Beppo awoke next morning in the early dawn, and, forgetting where he was, stretched his cramped legs. In doing so he kicked over a basket, which fell on Beppina. Beppina instantly sat up, and, blinking with sleep, said quite loudly, "Where are we?"
She might well ask, for there, directly in front of her, pulling stoutly at a pair of oars, sat a short, thick-set man with brown skin and rings in his ears. The level rays of the sun, just rising over Venice, shone full upon his weather-beaten face and astonished eyes, as he gazed at the apparition before him. Just then Beppo's head appeared beside his sister's, and the man, overcome with astonishment, "caught a crab" and splashed both children with water before he burst into speech.
"Madonna mia!" he cried, "am I bewitched? How in the name of all the saints in paradise did you get into this boat? You weren't in it when I left the dock!"
"Oh, yes, we were," said Beppo. "We were behind the baskets."
"But what are you here for?" demanded the man.
"We want to go to Mestre," said Beppo.
The man regarded them suspiciously. "Do your folks know where you are?" he asked.
"No," said Beppo. "That's why we are here. We want to get back to them."
Beppina interrupted. "We were stolen away by gypsies," she said.
Then, still staring at them, the man asked, "Where are you from?"
"From Florence," Beppo answered.
The man threw back his head and laughed. "That's a likely story!" he roared. "From Florence! Ha, ha! Very good, per Bacco! You are indeed clever liars! You are a pair of naughty little runaways, that's what you are, and if I had time I'd take you straight back to Venice now! As it is, I'll wait until I get my load, and then back you go, and I hope you'll get a good spanking into the bargain."
The children said nothing. They couldn't; they were crushed. But during the rest of the journey Beppo thought as he had never thought in his life before, while Beppina prayed fervently under her breath. During the weeks that they had been so closely watched by Carlotta, Beppina had grown almost to read Beppo's thoughts, so when he furtively took her hand, lifted one eyebrow, and jerked his head in the direction of Mestre, she knew he meant to try to go forward no matter what happened.
They were now nearly across the lagoon and approaching the harbor. Early as it was, the water was already swarming with craft of all descriptions, for Venice has to get all her supplies from the mainland, and many boats are required for the traffic. There was consequently a great deal of shouting back and forth as the men jockeyed for the best positions at the dock. Their own brown boatman was so busy bawling at his competitors and shunting about that for a few moments he was unable to pay any attention to the children. At last, however, he crowded in between two other boats, and while he was explaining to their owners that they were the sons of pigs to take up so much room, Beppo seized his sister by the arm, and the two leaped into the next boat, from that to a third, and then to the dock; and before their captor realized they were gone, they were already speeding frantically up the dock.
"Stop them! Stop them!" howled the boatman, climbing out and starting in pursuit.
Two or three other men joined him, shouting, "Stop! Stop!" too, but their calls only lent speed to the flying feet of the runaways. They did not know where they were going, but they ran as rabbits run when the dogs are after them, and soon found themselves in the streets of the town. The cries of their pursuers grew fainter, and were lost altogether as Beppo suddenly dashed into a side street and they doubled on their tracks.
From a safe hiding-place behind an old building in an alley they caught a glimpse of their pursuers as they turned back to the boats, talking volubly and gesticulating like windmills. They were telling the boatman who had brought the children over what they thought of him for getting them into such a wild-goose chase. Beppo actually chuckled as he watched them go, so great was his relief.
"Now, Beppina," he said, almost gayly, "we'll hurry to the other end of the town as fast as we can go, and get something to eat. I've got ten soldi in my pocket that I picked up when Luigi wasn't looking, and I'm as hungry as a bear. They won't follow us any more, but we'll keep out of sight until the shops are open, anyway."
For an hour or more they wandered quietly about, through the by-ways of the town, until they found a small bake-shop on an unfrequented street; and when an old woman appeared and took down the shutters, they went in and boldly asked for bread and cheese. The woman eyed them with some curiosity, but asked no questions, and they got out as quickly as possible and hid behind an empty house on the outskirts of the village to eat their breakfast.
"I'm sure of one thing," said Beppo, as he munched his bread. "I'm not going to tell our story to any one after this. People would only think we were lying. We'll find our own way to the villa, and earn our money as we go along. Padua is only about thirty miles from here, anyway."
"Oh, Beppo," said Beppina, much impressed, "how did you know that?"
"Geography," said Beppo proudly. "You remember how I knew about Ravenna and Rimini, and, besides, the other day I asked a tourist to let me see the map in the guidebook. Padua is almost straight west from here. We can go away from the sun in the morning and toward it in the afternoon, and we can't help running into it. We'll dance in the villages as we go along, and when we get to Padua it will be easy enough to find the villa."
Beppina had some secret doubts. She remembered how sure Beppo was about finding his way in Florence, but she didn't say a word. She was willing to take any risk if only they could keep out of the clutches of Carlotta.
"Do you suppose they are hunting for us in Venice?" she asked.
"I shouldn't wonder," answered her brother, glancing at the sun. Then he chuckled, "I'll bet they're mad! I hope they'll never find their old boats!"
"Let's get away from here as fast as we can," urged Beppina. "They might follow us, or they might send word to the police."
"That's true," said Beppo. "We can't be too careful."
They had finished their breakfast by this time, and, taking their direction from the sun, set forth at once toward the west. Soon they were out among the suburbs. Then they passed stately villas owned by wealthy Venetians, and beyond that came into open country. It was much easier walking than it had been in the mountains, for the land was level, or gently rolling, the villages were near together, and the highways well traveled. Moreover, they had been hardened to much walking by their weeks of constant practice, and were able to trot along the road at a good rate of speed.
At noon they reached a village, and here they decided to replenish their little hoard of money, so, making their way to the piazza, they surrounded themselves with a crowd for whom they danced the trescone and sang themselves hoarse. They were just gathering up the few coins that were thrown to them, when Beppo saw a policeman approaching, and, not wishing to take any chances, the two children instantly disappeared like smoke down a side street, and out into the highway once more.
By supper-time they had covered ten miles, and when night overtook them, they were in open farming country, surrounded by olive orchards, vineyards, and cornfields. In a field beside the road they came upon a straw-stack, and, hiding themselves on the farther side of it, they ate the bread and ham which they had bought on the way, and then, pulling the straw down over them for covering, slept peacefully until morning.