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Miss Caprice

St. George Rathborne

  Produced by Marilynda Fraser-Cunliffe, Mary Meehan, andthe Online Distributed Proofreading Team



  Author of "Dr. Jack," "Dr. Jacks Wife," "Captain Tom," "Baron Sam,""Miss Pauline of New York," etc.




  A little party of tourists might be seen one lovely day in January, onthe hill back of the city of Valetta, on that gem of Mediterraneanislands, Great Britain's Malta.

  The air is as clear as a bell, and the scene is certainly one to charmthe senses, with the blue Mediterranean, dotted with sails, a hazy linefar, far away that may be the coast of Africa, the double harbor below,one known as Quarantine, where general trade is done, the other, GreatHarbor, being devoted to government vessels.

  Quaint indeed is the appearance of the Maltese city that rests mostlyupon the side of the hill under the fortifications, a second Quebec asit were.

  The streets are, some of them, very steep, the houses, built oflimestone, generally three stories in height, with a flat roof thatanswers the same purpose as the Spanish or Mexican _azotea_.

  Valetta has three city gates, one the Porta Reale, through which ourlittle tourist group came to reach their present position, leads to thecountry; the Porta Marsamuscetto to the general harbor where lie craftof all nations, while the government harbor is reached by means of theMarina gate.

  Thus they hold to many of the ways of Moorish and Mohammedan countries.

  The fortifications of limestone are massive--England has a secondGibraltar here.

  In general, the Maltese speak a language not unlike the Arabic, thoughEnglish and Italian are used in trade.

  They are a swarthy, robust, fearless people, strong in their loves andhates, and the vendetta has been known to exist here just as fiercely asin its native home of Corsica.

  Many dress in the costume of the Franks, but the native garb is stillworn by the lower classes, and is a picturesque sight, such as we seeupon the stage.

  It consists of a long bag made of wool, and dyed various colors, makinga cap such as is worn by the sailors in stage scenes like the "Piratesof Penzance."

  The top part of this is used for a purse, or forms a receptacle for anysmall articles the wearer desires to carry.

  A short, loose pantaloon, to the knee, which leaves the lower leg bare,is confined at the waist by a girdle or sash of colored cotton or silk.Then there is worn a cotton shirt, with a short, loose vest, orwaistcoat, as they were formerly known, covering the same; the latteroften ornamented with rows of silver buttons, quarter-dollars, orEnglish shillings.

  As to the ladies of Malta, their costume is very odd, and reminds onesomewhat of Spain. In part, it consists of a black silk petticoat, boundround the waist, over a body of some other kind of silk or print whichis called the _half onuella_. The upper part, the _onuella_, of the samematerial, is drawn into neat gathers for the length of a foot about thecenter of one of the outer seams. In the seam of one of the remainingdivisions is inclosed a piece of whalebone, which is drawn over thehead, and forms a perfect arch, leaving the head and neck bare.

  As may be expected, it requires much practice to wear such a dressgracefully. Many of the best ladies of Valetta now get their fashionsdirect from Paris--so the world moves.

  The little party of tourists have ascended the hill for the purpose ofobtaining the glorious view referred to, and at the same time whilingaway a few hours of time, for their stay at the Island of Malta has notbeen of their choosing, a peculiar accident causing the steamer on whichthey were taking passage to put in here for some necessary repairs.

  The tourists are five in number, and a very brief description willgive the reader an idea as to their identity, leaving individualpeculiarities to be developed as our story progresses.

  Probably the one that would attract the attention of a stranger firstwould be the young lady with the peach-bloom complexion and sunny blueeyes, whose figure is so stylish, and whose rather haughty mannerbespeaks proud English blood.

  There is another female, whom the young lady calls Aunt Gwen, and as aspecimen of a man-female she certainly takes the premium, being tall,angular, yet muscular, and with a face that is rather Napoleonic in itscast. A born diplomat, and never so happy as when engaged in a broil ora scene of some sort, they have given this Yankee aunt of Lady Ruth thename of Gwendolin Makepeace. And as she has an appendage somewhere,known as a husband, her final appellation is Sharpe, which somehow suitsher best of all.

  Aunt Gwen is a character to be watched, and bound to bob up serenely,with the most amazing assurance, at unexpected times.

  Then there is Sharpe, her worse half, a small gentleman over whom shetowers, and of whom she is secretly fond in her way, though shetyrannizes him dreadfully.

  Near him may be seen a young American, whom they have somehow dubbed"Doctor Chicago," because he is a medical student hailing from thatwonderful city, by name John Alexander Craig. Among his friends he issimply Aleck. His manner is buoyant, and he looks like an overgrown boy,but his record thus far proves his brain to contain that which will someday cause him to forge ahead.

  No one knows why Craig is abroad. That he has some mission besides atour for health and sight-seeing, several little things have proved.

  There is another member of the group, a gentleman of sturdy build, witha handsome face, whose ruddy tint suggests the English officer, evenwithout the flowing whiskers.

  Colonel Lionel Blunt has seen much service in India and around CapeColony. He gained an enviable reputation for deeds of valor, and isdisposed to look upon our friend from Chicago as an amiable boy, thoughafter seeing how they rush things out in that Western metropolis he mayhave occasional qualms of fear lest this young doctor finally reach thegoal for which both are aiming. That goal, any one can see, is thefavor of the bright English girl whom fate has thrown in their way.Perhaps it is not all fate, since Colonel Lionel has recently crossedthe States coming from India, and seems to pursue Lady Ruth withsingular pertinacity.

  Others are present, one a Maltese gentleman, the proprietor of a selectclub-house, where the garrison officers fence and engage in gymnastics,but Signor Giovani is not of our party.

  There are also several commissionaires or guides, at five francs a day,for one cannot move at Malta without being attended, and it is wise toengage one cicerone to keep the rest of his tribe at bay.

  Thus, on the hill above the singular Maltese city of Valetta, our storyopens.

  Aunt Gwen is sweeping a field-glass around, and emphasizing heradmiration of the picturesque scene with various phrases that wouldimmediately give her away as a Western Yankee.

  Lady Ruth, with an admirer on each side, looks a trifle tired, or, itmay be, bored.

  She may be planning some innocent little scheme, such as girls are wontto indulge in when they have a superfluity of beaus, in order to extractsome amusement from the situation, even if it come under the head of"cruelty to animals."

  Philander Sharpe, with his hands under the tails of his long coat, andhis glasses pushed up on his forehead, is a study for a painter.

  He was once a professor in a Western college, and with his smooth face,hair reached up from his high forehead, standing collar, and generaldignified air, is no mean-looking figure, though dwarfed intoinsignificance by the side of his spouse, the wonderful Aunt Gwen.

  The conversation runs upon what lies there before them, and an animateddiscussion arises as to the possibility of a foreign enemy ever beingable to successfully assault this second Gibraltar of the Mediterranean.

  Of course, the young American is enthusiastic, and has unbounded faithin the new White Squad
ron to accomplish anything, while, on the otherhand, the British officer, like most of his class, believes that JohnBull is invincible on land or wave. Of course, the young man fromChicago disputes the point, and energetically contends that no nationis superior to the Republic, or that any flag can be more desperatelydefended than "Old Glory."

  And right in the midst of the heated discussion Lady Ruth smiles, asthough she has suddenly hit upon an idea at last--an idea that offers asolution to the problem that has been perplexing her of late, concerningthe courage of these rival admirers.

  She turns to the American, and smiles sweetly.

  "Doctor, you speak of your countrymen being brave; will you prove it?"is what she says.

  The young man turns a trifle red.

  "I beg your pardon. In speaking of Americans I did not intend to soundmy own praises. Personally, I never claimed more than the average amountof boldness, though I don't know that I was ever called a coward."

  His manner is modest, but the young girl with English ideas chooses tolook upon his words with suspicion.

  "Doctor Chicago must not take water. I have surely understood him to bea regular fire-eater--that all Chicago has rung with his escapades,"says the colonel of Royal Engineers, sneeringly.

  "Nonsense! But, Lady Ruth, you spoke of my proving something--what canI do for you?"


  She extends a shapely arm. Her finger points to a white flower growingout upon the face of the precipice beside them.

  "Do you see that flower?" she asks.

  "I do," he replies, calmly.

  "I would like to possess it."

  The young man looks down. A fall means instant death, and it would beimpossible for even an experienced Alpine traveler to pass along theface of the rock in safety.

  "I see no means of reaching the flower, or I assure you I would gladlysecure it for you."

  "Ah! but a bold man would climb out there."

  "Pardon--he would be a fool--his life would pay the penalty for a prettygirl's whim. Unfortunately, perhaps, my life is too precious to some oneother than myself, to admit of the sacrifice. I am willing to do muchfor Lady Ruth, but I decline to be made a fool of."

  "Well spoken," begins the professor.

  "Philander!" exclaims his spouse, and the little man draws in his headvery much after the style of a tortoise.


  The English girl is sorry as soon as the low word leaves her lips. Noone hears it but the young doctor, for the attention of all the othersis at that time directed elsewhere.

  This time the object of her scorn does not flush, but turns very white,as he looks her steadily in the eyes.

  "I am sorry you have such a poor opinion of me, Lady Ruth. I make noapologies, save the one that my life is too valuable--to others, tomyself--to throw it away at the mere caprice of a girl."

  "There is a gentleman who finds a way to accomplish what he wants. Takea lesson from him, Doctor Chicago," she says.

  Colonel Lionel has noticed a long pole near by, in the end of which is acleft. This he has secured, and, by crawling as far as is safe along theface of the rock, he is enabled to just reach the flower.

  After a number of ineffectual lunges he succeeds in clutching thecoveted article in the cleft of the pole, and draws it toward him.

  A moment later he presents the flower to Lady Ruth, with a smile and abow.

  "No English lady ever expressed a wish that a British officer did notfeel bound in honor to grant," he says.

  The girl thanks him, and then says:

  "After all, the flower was prettier at a distance than when in my hands."

  Colonel Lionel hardly knows whether he has made such a huge advance overhis rival after all.

  The afternoon sun is waning.

  "We must go down," declares Aunt Gwen.

  "One more look around and I am ready," says Lady Ruth.

  Already she is sorry for her cruel words. Like the best of women, shecan wound at one moment and be contrite the next. She finds anopportunity a minute later, when the colonel lingers to get the shawlshe--perhaps purposely--left behind, to say in a low tone:

  "I was cruel--forgive me--forget that foolish word," and while what sheutters gives him a pleasurable feeling, and brings the color into hisset face, he only smiles, as he answers:

  "Willingly, Lady Ruth. I did not believe you could mean it."

  Then, as the colonel bustles up, the subject is tabooed, and the partyof tourists proceed down the steep street leading to the Hotel Imperial.