THE GOLDEN BOOK OF VENICE
A Historical Romance of the 16th Century
MRS. LAWRENCE TURNBULL
'This noble citie doth in a manner chalenge this at my hands, that I should describe her ... the fairest Lady, yet the richest Paragon, and Queene of Christendome.'
AS A TRIBUTE TO HIS GIFT OF VIVID HISTORIC NARRATION WHICH WAS THE DELIGHT OF MY CHILDHOOD, I INSCRIBE THIS ROMANCE TO THE MEMORY OF MY DEAR FATHER.
I desire gratefully to acknowledge my indebtedness to many faithful, loving and able students of Venetian lore, without whose books my own presentation of Venice in the sixteenth century would have been impossible. Mr. Ruskin's name must always come first among the prophets of this City of the Sea, but among others from whom I have gathered side-lights I have found quite indispensable Mr. Horatio F. Brown's "Venice; An Historical Sketch of the Republic," "Venetian Studies," and "Life on the Lagoons"; Mr. Hare's suggestive little volume of "Venice"; M. Leon Galibert's "Histoire de la Republique de Venise"; and Mr. Charles Yriarte's "Venice" and his work studied from the State papers in the Frari, entitled "La vie d'un Patricien de Venise."
Mr. Robertson's life of Fra Paolo Sarpi gave me the first hint of this great personality, but my own portrait has been carefully studied from the volumes of his collected works which later responded to my search; these were collected and preserved for the Venetian government under the title of "Opere di Fra Paolo Sarpi, Servita, Teologo e Consultore della Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia" and included his life, letters and "opinions," and all others of his writings which escaped destruction in the fire of the Servite Convent, as well as many important extracts from the original manuscripts so destroyed and which had been transcribed by order of the Doge, Marco Foscarini, a few years before.
FRANCESE LITCHFIELD TURNBULL.
La-Paix, June, 1900.
Venice, with her life and glory but a memory, is still the citta nobilissima,—a city of moods,—all beautiful to the beauty-lover, all mystic to the dreamer; between the wonderful blue of the water and the sky she floats like a mirage—visionary—unreal—and under the spell of her fascination we are not critics, but lovers. We see the pathos, not the scars of her desolation, and the splendor of her past is too much a part of her to be forgotten, though the gold is dim upon her palace-fronts, and the sheen of her precious marbles has lost its bloom, and the colors of the laughing Giorgione have faded like his smile.
But the very soul of Venetia is always hovering near, ready to be invoked by those who confess her charm. When, under the glamor of her radiant skies the faded hues flash forth once more, there is no ruin nor decay, nor touch of conquering hand of man nor time, only a splendid city of dreams, waiting in silence—as all visions wait—until that invisible, haunting spirit has turned the legends of her power into actual activities.
THE GOLDEN BOOK OF VENICE
Sea and sky were one glory of warmth and color this sunny November morning in 1565, and there were signs of unusual activity in the Campo San Rocco before the great church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, which, if only brick without, was all glorious within, "in raiment of needlework" and "wrought gold." And outside, the delicate tracery of the cornice was like a border of embroidery upon the sombre surface; the sculptured marble doorway was of surpassing richness, and the airy grace of the campanile detached itself against the entrancing blue of the sky, as one of those points of beauty for which Venice is memorable.
Usually this small square, remote from the centres of traffic as from the homes of the nobility, seemed scarcely more than a landing-place for the gondolas which were constantly bringing visitors and worshippers thither, as to a shrine; for this church was a sort of memorial abbey to the illustrious dead of Venice,—her Doges, her generals, her artists, her heads of noble families,—and the monuments were in keeping with all its sumptuous decorations, for the Frati Minori of the convent to which it belonged—just across the narrow lane at the side of the church—were both rich and generous, and many of its gifts and furnishings reflected the highest art to which modern Venice had attained. Between the wonderful, mystic, Eastern glory of San Marco, all shadows and symbolisms and harmonies, and the positive, realistic assertions, aesthetic and spiritual, of the Frari, lay the entire reach of the art and religion of the Most Serene Republic.
The church was ancient enough to be a treasure-house for the historian, and it had been restored, with much magnificence, less than a century before,—which was modern for Venice,—while innumerable gifts had brought its treasures down to the days of Titian and Tintoret.
To-day the people were coming in throngs, as to a festa, on foot from under the Portico di Zen, across the little marble bridge which spanned the narrow canal; on foot also from the network of narrow paved lanes, or calle, which led off into a densely populated quarter; for to-day the people had free right of entrance, equally with those others who came in gondolas, liveried and otherwise, from more distant and aristocratic neighborhoods. This pleasant possibility of entrance sufficed for the crowd at large, who were not learned, and who preferred the attractions of the outside show to the philosophical debate which was the cause of all this agreeable excitement, and which was presently to take place in the great church before a vast assembly of nobles and clergy and representatives from the Universities of Padua, Mantua, and Bologna; and outside, in the glowing sunshine, with the strangers and the confusion, the shifting sounds and lights, the ceaseless unlading of gondolas and massing and changing of colors, every minute was a realization of the people's ideal of happiness.
Brown, bare-legged boys flocked from San Pantaleone and the people's quarters on the smaller canals, remitting, for the nonce, their absorbing pastimes of crabbing and petty gambling, and ragged and radiant, stretched themselves luxuriously along the edge of the little quay, faces downward, emphasizing their humorous running commentaries with excited movements of the bare, upturned feet; while the gondoliers landed their passengers to a lively refrain of "Stali!" their curses and appeals to the Madonna blending not discordantly with the general babel of sound which gives such a sense of companionship in Venice—human voices calling in ceaseless interchange from shore to shore, resonant in the brilliant atmosphere, quarrels softened to melodies across the water, cries of the gondoliers telling of ceaseless motion, the constant lap and plash of the wavelets and the drip of the oars making a soothing undertone of content.
From time to time staccato notes of delight added a distinct jubilant quality to this symphony, heralding the arrival of some group of Church dignitaries from one or other of the seven principal parishes of Venice, gorgeous in robes of high festival and displaying the choicest of treasures from sacristies munificently endowed, as was meet for an ecclesiastical body to whom belonged one half of the area of Venice, with wealth proportionate.
Frequent delegations from the lively crowd of the populace—flashing with repartee, seemly or unseemly, as they gathered close to the door just under the marble slab with its solemn appeal to reverence, "Rispettati la Casa di Dio"—penetrated into the Frari to see where the more pleasure could be gotten, as also to claim their right to be there; for this pageant was for the people also, which they did not forget, and their good-humored ripple of comment was tolerant, even when most critical. But outside one could have all of the festa that was worth seeing, with the sunshine added,—the glorious sunshine of this November day, cold enough to fill the air with sparkle,—and the boys, at least, were sure to return to the free enjoyment impossible within.
A group of young nobles, in silken hose and velvet mantles, were met with ecstatic approval and sallies deftly personal. Since the beginning of the Council of Trent, which was still sitting, philosophy had become the mode in Venice, and had grown to be a topic of absorbing interest by no means confined to Churchmen; and young men of fashion took courses of training in the latest and most intellectual accomplishment.
Confraternities of every order were arriving in stately processions, their banners borne before them by gondoliers gaudy and awkward in sleazy white tunics, with brilliant cotton sashes—habiliments which possessed a singular power of relieving these sun-browned sons of the lagoon of every vestige of their native grace. On such days of Church festival—and these alone—they might have been mistaken for peasants of some prosaic land, instead of the graceful, free-born Venetians that they were, as, with no hint of their natural rhythm of motion, they filed in cramped and orderly procession through the avenue that opened to them in the crowd to the door of the church, where they disappeared behind the great leather curtain.
It was a great day for the friars of the Servi, who were rivals of the Frari both in learning and splendor, and the entire Servite Brotherhood, black-robed and white-cowled, was just coming in sight over the little marble bridge, preceded by youthful choristers, chanting as they came and bearing with them that famous banner which had been sent them as a gift from their oldest chapter of San Annunziata in Florence, and which was the early work of Raphael.
A small urchin, leaning far over the edge of the quay and craning his neck upward for a better view, reported some special attraction in this approaching group which elicited yells of vociferous greeting from his colleagues, with such forceful emphasis of his own curling, expressive toes, that he lost his balance and rolled over into the water; from which he was promptly rescued by a human ladder, dexterously let down to him in sections, without a moment's hesitation, by his allies, who, like all Venetian boys of the populace, were amphibious animals, full of pranks.
But now there was no more time for fooling on the quay, for at the great end-window of the library of the convent of the Frari it could be seen that a procession of this body was forming and would presently enter the church, and the fun would begin for those who understood Latin.
A round-faced friar was giving obliging information. The contest would be between the Frari and the Servi; there was a new brother who had just entered their order,—and very learned, it was said,—but the name was not known. He would appear to respond to the propositions of the Frari.
"Yes, the theses would be in Latin—and harder, it was said, had never been seen. There were the theses in one of those black frames, at the side of the great door."
"But Latin is no good, except in missals, for women and priests to read."
The gondolier who owned the voice was undiscoverable among the crowd, and the remark passed with some humorous retaliation.
Hints of the day's entertainment sifted about, with much more,—each suggestion, true or otherwise, waking its little ripple of interest,—as some nearest the curtain lifted it up, went in, and returned, bringing reports.
"The church is filled with great ones, and Mass is going on," a small scout reported; "and that was Don Ambrogio Morelli that just went in with a lady—our old Abbe from the school at San Marcuolo—Beppo goes there now! And don't some of us remember Pierino—always studying and good for nothing, and not knowing enough to wade out of a rio? The Madonna will have hard work to look after him!"
"Don Ambrogio just wants to cram us boys," Beppo confessed, in a confidential tone; "but it's no use knowing too much, even for a priest. For once, at San Marcuolo—true as true, faith of the Madonna!—one of those priests told the people one day in his sermon that there were no ghosts!"
The boy crossed himself and drew a quick breath, which increased the interest of his auditors.
"Ebbene!" he continued, in an impressive, awestruck whisper. "He had to come out of his bed at night—Santissima Maria!—and it was the ghosts of all the people buried in San Marcuolo who dragged him and kicked him to teach him better, because he wanted to make believe the dead stayed in their graves! So where was the use of his Latin?"
"Pierino will be like his uncle, the Abbe Morelli, some day; they say he also will be a priest."
"I believe thee," said Beppo, earnestly; "and that was he going in behind the banner, with the Servi."
The little fellows made an instant rush for the door, and squeezed themselves in behind the poor old women of the neighborhood for whom festivals were perquisites, and who, maimed or deformed, knelt on the stone floor close to the entrance, while with keenly observant, ubiquitous eyes they proffered their aves and their petitions for alms with the same exemplary patience and fervor—"Per l'amor di Dio, Signori!"
The body of the church, from the door to the great white marble screen of the choir and from column to column, was filled with an assembly in which the brilliant and scholarly elements predominated; and seen through the marvelous fretwork of this screen of leafage and scroll and statue and arch, intricately wrought and enhanced with gilding, the choir presented an almost bewildering pageant. The dark wood background of the stalls and canopies, elaborately carved and polished and enriched with mosaics, each surmounted with its benediction of a gilded winged cherub's head, framed a splendid figure in sacerdotal robes. Through the small, octagonal panes of the little windows encircling the choir—row upon row, like an antique necklace of opals set in frosted stonework—the sunlight slanted in a rainbow mist, broken by splashes of yellow flame from great wax candles in immense golden candlesticks, rising from the floor and steps of the altar, as from the altar itself. From great brass censers, swinging low by exquisite Venetian chainwork, fragrant smoke curled upward, crossing with slender rays of blue the gold webwork of the sunlight; and on either side golden lanterns rose high on scarlet poles, above the heads of the friars who crowded the church.
On the bishop's throne, surrounded by the bishops of the dioceses of Venice, sat the Patriarch, who had been graciously permitted to honor this occasion, as it had no political significance; and opposite him Fra Marco Germano, the head of the order of the Frari, presided in a state scarcely less regal.
His splendid gift, the masterpiece of Titian, had been fitted into the polished marble framework over the great altar, and never had the master so excelled himself as in this glorious "Assumption." The beauty, the power, the persuasive sense of motion in the figure of the Madonna, which seemed divinely upborne,—the loveliness of the infant cherubs, the group of the Apostles solemnly attesting the mysterious event,—were singularly and inimitably impressive, full of aspiration and faith, compelling the serious recognition of the sacredness and greatness of the Christian mystery.
The choir-screen terminated in pulpits at either side, and here again the Apostles stood in solemn guardianship on its broad parapet—but emblems, rather; of the stony rigidity of doctrines which have been shaped by the minds of men from some little phase of truth, than of that glowing, spiritualized, human sympathy which, as the soul of man grows upward into comprehension, is the apostle of an ever widening truth. And over the richly sculptured central arch which forms the entrance to the choir, against the incongruous glitter of gold and jewels and magnificent garments and lights and sumptuous, overwrought details—the very extravagance of the Renaissance—a great black marble crucifix bore aloft the most solemn Symbol of the Christian Faith.
The religious ceremonial with which the festival had opened was over, and down the aisles on either side, past the family altars, with their innumerable candles and lanterns and censers,—ceaselessly smoking in memorial of the honored dead,—the brothers of the Frari and the Servi marched in solemn procession to the chant of the acolytes, returning to mass themselves in the transepts, in fuller view of the pulpits, before the contest began. The Frari had taken their position on the right, under the elaborate hanging tomb of Fra Pacifico—a mass of sculpture, rococo, and gilding; the incense rising from the censer swinging below the coffin of the saint carried the eye insensibly upward to the grotesque canopy, where cumbrous marble clouds were compacted of dense masses of saints' and cherubs' heads with uncompromising golden halos.
Some of the younger brothers scattered leaflets containing heads of the theses.
There was a stir among the crowd; a few went out, having witnessed the pageant; but there was a flutter of increased interest among those who remained, as a venerable man, in the garb of the Frari, mounted the pulpit on the right.
The Abbe Morelli sat in an attitude of breathless interest, and now a look of intense anxiety crossed his face. "It is Fra Teodoro, the ablest disputant of the Frari!" he exclaimed. "The trial is too great."
The lady with him drew closer, arranging the folds of the ample veil which partially concealed her face, so that she might watch more closely. But it was on Don Ambrogio Morelli that she fixed her gaze with painful intensity, reading the success or failure of the orator in her brother's countenance.
"Ambrogio!" she entreated, when the argument had been presented and received with every sign of triumph that the sacredness of the place made decorous, "thou knowest that I have no understanding of the Latin—was it unanswerable?"
"Nay," her brother answered, uneasily; "it was fine, surely; but have no fear, Fra Teodoro is not incontrovertible, and the Servi have better methods."
"May one ask the name of the disputant who is to respond?" a stranger questioned courteously of Don Ambrogio.
"It is a brother who hath but entered their order yesterday," Don Ambrogio answered, with some hesitation, "by name Pierino—nay, Fra Paolo. He is reputed learned; yet if the methods of the order be strange to him, one should grant indulgence. For he is reputed learned——"
He was conscious of repeating the words for his own encouragement, with a heart less brave than he could have wished. But the information was pleasantly echoed about, as the ranks of the Servi parted and an old man, with a face full of benignity, came forward, holding the hand of a boy with blue eyes and light hair, who walked timidly with him to the pulpit on the left, where the older man encouraged the shrinking disputant to mount the stair.
There was a murmur of astonishment as the young face appeared in the tribunal of that grave assembly.
"Impossible! It is only a child!"
It was, in truth, a strange picture; this child of thirteen, small and delicate for his years, yet with a face of singular freshness and gravity, his youthfulness heightened by cassock and cowl—a unique, simple figure, against the bizarre magnificence of the background, the central point of interest for that learned and brilliant assembly, as he stood there above the beautiful kneeling angel who held the Book of the Law, just under the pulpit.
For a moment he seemed unable to face his audience, then, with an effort, he raised his hand, nervously pushing back the white folds of his unaccustomed cowl, and casting a look of perplexity over the sea of faces before him; but the expression of trouble slowly cleared away as his eyes met those of a friar, grave and bent, who had stepped out from the company of the Servi and fixed upon the boy a steadying gaze of assurance, triumph, and command. It was Fra Gianmaria, who was known throughout Venice for his great learning.
"Pierino!" broke from the mother, in a tone of quick emotion, as she saw her boy for the first time in the dress of his order, which thrust, as it were, the claims of her motherhood quite away; it was so soon to surrender all the beautiful romance of mother and child, so soon to have done with the joy of watching the development which had long outstripped her leadership, so soon to consent to the absolute parting of the ways!
She had not willed it so, and she was weary from the struggle.
But the boy was satisfied; the presence of his stern and learned mentor sufficed to restore his composure; he did not even see his mother's face so near him, piteous in its appeal for a single glance to confess his need of her.
"Nay, have no fear," Don Ambrogio counseled, his face glowing with pride; "the boy is a wonder."
The good Fra Giulio, turning back from the pulpit stairs, saw the faces of the two whose hearts were hanging on the words of the child; he went directly to them and sat down beside Donna Isabella, for he had a tender heart and he guessed her trouble. "I also," he said, leaning over her and speaking low, "I also love the boy, and while I live will I care for him. He shall lack for nothing."
It was a promise of great comfort; for Pierino—she could not call him by the new name—would need such loving care; already the mother's pulse beat more tranquilly, and she almost smiled her gratitude in the large-hearted friar's face.
Then Fra Gianmaria, his mentor, seeing that the boy had gained courage, came also to a seat beside Donna Isabella, with a look of radiant congratulation; for he had been the boy's teacher ever since the little lad had passed beyond the limits of Don Ambrogio's modest attainments. Although she had resented the power of Fra Gianmaria over Pierino, she was proud of the confidence of the learned friar in her child; already she began to teach herself to accept pride in the place of the lowlier, happier, daily love she must learn to do without. Her face grew colder and more composed; Don Ambrogio gave her a nod of approval.
"It is Pierino!" the bare-legged Beppo proclaimed, pushing his way between dignitaries and elegant nobles and taking a position, in wide-eyed astonishment, in front of the pulpit, where he could watch every movement of his quondam school-fellow, whose words carried no meaning to his unlearned ears. But his heart throbbed with sudden loyalty in seeing his comrade the centre of such a festa; Beppo would stay and help him to get fair play, if he should need it, since it was well known that Pierino could not fight, for all his Latin!
But the little fellow in robe and cowl had neither eyes nor thoughts for his vast audience when he once gathered courage to begin—no memory for the pride of his teachers, no perception of his mother's yearning; shrinking and timid as he was, the first voicing of his own thought, in his childish treble voice, put him in presence of a problem and banished all other consciousness. It was merely a question to be met and answered, and his wonderful reasoning faculty stilled every other emotion. His voice grew positive as his thought asserted itself; his learning was a mystery, but argument after argument was met and conquered with the quoted wisdom of unanswerable names.
One after another the great men left the choir and came down into the area before the pulpits, that they might lose nothing.
One after another the Frari chose out champions to confute the child-philosopher, but he was armed on every side; and the childish face, the boyish manner and voice lent a wonderful charm to the words he uttered, which were not eloquent, but absolutely dispassionate and reasonable, and the fewest by which he might prove his claim.
Again and again his audience forgot themselves in murmurs of applause, rising beyond decorum, and once into a storm of approbation; then his timidity returned, he became self-conscious, fumbling with the white cowl that hung partly over his face, forgetting that it was not a hat, and gravely taking it off in salute.
The next day it was proclaimed on the Piazza, as a bit of news for the people of Venice—for which, indeed, those who had not witnessed the contest in the church of the Frari cared little and understood nothing—that "in the Philosophical Contest which had taken place between the Friars of the Frari and the Friars of the Servi, the victory had been won by Fra Paolo Sarpi, of the Servi, who had honorably triumphed through his vast understanding of the wisdom of the Fathers of the Church."
This was also published in the black frame beside the great door of the Frari and posted upon the entrance to the church of the Servi, while in the refectories of the respective convents it formed a theme of absorbing interest.
The Frari discussed the possibilities of childish mouthpieces for learned doctors, miraculously concealed—but low, for fear of scandal. The Servi said it out, for all to hear, "that it was a modern wonder of a Child in the Temple!"
But Fra Gianmaria hushed them, and was afraid; for often while he taught he came upon some new surprise, for he perceived that the boy's mind held some hidden spring of knowledge which was to him unfathomable.
"It is most wonderful," he said one evening to Fra Giulio, as they talked together in the cloister after vespers; "I solemnly declare that it hath happened to me to ask him a question of which I, verily, knew not the answer; and he, keeping in quiet thought for some moments, hath so lucidly responded that his words have carried with them the conviction that he had made a discovery which I knew not."
"It is some lesson which Don Ambrogio hath taught him."
"Not so—for Don Ambrogio hath little learning; but Paolo will cover us with honor. In learning he is never weary, yet hath he an understanding greater than mine own, and in docility he hath no equal. In his duty in the convent and in the church he is even more punctilious."
"Is it strange—or is it well," asked Fra Giulio with hesitation, "that in this year he hath spent with us he asks not for his mother, nor the little maid his sister, nor seemeth to grieve for them? For the boy is young."
"Nay," answered Fra Gianmaria, sternly; "it is no lack, but a grace that hath been granted him."
"Knowledge is a wonderful mystery," Fra Giulio answered; but softly to himself, as he crossed the cloister, he added, "but love is sweet, and the boy is very young."
The boy was kneeling placidly before the crucifix in his cell when Fra Giulio went to give him his nightly benediction; but the good friar's heart was troubled with tenderness because of a vision, that would not leave him, of a hungering mother's face.
Many years later one of the great artists of Venice, wandering about at sunset with an elusive vision of some wonderful picture stirring impatience within his soul, found a maiden sitting under the vine-covered pergola of the Traghetto San Maurizio, where she was waiting for her brother-in-law, who would presently touch at this ferry on his homeward way to Murano. A little child lay asleep in her arms, his blond head, which pitying Nature had kept beautiful, resting against her breast; the meagre body was hidden beneath the folds of her mantle, which, in the graceful fashion of those days, passed over her head and fell below the knees; her face, very beautiful and tender, was bent over the little sufferer, who had forgotten his pain in the weariness it had brought him as a boon.
The delicate purple bells of the vine upon the trellis stirred in the evening breeze, making a shimmer of perfume and color about her, like a suggestion of an aureole; and in the arbor, as in one of those homely shrines which everywhere make part of the Venetian life, she seemed aloof as some ideal of an earlier Christian age from the restless, voluble group upon the tiny quay.
There were facchini—those doers of nondescript smallest services, quarreling amiably to pass the time, springing forward for custom as the gondolas neared the steps; gransieri—the licensed traghetto beggars, ragged and picturesque, pushing past with their long, crooked poles, under pretence of drawing the gondolas to shore; one or two women from the islands, filling the moments with swift, declamatory speech until the gondola of Giambattista or of Jacopo should close the colloquy; an older peasant, tranquilly kneeling to the Madonna of the traghetto, amid the clatter, while steaming greasy odors from her housewifely basket of Venetian dainties mount slowly, like some travesty of incense, and cloud the humble shrine. Two or three comers swell the group from the recesses of the dark little shop behind, for no other reason than that life is pleasant where so much is going on; and some maiden, into whose life a dawning romance is just creeping, confesses it with a brighter color as she hangs, half-timidly, her bunch of tinselled flowers before the red lamp of the good little Madonna of this traghetto benedetto, whose gondoliers are the bravest in all Venice! Meanwhile the boatmen, coming, going, or waiting, keep up a lively chatter.
And under the trellis, as if far removed, the sleeping child and Marina of Murano bending over him a face glorified with its story of love and compassion, are like a living Rafaello!
"The bambino is beautiful," said the artist, drawing nearer, but speaking reverently, for he knew that he had found the face he had been seeking for his Madonna for the altar of the Servi. "What doth he like, your little one? For I am a friend to the bambini, and the poverina hath pain to bear."
She was more beautiful still when she smiled and the anxiety died out of her girlish face for a moment, in gratitude for the sympathy. "Eccellenza, thanks," she answered simply; "he has a beautiful face. Sometimes when he has flowers in his little hand he smiles and is quite still."
But the radiant look passed swiftly with the remembrance of the pain that would come to the child on waking, and she kissed the tiny fingers that lay over the edge of her mantle with a movement of irrepressible tenderness, lapsing at once into reverie; while the artist, full of the enthusiasm of creation, stood dreaming of his picture. This Holy Mother should be greater, more compassionate, nearer to the people than any Madonna he had ever painted; for never had he noted in any face before such a passion of love and pity. In that moment of stillness the sunset lights, intensifying, cast a glow about her; the child, half-waking, stretched up his tiny hand and touched her cheek with a rare caress, and the light in her face was a radiance never to be forgotten. The Veronese's wonderful Madonna del Sorriso leaped to instant life; a smile full of the pathos of human suffering, tender in comprehension, perfect in faith—this, which this moment of inspiration had revealed to him, would he paint for the consolation of those who should kneel before the altar of the Servi!
She was busy with the child, putting him gently on the ground as a gondola approached; he, with his thought in intense realization, fixing the peculiar beauty of these sunset clouds in his artist memory as sole color-scheme of his picture; for this grave, sweet face, with its pale, fair tones and profusion of soft brown hair, would not bear the vivid draperies that the Veronese was wont to fashion—the mantle must be a gray cloud, pink flushed, with delicate sunset borderings where it swept away to shroud the child; the beauty of his creation should be in that smile of exquisite compassion, and this wonderful sunset in which it should glow forever!
It was a rare moment with the Veronese, in which he seemed lifted above himself; the revelation of the face had seized him, translating him into the poetic atmosphere which he rarely attained; the harmonies of the vision were so perfect that they sufficed for the over-sumptuousness of color and detail which were usually features of his conceptions.
Some one called impatiently from the gondola in rude, quick tones, and the artist woke from his reverie. The maiden lingered on the step for a word of adieu to this stranger who wished to give the little one pleasure, but she dared not disturb him, for he was some great signor—so she interpreted his dress and bearing—and she was only a maiden of Murano.
He was still under the spell of his great moment, and he was in the presence of one who should help him to make it immortal; he uncovered his head with a motion of courtly deference he did not often assume as he started forward over the rough planks of the traghetto. "Signora, where shall I bring the flowers to make the little one smile?"
"To Murano, near the Stabilimento Magagnati, Eccellenza," she answered without hesitation, lifting the baby in her arms to escape the rough help of the gondolier, who reached forward to hasten his stumbling movements.
And so they floated off from the traghetto—the Madonna that was to be, into the deepening twilight, while the Veronese, a splendid and incongruous figure amid these lowly surroundings, leaned against the paltry column that supported the shrine, wrapped in a delicious reverie of creation; for he was unused to failure and he had no doubts, though he had not yet proffered his request.
"To-morrow," he said, "I will paint that face!"
* * * * *
"By our Lady of Murano!" the gondolier cried suddenly. "He spoke to thee like a queen—and it was Paolo Cagliari! What did he want with thee?"
"Not me, Piero; it was the child. He wished to give him flowers. I knew he must be great to care thus for our 'bimbo.' It was really he—the Veronese?"
"The child! Santa Maria! He is not too much like a cherub that the great painter should notice him!"
The baby threw out his little clenched fist, striking against the protecting arms that held him closer, his face drawn with sudden pain; for a moment he fought against Marina, and then, the spasm over, settled wearily to sleep in her arms.
"Poverino!" said the gondolier softly, while Marina crooned over him an Ave Maria, and the gondola glided noiselessly to its cadence.
"Piero," she said, looking up with eyes full of tears, "sometimes I think I cannot bear it! He needs thy prayers as well as mine—wilt thou not ask our Lady of San Donato to be kinder to him? And I have seen to-day, on the Rialto, a beautiful lamp, with angels' heads. Thou shouldst make an offering——"
The gondolier shook his head and shrugged his shoulders; he had little faith or reverence. "I will say my aves, poveriello," he promised; "but the lamps are already too many in San Donato. And for the bambino, I will go not only once, but twice this year to confession—the laws of our traghetto ask not so much, since once is enough. But thou art even stricter with thy rules for me."
She did not answer, and they floated on in silence.
"To-morrow," said Piero at length, "there is festa in San Pietro di Castello."
She moved uneasily, and her beautiful face lost its softness.
"It is nothing to me," she answered shortly.
"It is a pretty festa, and Messer Magagnati should take thee. By our Lady of Castello, there are others who will go!"
"It would be better for the bambino," he persisted sullenly, as she did not answer him. His voice was not the pleasanter now that its positive tone was changed to a coaxing one.
"One is enough, Piero," she said. "And for the festa of San Pietro in Castello—never, never name it to me!"
"Santa Maria!" her companion ejaculated under his breath; "it is the women, the gentle donzelle, who are hard!"
He stood, tall, handsome, well-made, swaying lightly with the motion of the gondola, which seemed to float as in a dream to the ripple and lap of the water; the blue of his shirt had changed to gray in the twilight, the black cap and sash of the "Nicolotti" accentuated the lines of the strong, lithe figure as he sprang forward on the sloping foot-rest of his gondola with that perfect grace and ease which proved him master of a craft whose every motion is a harmony. If he were proud of belonging to the Nicolotti, that most powerful faction of the populace, he knew that they were regarded by the government as the aristocrats of the people.
Marina arranged the child's covering in silence, and stooped her face wistfully to touch his cheek, but she did not turn her head to look at the man behind her.
"L'amor ze fato per chi lo sa fare,"
he sang in the low, slow chant of the familiar folk-song, the rhythm blending perfectly with the movement of the boat in which these two were faring. His voice was pleasanter in singing, and song is almost a needful expression of the content of motion in Venice—the necessary complement of life to the gondolier, a song might mean nothing more. But Piero sang more slowly than his wont, charging the words with meaning, yet it did not soften her.
"Love is for him who knows how to win!"
He could not see how she flushed and paled with anger as he sang, for it was growing dark over the water and her face was turned from him; but she straightened herself uncompromisingly, and he was watching with subtle comprehension.
He could not have told why he persisted in this strange wooing, for there had been but one response during the two years of his widowhood, while his child had been Marina's ceaseless care. Marina had loved the baby the more passionately, perhaps, for the sake of her only sister Toinetta, Piero's child-bride, who had died at the baby's birth, because she was painfully conscious that Toinetta's little flippant life had needed much forgiveness and had been crowned with little gladness. Marina was now the only child of Messer Girolamo Magagnati, which was a patent of nobility in Murano; and she was not the less worth winning because she held herself aloof from the freer life of the Piazza, where she was called the "donzel of Murano," though there were others with blacker eyes and redder cheeks. Piero did not think her very beautiful; he liked more color and sparkle and quickness of retort—a chance to quarrel and forgive. He was not in sympathy with so many aves, such continual pilgrimages to the cathedral, such brooding over the lives of the saints—above all, he did not like being kept in order, and Marina knew well how to do this, in spite of her quiet ways. But he liked the best for himself, and there was no one like Marina in all Murano. During all this time he had been coming more and more under her sway, changing his modes of living to suit her whims, and the only way of safety for him was to marry her and be master; then she should see how he would rule his house! His own way had always been the right way for him—rules of all orders to the contrary—whether he had been a wandering gondolier, a despised barcariol toso, lording it so outrageously over the established traghetti that they were glad to forgive him his bandit crimes and swear him into membership, if only to stop his influence against them; or whether it had been the stealing away of a promised bride, as on that memorable day at San Pietro in Castello, when he had married Toinetta—it was never safe to bear "vendetta" with one so strong and handsome and unprincipled as Piero.
Gabriele, the jilted lover of Toinetta, over whom Piero had triumphed, soon became the husband of another donzel, handsomer than Toinetta had been—poor, foolish Toinetta!—and the retributive tragedy of her little life had warmed the sullen Gabriele into a magnanimity that rendered him at least a safe, if a moody and unpleasant, member of the traghetto in which Piero had since become a rising star. A man with a home to keep may not "cast away his chestnuts," and so when Piero, in that masterful way of his, swept everything before him in the traghetto—never asking nor caring who stood for him or against him, but carrying his will whenever he chose to declare it—to set one's self against such a man was truly a useless sort of fret, only a "gnawing of one's chain," in the expressive jargon of the people.
Piero finished his song, and there was a little pause. They were nearing the long, low line of Murano.
"It is not easy," he said, "when women are in the way, 'to touch the sky with one's finger.'"
She turned with a sudden passionate motion as if she would answer him, and then, struggling for control, turned back without a word, drawing the child closer and caressing him until she was calm again. When she raised her head she spoke in a resolute, restrained voice.
"Since thou wilt have it, Piero—listen. And rest thine oar, for we are almost home; and to-night must be quite the end of all this talk. It can never be. Thou hast no understanding of such matters, so I forgive thee for myself. But for Toinetta—I do not think I ever can forgive thee, may the good Madonna help me!"
"There are two in every marriage," Piero retorted sullenly, for he was angry now.
"It is just that—oh, it is just that!" Marina cried, clasping her hands passionately. "Thou art so strong and so compelling, and thou dost not stop for the right of it. She was such a child, she knew no better, poverina! And thou—a man—not for love, nor right, nor any noble thing"—the words came with repressed scorn—"to coax her to it, just for a little triumph! To expose a child to such endless critica!"
Only a Venetian of the people could comprehend the full sting of this word, which conveyed the searching, persistent disapproval of an entire class, whose code, if viewed from the moral point of view, was painfully slack, though from its own standard of decorum it was immutable.
"It has been said, once for all—thou dost not forgive."
"It is the last time, for this also, Piero; I meant never to speak of it again, but those words of thine of the festa in San Pietro in Castello made me forget. It came over me quite suddenly, that this is how thou spendest the beautiful, great strength God gave thee to make a leader of thee in real things. But whether it be great or small, or good or ill, thou always wilt have thy way!"
"It's a poor fool of a fellow that wouldn't keep himself uppermost, like oil," he cried, hesitating only for a moment between anger and gratification, and choosing the way that ministered to his pride. "Santa Maria! I'll butter thy macaroni with fine cheese every time!"
"Nay, spare thy pains, Piero, and be serious for one moment. There is no barcariol in all Venice who hath greater opportunities, but thou must use them well. They spoil thee at the traghetto; and if a man hath his will always, it will either spoil him or make him noble."
"What wouldst thou have me to do?" he questioned sullenly.
"They would be afraid of thee—thou couldst quiet these troubles in the traghetti—thou must use thy strength and thy will for the good of the people. It is terrible to have power and to use it wrongly."
Piero moved back to his place again and took up his oar, throwing himself in position for a forward stroke. "Forget not," he said, poising, "that I need not listen to thee if I do not choose. I may not stay in casa Magagnati—not any more, if thou art always scolding."
"I shall scold—always—until thou dost quiet this disorder of the traghetti," she answered, undaunted.
"And thou wilt return; for there is always the bambino."
"If I come back," he said in a softer tone, responding to the appeal for his child, "I must speak of what I will."
"Of all but one thing, Piero;" for it was not possible to misunderstand him, and she was resolute. "If this is not the end I shall speak with my father—and the bambino——"
They were both silent. He knew that no one could ever care for his invalid child as she had done; and all that he owed her and must continue to owe her restrained him under her chiding, for the baby could not live away from her. Sometimes, too, there were moments of strange tenderness within him for this helpless, suffering morsel of humanity that called him "babbo!" He did not know what might happen if the wrath of the redoubtable Magagnati were to be invoked against him, for this quarrel could not be disposed of as those small matters with the gondoliers had invariably been. So far from threatening this before, Marina had hitherto shielded Piero, in her unanswerable way, from everything that might hasten the rupture that seemed always impending between these two dissimilar natures; and Messer Magagnati had two thoughts only, his daughter and his stabilimento—the great glass furnaces which were the pride of Venice.
Piero had no suspicion that Marina always touched the best that was in him; he thought she made him weaker, and it was not easy to yield the point that had become a habit. No one else had ever moved him from any purpose, but now he perceived that there would be no reversal of that sentence—that he should continue to come to see his child, and that he must continue to submit to Marina's influence. It was she who had, in some unaccountable way, persuaded him out of his unlawful trade of barcariol toso, and had forced his reluctant acceptance of the overtures that were made to him from the Guild of Santa Maria Zobenigo, where he had risen to be one of the bancali or governors, his qualities of force and daring making him useful in this age when lawlessness was on the increase. He was beginning to feel a sense of satisfaction, not all barbaric, in the position he had won among men who had some views of order, and to perceive that there might be a lawful use, almost as pleasant, for those very attributes which had rendered him so formidable a foe outside the pale of traghetto civilization.
"Ecco!" he announced, with a slow, sullen emphasis which declared his unwilling surrender, while he plied his oar with quick, wrathful strokes. "It will take more than aves to make a saint of thee! And thou mayst hold thy head too high, looking for better than wheaten bread! But I'm not the man to wear a curb, nor to put up with thorns where I looked for roses! Thou hast no right to mind what chances to me—yet thou hast made me give up the old life."
"Because I knew thou couldst do better. See where thou standest to-day! It is not a little thing to be a governor of the Nicolotti!"
"It is a truth," Piero confessed, "upside down, and not to boast of, for whoever tries it would wish it less. The bancali are 'like asses who carry wine and drink water,' for the good of the clouts, in days like these."
"I heard them talking to-day, Piero. The barcarioli tosi are worse than Turks; one must pay, to suit their whim, in the middle of the Canal Grande, or one may wait long for the landing! And there was a scandal about a friar of San Zanipolo, of whom they had asked a fare for the crossing; I know not the truth of it! And at Santa Sofia the great cross with the beautiful golden lustre is gone, and one says it is the 'tosi.'"
Piero winced, for, to an ancient "toso," or even to a "bancalo" of to-day, such enormities had not the exciting novelty that might have been expected, and Marina had a curious habit of seeming entirely to forget his past when she wished to exact his best of him.
"Fash not thyself for a man of his measure, that is fitter to 'beat the fishes' like a galley-slave than to serve an honest gondola!" Piero interrupted scornfully.
"But Piero, Gabriele hath sold his license to one worse than he, and there was great talk of quarrels along the Riva, and how that yesterday they sent for Padre Gervasio from San Gregorio to bring the Host to quiet them."
"Ah, the Castellani!" said Piero, with the contempt that was always ready for any mention of this great rival faction of the people whose division into one or other of these factions was absolute.
"But the Nicolotti have their scandal also," Marina asserted, uncompromisingly; "among themselves it is told they break the laws like men not bound by vows! Some say there will be an appeal to the Consiglio."
"Nay," said Piero, with an ominous frown; "the bancali and gastaldi are enough; we need no bossing by crimson robes."
This question of the traghetti and their abuses had lately grown to large proportions among the people, and it possessed a deep interest for all classes quite apart from the antiquity and picturesqueness of these honorable institutions of the Republic—since all must use the ferries and wish for safety in their water-streets. For centuries these confraternities of gondoliers who presided over the ferries, or traghetti, of Venice had been corporations, self-governing, with officers and endowments recognized by the Republic, and with a standard of gondolier morals admirably defined in their codes—those "Mariegole" which were luxuriously bound and printed, with capitals of vermilion, a page here and there glowing like an illuminated missal with the legend of the patron saint of the traghetto, wherein one might read such admonitions as would make all men wiser.
But of late there had been much unruliness among the younger members of the traghetti, and a growing inability among their officers to cope with increasing difficulties, because of these barcarioli tosi, who lived in open rebellion against this goodly system of law, poaching upon the dearly bought rights of the traghetto gondoliers, yet escaping all taxes. And because of the abuses which had been gradually undermining the fair reputation of the established orders of the traghetti, the Republic, by slow encroachments upon ancient concessions, was surely reducing their wealth and independence.
"Santa Maria!" Piero ejaculated after a pause, during which his wrath had been growing. "The Consiglio hath its own matters for ruling; the traghetti belong to the people!"
They had reached the little landing of the first long waterway of Murano, where one of the low arcaded houses, with its slender shafts of red Verona marble, was the dwelling of Girolamo Magagnati; the others of this little block of three were used as show-rooms and offices for the great establishment which was connected with them, in the rear, by small courtyards; and the dense smoke of the glass factories always rested over them, although this was the quarter of the aristocrats of Murano.
The buildings looked low and modest if measured by the palaces of the greater city, and their massive marble door- and window-frames increased the impression of gloom. But here and there a portal more ornate, with treble-twisted cords deeply carved, or a window of fourteenth century workmanship relieved the severity of the lines; while in this short arcade, where the houses rose but a storey in height above the square pillars which supported the overhanging fronts, these unexpected columns of rosy marble, delicate and unique, on which the windows seemed to rest, gave singular distinction to these dwellings.
Often the people passing in gondola or bark glanced carelessly into the depth of the open window space framed between those polished marble shafts, for the familiar vision of a wonderful young face, beautiful as a Madonna from some high altar in Venice; often, too, this vision of a maiden bent above a child, with rare golden hair and great eyes full of pain.
There was a little lingering on the landing as they left the gondola; for the baby, waking from his long, refreshing sleep, had claimed his share of petting before the great dark man who tossed him so restfully in his strong arms went away. There was no one who could make the little Zuane laugh like "babbo," though the tremulous, treble echo of the full tones of the gondolier had a pathos for those who listened.
The little Zuane had eaten his supper of polenta and, in the painted cradle which his grandfather Girolamo had bought for him from under the arcades of the Piazetta, lay at last asleep, consigned to the care of all those saints and guardian angels who make the little ones their charge, and who smiled down upon him from the golden aureoles and clouds of rose and blue on the cradle-roof while, slowly balancing, it charmed him into dreams.
And now, at her window, Marina had the night and the stars to herself, over the still lagoon and down in its mirroring depths.
It was a sad little tale soon told, this tragedy of Toinetta which had seemed so great to the dwellers in that home three years ago. A pretty, wilful child of fifteen, who had grown up impatient of all needful home restraint, finding rebellion easier because there was no mother to control her—with a love of motion, color, sunshine, sound, and laughter that made her an Ariel of Venice, as full of frolic as a kitten and as irresponsible, choosing in her latest caprice one from the many lovers who were ready for the wooing with the seriousness with which she would have chosen a partner for a festa, since to-morrow, if something else seemed better, this lover also could be changed. But the opposition of the grave father and sister made their consent the better worth winning, and set the youthful Gabriele in a more attractive light. So the betrothal had been duly made in the presence of the numerous circle of friends and relatives who stand as witnesses at a betrothal feast in this City of the Sea, and who were as ready with their smiles and their felicitations for any event in the home life of the quarter, as they would be withering in their criticism should there be any failure of complete fulfilment of those traditional observances which are imperative in Venice. Thus the boy and girl were spoza and novizio, waiting the fuller bond in all that pretty interchange of tokens so faithfully prescribed in Venetian circles of every degree; but the period had been one of quarrels and forgivenesses, of fallings away from and returns to favor, as might have been expected from two capricious, foolish children.
To make part of the pretty pageant of the "Brides of Venice," which took place on Lady Day in San Pietro in Castello, the maidens, all in white with floating hair, their dower-boxes fastened by ribbons from their shoulders, had seemed to Toinetta, as she stood each year an onlooker in the admiring crowd, a happiness devoutly to be desired. The custom was a survival of an earlier time, fast losing favor with the better classes of the people; but to Toinetta its dramatic possibilities held a greater fascination than the more sober ceremonial of the usual wedding service, and, all persuasion to the contrary, when the procession gathered in San Pietro in Castello, Toinetta, with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, was one of the twelve maidens. Marina looked on with offended eyes; her father consenting, yet only half-convinced, atoning for this lessening of the family dignity by the elegance of the feast he had provided, and all permitted bravery in the gondolas that were waiting to take them thence.
The ups and downs of her childish courtship had culminated in more tears and jealousies than usual on the previous day, but these were secrets between the lovers, and quite unguessed by father or sister. But when the wedding oration had been preached over those twelve bridal pairs, and the wedding benediction had been granted, it was not Gabriele, the boyish betrothed of Toinetta, who brought the blushing bride, partly in triumph and partly in pique, to her father's side, but Piero Salin, the handsomest gondolier on the lagoons, the most daring and dreaded foe of all the established traghetti. It had been impossible for the spectators from the body of the church to follow closely the movements of the twelve white-robed maidens with their attendant swains while the ceremony was progressing in the dim recesses of the choir, and the surprise and dishonor this unexpected denouement brought upon the home were nothing to the unhappiness in store for the childish bride, whose latest and wildest freak brought neither wisdom for self-discipline nor power to endure that relentless criticism which ceased only when a little one lay in the place of the child-mother, who had been too weak to cope with the worries of the year that had followed upon that unhappy day in San Pietro.
The jilted Gabriele had accepted the situation with a parade of philosophical scorn which removed him beyond the pale of the sympathy Marina would have offered him; and Marina—whose exquisite sense of truth, decorum, and duty had been outraged to a degree beyond Toinetta's comprehension—forgot it all in the overwhelming compassion with which she took her little sister in her arms and tried to help her live her difficult life; she realized, as only a large nature could, that love was the only hope for this emergency, and, feeding on her measureless compassion, love, the diviner faculty, grew to be a power.
Slowly and very dimly she had helped the young wife to some vague comprehension of the duties she had so rashly assumed. Hitherto, for Toinetta, there had been no difficulties, and now there were so many she was frightened and did not understand; now, when Piero scolded at her tears or temper she could not run away nor change him for a pleasanter companion, and she knew no other way to manage such a difficulty; and there was no pleasure in the Piazza because of that eternal critica. There was triumph still in a canalazzo, for Piero was so handsome and so strong, and in the gondola, on the Canal Grande, one could not hear the talking—besides, Venice was not Murano; but in the home the old friends came no more, and life was very sad—quite other than it used to be!
Even her father, who traced the disgrace that had come upon his house to his over-indulgence, was now proportionately severe, and to his stern sense of honor the lawless son-in-law was a most unwelcome guest. Through that slow year of Toinetta's life Marina was the veritable angel in the house, not conscious of any self-sacrifice, but only of living intensely, making the living under the same roof possible for these two strong men who looked at life from such different standpoints, soothing the wounded pride of her father by her perfect sympathy while striving to rouse Piero to nobler ideals.
And now that it was all over—was it all over?—there lay the poor little Zuane; and Piero, over the water at his traghetto, was a great care. But he should do his best yet for the people!
A deep voice with a ring of wistfulness came through the darkness:
"Doth he not sleep yet, the little Zuane? The evening hath been long, and I have somewhat to show thee."
"I come, my father," she answered very tenderly, as she followed him through the narrow, dark corridor, into a large chamber which served as a private office, but where the father and daughter often sat alone in the evening; for here Girolamo kept many designs and papers relating to his work, and they often discussed his plans together.
He unlocked an old carved cabinet and brought out a roll of parchments, spreading them upon the table and explaining: "I could not leave them while I went to call thee, for it is an order from the Senate—thou see'st the seal—and a copy of the letter of the Ambassador of the Republic to the Levant, with this folded therein—truly a curious scheme of color, but very rich, and the lines are somewhat uneven. What thinkest thou of the design?"
"The outline is good," she answered, after a careful scrutiny, for she had been trained in copying his best designs. This was a pattern furnished by the grand vizier of the sultan for a mosque lamp of a peculiar shape, wrought over with verses from the Koran, in various colored enamels. "The outline is well; but the colors—mayst thou not change this yellow? there is too much of it."
"Nay, for the colors have a meaning; methinks this yellow is their sacred color. But the texts are fine; the broken lines of the characters have a charm, and the scrolls relieve the surface, making semblance of shadow. Yet I will make thee a prettier one for thine own chamber, with some thought of thy choosing."
She looked up at him with shining eyes; their trouble, combated and borne together, had brought them very near to one another.
"I have often wished for a lamp with the colors soft like moonlight; and the design shall be of thine own hand, and the verse upon it shall be an ave, and in it there shall be always a light. It shall be a prayer for the little one!" she said in quick response. "The Senate wished thee to make a lamp of this design? I have seen none like it."
"Nay, not one; there will be nine hundred, for the decoration of a mosque," and Girolamo's eyes sparkled with triumph. "It is not that it is difficult," he explained, for Marina's eyes wandered from her father's face to the design with some astonishment. "It is even simple for us. But when the Levant sends to Venice for these sacred lamps for her own temples it is her acknowledgment that we have surpassed our teachers. It is a glory for us!"
"Father, I thought the glass of Venice was even all our own!" Marina exclaimed in a tone of disappointment. "I knew not that our art had come from the East to us. Some say that it was born here."
"Ay, some; but thou shouldst know the story of thy Venice better, my daughter," Girolamo answered gravely, for to him every detail connected with his art was of vital import. "There may be some who say this, but not thou. In the time of Orseolo the mosaics were brought from the Levant for our old San Marco. Thus came the knowledge to us in those early days. But now there is no longer any country that shares it equally with Venice, for elsewhere they know not the art in its fineness. These, when they are finished, shall be sent as a gift from the Republic; it is so written in this order from the Senate."
"When came it to thee?"
"To-day, with much ceremony, it was delivered into mine own hand by one of the Secretaries of the Ten. For, see'st thou, Marina, it is a mark of rare favor that they have trusted this parchment with me, and have not brought me into their presence to make copy of it in the palace. If thou couldst lend me thy deft fingers——"
"Surely," she answered, smiling up at him.
He was standing over her with one hand on her shoulder; he rested the other lightly on her hair, looking down into her eyes for a moment with a caress still and tender, after his own grave fashion. "It will be safer so," he said, folding the parchment and the letters carefully and locking them away in his cabinet. "And to-morrow, Marina—for they have granted me but one day."
The chamber in which they sat was wainscoted with heavy carved woodwork stained black, and every panel was a drawer with a curiously wrought lock, containing some design or some order for the house of Magagnati; and these archives were precious not only for the stabilimento and Girolamo the master, but they would be treasured by the Republic as state papers, representing the highest attainment in this exquisite Venetian industry, which the Government held in such esteem that for a century past one of the chiefs of the Council of Ten had been appointed as inspector and supervisor of the manufactories. For further security the Senate had declared severest penalties against any betrayal of the secrets of the trade—a form of protection not quite needless, since the Ambassador of His Most Christian Majesty had formed a species of secret police with no other object than to bribe the glass-makers and extract from them the lucrative secret which formed no part of the courtesies that were interchanged between France and the Republic.
The large, low table, black and polished like teak-wood, upon which they had been examining the vizier's design, was lighted by a lamp of wrought iron swinging low by fanciful chains from the high ceiling, making a centre of dense yellow flame from which the shadows rayed off into the gloom of the farther portions of the room, and a charming picture of father and daughter was outlined against the vague darkness. Another lamp, fixed against a plate of burnished brass, cast a reflection that was almost brilliant upon the glory of this chamber—a high, central cabinet of the same dark, carved framework, with a back of those wonderful mirror plates so recently brought to perfection by another stabilimento of which the good Girolamo was almost jealous, although against this luminous background the exquisite fabrications of the house of Magagnati reflected their wonderful shapes and colors in increased beauty.
Not yet had any plates of clear glass fine enough for the display of such a cabinet been realized, though it sometimes seemed to Girolamo that such a time was very near; but the solid doors of wood, with ponderous brass locks and hinges, stood open, and the inner silk curtain which protected these treasures from dust was always drawn aside by Marina's own hand when these evening lamps were lighted; they were so beautiful to see, if they but raised their eyes; the very consciousness of their gleaming was sometimes an inspiration to Girolamo, and at this hour they were quite safe, for the working day was over, and no one entered this sanctum save by invitation.
Girolamo Magagnati prided himself on being a Venetian of the people, and it was true that no member of his family had ever sat in the Consiglio; but in few of the patrician homes of Venice could more of what was then counted among the comforts of life have been found than in this less sumptuous house of Murano, while its luxuries were all such as centered about his art. He was one of the magnates of his island, for his furnaces were among the most famous of Murano, and to him belonged secrets of the craft in his special field to which no others had yet attained, while in a degree that would scarcely have been esteemed by the merchant princes of Venice, who sat in the Consiglio, they had brought him wealth and repute. But to him, whose heart was in his work, it was power and glory that sufficed. No stranger whom it was desired to honor came to Venice but was conducted, with a ceremony that was flattering, while it was also a due precaution against too curious questioning, through the show-rooms of the factories of Murano; and often in this chamber had gathered a group of men whom the world called great, led by that special Chief of the Ten who was then in power at Murano, to see the treasures of this cabinet of which Girolamo was justly proud.
This first bit of the wonderful coloring which glowed and flashed when the light shot through it, as if some living fire were caught in its heart; or that curious, tortured shape, with its dragon-eyes of jewels, and its tongue forever thrusting at you some secret which it almost utters, yet withholds; this fragment of tenderest opalescence which is of no color, yet blending all, as if a shower of petals were blown across a rainbow in spring; that one—frosted in silver and gold—pink, with the yellow sunshine in its core; here the aquamarine, lucent as Venice's own sea! And here, throned in regal state, in its quaint case of faded azure velvet, is that very masterpiece of the glass-workers of Murano which was carried in the first solemn procession of all the arts at a Doge's triumph in the thirteenth century. Its very possession was a patent of nobility in Girolamo's reverent esteem; and the most gracious letter of the Senate, conferring upon this piece of glass the distinction of first mention among all that were shown upon that day of triumph, is here also—a yellowed parchment, carefully inclosed in the little morocco case, securely screwed to the shelf beneath, and Marina had been present when it was opened for some rare visitor. It was a relic of those earlier days when there were no furnaces in Murano, though many of the finest workers came from this island and belonged to the corporation of the workers on Rialto, and it was almost a prehistoric record of greatness.
Marina had left the table and gone to the cabinet; her father followed her. "This I would show thee," he said, calling her attention to a whimsical shape, blown and twisted almost into foam. "This Lorenzo Stino brought me only yesterday; he is full of genius; I think none hath a quicker hand, nor a more inventive faculty. I have watched him in his working." He scanned her eagerly as he spoke.
"Yes, it is fanciful—wonderful," she added to please him, but without warmth, while her eyes wandered over the shelves. "Oh, father, here are some of the very mosaics that were made for San Marco; thou hast forgotten!"
She lifted eagerly a small opaque basin of turquoise blue and held it toward him; it contained a few bits of gold and silver enamel, the earliest that had been made in Venice, bearing their ancient date.
"Thou askest more of Venice than I," he said, well pleased with her enthusiasm; "but have a care lest they say I have not taught thee well, or that I do not know my art, or that I claim too much. At the time of the burning of San Marco these Mosaics for the restoration were from the stabilimenti of the Republic on Rialto—so early it came to us, this glorious art. And it was one Piero, a founder of our house, though the name was other than Magagnati, who was the master in that restoration. But the first mosaics in that old San Marco—ay, and the workmen," he added with a conscious effort, so much would he have liked to claim the invention for Venice, "came hither from the East. Thou shouldst know the history of our art; it is the story of thine ancestry and the nobility of thy house. Thou hast no other."
"I have thee, my father!"
The Veronese did not paint that beautiful face the next morning as he had planned; for the first time he had encountered difficulties. Slowly, as he wended his way through the many turnings of the narrow calle to Campo San Maurizio, carrying a beautiful Moorish box filled with the pearly shells which the Venetians call "flowers of the Lido," and a bouquet of aromatic carnations for the bambino, he recalled the figure and speech of his Madonna, and they were not those of the maidens whom one might encounter at the traghetto or in the Piazza; there had been a dignity and self-forgetfulness in such perfect harmony with the face that, at the moment, this had seemed entirely natural. But the tones returned to him as he pondered, filled with a deeper melody than the usual winning speech of the Venetian; with the grace of the soft dialect there was a rare, unexpected quality, as if thought had formed the undertone. He had never heard such a voice in the Piazza—it was rare even in the palazzo; it was the voice of some sweet and gracious woman with a soul too large for the world; it held a suggestion of peace and convent bells and even-songs of nuns.
Then, still more passionately, the desire overcame him to paint that face for his Madonna; he would never give it up! Yet this maiden was not one of whom he could ask the favor that he craved, nor to whom he could offer any return.
He had come to San Maurizio to take a gondola from the traghetto, partly that he might be free to wander without comment wherever his search should lead, partly because he was always ready for a chat with the people; their experiences interested him, and he himself belonged by his artist life, as by his sympathies, to all classes. Perhaps, too, he had been moved with a vague hope that he might find the face he was seeking, for he was used to fortunate happenings. But there were no waiting Madonnas under the pergola, and the air of the early spring morning blew chill from the Lido, almost with an intimation of failure to his sensitive mood. He pushed aside an old gransiere, without the gift of small coin that usually flowed so easily from his hand, for service rendered or unrendered, as he impatiently questioned the gondoliers.
"One who knows Murano well!" he called.
There was an instant response from an old man almost past traghetto service, but his age and probable garrulity commended him.
"I will take thee and thy gondola, since thou knowest Murano," said the artist kindly; "but I must go swiftly, and I would not tax thee. Thou shalt have thy fare, but I will pay for another gondolier also from the traghetto; he must be young and lusty. Choose thou him—and hasten."
There was a babel of voices and a self-gratulatory proffer of lithe forms, while the old gondolier turned undecidedly from one to another, and the tottering gransiere ostentatiously protected the velvet mantle of the artist as he sprang into the boat. With an impatient gesture the Veronese indicated his choice, and they were soon on their way.
"Come hither, vecchio mio, and rest thine old bones; let the young one work for us both," the padrone commanded, as he flung himself down among the cushions. "Do they treat thee well at thy traghetto?"
"Eccellenza, yes; but I am scarce older than the others; it is the young ones who make us trouble; they keep not the Mariegole, and it is only the old one may depend upon."
"Davvero, the world is changed then! It used to be good to be young."
"Eccellenza, yes; when I myself was not old, and his excellency also had no beard."
"If age and wisdom might be traded for the time of youthful pranks," said the Veronese with twinkling eyes, "I doubt if there were wisdom enough left in Venice to cavil at the barter! Yet thou and I, having wisdom thrust upon us by these same beards, if trouble come to thee, or too soon they put thee at the gransiere service, we will remember this day passed together."
"Eccellenza, thanks; the gransiere has not much beside his beard to keep him warm, and the time draws near," the old man answered with pleasant Venetian insouciance.
"Tell me," said the Veronese, turning to the younger man, "why do you young fellows make Venice ring with your scandals? You are cutting off your own 'liberties.'"
"Yes, signore." The gondolier hesitated, glancing doubtfully at the artist's sumptuous attire, which might have indicated a state much greater than he kept; for the Veronese was famed throughout Venice, in quarters where he was better known, for an unfailing splendor of costume which would have made him at all times a model for the pictures he loved to paint. Recently, for bad conduct, the gondoliers had been gradually forfeiting their licenses, or "liberties," as they were called in Venice, and the thought crossed the young fellow's mind that this splendid stranger was possibly one of those government officials who were charged with the supervision of the confraternities of the traghetti.
"It is the first time I have the honor of conducting his Excellency; he is perhaps of the Provveditori al Comun?" These officials collected the government taxes and were viewed with jealous eyes by the gondoliers.
"Nay; I am Paolo Cagliari; I belong to a better craft. But please thyself, for there is much talk of this matter."
"Signore, one must live!" the young fellow exclaimed, with a friendly shrug of his shoulders and a gleam of his white teeth; for it was easy to make friends with the genial artist. "And between the governors and the provveditori one may scarce draw breath! One's bread and onions—" he added, with a dramatic gesture of self-pity. "It is not much to ask!"
"Altro! Nonsense!" the Veronese exclaimed, laughing, for the gondolier looked little like one who was suffering from hunger, as he stood swaying in keen enjoyment of the motion which showed his prowess, of the wind as it swept his bronzed cheek, of the talk which permitted him to exploit his grievances.
"There is the High Mass, twice in the month; there is the Low Mass—every Monday, if you will believe me! There are the priests, for nothing—Santa Maria, they are not few! The first fare in the day?—always for the Madonna of the traghetto. This maledetto fare of the Madonna suffices for the Madonna's oil, I ask you? Ebbene non! There are the fines—and these, it must be confessed, might be fewer, for the saints are tired of keeping us out of mischief. And little there is for one's own madonna, if one would make gifts!"
"This, then, for thine own madonna," said the artist pleasantly, tossing him a considerable coin. "And may she make thee wiser; for, by thine inventory, which it doth not harm thee to rehearse, thou hast a good memory."
"Eccellenza, there is more, if you be not weary. There is the government tax; it takes long to gather—ask the gastaldo! There are the soldiers for the navy; how many good men does that leave for the traghetto service? And a license is not little to buy for a poor barcariol who would be his own man; one pays three hundred lire—not less. Does it drop into one's hand with the first fare? One must belong to the Guilds—it is less robbery!"
"But for your gastaldo, your great man, for him it is much honor—"
"Eccellenza, believe it not. If the taxes are not there for the provveditori, it is the gastaldo who pays. When the money is little it is the gastaldo who pays much. And the toso—all his faults blamed on the traghetti! Ah, signore, for the gondolier it is a life—Santa Maria!" He threw up his hands with a feint of being at a loss to convey its hardships.
"Come non c'e altro!" said the Veronese, laughing; "there is none like it."
"Ebbene—va bene!" the gondolier confessed, joining heartily in the merriment, his grievance, which was nevertheless a real one, infinitely lessened by confession.
Suddenly the old man rose and bowed his head, and both gondoliers crossed themselves. The Veronese also bared his head and made the sign of reverence, for they were passing the island of San Michele, toward which a mournful procession of boats, each with its torch and its banner of black, was slowly gliding, while back over the water echoed the dirge from those sobbing cellos. Here, where only the dead were sleeping, the sky was as blue and the sea as calm as if sorrow had never been born in the world.
Before them Murano, low-lying, scattered, was close at hand, the smoke of its daily activities tremulous over it, dimming the beauty of sky and sea.
"His Excellency knows Murano? The Duomo, with its mosaics? Wonderful! there are none like them; and it is old—'ma antica'! And the stabilimenti?—it is glory enough for one island! Ah, the padrone wishes to visit the stabilimento Magagnati?"
Paolo Cagliari had not known what he would do until the old man's suggestion seemed to make his vision less vaguely inaccessible, and before they reached the landing he had learned, by a judicious indifference which sharpened his companion's loquacity, that Messer Girolamo lived there alone with his daughter, who went about always with a bambino in her arms—the child of a dead sister.
There could be no doubt; yet, to keep the old man talking, he put the question, "She is very beautiful, the donzella?"
"Eccellenza"—with a pause and deprecatory movement of the shoulders—"cosi—so-so—a little pale—like a saint—devote. For the poor? Good, gentile, the donzel of Messer Girolamo. Bella, with rosy colors? Non!"
With the Venetians there could be no sharp distinction between the decorative and the fine arts, as the fine arts were employed by them without limit in their sumptuous decorations; and that which elsewhere would have been merely decorative they raised, by exquisite quality and finish, to a point which deserved to be termed art, without qualifications.
The Veronese, who had been knighted by the Doge, could scarcely go unrecognized to any art establishment in any quarter of Venice, and with unconcealed pleasure Girolamo bowed low before this master who had come to do him honor; displaying all that the initiated would hold most precious among his treasures—that design, faded and dim, almost unrecognizable, of those early mosaics of the Master Pietro—he held nothing back. It was a day of honor for his house, and the two were alone in his cabinet.
The Veronese had a gift of sympathy; his heart opened to those who loved art and had conquered difficulties in her service, and the talk flowed freely. "I believe," he said, as together they laid away the parchment, "that in our modern mosaics we should keep to the massive lines of these earlier models—greater dignity and simplicity in outline and coloring. It is a mistake to attempt to confound this art with painting."
"It is good, then, for our art, Messer Cavaliere, that at San Donato, our mother church, we workmen of Murano have our Lady in that old Byzantine type; there is none earlier—nor in all Venice more perfect of its time—and the setting is of marvelous richness and delicacy."
"It is most interesting," said the Veronese. "Sometimes a question has come to me, if an artist cannot do the all, is he most the artist who stops below his limitation or beyond it? A question of the earlier hint, or the later realization."
"Between the mosaic and the painting, perhaps?" Girolamo questioned, greatly interested.
"Nay, not between the arts, but of that which is possible to each. It is not a Venetian question. Here all is warmth, color, beauty, joy; here art is the expression of redundancy—it hath lost its symbolism."
"I know only Venice—the Greek and the Venetian types. But I have heard that the Michelangelo was in himself a type?"
"He was a prophet," the Veronese answered reverently, "like the great Florentine—a seer of visions; but at Rome only one understands why he was born. He was a maker, creating mighty meanings under formlessness. His great shapes seem each a mystery, wrestling with a message."
"I had thought there was none who equaled him in form—that he was even as a sculptor in his painting."
"And it was even so. When I spake of 'formlessness' it was not the less, but the more; as if, before the visions had taken mortal shape, he, being greater than men, saw them as spirits."
"Never before have I talked with one who knew this master," said Girolamo, "and it is a feast."
"Nay, I knew him not, for it was not easy to get speech with him, nor a favor a young man might crave. But once I saw him at his work in San Pietro, where he wrought most furiously and would take no payment—'for the good of his soul,' he said, that he might end his life with a pious work. The night was coming on, and already his candle was fastened to his hat, that he might lose no time. They had brought him a little bread and wine for his evening meal, for often he went not home when the mood of work possessed him; and beside him was a writing of the man Savonarola—this and the Holy Evangel and the 'Inferno' fashioned his thoughts. He lived not long after that, for we were still in Rome when they made for him that great funeral in Santa Croce of Florence, the rumor of which is dear to artist hearts. He was great and lonely, and he knew no joy; there hath been none like him."
"And the Tintoretto, at Santa Maria dell' Orto?"
"He, too, is a furioso, wonderful in form—and the Michelangelo had not the coloring of our Jacopo. But the terror of the Tintoretto is very terrible and very human. The Michelangelo fills a great gloom with phantasms—they question—and one cannot escape."
"It hath been a morning of delights," Girolamo said with grave courtesy when the talk had come to an end. "I thank the master for this honor."
"Nay," answered the knightly Veronese; "it is I who have received. And more, yet more would I ask. I know not if in this chamber of treasures I may leave the trifle which I came to bring for the bambino?" he added with hesitation, as he placed upon the table his little inlaid box of baubles and his bunch of spicy flowers. "Yet it was a promise."
And while Girolamo listened in astonishment he told abruptly the story of his meeting with Marina and the little one, unconsciously weaving his thoughts into such a picture as he talked, that Girolamo recognized the inspiration and was already won to plead his cause.
"This," continued the artist, unfolding a letter, "is the order which hath been sent me by Fra Paolo Sarpi, of the convent of the Servi, a man most wise and of high repute in Venice. 'The face,' this learned friar sayeth, 'must be full of consolation and one to awaken holy thoughts. And I, being not an artist' (which, because he is greater than so many of his craft, he hath the grace to acknowledge!), 'have no other word to say, save that it shall be noble and most spiritual, as befitteth our religion.' And such a face till now, Messer Girolamo Magagnati—so beautiful and holy—I have not found. But now it is a vision sent to me from heaven, quite other than any picture I have ever dreamed, and I will paint no other for this Madonna of the Servi. I also, like the Angelo, would give my holiest work for the good of my soul; for the days of man are numbered, though his blood be warm in his veins like wine! It would be a pious act for the maiden; and if she will most graciously consent, the picture shall be an offering for the altar of the chapel of Consolation in the Servi."
"I will ask her," said the father simply, and felt no surprise at what he had granted when he was left alone with his thoughts, for Paolo Cagliari, because of a way he had that men could not resist, already seemed to him a friend; for the rare mingling of knightly grace and artistic enthusiasm, overcoming spasmodically the usual assertiveness of his demeanor, seemed at such moments to mean more than when assumed by those who were never passionate nor brusque, and his very incongruities held a fascination for his friends.
Marina came often to the studio of the Veronese in San Samuele, while the Madonna del Sorriso grew slowly into life; it was not that most perfect life of which the artist had dreamed, for hitherto beauty had sufficed to him and he had never sought to burden his creations with questions of the soul; but now the sadness of the unattainable that was growing within him looked out of the wonderful eyes of the maiden on his canvas, yet he tossed his brushes aside in discontent. "Her smile eludeth me, though it hath the candor of a child's," the master cried.
Within his studio his pupils came and went, some earnest to follow in the footsteps of the master, absorbed in their tasks; others, golden youths, painting a little because Art was beautiful—not overcoming.
In the inner chamber, which was the artist's sanctum, were only the Veronese and his brother Benedetto at work; his brother, who was architect and sculptor too, was putting in the background of an elaborate palace in a fine Venetian group upon which Paolo worked when not occupied with his Madonna; and a favorite pupil, the young nobleman Marcantonio Giustiniani, was in attendance upon the master. The lovely girlish face, of a spiritual type rare in Venice, seemed to the young patrician more beautiful than that of any of the noble, smiling ladies who were waiting to be won by him, and in those hours of blissful service he, too, made a study—crude and inartistic.
"Thy hand hath yet to learn its cunning," the master said, as in much confusion, one morning when they were quite alone, his pupil revealed his roughly executed head; "yet thou hast painted the soul! The heart hath done it, Signorino mio, for thou art not yet an artist. There is no other lady for Marcantonio Giustiniani; yet she comes not of a noble house."
"She makes it noble!" cried the young fellow, flushing hotly, "for she is like her face."
"Ay, for me and thee she is noble," said the Veronese compassionately, for he loved the boy. "But for the noble Senator, thy father—of the Council of the Ten—he will not find this maiden's name in the 'Libro d'Oro.' I am sorry for thee."
"Master!" cried Marcantonio imploringly, "art thou with me?"
"Verily, but I can do naught for thee."
"Listen, then! One day the nobles shall find that name inscribed in the 'Libro d'Oro'; it shall be there, for mine shall suffice."
The master answered nothing, but bending over the sketch which his pupil had made he caressed it, here and there, with loving touches of his magic brush, while the young nobleman poured forth his vehement speech, forgetting to watch the master's fingers.
"Once in the annals of the Republic there is noted such a marriage; a daughter of Murano, of the house of Beroviero—nay, not so beautiful as Marina—wedded with one of our noblest names; and the children, by decree of the Senate, were written every one in the 'Libro d'Oro.'"
"This have I done for thee!" said the master, moving away from the sketch and disclosing it to the young fellow, who gazed at it in silent amazement. "Only the eyes have I not touched," the Veronese explained; "for thou hast made them more soulful than even unto me they seemed, and thus have I read thy secret."
"Maestro mio!" cried Marcantonio at length, in ecstasy; "none among us may learn the marvel of thine art!"
"I have but touched thy sketch with the power that mine art could give," the master answered, well pleased. "Yet it is thou who hast read the secret of the face that was not revealed to me."
"We were speaking of the 'Libro d'Oro,'" the young patrician interrupted eagerly.
"It may be so, I know not," the Veronese answered indifferently, for he himself was not written in that noble chronicle. "My art deals little with these cumbrous records of the Republic."
"Thou art wrong to scorn them, caro maestro, for in them is chronicled the glory of Venice."
"The saying doeth honor—from a pupil to his master!" the artist burst forth with his quick, uncontrollable temper. "The Tablets of Stone were reserved for the highest dignity of the Law; and in that Sala dei Capi, where at this moment sits Giustinian Giustiniani—one of the chosen three of the Council of the Ten—my name is written largely with mine own hand, as artists write their names, above the heads of rulers for all coming time to see! The Avvogadori do not keep my 'Libro d'Oro'; the entrance to it is by divine right!"
He flung his brushes fiercely aside, in one of those moods that seemed all unwarranted in comparison with the slightness of the provocation—moods that alternated with the lovable, genial, generous impulses of an artist soul, overwhelming in energy and great in friendship; yet jealous, to a degree a lesser nature could scarcely pardon, of anything that seemed to touch upon his province as an artist and the claims of art to highest honor.