Read CHAPTER III. of Among the Brigands , free online book, by James De Mille, on ReadCentral.com.

Out into the Country.-The Drive.-The glorious Land.-Sorrento and eternal Summer.-The Cave of Polyphemus.-The Cathedral.-The mysterious Image.-What is it?-David Relic-hunting.-A Catastrophe.  -Chased by a Virago.-The Town roused.-Besieged.-A desperate Onset.-Plight.-Last of the Virago.

A few days after the affair related in the last chapter, our party set out from Naples on an excursion round the environs.  With the assistance of their landlord they were able to get a carriage, which they hired for the excursion, the driver of which went with them, and was to pay all their expenses for a certain given sum.  They expected to be gone several days, and to visit many places of surpassing interest; for Naples is a city whose charms, great as they are, do not surpass the manifold loveliness with which it is environed, and the whole party would have been sorry indeed if they had missed any one of those scenes of enchantment that lay so invitingly near them.

As they drove along the shore they were all in the highest spirits.  The sky was cloudless, and of that deep blue color which is common to this climate; and the sun shone with dazzling brightness, being only warm enough to be pleasant, and not in any way oppressive.  For many miles the way seemed nothing else than a street.  Houses arose on each side; crowds of people, and multitudes of wagons, and droves of cattle constantly met their eyes.  Calèches dashed about in all directions.  The street itself was paved with the large lava blocks which prevail throughout the city; and in fact it seemed as though Naples was prolonging itself indefinitely.

At length they emerged from the close-built city, and entered the country.  All the way the scenery was exquisite.  On the left extended green fields, and orchards, and vineyards; spreading away for miles, they rose up the sides of high mountains.  Upon these were small villas and hamlets, while occasionally a castle perched upon some inaccessible height threw an air of romantic attraction about the scene.  They passed several villages, and at length reached Castellamare, a town on the shore of the bay.  Passing beyond this, they found a change in the scenery.  The road wound along cliffs which overhung the sea, and was ornamented by trees.  The road itself was a magnificent one, as smooth as a floor, and by its circuitous course afforded a perpetual variety.  The far white houses of Naples, the towers that dotted the shore on every side, the islands that rose from oat the waters, the glorious bay, the gloomy form of Vesuvius, with its smoke clouds overhanging, all united to form a scene which called forth the most unbounded admiration.  Besides all these general features there were others of a more special character, as from time to time they came to some recess in the shore; and the road running in brought them to some little hamlet, which, nestling here, seemed the abode of peace, and innocence, and happiness.  Through such variations of scenery they passed, and at length arrived at Sorrento.

This little town is most beautifully situated near the month of the Bay of Naples, and around it arise high, encircling hills which protect it from the cold blasts of winter and the hot winds of summer.  Sorrento has a perfect climate, All the seasons are blended together here, and in the orange groves, that surround the town, there may be seen at the same time the strange spectacle of trees in blossom side by side with trees that are loaded with fruit fully ripe.

It was evening when they arrived, and they had not much time to spare; so they at once procured a guide from the hotel, and set forth to see what they could before dark.  First, the guide took them to a deep chasm, which was so wild and abrupt, so deep and gloomy, that it looked like the work of a recent earthquake.  Not far from this were some ancient reservoirs, the work of the times of imperial Rome.  The arches were yet perfect, and over the reservoir was a garden of orange trees.  Not far distant was a ruined temple, in the enclosure of which was a myrtle plant, five hundred years old, and so large that it formed a respectable tree.

After showing them these things and several others, the guide took them to the sea-shore, to a place which goes by the name of the Cave of Polyphemus.  This is a large cavern in the cliff, in front of which is a huge fragment of rock.  Here the boys recalled the story of Ulysses; and David volunteered to give it in full to Uncle Moses.  So David told how Ulysses ventured to this place with his companions; how the one-eyed Cyclops caught them; how he imprisoned them in the cabin, shutting up its mouth by means of a huge rock, which David thought might have been that very fragment that now lay on the shore before their eyes; how the monster began to devour them; how Ulysses devised a plan of escape, and succeeded in putting out the eye of the monster; how he then effected his escape from the cave, and regaining his vessel, put forth to sea.

Then they went to visit the house in which Tasso was born.  They were not able to enter it, and as it was now dark, they retreated to their hotel.

Oh the following morning they all set oat without the guide, to see the town for themselves.  A festival of some kind was going on, which attracted many people, and the cathedral was filled.  The boys, haying nothing else to do, wandered away towards the common centre of attraction.  They soon lost one another in the crowd, and one by one they worked their way into the interior of the place.  The organ was sounding forth, the priests were intoning service, on the altar candles were burning, and far on high, through the lofty vaulted nave, there rolled “the smoke of incense and the wail of song!”

David found himself a little distance away from a side chapel, which was evidently the chief attraction to the worshippers within the sacred edifice.  A dense crowd assembled about it, and in front of it.  Through these David managed to make his way, full of curiosity about the cause of their interest.  He at length forced himself far enough forward to see inside the chapel.  He saw a structure, in the centre of the chapel, covered with drapery, upon which was a cushion.  Lying on this cushion was the image of a child, clothed in rich attire, and spangled with jewels, and adorned with gold and silver.  Whether it was made of wood or wax he could not tell, but thought it was the former.  The sight of it only tempted his curiosity the more, and he longed to look at it more closely.  It was evidently considered by the surrounding crowd to be an object of great sanctity, for they regarded it with the utmost reverence, and those nearest were on their knees.  Upon the altar, at the end of this chapel, lights were burning, and a priest was engaged in religious ceremonies.

David’s desire to go closer was so strong, that he waited patiently in this one spot for the opportunity of gratifying his curiosity.  He had to wait for a long time; but at length he had the satisfaction of seeing a movement among the people, which showed that they were on the point of dispersing.  After this the crowd lessened, and the people began to take their departure.  At length but a few remained, some of whom were still on their knees around the image.

David now, in a slow and unassuming manner, advanced towards the image.  He could go close to it, and was able to see it perfectly.  An iron rail surrounded the structure on which it was laid, preventing too close an approach; but standing here, outside of the rail, David saw that the image was very rudely carved out of wood, and was intended to represent a child.  Why such an image should be the object of such interest and devotion he could not for the life of him imagine.  He could only postpone any investigation into this until he could find out from some one.

And now there came over him an overwhelming desire to obtain a fragment from some portion of this image, or, its dress, or its surroundings, to serve as a relic.  His relic-hunting propensities had never been stronger than they were at this moment, and no sooner did the idea suggest itself than he looked all around to see what were the chances.

As he looked around he saw that the cathedral was nearly empty:  a priest was near the high altar, two boys were in the middle of the nave, by the chief entrance was a little group just preparing to leave.  Nearer him, and close by the image, were two women.  They were on their knees, and appeared to be absorbed in their devotions.  It seemed to David that it would be quite easy to possess himself of some small and unimportant portion of the drapery.  He was quite unobserved, for the two women who were nearest were not regarding him, the drapery was within easy reach, and a row of tassels, upon which he could lay his hand, offered an irresistible temptation.  If he could but get one of those tassels, what an addition it would be to his little stock of treasures!

David once more looked all around.  The priests were still at the altar; but the boys had gone from the nave, and those who had been near the door had departed.  The women seemed as intent as ever upon their devotions.  David looked at the drapery once more, and upon one of the tassels which was nearest him.

Once more he looked all around, and then, stretching forward his hand, he touched the coveted tassel.

Then he drew back his hand, and putting it in his pocket, he drew forth his knife, which he opened.

Then he looked around once more.

Then, for the last time, he put his hand forward, holding the knife so as to cut the tassel.  But the cord which bound the tassel to the drapery was strong, and the knife was very dull, and David found that it was not so easy as he had supposed.  But he was determined to get it, and so he sawed away, with his dull old knife, at the cord, severing one by one the filaments that composed it, but doing this so slowly that he began to grow impatient.  The women were not looking.  There was no danger.  To work with one hand was useless, and so he reached forth both hands, and began sawing away more vigorously than ever.  But his impatience, and his vehement pulls and tugs, produced an effect which he had not expected.  The heavy drapery, which had been loosely thrown over, began to slide off towards him as he pulled.  David did not notice this, but continued his work, looking around to see whether the women were noticing him or not.  At length he had sawed the cord almost through, and gave a quick pull at it to break it.

The next moment the heavy drapery came sliding down towards him, and, to his horror, the wooden image came with it, falling with a crash on the marble pavement.

In an instant the two women started to their feet, staring with wild eyes at the image and the drapery.  Then their wild eyes caught sight of David, whose frightened face would have revealed him as the guilty cause of this catastrophe, even if it had not been shown by the tassel and the knife, which were in his hands.

With a sharp, shrill scream, one of the women sprang towards him.  David instinctively leaped back, and eluded her.  The woman chased.  David dodged her around a pillar.

The woman followed.

David dodged behind another pillar.

The woman cried out, “O Scellerato!  Birbone!  Furbo!  Ladrone!” And though David’s knowledge of the Italian language was but slight, yet it sufficed to show him that these names which she yelled after him had a very direful signification.

Thus David fled, dodging, the woman behind pillar after pillar, until at length he came near to the door.  Had the other woman taken part in the chase, David would certainly have been captured.  But the other woman did not.  She stood as if petrified-motionless and mute, staring at the fallen sanctuary, and overwhelmed with horror.  So the flight went on, until at length, reaching the door, David made a rush for it, dashed through, and ran as fast as his legs could carry him.  The woman followed, but at a slower rate of speed, and saw him go into the hotel.  Then she returned to the church, after which she went abroad with the story of the horrible desecration through all Sorrento.

On reaching the hotel, David found the rest of the party there, at dinner.  He said nothing of his recent adventure, but took his seat at the table.

Before long, the party became conscious of a great tumult and uproar in the street in front of the house.  Frank and Bob went to the windows, and looked out.  A sudden exclamation of surprise brought Clive and Uncle Moses to their side.  David followed slowly, with a strange feeling of apprehension, and with the recollection of his late flight still strong in his mind.

He looked out.

A great crowd presented itself to his horrified eyes-a crowd representing all Sorrento; old, the middle-aged, the young; the rich, poor; male and female; old men, old women, boys, and children.  At the head of this, and immediately in front of the door, was the very old woman who bad discovered his sacrilege, and had chased him through the cathedral.  Now he had hoped that the old woman had forgotten him; but her appearance now was tenfold more terrible than ever.  Here she was-a virago-with a great following, whom she was exciting by violent harangues, and urging by wild gesticulations, to do something or other which David could not understand, but which he could well imagine to be something that had reference to his own humble, unworthy, and very much terrified self.

Before they had fairly grasped the whole of the scene that was thus so suddenly presented, they were accosted by the landlord and the driver, who entered the room hurriedly, and in some excitement, in search of them.

“One grand meesfortune haf arrive,” said the landlord.  “De people declare you haf insult de Bambino.  Dey cry for vengeance.  How is dis?”

“What?” asked Frank; “insult what?”

“De Bambino.”

“Bambino?”

“Yes.  It is de consecrate image-de Bambino-does miracles, makes cures; wonderful image, de pride of Sorrento; an dis is de day sacred to him.  What is dis meesfortune dat I hear of?  It is one grand calamity-for you-eef you do not take care.”

“Bambino? insult?” said Frank.  “We haven’t insulted anything whatever.  They’re crazy.”

Here David, finding concealment useless, confessed all.  The boys listened in astonishment The landlord shook his head with an expression of concern and perplexity.

Then he had a long conversation with the driver.

Then they both left the room.  The landlord went outside, and tried to appease the crowd.  He might possibly, have succeeded, had it not been for David’s old woman, who shook her fists in his face, stamped, appealed to Heaven, raved, and howled, all the time he was speaking.  The consequence was, that the landlord’s words had no effect.

He then entered the hotel once more, and after seeing the driver, and speaking a few words, he hurried up to our party, who by this time were in a state of general alarm.

“You must run-fly-leaf Sorrento-now-widout delay,” he cried, breathlessly.  “I haf order de carriage.  I sall tell de people dat you sall be arrest, an pacify dem for a few moments, till you get start.”

The landlord once more left them, and going out to the crowd, he made a few remarks, to the effect that the hotel was being searched now for the offender against the Bambino, and when he was found he would at once be handed over to the authorities.  He urged them to wait patiently, and they should see that justice would be done.

The crowd now grew calmer, and waited.  The landlord then went back, and led the party down to the court-yard.  Here the carriage was all in readiness, and the driver was waiting.  They all got in at once, unseen by the crowd in the street; and then, cracking his whip, the driver urged the horses off at full speed through the gates.  The crowd fell back on either side, so as to make away, and were not in a position to offer any obstacles to so sudden an onset.  They also had the idea that the culprit was inside the hotel, in the hands of the authorities.

But the old woman was not to be deceived; she saw it all in a moment, and in a moment she raised the alarm.  Having, howling, gesticulating wildly, dancing, and jumping, she sprang after the carriage.  The crowd followed.  But the carriage had already got a good start; it had burst through the people, and those who stood in the way were only too glad to get out of it, and thus, with the horses at full speed, they dashed up the street; and before long they had left Sorrento, and the hotel, and the insulted Bambino, and the excited crowd, and the raving old beldam far behind.

David’s adventure in Sorrento had been a peculiar one, and one, too, which was not without danger; but if there was any satisfaction to be got out of it, it was in the fact that the tassel which he had acquired, remained still in his possession, to be added to his little stock of relics.