanded Beth.
"People do not lose their way in our mountains," he replied. "The paths
are straight, and lead all to the highways. And there is little danger
of falling or of being injured. But--I regret to say it, signorini--it
is a reflection upon our advanced civilization and the good name of our
people--but sometimes a man who is rich disappears for a time, and no
one knows how it is, or where he may be. He always returns; but then he
is not so rich."
"I understand. My uncle is captured by brigands, you think."
"There are no brigands, signorina."
"Or the Mafia, then."
"I do not know the Mafia. All I know is that the very rich should keep
their riches secret when they travel. In Chicago, which is America, they
will knock you upon the head for a few miserable dollars; here my
countrymen scorn to attack or to rob the common people. But when a man
is so very rich that he does not need all of his money, there are, I
regret to say, some lawless ones in Sicily who insist that he divide
with them. But the prisoner is always well treated, and when he pays he
is sent away very happy."
"Suppose he does not pay?"
"Ah, signorina, will not a drowning man clutch the raft that floats by?
And the lawless ones do not take his all--merely a part."
The girls looked at one another helplessly.
"What must we do, Frascatti?" asked Patsy.
"Wait. In a day--two days, perhaps--you will hear from your uncle. He
will tell you how to send money to the lawless ones. You will follow his
instructions, and he will come home with smiles and singing. I know. It
is very regrettable, but it is so."
"It will not be so in this case," said Beth, indignantly. "I will see
the American consul--"
"I am sorry, but there is none here."
"I will telegraph to Messina for the military. They will search the
mountains, and bring your brigands to justice."
Frascatti smiled sadly.
"Oh, yes; perhaps they will come. But the military is Italian--not
Sicilian--and has no experience in these parts. The search will find
nothing, except perhaps a dead body thrown upon the rocks to defy
justice. It is very regrettable, signorina; but it is so."
Patsy was wringing her hands, frantic with terror. Louise was white and
staring. Beth puckered her pretty brow in a frown and tried to think.
"Ferralti is also gone," murmured Louise, in a hoarse voice. "They will
rob or murder him with Uncle John!"
"I am quite convinced," said Beth, coldly, "that your false count is a
fellow conspirator of the brigand called Il Duca. He has been following
us around to get a chance to ensnare Uncle John."
"Oh, no, no, Beth! It is not so! I know better than that."
"He would lie to you, of course," returned the girl bitterly. "As soon
as the trap was set he disappeared, bag and baggage, and left the simple
girl he had fooled to her own devices."
"You do not know what you are saying," retorted Louise, turning her back
to Beth and walking to a window. From where they stood they could hear
her sobbing miserably.
"Whether Frascatti is right or not," said Patsy, drying her eyes and
trying to be brave, "we ought to search for Uncle John at once."
"I think so, too," agreed Beth. Then, turning to the Sicilian, she said:
"Will you get together as many men as possible and search the hills,
with lanterns, for my uncle? You shall be well paid for all you do."
"Most certainly, signorina, if it will please you," he replied. "How
long do you wish us to search?"
"Until you find him."
"Then must we grow old in your service. Non fa niente! It is
"Will you go at once?" stamping her foot angrily.
"Most certainly, signorina."
"Then lose no time. I will go with you and see you start."
She followed the man out, and kept at his side until he had secured
several servants with lanterns for the search. The promise of high
caparra or earnest money made all eager to join the band, but the
padrone could only allow a half dozen to leave their stations at the
hotel. In the town, however, whither Beth accompanied them, a score of
sleepy looking fellows were speedily secured, and under the command of
Frascatti, who had resolved to earn his money by energy and good will
because there was no chance of success, they marched out of the Catania
Gate and scattered along the mountain paths.
"If you find Uncle John before morning I will give you a thousand lira
additional," promised Beth.
"We will search faithfully," replied her captain, "but the signorina
must not be disappointed if the lawless ones evade us. They have a way
of hiding close in the caves, where none may find them. It is
regrettable, very; but it is so."
Then he followed his men to the mountains, and as the last glimmer from
his lantern died away the girl sighed heavily and returned alone through
the deserted streets to the hotel.
Clouds hid the moon and the night was black and forbidding; but it did
not occur to her to be afraid.
DAYS OF ANXIETY
Uncle John's nieces passed a miserable night. Patsy stole into his room
and prayed fervently beside his bed that her dear uncle might be
preserved and restored to them in health and safety. Beth, meantime,
paced the room she shared with Patsy with knitted brows and flashing
eyes, the flush in her cheeks growing deeper as her anger increased. An
ungovernable temper was the girl's worst failing; the abductors of her
uncle were arousing in her the most violent passions of which she was
capable, and might lead her to adopt desperate measures. She was only a
country girl, and little experienced in life, yet Beth might be expected
to undertake extraordinary things if, as she expressed it, if she "got
good and mad!"
No sound was heard during the night from the room occupied by Louise,
but the morning disclosed a white, drawn face and reddened eyelids as
proof that she had rested as little as her cousins.
Yet, singularly enough, Louise was the most composed of the three when
they gathered in the little sitting room at daybreak, and tried
earnestly to cheer the spirits of her cousins. Louise never conveyed the
impression of being especially sincere, but the pleasant words and
manners she habitually assumed rendered her an agreeable companion, and
this faculty of masking her real feelings now stood her in good stead
and served to relieve the weight of anxiety that oppressed them all.
Frascatti came limping back with his tired followers in the early dawn,
and reported that no trace of the missing man had been observed. There
were no brigands and no Mafia; on that point all his fellow townsmen
agreed with him fully. But it was barely possible some lawless ones who
were all unknown to the honest Taorminians had made the rich American a
Il Duca? Oh, no, signorini! A thousand times, no. Il Duca was queer and
unsociable, but not lawless. He was of noble family and a native of the
district. It would be very wrong and foolish to question Il Duca's
With this assertion Frascatti went to bed. He had not shirked the
search, because he was paid for it, and he and his men had tramped the
mountains faithfully all night, well knowing it would result in nothing
but earning their money.
On the morning train from Catania arrived Silas Watson and his young
ward Kenneth Forbes, the boy who had so unexpectedly inherited Aunt
Jane's fine estate of Elmhurst on her death. The discovery of a will
which gave to Kenneth all the property their aunt had intended for her
nieces had not caused the slightest estrangement between the young
folks, then or afterward. On the contrary, the girls were all glad that
the gloomy, neglected boy, with his artistic, high-strung temperament,
would be so well provided for. Without the inheritance he would have
been an outcast; now he was able to travel with his guardian, the kindly
old Elmhurst lawyer, and fit himself for his future important position
in the world. More than all this, however, Kenneth had resolved to be a
great landscape painter, and Italy and Sicily had done much, in the past
year, to prepare him for this career.
The boy greeted his old friends with eager delight, not noticing for the
moment their anxious faces and perturbed demeanor. But the lawyer's
sharp eyes saw at once that something was wrong.
"Where is John Merrick?" he asked.
"Oh, I'm so glad you've come!" cried Patsy, clinging to his hand.
"We are in sore straits, indeed, Mr. Watson," said Louise.
"Uncle John is lost," explained Beth, "and we're afraid he is in the
hands of brigands."
Then she related as calmly as she could all that had happened. The
relation was clear and concise. She told of their meeting with Valdi on
the ship, of Count Ferralti's persistence in attaching himself to their
party, and of Uncle John's discovery that the young man was posing under
an assumed name. She did not fail to mention Ferralti's timely
assistance on the Amalfi drive, or his subsequent devoted attentions to
Louise; but the latter Beth considered merely as an excuse for following
"In my opinion," said she, "we have been watched ever since we left
America, by these two spies, who had resolved to get Uncle John into
some unfrequented place and then rob him. If they succeed in their vile
plot, Mr. Watson, we shall be humiliated and disgraced forever."
"Tut-tut," said he; "don't think of that. Let us consider John Merrick,
and nothing else."
Louise protested that Beth had not been fair in her conclusions. The
Count was an honorable man; she would vouch for his character herself.
But Mr. Watson did not heed this defense. The matter was very
serious--how serious he alone realized--and his face was grave indeed as
he listened to the descriptions of that terrible Il Duca whom the
natives all shrank from and refused to discuss.
When he had learned all the nieces had to tell he hastened into the town
and telegraphed the American consul at Messina. Then he found the
questura, or police office, and was assured by the officer in attendance
that the disappearance of Mr. Merrick was already known to the
authorities and every effort was being made to find him.
"Do you think he has been abducted by brigands?" asked the lawyer.
"Brigands, signore?" was the astonished reply. "There are no brigands in
this district at all. We drove them out many years ago."
"How about Il Duca?"
"And who is that, signore?"
"Don't you know?"
"I assure you we have no official knowledge of such a person. There are
dukes in Sicily, to be sure; but 'Il Duca' means nothing. Perhaps you
can tell me to whom you refer?"
"See here," said the lawyer, brusquely; "I know your methods, questore
mia, but they won't prove effective in this case. If you think an
American is helpless in this country you are very much mistaken. But, to
save time, I am willing to submit to your official requirements. I will
pay you well for the rescue of my friend."
"All shall be done that is possible."
"But if you do not find him at once, and return him to us unharmed, I
will have a regiment of soldiers in Taormina to search your mountains
and break up the bands of brigands that infest them. When I prove that
brigands are here and that you were not aware of them, you will be
disgraced and deposed from your office."
The official shrugged his shoulders, a gesture in which the Sicilian is
as expert as the Frenchman.
"I will welcome the soldiery," said he; "but you will be able to prove
nothing. The offer of a reward may accomplish more--if it is great
enough to be interesting."
"How great is that?"
"Can I value your friend? You must name the reward yourself. But even
then I can promise nothing. In the course of our duty every effort is
now being made to find the missing American. But we work in the dark, as
you know. Your friend may be a suicide; he may have lost his mind and
wandered into the wilderness; he may have committed some crime and
absconded. How do I know? You say he is missing, but that is no reason
the brigands have him, even did brigands exist, which I doubt. Rest
assured, signore, that rigid search will be made. It is my boast that I
leave no duty unfulfilled."
Mr. Watson walked back to the telegraph office and found an answer to
his message. The American consul was ill and had gone to Naples for
treatment. When he returned, his clerk stated, the matter of the
disappearance of John Merrick would immediately be investigated.
Feeling extremely helpless and more fearful for his friend than before,
the lawyer returned to the hotel for a conference with the nieces.
"How much of a reward shall I offer?" he asked. "That seems to be the
only thing that can be depended upon to secure results."
"Give them a million--Uncle John won't mind," cried Patsy, earnestly.
"Don't give them a penny, sir," said Beth. "If they are holding him for
a ransom Uncle is in no personal danger, and we have no right to assist
in robbing him."
"But you don't understand, my dear," asserted the lawyer. "These
brigands never let a victim go free unless they are well paid. That is
why they are so often successful. If John Merrick is not ransomed he
will never again be heard of."
"But this is not a ransom, sir. You propose to offer a reward to the
"Let me explain. The ways of the Italian police are very intricate. They
know of no brigandage here, and cannot find a brigand. But if the reward
is great enough to divide, they know where to offer a share of it, in
lieu of a ransom, and will force the brigands to accept it. In that way
the police gets the glory of a rescue and a share of the spoils. If we
offer no reward, or an insignificant one, the brigands will be allowed
to act as they please."
"That is outrageous!" exclaimed Beth.
"Yes. The Italian government deplores it. It is trying hard to break up
a system that has existed for centuries, but has not yet succeeded."
"Then I'd prefer to deal directly with the brigands."
"So would I, if--"
"If what, sir?"
"If we were sure your uncle is in their hands. Do you think the party
you sent out last night searched thoroughly?"
"I hope so."
"I will send out more men at once. They shall search the hills in every
direction. Should they find nothing our worst fears will be confirmed,
"Well, Mr. Watson?"
"Then we must wait for the brigands to dictate the terms of a ransom,
and make the best bargain we can."
"That seems sensible," said Kenneth, and both Patsy and Louise agreed
with him, although it would be tedious waiting.
But Beth only bit her lip and frowned.
Mr. Watson's searching party was maintained all day--for two days, and
three; but without result. Then they waited for the brigands to act.
But a week dragged painfully by and no word of John Merrick's
whereabouts reached the ears of the weary watchers.
When Uncle John passed through the west gate for a tramp along the
mountain paths he was feeling in an especially happy and contented mood.
The day was bright and balmy, the air bracing, the scenery unfolded step
by step magnificent and appealing. To be in this little corner of the
old world, amid ruins antedating the Christian era, and able to wholly
forget those awful stock and market reports of Wall street, was a
privilege the old gentleman greatly appreciated.
So away he trudged, exploring this path or that leading amongst the
rugged cliffs, until finally he began to take note of his erratic
wanderings and wonder where he was. Climbing an elevated rock near the
path he poised himself upon its peak and studied the landscape spread
out beneath him.
There was a patch of sea, with the dim Calabrian coast standing sentry
behind it. The nearer coast was hidden from view, but away at the left
was a dull white streak marking the old wall of Taormina, and above this
the ruined citadel and the ancient castle of Mola--each on its separate
"I must be getting back," he thought, and sliding down the surface of
the rock he presently returned to the path from whence he had climbed.
To his surprise he found a boy standing there and looking at him with
soft brown eyes that were both beautiful and intelligent. Uncle John was
as short as he was stout, but the boy scarcely reached to his shoulder.
He was slender and agile, and clothed in a grey corduroy suit that was
better in texture than the American had seen other Sicilian youths wear.
As a rule the apparel of the children in this country seemed sadly
Yet the most attractive thing about this child was his face, which was
delicate of contour, richly tinted to harmonize with his magnificent
brown eyes, and so sensitive and expressive that it seemed able to
convey the most subtle shades of emotion. He seemed ten or twelve years
of age, but might have been much older.
As soon as the American had returned to the path the boy came toward him
in an eager, excited way, and exclaimed:
"Is it not Signor Merrick?"
The English was fluent, and only rendered softer by the foreign
"It is," said Uncle John, cheerfully. "Where did you drop from, my lad?
I thought these hills were deserted, until now."
"I am sent by a friend," answered the boy, speaking rapidly and
regarding the man with appealing glances. "He is in much trouble,
signore, and asks your aid."
"A friend? Who is it?"
"The name he gave me is Ferralti, signore. He is near to this place, in
the hills yonder, and unable to return to the town without assistance."
"Ferralti. H-m-m. Is he hurt?"
"Badly, signore; from a fall on the rocks."
"And he sent for me?"
"Yes, signore. I know you by sight--who does not?--and as I hurried
along I saw you standing on the rock. It is most fortunate. Will you
hasten to your friend, then? I will lead you to him."
Uncle John hesitated. He ought to be getting home, instead of
penetrating still farther into these rocky fastnesses. And Ferralti was
no especial friend, to claim his assistance. But then the thought
occurred that this young Italian had befriended both him and his nieces
in an extremity, and was therefore entitled to consideration when
trouble in turn overtook himself. The natural impulse of this thought
was to go to his assistance.
"All right, my lad," said he. "Lead on, and I'll see what can be done
for Ferralti. Is it far?"
"Not far, signore."
With nervous, impatient steps the child started up the narrow path and
Uncle John followed--not slowly, but scarcely fast enough to satisfy his
"What is your name, little one?"
"Where do you live?"
"Near by, signore."
"And how did you happen to find Ferralti?"
"By chance, signore."
Uncle John saved his remaining breath for the climb. He could ask
The path was in a crevasse where the rocks seemed once to have split. It
was narrow and steep, and before long ended in a cul de sac. The
little man thought they had reached their destination, then; but without
hesitation the boy climbed over a boulder and dropped into another path
on the opposite side, holding out a hand to assist the American.
Uncle John laughed at the necessity, but promptly slid his stout body
over the boulder and then paused to mop his brow.
"Much farther, Tato?"
"Just a step, signore."
"It is lucky you found Ferralti, or he might have died in these wilds
without a soul knowing he was here."
"That is true, signore."
"Well, is this the path?"
"Yes, signore. Follow me, please."
The cliffs were precipitous on both sides of them. It was another
crevasse, but not a long one. Presently the child came to a halt because
the way ended and they could proceed no farther. He leaned against the
rock and in a high-pitched, sweet voice sang part of a Sicilian ditty,
neither starting the verse nor ending it, but merely trilling out a
Uncle John regarded him wonderingly; and then, with a sudden suspicion,
"You are not playing me false, Tato?"
"I, signore?" smiling frankly into the man's eyes; "you need never fear
Tato, signore. To be your friend, and Signor Ferralti's friend, makes me
The rock he leaned against fell inward, noiselessly, and disclosed a
passage. It was short, for there was light at the other end.
The strange child darted in at once.
"This way, signore. He is here!"
Uncle John drew back. He had forgotten until now that these mountains
are dangerous. And something strange in the present proceedings, the
loneliness of the place and the elfish character of his guide, suddenly
warned him to be cautious.
"See here, my lad," he called: "I'll go no farther."
Instantly Tato was at his side again, grasping the man's hand in his
tiny brown one and searching his face with pleading eyes.
"Ah, signore, you will not fail your friend, when he is so near you and
in such great trouble? See! I who am a stranger and not even his
countryman, even I weep for the poor young man, and long to comfort him.
Do you, his friend, refuse him aid because you have fear of the wild
mountains and a poor peasant boy?"
Tears really stood in the beautiful brown eyes. They rolled down his
cheeks, as with both hands he pressed that of Uncle John and urged him
"Oh, well; lead on, Tato. I'll see the other side of your tunnel,
anyhow. But if you play me tricks, my lad--"
He paused, for a wonderful vision had opened before him. Coming through
the short passage hewn in the rocks the American stood upon a ledge
facing a most beautiful valley, that was hemmed in by precipitous cliffs
on every side. From these stern barriers of the outside world the ground
sloped gradually toward the center, where a pretty brook flowed, its
waters sparkling like diamonds in the sunlight as it tumbled over its
rocky bed. Groves of oranges and of olive, lemon and almond trees
occupied much of the vale, and on a higher point at the right, its back
to the wall of rock that towered behind it, stood a substantial yet
picturesque mansion of stone, with several outbuildings scattered on
The valley seemed, indeed, a toy kingdom sequestered from the great
outside world, yet so rich and productive within itself that it was
independent of all else.
Uncle John gazed with amazement. Who could have guessed this delightful
spot was hidden safe within the heart of the bleak, bare mountain
surrounding it? But suddenly he bethought himself.
"What place is this, Tato?" he asked; "and where is our friend
Ferralti, who needs me?"
There was no reply.
He turned around to find the boy had disappeared. Moreover, the passage
had disappeared. Only a wall of rock was behind him, and although his
eyes anxiously searched the rifts and cracks of its rough surface, no
indication of the opening through which he had passed could be
THE HIDDEN VALLEY
Uncle John's first inspiration was to sit down upon a stone to think. He
drew out his pipe and lighted it, to assist his meditations.
These were none too pleasant. That he had been cleverly entrapped, and
that by a child scarcely in its teens, was too evident to need
reflection. And what a secure trap it was! The mountains ranged all
around the valley were impossible to scale, even by an Alpine climber,
and to one who was not informed of its location the existence of the
valley itself was unimaginable.
"I had not believed Ferralti was so shrewd," he muttered, wonderingly.
"That something was wrong about the fellow I knew, of course; but I had
not suspected such a thing as this. Now, then, first of all let me mark
this spot, so that I will remember it. Just back of where I now stand is
the entrance or outlet to the tunnel through the wall. It is closed, I
suppose, by a swinging stone, like the one on the opposite side. I saw
that one opened--opened by some person concealed from view, as soon as
the boy sang his bit of song which was the signal agreed upon. And I was
fool enough, after that warning, to walk straight through the tunnel!
You're getting old, John Merrick; that's the only way I can account for
your folly. But Ferralti hasn't won the odd trick yet, and if I keep my
wits about me he isn't likely to win."
Thus ruminating, Uncle John searched the rocky wall carefully and
believed he would know the place again, although which of the rough
stones of its surface formed the doorway to the tunnel he could not
A ledge of rock served as a path leading to right and left around this
end of the valley, or "pocket" in the mountain, as it could more
properly be called. Uncle John turned to the right, striding along with
his usual deliberation, smoking his pipe and swinging his cane as he
approached the stone dwelling that formed the center of the little
settlement. As yet no sign of human life had he observed since Tato had
disappeared, although a few cows were standing in a green meadow and
some goats scrambled among the loose rocks at the further end of the
Around the house the grounds had been laid out in gardens, with flowers
and shrubbery, hedges and shade trees scattered about. Chickens clucked
and strutted along the paths and an air of restfulness and peace brooded
Uncle John was plainly mystified until he drew quite close to the
dwelling, which had many verandas and balconies and bore every evidence
of habitation. Then, to his astonishment, he beheld the form of a man
stretched lazily in a wicker chair beside the entrance, and while he
paused, hesitating, the man sat up and bowed politely to him.
"Good morning, Signor Merreek."
It was Victor Valdi, or, ignoring the fictitious name, the mysterious
personage known as "Il Duca."
"Behold my delight, Signor Merreek, to receive you in my poor home,"
continued the man. "Will you not be seated, caro amico?"
The words were soft and fair, but the dark eyes gleamed with triumph and
a sneer curled the thin lips.
"Thank you," said Uncle John; "I believe I will."
He stepped upon the veranda and sat down opposite his host.
"I came to see Count Ferralti, who is hurt, I understand," he continued.
"It is true, signore, but not badly. The poor count is injured mostly in
his mind. Presently you shall see him."
"No hurry," observed Uncle John. "Pleasant place you have here, Duke."
"It is very good of you to praise it, signore. It is my most ancient
patrimony, and quite retired and exclusive."
"So I see."
"The house you have honored by your presence, signore, was erected some
three hundred and thirty years ago, by an ancestor who loved
retirement. It has been in my family ever since. We all love
"Very desirable spot for a brigand, I'm sure," remarked the American,
puffing his pipe composedly.
"Brigand? Ah, it pleases you to have humor, signore, mia. Brigand! But I
will be frank. It is no dishonor to admit that my great ancestors of
past centuries were truly brigands, and from this quiet haven sallied
forth to do mighty deeds. They were quite famous, I am told, those olden
"I do not question it."
"Our legends tell of how my great ancestors demanded tribute of the rich
who passed through their domain--for all this end of Sicily was given to
us by Peter of Aragon, and remained in our possession until the second
Ferdinand robbed us of it. Those times were somewhat wild and barbarous,
signore, and a gentleman who protected his estates and asked tribute of
strangers was termed a brigand, and became highly respected. But now it
is different. We are civilized and meek, and ruled most lovingly by
Italy. They will tell you there is no brigandage in all Sicily."
"So I understand."
"To-day I am nobody. My very name is forgotten. Those around this
mountain know nothing of my little estate, and I am content. I desire
not glory: I desire not prominence; to live my life in seclusion, with
the occasional visit of a friend like yourself, is enough to satisfy
"You seem well known in Taormina."
"Quite a mistake, signore."
"And the natives must have climbed these peaks at times and looked down
into your secluded kingdom."
"If so, they have forgotten it."
"I give to the churches and the poor, but in secret. If I have an enemy,
he disappears--I do not know how; no one knows."
"Of course not. You are an improvement on your ancestors, Duke. Instead
of being a brigand you belong to the Mafia, and perform your robberies
and murders in security. Very clever, indeed."
"But again you are wrong, signore," replied the Duke, with a frown. "I
have never known of this Mafia, of which you speak, nor do I believe it
exists. For myself, I am no robber, but a peaceful merchant."
"A merchant?" returned Uncle John, surprised by the statement.
"To be sure. I have some ancient and very valuable relics in my
possession, treasured most carefully from the medićval days. These I
sell to my friends--who are fortunately all foreigners like yourself and
can appreciate such treasures--and so obtain for myself and my family a
"And you expect to sell something to me?" asked Uncle John,
understanding very well the Sicilian's meaning.
"It is my earnest hope, signore."
The American fell silent, thinking upon the situation. The fierce
looking brigand beside him was absurd enough, in his way, but doubtless
a dangerous man to deal with. Uncle John was greatly interested in the
adventure. It was such a sharp contrast to the hum-drum, unromantic
American life he had latterly known that he derived a certain enjoyment
from the novel experience. If the girls did not worry over his absence
he would not much regret his visit to Il Duca's secluded valley.
It was already midday, and his nieces would be expecting him to
luncheon. When he did not appear they would make enquiries, and try to
find him. It occurred to him how futile all such attempts must prove.
Even to one acquainted with the mountain paths the entrance to the
duke's domain was doubtless a secret, and the brigand had plainly hinted
that the native Sicilians were too cautious to spy upon him or molest
him in any way.
So far, the only person he had seen was Il Duca himself. The child who
had decoyed him was, of course, somewhere about, and so also was
Ferralti. How many servants or followers the brigand might have was as
yet a mystery to the new arrival.
In the side pocket of Uncle John's loose coat lay a loaded revolver,
which he had carried ever since he had received Mr. Watson's warning
letter. He had never imagined a condition of danger where he could not
use this weapon to defend himself, and as long as it remained by him he
had feared nothing. But he had been made a prisoner in so deft a manner
that he had no opportunity to expostulate or offer any sort of
resistance. Later there might be a chance to fight for his liberty, and
the only sensible action was to wait and bide his time.
"For example," the Duke was saying, in his labored, broken English, "I
have here a priceless treasure--very antique, very beautiful. It was in
one time owned by Robert the Norman, who presented it to my greatest
He drew an odd-shaped ring from his pocket and handed it to the
American. It was of dull gold and set with a half dozen flat-cut
garnets. Perhaps antique; perhaps not; but of little intrinsic value.
"This ring I have decided to sell, and it shall be yours, Signor
Merreek, at a price far less than is represented by its historic worth.
I am sure you will be glad to buy it."
"For how much?" asked Uncle John, curiously.
"A trifle; a mere hundred thousand lira."
"Twenty thousand dollars!"
"The ring of King Roger. How cheap! But, nevertheless, you shall have it
for that sum."
Uncle John smiled.
"My dear Duke," he replied, "you have made a sad mistake. I am a
comparatively poor man. My fortune is very modest."
The brigand lay back in his chair and lighted a fresh cigarette.
"I fear you undervalue yourself, my dear guest," he said. "Recently have
I returned from America, where I was told much of the wealth of Signor
John Merreek, who is many times a millionaire. See," drawing a paper
from his pocket, "here is a list of the stocks and securities you own.
Also of government and railway bonds, of real estate and of manufactures
controlled by your money. I will read, and you will correct me if an
Uncle John listened and was amazed. The schedule was complete, and its
total was many millions. It was a better list of holdings than Uncle
John possessed himself.
"You foreigners make queer mistakes, Duke," said he, taking another
tack. "This property belongs to another John Merrick. It is a common
name, and that is doubtless why you mistook me for the rich John
"I have noticed," returned the Duke, coldly, "that this strange delusion
of mind is apt to overtake my guests. But do not be alarmed; it will
pass away presently, and then you will realize that you are yourself.
Remember that I crossed the Atlantic on your steamship, signore. Many
people there on board spoke of you and pointed you out to me as the
great man of finance. Your own niece that is called Patsy, she also told
me much about you, and of your kindness to her and the other young
signorini. Before I left New York a banker of much dignity informed me
you would sail on the ship 'Princess Irene.' If a mistake has been made,
signore, it is yours, and not mine. Is your memory clearer now?"
Uncle John laughed frankly. The rascal was too clever for him to dispute
"Whoever I am," said he, "I will not buy your ring."
"I am pained," replied the brigand, lightly. "But there is ample time
for you to reflect upon the matter. Do not decide hastily, I implore
you. I may have been too liberal in making my offer, and time may assist
me in fixing a just price for the relic. But we have had enough of
business just now. It is time for our midday collation. Oblige me by
joining us, signore."
He blew a shrill whistle, and a man stepped out of a doorway. He was an
enormous Sicilian, tall, sinewy and with a countenance as dark and
fierce as his master's. In his belt was a long knife, such as is known
as a stilleto.
"Tommaso," said the Duke, "kindly show Signor Merreek to his room, and
ask Guido if luncheon is ready to be served."
"Va bene, padrone," growled the man, and turned obediently to escort
Uncle John entered the house, traversed a broad and cool passage,
mounted to the second floor and found himself in a pleasant room with a
balcony overlooking the valley. It was comfortably furnished, and with
a bow that was not without a certain grim respect the man left him alone
and tramped down the stairs again. There had been no attempt to restrain
his liberty or molest him in any way, yet he was not slow to recognize
the fact that he was a prisoner. Not in the house, perhaps, but in the
valley. There was no need to confine him more closely. He could not
He bathed his hands and face, dried them on a fresh towel, and found his
toilet table well supplied with conveniences. In the next room some one
was pacing the floor like a caged beast, growling and muttering angrily
at every step.
Uncle John listened. "The brigand seems to have more than one guest," he
thought, and smiled at the other's foolish outbursts.
Then he caught a word or two of English that made him start. He went to
the door between the two rooms and threw it open, finding himself face
to face with Count Ferralti.
GUESTS OF THE BRIGAND
"Good morning, Count," said Uncle John, cheerfully.
The other stared at him astonished.
"Good heavens! Have they got you, too?" he exclaimed.
"Why, I'm visiting his excellency, Il Duca, if that's what you mean,"
replied Mr. Merrick. "But whether he's got me, or I've got him, I
haven't yet decided."
The young man's jaw was tied in a bandage and one of his eyes was black
and discolored. He looked agitated and miserable.
"Sir, you are in grave danger; we are both in grave danger," he
announced, "unless we choose to submit to being robbed by this rascally
"Then," observed Uncle John, "let's submit."
"Never! Not in a thousand years!" cried Ferralti, wildly. And then this
singular young man sank into a chair and burst into tears.
Uncle John was puzzled. The slender youth--for he was but a youth in
spite of his thin moustaches--exhibited a queer combination of courage
and weakness; but somehow Uncle John liked him better at that moment
than he ever had before. Perhaps because he now realized he had unjustly
"You seem to have been hurt, Count," he remarked.
"Why, I was foolish enough to struggle, and that brute Tommaso pounded
me," was the reply. "You were wise to offer no resistance, sir."
"As for that, I hadn't a choice," said Uncle John, smiling. "When did
they get you, Ferralti?"
"Last evening. I walked in the garden of the hotel and they threw a sack
over my head. I resisted and tried to cry out. They beat me until I was
insensible and then brought me here, together with my travelling cases,
which they removed from my room to convey the impression that I had gone
away voluntarily. When I awakened from my swoon I was in this room,
with the doctor bending over me."
"Oh, they have a doctor in this accursed den, as well as a priest and a
lawyer. The Duke entreated my pardon. He will punish his men for abusing
me. But he holds me a safe prisoner, just the same."
"He wants a ransom. He will force me to purchase an ancient brass
candlestick for fifty thousand lira."
Uncle John looked at his companion thoughtfully.
"Tell me, Count Ferralti," he said, "who you really are. I had believed
you were Il Duca's accomplice, until now. But if he has trapped you, and
demands a ransom, it is because you are a person of some consequence,
and able to pay. May I not know as much about your position in life as
does this brigand duke?"
The young man hesitated. Then he spread out his hands with an appealing
gesture and said:
"Not yet, Mr. Merrick! Do not press me now, I implore you. Perhaps I
have done wrong to try to deceive you, but in good time I will explain
everything, and then you will understand me better."
"You are no count."
"That is true, Mr. Merrick."
"You are not even an Italian."
"That is but partly true, sir."
"You have seen fit to deceive us by--"
Tommaso threw wide the door.
"Il dejuné é servito," he said gruffly.
"What does that mean?" asked Uncle John.
"Luncheon is ready. Shall we go down?"
"Yes; I'm hungry."
They followed the man to the lower floor, where he ushered them into a
low, cool room where a long table was set. The walls were whitewashed
and bore some religious prints, gaudily colored. A white cloth covered
the table, which was well furnished with modern crockery and glass, and
At the head of the table were two throne-like chairs, one slightly
larger and more elevated than the other. In the more important seat was
a withered old woman with a face like that of a mummy, except that it
was supplied with two small but piercing jet eyes that seemed very much
alive as they turned shrewdly upon the strangers. She was the only one
of the company they found seated. The Duke stood behind the smaller
chair beside her, and motioned the Americans to occupy two places at the
side of the table next him. Opposite them, in the places adjoining the
elevated dais, were two remarkable individuals whom Uncle John saw for
the first time. One was a Cappuccin monk, with shaven crown and coarse
cassock fastened at the waist by a cord. He was blind in one eye and the
lid of the other drooped so as to expose only a thin slit. Fat, awkward
and unkempt, he stood holding to the back of his chair and swaying
slightly from side to side. Next to him was a dandified appearing man
who was very slight and thin of form but affected the dress and manners
of extreme youth. Ferralti whispered to Uncle John that this was the
The table dropped a step in heighth from these places, and the balance
of its length was occupied by several stalwart Sicilians, clothed in
ordinary peasant costume, and a few silent, heavy-featured women. Tato
was not present.
"Signori," said the Duke to the Americans, "allow me to present you to
my mother, the head of our illustrious family; one who is known, admired
and feared throughout Sicily as her Excellenza la Duchessa d'Alcanta."
With the words the Duke bowed low to the old woman. Uncle John and
Ferralti also bowed low. The lines of servitors humbly bent themselves
double. But the Duchessa made no acknowledgment. Her bead like eyes
searched the faces of the "guests" with disconcerting boldness, and then
dropped to her plate.
At this signal the fat priest mumbled a blessing upon the food, the Duke
waved his hand, and all the company became seated.
Uncle John felt as if he were taking part in a comic opera, and enjoyed
the scene immensely. But now his attention was distracted by the
stewards bringing in steaming platters of macaroni and stewed mutton,
from which they first served the Duchessa, and then the Duke, and
afterward the guests. The servants waited hungry-eyed until these
formalities were completed, and then swept the platters clean and ate
Uncle John plied his knife and fork busily and found the food
excellently prepared. Ferralti seemed to have little appetite. Some of
his teeth had been knocked out and his broken wrist, which had but
partially healed, had been wrenched in the scrimmage of the night before
so that it caused him considerable pain.
The Duke attempted little conversation, doubtless through deference to
the aged Duchessa, who remained absolutely silent and unresponsive to
her surroundings. He praised his wine, however, which he said was from
their own vineyards, and pressed the Americans to drink freely.
When she had finished her meal the Duchessa raised a hand, and at the
signal the whole company arose and stood at their places while two of
the women assisted her to retire. She leaned upon their shoulders, being
taller than her son, but displayed surprising vigor for one so advanced
When she had gone the others finished at their leisure, and the
conversation became general, the servants babbling in their voluble
Italian without any restraint whatever.
Then the Duke led his prisoners to the veranda and offered them cigars.
These were brought by Tato, who then sat in the duke's lap and curled up
affectionately in his embrace, while the brigand's expression softened
and he stroked the boy's head with a tender motion.
Uncle John watched the little scene approvingly. It was the first time
he had seen Tato since the child had lured him through the tunnel.
"Your son, Duke?" he asked.
"Yes, signore; my only child. The heir to my modest estate."
"And a very good brigand, already, for his years," added Mr. Merrick.
"Ah, Tato, Tato," shaking his head at the child, "how could you be so
cruel as to fool an innocent old chap like me?"
"I did not deceive you, signore. You but misunderstood me. I said
Signor Ferralti was hurt, and so he was."
"But you said he needed my assistance."
"Does he not, signore?"
"How do you speak such good English?"
"Father Antoine taught me."
"My child is a linguist," remarked the Duke, complacently. "Sh--he has
been taught English, German and French, even from the days of infancy.
It is very good for me, for now Tato can entertain my guests."
"Have you no Italian guests, then?" asked Uncle John.
"No, since Italy owns Sicily, and I am a loyal subject. Neither have I
many Germans or Frenchmen, although a few wander my way, now and then.
But the Americans I love, and often they visit me. There were three last
year, and now here are two more to honor me with their presence."
"The Americans make easier victims, I suppose."
"Oh, the Americans are very rich, and they purchase my wares liberally.
By the way, Signor Ferralti," turning to the young man, "have you
decided yet the little matter of your own purchase?"
"I will not buy your candlestick, if that is what you refer to," was the
"By no means. Fifty thousand lira, for a miserable bit of brass!"
"But I forgot to tell you, signore; the candlestick is no longer for
sale," observed the Duke, with an evil smile. "Instead, I offer you a
magnificent bracelet which is a hundred years old."
"Thank you. What's the price?"
"A hundred thousand lira, signore."
Ferralti started. Then in turn he smiled at his captor.
"That is absurd," said he. "I have no wealth at all, sir, but live on a
small allowance that barely supplies my needs. I cannot pay."
"I will take that risk, signore," said the brigand, coolly. "You have
but to draw me an order on Mr. Edward Leighton, of New York, for one
hundred thousand lira--or say twenty thousand dollars--and the bracelet
"Edward Leighton! My father's attorney! How did you know of him, sir?"
"I have an agent in New York," answered the Duke, "and lately I have
been in your city myself."
"Then, if you know so much, you scoundrelly thief, you know that my
father will not honor a draft for such a sum as you demand. I doubt if
my father would pay a single dollar to save me from assassination."
"We will not discuss that, signore, for I regret to say that your father
is no longer able to honor drafts. However, your attorney can do so, and
will, without question."
Ferralti stared at him blankly.
"What do you mean by that?" he demanded.
The Duke shook the ashes from his cigar and examined the glowing end
"Your father," was the deliberate reply, "was killed in a railway
accident, four days ago. I have just been notified of the fact by a
cable from America."
Ferralti sat trembling and regarding the man with silent horror.
"Is this true, sir?" asked Uncle John, quickly; "or is it only a part of
your cursed game?"
"It is quite true, signore, I regret being obliged to break the ill news
so abruptly; but this gentleman thought himself too poor to purchase my
little bracelet, and it was necessary to inform him that he is suddenly
made wealthy--not yet so great a Croesus as yourself, Signor Merreek,
but still a very rich man."
Ferralti ceased trembling, but the horror still clung to his eyes.
"A railway wreck!" he muttered, hoarsely. "Where was it, sir? Tell me, I
beseech you! And are you sure my father is dead?"
"Very sure, signore. My informant is absolutely reliable. But the
details of the wreck I do not know. I am only informed of the fact of
your father's death, and that his will leaves you his entire fortune."
Ferralti arose and staggered away to his room, and Uncle John watched
him go pityingly, but knew no way to comfort him. When he had gone he
"His father was an American, Duke?"
"And wealthy, you say?"
"Exceedingly wealthy, signore."
"What was his name?"
"Ah; about that ring, my dear guest. Do you think a hundred and fifty
thousand lira too much for it?"
"You said a hundred thousand."
"That was this morning, signore. The ring has increased in value since.
To-morrow, without doubt, it will be worth two hundred thousand."
Tato laughed at the rueful expression on the victim's face, and, a
moment after, Uncle John joined in his laughter.
"Very good, duke," he said. "I don't wish to rob you. Let us wait until
The brigand seemed puzzled.
"May I ask why, Signor Merreek--since you are warned?" he enquired.
"Why, it's this way, Duke. I'm just a simple, common-place American,
and have lived a rather stupid existence for some time. We have no
brigands at home, nor any hidden valleys or protected criminals like
yourself. The romance of my surroundings interests me; your methods are
unique and worth studying; if I am so rich as you think me a few extra
hundred thousand lira will be a cheap price to pay for this experience.
Is it not so?"
The Duke frowned.
"Do you play with me?" he asked, menacingly.
"By no means. I'm just the spectator. I expect you to make the
entertainment. I'm sure it will be a good show, although the price is
Il Duca glared, but made no reply at the moment. Instead, he sat
stroking Tato's hair and glowering evilly at the American.
The child whispered something in Italian, and the man nodded.
"Very well, signore," he said, more quietly. "To-morrow, then, if it so
Then, taking Tato's hand, he slowly arose and left the veranda.
For a moment the American looked after them with a puzzled expression.
Then he said to himself, with a smile: "Ah, I have solved one mystery,
at any rate. Tato is a girl!"
A DIFFICULT POSITION
And now Uncle John, finding himself left alone, took his walkingstick
and started out to explore the valley.
He felt very sorry for young Ferralti, but believed his sympathy could
in no way lighten the blow caused by the abrupt news of his parent's
death. He would wish to be alone with his grief for a time. By and by
Mr. Merrick intended to question his fellow prisoner and try to find out
something of his history.
The dale was very beautiful as it lay basking in the afternoon sun. Near
the house was a large vegetable garden, which, being now shaded by the
overhanging cliffs, was being tended by a sour-visaged Sicilian. Uncle
John watched him for a time, but the fellow paid no heed to him. Every
servant connected with the duke's establishment seemed surly and morose,
and this was the more remarkable because the country folk and villagers
Uncle John had met were usually merry and light-hearted.
Down by the brook were green meadows and groves of fruit trees. The
little gentleman followed the stream for some distance, and finally came
upon a man seated on the bank above a broad pool, intently engaged in
fishing. It proved to be the dandified old doctor, who wore gloves to
protect his hands and a broad-rimmed straw hat to shade his face.
Uncle John stood beside the motionless figure for a moment, watching the
line. Then, forgetting he was in a foreign country, he asked carelessly:
"Not yet," was the quiet reply, in clear English. "It is too early to
interest the fishes. An hour later they will bite."
"Then why did you come so soon?"
"To escape that hell-hole yonder," nodding his head toward the house.
Uncle John was surprised.
"But you are not a prisoner, doctor," he ventured to say.
"Except through the necessity of earning a livelihood. Il Duca pays
well--or rather the Duchessa does, for she is the head of this
household. I am skillful, and worth my price, and they know it."
"You say the Duchessa is the head of the house?"
"Assuredly, signore. Il Duca is her slave. She plans and directs
everything, and her son but obeys her will."
"Did she send him to America?"
"I think so. But do not misunderstand me. The Duke is clever on his own
account, and almost as wicked as his old mother. And between them they
are training the child to be as bad as they are. It is dreadful."
"Have you been here long?"
"For seven years, signore."
"But you can resign whenever you please?"
"Why not? But the doubt makes me uneasy, sometimes. In another year I
would like to go to Venice, and retire from professional life. I am a
Venetian, you observe; no dastardly brigand of a Sicilian. And in
another year I shall have sufficient means to retire and end my days in
peace. Here I save every centessimo I make, for I can spend nothing."
Uncle John sat down upon the bank beside the confiding Venetian.
"Doctor," said he, "I am somewhat puzzled by this man you call Il Duca,
as well as by my audacious capture and the methods employed to rob me.
I'd like your advice. What shall I do?"
"The only possible thing, signore. Submit."
"Why is it the only possible thing?"
"Have you not yet discovered? Unless you pay, your friends will never
hear from you again. Il Duca, by his mother's favor, is king here. He
will murder you if you oppose his demands."
"It is quite certain, signore. He has murdered several obstinate people
since I have been here, and the outside world will never know their
fate. It is folly to oppose the king. Were you not rich you would not be
here. Il Duca knows the exact wealth of every American who travels
abroad and is likely to visit Sicily. Many escape him, but a few wander
into his toils, for he is wonderfully sagacious. Mark you: he does not
demand your all; he merely takes tribute, leaving his victims sufficient
to render life desirable to them. If he required their all, many would
as soon forfeit life as make the payment; but a tithe they will spare
for the privilege of living. That is why he is so successful. And that
is why he remains undisturbed. For an American, being robbed so simply,
never tells of his humiliating experience. He goes home, and avoids
Sicily ever after."
"H-m-m. I understand."
"But if you do not pay, you are not permitted to leave this place. You
are killed at once, and the incident is over. Il Duca does not love to
murder, but he takes no chances."
"I see. But suppose I pay, and then make complaint to the Italian
"It has been done, signore. But the government is very blind. It does
not know Il Duca d' Alcanta. Its officials are convinced he does not
exist. They investigate carefully, and declare the tale is all a myth."
"Then there is no way of escape?"
"Absolutely none. Such a condition is almost inconceivable, is it not?
and in this enlightened age? But it exists, and is only harmful when its
victims are stubborn and rebellious. To be cheerful and pay promptly is
the only sensible way out of your difficulty."
"Thank you," said Uncle John. "I shall probably pay promptly. But tell
me, to satisfy my curiosity, how does your duke murder his victims?"
"He does not call it murder, as I do; he says they are suicides, or the
victims of accident. They walk along a path and fall into a pit. It is
deep, and they are killed. The pit is also their tomb. They are
forgotten, and the trap is already set for their successors."
"Rather a gloomy picture, doctor."
"Yes. I tell you this because my nature is kind. I abhor all crime, and
much prefer that you should live. But, if you die, my salario
continues. I am employed to guard the health of the Duke's
family--especially the old Duchessa--and have no part in this detestable
"Isn't that a bite?"
"No, signore. It is the current. It is not time for the fish to bite."
Uncle John arose.
"Good afternoon, doctor."
"Good afternoon, signore."
He left the old fellow sitting there and walked on. The valley was about
a half mile long and from a quarter to a third of a mile in width. It
resembled a huge amphitheatre in shape.
The American tramped the length of the brook, which disappeared into the
rocky wall at the far end. Then he returned through the orchards to the
The place was silent and seemed deserted. There was a languor in the
atmosphere that invited sleep. Uncle John sought his room and lay down
for an afternoon nap, soon falling into a sound slumber.
When he awoke he found Ferralti seated beside his bed. The young man was
pale, but composed.
"Mr. Merrick," said he, "what have you decided to do?"
Uncle John rubbed his eyes and sat up.
"I'm going to purchase that ring," he answered, "at the best price the
Duke will make me."
"I am disappointed," returned Ferralti, stiffly. "I do not intend to
allow myself to be robbed in this way."
"Then write a farewell letter, and I'll take it to your friends."
"It may not be necessary, sir."
Uncle John regarded him thoughtfully.
"What can you do?" he asked.
Ferralti leaned forward and whispered, softly: "I have a stout
pocket-knife, with a very long blade. I shall try to kill the Duke. Once
he is dead his people will not dare to oppose us, but will fly in
terror. It is only Il Duca's audacity and genius that enables this
robber's den to exist."
"You would rather attempt this than pay?"
"Sir, I could not bear the infamy of letting this scoundrel triumph over
"Well, Ferralti, you are attempting a delicate and dangerous task, but
so far as I can, I will help you."
He took the revolver from his pocket and handed it to his companion.
"It's loaded in every chamber," he whispered. "Perhaps it will serve
your purpose better than a knife."
Ferralti's eyes sparkled.
"Good!" he exclaimed, concealing the weapon. "I shall watch for my
opportunity, so as to make no mistake. Meantime, do you bargain with the
Duke, but postpone any agreement to pay."
"All right, my lad. I'll wait to see what happens. It may add a good
deal to the cost of that ring, if you fail; but I'll take the chances of
that for the sake of the game."
He paused a moment, and then added:
"Is your father really dead, Count?"
"Yes; the Duke has sent me the cablegram he received from his agent. I
cannot doubt his authority. My father and I have not been friendly, of
late years. He was a severe man, cold and unsympathetic, but I am sorry
we could not have been reconciled before this awful fate overtook him.
However, it is now too late for vain regrets. I tried not to disobey or
antagonize my one parent, but he did not understand my nature, and
perhaps I failed to understand his."
He sighed, and rising from his chair walked to the window to conceal his
Uncle John remained silent, and presently Tommaso entered to notify them
that dinner would be served in a half hour, and the Duke expected them
to join him at the table.
The next morning Mr. Merrick bargained pleasantly with his jailer, who
seemed not averse to discussing the matter at length; but no conclusion
was reached. Ferralti took no part in the conversation, but remained
sullen and silent, and the Duke did not press him.
The day after, however, he insisted that he had dallied long enough,
although after much argument on the part of his enforced guests he
agreed to give them three days to decide, with the understanding that
each day they delayed would add a goodly sum to their ransom. If at the
end of the three days the Americans remained obdurate, he would invite
them to take a little walk, and the affair would be terminated.
Ferralti hugged his revolver and awaited his opportunity. It seemed to
Uncle John that he might have had a hundred chances to shoot the
brigand, who merited no better fate than assassination at their hands;
but although Ferralti was resolved upon the deed he constantly hesitated
to accomplish it in cold blood, and the fact that he had three days
grace induced him to put off the matter as long as possible.
He came to regret most bitterly his indecision; for something in the
young man's eyes must have put the brigand on his guard. When they awoke
on the third morning, which was the fifth since their imprisonment, some
one had searched their rooms thoroughly. The revolver and the knife were
both gone, and the loss rendered them absolutely helpless.
UNCLE JOHN PLAYS EAVESDROPPER
It now seemed to Uncle John that further resistance to the demands of Il
Duca was as useless as it was dangerous. He resented the necessity of
paying a ransom as much as any man could; but imprisoned as he was in a
veritable "robbers' den," without means of communicating with the
authorities or the outside world, and powerless to protect his life from
the vengeance of the unprincipled scoundrel who held him, the only safe
and sane mode of procedure was to give in as gracefully as possible.
He formed this conclusion during a long walk around the valley, during
which he once more noted the absolute seclusion of the place and the
impossibility of escape by scaling the cliffs. The doctor was fishing
again by the brook, but paid no heed when Uncle John tramped by. The
sight of the dapper little man gave Mr. Merrick a thought, and
presently he turned back and sat down beside the fisherman.
"I want to get out of this," he said, bluntly. "It was fun, at first,
and rather interesting; but I've had enough of it."
The physician kept his eye on the line and made no reply.
"I want you to tell me how to escape," continued Uncle John. "It's no
use saying that it can't be done, for nothing is impossible to a clever
man, such as I believe you to be."
Still no reply.
"You spoke, the other day, of earning enough money to go home and live
in peace for the rest of your days. Here, sir, is your opportunity to
improve upon that ambition. The brigand is trying to exact a large
ransom from me; I'll give it to you willingly--every penny--if you'll
show me how to escape."
"Why should you do that?" enquired the doctor, still intent upon his
line. "Does it matter to you who gets your money?"
"Of course," was the prompt reply. "In one case I pay it for a service
rendered, and do it gladly. On the other hand, I am robbed, and that
goes against the grain. Il Duca has finally decided to demand fifty
thousand dollars. It shall be yours, instead, if you give me your
"Signore," said the other, calmly, "I would like this money, and I
regret that it is impossible for me to earn it. But there is no means of
escape from this place except by the passage through the rocks, which
passage only three people know the secret of opening--Il Duca himself,
the child Tato, and the old Duchessa. Perhaps Tommaso also knows; I am
not certain; but he will not admit he has such knowledge. You see,
signore, I am as much a prisoner as yourself."
"There ought to be some way to climb these cliffs; some secret path or
underground tunnel," remarked Uncle John, musingly.
"It is more than a hundred years since this valley was made secure by a
brigand ancestor of our Duchessa," was the reply. "It may be two or
three centuries ago, for all I know. And ever since it has been used for
just this purpose: to hold a prisoner until he was ransomed--and no
such man has ever left the place alive unless he paid the price."
"Then you cannot help me?" asked Uncle John, who was weary of hearing
these pessimistic declarations.
"I cannot even help myself; for I may not resign my position here unless
the Duke is willing I should go."
"Good morning, doctor."
The prisoner returned slowly toward the dwelling, with its group of
outhouses. By chance he found a path leading to the rear of these which
he had not traversed before, and followed it until he came to a hedge of
thickly set trees of some variety of cactus, which seemed to have been
planted to form an enclosure. Cautiously pushing aside the branches
bordering a small gap in this hedge, Uncle John discovered a charming
garden lying beyond, so he quickly squeezed himself through the opening
The garden was rudely but not badly kept. There was even some attempt at
ornamentation, and many of the shrubs and flowers were rare and
beautiful. Narrow walks traversed the masses of foliage, and several
leafy bowers invited one to escape the heat of the midday sun in their
shelter. It was not a large place, and struck one as being overcrowded
because so many of the plants were taller than a man's head.
Uncle John turned down one path which, after several curves and turns,
came to an abrupt ending beneath the spreading branches of an acacia
tree which had been converted into a bower by a thick, climbing vine,
whose matted leaves and purple blossoms effectually screened off the
While he stood gazing around him to find a way out without retracing his
steps, a clear voice within a few feet of him caused him to start. The
voice spoke in vehement Italian, and came from the other side of the
screen of vines. It was sharp and garrulous in tone, and although Uncle
John did not understand the words he recognized their dominating accent.
The Duke replied, slowly and sullenly, and whatever he said had the
effect of rousing the first speaker to fierce anger.
The American became curious. He found a place where the leaves were
thinner than elsewhere, and carefully pressing them apart looked through
the opening. Beyond was a clear space, well shaded and furnished with
comfortable settles, tables and chairs. It adjoined a wing of the
dwelling, which stood but a few paces away and was evidently occupied by
the women of the household. The old Duchessa, her face still like a
death mask but her eyes glittering with the brightness of a serpent's,
sat enthroned within a large chair in the center of a family group. It
was her sharp voice that had first aroused the American's attention.
Opposite her sat the Duke, his thin face wearing an expression of gloom
and dissatisfaction. The child Tato occupied a stool at her father's
feet, and in the background were three serving women, sewing or
embroidering. Near the Duke stood the tall brigand known as Pietro.
Answering the old woman's fierce tirade, Tato said:
"It is foolish to quarrel in Italian. The servants are listening."
"Let us then speak in English," returned the Duchessa. "These are
matters the servants should not gossip about."
The Duke nodded assent. Both Tato and her grandmother spoke easily the
foreign tongue; the Duke was more uncertain in his English, but
understood it perfectly.
"I am still the head of this family," resumed the Duchessa, in a more
moderate tone. "I insist that my will be obeyed."
"Your dignity I have the respect for," replied the Duke, laboredly; "but
you grow old and foolish."
"Yes; you are absurd. You live in past centuries. You think to-day we
must do all that your ancestors did."
"Can you do better?"
"Yes; the world has change. It has progress. With it I advance, but you
do not. You would murder, rob, torture to-day as the great Duke, your
grandfather, did. You think we still are of the world independent. You
think we are powerful and great. Bah! we are nothing--we are as a speck
of dust. But still we are the outlaws and the outcasts of Sicily, and
some day Italy will crush us and we will be forgotten."
"I dare them to molest us!"
"Because you are imbecile. The world you do not know. I have travel; I
see many countries; and I am wise."
"But you are still my vassal, my slave; and I alone rule here. Always
have you rebelled and wanted to escape. Only my iron will has kept you
here and made you do your duty."
"Since you my brother Ridolfo killed, I have little stomach for the
trade of brigand. It is true. But no longer is this trade necessary. We
are rich. Had I a son to inherit your business, a different thought
might prevail; but I have only Tato, and a girl cannot be a successful
"Why not?" cried the old Duchessa, contemptuously. "It is the
girl--always the girl--you make excuses for. But have I not ruled our
domain--I, who am a woman?"
Tato herself answered, in a quiet voice.
"And what have you become, nonna, more than an outcast?" she enquired.
"What use to you is money, or a power that the world would sneer at, did
the world even suspect that you exist? You are a failure in life, my
nonna, and I will not be like you."
The Duchessa screamed an epithet and glared at the child as if she would
annihilate her; but no fitting words to reply could she find.
Uncle John smiled delightedly. He felt no sense of humiliation or revolt
at eavesdropping in this den of thieves, and to be able to gain so fair
a revelation of the inner life of this remarkable family was a diversion
not lightly to be foregone.
"So far, we have managed to escape the law," resumed the Duke. "But
always it may not be our fortune to do this, if we continue this life.
It is now a good time to stop. Of one American we will gain a quarter of
a million lira--a fortune--and of the other one hundred and fifty
thousand lira. With what we already have it is enough and more. Quietly
we will disband our men and go away. In another land we live the
respectable life, in peace with all, and Tato shall be the fine lady,
and forget she once was a brigand's daughter."
The child sprang up in glee, and clasping her father's neck with both
arms kissed him with passionate earnestness.
Silently the Duchessa watched the scene. Her face was as pallid and
immobile as ever; even the eyes seemed to have lost expression. But the
next words showed that she was still unconquered.
"You shall take the money of the fat pig of an American; it is well to
do so. But the youth who boldly calls himself Ferralti shall make no
tribute to this family. He shall die as I have declared."
"I will not take the risk," asserted the Duke, sourly.
"Have the others who lie in the pit told tales?" she demanded.
"No; but they died alone. Here are two Americans our prisoners, and
they have many and powerful friends, both at Taormina and at Naples. The
man Merrick, when he goes, will tell that Ferralti is here. To obtain
his person, alive or dead, the soldiers will come here and destroy us
all. It is folly, and shows you are old and imbecile."
"Then go!" she cried, fiercely. "Go, you and Tato; take your money and
escape. And leave me my valley, and the youth Ferralti, and my revenge.
Then, if I die, if the soldiers destroy me, it is my own doing."
"In this new world, of which you know nothing, escape is not possible,"
replied the duke, after a moment's thought. "Ferralti must be accounted
for, and because I captured him they would accuse me of his death, and
even Tato might be made to suffer. No, madame. Both the Americans must
be killed, or both set free for ransom."
Uncle John gave a start of dismay. Here was a development he had not
"Then," said the old woman, positively, "let them both die."
"Oh, no!" exclaimed Tato. "Not that, grandmother!"
"Certainly not so," agreed the Duke. "We want their money."
"You are already rich," said the Duchessa. "You have yourself said so,
and I know it is truth."
"This new world," explained the Duke, "contains of luxuries many that
you have no understanding of. To be rich to-day requires more money than
in your days, madre mia. With these ransoms, which already we have won,
we shall have enough. Without this money my Tato would lack much that I
desire for her. So of new murders I will take no risk, for the bambina's
"And my revenge?"
"Bah, of what use is it? Because the boy's father married my sister
Bianca, and ill-treated her, must we kill their offspring?"
"He is his father's son. The father, you say, is dead, and so also is my
child Bianca. Then my hatred falls upon the son Arturo, and he must die
to avenge the wrong to our race."
"More proof that you are imbecile," said the Duke, calmly. "He shall not
die. He is nothing to us except a mine from whence to get gold."
"He is my grandson. I have a right to kill him."
"He is my nephew. He shall live."
"Do you defy me?"
"With certainty. I defy you. The new world permits no crazy nonna to
rule a family. That is my privilege. If you persist, it is you who shall
go to the pit. If you have reason, you shall remain in your garden in
peace. Come, Tato; we will retire."
He arose and took the child's hand. The old woman sat staring at them in
silence, but with an evil glint in her glistening eyes.
Uncle John turned around and softly made his retreat from the garden.
His face wore a startled and horrified expression and on his forehead
stood great beads of sweat that the sultriness of the day did not
But he thought better of Il Duca.
They met an hour later at luncheon, all but the Duchessa, who sulked in
her garden. Tato was bright and smiling, filled with a suppressed joy
which bubbled up in spite of the little one's effort to be dignified and
sedate. When her hand stole under the table to find and press that of
her father, Uncle John beamed upon her approvingly; for he knew what had
occurred and could sympathize with her delight.
The Duke, however, was more sombre than usual. He had defied his mother,
successfully, so far; but he feared the terrible old woman more than did
Tato, because he knew more of her history and of the bold and wicked
deeds she had perpetrated in years gone by. Only once had a proposed
victim escaped her, and that was when her own daughter Bianca had fallen
in love with an American held for ransom and spirited him away from the
valley through knowledge of the secret passage. It was well Bianca had
fled with her lover; otherwise her mother would surely have killed her.
But afterward, when the girl returned to die in the old home, all was
forgiven, and only the hatred of her foreign husband, whose cruelty had
driven her back to Sicily, remained to rankle in the old Duchessa's
No one knew her evil nature better than her son. He entertained a
suspicion that he had not conquered her by his recent opposition to her
will. Indeed, he would never have dared to brave her anger except for
Tato's sake. Tato was his idol, and in her defense the cowardly brigand
had for the moment become bold.
Tato laughed and chatted with Uncle John all through the meal, even
trying at times to cheer the doleful Ferralti, who was nearly as glum
and unsociable as her father. The servants and brigands at the lower end
of the table looked upon the little one admiringly. It was evident she
was a general favorite.
On the porch, after luncheon, the Duke broached the subject of the
ransoms again, still maintaining the fable of selling his antique
"Sir," said Uncle John, "I'm going to submit gracefully, but upon one
The Duke scowled.
"I allow no conditions," he said.
"You'd better allow this one," Uncle John replied, "because it will make
it easier for all of us. Of my own free will and accord I will make a
present to Tato of fifty thousand dollars, and she shall have it for her
dowry when she marries."
Tato clapped her hands.
"How did you know I am a girl, when I wear boys' clothes?" she asked.
Even the duke smiled, at that, but the next moment he shook his head
"It will not do, signore," he declared, answering Uncle John's
proposition. "This is a business affair altogether. You must purchase
the ring, and at once."
The little American sighed. It had been his last hope.
"Very well," he said; "have your own way."
"You will send to your friends for the money?"
"Whenever you say, Duke. You've got me in a hole, and I must wiggle out
the best way I can."
The brigand turned to Ferralti.
"And you, signore?" he asked.
"I do not know whether I can get the money you demand."
"But you will make the attempt, as I shall direct?"
"Then, signori, it is all finished. In a brief time you will leave my
"The sooner the better," declared Ferralti.
They sat for a time in silence, each busy with his thoughts.
"Go to your grandmother, Tato," said the Duke, "and try to make your
peace with her. If she is too angry, do not remain. To-morrow you must
go into town with letters from these gentlemen to their friends."
The child kissed him and went obediently to do his will. Then the
brigand spoke to Tommaso, who brought writing material from the house
and placed it upon a small table.
Uncle John, without further demur, sat down to write. The Duke dictated
what he should say, although he was allowed to express the words in his
own characteristic style, and he followed his instructions implicitly,
secretly admiring the shrewdness of the brigand's methods.
It was now Ferralti's turn. He had just seated himself at the table and
taken the pen when they were startled by a shrill scream from the rear
of the house. It was followed by another, and another, in quick
It was Tato's voice, and the duke gave an answering cry and sprang from
the veranda to dart quickly around the corner of the house. Uncle John
followed him, nearly as fearful as the child's father.
Tommaso seized a short rifle that stood near and ran around the house in
the other direction, when Ferralti, who for a moment had seemed dazed by
the interruption, followed Tommaso rather than the others.
As they came to the rear they were amazed to see the old Duchessa, whom
they had known to be feeble and dependent upon her women, rush through
the garden hedge with the agility of a man, bearing in her arms the
struggling form of little Tato.
The child screamed pitifully, but the woman glared upon Tommaso and
Ferralti, as she passed them, with the ferocity of a tiger.
"She is mad!" cried Ferralti. "Quick, Tommaso; let us follow her."
The brigand bounded forward, with the young man scarce a pace behind
him. The woman, running with wonderful speed in spite of her burden,
began to ascend a narrow path leading up the face of a rugged cliff.
A yell of anguish from behind for a moment arrested Ferralti's rapid
pursuit. Glancing back he saw the Duke running frantically toward them,
at the same time waving his arms high above his head.
"The pit!" he shouted. "She is making for the pit. Stop her, for the
love of God!"
Ferralti understood, and dashed forward again at full speed. Tommaso
also understood, for his face was white and he muttered terrible oaths
as he pressed on. Yet run as they might, the mad duchessa was inspired
with a strength so superhuman that she kept well in advance.
But the narrow path ended half way up the cliff. It ended at a deep
chasm in the rocks, the edge of which was protected by a large flat
stone, like the curb of a well.
With a final leap the old woman gained this stone, and while the
dreadful pit yawned at her feet she turned, and with a demoniacal laugh
faced her pursuers, hugging the child close to her breast.
Tommaso and Ferralti, who were nearest, paused instinctively. It was now
impossible for them to prevent the tragedy about to be enacted. The
Duke, spurred on by fear, was yet twenty paces in their rear, and in a
moment he also stopped, clasping his hands in a gesture of vain
"Listen, Lugui!" his mother called to him, in a dear, high voice. "This
is the child that has come between us and turned you from a man into a
coward. Here alone is the cause of our troubles. Behold! I will remove
it forever from our path."
With the words she lifted Tato high above her head and turned toward the
pit--that terrible cleft in the rocks which was believed to have no
At her first movement Tommaso had raised his gun, and the Duke,
perceiving this, called to him in an agonized voice to fire. But either
the brigand wavered between his loyalty to the Duke or the Duchessa, or
he feared to injure Tato, for he hesitated to obey and the moments were
The child's fate hung in the balance when Ferralti snatched the weapon
from the brigand's hands and fired it so hastily that he scarcely seemed
to take aim.
A wild cry echoed the shot. The woman collapsed and fell, dropping Tato
at her feet, where they both tottered at the edge of the pit. The child,
however, clung desperately to the outer edge of the flat stone, while
the Duchessa's inert form seemed to hesitate for an instant and then
disappeared from view.
Tommaso ran forward and caught up the child, returning slowly along the
path to place it in the father's arms. Ferralti was looking vaguely from
the weapon he held to the pit, and then back again, as if not fully
understanding what he had done.
"Thank you, signore," said the Duke, brokenly, "for saving my precious
"But I have slain your mother!" cried the young man, horrified.
"The obligation is even," replied the duke. "She was also your
Ferralti stood motionless, his face working convulsively, his tongue
refusing to utter a sound.
"But he did not shoot my grandmother at all," said Tato, who was sobbing
against her father's breast; "for I heard the bullet strike the rock
beside us. My grandmother's strength gave way, and she fainted. It was
that that saved me, padre mia."
NEWS AT LAST
Kenneth Forbes had always been an unusual boy. He had grown up in an
unfriendly atmosphere, unloved and uncared for, and resented this
neglect with all the force of his impetuous nature. He had hated Aunt
Jane, and regarded her as cruel and selfish--a fair estimate of her
character--until Aunt Jane's nieces taught him to be more considerate
and forgiving. Patricia, especially, had exercised a gentler influence
upon the arbitrary youth, and as a consequence they had become staunch
When the unexpected inheritance of a fortune changed the boy's condition
from one of dependence to one of importance he found he had no longer
any wrongs to resent; therefore his surly and brusque moods gradually
disappeared, and he became a pleasant companion to those he cared for.
With strangers he still remained reserved and suspicious, and
occasionally the old sullen fits would seize him and it was well to
avoid his society while they lasted.
On his arrival at Taormina, Kenneth had entered earnestly into the
search for Uncle John, whom he regarded most affectionately; and, having
passed the day tramping over the mountains, he would fill the evening
with discussions and arguments with the nieces concerning the fate of
their missing uncle.
But as the days dragged wearily away the search slackened and was
finally abandoned. Kenneth set up his easel in the garden and began to
paint old Etna, with its wreath of snow and the soft gray cloud of vapor
that perpetually hovered over it.
"Anyone with half a soul could paint that!" said Patsy; and as a proof
of her assertion the boy did very well indeed, except that his
uneasiness on Mr. Merrick's account served to distract him more or less.
Nor was Kenneth the only uneasy one. Mr. Watson, hard-headed man of
resource as he was, grew more and more dejected as he realized the
impossibility of interesting the authorities in the case. The Sicilian
officials were silent and uncommunicative; the Italians wholly
indifferent. If strangers came to Taormina and got into difficulties,
the government was in no way to blame. It was their duty to tolerate
tourists, but those all too energetic foreigners must take care of
Probably Mr. Watson would have cabled the State Department at Washington
for assistance had he not expected each day to put him in communication
with his friend, and in the end he congratulated himself upon his
patience. The close of the week brought a sudden and startling change in
The girls sat on the shaded terrace one afternoon, watching the picture
of Etna grow under Kenneth's deft touches, when they observed a child
approaching them with shy diffidence. It was a beautiful Sicilian boy,
with wonderful brown eyes and a delicate profile. After assuring himself
that the party of young Americans was quite separate from any straggling
guest of the hotel, the child came near enough to say, in a low tone:
"I have a message from Signor Merrick."
They crowded around him eagerly then, raining questions from every side;
but the boy shrank away and said, warningly:
"If we are overheard, signorini mia, it will be very bad. No one must
suspect that I am here."
"Is my uncle well?" asked Patsy, imploringly.
"Quite well, mees."
"And have you also news of Count Ferralti?" anxiously enquired Louise.
"Oh, Ferralti? He is better. Some teeth are knocked out, but he eats
very well without them," replied the child, with an amused laugh.
"Where are our friends, my lad?" Kenneth asked.
"I cannot describe the place, signore; but here are letters to explain
all." The child produced a bulky package, and after a glance at each, in
turn, placed it in Patsy's hands. "Read very secretly, signorini, and
decide your course of action. To-morrow I will come for your answer. In
the meantime, confide in no one but yourselves. If you are indiscreet,
you alone will become the murderers of Signor Merrick and the sad young
"Who are you?" asked Beth, examining the child closely.
"I am called Tato, signorina mia."
"Where do you live?"
"It is all explained in the letters, believe me."
Beth glanced at Patricia, who was examining the package, and now all
crowded around for a glimpse of Uncle John's well-known handwriting. The
wrapper was inscribed:
"To Miss Doyle, Miss De Graf and Miss Merrick,
Hotel Castello-a-Mare, Taormina.
By the safe hands of Tato."
Inside were two letters, one addressed to Louise personally. She seized
this and ran a little distance away, while Beth took Uncle John's letter
from Patsy's trembling hands, and having opened it read aloud in a
clear and composed voice the following:
"My dear Nieces: (and also my dear friends, Silas Watson and
Kenneth Forbes, if they are with you) Greeting! You have
perhaps been wondering at my absence, which I will explain
by saying that I am visiting a noble acquaintance in a very
cozy and comfortable retreat which I am sure would look
better from a distance. My spirits and health are A No. 1
and it is my intention to return to you as soon as you have
executed a little commission for me, which I want you to do
exactly as I hereby instruct you. In other words, if you
don't execute the commission you will probably execute me.
"I have decided to purchase a valuable antique ring from my
host, at a price of fifty thousand dollars, which trifling
sum I must have at once to complete the transaction, for
until full payment is made I cannot rejoin you. Therefore
you must hasten to raise the dough. Here's the programme, my
dear girls: One of you must go by first train to Messina and
cable Isham, Marvin & Co. to deposit with the New York
correspondents of the Banca Commerciale Italiana fifty
thousand dollars, and have instructions cabled to the
Messina branch of that bank to pay the sum to the written
order of John Merrick. This should all be accomplished
within twenty-four hours. Present the enclosed order,
together with my letter of credit and passport, which will
identify my signature, and draw the money in cash. Return
with it to Taormina and give it secretly to the boy Tato,
who will bring it to me. I will rejoin you within three
hours after I have paid for the ring.
"This may seem a strange proceeding to you, my dears, but
you must not hesitate to accomplish it--if you love me.
Should my old friend Silas Watson be now with you, as I
expect him to be, he will assist you to do my bidding, for
he will be able to realize, better than I can now explain,
how important it is to me.
"Also I beg you to do a like service for Count Ferralti, who
is entrusting his personal commission, to Louise. He also
must conclude an important purchase before he can return to
"More than this I am not permitted to say in this letter.
Confide in no stranger, or official of any sort, and act as
secretly and quietly as possible. I hope soon to be with
"Very affectionately, UNCLE JOHN."
"What does it all mean?" asked Patsy, bewildered, when Beth had finished
"Why, it is clear enough, I'm sure," said Kenneth. "Uncle John is
imprisoned by brigands, and the money he requires is his ransom. We must
get it as soon as possible, you know, and luckily he is so rich that he
won't miss this little draft at all."
Beth sat silent, angrily staring at the letter.
"I suppose," said Patsy, hesitating, "the robbers will do the dear uncle
some mischief, if he doesn't pay."
"Just knock him on the head, that's all," said the boy. "But there's no
need to worry. We can get the money easily."
Suddenly Beth jumped up.
"Where's that girl?" she demanded, sharply.
"Tato, my dear coz, is a boy," answered Kenneth; "and he disappeared
"You must be blind," said Beth, scornfully, "not to recognize a girl
when you see one. A boy, indeed!"
"Why, he dressed like a boy," replied Kenneth, hesitatingly.
"So much the more disgraceful," sniffed Beth. "She belongs to those
brigands, I suppose."
"Looks something like Victor Valdi," said Patsy, thoughtfully.
"Il Duca? Of course! I see it myself, now. Patricia, it is that wicked
duke who has captured Uncle John."
"I had guessed that," declared Patsy, smiling.
"He must be a handsome rascal," observed Kenneth, "for the child is
pretty as a picture."
"He isn't handsome at all," replied Beth; "but there is a look about the
child's eyes that reminds me of him."
"That's it, exactly," agreed Patsy.
Louise now approached them with a white, frightened face.
"Isn't it dreadful!" she moaned. "They are going to kill Ferralti unless
he gives them thirty thousand dollars."
"And I don't believe he can raise thirty cents," said Patsy, calmly.
"Oh, yes, he can," answered Louise, beginning to cry. "Hi--his--father
is d--dead, and has left him--a--fortune."
"Don't blubber, Lou," said the boy, chidingly; "in that case your dago
friend is as well off as need be. But I suppose you're afraid the
no-account Count won't figure his life is worth thirty thousand dollars.
It does seem like an awful price to pay for a foreigner."
"It isn't that," said Louise, striving to control her emotion. "He says
he hates to be robbed. He wouldn't pay a penny if he could help it."
"Good for the Count! I don't blame him a bit," exclaimed Beth. "It is a
beastly shame that free born Americans should be enslaved by a crew of
thieving Sicilians, and obliged to purchase their freedom!"
"True for you," said Kenneth, nodding. "But what are we going to do
"Pay, of course," decided Patsy, promptly. "Our Uncle John is too
precious to be sacrificed for all the money in the world. Come; let's go
and find Mr. Watson. We ought not to lose a moment's time."
The lawyer read Uncle John's letter carefully, as well as the one from
Count Ferralti, which Louise confided to him with the request that he
keep the young man's identity a secret for a time, until he could reveal
it to her cousins in person.
"The only thing to be done," announced Mr. Watson, "is to carry out
these instructions faithfully. We can send the cable messages from here,
and in the morning Louise and I will take the train for Messina and
remain there until we get the money."
"It's an outrage!" cried Beth.
"Of course, my dear. But it can't be helped. And your uncle is wise to
take the matter so cheerfully. After all, it is little enough to pay
for one's life and liberty, and our friend is so wealthy that he will
never feel the loss at all."
"It isn't that; it's the principle of the thing that I object to," said
the girl. "It's downright disgraceful to be robbed so easily."
"To be sure; but the disgrace is Italy's, not ours. Object all you want
to, Beth, dear," continued the old lawyer, smiling at her; "but
nevertheless we'll pay as soon as possible, and have done with it. What
we want now is your Uncle John, and we want him mighty badly."
"Really, the pirates didn't charge enough for him," added Patsy.
So Mr. Watson sent the cables to John Merrick's bankers and Count
Ferralti's attorney, and the next morning went with Louise to Messina.
Frascatti drove all the party down the road to the station at Giardini,
and as the train pulled out, Beth, who had remained seated in the
victoria with Patricia and Kenneth, suddenly stood up to pull the
"Tell me, Frascatti," she whispered, "isn't that Il Duca's child?
Look--that little one standing in the corner?"
"Why, yes; it is really Tato," answered the man, before he thought to
"Very well; you may now drive us home," returned Beth, a shade of
triumph in her voice.
BETH BEGINS TO PLOT
Once back in their sitting-room behind closed doors, Beth, Patsy and
Kenneth got their three heads together and began eagerly to discuss a
plot which Beth had hinted of on the way home and now unfolded in
detail. And while they still whispered together a knock at the door
startled them and made them look rather guilty until the boy answered
the call and admitted little Tato.
The child's beautiful face wore a smile of demure satisfaction as Tato
bowed respectfully to the young Americans.
Kenneth winked at Beth from behind the visitor's back.
"As you have a guest," he remarked, with a yawn that was somewhat rude,
"I shall now go and take my nap."
"What, do you sleep so early in the day, you lazy-bones?" asked Patsy,
"Any time, my dear, is good enough for an overworked artist," he
replied. "Au revoir, my cousins. See you at luncheon."
With this he strolled away, and when he had gone Beth said to Tato:
"Won't you sit down, signorina?"
"Do you mean me?" asked the child, as if surprised.
"Yes; I can see plainly that you are a girl."
"And a pretty one, too, my dear," added Patsy.
Tato blushed as if embarrassed, but in a moment smiled upon the American
"Do you think me immodest, then?" she asked, anxiously.
"By no means, my dear," Beth assured her. "I suppose you have an
excellent reason for wearing boys' clothes."
"So I have, signorina. I live in the mountains, where dresses catch in
the crags, and bother a girl. And my father has always been heart-broken
because he had no son, and likes to see me in this attire. He has many
errands for me, too, where a boy may go unnoticed, yet a girl would
attract too much attention. This is one of the errands, signorini. But
now tell me, if you please, how have you decided to answer the letters
of Signor Merrick and Signor Ferralti?"
"Oh, there was but one way to answer them, Tato," replied Beth,
composedly. "We have sent Mr. Watson and our cousin Louise Merrick to
Messina to get the money. If our friends in America act promptly Mr.
Watson and Louise will return by to-morrow afternoon's train, and be
prepared to make the payment."
"That is well, signorina," responded Tato.
"We are to give the money to you, I suppose?" said Patsy.
"Yes; I will return for it to-morrow afternoon," answered the child,
with business-like gravity. Then she looked earnestly from one to the
other of the two girls. "You must act discreetly, in the meantime, you
know. You must not talk to anyone, or do anything to imperil your
"Of course not, Tato."
"I beg you not, signorini. The uncle is a good man, and brave. I do not
wish him to be injured."
"Nor do we, Tato."
"And the young man is not a coward, either. He has been kind to me. But
he is sad, and not so pleasant to talk with as the uncle."
"True enough, Tato," said Beth.
Patsy had been examining the child with curious intentness. The little
one was so lovely and graceful, and her voice sounded so soft and
womanly, that Patsy longed to take her in her arms and hug her.
"How old are you, dear?" she asked.
Tato saw the friendly look, and answered with a smile.
"Perhaps as old as you, signorina, although I am so much smaller. I
shall be fifteen in a month."
Tato laughed merrily.
"Ah, you might well say 'so young,' amico mia! To be grown up is much
nicer; do you not think so? And then I shall not look such a baby as
now, and have people scold me when I get in the way, as they do little
"But when you are grown you cannot wear boys' clothing, either."
"We have a saying in Sicily that 'each year has its sunshine and rain,'
which means its sorrow and its joy," she answered. "Perhaps I sometimes
think more of the tears than of the laughter, although I know that is
wrong. Not always shall I be a mountaineer, and then the soft dresses of
the young girls shall be my portion. Will I like them better? I do not
know. But I must go now, instead of chattering here. Farewell,
signorini, until to-morrow."
"Will you not remain with us?"
"Oh, no; although you are kind. I am expected home. But to-morrow I will
come for the money. You will be silent?"
The child smiled upon them pleasantly. It was a relief to deal with two
tender girls instead of cold and resentful men, such as she had
sometimes met. At the door she blew a kiss to them, and darted away.
In the courtyard Frascatti saw her gliding out and discreetly turned his
head the other way.
Tato took the old road, circling around the theatre and through the
narrow, winding streets of the lower town to the Catania Gate. She
looked back one or twice, but no one noticed her. If any of the
villagers saw her approaching they slipped out of her path.
Once on the highway, however, Tato became lost in reflection. Her
mission being successfully accomplished, it required no further thought;
but the sweet young American girls had made a strong impression upon the
lonely Sicilian maid, and she dreamed of their pretty gowns and ribbons,
their fresh and comely faces, and the gentleness of their demeanor.
Tato was not gentle. She was wild and free and boyish, and had no pretty
gowns whatever. But what then? She must help her father to get his
fortune, and then he had promised her that some day they would go to
Paris or Cairo and live in the world, and be brigands no longer.
She would like that, she thought, as she clambered up the steep paths;
and perhaps she would meet these American girls again, or others like
them, and make them her friends. She had never known a girl friend, as
These ambitions would yesterday have seemed far in the dim future; but
now that her stern old grandmother was gone it was possible her father
would soon fulfill his promises. While the Duchessa lived she ruled them
all, and she was a brigand to the backbone. Now her father's will
prevailed, and he could refuse his child nothing.
Kenneth was not an expert detective, but he had managed to keep Tato in
sight without being suspected by her. He had concealed himself near the
Catania Gate, through which he knew she must pass, and by good luck she
had never looked around once, so intent were her musings.
When she came to the end of the path and leaned against the rock to sing
the broken refrain which was the "open sesame" to the valley, the boy
was hidden snug behind a boulder where he could watch her every
Then the rock opened; Tato passed in, and the opening closed behind her.
Kenneth found a foothold and climbed up the wall of rock, higher and
higher, until at last he crept upon a high ridge and looked over.
The hidden valley lay spread before him in all its beauty, but the
precipice at his feet formed a sheer drop of a hundred feet or more, and
he drew back with a shudder.
Then he took courage to look again, and observed the house, on the porch
of which stood Tato engaged in earnest conversation with a tall, dark
Sicilian. Uncle John was nowhere to be seen, but the boy understood that
he was there, nevertheless, and realized that his prison was so secure
that escape was impossible.
And now he climbed down again, a much more difficult feat than getting
up. But although he was forced to risk his life several times, he was
agile and clear-headed, and finally dropped to the path that led to the
secret door of the passage.
His next thought was to mark the exact location of the place, so that he
could find it again; and as he returned slowly along the paths through
the rocky fissures he took mental note of every curve and communication,
and believed he could now find his way to the retreat of the brigands at
any time he chose.
PATSY'S NEW FRIEND
"I must say that I don't like the job," said Patsy, the next morning, as
she stood by the window and faced Beth and Kenneth. "Suppose we fail?"
"In the bright lexicon of youth--"
"Shut up, Ken. If we fail," said Beth, "we will be no worse off than
"And if we win," added the boy, "they'll think twice before they try to
rob Americans again."
"Well, I'm with you, anyhow," declared Patricia. "I can see it's risky,
all right; but as you say, no great harm will be done if we slip up."
"You," announced Beth, gravely, "must be the captain."
"It isn't in me, dear. You figured the thing out, and Ken and I will
follow your lead."
"No," said Beth, decidedly; "I'm not quick enough, either in thought or
action, to be a leader, Patsy. And there's a bit of deception required
that I couldn't manage. That clever little thing, Tato, would know at
once I was up to some mischief; but she would never suspect you."
"I like that compliment," replied Patricia. "I may deserve it, of
course; but it strikes me Louise is the one best fitted for such work."
"We can't let Louise into this plot," said the boy, positively; "she'd
spoil it all."
"Don't be silly, Patsy," said Beth. "You're genuine and frank, and the
child likes you. I could see that yesterday. All you have to do is to be
nice to her and win her confidence; and then, when the climax comes, you
must be the spokesman and talk straight out from the shoulder. You can
do that all right."
"I'll bet on her," cried Kenneth, with an admiring look at the girl.
"Then," said Patsy, "it is all arranged, and I'm the captain. And is it
agreed that we won't lisp a word to Mr. Watson or Louise?"
"Not a word."
"Here," said Kenneth, drawing a revolver from his pocket, "is Uncle
John's pop-gun. It's the only one I could find in his room, so he must
have taken the other with him. Be careful of it, Patsy, for it's loaded
all 'round. Can you shoot?"
"No; but I suppose the pistol can. I know enough to pull the trigger."
"And when you do, remember to point it away from your friends. Now hide
it, my dear, and be careful of it."
Patsy concealed the weapon in the bosom of her dress, not without making
a wry face and shivering a bit.
"Have you got your revolver, Beth?" asked the boy.
"And she can shoot just wonderfully!" exclaimed Patsy. "Yesterday she
picked an orange off a tree with a bullet. You should have seen her."
"I know," said Ken, nodding. "I've seen Beth shoot before, and she's our
main reliance in this conspiracy. For my part, I can hit a mark
sometimes, and sometimes I can't. See here." He exhibited a beautiful
pearl and silver-mounted weapon which he drew from his pocket. "Mr.
Watson and I have carried revolvers ever since we came to Sicily, but
we've never had occasion to use them. I can hardly believe, even now,
that this beautiful place harbors brigands. It's such a romantic
incident in our prosaic world of to-day. And now, young ladies, we are
armed to the teeth and can defy an army. Eh, Captain Pat?"
"If you're not more respectful," said the girl, "I'll have you
court-marshalled and drummed out of camp."
On the afternoon train came Louise and Mr. Watson from Messina. The
American agents had responded promptly, and the bank had honored the
orders and delivered the money without delay.
"It is all safe in my satchel," said the lawyer, as they rode together
to the hotel; "and our dear friends are as good as rescued already. It's
pretty bulky, Kenneth--four hundred thousand lira--but it is all in
notes on the Banca d'Italia, for we couldn't manage gold."
"Quite a haul for the brigand," observed Kenneth, thoughtfully.
"True; but little enough for the lives of two men. That is the way I
look at the transaction. And, since our friends can afford the loss, we
must be as cheerful over the thing as possible. It might have been a
tragedy, you know."
"I'm glad it is all over," she said, gratefully.
The conspirators looked at one another and smiled, but held their peace.
Arriving at the hotel, Beth and Kenneth at once disappeared, saying they
were going to town, as they would not be needed longer. Patsy
accompanied their cousin and the lawyer to the sitting-room, where
presently Tato came to them.
"Well, little one," said the lawyer, pleasantly, "We have secured the
money required to enable Mr. Merrick to purchase the ring, and
Mr.--er--Count Ferralti to buy his bracelet. Will you count it?"
"Yes, signore, if you please," replied Tato, with a sober face.
Mr. Watson drew out two packages of bank notes and placed them upon the
table. The child, realizing the importance of the occasion, carefully
counted each bundle, and then replaced the wrappers.
"The amounts are correct, signore," she said. "I thank you for making my
task so easy. And now I will go."
The lawyer brought a newspaper and wrapped the money in it once again.
"It is always dangerous to carry so much money," said he; "but now no
one will be likely to suspect the contents of your package."
"No one would care to molest me," she said; "for they fear those that
protect me. Good afternoon, signore. Your friends will be with you in
time to dine in your company. Good afternoon, signorini," turning to
Patsy and Louise.
"I'll walk a little way with you; may I?" asked Patsy, smiling into
Tato's splendid eyes.
"To be sure, signorina," was the quick response.
Patricia caught up a sunshade and followed the child out at the side
entrance, which was little used. Tato took the way along the old road,
and Patsy walked beside her, chatting brightly of the catacombs, the
Norman villa that showed its checkered tower above the trees and the
ancient wall that still hemmed in the little village.
"I love Taormina," she said, earnestly, "and shall be sorry to leave it.
You must be very happy, Tato, to be able to live here always."
"It is my birthplace," she said; "but I long to get away from it and see
other countries. The view is fine, they say; but it tires me. The air is
sweet and pure; but it oppresses me. The climate is glorious; but I have
had enough of it. In other places there is novelty, and many things that
Sicily knows nothing of."
"That is true," replied Patsy, tucking the little one's arm underneath
her own, with a sympathetic gesture. "I know just how you feel, Tato.
You must come to America some day, and visit me. I will make you very
welcome, dear, and you shall be my friend."
The child looked into her face earnestly.
"You do not hate me, signorina, because--because--"
"Because my errand to you has been so lawless and--and--unfriendly?"
"Ah, Tato, you do not choose this life, do you?"
"It is forced on you by circumstances, is it not?"
"I know. You would not long so wistfully to change your condition if you
enjoyed being a little brigand. But nothing that has passed must
interfere with our friendship, dear. If I were in your place, you see, I
would do just as you have done. It is not a very honest life, Tato, nor
one to be proud of; but I'm not going to blame you one bit."
They had passed the Catania Gate and reached the foot of one of the
mountain paths. Tato paused, hesitatingly.
"Oh, I'll go a little farther," said Patsy, promptly. "No one will
notice two girls, you know. Shall I carry your parcel for a time?"
"No," replied the child, hugging it close with her disengaged arm. But
she offered no objection when Patsy continued to walk by her side.
"Have you any brothers or sisters, Tato?"
"Have you a mother?"
"No, signorina. My father and I are alone."
"I know him well, Tato. We were on the ship together, crossing the
ocean. He was gruff and disagreeable, but I made him talk to me and
"I know; he has told me of the Signorina Patsy. He is fond of you."
"Yet he robbed my uncle."
The child flushed, and drew away her arm.
"That is it. That is why you should hate me," she replied, bitterly. "I
know it is robbery, and brigandage, although my father masks it by
saying he sells antiques. Until now I have seen nothing wrong in this
life, signorina; but you have made me ashamed."
"Because you are so good and gentle, and so forgiving."
"In reality, Tato, I am resentful and unforgiving. You will find out,
soon, that I am a very human girl, and then I will not make you ashamed.
But your father's business is shameful, nevertheless."
Tato was plainly puzzled, and knew not what to reply. But just then they
reached the end of the crevasse, and the child said:
"You must return now, Signorina Patsy."
"But why cannot I go on with you, and come back with my uncle?"
Tato hesitated. Accustomed as she was to duplicity and acting, in her
capacity as lure for her thieving father, the child was just now
softened by Patsy's kindly manner and the successful accomplishment of
her mission. She had no thought of any treachery or deception on the
part of the American girl, and the request seemed to her natural
"If you like," she decided, "you may come as far as the barrier, and
there wait for your uncle. It will not be long."
"Very well, dear."
Tato clambered over the dividing rock and dropped into the path beyond.
Patsy sprang lightly after her. A short distance farther and they
reached the barrier.
"This is the place, signorina. You will sit upon that stone, and wait
until your uncle appears." She hesitated, and then added, softly: "I may
not see you again. But you will not forget me?"
"Never, Tato. And if you come to America you must not forget to visit
me. Remember, whatever happens, that we are friends, and must always
The child nodded, gratefully. Then, leaning against the face of the
cliff, she raised her voice and warbled clearly the bit of song that
served as the signal to her father.
TURNING THE TABLES
No sooner had the notes ceased than Kenneth sprang from behind a rock
that had concealed him and grasped the child in his strong arms, trying
to cover her mouth at the same time to prevent her from crying out.
Tato developed surprising strength. The adventure of yesterday had so
thoroughly frightened her that when she found herself again seized she
struggled madly. The boy found that he could scarcely hold her, so he
enfolded her in both his arms and, letting her scream as she might,
picked up her tiny form and mounted the slope of the hill, leaping from
rock to rock until he came to a broad boulder twenty feet or more above
the path. Here he paused, panting, and awaited results.
The rock doors had opened promptly. Even while Kenneth struggled with
the brigand's daughter Patsy could see straight through the tunnel and
into the valley beyond. The child had dropped her bundle in the effort
to escape, and while Kenneth was leaping with her up the crags Patsy ran
forward and secured the money, returning quickly to her position facing
And now they heard shouts and the sound of hastening feet as Il Duca ran
from the tunnel, followed closely by two of his brigands. They paused a
moment at the entrance, as if bewildered, but when the father saw his
child in the grasp of a stranger and heard her screams he answered with
a roar of fury and prepared to scramble up the rock to rescue her.
That was where Patsy showed her mettle. She hastily covered the brigand
with her revolver and shouted warningly:
"Stop, or you are a dead man!"
It was wonderfully dramatic and effective.
Il Duca shrank back, scowling, for he had no weapon at hand. Leaning
against the entrance to his valley he glared around to determine the
number of his foes and the probable chance of defeating them.
Kenneth laughed boyishly at his discomfiture. Kneeling down, the youth
grasped Tato by both wrists and lowered her body over the edge of the
rock so that her feet just touched a little ledge beneath. He continued
to hold fast to her wrists, though, and there she remained, stretched
against the face of the rock fronting the path, in full view of all, but
still unable to move.
From this exasperating sight Il Duca glanced at Patsy. She was holding
the revolver rigidly extended, and her blue eyes blazed with the
excitement of the moment. It was a wonder she did not pull the trigger
inadvertently, and the thought that she might do so caused the brigand
Turning half around he beheld a third enemy quietly seated upon the
rocks directly across the path from Kenneth, her pose unconcerned as she
rested her chin lightly upon her left hand. It was Beth, who held her
revolver nonchalantly and gazed upon the scene below her with calm
The Duke gave a cough to clear his throat. His men hung back of him,
silent and motionless, for they did not like this absolute and dangerous
defiance of their chief.
"Tell me, then, Tato," he called in English, "what is the cause of this
"I do not know, my father, except that these are friends of Signor
Merrick who have secretly followed me here."
The carefully arranged programme gave Patsy a speech at this point, but
she had entirely forgotten it.
"Let me explain," said Beth, coldly. "You have dared to detain in your
robbers' den the persons of Mr. Merrick and Count Ferralti. You have
also demanded a ransom for their release. That is brigandage, which is
denounced by the laws of Sicily. We have appealed to the authorities,
but they are helpless to assist us. Therefore, being Americans, we have
decided to assist ourselves. We command you to deliver to us on this
spot, safe and uninjured, the persons of our friends, and that without
any unnecessary delay."
The Duke listened with a sneer.
"And if we refuse, signorina?"
"If you refuse--if you do not obey at once--I swear that I will shoot
your child, Tato, whose body yonder awaits my bullet. And afterward I
shall kill you."
As she spoke she levelled the revolver and aimed it carefully at the
exposed body of the child.
The brigand paled, and grasped the rock to steady himself.
"Bah! No girl can shoot from that distance," he exclaimed, scornfully.
"Indeed! Take care of your finger," called Beth, and a shot echoed
sharply along the mountain side.
The brigand jumped and uttered a yell, at the same time whipping his
right hand underneath his left arm; for Beth's bullet had struck one of
his fingers and then flattened itself against the cliff.
That settled all argument, as far as Il Duca was concerned; for he now
had ample evidence that the stern-eyed girl above him could shoot, and
was not to be trifled with. All his life he had ruled by the terror of
his threats; to-day he was suddenly vanquished by a determination he
dared not withstand.
"Enough!" he cried. "Have your way."
He spoke to his men in Italian, and they hastened through the tunnel,
glad to escape.
Following their departure there was a brief silence, during which all
stood alert. Then, Tato, still half suspended against the cliff, said in
a clear, soft voice:
"Father, if you think you can escape, let them shoot me, and keep your
prisoners. The money for their ransom I brought to this place, and they
will pay it even yet to save their friends from your vengeance. Do not
let these wild Americans defeat us, I beg of you. I am not afraid. Save
yourself, and let them shoot me, if they will!"
Kenneth afterward declared that he thought "the jig was up" then, for
they had no intention whatever of harming Tato. It was all merely a bit
of American "bluff," and it succeeded because the brigand was a coward,
and dared not emulate his daughter's courage.
"No, no, Tato!" cried the Duke, brokenly, as he wrung his hands in
anguish. "There is more money to be had, but I have only one child. They
shall not harm a hair of your head, my pretty one!"
Patsy wanted to yell "bravo!" but wisely refrained. Her eyes were full
of tears, though, and her resolution at ebb tide.
Fortunately the men had made haste. They returned with surprising
promptness, pushing the amazed prisoners before them.
Uncle John, as he emerged from the tunnel, looked around upon the tragic
scene and gasped:
"Well, I declare!"
Count Ferralti was more composed, if equally surprised. He lifted his
hat politely to Beth and Patsy, and smiled with great satisfaction.
"You are free," said Il Duca, harshly. "Go!"
They lost no time in getting the brigands between themselves and the
mouth of the tunnel, and then Kenneth gently drew Tato to a place beside
him and assisted her to clamber down the path.
"Good bye, little one," he said, pleasantly; "you're what we call a
'brick' in our country. I like you, and I'm proud of you."
Tato did not reply. With streaming eyes she was examining her father's
shattered hand, and sobbing at sight of the blood that dripped upon the
rocks at his feet.
"Get inside!" called Beth, sharply; "and close up that rock. Lively,
The "girl who could shoot" still sat toying with her revolver, and the
mountaineers obeyed her injunction. The rock promptly closed, and the
group of Americans was left alone.
Then Beth came slowly down to where Patsy was hugging Uncle John in a
wild frenzy of delight, and Count Ferralti was shaking Kenneth's hand
with a face eloquent of emotion.
"Come," said she, her voice sounding faint and weary, "let us get away
from here. It was a pretty game, while it lasted, but I'll feel safer
when we are home again. Where's the money?"
"I've got it," said Kenneth, holding up the package.
"What! didn't you pay?" demanded Uncle John, astounded.
"Of course not, dear," said Patsy, gleefully. "Did you think your nieces
would let you be robbed by a bunch of dagoes?"
Ferralti caught hold of Beth's swaying form.
"Look after your cousin," he said, sharply. "I think she has fainted!"
THE COUNT UNMASKS
"And now," said Uncle John, as he sat in their cosy sitting-room,
propped in an easy chair with his feet upon a stool, "it's about time
for you to give an account of yourselves, you young rascals."
They had eaten a late but very satisfactory dinner at the
Castello-a-Mare, where the return of the missing ones was hailed with
joy by the proprietor and his assistants. Even the little bewhiskered
head-waiter, who resembled a jack-in-the-box more than he did a man,
strove to celebrate the occasion by putting every good thing the house
afforded before the returned guests. For, although they dared not
interfere to protect the victims of the terrible Il Duca, the hotel
people fully recognized the fact that brigandage was not a good
advertisement for Taormina, and hoped the "little incident" would not
become generally known.
Old Silas Watson, dignified lawyer as he was, actually danced a hornpipe
when he beheld his old friend safe and sound. But he shook his head
reproachfully when he learned of the adventure his ward and the two
girls had undertaken with such temerity but marvelous success.
Beth had quickly recovered from her weakness, although Kenneth had
insisted on keeping her arm all the way home. But the girl had been
silent and thoughtful, and would eat nothing at dinner.
When they had gathered in their room to talk it all over the lawyer
thought his young friends deserved a reproof.
"The money wasn't worth the risk, you crazy lunatics!" he said.
"It wasn't the money at all," replied Patsy, demurely.
"It was the principle of the thing. And wasn't Beth just wonderful,
"Shucks!" said Kenneth. "She had to go and faint, like a ninny, and she
cried all the way home, because she had hurt the brigand's finger."
The girl's eyes were still red, but she answered the boy's scornful
remark by saying, gravely:
"I am sorry it had to be done. I'll never touch a revolver again as long
as I live."
Uncle John gathered his brave niece into an ample embrace.
"I'm very proud of you, my dear," he said, stroking her hair lovingly,
"and you mustn't pay any attention to that silly boy. I've always known
you were true blue, Beth, and now you have proved it to everyone. It may
have been a reckless thing to do, as Mr. Watson says, but you did it
like a major, and saved our self-esteem as well as our money."
"Hurrah for Beth!" yelled the boy, changing his colors without a blush.
"If you don't shut up, I'll box your ears," said his guardian, sternly.
Uncle John and young Ferralti were the heroes of the evening. The little
old gentleman smoked a big cigar and beamed upon his nieces and friends
with intense satisfaction, while Ferralti sat glum and silent beside
Louise until an abrupt challenge from Mr. Merrick effectually aroused
"I've only one fault to find with this young man," was the observation
referred to: "that he made our acquaintance under false pretenses. When
a fairly decent fellow becomes an impostor there is usually reason for
it, and I would like Count Ferralti--or whatever his name is--to give us
that reason and make a clean breast of his deception."
Ferralti bowed, with a serious face, but looked significantly toward the
other members of the company.
"Whatever you have to say should be heard by all," declared Uncle John,
answering the look.
"Perhaps you are right, Mr. Merrick, and all present are entitled to an
explanation," answered the young man, slowly. "I may have been foolish,
but I believe I have done nothing that I need be ashamed of.
Fortunately, there is now no further reason for concealment on my part,
and in listening to my explanation I hope you will be as considerate as
They were attentive enough, by this time, and every eye was turned, not
unkindly, upon the youth who had so long been an enigma to them
all--except, perhaps, to Louise.
"I am an American by birth, and my name is Arthur Weldon."
In the pause that followed Uncle John gave a soft whistle and Patsy
laughed outright, to the undisguised indignation of Louise.
"Years ago," resumed the youth, "my father, who was a rich man, made a
trip to Sicily and, although I did not know this until recently, was
seized by brigands and imprisoned in the hidden valley we have just
left. There he fell in love with a beautiful girl who was the daughter
of the female brigand known as the Duchess of Alcanta, and who assisted
him to escape and then married him. It was a pretty romance at the time,
but when my father had taken his bride home to New York and became
immersed in the details of his business, his love grew cold and he began
to neglect his wife cruelly. He became a railway president and amassed
a great fortune, but was not so successful a husband as he was a
financier. The result was that the Sicilian girl, after some years of
unhappiness and suffering, deserted him and returned to her own country,
leaving her child, then three years old, behind her. To be frank with
you, it was said at the time that my mother's mind had become
unbalanced, or she would not have abandoned me to the care of a loveless
father, but I prefer to think that she had come to hate her husband so
bitterly that she could have no love for his child or else she feared
that her terrible mother would kill me if I came into her power. Her
flight mattered little to my father, except that it made him more stern
and tyrannical toward me. He saw me very seldom and confided my
education to servants. So I grew up practically unloved and uncared for,
and when the proper time arrived I was sent to college. My father now
gave me an ample allowance, and at the close of my college career called
me into his office and ordered me to enter the employ of the railway
company. I objected to this. I did not like the business and had other
plans for my future. But he was stubborn and dictatorial, and when I
continued unsubmissive he threatened to cast me off entirely and leave
his fortune to charity, since he had no other near relatives. He must
have thought better of this decision afterward, for he gave me a year to
decide whether or not I would obey him. At the end of that time, he
declared, I would become either a pauper or his heir, at my option.
"It was during this year that I formed the acquaintance of your niece,
Miss Merrick, and grew to love her devotedly. Louise returned my
affection, but her mother, learning of my quarrel with my father,
refused to sanction our engagement until I was acknowledged his heir. I
was forbidden her house, but naturally we met elsewhere, and when I knew
she was going to Europe with you, sir, who had never seen me, we hit
upon what we thought was a happy and innocent plan to avoid the long
separation. I decided to go to Europe also, and without you or your
other nieces suspecting, my identity, attach myself to your party and
enjoy the society of Louise while she remained abroad. So I followed
you on the next ship and met you at Sorrento, where I introduced myself
as Count Ferralti--a name we had agreed I should assume before we parted
"The rest of my story you know. My father was killed in an accident on
his own railroad, and I received the news while we were prisoners of the
brigand, whom I discovered to be my uncle, but who had no mercy upon me
because of the relationship. To-night, on my return here, I found a
letter from my father's attorney, forwarded from my bankers in Paris.
Through my father's sudden death I have inherited all his wealth, as he
had no time to alter his will. Therefore Mrs. Merrick's objection to me
is now removed, and Louise has never cared whether I had a penny or
He halted, as if not knowing what more to say, and the little group of
listeners remained quiet because it seemed that no remark from them was
necessary. Young Weldon, however, was ill at ease, and after hitching
nervously in his chair he addressed Uncle John in these words:
"Sir, you are the young lady's guardian for the present, as she is in
your charge. I therefore ask your consent to our formal engagement."
"Not any," said Uncle John, decidedly. "I'll sanction no engagement of
any children on this trip. You are wrong in supposing I am Louise's
guardian--I'm just her chum and uncle. It's like cradle-snatching to
want to marry a girl of sixteen, and you ought to be ashamed of
yourself, for you can't be much more than twenty-one yourself. While
Louise is in my care I won't have any entanglements of any sort, so
you'll have to wait till you get home and settle the business with her
"Very wise and proper, sir," said Mr. Watson, nodding gravely.
Louise's cheeks were flaming.
"Do you intend to drive Arthur away, Uncle?" she asked.
"Why should I, my dear? except that you've both taken me for a blind old
idiot and tried to deceive me. Let the boy stay with us, if he wants
to, but he'll have to cut out all love-making and double-dealing from
this time on--or I'll take you home in double-quick time."
The young man seemed to resent the indictment.
"The deception seemed necessary at the time, sir," he said, "and you
must not forget the old adage that 'all's fair in love and war.' But I
beg that you will forgive us both and overlook our fault, if fault it
was. Hereafter it is our desire to be perfectly frank with you in all
That was a good way to disarm Uncle John's anger, and the result was
"Very good," said the old gentleman; "if you are proper and obedient
children I've no objection to your being together. I rather like you,
Arthur Weldon, and most of your failings are due to the foolishness of
youth. But you've got to acquire dignity now, for you have suddenly
become a man of consequence in the world. Don't think you've got to
marry every girl that attracts you by her pretty face. This devotion to
Louise may be 'puppy-love,' after all, and--"
"Oh, Uncle!" came a chorus of protest.
"What, you rascals! are you encouraging this desperate fol-de-rol?"
"You are too severe, Uncle John," said Patsy, smiling. "The trouble with
you is that you've never been in love yourself."
"Never been in love!" He beamed upon the three girls with devotion
written all over his round, jolly face.
"Then you're jealous," said Kenneth. "Give the poor kids a fair show,
"All right, I will. Arthur, my lad, join our happy family as one of my
kidlets, and love us all--but no one in particular. Eh? Until we get
home again, you know. We've started out to have the time of our lives,
and we're getting it in chunks--eh, girls?"
"We certainly are, Uncle John!" Another chorus.
"Well, what do you say, Arthur Weldon?"
"Perhaps you are right, sir," answered the young man. "And, anyway, I am
deeply grateful for your kindness. I fear I must return home in a couple
of weeks, to look after business matters; but while I remain with you I
shall try to conduct myself as you wish."
"That sounds proper. Is it satisfactory to you, Louise?"
"Then we've settled Cupid--for a time, anyway. And now, my dears, I
think we have all had enough of Taormina. Where shall we go next?"
TATO IS ADOPTED
They canvassed the subject of their future travels with considerable
earnestness. Uncle John was bent upon getting to Rome and Venice, and
from there to Paris, and the nieces were willing to go anywhere he
preferred, as they were sure to enjoy every day of their trip in the old
world. But Mr. Watson urged them strongly to visit Syracuse, since they
were not likely to return to Sicily again and the most famous of all the
ancient historic capitals was only a few hours' journey from Taormina.
So it was finally decided to pass a week in Syracuse before returning to
the continent, and preparations were at once begun for their departure.
Kenneth pleaded for one more day in which to finish his picture of Etna,
and this was allowed him. Uncle John nevertheless confessed to being
uneasy as long as they remained on the scene of his recent exciting
experiences. Mr. Watson advised them all not to stray far from the
hotel, as there was no certainty that Il Duca would not make another
attempt to entrap them, or at least to be revenged for their escape from
On the afternoon of the next day, however, they were startled by a call
from the Duke in person. He was dressed in his usual faded velvet
costume and came to them leading by the hand a beautiful little girl.
The nieces gazed at the child in astonishment.
Tato wore a gray cloth gown, ill-fitting and of coarse material; but no
costume could destroy the fairy-like perfection of her form or the
daintiness of her exquisite features. With downcast eyes and a troubled
expression she stood modestly before them until Patsy caught her
rapturously in her arms and covered her face with kisses.
"You lovely, lovely thing!" she cried. "I'm so glad to see you again,
The Duke's stern features softened. He sighed heavily and accepted
Uncle John's polite invitation to be seated.
The little party of Americans was fairly astounded by this unexpected
visit. Kenneth regretted that he had left his revolver upstairs, but the
others remembered that the brigand would not dare to molest them in the
security of the hotel grounds, and were more curious than afraid.
Il Duca's hand was wrapped in a bandage, but the damaged finger did not
seem to affect him seriously. Beth could not take her eyes off this
dreadful evidence of her late conflict, and stared at it as if the
bandage fascinated her.
"Signore," said the Duke, addressing Uncle John especially, "I owe to
you my apologies and my excuses for the annoyance I have caused to you
and your friends. I have the explanation, if you will so kindly permit
"Fire away, Duke," was the response.
"Signore, I unfortunately come of a race of brigands. For centuries my
family has been lawless and it was natural that by education I, too,
should become a brigand. In my youth my father was killed in an affray
and my mother took his place, seizing many prisoners and exacting from
them ransom. My mother you have seen, and you know of her sudden madness
and of her death. She was always mad, I think, and by nature a fiend.
She urged my elder brother to wicked crimes, and when he rebelled she
herself cast him, in a fit of anger, into the pit. I became duke in his
place, and did my mother's bidding because I feared to oppose her. But
for years I have longed to abandon the life and have done with crime.
"With me our race ends, for I have no sons. But my one child, whom you
know as Tato, I love dearly. My greatest wish is to see her happy. The
last few days have changed the fortunes of us both. The Duchessa is
gone, and at last I am the master of my own fate. As for Tato, she has
been charmed by the young American signorini, and longs to be like them.
So we come to ask that you forgive the wrong we did you, and that you
will now allow us to be your friends."
Uncle John was amazed.
"You have decided to reform, Duke?" he asked.
"Yes, signore. Not alone for Tato's sake, but because I loathe the life
of brigandage. See; here is my thought. At once I will disband my men
and send them away. My household effects I will sell, and then abandon
the valley forever. Tato and I have some money, enough to live in quiet
in some other land, where we shall be unknown."
"A very good idea, Duke."
"But from my respect for you, Signer Merreek, and from my daughter's
love for your nieces--the brave and beautiful signorini--I shall dare to
ask from you a favor. But already I am aware that we do not deserve it."
"What is it, sir?"
"That you take my Tato to keep for a few weeks, until I can send away my
men and arrange my affairs here. It would be unpleasant for the child
here, and with you she will be so happy. I would like the sweet
signorini to buy nice dresses, like those they themselves wear, for my
little girl, and to teach her the good manners she could not gain as
the brigand's daughter. Tato has the money to pay for everything but the
kindness, if you will let her stay in your society until I can claim
her. I am aware that I ask too much; but the Signorina Patsy has said to
my child that they would always be friends, whatever might happen, and
as I know you to be generous I have dared to come to you with this
request. I only ask your friendship for my Tato, who is innocent. For
myself, after I have become a good man, then perhaps you will forgive
Uncle John looked thoughtful; the old lawyer was grave and listened
silently. Patsy, her arms still around the shrinking form of the child,
looked pleadingly at her uncle. Beth's eyes were moist and Louise smiled
"Well, my dears? The Duke is certainly not entitled to our friendship,
as he truly says; but I have nothing against little Tato. What do you
"Let us keep her, and dress her like the beautiful doll she is, and love
her!" cried Patsy.
"She shall be our adopted cousin," said Louise.
"Tato is good stuff!" declared Kenneth.
"It seems to me, Uncle," said the girl, seriously, "that if the Duke
really wishes to reform, we should give him a helping hand. The little
girl has led a bad life only because her father forced her to lure his
victims and then procure the money for their ransoms; but I am sure her
nature is sweet and pure, and she is so young that she will soon forget
the evil things she has learned. So I vote with my cousins. Let us adopt
Tato, and care for her until her father can introduce her into a new and
more proper life."
"Well argued, Beth," said Uncle John, approvingly. "I couldn't have put
the case better myself. What do you say, Silas Watson?"
"That you are all quite right," answered the old lawyer. "And the best
part of the whole thing, to me, is the fact that this nest of brigands
will be wiped out of existence, and Taormina be hereafter as safe for
tourists as old Elmhurst itself. I wish I could say as much for the rest
Uncle John extended his hand to the Duke, who took it gratefully,
although with a shamefaced expression that was perhaps natural under the
"Look up, dear," said Patsy to the girl, softly; "look up and kiss me.
You've been adopted, Tato! Are you glad?"
DREAMS AND DRESS-MAKING
Tato was now one of the family. They left Taormina the next day, and
Frascatti drove all the girls in his victoria to the station.
"You must come again, signorini," said he, looking regretful at their
departure. "Next year the fountain of the ice cream soda will be in
operation, like those you have in Chicago, which is America. Our culture
increases with our civilization. It is even hinted that Il Duca is to
abandon our island forever. He has been interesting to us, but not
popular, and you will not miss him when you come again to find he is not
here. If this time he has caused you an inconvenience, I am sorry. It is
"But it is so!" said Patsy, laughing.
Tato was again transformed. Patricia, who was the smallest of the three
nieces, though not especially slim, had quickly altered one of her own
pretty white gowns to fit the child, and as she was deft with her needle
and the others had enthusiastically assisted her, Tato now looked more
like a fairy than ever.
It was really wonderful what a suitable dress could do for the tiny
Sicilian maid. She had lost her free and boyish manner and become shy
and retiring with strangers, although when in the society of the three
nieces she was as sweet and frank as ever. She wore her new gown
gracefully, too, as if well accustomed to feminine attire all her life.
The only thing now needed, as Patsy said, was time in which to grow her
hair, which had always been cut short, in boyish fashion.
They were a merry party when they boarded the train for Syracuse, and
Uncle John arranged with the guard to secure two adjoining compartments
all to themselves, that they might have plenty of room.
"Where did you put the money, Uncle John?" Beth whispered, when at last
they were whirling along and skirting the base of Mt. Etna toward the
"I've hidden it in my trunk," he replied, in the same confidential tone.
"There is no bank in this neighborhood to receive it, so I decided to
carry it with us."
"But will it be safe in the trunk?" she enquired.
"Of course, my dear. Who would think of looking there for fifty thousand
dollars? And no one knows we happen to have so much money with us."
"What did the Count--I mean, Mr. Weldon--do with his ransom?"
"Carries it in his satchel, so he can keep it with him and have an eye
on it. It's a great mistake, Beth, to do such a thing as that. It'll
make him uneasy every minute, and he won't dare to let a facchino
handle his grip. But in my case, on the other hand, I know it's
somewhere in the baggage car, so I don't have to worry."
The journey was a delightful one. The road skirted the coast through the
oldest and most picturesque part of Sicily, and it amazed them to
observe that however far they travelled Etna was always apparently next
door, and within reaching distance.
At Aci Castello they were pointed out the seven Isles of the Cyclops,
which the blind Polyphemus once hurled after the crafty Ulysses. Then
they came to Catania, which is the second largest city in Sicily, but
has little of historic interest. Here they were really at the nearest
point to the mighty volcano, but did not realize it because it always
seemed to be near them. Eighteen miles farther they passed Leontinoi,
which in ancient days dared to rival Siracusa itself, and an hour later
the train skirted the bay and Capo Santa Panagia and slowly came to a
halt in that city which for centuries dominated all the known world and
was more powerful and magnificent in its prime than Athens
The day had become cloudy and gray and the wind whistled around them
with a chill sweep as they left their coach at the station and waited
for Kenneth to find carriages. Afterward they had a mile to drive to
their hotel; for instead of stopping in the modern town Uncle John had
telegraphed for rooms at the Villa Politi, which is located in the
ancient Achradina, at the edge of the Latomia de Cappuccini. By the time
they arrived there they were blue with cold, and were glad to seek the
warm rooms prepared for them and pass the remainder of the afternoon
unpacking and "getting settled."
"I'm afraid," said Patsy, dolefully, "that we shall miss the bright
sunshine and warmth of Taormina, Tato."
"Oh, it is not always warm there, nor is it always cold here," replied
the child. "Indeed, signorina, I have heard that the climate of Siracusa
is very delightful."
"It doesn't look it," returned Patsy; "but it may improve."
The interior of the hotel was comfortable, though, however bleak the
weather might be outside. A good dinner put them all in a better humor
and they passed the evening watching the strangers assembled in the
parlors and wondering where they had come from and who they were.
"That money," whispered Uncle John to Beth, as he kissed her good
night, "is still as safe as can be. I've lost the key to my trunk, and
now I can't even get at it myself."
"Lost it!" she exclaimed.
"Yes; but that won't matter. It's the big trunk that holds the things I
don't often use, and if I can't unlock it no one else can, that's
certain. So I shall rest easy until I need something out of it, and then
I'll get a locksmith to pick the lock."
"But I wish you hadn't lost the key," said the girl, thoughtfully.
"Strikes me it's good luck. Pleasant dreams, my dear. I can fancy Arthur
Weldon lying awake all night with his dreadful thirty thousand tucked
under his pillow. It's a great mistake to carry so much money with you,
Beth, for you're sure to worry about it."
The next morning when they came down to breakfast they were all amazed
at the gorgeous sunshine and the genial temperature that had followed
the dreary afternoon of their arrival. Syracuse was transformed, and
from every window of the hotel the brilliant glow of countless flowers
invited one to wander in the gardens, which are surpassed by few if any
in the known world.
The Villa Politi stood so near the edge of a monstrous quarry that it
seemed as if it might topple into the abyss at any moment. Our friends
were on historic ground, indeed, for these quarries--or latomia, as they
are called--supplied all the stone of which the five cities of ancient
Syracuse were built--cities which in our age have nearly, if not quite,
passed out of existence. The walls of the quarry are a hundred feet in
depth, and at the bottom are now acres upon acres of the most delightful
gardens, whose luxuriance is attributable to the fact that they are
shielded from the winds while the sun reaches them nearly all the day.
There are gardens on the level above, and beautiful ones, too; but these
in the deep latomia are the most fascinating.
The girls could scarcely wait to finish breakfast before rushing out to
descend the flights of iron steps that lead to the bottom of the vast
excavation. And presently they were standing on the ground below and
looking up at the vine covered cliffs that shut out all of the upper
It was peaceful here, and soothing to tired nerves. Through blooming
shrubbery and along quiet paths they might wander for hours, and at
every step find something new to marvel at and to delight the senses.
Here were ancient tombs cut from the solid rock--one of them that of an
American midshipman who died in Syracuse and selected this impressive
and lovely vault for his burial place. And there stood the famous statue
of Archimedes, who used in life to wander in this very latomia.
"Once," said Mr. Watson, musingly, "there were seven thousand Athenian
prisoners confined in this very place, and allowed to perish through
starvation and disease. The citizens of Syracuse--even the fine ladies
and the little children--used to stand on the heights above and mock at
the victims of their king's cruelty."
"Couldn't they climb out?" asked Patsy, shuddering at the thought that
some of the poor prisoners might have died on the very spot her feet
"No, dear. And it is said the guards constantly patrolled the edge to
slay any who might venture to make the attempt."
"Wasn't it dreadful!" she exclaimed. "But I'm glad they have made a
flower garden of it now. Somehow, it reminds me of a cemetery."
But there were other interesting sights to be seen at Syracuse, and they
laid out a systematic programme of the places they would visit each
morning while they remained there. The afternoons were supposed to be
reserved for rest, but the girls were so eager to supply Tato with a
fitting wardrobe that they at once began to devote the afternoons to
shopping and dress-making.
The child had placed in Uncle John's keeping a liberally supplied purse,
which the Duke wished to be applied to the purchase of whatever his
daughter might need or desire.
"He wants me to dress as you do," said Tato, simply; "and because you
will know what is fitting my station and will be required in my future
life, he has burdened you with my society. It was selfish in my father,
was it not? But but--I wanted so much to be with you--because you are
good to me!"
"And we're mighty glad to have you with us," answered Patsy. "It's no
end of fun getting a girl a whole new outfit, from top to toe; and,
aside from that, we already love you as if you were our little sister."
Beth and Louise equally endorsed this statement; and indeed the child
was so sweet and pretty and so grateful for the least kindness bestowed
upon her that it was a pleasure to assist and counsel her.
Tato looked even smaller in girls' clothing than in boys', and she
improved so rapidly in her manners by constantly watching the nieces
that it was hard to imagine she had until now been all unused to polite
society. Already they began to dread the day when her father would come
to claim her, and the girls and Uncle John had conceived a clever plan
to induce the Duke to let his daughter travel with them on the continent
and then go for a brief visit to them in America.
"By that time," declared Louise, "Tato's education will be
accomplished, and she will be as refined and ladylike as any girl of her
age we know. Blood will tell, they say, and the monk who taught her must
have been an intelligent and careful man."
"She knows more of history and languages than all the rest of us put
together," added Beth.
"And, having adopted her, we mustn't do the thing by halves," concluded
Patsy; "so our darling little brigandess must tease her papa to let her
stay with us as long as possible."
Tato smiled and blushed with pleasure. It was very delightful to know
she had such enthusiastic friends. But she was afraid the Duke would not
like to spare her for so long a time as a visit to America would
"You leave him to me," said Uncle John. "I'll argue the case clearly and
logically, and after that he will have to cave in gracefully."
Meantime the dainty gowns and pretty costumes were one by one finished
and sent to the hotel, and the girls ransacked the rather inadequate
shops of Syracuse for the smartest things in lingerie that could be
procured. As they were determined to "try everything on" and see how
their protégé looked in her finery, Tato was now obliged to dress for
dinner and on every other possible occasion, and she not only astonished
her friends by her loveliness but drew the eye of every stranger as
surely as the magnet attracts the needle.
Even in Sicily, where the Greek type of beauty to-day exists more
perfectly than in Helene, there were few to compare with Tato, and it
was only natural that the Americans should be very proud of her.
Kenneth was sketching a bit of the quarry and the old monastery beyond
it, with the blue sea glimmering in the distance. Sometimes he would
join the others in their morning trips to the catacombs, the cathedrals
or the museum; but the afternoons he devoted to his picture, and the
others came to the gardens with him and sat themselves down to sew or
read beside his easel.
Arthur Weldon was behaving very well indeed; and although a good deal of
the credit belonged to Louise, who managed him with rare diplomatic
ability, Uncle John grew to like the young man better each day, and had
no fault whatever to find with him.
He was still rather silent and reserved; but that seemed a part of his
nature, inherited doubtless from his father, and when he chose to talk
his conversation was interesting and agreeable.
Kenneth claimed that Arthur had a bad habit of "making goo-goo eyes" at
Louise; but the young man's manner was always courteous and judicious
when addressing her, and he managed to conceal his love with admirable
discretion--at least when others were present.
Uncle John's private opinion, confided in secret to his friend Mr.
Watson, was that Louise "really might do worse; that is, if they were
both of the same mind when they grew up."
And so the days passed pleasantly away, and the time for their departure
from Syracuse drew near.
On the last morning all of them--with the exception of Tato, who pleaded
a headache--drove to the Latomia del Paradiso to see the celebrated "Ear
of Dionysius"--that vast cavern through which the tyrant is said to
have overheard every whisper uttered by the prisoners who were confined
in that quarry. There is a little room at the top of the cliff, also
built from the rock, where it is claimed Dionysius sat and played
eavesdropper; and it is true that one in that place can hear the
slightest sound uttered in the chamber below.
Afterward the amphitheatre and the ancient street of the tombs were paid
a final visit, with a stop at San Giovanni, where St. Paul once
preached. And at noon the tourists returned to the hotel hungry but
enthusiastic, in time for the table-d'-hote luncheon.
"This is funny!" cried Patsy, appearing before Uncle John with a white
and startled face. "I can't find Tato anywhere."
"And her new trunk is gone from her room, as well as her gowns and
everything she owns," continued Beth's clear voice, over her cousin's
Uncle John stared at them bewildered. Then an expression of anxiety
crept over his kindly face.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"There can't be a mistake, Uncle. She's just gone."
"None of you has offended, or annoyed the child, I suppose?"
"Oh, no, Uncle. She kissed us all very sweetly when we left her this
"I can't understand it."
"Nor can we."
"Could her father have come for her, do you think?" suggested Mr.
Merrick, after a moment's thought.
"I can't imagine her so ungrateful as to leave us without a word," said
Patsy. "I know Tato well, Uncle, and the dear child would not hurt our
feelings for the world. She loves us dearly."
"But she's a queer thing," added Louise, "and I don't trust her
altogether. Sometimes I've surprised a look in her eyes that wasn't as
innocent and demure as she would have us imagine her."
"And there's another reason."
"What is it?"
"She reformed too suddenly."
Uncle John slapped his forehead a mighty blow as a suspicious and
dreadful thought flashed across his mind. But next instant he drew a
long breath and smiled again.
"It was lucky I lost that key to the trunk," he observed, still a little
ashamed of his temporary lack of confidence in Tato. "It's been locked
ever since we left Taormina, so the child couldn't be tempted by that."
"She wouldn't touch your money for the world!" said Patsy, indignantly.
"Tato is no thief!"
"She comes of a race of thieves, though," Beth reminded her.
"I wonder if Arthur's money is still safe," remarked Louise, following
the line of thought suggested.
As if with one accord they moved down the hall to the door of the young
"Are you in, Arthur?" asked Uncle John, knocking briskly.
He opened his door at once, and saw with surprise the little group of
anxious faces outside.
"Is your money safe?" asked Uncle John.
Weldon gave them a startled glance and then ran to his dresser and
pulled open a drawer. After a moment's fumbling he turned with a smile.
"All safe, sir."
Uncle John and his nieces were visibly relieved.
"You see," continued Arthur, "I've invented a clever hiding-place,
because the satchel could not be left alone and I didn't wish to lug it
with me every step I took. So I placed the packages of bills inside the
leg of a pair of trousers, and put them in a drawer with some other
clothing at top and bottom. A dozen people might rummage in that drawer
without suspecting the fact that money is hidden there. I've come to
believe the place is as good as a bank; but you startled me for a
minute, with your question. What's wrong?"
"Departed bag and baggage."
"But your fifty thousand, sir. Is it safe?"
"It has to be," answered Uncle John. "It is in a steel-bound,
double-locked trunk, to which I've lost the key. No bank can beat that,
"Then why did the child run away?"
They could not answer that.
"It's a mystery," said Patsy, almost ready to weep. "But I'll bet it's
that cruel, wicked father of hers. Perhaps he came while we were out and
wouldn't wait a minute."
"What does the hall porter say?" asked Kenneth, who had joined the group
in time to overhear the last speech and guess what had happened.
"Stupid!" cried Uncle John. "We never thought of the hall-porter. Come
back to our sitting room, and we'll have him up in a jiffy."
The portiere answered his hell with alacrity. The Americans were liberal
The young lady? Ah, she had driven away soon after they had themselves
gone. A thin-faced, dark-eyed man had called for her and taken her away,
placing her baggage on the box of the carriage. Yes, she had paid her
bill and tipped the servants liberally.
"Just as I suspected!" cried Patsy. "That horrid duke has forced her to
leave us. Perhaps he was jealous, and feared we would want to keep her
always. Was she weeping and miserable, porter?"
"No, signorina. She laughed and was very merry. And--but I had
forgotten! There is a letter which she left for the Signorina D'Oyle."
"In the office. I will bring it at once."
He ran away and quickly returned, placing a rather bulky parcel in the
"You read it, Uncle John," she said. "There can't be anything private in
Tato's letter, and perhaps she has explained everything."
He put on his glasses and then took the missive and deliberately opened
it. Tato wrote a fine, delicate hand, and although the English words
were badly spelled she expressed herself quite well in the foreign
tongue. With the spelling and lack of punctuation corrected, her letter
was as follows:
"Dear, innocent, foolish Patsy: How astonished you will be to find I
have vanished from your life forever; and what angry and indignant words
you will hurl after poor Tato! But they will not reach me, because you
will not know in which direction to send them, and I will not care
whether you are angry or not.
"You have been good to me, Patsy, and I really love you--fully as much
as I have fear of that shrewd and pretty cousin of yours, whose cold
eyes have made me tremble more than once. But tell Beth I forgive her,
because she is the only clever one of the lot of you. Louise thinks she
is clever, but her actions remind me of the juggler who explained his
tricks before he did them, so that the audience would know how skillful
"But oh, Patsy, what simpletons you all are! And because you have been
too stupid to guess the truth I must bother to write it all down. For it
would spoil much of my satisfaction and enjoyment if you did not know
how completely I have fooled you.
"You tricked us that day in the mountain glen, and for the first time an
Alcanta brigand lost his prisoners and his ransom money through being
outwitted. But did you think that was the end? If so you failed to
"Look you, my dear, we could have done without the money, for our family
has been robbing and accumulating for ages, with little need to expend
much from year to year. It is all in the Bank of Italy, too, and drawing
the interest, for my father is a wise man of business. That four hundred
thousand lira was to have been our last ransom, and after we had fairly
earned it you tricked us and did not pay.
"So my father and I determined to get even with you, as much through
revenge as cupidity. We were obliged to desert the valley at once,
because we were getting so rich that the government officials became
uneasy and warned us to go or be arrested. So we consulted together and
decided upon our little plot, which was so simple that it has worked
perfectly. We came to you with our sad story, and you thought we had
reformed, and kindly adopted me as one of your party. It was so easy
that I almost laughed in your foolish faces. But I didn't, for I can
act. I played the child very nicely, I think, and you quite forgot I was
a brigand's daughter, with the wild, free blood of many brave outlaws
coursing in my veins. Ah, I am more proud of that than of my acting.
"Innocent as I seemed, I watched you all carefully, and knew from
almost the first hour where the money had been put. I stole the key to
Uncle John's trunk on the train, while we were going from Taormina to
Syracuse; but I did not take the money from it because I had no better
place to keep it, and the only danger was that he would force the lock
some day. But Ferralti's money--I call him Ferralti because it is a
prettier name than Weldon--bothered me for a long time. At the first he
would not let that little satchel out of his sight, and when he finally
did he had removed the money to some other place. I searched his room
many times, but could not find his hiding place until last night. While
he was at dinner I discovered the bills in one of the drawers of his
"But for this difficulty I should have left your charming society
before, as my father has been secretly waiting for me for three days.
Having located Ferralti's money I waited until this morning and when you
had all left me I signalled to my father from my window and prepared to
disappear. It took but a few minutes to get the money from Uncle John's
trunk and Arthur's trouser-leg. Much obliged for it, I'm sure. Then I
packed up all my pretty dresses in my new trunk--for part of our plot
was to use your good taste in fitting me out properly--and now I am
writing this loving epistle before I leave.
"We shall go to Paris or Vienna or Cairo or London--guess which! We
shall have other names--very beautiful ones--and be rich and dignified
and respected. When I grow older I think I shall marry a prince and
become a princess; but that will not interest you much, for you will not
know that the great princess is your own little Tato.
"Tell Uncle John I have left the key to his trunk on the mantel, behind
the picture of the madonna. I stuffed papers into Arthur's trouser leg
to deceive him if he came back before I had a chance to escape. But I
hoped you would discover nothing until you read this letter, for I
wanted to surprise you. Have I? Then I am content. You tricked me once;
but I have tricked you at the last, and the final triumph is mine.
"In spite of all, Patsy dear, I love you; for you are sweet and good,
and although I would not be like you for the world I can appreciate your
excellent qualities. Remember this when your anger is gone. I won't be
able to visit you in America, but I shall always think of you in a more
kindly way than I fear you will think of the Sicilian tomboy, TATO."
A WAY TO FORGET
The faces of the group, as Uncle John finished reading, were worth
studying. Arthur Weldon was white with anger, and his eyes blazed. Silas
Watson stared blankly at his old friend, wondering if it was because he
was growing old that he had been so easily hoodwinked by this saucy
child. Beth was biting her lip to keep back the tears of humiliation
that longed to trickle down her cheeks. Louise frowned because she
remembered the hard things Tato had said of her. Patsy was softly crying
at the loss of her friend.
Then Kenneth laughed, and the sound sent a nervous shiver through the
"Tato's a brick!" announced the boy, audaciously. "Can't you see, you
stupids, that the thing is a good joke on us all? Or are you too thin
skinned to laugh at your own expense?"
"Oh, we can laugh," responded Uncle John, gravely. "But if Tato's a
brick it's because she is hard and insensible. The loss of the money
doesn't hurt me, but to think the wicked little lass made me love her
when she didn't deserve it is the hardest blow I have ever received."
That made Patsy sob outright, while Louise ejaculated, with scorn: "The
"It serves us right for having confidence in a child reared to crime and
murder from the cradle," said Arthur, rather savagely. "I don't know how
much money I am worth, but I'd gladly spend another thirty thousand to
bring this wretched creature to justice."
"Money won't do it," declared the lawyer, shaking his head regretfully.
"The rascals are too clever to be caught in Europe. It would be
different at home."
"Well, the best thing to do is to grin and bear it, and forget the
unpleasant incident as soon as possible," said Uncle John. "I feel as if
I'd had my pocket picked by my best friend, but it isn't nearly as
disgraceful as being obliged to assist the thief by paying ransom
money. The loss amounts to nothing to either of us, and such treachery,
thank goodness, is rare in the world. We can't afford to let the thing
make us unhappy, my friends; so cheer up, all of you, and don't dwell
upon it any more than you can help."
They left Syracuse a rather solemn group, in spite of this wise advice,
and journeyed back to Naples and thence to Rome. There was much to see
here, and they saw it so energetically that when they boarded the train
for Florence they were all fagged out and could remember nothing clearly
except the Coliseum and the Baths of Carracalla.
Florence was just now a bower of roses and very beautiful. But Kenneth
lugged them to the galleries day after day until Uncle John declared he
hated to look an "old master" in the face.
"After all, they're only daubs," he declared. "Any ten-year-old boy in
America can paint better pictures."
"Don't let anyone hear you say that, dear," cautioned Patsy. "They'd
think you don't know good art."
"But I do," he protested. "If any of those pictures by old masters was
used in a street-car 'ad' at home it would be money wasted, for no one
would look at them. The people wouldn't stand for it a minute."
"They are wonderful for the age in which they were painted," said
Kenneth, soberly. "You must remember that we have had centuries in which
to improve our art, since then."
"Oh, I've a proper respect for old age, I hope," replied Uncle John;
"but to fall down and worship a thing because it's gray-haired and
out-of-date isn't just my style. All of these 'Oh!'s' and 'Ahs!' over
the old masters are rank humbug, and I'm ashamed of the people that
don't know better."
And now Arthur Weldon was obliged to bid good-bye to Louise and her
friends and take a train directly to Paris to catch the steamer for
home. His attorney advised him that business demanded his immediate
presence, and he was obliged to return, however reluctantly.
Kenneth and Mr. Watson also left the party at Florence, as the boy
artist wished to remain there for a time to study the pictures that
Uncle John so bitterly denounced. The others went on to Venice, which
naturally proved to the nieces one of the most delightful places they
had yet seen. Mr. Merrick loved it because he could ride in a gondola
and rest his stubby legs, which had become weary with tramping through
galleries and cathedrals. These last monuments, by the way, had grown to
become a sort of nightmare to the little gentleman. The girls were
enthusiastic over cathedrals, and allowed none to escape a visit. For a
time Uncle John had borne up bravely, but the day of rebellion was soon
"No cathedrals in Venice, I hope?" he had said on their arrival.
"Oh, yes, dear; the loveliest one in the world! St. Mark's is here, you
"But no St. Paul's or St. Peter's?"
"No, Uncle. There's the Saluta, and the--"
"Never mind. We'll do that first one, and then quit. What they build so
many churches for I can't imagine. Nobody goes to 'em but tourists, that
I can see."
He developed a streak of extravagance in Venice, and purchased Venetian
lace and Venetian glassware to such an extent that the nieces had to
assure him they were all supplied with enough to last them and their
friends for all time to come. Major Doyle had asked for a meerschaum
pipe and a Florentine leather pocket book; so Uncle John made a
collection of thirty-seven pipes of all shapes and sizes, and bought so
many pocketbooks that Patsy declared her father could use a different
one every day in the month.
"But they're handy things to have," said her uncle, "and we may not get
to Europe again in a hurry."
This was his excuse for purchasing many things, and it was only by
reminding him of the duty he would have to pay in New York that the
girls could induce him to desist.
This customs tax worried the old gentleman at times. Before this trip he
had always believed in a protective tariff, but now he referred to the
United States customs as a species of brigandage worse than that of Il
They stopped at Milan to visit the great cathedral, and then raced
through Switzerland and made a dash from Luzerne to Paris.
"Thank heaven," said Uncle John, "there are no cathedrals in gay Paree,
at any rate."
"Oh, yes there are," they assured him. "We must see Notre Dame, anyway;
and there are a dozen other famous cathedrals."
Here is where Uncle John balked.
"See here, my dears," he announced, "Not a cathedral will I visit from
this time on! You can take a guide and go by yourselves if you feel you
can't let any get away from you. Go and find another of Mike Angelo's
last work; every church has got one. For my part, I've always been
religiously inclined, but I've been to church enough lately to last me
the rest of my natural life, and I've fully determined not to darken the
doors of another cathedral again. They're like circuses, anyhow; when
you've seen one, you've seen 'em all."
No argument would induce him to abandon this position; so the girls
accepted his proposal and visited their beloved cathedrals in charge of
a guide, whose well of information was practically inexhaustible if not
remarkable for its clarity.
The opera suited Uncle John better, and he freely revelled in the shops,
purchasing the most useless and preposterous things in spite of that
growing bugbear of the customs duties.
But finally this joyous holiday came to an end, as all good things will,
and they sailed from Cherbourg for New York.
Uncle John had six extra trunks, Patsy carried a French poodle that was
as much trouble as an infant in arms, and Louise engineered several
hat-boxes that could not be packed at the last minute. But the girls
embarked gay and rosy-cheeked and animated, and in spite of all the
excitement and pleasure that had attended their trip, not one of the
party was really sorry when the return voyage began.
"To me," said Uncle John, as he stood on the deck and pointed proudly to
the statue of Liberty in New York harbor, "that is the prettiest sight
I've seen since I left home."
"Prettier than the old masters, Uncle?" asked Patsy, mischievously.
"Yes, or the cathedrals!" he retorted.
When they reached the dock there was the Major waiting to receive Patsy
in a new checked suit with a big flower in his button-hole and a broad
smile on his jolly face.
And there was Mrs. Merrick, too, with Arthur Weldon beside her, which
proved to Louise that he had succeeded in making his peace with her
mother. Also there were the stern-featured custom-house officials in
their uniforms, and the sight of them sent the cold chills flying down
Uncle John's spine.
There was no one present to receive Beth, but her uncle tucked her arm
underneath his own with a proud gesture and kept her close beside him.
For the girl had quite won his loving old heart on this trip, and she
seemed to him more mature and far sweeter than when they had left home.
But the greetings and the "brigandage" were soon over, and in good time
they were all assembled in the Doyle flat, where the joyous Major had
prepared an elaborate dinner to celebrate the return of the wanderers.
"We've a million pipes and pocket-books for you, daddy," whispered
Patsy, hugging him for the twentieth time; "and I've got a thousand
things to tell you about our adventures in strange lands."
"Save 'em till we're alone," said the Major; "they're too good to waste
on a crowd."
Mr. Merrick was placed at the head of the table to make a speech. It was
brief and to the point.
"I promised these young ladies to give them time of their lives," he
said, "Did I do it, girls?"
And in a lively chorus they answered:
"You did, Uncle John!"