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BY HARRIET PRESCOTT SPOFFORD
WITH PICTURES BY W. M. BERGER
VENICE lay, a ring of jewels, white and low on the midnight blue of the water far away. They had driven through the astounding region of the Dolomites with their red porphyry crags and elemental suggestion; and a sudden relief in the wide low distances of the waters fell upon Francesca, as the train ran out on the long trestle.
Francesca had had a fear that she might feel the lures of the place, with all its shadowy poetry, the more because she did not wish to yield. But she had said she would see Venice as she had seen London or Munich. And she remembered now that once she had crossed Trinity Bay on as long and low a trestle as this, and had seen Galveston lying on the waters, a ring of jewels, too. She would have a season of quiet here, of course, resting from the fatigue felt in the stir of cities and in the shadow of the Alps and their fellowship of the gigantic forces of nature.
But when, from the steps of the station, Vittorio, Mrs. Daniel's gondolier, helped her aboard, with Miss Maria and her
Filomène, and threaded the noisy fleet, leaving the babble and outcry, and at last, rounding the curves of narrow strips of water black between walls like those of a cañon, glided out over the side of the planet, as it seemed, into a great cool space of sweet silence and semi-gloom and sense of solitude, then Francesca was not so sure of herself.
Only the warning cry of an unseen gondolier broke the stillness, or the voice of Vittorio, like the ring of a golden vase, repeating some name. And when he said Rezzonico her heart stood still for Browning dying there, and when he said Giustiniani it began to beat for Tristan and the great sea-measures forged there; and it was all dark and mystical with a weirdness of beauty before undreamed.
By and by they slipped into another side-canal, beneath high garden-walls, and stopped. Then an endless flight of stone stairs with the sound of lapping water below, before coming to a vast salon whose marble floors and gilded cornices, whose wax candles, and rugs and books and draperies told of new luxury imposed upon
Copyright, 1911, by THE CENTURY CO. All rights reserved.
the old. And when in her own room, another vast salon, she bade Filomène good night, after that pleasant person had tucked in the mosquito curtains, Francesca was aware that she had come into something entirely other than the every-day world, and hardly knew were she waking or sleeping, but thanked the fates, even if half-heartedly, that it was a world where she could have no more to fear from Arthur Gordon, and the gay sparkle of his love-making.
The bell of Santa Maria della Salute, answering the bell of San Giorgio Maggiore, that in turn answered the peal of belfries from islands out beyond and beyond again, hailed then by all the bells of Venice with sweet resonance and wild echoes, waked Francesca in the dawning, and, as on a tiptoe of expectation, she hurriedly opened her casement and looked out over the rose and gold that bathed the world of waters and its palaces, she felt as though it were impossible it could be she, the tired reviewer for "Books and Pens"; and she had a swift fancy that in this transformation-scene she was transformed herself, that she had dwelt here before, whether as fisher-girl or dogaressa. She twisted up her long dark hair with a contradicting sense of its being out of place, remembering the gold of the Venetian women, and went back to bed. After a while, coming from the state between sleeping and waking, she looked out again, and felt with a satisfied surprise the warm wealth of the glorious flood of white light enveloping tower and dome and the faded hues and lovely lines of palace-fronts, and shining back from the wide waters, as if she were something shut within a glowing crystal. And there were the boats coming up from the Dogana, piled high with fruit and branching boughs of flowers, and the brown sails, stealing round the Giudecca, with their orange suns and scarlet symbols, the whole outlook a blaze of light and color. Well, this was a region of dreams, she said, three thousand miles and more away from care. But when she had returned from Miss Maria's room, Luisa tapped and entered, her face blubbered with tears-the Padrona, as she explained by vigorous pantomime, having cuffed her. And with that Francesca felt somewhat restored to common day. "I suppose it is the inheritance of primitive things, primi
tive passions," she said afterward to Miss Maria. "The barbarous strain made the splendor richer, and survives when the splendor fades. If we slapped our maids at home!" Nothing could have made her feel farther from experience. Well, she was safe; she was free. She had left Arthur Gordon behind her.
Imagine then her condition when, on going to the later breakfast, the first of the guests she saw there was Arthur Gordon.
Certainly it was very unfortunate. Still, she would act as if nothing had happened. Indeed nothing had happened, save that she had determined to live unmarried, and Arthur Gordon had wished to change her determination. The worst of it was that she had been,-no, could have been—not exactly fond-but certainly interested; and although she did not choose to marry him herself, she would hardly have liked it had he married any one else. Another unpleasantness in the affair was that Miss Maria, who was giving her the delights of this trip, was Arthur Gordon's aunt. It would be sad to give her pain; and Francesca's heart was very tender toward poor little hunched and crooked Miss Maria.
The color sprang on the beautiful oval of Francesca's cheek; but she was as determined as when she left home. She had seen such misery in marriage, such tyranny, -her own father, her gentle sister who had died broken-hearted; she could not think of her now without tears. Alas, how much trouble she herself had known! She, the unhappy Francesca! No, she would not give way to an unworthy inclination; and, besides, she was not going to abandon her career. Perhaps as a critic she would not rival-let us say Tainebut she meant to do good work. Marriage would interfere with that. And then she loved her work; she loved her freedom. And, moreover, there was the stain! Oh, there were reasons enough for her not marrying. She must bear her father's name, with all the stain upon it, but she would never let that bring shame upon another.
"It is not," his Aunt Maria had said, "that she is averse. But there is her father-"
"Arthur Gordon, I don't believe this is Daniel's inquiry, as if he would shield or you!"
It was not fortunate, then, according to Francesca's view, some months afterward, that when she had become completely detached; that is, in truth, content to fancy that he cared for her under his anger, and intending to give him nothing in return, she should find Arthur Gordon, who had been going on to Athens determined to
had forgotten Francesca's delinquency.
She went out with Filomène, later that day, traversing narrow footpaths beside narrow canals, and over countless bridges as it seemed to her, to the Merceria for some slight shopping. She laughed to find herself then buying beads under the clocktower on the first day she was in this region of dead histories, and where the life and motion had in some way been unex
pected. And then Filomène, who had been there before, led her into St. Mark's. Awed by all the illuminating splendor, she stood breathless in the golden atmosphere. "It is a sort of sacred city in itself," said a voice beside her; and she recognized Gordon. "The city descended from on high, you know, whose light was like unto a stone most precious. We see what the apostle meant when he said the city was pure gold like unto clear glass. Well, you will have to come many days. And, sometime, go up on the outside gallery, for the bronze horses, you and Filomène;-the ancestor of a friend of mine was with Tosti when they first were brought away. That rather humanizes things." Something of all the golden radiance seemed to surround that bright head of his as he
They walked out finally to the edge of the Piazzetta, where Filomène hailed a gondola; and as they hung there a moment, in the bright gay scene, with the sun, the rollicking wind, the domes and towers, the moving, light-hearted people, their distant hum like silence singing to itself, the golden air, she seemed to be in a region where it was always morning, the summer morning of happy childhood, the day of bright enchantment.
It was a sort of magic still to Francesca, as she was rowed up the Grand Canal one
forenoon with Miss M having joined them bef off, that returned to he palaces, the story of V as all the way from t mona to the Loredar geous macaw hung or gondola of Don Carl red and yellow flag, uncrowned and discro Imani and the Vendra making the ancient n don told legends of lights burned to midd see old pageants wi gondolas trailing th blue and silver clot gold, their snow-wh the crimson and orang dard with the golden the swarms of banner like a fluttering cloud flies upon the water blaze of light and out at night, gliding back with Mrs. Daniel's f faint glow of the wa scure of the dark, the of nobles, Contarini lovely ladies with thei the tragic splendor, the a-vised Ten, all seeme night, the shifting ti
fancied that she saw a flotilla of the gay masquers with mandolin and song suddenly quenching their torches in the dark depths. And she felt that she was moving in a dream.
The dream was deeper still when on her balcony at midnight she heard faint and strange music from where some Greek warships reared their shadows on the shadow. She thought of the old halcyon's nest, while all the city seemed floating on the water. She had felt an exile and a wanderer in every other place; and she wondered all at once over the sense that here she was perfectly at home. Perfectly at home, yet at home in a strange country; one whose elusive charm seemed but the atmosphere of another star. Perhaps "The Golden Book of Venice" had shed the charm over her long ago, making it doubly familiar.
Although Mr. Gordon gave no special evidence of being more aware of Francesca's existence than of another's, yet far in her subconsciousness she began to understand that it would not be Venice without him. If at the Accademia she sat before the adorable Bellinis, she knew that in another room he was sketching Basaiti's little angel whose face was full of love as he watched the beautiful dead Venetian fisher-boy to whom the painter's power had given the majesty of young divinity. Strolling one afternoon through the grassy paths at Torcello, having studied the mo
saics of the old ruins, he happened to leave the others and walk along with her. "These are the mountains on which Titian used to gaze," he said. "No wonder he became the master of all color, with these shifting tints teaching him their secrets from dawn till dark, every hour drowned in sheets of melting hues in deep water and shoal. Think of a whole city illuminated with such work!"
"I think with shame that I once wrote a monograph on Venice," she said. "The temerity of it!"
"You know better now. No, it is not to be told about. Venice is a state of being."
"And the Venetian could do nothing else but make it beautiful, I suppose," she said. "He must put it in accord with the beauty about it."
"The beauty of wilds and waters. thought you would feel it." The dark eyes filled impulsively. She hoped he did. not see. "You must go to the Frari tomorrow," he added quickly. "And when you have stood near the ashes in which the master's great flame is quenched, and have had all the emotions," with a gleam of the old spirit, "then you will let me take you into the sacristy for the exquisite appeal of two of the neglected Tiepolos there?"
To this dignified tenor all his persiflage had come. And although he failed to ap