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The Blue Grotto by James B. Marshall

 

"Did you ever see any blue-colored people?" asked Miss Bertha, aged ten, shortly after my introduction to that young lady at Naples. I was forced to confess that, though my acquaintances had shaded from white to black, and brown to red, I had never been fortunate enough to boast of a blue one.

"Oh, I saw 'most a hundred the other day!" said she, triumphantly. "Then did you ever see a silver-colored man?"

"A silver-colored man? Miss Bertha dear, I have an idea that you have been to fairy-land."

"He was a real silver-colored man," said she, very earnestly.

"I suppose he was the King of the fairy-land you went to."

"Oh no, he wasn't; he was a big boatman. But it was just like fairy-land; it was splendid!—really, just splendid!"

It proved that the dear little enthusiast had been, a few days previous, on a visit to the Island of Capri to see the famous Blue Grotto; since which she had been startling people with her descriptions of blue folks and a silver man.

Seeing that I couldn't have a better guide than Miss Bertha, the next morning we and a jovial party went on board of the tiny steamer that plies between Naples and the eighteen miles distant Island of Capri, hollowed under the cliffs of which the Blue Grotto is situated. The Bay of Naples, you know, is called the most beautiful in the world, and a sail across it is a lovely thing in itself. There are such glorious blue skies overhead, and such clear blue waters underneath, that the steamer appears to bear one through the air between two skies. Then, close to Naples, is seen that wonderful volcano, Vesuvius, with always a cloud of smoke curling lazily out of its crater. And, besides, the white houses of Naples are so built on a hill-side, the streets climbing to the top, that a few miles away that too is a handsome sight. Miss Bertha told me that they were the marble steps to the giant's palace, whose bird was carrying us to the enchanted island to show us the giant's jewel-room. Capri then looked like a distant light-house, merely a brown rock rising out of the sea.

As we went bobbing over the waves it grew higher and higher, which Miss Bertha explained was the correct thing for it to do, until, when the steamer anchored a little distance from its cliffs, it rose straight up from the water to a dizzy height. A flock of little skiffs crowded around the steamer for the passengers, and Miss Bertha, taking charge of me, led me into one.

"But the Grotto, where is it?" I asked, staring at the huge cliffs, straight at which our red-sashed boatman was rowing us as if to destruction.

Skiff after skiff ahead of us was seen to be swallowed up in the cliffs in the most amazing way, and not an opening in the rocky wall to be seen. "You mustn't be afraid," said my sweet little guide, assuringly: "it won't hurt;" and she gave me her hand, that—perhaps I shouldn't tell—trembled a little, and directly its mate stole into my grasp.

"Lie low down," said our boatman, when the skiff was within a few feet of apparently smashing against the cliff.

"And shut your eyes tight," said Miss Bertha, screwing up her eyes so tight that she showed all of her pretty white teeth in the funniest way. The skiff scratched and bumped on the rocks a few times, and then floated clear.

The bright sky was gone, the gulls flying about the cliffs were gone, the steamer was gone, and the cliffs themselves were gone: we had slipped under them, through a tiny opening, and were in the Blue Grotto. The blue roof rose high above us, and there was ample room within the Grotto for many times the numerous blue skiffs filled with blue-haired blue people, all dressed in blue clothes, and breathing blue air. That is just the way we appeared. The water was lighter-colored than the air, and when a boatman jumped overboard, his every action being distinctly seen, he seemed to be flying in air, and not diving in water. It gave one a weird crawly feeling to see him, and when he came to the surface it seemed to be the most natural thing for him to tumble back to us after capering around in the sky. Then he crawled out on a rock to allow the water to drain off his clothes, and then it was that Miss Bertha's promise of a silver man was made good. He stood there a moment, appearing like a burnished silver statue, and the trickling drops as they fell from him sparkled with silvery glitter.

An oar splashed in the water sent the drops flying into the blue air, to glimmer there in silver brightness a moment, like a patch of the starry Milky Way on a frosty night.

"Isn't it lovely!" said Bertha, clapping her hands joyfully; "and you can get a whole handful of silver by just reaching for it, but you can't keep it." She grasped the blue water as she spoke, and it escaped through her fingers in glittering drops, as if a handful of coins was melting in her palm. Whatever is held in the water assumes, for the time, this silver-color, and the blades of the oars shone as though the Capri boatmen were so rich that they had made them of pure silver.

For hundreds of years the Grotto was known to exist somewhere under the cliffs of the island, but so small is the entrance that it was not rediscovered until this century. It can not be entered except the sea around the island is very calm; and as all the beautiful effects are due to the refraction of light, the bright mid-day sun should be shining without.