Single to Sicily
The story About to marry Colonel Pluckett who is many years her senior, Daphne Bultencortli decides that s/w cannot endure his enthusiasm for Red Orpington hens and flees alone from London to Taormina in Sicily. Murray Bishop lakes advantage of his fiancee's trip abroad to enjoy his last days of freedom and also hies toward Taormina. He helps Daphne out of a custom-house difficulty and soon they are exchanging confidences.
Sadie Hollinger, a California divorcée who operates the world’s greatest hennery, is headed toward Taormina, accompanied by a robust negress named Sarah.
Colonel Pluckett departs for the Sicilian resort in order to recapture Daphne, but becomes a quarry himself when Sadie Hollinger focuses loving eyes upon him and launches into glamorous hen talk.
Murray's aunt, Lady Thoroughgood, disapproves of her nephew’s growing interest in that flighty Butterworth girl.
With all parties converging toward a common point, it appears that Dan Cupid had better watch out or he’ll get his arrows crossed.
HAVING EXPRESSED myself with regard to your behavior about Dora, I have now something to say about the young person with whom I saw you today, Murray."
"I cannot call her anything else.”
Mr. Bishop sighed. They were in the garden of the Villa Piccolina. It had taken Lady Thoroughgood fifteen minutes to express herself on the Dora matter, and she was just getting under way.
”1 can't see why you’re so shirty about nothing at all.” “1 object to your language. Murray. Also 1 have some information that will surprise you.”
“Splendid! 1 love surprises."
"Then read that.” She thrust The Times at him with a gesture of triumph. "I know that your ideas of engagements are loose, but you will hardly condone it in a girl.”
Mr. Bishop read the paragraph languidly.
"That’s no surprise.”
"You knew it !”
“How long have you known it, Murray?”
"She told me on the train.”
Lady Thoroughgood made a clucking sound.
"Have you alienated this young woman’s affections?” “Not much; they were that way before we met and, besides, she hasn’t got any affections. Told me so. She just wants to be let alone, and," he added significantly, "so do I."
"Alone together,” snapped his aunt. “Well, I shall feel it my duty to communicate with Colonel Pluckett. I see he is a
member of The Fusiliers Club."
“He would be,” grunted Mr. Bishop. “Ghastly hole. Look here, aunt, I know something too.”
“I just said I knew something about Colonel Pluckett, and I bet you don’t.”
“Has it anything to do with this present matter?” she demanded,
“The fact that his fiancee is here.”
“Then you ought to tell me.”
“I couldn’t do that—
“Why not now'?”
“I’d have to get permission from Miss Buttenvorth. I’ll tell her, if you like, that you want to know too."
“You’ll do nothing of the sort," put in his aunt hurriedly. “I don't approve of the girl."
"She seems to be aware of that, but isn’t losing any sleep over it. Anything elst\ aunt? And what has she done to offend you, anyway?”
“She’s wearing a trousseau and flirting atout with you in Sicily when she ought to be Murray, just how far have you gone with her?"
“Well,” he said reminiscently, "1 don’t see why she shouldn’t wear it with me. It’s all she has. And I paid for it that is, some of it."
"She had it all laid out, and wanted a little ready cash.”
"How unspeakably gross!”
"No, aunt, not gross: not at all gross. 1 thought they were rather nice. Pink, most of ’em."
"Murray, you appall me. When did this happen?”
"About two in the morning. We were both wearing pyjamas.”
Something in his tone roused her suspicions, and she gave him a hard look.
"W here did this disgraceful episode take place?”
“In the custom house at Modane. She got stuck, and they wouldn't take her cheque, so I did, and squared the thing. That’s how we met.”
"Murray, this surpasses the wildest story you’ve ever told in the past. I decline to believe it.”
"All right, all right,” he said resignedly. “I didn’t think you would, but it doesn't matter. Now I’ll tell you another one. She is running away from the colonel, and from what I’ve heard of him, I respect her for it.”
“Then, being so well informed, of course you know what caused this desertion?"
“I do. but you won’t believe that either.”
“What was it?”
“Forty Red Orpingtons.”
"Orpingtons. I said a kind of fowl.”
"It is not necessary to be offensive as well as extremely rude, Murray. I think you had better go.”
MR. BISHOP went, thankfully, as far as the Diodoro, and found Miss Butterworth exactly where he had left her. This was because she had not moved.
“Well." he nodded brightly, “that’s all right. Let’s have a look at that car."
Miss Butterworth shook her head.
“Not thinking of Montague, are you?” Bishop asked. "What on earth am I to say?”
“Why imagine some possible future situation and start worrying what you're going to say when it arrives?"
“It is much more than possible.”
“ Then you're clean off the rails, and it’s a waste of tissue. W hat you say depends on what he does, unless you say it first, which would be a mistake, and as he hasn't done or said anything yet, how on earth can you settle your end of it? And what I mean is that you’re treating a negative situation in a positive way, which simply can't be done. It’s as plain as mud. Do you get me?”
“I do not. Do you quite get yourself?”
“Sorry if I’ve been talking a little over your head, Daph. All you have to do is to dodge being with him alone. With a third person there, he’ll jam his gears, sure as nuts. Suppose, for instance, you and I were drinking in the Corso and Montague traces you there. Do you think he’s going to accost you and say: ‘Oh, fly with me and be my bride?’ Not much, he isn’t.”
The tip of Miss Butterworth’s nose quivered a little.
“He would ask you to leave us.”
No doubt, but he doesn’t know me yet. Have I or have I not as much right on the Corso as Montague? And who got there first? Did I beat him to it or did I not? Come, girl, answer me!”
“Perhaps you did," she smiled.
Very well. If Montague makes advances to you on this or any Corso and I was reading the other day that retired colonels of a certain—how old is he?”
“Well, you asked me.”
“Then when he was a hundred you would only be seventytwo! I won’t have it. Now, look here! Your salvation lies with me, so don't let me out oí your sight, and when Montague looms up just move a shade closer. I f lie wants to talk, I've as much backchat as most of my friends. For the rest of it, I think the best way would be to stick some other woman on to him. Queer things are done in Taormina. When does he arrive?”
"I suppose the day after tomorrow,” said Miss Butterworth gloomily.
“Got his photograph no you wouldn’t. What does he look like, normally?”
Miss Butterworth, moved to unexpected mirth, described her affianced with extreme accuracy.
“He has a large Adam’s apple,” she concluded.
“Sounds more like a lemon to me. However, I think I’ll meet that train and have a look at him before the argument begins. Now we’re going to try out the car.”
COLONEL PLUCKETT, in whom one distinguishes the triunity of man, officer and sahib, sat in his compartment. watching with unobservant eyes the unfertile expanse of Calabria. Why, he now asked himself, had he forgiven Daphne? He was still wondering when the train pulled into Reggio, and his sleeping car was shunted on to the Messina
ferry. At this point he heard a conversation in the corridor. "Dese dem straits yo’ tell me about, Mis’ Sadie?"
“When we git to dat place? Ah cain't pernounce it nohow.”
“In about three hours.”
"What hotel we’s gwine to?”
"The Domenico is the biggest ; we’ll try that.”
“Wheah’s de kuhnul gwine?”
“I don’t know a thing about it."
“Ah suspicion he’ll come right along wid us.”
Mrs. Hollinger laughed. “Why. Sarah?”
“Ah dunno, but Ah reckon he will. Mis’ Sadie?”
“Yo* gwine sell dem chickens?"
“I wonder. What do you think?”
“De money'd be a sight easier to handle; dat's what pert rudes itself on me.”
“I guess you're right, but what would I do with two million dollars?”
“Dere’s a lot of help lyin' roun’, Mis’ Sadie. Dat gennleman from Seattle what come to see you off.”
“He can stay right in Seattle, and I told him so."
“Well, dere’s de kuhnul nex' do’.”
“Yaas’m, an’ Ah never see a man git unfroze so quick befo’.“
Mrs. Hollinger went into a peal of laughter, and the
colonel, red to the gills, gave a resounding cough. The ferry continued to plough the Straits, and the travellers arrived in Sicily.
The colonel did not stir. Transfixed by the negroid shaft of truth, he became the prey of extraordinary emotions. Yes, it was true. He had unfrozen. He had not been pukka, and Daphne was waiting for him.
This shook him, and it seemed that he was hardly in a condition to meet her and put the case with the desirable dignity, and would need a day or two in which to freeze up again.
Had he known that at this particular moment Miss Butterworth was sitting among the asphodels, eating croissants find drinking Catanian wine with Mr.
Bishop, there is no saying what might not have happened.
The train proceeded, trailing its sinuous length along the coast toward Taormina.
Fifteen minutes before they arrived Mrs. Hollinger’s head appeared at the colonel’s elixir.
"May I come in?"
"Do!” said he.
“Colonel," she began, “I just don’t know how to thank you for all your kindness on this trip. You started right in, and it would have been another thing without you. And I’m real sorry you're staying so short a time.”
HE FOUND IT a little difficult to explain that he would be in Taormina for two days instead of one, so merely replied :
“Not at all, Mrs. Hollinger.”
"So many of you English just give me a chill, even in California, that I want you to know that this time it’s different. The things you’ve done and the way you’ve talked, especially about hens, have been a real pleasure. After tomorrow I don’t suppose we’ll see each other again, but I tell you right now that when 1 get back and my friends start running down the English, I’m going to wade right in.”
"How very, very kind of you.”
"No, it isn’t kind, just a fact. Now,” and with this she l<x>ked at him very earnestly,"there's just one thing more.”
"It’s about selling out. We never got back to it. but, as I said, it ’s got to be yes or no by May first."
"Mrs. Hollinger." said lie, breathing deeply, "why do you consider my advice worth having when I know so little of the circumstances?"
"1 guess it's just my instinct.”
At this he had a sort of vision in which there were, it appeared, two Colonel Plucketts, physically identical but spiritually far removed, and each independent of the other. One was walking dow n past such and such a ruin beside Daphne, whose face was still damp with jxmitential tears. She had been forgiven, and was going to pack up. He. too, that is colonel No. 1. was also going to throw some things back into a bag. The jiair of them were seemingly at one. but not getting much kick out of it.
The other officer and sahib, colonel No. 2. had done nothing of that sort.
He had not been pukka, and was getting a kick out of it. Daphne was still up in the asphodels, consulting the railway timetable, and wondering why something didn’t happen. He simply let her wonder, while he "By May Hollinger softly.
Colonel Pluckett. the original one in the sleeping car, took a header.
"Two million dollars is -er—very like two million dollars, and a great deal of money in our country.”
“Now isn’t that just like an Englishman!”
"Why, Mrs. Hollinger?”
"I couldn’t tell you in a thousand years.”
She stepjied into the next compartment, leaving the dooropen.
"Yaas, Mis’ Sadie?”
"I’m selling out.”
first," repeated Mrs.
“I certainly am.”
"Yo’ done fix dat right now?”
The answer to this was inaudible, but what the colonel could not miss was a deep, mellow guffaw suddenly choked off. A moment later Mrs. Hollinger returned, her cheeks rather pink.
"I just had to tell Sarah the whole thing is settled. You see, she knows almost more about me than I do myself.” 'There was no time to ask why, for at this moment the
train halted at Taormina station, a long, low, rather attractive building wedged in between the Ionian Sea and the road toward Catania that here hugs the foot of the cliffs.
A SURPRISING number of passengers disembarked and there was a rush to get away. Colonel Pluckett. with true British dignity, declined to join the rabble, and Mrs. Hollinger, it seemed, was in no hurry. The sunlight was intense, the Ionian Sea sparkled in a light breeze, Etna smoked placidly, and the air had a scent of lemons, oranges and almonds.
“Tastes like a pineapple sundae, don’t it?” sniffed Mrs. Hollinger with evident gusto. "Colonel, I’m going to dote on this place. And you’ve never told me where you were staying.”
It was true he had not, the reason being that something now whispered that it would take an even longer time than two days to get the Daphne matter quite straight again, and when it was straight it might be just as well that he and Daphne spend a reconciled week or so in this delightful country. He had come to this decision only a moment previously, and was already regretting that he had thrown so few things into his bag.
“Perhaps,” he heard himself say. "I shall be able to stay a day or so longei than I anticipated. It all depends on -er—how things go here.”
With this, the colonel observed a tall young man, patently English, lounging against the station wall close by, his legs crossed in languid ease. He wore grey flannels, brown suede shoes, no hat, and a bunch of almond blossoms in his lapel. His expression was so frank, so ingenuous, with a sort of pleasing simplicity about it, that he seemed to both the newcomers to be emblematical of the very spirit of Taormina, as indeed he was. He did not look at the travellers, apparently being content to bask there in the sun like a well-dressed lizard. It needed only a girl beside him to complete the picture.
"I’m real pleased to hear that, colonel,” said Mrs. Hollinger, sending him at the same time a glance that no living man could possibly misread. "But don’t tell me you don’t know where you are staying.”
Colonel Pluckett, who up to a few hours ago had fully expected to stay wherever Daphne was staying, naturally found it impossible to explain this.
"Really—er—ah—I hadn’t thought of it.”
“Then why not come right up to the Domenico with me? I guess there’s a bus here.”
He hesitated, confessing secretly that this was exactly what he wanted to do. He looked up and about, but could see only a fraction of the northern end of the town, and of that only the lower lip, where among palms and terraces he discerned the reddish walls of a medium-sized hotel with broad balconies facing the sea.
How little, ah! how little did he guess—and, we ask you, how could he guess?—that in the southeasterly comer of one of these balconies stood his errant bride-to-be, quivering with excitement, and straining her eyes through a pair of binoculars thoughtfully provided by the young gentleman who still lounged with easy grace against a white stone portico over which was inscribed the mystic word: "USCITA.”
“The Domenico was a monastery till, I guess, not long ago,” went on Mrs. Hollinger, “but has been sort of turned round into a big hotel, and you sleep right in the cells the way the monks used to. though, of course, there are all the fixings. And, colonel, let me say right now there’s a lot more I want to ask you about that chicken combine, so I guess it’s just the place for a good, square talk. Of course,” she added, "if your business friend is expecting you
"No—no,” said the colonel hastily, "not at all. I think it—ah—a very good suggestion. The Domenico, by all means.”
She sent him a radiant smile, and the young gentleman—he had absorbed every word of this in fascinated immobility with one eye on a gigantic negress who stood near by observed that the latter was now grinning from ear to ear, which meant some grin. He longed intensely to do the same thing, but this was out of the question, so with a heart full of sensations that defy description, and praying earnestly that he might prove worthy of the situation, he followed the three through the door marked “USCITA,” and there something else developed.
The Domenico bus. packed to the hinges, had gone. There were other buses, Diodoro, Timeo, Pancrazio, Castello
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à Mare, and in addition a battery of cars whose drivers now assailed the travellers with importunate solicitations. There was a babel, and Mrs. Hollinger turned instinc tively to her male companion.
"Colonel. I’ve got a hunch that we’d better wait right here till that bus comes back. What do you say?”
“We might take one of those taxis.” “You’ll pardon me, but I've a sort of feeling they’re plumb full of Italian germs. No, I guess I’d sooner wait. That’s a real nice car over there, but it's private.”
At this point the young man stepped forward with a smile so cheery and sjx>ntaneous as to In* quite irresistible.
"Ixx)k here,” he said, "I couldn’t help hearing that you’re for the Domenico, and so am I. and that's my car, so if you’ll do me the pleasure I'll run you up.”
Mrs. Hollinger, meeting that smile, immediately gave him one exactly like it.
"Well now, that’s just awfully kind of you. Do you mean all three of us?”
”1 wouldn't think of separating you.” "Now isn't this just like home! American, aren't you?”
"Unfortunately not my mother couldn’t get there in time.”
The colonel, amazed at this license, sent him a horrified stare, entirely wasted. Mrs. Hollinger was laughing very heartily, and the face of the negreas was wreathed in ebony smiles.
"Well," said the lady, recovering herself, "I’d love to. What about the baggage?"
"Leave it here till the bus comes back for it."
“That suit you. colonel?”
He nodded galvanically. In the next moment the young man motioned Mrs. Hollinger to the place beside the driver.
"I guess I’d better sit behind with Sarah.” she suggested.
"Please no! Do sit with me.”
Mrs. Hollinger, now thoroughly enjoying herself, re-rippled into mirth.
"Colonel." she asked over her shoulder, "do you mind? It sort of fits into everything I’ve heard about Taormina.”
His blood rebelled, but there was no heli-) for it.
"Not at all.”
“Then I guess we ought to know each other before we start.” said the lady, settling herself comfortably, "and this is certainly a daisy car. I’m Mrs. Sadie Hollinger, this is Colonel Pluckett. that’s Sarah, and you —?” “My name is Murray Bishop.” replied the flannelled young man with a bow.
"Pleased to meet you. Mr. Bishop. Any relations in Seattle?”
“Afraid 1 haven’t, though I always wanted some. Good morning, sir.”
Colonel Pluckett. enthroned in rigid
torture beside Sarah, gave a jerky nod. He felt horribly embarrassed, yet seemed to have lost the power of independent action.
“Good mawnin’, suh, dis shuah is mighty kind ob you.” Sarah had loved Mr. Bishop on sight.
“All ready, Mrs. Hollinger?”
“I’m all set. Got that satchel, Sarah?”
“Yaas, Mis’ Sadie, hit’s right heah.”
“Then let her go, Mr. Bishop. I just dote on this sort of thing.”
“THE NEW ROAD from the Giardini to I Taormina climbs some 600 feet, in the course of which it executes many hairpin turns, and as the car mounted ever higher Mrs. Hollinger gave vent to squeaks of delight, as well she might. Even the colonel lost for the time being his solidified aspect and gazed with real interest as the panorama revealed itself far below.
Mr. Bishop, with great consideration, drove at a slow pace, full of wonder and a great thankfulness.
From certain stretches in this road the Diodoro is visible, and here, venturing an upward glance, he saw that the slight girlish figure was no longer to be descried on the balcony, whereat he gave an unholy smile. Clever girl, that ! The gardens of the Diodoro, carved and reclaimed with infinite labor from the rocky hillside, their terraces supported by low walls of loose masonry, border at their lowest point the Giardini road. I lere one can sit in privacy and behold the passer-by. Here, too, Mr. Bishop stopi^ed the car and gestured northward.
"This,” he announced, "is some view.”
It was. The effect on Mrs. Hollinger’s responsive nature was exactly what might be expected.
Standing up in the car, she stared and stared, then turned enthusiastically to the gentleman in the back seat.
"Colonel, do you get it?"
“It is indeed very wonderful,” he admitted. a trifle overheated by contact with his neighbor.
Mr. Bishop, his heart full of gratitude to Providence, detained the car a few moments longer. He knew, as the others did not. that there were two views at this spot, and the second was holding in rapt attention a young woman not thirty feet away. At the extreme lower edge of the Diodoro gardens she stood, effectively screened behind a clump of ilex, her eyes bulging, her face contorted with mirth. Mr. Bishop, glancing cautiously in her direction, signalled patience, knowing full well that what now met Miss Butterworth’s startler! gaze was far beyond her comprehension.
"Well.” said Mr. Bishop genially, and fully aware'that the occasion was too tense
to be borne much longer, “perhaps we’d better roll on. That villa, the little one, is the Piccolina, where my aunt lives—Lady Thoroughgood. I’ll ask her to call.”
“It would be just too kind of you, Mr. Bishop. I don't know a soul in Taormina, and the colonel is only a business friend. Isn’t that so, colonel?”
“Yes,” he said stiffly. “That’s right.” “Then she’ll call on both of you,” volunteered Mr. Bishop, whose head was beginning to swim. “She loves meeting new people.”
He drove on and in the Corso slackened sjx?ed to a mere crawl. Mrs. Hollinger’s bright eyes were everywhere at once, and Sarah’s mouth wide open. The colonel, conscious of many curious glances in his direction, held himself like a man, an officer and a sahib all at once, for never in his life had he been in so trying a position. F'inally. at the massive walls of the Domenico the torture ended, and Mrs. Hollinger expressed her indebtedness.
“Mr. Bishop, ever so many thanks and I sort of feel things are just starting, and there’s more coming. Do you ever get that kind of hunch?"
“You’ve said a mouthful, Mrs. Hollinger. and I have one now. My aunt will probably call tomorrow.”
ARRIVING at the Diodoro, Bishop k jammed on his brakes and plunged into the gardens in search of Miss Buttenvorth. She gripped his arm.
“Tell me quickly—at once. What on earth has happened? Is he mad—or what?” “Not yet. child, but he may be later. Restrain this impetuosity, and hearken diligently.”
He gave the story in detail without embroidery, and Miss Buttenvorth, blinking. listened in fascinated silence. When he finished, she took a long, incredulous breath. “Is the woman in love with him?”
“Who am I to express an opinion on that subject? But I’ll bet that she is interested.” “Those two are at the Domenico?” "Adjoining rooms. Daph. or rather cells. I got that from the office—the clerk being a friend of mine. In fact, there’s very little going on there that doesn’t reach me. But Montague struck me as being a trifle monastic himself, so that part of it is probably all right. Did you find him so?”
Miss Butterworth, ignoring the question, pondered the situation for a full moment.
“What is to be done now?” she asked presently.
“Exactly what I’m saying to myself. What indeed? This affair is simply crawling with possibilities. Would I be safe in assuming that you are with me up to the gullet?” “I suppose there’s nothing else for it.”
“Well, to start with, it’s my fixed impression that you are being more and more forgiven all the time. How does that strike you?”
“It doesn’t. I don’t want to be forgiven, and never did.”
Mr. Bishop wagged a deprecating finger. “Calm yourself, girl, and be reasonable. In a way I sympathize with Montague.” “What a deceitful and immoral thing!” “Not at all—and it isn’t over losing you that I sympathize with him either, but because he starts off charged to the muzzle with forgiveness, only to discover that somehow his forgiveness and longing to see you again have got all mixed up with something he feels for another woman.”
“You must have experienced something of the same sort.” she countered, “or you couldn’t speak so feelingly.”
“Tut-tut, girl, this is beneath you. If you question my sincerity, we part at once. Do we?”
“Not just yet, Murray. What else?” “Well, for a starter, my aunt is calling on them both.”
“I’m going to arrange it now. That will produce results, but who can tell what? This is Taormina, and I perceive the human ingredients for a compound the like of which has not been produced before on this coast except possibly by the Greeks. Do you share with me the Nordic feeling of license, or do you not?”
Miss Butterworth leaned back, and laughed till the tears came.
“I’m thinking of Montague wedged in beside that enormous negress.”
“Leave him there for the moment and listen to me. My fixed belief is that he is being pursued. She is on the hunting trail.” “That woman!”
“Yes. that woman, and he rather likes it. He is frightened, yet likes it, never having been pursued before. Something she has said or done has shaken him up as you never shook him. signorina. otherwise he wouldn’t have swallowed what he did on the back seat in my car—I mean the nigger woman, if you follow me. What there is between them. I can’t tell yet. but it isn’t Red Orpingtons. The thing is to leave him for the immediate present and make ourselves scarce till the situation takes shape. You get me.fraulein?” “Ye—es.”
“Then tomorrow we start early and see something of the surrounding country. You’ll leave a note with the porter in case Montague does come, saying you’ll let him know as soon as you feel up to seeing him. That note will be the product of a penitent girlish heart. He’ll swell all up when he reads it. then, remembering Mrs. Hollinger,
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he’ll deflate just as quickly. That’s how we want him—deflated.”
‘T don’t know why 1 should be sitting here taking orders from you.” exploded" Miss Butterworth suddenly. "It seems I’ve been doing nothing else since we met.”
“Very well. When I first saw you, Miss Butterworth, and what you had with you. 1 said to myself: ‘That’s a nice girl.’ and this in spite of suspicious circumstances. Later, when I learned your private history, 1 continued, though appearances were more and more against you, to believe you were really nice. You confessed that you stole the Red Orpington money. Now Montague comes along, you express yourself as anxious and worried, I make a few helpful sugges tions, and you suddenly adopt this attitude. You object to sitting here with me! Very well—go and sit with Montague, or between them. Good morning, Miss Butterworth.” Thus delivered, Mr. Bishop got up, but was forcibly pulled back by his coat tails. "I’m frightfully grateful, and you know it.” "Then be more careful in the future. We start at nine tomorrow, and I don’t know when we get back. I ’m for the Piccolina.”
I ADY THOROUGHGOOD, finishing her L second letter to Mrs. Josiah Bishop, put down her pen with a nod of satisfaction, and turned avidly to the c.oncluding chapter of Ulysses. She was curving tensely over this when her nephew was announced. She kx)ked up with a slight frown.
"Well, Murray, what have you to say today?”
"Quite a lot. aunt. How are you?” "Perfectly well, thanks; I always am. What is it?”
"Colonel Pluckett is staying at the Domenico, and has another girl—I mean woman with him.” remarked Mr. Bishop affably.
"What on earth are you talking about !” "Colonel Pluckett. Telephone if you like, and confirm it.”
"Here —in Taormina!”
"If the Domenico is in Taormina.”
“How do you know this?” she rasped.
‘Why did he come, and who------?”
"Putting the lady first, she is a Mrs. Hollinger, and I like her.”
"How do you come to know her?”
"Gave her and the colonel a lift up in my car from the station this afternoon.”
“You say he has this woman with him!” "Well,” answered Mr. Bishop, with a very meaning, reproachful look, "they got off the train together, and certainly knew each other very well, and according to you that’s-”
"No, Murray, you mustn’t take what I said too seriously, and I was very surprised to find you in the Corso that day. But this sounds quite different.”
“Thanks, aunt, it is, and I hoped you’d come round. Now there’s something I want to tell you about Miss Butterworth.”
"That girl !”
“Yes you’ve misjudged her.”
“I am quite ready to admit it if you can convince me.”
“Well, you’ve not asked me what brought the colonel here.”
"No, I didn’t, and am very surprised that he’s here at all, especially under the——”
“I believe Miss Butterworth sent for him.”
'T mean this—and it’s what I was referring to when I said that you had misjudged her. I gather—I can’t just explain why— that realizing that she’s been very foolish, and seeing the error of her ways, she wanted his forgiveness and wired him to come for her. The colonel gets the wire, starts for Taormina, and somewhere on the way falls in with Mrs. Hollinger. She, aunt, is a nice woman. Well, the colonel pushes aside the girl he’s engaged to and tells Mrs. Hollinger lie’s coming on a matter of business—I know that to be a factand by the time they reach Sicily they have become, to say the least of it, intimate. When I offered to take her to
the Domenico this afternoon, he got in behind with her maid, a big negro woman, rather than lose sight of her. Think of that for a retired colonel ! I can’t blame Mrs. Hollinger in the matter, because she thinks he’s quite unattached, but I have just seen Miss Butterworth, and felt it my duty to tell her, and you can imagine the effect on that poor girl. Now, there’s something I want you to do.”
Lady Thoroughgood gave a jerky nod. “It’s a deplorable state of affairs. Murray. What do you want me to do?”
"Call on Mrs. Hollinger. You see, aunt, you’re a woman of the world, and know how to handle an affair like this. She needs you, aunt. She’s an American, a stranger on this side, and quite unused to the machinations of a retired colonel. He’ll almost certainly be there too. I wouldn’t, if I may suggest it, jump on him to start with, but handle him gently, draw him out and get him to commit himself. That will satisfy you that you’re getting this thing straight, and you’ll know how to go about the rest of it. I hope,” added Mr. Bishop thoughtfully, “that I’ve made it all quite clear. Is there anything else I can tell you?”
“Would Miss Butterworth approve of my doing this?”
“Approve ! Aunt, she’d be tickled to death. The poor girl doesn’t know which way to turn, because she had a wire to say he was coming, so naturally expected that everything would be all right, and now it’s so different from what she expected.”
“Is there anything else I can do for her, Murray? I’m quite ready.”
“Not at the moment that I know of, and there’s so little anyone can do in a case like this, but I know she felt your coolness the other day. Now she says she wants to be out in the country as much as she can, and away from the crowd.”
“Yes, one can understand that. Well. Murray. I'll turn it over, and probably go to the Domenico tomorrow. Can you run me over, say about four?”
“Frightfully sorry, aunt.” said Mr. Bishop in a tone charged with regret, "but I’m having new' piston rings put in and she won’t be ready.”
“If Miss Butterworth is a sensible girl—and I must say she looked it—she’ll consider herself fortunate to be rid of that man. Give her my good wishes, and I’d like her to come to tea in a day or two. And I might have Mrs. Hollinger to meet her. What do you think?”
"That,” said Mr. Bishop, swallowing an exclamation in the nick of time, "is one snorting good idea. May I come too?”
WELL, Sarah, how are you making out?”
“Ah dunno, Mis’ Sadie. Ah sorter likes it an’ Ah sorter don’t.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Ain’t dat dere mountin gwine to bus’ up on us?”
Sarah, sitting behind her mistress on the terrace of the Domenico, had been watching Etna with varying expression. Its bulk frightened and fascinated a mind still primitive. At night the faint red glow above the hidden crater suggested hell.
“If it wasn’t for dat mountin, dis place’d be about right.”
“Why, Sarah, folks travel thousands of miles just to see that.”
Sarah, taking such folks to be crazy, shook her head. This whole journey puzzled her.
But her devotion remained unshaken. Mrs. Hollinger was still Mis’ Sadie, and for ever would be. Colonel Pluckett w'as a new and diverting interest. Sarah pictured Mis’ Sadie married to the colonel and back in California, where she herself greatly desired to be.
“Mis’ Sadie, yo’ calkerlate yo’ll git married again?”
“Why on earth do you ask that?”
“Yo’ ain’t too old yit.”
“Well, I guess not, if I wanted to.”
To be Continued