THE ROYAL PAWN OF VENICE
THE ROYAL PAWN OF VENICE
A Romance of Cyprus
MRS. LAWRENCE TURNBULL
Author of "The Golden Book of Venice"
Philadelphia & London J. B. Lippincott Company 1911
Copyright, 1911 by Francese Litchfield Turnbull
Published April, 1911
Printed by J. B. Lippincott Company Washington Square Press, Philadelphia, U. S. A.
BY GRACIOUS PERMISSION OF
MARGHERITA OF SAVOY
THE BELOVED FIRST QUEEN OF UNITED ITALY
The latter half of the XV. Century.
THE ROYAL PAWN OF VENICE
Among the day-dreams of the Rulers of Venice the island of Cyprus had long loomed large and fair—Cyprus, the happy isle of romance, l'isola fortunata, sea-girdled, clothed with dense forests of precious woods, veined with inexhaustible mines of rich metals; a very garden of luscious fruits, garlanded with ever-blooming flowers—a land flowing with milk and honey and steeped in the fragrance of wines that a god might covet.
Kypros—Paphos—a theme for poets, where Aphrodite rose from the foam of the sea, and the fabled groves of the mysteries of Venus gave place to primitive shrines of Christian worship, while innumerable Grecian legends were merged in early Christian traditions, imparting some of their own tint of fable, yet baptizing anew the groves and hillsides to sanctity. Beautiful hillsides, rippling down to the sea-coasts; and plains, nestling among the mountain slopes, littered with remnants of vast temples of superb pagan workmanship and with priceless pre-historic remains: wonderful, ancient marbles, time-mellowed and crumbling, inwrought rather with barbaric symbols of splendor than with the tender grace of poetic suggestion.
And this land of many races and dynasties, of conflicting ideals and religions, as of many tongues—where domination was largely a matter of the stronger hand—still held among the nations her ancient soubriquet of the happy isle.
But less for her romance and beauty than because this notissima famae insulae was a possession to be envied by a diplomatic nation, since its position lent it importance, the Republic had looked upon it with longing eyes—and because of its commerce, which equalled that of Venice, long ago the far-seeing Senate had sought to purchase it from the Greek Emperor, but the agreement had come to naught by treachery of the Emperor's son.
Nevertheless, Cyprus had not been forgotten; and the time for Venice to make good this remembrance had now come uppermost on the calendar of the years.
So they were ready to give rapt attention to the flattering proposals of the young Cyprian Monarch, as presented by his dignified ambassador, the Signor Filippo Mastachelli, when he appeared before the Signoria with the retinue and splendor of an Eastern Prince, bearing gifts of jewels meet for a royal bride, to claim the hand of a patrician maid of Venice, to make her Queen of Cyprus.
Janus the Second was young and brave, the idol of a party of his people—and where was the kingdom in which there were known to be no discontents? He was upheld by the great Sultan of Egypt to whom he owed suzerainty and, if in disfavor of the Holy Father for this allegiance, Venice had always permitted Rome to question her own supremacy and was not disconcerted thereby. He was beautiful as a young god, with a face full of laughing appeal, and not less charming than the miniature set in crystals which Mastachelli bore among the wedding gifts; and the grace of him could not be matched, for his power of winning, when he had set his heart to the task. In whatever deed of skill and daring his prowess went before his knights and nobles—as, from childhood up, in whatever teaching from books or men, he had distanced all his comrades—with that strange facility and fascination with which the Genius of Cyprus might have endowed her favorite in that lavish land, beloved of the gods, where her great sea-bound plains were billows of flowers under a long summer sky, and Nature's gifts came crowding, each upon each, in bewildering redundancy.
Laughter-loving, born to conquer, quick to reward, Janus was tender and generous to a fault; for it was whispered that he could take what lay nearest to give to those who offered him adoring service on his triumphal march, and that the murmur of the wronged belonged to the more serious side of life for which his full-flowing Greek blood had small patience. Such strange, unlikely tales one's enemy may tell!
And for his religion—be it Greek, or Latin, or whatever else—had he not been named Archbishop of Nikosia at the responsible age of fifteen, before he had exchanged the Episcopal Mitre for the Royal Crown?
These things were told, in all truth, of Janus II, King of Cyprus: and if some others were known, they were not discussed. For the monarch had lost his heart to the rare charm of the youthful Caterina, niece to a Venetian noble who had become his friend in Cyprus, and had more than once stood his helper with good Venetian gold; and who, in innocence or wile, had one day given him sight of the girl's fair face with its tender flush like a flower in spring, painted with rare skill by the greatest artist of Venice. The breeze might have toyed with that mist of golden hair, and the great dark eyes—softly luminous—had the expectancy of a gazelle awaiting the joy of the daydawn. She was daughter to one of the most ancient and noble of the patrician houses, in direct descent, so the Cornari claimed, of the Cornelii of Rome.
"There need be no haste," the Signor Andrea had said lightly, as he returned the miniature to its case blazoned in pearls with the arms of the Cornari, "for the child is but fourteen, though she hath the loveliness of twenty. But it is the way with our patricians of Venice, and Messer Marco of the Cornari, father to Caterina, is already planning with an ancient noble house of the elder branch with estates of unknown wealth, for the marriage of his daughter. Thus the fancy of the King must pass—there will be another—in Venice or Cyprus—the world is large."
"Nay, none so beautiful," the King made answer; "and for me none other. And for the matter of birth——"
"Naught hindereth that she might be Queen," Messer Andrea replied with nonchalance, having a scheme somewhat more deeply laid than the casual dropping of the miniature would seem to imply. "For the matter of birth—it is a trifle—and doubtless the Republic would make her, by adoption, Daughter to Venice—if there were aught in a created title to enhance her princely name with semblance of royalty. But there are already quarterings enough to match with the arms of Cyprus, and the Lusignans are a house far less ancient than the Cornelii."
Messer Andrea could say things with a certain facile grace that kept them from rankling, and at the moment the utterance of this truth was of consequence.
The King threw him a quick glance, half in amusement, half in admiration of his easy insolence, while Messer Andrea placidly explained that the Casa Cornaro was one of the twelve original families which composed the ancient ruling class of the Republic.
"And if the matter hath an interest for your Majesty," he continued, "our great-grandfather on our father's side, was that Marco Cornaro who was Doge of Venice; and the most noble Lady Fiorenza, mother to the child Caterina and wife to my brother Marco, was grand-daughter to Comnene, Emperor of Trebizonde. But that counteth little," he added magnanimously; "since the Empire of Trebizonde hath ceased to be."
"For the matter of birth—verily, as thou hast said, 'it is a trifle,'" the King admitted with a laugh: "but I must create thee Master to the Pedigree of the House of Lusignan—a right royal post—and at thy discretion thou mayest find or make it of a color noble enough to mate with thy fair maid of Venice."
"It pleaseth your Majesty to be of a merry mood. And for the dowry——"
Thence followed this embassy to Venice, for Janus was of those who would bear no thwarting nor delay. The princely dowry was forthcoming, for it had been offered by Messer Andrea Cornaro himself, and the condition of adoption by the Republic, "that the bride might be of a station befitting the royal alliance," well became the pleasure of the dignified Signoria.
They had just told her a thing most strange—a secret that made her childish heart stand still with wonder, then beat with a sort of frightened excitement, all unbefitting the new dignity to which she was called; for she was still enough a child to feel the glamour of it through all the strangeness, and she had stolen out upon the balcony, high over the Canal, to say over to herself the words that had been confided to her—the little maid Caterina.
She dropped the title softly down to the water below, and started at the echo of her own trembling voice.
Caterina Queen of Cyprus: Caterina—Regina!
A swaying figure in a passing gondola glanced up to the balcony of the old Palazzo Cornaro and the young girl hastily fled, not pausing until she had reached her own little chamber, looking on an inner court—the only sanctuary that she could call her own, in all this great ancestral palace, she, the future Queen of Cyprus.
Had any one heard her murmur those words? Would the Senate know that some one in a gondola had caught the new title from her own lips? And so—perchance—to punish the indiscretion—for the Senate was masterful, never-to-be-disobeyed, and the matter was not to be known until it should be declared by that solemn body of world-rulers. And if the gondoliero had carried her word to the Palazzo San Marco——? What if he had been sent there by the Senate itself to watch and see if she were already woman enough to be trusted? Then there would be an end to the golden dream—no coronation—no splendid ceremony of adoption. For there was more. Before she should be made queen of that distant island she was to be formally acknowledged "The Daughter of the Republic——" She was to be made a real Princess of Venice!
What wonder that the heart of this young Venetian maid quivered with the excitement of these visions of splendor, for by all the traditions of her ancestors she measured the unwonted honor that was being decreed for her—no one had yet been adopted "Daughter to the Republic"—the title was to be created that she might wear a crown, to the further honor of Venice! For her, who had never worn a jewel, nor a robe of state, nor taken part in any but the simplest fete, who had never left the walls of her ancestral palace, save under closest veil and guard—this sudden vision of freedom and empire was intoxicating.
If she had known of those wonderful tales of the "Arabian Nights" these things that were happening to her would have seemed more wonderful still: but her young mind was free of similes—a sensitive blank whereon the Senate might duly inscribe whatever tendencies seemed judicious; and after the Betrothal there would be much time.
Caterina had taken courage again and stolen back to the balcony that opened upon the Canal Grande from the vast upper salon, impelled by her longing for freedom and light. The ripple of the water to the plash of passing gondolas took on the note of distance and soothed her like a lullaby, as the charming maid yielded herself to the golden daydream—the soft breezes lifting the bright rings of hair that clustered about her dainty head, while the wonderful light of the skies of Venice smiled down upon her like a caress. The strangeness slipped away from the new facts she had been repeating to herself, for she had already begun to take pride in them; and the other questions that had troubled her for a moment, were forgotten. All kings were to her youthful imagination great and noble when they were the friends of the Republic, and Janus was the close ally of Venice. In this stately patrician household she had suddenly risen to be first—not only as all maids are wont to be on the eve of their betrothal, with much circumstance of laces and brocade and gifts and jewels—but she was to bring new honor to their ancient house—honor even upon Venice, for her father had declared that the Senators, the Councillors, all the great men of the Republic—the Serenissimo himself—would bring her homage. It was a dizzying dream of glory—beautiful, child-hearted and fancy-free, she could dream of no more golden vision than the Signoria were preparing for her.
So many generations of Cornari had gone forth from their palaces scattered through the great places of Venice, as ambassadors on momentous missions, or as Senators or Savii, had instilled the lesson of the glory of service to Venice; and more than once the mighty Lion of San Marco had set his imperial seal above their portal, and she, Caterina, was to lead them all in the honor she was bringing upon her country! If her own estimate of the part she was to play was a foolish one, only a Venetian patrician maid could comprehend the glamour that overlay this vision of Caterina's—the royal delivery from bondage—the unknown delights it must open to her!
"Thou art sent for, carina, to the crimson salon; thy Father would speak with thee."
It was the Lady Fiorenza, who seemed always a little sad to Caterina—too sad for all the state that surrounded her; too grave to suit the splendor of her silken robes and gleaming jewels; too weak to cope with the masterful ways of her lord, the Senator Marco Cornaro. Her mother's hand almost crushed hers in the strenuous clasp which, strangely to Caterina, seemed to convey a passionate message of sympathy; yet surely, at this radiant moment, there was nothing to regret! She met the love in her mother's eyes with the smile of a satisfied child, though she would have liked them all to rejoice with her.
The curtain that hung before the door of the crimson salon was raised by the page who stood in waiting. Her stately father rose to greet her—which he had never done before in all her little life. She felt with a sudden vague discomfort, that the world was changing for her.
"My daughter," he said, with a gravity of demeanor that befitted the importance of his message, "thou bringest honor, not alone to the Casa Cornaro, but also to the Republic. I have this day received from the island of Cyprus—of which thou shalt be Queen—" and he bent his knee, in courtly fashion before his child, as though he would be first to bring her homage, "by the hand of the ambassador Mastachelli, this portrait of thy Lord, Janus, the King; and these Eastern pearls—a royal gift."
He kissed the little hand which Caterina eagerly stretched out for the casket; but her mother covered her face with her hands, almost in an attitude of prayer.
The miniature was blazing with diamonds, and the pearls were more lustrous than any that had ever been seen in Venice—for Cyprus was even beyond Venetia in luxury; and Caterina called to her mother, with a note of triumph, to clasp them about her childish throat.
"I must learn to look a Queen!" she said with a little, playful, regal air: and then she dropped her eyes upon the beautiful, laughing face of the royal lover who was to open paradise to her. Her father watched her furtively; while her mother, over her child's shoulder, studied the picture closely, feeling that it was too beautiful to trust.
"He is charming!" the girl cried in pleased surprise. She had not known what his face would be like; she had scarcely had time to think of it since the strange news had been brought her, a few hours before.
"He will be kind to thee," the mother said at length with conviction, yet with a sigh, as if dissatisfied.
Caterina meanwhile, in the simple straight blue robe of a young Venetian maiden, her dimpled throat encircled with the pearls that had been the ransom of a kingdom, stood turning her miniature from side to side, catching the sunlight on the jewels and the face, with the pleasure of a child in a new and splendid toy—for it was all beautiful together. "He is charming—charming, my King!" she repeated.
But a shadow had crept into her mother's eyes. "It is a face that an artist might paint for his pleasure," she said with hesitation, as if seeking expression for some vague fear that haunted her; "I pray that he may make thee happy, carina; that he may be good and—and—noble."
"'Noble!'" cried Marco Cornaro, scornfully; "what seekest more? Is Cyprus not enough for thy nobility? Is there another mother in Venice who doth not envy thee thy fortune! Go to thy tire-women and consult with them, for the Betrothal will be soon, by order of the Senate, and there is small time to waste in regrets that somewhat more to thy liking hath not befallen thee. See to it that the robing of Caterina be fit for that other kingdom thou wouldst, perchance, have chosen for her."
"If he be noble—truly noble," the Lady Fiorenza said with unwonted persistence—for something moved her to assert herself, "I ask no more."
But the Senator permitted her the questionable honor of unanswered speech, as he turned with a scowl and left her. For her word had rankled: since it was known, in the innermost circle of the Council and there discussed in strictest secrecy, that had Janus been born in Venice, the law would have excluded him from its Libro d'Oro, and no patrician father would have sought him for his daughter. But Cyprus lay far away beyond the sea which washed the borders of Venetia, and many of Oriental race had peopled its shores—the ideals of Venice might be no law for Cyprus.
These things took place in the spring of 1468; nor was it long before the ceremonial had been prescribed and the pageant had been made ready for the betrothal of the youthful Caterina; for the Senate could be as prompt in action as far-seeing in judgment when haste seemed wise; and other rulers were looking with no disfavor on the King of Cyprus in this matter of an alliance, for it was known that overtures had already been offered by the Court of Naples and by His Holiness of Rome for one of his own family who had claim to his protection.
While Venice was plunged in a turmoil of preparation, the Casa Cornaro gathered from all its palaces and surged up and down the grand stairway of the Marco Cornari, bringing counsel, gifts and glorification; the dowagers to the remotest branches, were much in evidence, refurbished, and coming in solemn state to testify their approval of an alliance so honorable to their house, with many wise worldly maxims and pious thanks to the Madonna.
There was no quiet anywhere within the palazzo, save deep down in the heart of the Lady Fiorenza, who had never been one with her family in worldly ambitions; and far below the giddy current of the day's happenings ran the ceaseless flow of the mother's wordless prayer, enfolding her child—pleading that that which was to come to her should make and keep her noble.
Resistance would have been vain, if only because she stood alone in her family circle; but the decision of the Senate was supreme—unquestionable and irrevocable; she stood alone indeed with only prayer to help her, and a great faith that because of it her child would be saved in the path of danger from which her love might not hold her feet. And so the day of the Betrothal dawned.
* * * * *
Ah, how the bells were ringing—Madre Beata! For such a festa as never had been in Venice! The hearts of the happy people throbbed to their rhythm, while each gave something to the splendor of the day—were it but the color of a mantle, or the grace of a jubilant motion, or the radiance of a beaming face—there was no festa in Venice of which the people had not its part.
They had been gathering since earliest dawn in the Piazza San Marco, arriving breathlessly in gondolas from the nearer points, in fishing boats with painted sails from the distant islands—hastening from their unsold wares in the market stalls near the wooden bridge of the Rialto to wait long hours for the pageant that no Venetian might miss. For never had there been such another, and there was not too much space where one might stand to see the glory and the beauty of it! Dio! but it was good to be born in Venice, where life was a festa!
Along the Riva their radiant, dark faces gleamed in the sunshine, where they stood in serried ranks, picturesque in all the brilliant coloring that their rustic wardrobes held in store for these days of festa; silken shawls that were heirlooms—strings of coral and amber and great Venetian beads of every tint, or an edge of old lace on the gala fazzuolo that many a noble lady might be proud to wear; everywhere there was color against the background of festive garlands and brilliant rugs decking the balconies of the palaces—a dazzling picture in the sunshine, under the blue of the Venetian sky.
Every window in the Piazza and the Piazzetta was thronged with spectators in gala robes, while under the arcades that stretched from San Marco to the ancient church of San Giminiano across the square, the people surged crowding and jubilant; climbing to the roofs and ledges of every building, the campanile, the churches, the columned palaces, leaving not a space where a man might stand save the avenue through the crowd which the soldiers kept free for the procession.
The bells were beginning to ring—Santa Maria! all the bells—a true jubilee!
Messer San Marco and San Tadoro were good to them to-day; how their golden images flashed in the sunshine on the columns! and the four great golden horses, in the dancing sunlight, seemed to quiver and prance among the frost-work of the arches of San Marco, while the gold and blue and scarlet of frieze and archivolt made a picture of delight.
The little ones shouted and babbled, were lifted high on their fathers' shoulders, or clamored with disappointed half-sobs down in the crowd which shut out all vision, beside the weary, expostulating mothers whose arms were filled with wee things who could not stand, and who had come early in the day—so early—in hope of a treat for the bambini.
They had carried them around the Piazza when they came in the early morning before the crowd—"Santa Vergine—wasn't that enough for them! to get a sight of all the grand balconies where the nobili were to be, with the garlands and the tapestries and the curtains of velvet and brocade, and the beautiful paintings, and the banners of San Marco, and the great golden horses in the Piazza—the wonderful golden horses—up so high, thou knowest, eh, Battista? What dost thou want more? Pazienza!"
There was a commotion on the Piazzetta; the first barge, heading the long procession from the Palazzo Cornaro in San Cassiano far up the Canal Grande, was coming in sight, bearing the brilliant Compagnia della Calza, the noble youths of the Company of the Hose, whose gilded duty it was to appear at State Ceremonials in all the extravagance of fantastic elegance with which Venice had decreed their costumes. A laughing, dainty company, they sprang ashore at the landing of the Piazzetta, doffing their jewelled caps to the admiring crowd with capricious grace and whimsical motions, like a flock of birds of paradise, in doublets of velvet and cloth of gold, with hair floating loose about their throats; with devices of fabulous birds—of stars flashing light—of mystic arabesques and hieroglyphs embroidered on their silken hose, in pearls and gold and precious stones:—truly a gay and frivolous company to be under the grave control of the Ten!
The people shouted with delight as they took their stand at the steps of the Piazzetta to receive the oncoming barges, for the "Calza" were the very darlings of their eyes, and never had they been more brilliant. With true Venetian comradery the crowd tossed them light banter on the names of their divisions, with pantomimic interpretation, in response to their sweeping salutations.
"Cortesi! saw one ever such courtesy!"
"San Marco keep you Immortali, for the grace of you!"
"Sempiterni!—everlasting—ay, to be young like that, with so much pleasure in life—Cielo!"
"And the gondolieri of the Sempiterni—do they live also forever? Signori Nobili, have you need of gondolieri?"
But it needed only a whimsical motion of the Calza to fasten all eyes on the Canal Grande, where to the gracious rhythm of countless strings and flutes, the barges of State were nearing the steps of the Piazzetta, bearing the standards of Venice and Cyprus—their prows garlanded with roses, their rowers wreathed with myrtle—banners and draperies of snow and silver floating in the breeze.
Far up the Canal Grande the gondolas of the nobles, waiting before their palaces, had glided into position as the procession swept down toward the Piazza—each gondola showing the colors of its casa, each fluttering a silken streamer in honor of Cyprus, each bearing its freight of crimson-garbed Senators and ladies in festal array.
A murmur of intense satisfaction broke from the excited crowd along the Riva, as the barges which bore the youthful bride and her newly-appointed suite floated nearer; the great festal barges carved with bas-reliefs from classic story, were all of white and silver, their sails of satin, plumed with roses, and from each prow the figure of a glorified swan flashed rosy light from eyes of ruby: and every rower in white and silver plying his silver oar, wore the arms of Cornaro blazoned on his sleeve, with a sash of the colors of Cyprus.
An opal light played over the group of the dainty maids of honor, yet each showed, for her only color, the arms of her ancient Venetian house wrought large upon the creamy fabric of her tunic, the threads of gold and gleam of jewels half lost within its folds as she walked: but the people looked for the heraldic devices and named them eagerly as, two by two, the maidens stepped on shore—Mocenigo—Giustiniani—Morosini— Dandolo—Contarini—a new name for every sweet young face—the King of Cyprus could add none fairer, nor no more noble arms to the court of his youthful Queen. The Senate had outdone itself in luxury of imagination.
"Ecco!" The low long-drawn sound of delight swept through the expectant throng like the rustle of the wind among the rushes, for here, at last, was La Caterina! and a very child she seemed as she stood surrounded by the escort of noble Matrons of Honor most sumptuously clad, whom Venice had appointed to act as sponsors in the ceremonial of the Adoption. She was like a snow-drop in a garden of exotics—so pale and fair and young, in her robes of filmy lace from the cushions of Burano—the great pearls of Janus rising and falling with the frightened throbbing of her breast. Her mother only stood beside her under the canopy—her hand clasping that of her child with a pressure which gradually steadied her to forget herself and to do her part mechanically, as she might be instructed: for, deep in the heart of the Lady Fiorenza that ceaseless prayer upheld her with a rare and noble dignity—it brought her calm for the drama she had not willed, and faith that for her child all would be well. She had pleaded with the Senate that on this day of deep import the barge of Caterina should not be without the benediction of its tutelary saint, since every gondola was wont to have its shrine; and behind them under the canopy, from a mass of roses on an altar of alabaster, rose a noble Madonna by Bellini, painted with exquisite grace—the votive picture which later kept within the Chapel of the Lady Fiorenza in the Palazzo Cornaro, the memory of this day.
The little ones cried and struggled down among the crowd, seeing nothing, and conscious from the chorus of ecstatic exclamations that they were missing a golden moment.
"Pace! Yes, they are coming: she is there—the Regina. Every one of you shall see—every one. Pazienza! Some one will hold the bimbo who sleeps? Then I could lift Tonino and Maria. Mille Grazie!"
A dozen sympathetic arms had instantly offered in response to this appeal, for the good-natured Venetian crowd adored festas—they also—and it would be a pity of pities that the bambini should miss it, and this one was like heaven!
"Ah, but she is beautiful, the bride—beautiful as an angel: and young—young like my Teresina! And to be a queen—Santa Maria!—she who was like the other daughters of the nobili on the Canal Grande! Ah, but life is wonderful for them—the nobili—but Messer San Marco is gentile to make this festa for Venice!" The recollection of their own little part in the festa came with a patient sigh.
"It is our Caro Maestro Giovanni Bellini who hath fashioned it all they say—the garlands, the barges—the costumes—he talked with their Excellencies, the Signoria."
The rumor went round, for the Maestro was the honest pride of Venice.
"It is he, verily, who hath painted our Blessed Lady for the barca of the Lady Caterina; for Madonna Fiorenza is almost a saint—and devote——! She hath the heart of a carita within her."
"They come now from the palazzo of the Cornaro," cried the little peasant-mother eagerly. "Hearest thou, my bimbo?" She moved the restless hands to and fro, the round eyes following the motion. "Clap thy hands for the Regina—thou too, give thy greeting; thou wilt remember it when thou art old. May the holy Madonna bless her!"
The shouts to which Caterina landed were deafening: the children screamed for very ecstasy.
The lagoon, from the Riva far out toward the islands was a dense mass of floating craft of the poorer sort, for below the Piazza there had been no restriction, and the waters were crowded with islanders—old people grateful for this nearness to the pageant, with a chance of separation from the standing, jostling crowd, and proud of lending the color of their pennons and painted sails for their share of the glory of the day. If one could see nothing, it was good to be there to hear the shouting—one would understand the better when Tonio should be taking his bit of supper and free to talk—for he was no good to his old mother now, with watching the tacking and the people. And one might as well be dead as to stay far off in Burano on a day like this! Cielo, but the bells and the shouting were divine! It made one young again.
"A king, thou sayest? Who is the king that the child is going to marry? What is he like, Tonio? I cannot see so far."
"Not there? Holy Mother, but it is a strange wedding! There would have been the gossip of all the islands to answer if there hadn't been two to a wedding when I was young. But the Signori Nobili must have everything after their own new fashions. And to miss his own sposalizio! San Marco is not good to him—he'll never see another half so fine. Is she so young as they say—like Maria, there?"
"Ah, to be Signori just for to-day!" sighed the little peasant-mother in the crowd, as the dazzling cortege passed out of sight into the golden glooms of San Marco. "To go with the nobili into the Duomo where one may behold the Pala d'Oro and the wonderful golden candlesticks which the Serenissimo hath given—to see the Serenissimo take her for the Daughter of the Republic—wonder of wonders! And then to the Palazzo Ducale for the Betrothal—Pazienza, one must wait; they will come again later, my bambini. Ah, but the beauty of it!" For the brave little woman was weary, and there was nothing like enthusiasm for keeping up one's courage, "and Heaven alone knew where Zorzi was with the barca!"
The crowd relaxed and grew restless, losing some of the gaiety of its temper when a weary neighbor settled back a little too roughly on a fellow-shoulder, or the babies who had been put down on the ground to rest lost the last sweet morsels they had been munching and clamored in vain for more—too much excited by the unusual noises and happenings to deign to notice the brothers of the next size who were busily turning somersaults in their behalf.
But it would not be long before the procession came again; for the last of the sumptuous nobles who made this holiday for the people had disappeared under the portico of San Marco.
The bells were chiming now in soft low undertones, a very ripple of sound—like the breath of the summer-breeze upon the sea—stilling the shrill voices of the people in the Piazza, calming the exuberance of their motions. For it was a signal. They knew that within the Duomo, before the great altar where slept their patron-saint, ablaze now with lights and the marvel of the Pala d'Oro which was not for the sight of the eyes save on days of a festa like this, the child of the Cornaro was waiting to be made the Daughter of Venice.
* * * * *
And now—for the bells were silent—in the magnificent storied chamber of the Gran Consiglio, where so many momentous questions of state had been discussed, in the presence of the Serenissimo, the Signoria, the Senate and the Forty Noble Matrons, a new leaf was to be added to the story of the Republic, and thither the feeble old Doge led the Daughter of Venice with the brilliant assemblage who had witnessed the ceremony of the Adoption in the Duomo.
Caterina had moved through the splendid pageant of the morning as in a dream, still too much a child to comprehend the responsibilities it portended—too much in awe of the distinguished company assembled to do her honor to be conscious of any feeling but unwonted timidity. But the tottering footsteps of the old man who held her hand as he led her through the Porta della Carta into the Ducal Palace, awoke her inborn sense of pity, and it was she who upheld him with her strong, young, vital clasp, recovering her own perfect poise in the act of giving help.
The Ambassador Mastachelli was waiting with his suite, and the signing of the parchment which bore the seals of Venice and of Cyprus was the trifle of a moment. A circlet of rubies—the sign of the promise—had been consecrated by the saintly Patriarch, Lorenzo Giustiniani, and the Lady Fiorenza took comfort from the look in his noble face as he bent over Caterina to give the benediction. She would seek his aid in the training of the young betrothed for her life on that distant island.
But now—at last—the hour was the people's once more, for the Serenissimo stood on the balcony above the portal of San Marco, between the great golden horses, with the Daughter of Venice beside him—the sunlight irradiating her white robes and beautiful, girlish face.
"Caterina—Regina—Figlia di Venezia—Nostra Venezia!" A great cry rent the air; it came from thousands of hearts and thrilled her own to its core, and the first, great emotion of her young life swept through her, transforming and wholly possessing her.
A mist swam before her and her heart throbbed as if it would break: she dimly saw innumerable faces leaning to her from roofs and balconies and windows, and below in the great Piazza, the dense mass of the people with faces offering love and homage, lifting their children to clap their tiny hands for her—it was wonderful—beautiful—had the Madonna, indeed, given her so much!
The mist cleared before her eyes and each face, to the remotest corners of the Piazza stood out individualized, while a sudden great love of humanity was born within her. "She would pray to make her people happy—she would be something to the poor and suffering ones of her distant land of Cyprus—the Holy Mother would teach her——"
It was the supreme moment that does not come to all, yet when it comes holds the making or the marring of a life—as the lightning gleams for an instant only through a rift of cloud, awe-inspiring and too luminous to be forgotten. To Caterina, on the verge of womanhood, it came with the force of a prophetic vision, giving her sight of the tie between a queen and her people—it was like the strong mother-love of a great woman—all-embracing; the splendor of the pageant, the personal homage had no longer part in the exaltation of that great moment—it was the real beneath it all that stirred her soul. She lost herself in the emotion, seeking only for expression; she opened her arms wide to them as if she would embrace them all, turning on every side to smile her heart out to them—tossing kisses to the children who clapped their eager hands for her—scattering sunshine with that rare magnetic power which is the most wondrous gift that Heaven can bestow.
"Simpatica!" the responsive people cried with glowing faces. "Angiola!—Tanto Simpatica!"
The Lady Fiorenza standing where she could see the face of her child gave thanks for the vision, with joyful tears.
"This hast thou granted her, Madonna mia Beatissima, for a wedding gift!"
Now that the brilliant pageant of the Betrothal had taken place, life went on serenely in the Palazzo Cornaro in San Cassan, while the seasons came and went and Caterina developed into a charming maiden of seventeen—expanding in the gracious atmosphere and the wonderful new joys that it brought her, as a rose matures to its most radiant perfection in the sunshine. Her eager mind which had hitherto known only the meagre culture bestowed upon young Venetian maids of her time and estate, awoke with ardent response, growing with leaps and bounds to meet the new demands—yet always deepening because the spring of her will had its impulse in noble emotions.
Her thin, restricted life had suddenly overflowed with interests: the boundaries of her vision had opened far beyond the narrow confines of the lagoons of Venice and the Euganean hills, as the consciousness dawned upon her of a world that had been rich in beauty and vital memories before Venice began to be. Life was beginning to pulsate tumultuously in her veins; her heart was awaking. All the fulness and delight of this germinal spring-time she owed to the lord and lover who was waiting for her across the shimmering, beckoning sea. What wonder that her maiden heart should cling to him with a passionate trust, while all her sweet self grew in shy loveliness out of the dream that she was fashioning, and the deepening currents of her being flowed purely about this vision of her betrothed, enthroning her love with her religion in one centre.
The mimic court in the Palazzo Cornaro, under the supervision of her monitors of Venice, was already attracting distinguished strangers—for the element of romance in her position made the salon of the future Queen of Cyprus the feature of Venetian social life; and long hours of eager study with masters of the many tongues spoken in the Cyprian court—alternating with the teachings of her mother's noble friend, the Patriarch, as he sought to familiarize her with the early Christian story of her distant island, proved the quick grasp of her mind—giving dangerous hints of strength which, if disregarded, might thwart the moulding purpose of the Signoria. So it seemed wise to forestall her questionings with such historic glimpses as should fascinate her with her realm to be, while Venice was silently smoothing out the crumples of that distant Cyprian shore; and it was fitting that the bride of Janus should make acquaintance with the literary and legendary treasures of this fabled isle of poets, for the house of Lusignan had been known for its taste in literature. But of a certain proverb current in Cyprus in the days of the Lusignans, the watchful Senate took care that she should be left in ignorance, Ce n'est pas Minerve qui est nee en Chypre! and that Chief of the Ten whose difficult duty it had become to supervise the education of Caterina was giving peremptory instruction to the newly-created Historical Secretary to the Queen-elect:
"Begin with thy narration far back in the days of the Greek myths—she hath much poetry in her soul. Take her carefully over the early Christian traditions—she doth most seriously incline to venerate the Church:—there is food in these matters to consume much time."
"And then, Eccellentissimo, one may venture to tell the story of the House of Lusignan?"
The research of the learned Secretary had brought him in contact with Cyprus, but it had not inclined him to make fancy pictures of its kings.
"Of Guy—the founder—and of the Crusades; it is a tale a maid may hear," the Capo responded grimly. "Of gleanings, now and again, through the pages of the chronicle, as it may be wise. She hath not the judgment to endure it all, being yet scarce more than a child—and with leanings rather toward Church than State, being over-much under the influence of the Lady Fiorenza—over-much."
The words came with pauses which lent them force, and the new Secretary, being Senate-trained, lost none of their significance.
"Thine office doth demand discretion," the Chief continued, fixing the other with his piercing gaze. "One should choose the tale that may best please—that she may go glad-hearted and with a maiden's fancy."
"Aye, your Excellency—for maids and women are not as men; and facts not over-gentle may be best untold."
"Nay—not that—not that: but there is time—much time—and for the present the care shall be to delight."
"It is the office of a courtier, Eccellentissimo; it befools a scholar," the Historical Secretary exclaimed with indignation. "There be poets and romancers who would do it honor, rather than I—who have spent long years among the records searching for truth, that I may leave a chronicle to trust."
"And most unworthily, Signor Segretario, if thou hast found no least trace of the great philosopher Zeno in the ancient city of Cition that was his birthplace; nor of Homer, that maker of literature, who hath, perchance, won space enough in the estimate of mankind to be worthy the brief thought of a child—even of thine—a scholar seeking for truth—he being the pride of Salamis.
"But the Signoria have never learned the backward step that they should withdraw an appointment which conferreth unwilling honor," the Chief concluded coldly. "Thou shalt find some beauty in the legends of the Cinyradae, or the myths of Aphrodite, in this land of Cyprus where the goddess rose from the foam of the sea!"
"Were not substance better than froth to train a maid to rule, your Excellency?"
"Nay, but to obey; to rule needeth not teaching."
"Signore, foam shall suffice to teach obedience—thou hast heard the most gracious will of the Senate."
The eyes of the scholar who loved truth better than fortune dropped baffled; for he could not afford to surrender the favor of the Senate which promised him means to achieve in his own special field; and he groaned in spirit while the wide halls of the Frari, with their treasure of ancient MSS. rose before his mental vision as the most tempting spot on earth, with his own magnum opus lying there unfinished, yet far toward completion. And for one who had meant to chronicle the complete history of a movement, who had sought ever to weigh and sift in the interests of truth alone, to surrender the freedom of his mind to the Senate—to come down to the teaching of a child—to be commanded what he should speak—it was maddening!
"My own work," he murmured in a last appeal:—"I have so little time."
"The time of a Venetian is his best gift to the State," the Capo made answer icily.
There was a pause during which the unwilling Secretary felt the eyes of the Capo upon him, forcing him to lift his own. For an instant he met the strange fixed gaze which conveyed to him without words that what had passed between them was to be held inviolate; then, with a courteous salute, the man of power spoke:
"The interview is dismissed." And the Segretario Reale went out from the presence, his soul revolting at the absolutism that forced him to accept; and he despised himself.
* * * * *
Meanwhile the soul of the maiden was thrilling to the Patriarch's tales of early Christian conquests in her islands—at Paphos—at Salamis—of the miracles of the great Paulus, saint and bishop and leader—as her eyes followed along the red-lettered parchment page of the rare volume which the holy man had brought from the treasures of the "Marciana" for her teaching—translating the story from the Greek, which was yet hard for her, into her own softer tongue.
Cyprus had indeed been a favored land in those early days; for the Holy Spirit had commanded by a revelation that Barnabas and Paulus should set sail for Cyprus to preach the new faith at Salamis; and they had taken with them Marcus—their own San Marco!—it was so written in this strange, old book.
"Tell me about him!" Caterina cried, clasping her hands eagerly: "what did he do in my land?"
Every Venetian was familiar with the Patron-Saint of Venice in his symbolic guise, with his terrible, flashing jewelled eyes—as a power who would guard them and confound their enemies, rather than as an Evangelist—although the paw of the fierce Venetian lion rested always on the open gospel-page. But to hear of him as a man, before he was known as saint—young—'sister's son to Barnabas,' setting forth on this mission to Cyprus, made him strangely real to the young Venetian girl; it even brought Cyprus nearer with a tender home claim, to hear of the wanderings of San Marco among those temples of Aphrodite; and his scorn of the unholy worship kindled her soul as the Patriarch told how the young Evangelist had not feared to curse the godless Cyprian city for its idolatry—of the tumult that had been raised by his followers, as they hurled the images of the Pagan gods from their pedestals, ruining portions of the huge, unholy structure as they fell and killing some of those who were taking part in the games. She would visit these vast ruins in the ancient grove of Aphrodite, where giant-trees had grown among the fallen columns, and wonderful vases of gold and silver and alabaster, wrought like finest cameos, had been disinterred from mounds of rubbish to decorate the palaces of patricians.
Of these, antique goblets, some flashing with an indescribable rainbow lustre, delicate as an opal, had already been sent her among the rich gifts of Janus. And so life took on new color for her—historic memories and trifles of the day crossing each other at many points, linking the old to the new, in unsuspected continuity.
"Our San Marco was a hero even then!" she cried; "an early Crusader fighting for his faith!"
"Aye, daughter—as thou and I must fight," the Patriarch answered her with tender approval in his eyes, a shadow of apprehension dimming them before he withdrew his gaze—for of such tender stuff had martyrs been made. "The story of those early days is for our guidance. If trials should come," he added, "cleave but to thy faith and Heaven shall show thee a way."
"I never thought before that one might love San Marco!" Caterina said, as she turned her glowing face frankly to the old man; "he was never a person, but just a grotesque image to me."
"Symbols are for our race in its childhood, for with primitive peoples imagination dominates reason," he answered her; "later we weave a more enduring fabric out of the truth of history—still cherishing the myth—the earlier impulse."
But it was Barnabas who was the true hero-saint of Cyprus; for he had owned estates in his native island and had sold them and given all for the propagation of the new faith; and when, after his cruel martyrdom the fierce spirit of persecution had cooled, and his remains were found interred in a grotto near the city—the divine revelation of St. Peter clasped to his breast—the possession of so sacred a relic sufficed to win great privileges among the hierarchy for the island of Cyprus, in perpetuity—the proud title of Archbishop of Salamis—the imperial staff with the golden apple at top—the cap with the red cross, and many other honors and immunities. It was a long way from the primitive simplicity of the fruitful ministration of Jose Barnabas, the Son of Consolation, as he had fought for souls in the splendid vigor of his youth and consecration!
"I am glad of these sacred bonds between my two homes!" the young girl exclaimed with a little wistful sigh.
"There are yet other links in the history of our Church; for Sant'Elena, the Mother of Constantine—whose tomb thou knowest on our fair island of Sant'Elena—hath enriched thy favored land of Cyprus with its most sacred relic, bestowing there the portions of the Holy Cross which she had brought from Orient, and thou shalt find them still revered in the Chapel of Santa Croce on the Mountain of the Troodos."
"Thou perchance, most Reverend Father, wilt come some day in pilgrimage to this blessed shrine in my new land!" Caterina cried hopefully.
"Nay, dear daughter; for my work lieth in Venice. But thou seest that where our Holy Church hath planted her banner, one may call no land strange."
It was partly with this thought that the Patriarch had striven to interest Caterina in these incidents of early Christianity; and partly from his undefined dread as to what the future might hold for her, with the wish to keep the Church and its teachings uppermost in her mind, that she might lean upon them in need. She had been deeply interested and again and again had turned the talk upon this theme—a docile pupil, growing in grace and strength from the teachings he gathered for her from that quaint old volume so little known by the women of her time. It was his gift to fit her for the unknown life to which she was going, and it gave him an opportunity for many helpful words which if scarcely understood at the time came back to her later; yet he darkened her bright visions with no fears, thinking that hope and joy and faith would suffice for strength in trial.
The Senate, meanwhile, had matter less placid touching Cyprus and the betrothed bride wherewith to fill this period of waiting: and more than once the Senator Marco Cornaro had returned from lengthy sessions at the Ducal Palace in no gentle humor, yet mute to all questioning. For it had been learned in that innermost Council, and told no farther than was needful, that Ferdinand of Naples was intriguing to draw Janus into an alliance with a princess of his house; it was also known, by that singular penetration in which Venice had no equal, that the new Archbishop of Nicosia, Alvise Fabrici, was an agent for Ferdinand, secretly working to further his ends in Cyprus; and finally in sign of the willingness of Janus to break faith with Venice, came the rumor of some coldness toward Andrea Cornaro, who had hitherto been his fast friend.
It was enough to bring gloom to the brow of the Senator Marco Cornaro, whose heart was set upon this royal marriage.
But nothing of this transpired beyond the walls of the Council Chamber, from whence at last, to make an end of the pitiful waverings of this fickle King, an ambassador was sent to the court of Cyprus to state in terms that could not be misunderstood, that if Janus were to disgrace his royal word, solemnly pledged by his Ambassador Mastachelli in presence of the Serenissimo and the Signoria, the insult to a Queen already betrothed to him would be a slight the Republic would not suffer, and that Venice would become the enemy instead of the ally of Cyprus.
But no misgivings troubled the heart of the betrothed in the Palazzo Cornaro, where she waited in happy confidence, being taught through the ceaseless vigilance of the Senate, that in royal marriages haste was ever unseemly, and full time would be allowed for the fashioning of the wedding trousseau, the weaving of wedding damasks and the complete preparation of a household outfit consistent with the dignity of a queen.
The prospect of further enemies was not an enviable one for Janus, who already counted Genoa, Savoy and Portugal and his Holiness of Rome among them; for he had won the wrath of the Genoese by recapturing their important holding of Famagosta in the very heart of his own island, as he had most heartily gained the disfavor of his Holiness by his alliance with the infidel Sultan of Egypt; and through his sister Carlotta, the enmity of Savoy and of Portugal was assured to him.
So the galleys and favor of Venice were not to be disregarded, and it was not long before the Cyprian fleet appeared in the waters of the Adriatic, bearing in response to the secret embassy of Venice, the Ambassador sent by Janus to bring his young Queen to Cyprus.
Ser Gobbo Di Rialto bore on his broad breast announcements of intense interest concerning the ceremonies which would make the day of the departure of the Daughter of the Republic among the most splendid in the annals of Venice. A crowd of citizens who had not been advised by special invitation of the various banquetings and happenings, came and went about the grotesque figure with much lively comment of delighted anticipation, intermingled with benedictions upon San Marco that it was not long to wait, since to-morrow would be there after the next Ave Maria! For whatever of revelry was prepared for the nobles, brought always in Venice a corresponding pageant to delight the eyes of the people.
Here and there some gondolier from the islands, sheepishly conscious of the brilliant fazzoletto, or the string of beads he had just bought in the tempting booths of the old, wooden Rialto, hung on the outskirts of the crowd before Ser Gobbo, to catch from the gossip of the more lettered ones about him the details of the morrow's festa which he might not read for himself; for the knowledge would make him the oracle of his little circle in Burano—or at least with Giovanna, when he should bestow his silken trifle for the morrow's splendor. For, of course all Venice would be there to see the queen set forth.
"Santa Maria!—the Serenissimo himself upon the Bucentoro will escort the Regina. Heard one ever such splendor!"
"And at the Lido—hast heard, Tonio?—by favor of San Marco and San Nicolo, the gondolieri with their barchette may float in line to make our part of the festa. Oh, the beautiful day!"
"And the Signoria, and all the nobili! and the court of the young Regina—and all the banners and the barca—most beautiful to behold—one might die of the splendor of it, Santissima Maria!"
"Aye, Giuseppe, and the music of all the fleets!—it will be like heaven, if Messer San Marco doth but send the sunshine and the breeze."
"Nay, he could not fail his Venice for a festa that doth him such honor; Messer San Marco e galant uomo! But how then, Tonio, thou hast a sposalizio of thine own—with thy string of coral and thy fazzoletto fit for a Signorina: the bells will be chiming for thee to-morrow?"
"Basta, basta!" Tonio responded with commendable gruffness, considering his contentment at heart, as he hastily retreated to his gondola under the Rialto for needed shelter from the banter which followed him, until some other unwary victim became the centre of the well-meant pleasantry.
"Wait then for a day, Tonio mio, and the Bucentoro will be ready for thee," cries one of the more daring as he vanishes; "hast thou already bespoken thy groomsman? I also am a Castellan."
Across the Piazza San Giacomo, under the famous colonnade of San Giacomo di Rialto, the talk turned chiefly on the great event which was to culminate on the morrow, and which for three years had consumed much time in Senate and State, as the patricians strolled to and fro in lively discussion.
It was here that for generations everything that affected the commerce of Venice was held up in the light of expression as free and candid as it was possible for opinion to be in this highly organized oligarchy; and here as elsewhere, Venice, like a faithful mother, watched over the welfare of her sons, though they were grown to man's estate; and since her commerce was, in fact, the mainspring of her wealth and prestige—a very vital part of her—she kept before their eyes on the exterior of this ancient church in the market-place where her merchant-princes daily met, her admonition to uphold them in righteous dealing. One might decipher it wrought into the wall of the apse under the stones of the frieze, in quaint lettering that tempted to the perusal and endowed the mastered motto with the impressiveness of a rite—for the legend assumed a quality of mystery, being much defaced from time.
"Hoc circa templum sit jus mercatoribus aequm, pondera ne vergant nec sit conventio prava."
(Around the Temple let the merchant's law be just, his weights true, and his covenant faithful.)
Among the frescoes on the walls under the colonnade was the famous mappa mondo, upon which were indicated the various routes of Venetian commerce throughout the world.
Two dignified elderly men wearing the black silk robe of the merchant with chains of heavy gold links were strolling to and fro in eager conversation—their comrades showing signs of deference as they passed.
"Cyprus will seem nearer now," said one of them, pausing for a moment before the map to point out a speck in the Mediterranean with his gold-topped staff.
"A century nearer than it was in the days of Comnenus," the other answered him, with a recollection of the attempted purchase and occupancy of the island in those earlier times. "But now—praise be to San Marco, the time is ripe."
"And Venice hath never ceased to covet that 'Island of Delights!' But now her fleets may lie at anchor in the splendid port of Famagosta while she taketh her leisure in dealing with the merchants of the East; for the King of Cyprus must aye keep faith with the Republic."
"Yet let Venice beware," the other answered, lowering his voice to a confidential tone. "It is not over-easy to hold His Majesty to any faith or compact, by what one may guess from the talk of the Senate: but the favor of Venice is needful to him."
"And none the less that there be those who favor him not. Genoa is wroth at him for having chased them from Famagosta—the most marvellous stronghold in the world, if one may credit Messer Andrea Cornaro, the friend of the King."
"He spake truly, from what I myself should have guessed thereof—getting no closer to the Fortress than any Cyprian might have done six years ago, when I had gone with my fleet to the Syrian Coast for a marvellous cargo of spices, and Cyprus tempted me to a voyage of pleasure, being not so far—the sail of a day with a fair galley. The Genoese held the great Fortress and the splendid city of Famagosta and the country for miles around; an enemy entrenched in the very heart of a kingdom! Small wonder that King Janus, being of a most laudable prowess, should claim his own again—which won him laurels, for the Cyprians had been sore over the matter. Aye; Cyprus is good for the commerce of Venice, and it would be a hard day when the ships of the Republic might not harbor in her waters. And if the good of Venice be the good of Cyprus,—the amity is the more like to last!"
"Aye, for the commerce it is well—most truly well. But there will be too many of our patrician daughters in the suite of the young queen when she shall sail on the morrow. I could more easily have spared fewer."
"They are but charming childish faces; and they have left their sisters behind them—they and the little Caterina; it is well that the bride should make a brave showing at the court of Cyprus—which is held for a marvel of splendor."
"Thou knowest it, Messer Querini, having been there?"
"Nay—not at court—it is Messer Andrea Cornaro who will tell of it. But I passed some days at Nikosia, on my way back from Alexandria, and verily the cities were twins for richness. The beauty of the churches—one for each day of the year through,—we of Venice may not at all equal, save in our Basilica of San Marco;—the precious altars inlaid with gold and jewels,—like our Pala d'Oro that cometh not forth of our treasury save on days of festa; finest statues of ivory and silver; great carven columns wrought like our columns of Acre—but vaster and of that same fineness of workmanship: and such broideries of golden thread and great pearls for draperies and altar-cloths, as one may scarce dream of! And in their market-places, strewn with the spoils of the East are faces and voices of every clime and a very babel of tongues; more—far more than on our own Rialto; with schools for every language. And I saw a thing in Nikosia that in all my journeyings I have not met with before."
"Thy tales are more piquant than the tales of Marco Polo," his friend said rallying him.
"All is marvellous of which thou hast not hitherto known, though it be simpler than thou art wont to behold. So I found strange and noble, a great building already a century and a half old, in the heart of this sumptuous city, whereon it was signified by a writing cut into the stone, that all men of every clime who but confess the name of Christus, being ill or needy, should receive therein, freely given, rest and entertainment."
"If the entertainment were of the wines of Cyprus it would be verily a gift: for these one may even taste who hath not been in her great cities."
"Truth is truth." the other assented. "And that wine of the Commanderie"—the dignified speaker interrupted himself with slow unmistakable signs of approval—"I will make it known to thee to-morrow at the banquet. And her ortolans!—It is a rich land: the Senate hath done well."
"How sayest thou, 'the Senate hath done well?' Is it not that we are losing too many of our own patricians, rather than coming into favor of Cyprus?"
"How 'losing them'—to win relations that be wise for Venice? Andrea Cornaro hath never been one to keep himself at rest in his palace at San Cassiano, and through his wandering hath come this royal alliance for Venice; and to-morrow he goeth again to Cyprus as auditor to the young queen, his niece. The Contarini, the Giustiniani—as thou knowest well—have already vast holdings on those Mediterranean shores."
"What sayest thou of the Senator Aluisi Bernardini—that he is no loss to Venice?"
"Nay, nay: he is one that Venice may not too well spare: a man after her best traditions—one for an embassy or any place of power—a man to do us honor—overgrave and quiet, perchance, for his youth, yet of a courtesy and judgment!—and never leaving the thing undone! It is his father again."
"Might not some other man, less finely tempered, have served in Cyprus?"
"Aye—if the Bernardini himself were not so finely-tempered! I was in the Senate the day they put the choice before him—it was no secret, and it proved the man. To do him honor the Senate gave him choice—and the Senate doth more easily command. And this they laid before him. An Embassy to France, of which he should be chief—his father held it before him, and the Lady of the Bernardini hath been eager that her son should bear his father's honors: that, measured with this mission to Cyprus—to attend the charming little cousin, as private Chamberlain to the Queen, forsooth,—a man twice her years and already of an acknowledged dignity!"
"It seemeth not easy to translate his choice. What sayeth the proud Lady of the Bernardini? For it is less honor."
"One knoweth not; she being of Casa Cornaro, of the elder branch, and, like her son, of few words and great discretion. But she had lately spoken with me of this embassy to France, wishing that her son might hold it, thinking him well fitted for the place. Ah, well—she giveth no sign; and to-morrow she also setteth sail for Cyprus,—being created chief lady in waiting to her fair, young cousin."
"The Lady of the Bernardini in the court of the Caterina! Impossible! She, in whose salons one might not think one's own thoughts!"
"By San Tadoro! one might think them, at one's ease, so only they were of a quality to please her."
"And the Lady of the Bernardini to leave her splendid palace! Venice without the Lady of the Bernardini!"
"Where hast thou been that thou knowest it not? It is even so!"
"Thou dost verily flatter the vanity of a man, Querini, to forget that I am but two days returned with my cargoes from Flanders."
"Nay—thy pardon, friend. I mind it well enough and shall mind it better when thou hast a chance to make us envious of the wares thou wilt unburden from thy cumbrous, carven chests, for there is much talk of their richness. But the ear of Venice is so attuned to these wedding-chimes that it hath no chance to vibrate to another theme until the rejoicings of the morrow be past."
"And the great estates of the Bernardini? I remember some rumor in the Broglio, before this matter of Cyprus came uppermost, that the houses would have been allied—a marriage between the little Caterina and the cousin Aluisi—a dispensation to be gotten from His Holiness. It would have been well for the estates and the Casa Cornaro."
"Aye, it would have been well for the Casa Cornaro: better perchance than this dazzling foreign marriage, and more fortune in it for the Cornari. For the estates of the Bernardini are princely; and it is well known in the Senate, though it be uttered in decorous whispers, that the dower of the charming bride hath left small remainder to her noble uncle. And Messer Andrea also, is large lender to a king—for war-debts and the like—Janus having nothing until he had regained his kingdom. But as well buy a King as a vast estate for one's toy, if one hath the zecchini."
"Thou art verily more a merchant than I had esteemed thee, Messer Querini, if thou hast no thought in this marriage but for the zecchini—as well those of her uncle Andrea for the maid Caterina, as those of the Bernardini."
The Signor Querini gave a long, contemptuous sniffle.
"May gold buy a man like our young Senator Bernardini! Nay:—but it is the fuss and manner of this marriage that turneth me somewhat against it: and because the father of the Bernardini was in truth my friend. But Caterina was still a child when a king appeared as suitor, and the question of the Bernardini was never made; and Marco Cornaro—Marco is a delighted magnifico. Ebbene—San Marco might see many of us wise, old fools choosing a king for a son-in-law, if one came our way to beg the favor. And Messer Andrea hath it that King Janus is full winsome. One should not be hard upon Marco Cornaro—it is not the first alliance that his noble house hath made with royalty. May happy fortune befall the maid—who is verily charming and of a consummate dignity."
"The King hath sent an embassy, that doeth honor to any royal house, to bring his bride to Cyprus. His Excellency the Ambassador, Messer Filippo Podacatharo, is a princely escort; and yesterday when he gave banquet to the merchants of Venice, all were in admiration at the sumptuousness of the fleet of Cyprus."
"I would have been there, but some matters of moment for the Bernardini held me. It is not easy for him to leave Venice, with his vast holdings. And his father was my friend. I command his galleys to-morrow, which follow the Bucentoro to the fleet of Cyprus, outside our harbor—San Marco favor the day!"
When the Senator Bernardini had first made known to his stately patrician Mother his acceptance of the appointment to Cyprus, she had met him with surprise and keen disappointment.
"There is surely some great error," she said; "for I had it in confidence that the Embassy to France hath been offered thee by the Senate."
He confessed as much.
"Thou wilt revise thy decision: I would gladly see thee wear thy Father's honors. Thou hast the gift of statesmanship."
He waited to choose his words, for her tone betrayed more than her speech, and he grieved to thwart her ambitions for him.
"So may it fit me the better for the Cyprian post," he answered with an attempt at playfulness.
"Thou wilt verily give up this Embassy to France to go with the Caterina to her new land! There is some reason of which thou sayest naught—else were it hard to comprehend thy choice. We are but two, Aluisi; may not thy mother hold thy confidence?"
For answer he raised her hand to his lips, smiling upon her. Her brow cleared.
"It is not that the little cousin hath touched thy heart?" she questioned half seriously—"thou who art known as gracious for all and tender for none! I have not this to bear for thee—now that the marriage which thy Father would have favored is no longer possible? Then France were surely wiser for thee—the Fates are kind."
"Nay, nay," he answered frankly—"have no fear. When I set sail from Venetia for my long voyage, the Caterina was still a child. And when, returning, I found her grown a charming maid, she was already set apart from all such dreaming for any honorable knight of Venice. Thou dost not guess the spell that holdeth me?"
"It is not one of her fair maids of honor who go with her to her court of Cyprus?"
"Nay, Madre carissima; thou art still before all others with thy wayward son."
"Yet my wish for thee—of France—thou dost pass by," she interrupted eagerly.
"It is but for duty to the Casa Cornaro,—in which thou wouldst be last to see me fail, dear Lady of Venice!"
She laid her hand upon his arm as if she would constrain him.
"Tell me," she urged.
"Mother, when thy name and mine shall have been forgotten, one name of the Casa Cornaro shall stand out never to be lost—since Fortune doth weave it into history. For honor to our house, we will not fail our Caterina."
"As thou wouldst have me—thou, my Mother—than whom among the Cornari are none found prouder—I have sworn as solemnly as any knight may take his vow,—were it even in Crusade—to spend myself in service of the little Queen, my cousin—as in that far land there may be need."
But for the Lady of the Bernardini—Venetian to her heart's core—the island of Cyprus had little charm; she had dreamed of a brilliant career for her only son which should open to him the best that Venice could give—and she was not satisfied.
"There is no fault with that dear child," she said; "and as thy bride—if this had been—I could have loved her well. But if thy fortunes need be bound with hers—and all thine honors for which thou art so meet, and with which thy Venice would fain endow thee, must be surrendered for her sake,—'twere pity that this marriage which thy Father willed, went not forward."
"Sweet Mother—the 'might-have-beens' make faincants of men. It is not love—but duty that calleth me. There is no choice. Where is thine honorable teaching?"
"Bethink thee, Aluisi, of this post of dignity in France—a place of power—of service to thy country. How sayest thou 'there is no choice'?"
"Mother—when our stars have ordered otherwise—there is no more to it than that—why then—if men lack strength to bend their wills to meet their destiny,—it is not as they will,—it is not as their honor wills—but far otherwise. And theirs the fault."
She looked up into his noble face as he bent over her—a face not often yielded so fully to her gaze—dear as this widowed mother and her son were to each other, and intimate in friendship; and as she looked a calm fell upon her and she saw strength, truth, valor, judgment—the soul of the man like a rock beneath the light play of his speech.
She no longer willed to oppose his choice. She put up her hand and drew him down beside her on the couch.
"There will be much to think of," she said after a long silence; "thine interests in Venice will be hard to leave. Why—if some of Caterina's house must escort her and abide with her—why not her brother Zorzi? Who should be fitter in her defense?"
"Zorzi is but a youth—less in years than her own. How should she lean on such a boy?"
"Aluisi—thou hast some fear which thou hast not spoken."
He was silent though she waited. How might he declare the bitter need of watchfulness, yet not betray the knowledge gotten in those secret councils of the Republic!
"Madre mia," he said at last, when she had reminded him of her question. "Without cause I had made no vow. Canst thou not trust thy knight? And of my fealty, so solemnly sworn, Caterina knoweth naught. It is for me and thee alone—and least of all for the ear of Venice. But thou knowest—if it were no more than that the way of a crown be not easy for a young and guileless maid—some one of her own should be with her in that strange land; and he should be wise in counsel."
"As thou?—who dost so qualify thyself?" she asked with a pitiful attempt to rally him—for her heart was sore. "What shall I do without thee—Aluisi!" Her voice had suddenly broken in yearning. It was not often that such emotion escaped her. He folded her hand more closely as they sat on in the silence, in the falling twilight, and his eyes wandered down the length of the splendid ancestral hall, while his resolve strengthened within him—the knights and ladies of the house of Cornaro for centuries back leaning to him out of the quaint carving of their time-dimmed frames—fading from him, like ghosts, into the gloom of the distant corners, yet holding him with a strange, vital fascination—for it was much to leave. The very tapestries rustled with the legends of the Cornelii of long, long ago, on the shores of the Rivo Alto, before the story of Venice had won its honored place in the chronicles of nations—yet not the less for their indistinguishable outlines and mythical color were they woven into the proud consciousness of the duty the Cornari owed their own.
Memories of the state his Mother had held here rose to meet him—memories of his Father, who had been a power in Venice. How could he ask the Lady of the Bernardini, with her whitening hair, to leave it all for Cyprus? Yet that was in his thought. He could not frame the words; it was too much to ask—he must leave it to come from her.
"Is thy fear not to be spoken?" she asked at last. "And must we accept it for the Caterina—who is very fair and tender?"
"It is the ways of Cyprus that I fear," he answered quickly; "and of that strange people—a blending of half-pagan races with the blood of France and Greece. But, Madre mia—there must be no echoes from the Council-Chamber—none of our talk beyond thine own discreet hearing—it would but harm her. And for acceptance—'must we accept it for the Caterina?'—thou dost ask—it is an empty word! The will of Venice is set to do this thing."
"Yet our cousin Marco—the child's own father—goeth not heavily; he hath no fear."
"He is mad with the glory of it—after Venice's own temper."
There had been some further talk—not over-much dwelling on vain regrets—and then the Lady of the Bernardini had asked, half-reluctantly:
"How if some Lady of the Cornari went with her?—I—having no daughter of my own—and loving her well? And—thou and I need not be parted."
"I dared not ask it of thee," he cried fervently—"for it is much. I dared not tell thee of the Senate's wish to name thee chief Lady of Caterina's Court."
"The court of the child! The little Caterina!" she exclaimed impetuously, rising and taking a few steps away from him with the irresistible impulse of offended dignity.
"I was bidden to lay their desire before thee—if it should be also of thy will, my Mother; it was not a command," he hastened to assure her.
But she had already conquered herself—being strong as proud, and prompt in decision, but ruled above all by her deep affections, and she came back to his side before he had found words with which to propitiate her.
"It was strange to me," she said, "but Venice would be more strange without my boy. Let us go together."
"Thou canst verily bear to leave it all?" he asked when he could trust himself to speak.
Her eyes followed the direction of his motion around the vast hall, then came back to rest upon his face.
"The past is ours," she said, "but not to make us weak. Thy 'might-have-beens' are not less wise for women than for men. I have only thee."
"San Marco atone to thee for thy sacrifice," he cried devoutly.
Never was a more brilliant pageant imagined to do honor to the symbolic rite of the Wedding of the Adriatic than the triumphant Signoria had called forth to speed the young Queen to her distant island.
Never did father more solemnly promise his protection to the child from whom he was parting, than did Cristoforo Moro, the Serenissimo, pledge the faith and support of Venetia to the Daughter of the Republic, as with slow majesty, to the rhythm of an ancient wedding canticle, the Bucentoro, escorted by all the galleys of the arsenal of Venice, the mighty galleasses of her patrician merchants and the gondolas of her nobles, moved forward, beyond the Lido, where the Ambassador Filippo Podacatharo waited with the fleet of Cyprus—most sumptuously outfitted—to receive the bride of Janus.
And never sailed fairer maiden, more fearlessly, into the far sea of her unknown future, flooded with dreams, as with sunshine. Was it only a glamour, tissued of myth and of legend, that lay on the face of the waters, dazzling her eyes?
The rejoicings of the people speeded her; the bells of all the campanili of Venice came echoing to the shores of the Lido; a tumult of voices—the voices of the popolazzo, shrill and jubilant, called down the blessings of all the saints upon her—of Santa Caterina—her own name-saint, fair patron of Betrothals; of charming San Luigi—the blessed guardian of love; of San Nicolo, Saint of the Sea; of Messer San Marco and San Tadoro; and shrilly, above them all, rose the babel of women's voices, invoking the Madonna, "Star of the Sea, Sancta Maria!"
But most of all, deep within her girlish soul, love speeded her—love, grown strong through these years of waiting on the image she had fashioned for herself as the portrait of her lord—painted with all the glowing lights of a true and gracious heart that knew no shadows.
As the galleys passed beyond the Lido into the wider water and the Daughter of Venice stood in her royal wedding-robes beside the Doge, under the golden canopy of the Bucentoro, a rosy light flashing from the circlet of rubies which, like the espousal ring of the Serenissimo, had been consecrated with solemn mass and benediction by the Patriarch of Venice,—did the words of the ancient rite occur to some among that throng of nobles, perchance, as an omen?
"Sea, we wed thee, in token of our true and perpetual dominion over thee."
But now, with a memory of the gracious legend of San Francisco del Deserto—that where the birds should light the favor of Heaven would follow, as they passed the convent on their outward way, a multitude of birds set free from their golden cages burst upon the air with a flood of song, inspired by their sudden liberty, then came throbbing and overwrought, to seek shelter among the silken sails of the Cyprian galleys—mere specks of iridescence, flashing like jewels in a chance ray of sunlight.
The people saw and shouted, "Benedizion della Madonna! Viva Messer San Marco! Viva la Regina!"
When the chimes of the campanili had dimmed to a faint cadence, like some unuttered rhythm of thought, as the distance grew between the outsailing fleet and all that pageantry of Venice, two faces stood forth like visions from the bewildering pictures of the morning and dwelt with Caterina forever.
The pleading face of the Mother deep with tenderness, yet shadowed by an unspoken dread of the unknown that lay beyond:
And the gaze of the saintly Patriarch, Lorenzo Giustiniani, full of strength and inspiration.
* * * * *
It was early summer, when the mere living was a joy; and there was much time for gracious dreaming as the galleys of Cyprus floated down the length of the Adriatic and past the fair coasts of the Mediterranean, before the coming of that wonderful day of days when the bridal fleet was nearing the shores of the Isola Fortunata which had been for long the Mecca of the young Queen's girlish visions.
It lay before her radiant under the Cyprian sky—palaces and ramparts stretching in long lines a-down the coast, against the background of mountain ranges, densely wooded and crowned with the sparkling snows of Troodos; there were gardens rainbow-dyed in bloom, cool with the spray of fountains and the shadows of waving palms; and between the cities were wonderful, fertile plains flowing down to the foam of the sea—a vision of tangled blossoms wreathing with beauty the shattered splendor of temples of outworn divinities, or rippling with tasselled corn and vines and all manner of fruit-bloom, in luxuriant promise of present good.
What could there be but happiness in such a home! Already the spell of the fabled Cyprian isle was upon her,—could she ever forget this first vision of her land of dreams—fairer than even her hope had limned it!
As she stood with beating heart, waiting with impatience that she scarce could bear for the first touch of her new, strange shore, for the first glimpse of her lover's face—all her pulses tuned to this harmonious rhythm of sky and sea and romance, it was told her that a messenger waited to speak with her.
"Let him approach," she said, turning half-unwilling to watch a knight who advanced, unattended, bearing a missive with the pendant royal seal of Cyprus that she knew so well. He knelt before her, vizor down, yet with the customary homage; then, rising—
"I am sent by his Majesty the King," he said, "to bear his greeting to his most gracious Sovereign Lady, or ever her foot shall touch the shore which blossoms for her alone."
She drew a little pace away from him, fearing to utter her thought until she had seen his face.
"Doth it become one so to speak the message of his King, with visor down, Sir Knight, to the bride whom his Majesty would honor?" she answered half-playfully—yet a little bashful in her first speech in the Grecian tongue which she had striven to make her own.
"Our Sovereign Lady doth answer right royally," he said, as he bowed his acquiescence in her command, passing his helmet to one of the knights who came thronging behind him, and stood confronting her—very courteous and deferent in his bearing, though the breeze was tossing his waving hair about his throat with a hint of comradery, and there was a world of love and mastery in his charming face.
Her own—very fair and true and radiant with girlish beauty—flushed, then paled again, with the quickened beating of her heart, and her eyes, eloquent in confession, were fixed on his, which deepened to a glow of pride and pleasure; yet he was loth to make an end of her charming confusion.
"Hath this missive from his Majesty no meaning for his bride of Venice?" he asked, coming nearer.
"Janus!" she cried—all her soul shining in her eyes; and then, in her own soft, Italian tongue:
"How should my heart not know thee!"
Caterina Veneta, Queen of Cyprus, stood on a high balcony of the summer palace in the Casal of Potamia, one beautiful June morning at early dawn, waving farewell to the cavalcade of nobles who were winding up the pass that led to the great forests where the patricians of the island were wont to pursue their favorite pastime. Janus was among them, leading in the chase as in every art that demanded agility and prowess—lithe, strong and beautiful in her eyes as in the first days of their short romance.
It was the one hour of the torrid day when the air was fragrant with the breath of flowers and tingling with the freshness of the sea; and in the sparkle of the morning, with sunshine in her heart and love-light in her eyes, she was very fair to look upon.
The scene had been exhilarating, full of color and motion—laughter and repartee mingling with the adieux of the knights and seigneurs to their ladies, the notes of the hunting-horns, the snorts of impatient steeds, the short expectant bark of the dogs, as the Master of the hounds, the young Count of Jaffa, with his great army of hunters and attendants, moved before the cavalcade into the heart of the forest. A fantastic train it was, with the picturesque costumes of the riders, the tinted tails of their horses and dogs flashing an orange trail in the sunshine, a touch of coquetry much in vogue among the young Cyprian nobles of the day.
Caterina had watched the start with pride in her husband's grace and courtly bearing, his beautiful strong youth and the devotion of his chosen group of friends: and the winning charm of his manner, as he looked back with a parting act of homage, brought a flush of pleasure to her cheek. She stood for a moment, her eyes growing deep with delicious memories, as she recalled the romance of their first meeting.
But she was conscious of a little pain at her heart, as she waited, following him with her eyes until the cavalcade was lost to view under the plumy shadows of the distant cypress-trees. Was it thus that kings should spend long summer days when there were rumors of discontent in the air—rumors definite enough to have reached the palace circle in mysterious undertones, quickly repressed when she turned to ask their meaning? Should Janus not have given up his pleasure to stay and examine into the cause which he had laughed away as a mere nothing—a jest of some discontented courtier of one of the old Greek families who had been in Cyprus before the days of the Lusignans; and all the more if they were always alert for fancied slights?
"If he is discontented and it is a mere nothing, why should he not be summoned to state his grievance?" she had persisted, with a trace of pleading in her attitude that fretted the King. She was not to concern herself with questions of state or popular discontent suggesting unpleasantly the ruling spirit of Helena Paleologue, his father's wife; and he had not brought a girl-bride from Venice to watch his method of holding the reins!
His annoyance had been very real under his laughing exterior, as he kissed the tips of her slender fingers in knightly fashion and assured her that there was nothing to trouble her dainty head about: she should keep her rose-leaf beauty dewy fresh for him, without brooding over the possible meaning of ancient discontented nobles who belonged to an earlier regime.
A passing thought came over him while he made his laughing protest, of the four conspirators who had just been put to the cruel death which Cyprus reserved for her traitors; but their little game was happily over, and he dismissed the memory with a slight shrug of his graceful shoulders. "Was there ever a kingdom without malcontents?" he had asked, turning to his wife. "Was everyone satisfied throughout the length and breadth of Venetia?"
She did not know, for she had been a mere child in her Venetian home, without thought for the things of state which few Venetian women dreamed of discussing—still less of influencing. But now, that she was left alone for a few days, she let her thought dwell upon the question. Was life more strenuous in Venice, or better ordered? As she recalled the ways of her father, the Senator Marco Cornaro, and of the other statesmen of his circle, she could not but recognize the fact that the nobles of Venice made the work of the Government their first concern. She would ask her Secretary-Cousin, Aluisi Bernardini; she felt sure that his knowledge and judgment were to be trusted on Venetian matters, although Janus had already told her with unconcealed disdain that Bernardini's opinion was valueless on Cyprian questions, which were new to him—and far too complicated.
It was not until recently that some dim perception of this complexity had begun to dawn upon her, athwart the sunshine of her life as bride and queen. When she had first landed on this fabled island she had been too much under the influence of the glamour with which her dreams had invested Cyprus during the years of her betrothal for any serious study of conditions, or questions of right and wrong. She had been taught that kings rule by Divine Right, and no question of succession troubled her confidence of the people's choice of Janus as their sovereign. For her there were no disputes to consider, for the troubled state of Cyprus, but too well known in the Council Chambers of the Republic, had never been revealed to her. Janus was the only son of the late King, his father, tenderly beloved by him, supported by the Sultan who was Suzerain of Cyprus, and eagerly welcomed by the people of his realm. These were truths it had been considered wise for her to know, and they had been duly declared to her by her monitors of Venice.
But there were others—conflicting truths—among them the facts of his birth and of his contest with Carlotta—with which they had diplomatically left her to come in contact when there could be no withdrawal, but which time must unerringly reveal to her, and with no gentle hand.
The period of rejoicings for the Royal Marriage had been long and brilliant, as was the custom of the time, and the Coronation-fetes, the journeyings from city to city of the realm, that she might make acquaintance with her land and people, had brought them far into the early spring. But when the excitement of these days was over, she slowly grew aware of something sinister beneath the smiling surface, and the studied brilliancy of the atmosphere about her made her fear a conspiracy to keep her in childish ignorance of what was passing within the kingdom. But surely, if she were not equal to comprehending these things, she must bend herself to the task and try to grow!
It was of this that the young Queen was thinking as her husband rode forth with his suite of gay, young nobles to the chase, and she summoned Aluisi to her presence.
Already a blast of heat was rising over the land and the rasping cries of the cicala fretted their talk; and Caterina bade him follow her down into the voto—the vast, cool, underground chambers which, for the patricians of Cyprus, made life possible during this heated term, between the freshness of the morning and the comfort of the evening shadows.
The talk was long and serious.
"There was never a court without some discontent," he answered lightly to her questioning; "fair Madame, my cousin and Queen."
The mingling of protection and affection in his attitude towards her was so natural in the older man who had known her as the petted child and cousin of their house through the years of intimacy in Venice, that she had never allowed him to change it when they talked alone together, and it was only in the presence of the court that he taught himself to remember her queenly estate.
"Nay, Aluisi," she answered, earnestly, "thou art in league with the King—it was his very answer."
"It is but truth, in league with truth, most gracious Majesty," he retorted playfully. "Nay—but no league at all; only two liege men speaking truth; therefore the oneness of speech."
He had employed the stilted fooling of the period to cover his confusion and to gain time; for the matter was of moment and it had taken him unaware—he did not know how to answer her.
"Nay, nay, Aluisi—I am distressed; there is some great trouble; I command thy knowledge."
He had never heard her use the word before, and it became her well.
"Fair cousin, it is not new," he answered deferentially, but pausing to choose his words, for it was no time to fill her soul with alarms. "It is, I hear them say, some question of a mutiny in Cerines."
"It will mean an uprising?—danger for the King?"
"Nay, have no fear; it was quelled at once."
"So soon as discovery of the plot was made—before any steps had been taken to carry out their plans."
"How quelled?" she asked again, dissatisfied.
"The manner of it was not reported to me," he answered truthfully enough; "I knew not that the question would be put to me," he added with an attempt to turn easily from a subject on which he dared not speak freely to matter more nearly touching his office—of her commands for Venice for the galley that was to sail on the morrow. But meanwhile the vision of horror rose before him of that which he had seen with his own eyes; and lest, watching him so closely she should learn too much, he dropped his gaze, feigning to seek for some items on the tablet he held in his hand. How should he tell her the story of this plot to influence an uprising, to wrest the stronghold of Cerines for Carlotta, the rival claimant and heir? How explain this conspiracy against her husband when she probably knew nothing of what lay beneath it? How could he speak of the staunch loyalty to Carlotta of the leader of this conspiracy, of whom the disaffected were making a hero, and who had preferred any fate to the necessity of swearing fealty to Janus! He had shuddered at the barbarism which could decree such a fate for the conspirators; nor could he forget the horror of those bodies cut in bits, and swung on high, in the four quarters of the town—a ghastly warning for all men to see—as they walked to and fro in the marvellous great city of Nikosia—the city of luxury and of churches.
But if the treatment of traitors in Venice was scarcely less barbarous, yet the State seemed to each son of the Republic a more awe-inspiring and less personal entity than a kingly head of any other government, justifying severer punishment when betrayed; Venetians had been brought up to feel that a traitor could ask for no milder fate than to swing high upon the Piazzetta between the columns—those who thought otherwise might avoid looking up as they passed.
He would not start her questions when it was not for him to answer them. He caught helplessly at some court trifles, trying to evade her mood; but she silenced him with an impatient exclamation.
When he raised his eyes he found her still watching him, with a pathetic, questioning look.
"They keep things from me, as if I were a child!" she cried indignantly. "Can I be a friend to our people if I do not understand them? There are many things that I would know—the fiefs—the ancient nobles—Carlotta. They told me little in Venice of the things I need to know."
"What things?" the Chamberlain asked helplessly.
She looked at him searchingly. "To whom shall I go if not to thee, Aluisi? Art thou not enough my friend to help me?"
"Messer Andrea, our cousin, being high in favor with his Majesty, hath a more intimate knowledge of Cyprian matters—I being new in the land—why not appeal to him? Was it not by him that our sweet Lady came hither?"
She thought of the King's favorite, her Uncle Andrea Cornaro, as Bernardini spoke—debonair, charming—yet with a power of scorn and haughtiness beneath his facile exterior which won him the hatred of those who were not his friends. He had not found time for any serious talk with his niece, who had already appealed to him; indeed he had no time for anything but the brilliant surface life of the court, where he was a ruling spirit. After his own fashion he had been more than kind and generous to Caterina, showering her with princely gifts, eager that his niece should keep such estate as befitted the bride of Janus, and proud of his own part in securing so great an honor for the Casa Cornaro.
But among the ancient nobles of Cyprus, there were some who resented the knowledge of their King's great indebtedness to this Venetian nobleman.
The cousins Cornaro and Bernardini were of the same generation, and no less anxious for the honor of their house, but they represented opposite poles of Venetian character; Bernardini's gravity and dignity of demeanor concealed a depth of tenderness and consideration which he rarely confessed, yet, a true Venetian statesman, he could observe in silence, nor use his knowledge until it might be of some avail. The King disliked him, fearing his silent judgment, and was already considering how he might get him out of the Queen's household without offense to Venice, whose favor was important for him. Of the Cornaro, although he owed him much, he was less in fear; for Andrea Cornaro was one whom he might meet with his own weapons. The bearing and deference of Bernardini were unimpeachable, but Janus was impatient of his impenetrable reserve.
Caterina laid her hand affectionately on her cousin's arm, in response to his question. "Aluisi," she said gravely, "my Uncle Andrea hath been more than kind—as to a child who asketh only baubles: but, truly, he will not see that one may not rest content to be always a child: he thinketh, perchance, that for women there is no duty but to move regally in the midst of a splendor where he would verily pour out his fortune. A question fretteth his mood, which persistence maketh not more serious. But in a kingdom where discontent hath a share, one must study the heart of the people and win it, if one may. And this is my way to help my husband. The look of the peasants maketh me weary—as if the sunshine of their beautiful land were not for them. I miss the happy faces of our people of Venice!"
"It is a queen-like task," he answered her, a little wondering at her gravity and purpose. "Meanwhile I will talk with the King's Chamberlain about the fiefs and about the old nobility," he continued, eagerly seizing the least tangled thread to draw this uncomfortable conversation to a close; "would not the Lady Margherita de Iblin know far better than I? Shall I ask my mother to send her hither?"
The Lady Margherita—the one of all her Cyprian maids of honor who had most warmly won her friendship—there was no older nor more noble family in the island than the De Iblin; why had she not thought of her before!
"Aye, bid her come hither," she answered, well-pleased; "we will rest together in the heat of the day and she shall tell me many things of Cyprus."
But the Chamberlain felt some uneasiness as he went in search of the Cyprian lady who was to be the Queen's companion in more than one long, frank talk. If she were to presume too much upon Caterina's knowledge and speak too freely, what might happen when the King returned? Might he not vent his displeasure on Aluisi himself? And if he were to be dismissed to Venice, who would watch for her as he could do—protect and help her?
But it was true that she ought not to be kept in ignorance of Cyprian affairs, and she herself had made the demand.