HE was not a descendant of all the Doges, only of one, but it pleased Miss Goodwin to speak of the boy as if he were directly related to each illustrious head of the Venetian republic. Miss Goodwin also spoke of him as il mio amico; his family and the neighbors spoke of him as Marcantonio.
Not far from where the bridge of the Rialto crosses the Grand Canal stands a magnificent palace, marked with two stars before its name in the strangers’ guidebook. This was the former home of the particular Doge from whom Marcantonio had descended. Marcantonio himself lived in a narrow alley behind the garden of a house in which Miss Goodwin, the American signorina, was comfortably established for along Italian summer.
Miss Goodwin sat in her room one May afternoon, the faded green shutters tightly closed. According to the custom of the country, the woman behind the shutters should have been taking an afterdinner nap, but she never slept in the daytime, not even in Italy. Moreover, ever since the English lady had publicly declared at the table that, to her ears, the music of a mandolin was much like the music of a mosquito, Miss Goodwin had felt obliged to practice when the English lady was out. She was out now ; gone, with paint-box and sketch-block, in search of a certain pink door having an old stone head watching over it, and a mass of green showing from a concealed garden. Herr Lindemann, the German artist, had mentioned the pink door at dinner as a simple and suitable subject for a water - color. Herr Lindemann himself was busy before his easel in a shady corner, close by the water’s edge, on the other side of the canal. Miss Goodwin had noticed him only a few moments before, as she leaned out of her high window. She had noticed likewise a small boy standing on tiptoe and stretching his neck in a dangerous manner, that he might get a nearer view of the picture growing on the canvas. The picture represented a wall rising from the water, and hung with a honeysuckle vine in bloom. Behind the wall were roof-tops with quaint chimneys, and behind the roof-tops was a church tower, about which birds were flying. When the light was favorable there were always artists sitting in the corner, under the shade of the bridge, and it was curious to see what different pictures these artists made. Some put in a great many birds, others only two or three. Very often the birds looked exactly as if they were flying; very often, also, they looked like nothing but little black specks on the canvas.
Miss Goodwin, in her pleasantly darkened room, sat steadily practicing the Baby Polka. Hitherto she had been much encouraged by the singing of the gondoliers below her window,— a gentle, subdued singing, politely adapted to the time in which the signorina was able to perform ; but to-day, when the polka was going with such delightful smoothness that there would have been no need of restraining one’s singing from motives of good manners, there was no one to sing. With five exceptions, all Venice seemed to have fallen asleep. The five exceptions were the German artist and the boy tiptoeing about him, the English lady painting the pink door, the American signorina practicing the Baby Polka, and the tortoise-shell cat on her way to visit the American signorina, it being the tortoise-shell cat’s habit to pay this visit precisely at three every afternoon,
It was now two minutes before three. Herr Lindemann had just put the birds into the picture, and the birds looked, every one of them, as if they were merrily whirling around the tower, when there came the sound of a splash followed by a shriek. Miss Goodwin threw open the blinds. She saw a sailor plunging into the canal on one side, and Herr Lindemann pulling the small boy out on the other. She saw a boat dart forth from under a bridge, and a policeman, with a sleepy frown, lazily shaking a little figure, as it stood dripping on the pavement. She saw the figure, made slightly less dripping by the shaking, disappear in the nearest doorway. All these things happened in the first minute ; in the second, Herr Lindemann was quietly adding a deeper bloom to the honeysuckle vine of his picture, the boat and the policeman had vanished, and the tortoise-shell cat came creeping composedly along the ledge that ran beneath the roof.
舠 It must be a very disagreeable feeling to fall into the water,” said Miss Goodwin to her visitor, “ especially if one is not able to swim.”
The tortoise-shell cat blinked assentingly, and the two sat in silence considering the subject, until the woman spoke again.
“ If you will excuse me,” she said, 舠 I should like to go over to the Lido.”
“ Certainly, by all means,” answered the tortoise-shell cat; " don’t let me detain you,” — or at least Miss Goodwin understood this to be the answer.
The baby Angelica, crowing and cooing in her father’s arms, headed the procession. If the other members of the family had not been so old, they would have crowed also. They felt like crowing. Under the circumstances they were obliged to content themselves with cooing gently in soft Italian. Marcantonio, made wise by the accident of the preceding day, was on the way to his first swimming lesson. He intended to live in the canal during the rest of the summer, coming out occasionally to eat and sleep, and to watch the artists painting the birds.
The family procession grew larger as it approached the bridge. Angelica’s crowing and cooing attracted as much attention as if she had been a man with a drum. Angelica was known in the neighborhood as a very winsome baby.
In the corner where the German artist had sat the afternoon before, broad steps led down to the water. It being high tide, only three of these were now visible. Upon the upper ones the family seated itself: the old grandmother with the contented eyes ; the mother with Angelica ; the two aunts, each wearing a cinnamon-colored shawl over her head ; and the four little sisters, holding one another by the hand. On the lower step stood the boy with his father. The former had a rope about his waist, and a board, which the father had taken from a boat, floated near by in the water. Overhead the sky was aglow with rosecolor.
But what had happened to Marcantonio ? He had never had such a dreadful feeling before in all his life. He wished the lady sitting in the balcony window of the house opposite would go away. He wished the women would not linger as they crossed the bridge. He wished the family were at home in the alley. He wished the rose-colored sky would suddenly grow black, and the rain come down in torrents. A gentleman joined the lady at the balcony window. It was the German artist, who could make such beautiful birds. The women lingering on the bridge increased in number. The sky changed to a deeper rose.
“ Now, my little son,” said the father encouragingly, and Marcantonio found himself struggling in the water.
He had been practicing swimming on dry land since early that morning. He knew just what to do with his arms and legs, how to hold his head, and how to breathe ; but swimming on dry land was a very different thing from this. How was it possible to throw out one’s arms when one was clinging to a board, and how was it possible to let go the board when there was nothing certain under one’s feet?
“ Never mind,” said the father, as the boy stood again on the lower step, “ the next time we shall do better.舡 But matters were not improved at the second trial, and at the third tears and despair had grown threefold in quantity, and hope was threefold less.
The father wrapped a cloak around the boy, and the procession turned homeward, the four little sisters still holding one another by the hand, and the old grandmother cheerfully repeating, " Things might be worse, — things might be much worse.” But all the rose had faded from the sky.
Marcantonio could by no means agree with his grandmother in thinking things might be worse. Throughout the next day he sat mournfully stringing black beads, and each bead seemed to him like a gloomy shape of bitter disappointment. Late in the afternoon the German artist appeared in search of the grandmother. He wanted her to come to his studio on the following morning, and he particularly wished her to make no changes in her faded clothing.
The grandmother laughed, and said she knew enough to come as old and faded as possible. The signor need have no fear.
“ Why does the gentleman wish thee to come old and faded, grandmother dearest?” asked Marcantonio.
“ They say age makes things more beautiful, age softens the colors.”
“Then it is beautiful to be old, grandmother mine ? " observed the boy thoughtfully.
“That depends on many things,” returned the woman. “ If one is made of lace, or china, or rich cloth, or carved wood, then it is very beautiful.”
At this point in the conversation Miss Goodwin wandered into the alley. She was in search of a short way home, and as she was constantly in search of short ways of reaching places, she was constantly going astray. She too stopped before Marcantonio’s doorway.
“ It is very warm,” she said to the grandmother. “ Do you think it will grow much warmer ? Is not this the child who is learning to swim ? ”
The mother came out with Angelica, and a chair for the signorina. The two aunts and the four little sisters, joining the group, settled themselves in a picturesque family circle.
“ If I were President of the United States,” said Miss Goodwin, with a very friendly smile, “ I should make a law compelling every one to learn to swim, or else to be beheaded ; but I would give the citizens plenty of time in which to learn. The older ones should be sent to Venice, because it is easy to swim in the Adriatic, there is so much salt in the sea, and there is also no danger of a chill, which is a great advantage, especially if one is troubled with rheumatism. Things ought to be made easy for old people. But one is never too old to learn. When I saw this boy fall into the water, two days ago,” and Miss Goodwin placed her hand on Marcantonio’s shoulder, 舠 I thought, ' What is to prevent my falling in twenty times daily, this being a place where a near-sighted person is always in danger ? ’ I shall go to the Lido every afternoon now for a swimming lesson ; I shall learn to swim, — I have made up my mind to learn.”
“ I had made up my mind to dive from the top of the bridge last evening,” remarked the boy, somewhat cheered by the conversation. “ Does the signorina expect to be able to do that? ”
Miss Goodwin said she had not thought of it, but that it would certainly be a fine thing to do. Then she asked what the baby’s name was, and wrote her own on the margin of a newspaper : “ Mary Elizabeth Goodwin, Hartford, Connecticut, U. S. A.”
The grandmother inquired if Hartford, Connecticut, U. S. A., were in New York, and observed that it must be a very delightful place, since it was the home of the charming signorina. The charming signorina herself, who knew her Venetian history as thoroughly as that of the Pilgrim Fathers, found an exciting possibility in the second half of the baby’s name.
“ There was formerly a famous Doge,” she began.
“And this boy is his descendant,” continued the grandmother. “ We are all his descendants ; we are an old and faded remnant of a once distinguished family.”
When Miss Goodwin went out of the alley, Marcantonio put down his string of black beads, and began stringing blue ones. After a time he put these down also, and walked gravely to the bridge under the signorina’s window. The birds were flying around the tower, and the sky was rose-color again.
“ Wings in the air,” said the child, “ are something like arms in the water. I must learn to use my wings.”
“What have you been doing all day ? ” asked the English lady at supper. The English lady asked this question every evening. Sometimes Miss Goodwin said she had been writing letters, sometimes reading Ruskin, sometimes sitting in St. Mark’s, sometimes feeding the pigeons on the Piazza. She had not mentioned the swimming lessons. To-night, however, she had a new answer ready. “ I have been discovering a descendant of the Doges,” she said, “ with a large family of female relatives;” to which the English lady replied that she never did see anything like Americans for poking about by themselves and finding out things.
One morning, the Descendant, looking over the high wall of the garden, saw the American signorina sitting under a tree, with a book in her hand and the tortoise-shell cat in her lap. The book was an Italian dictionary, out of which the lady had just learned two words, “thunderstorm” and “confidential.” She was repeating these words to herself, when the cat jumped from her lap, and climbed up to the boy, who put his arm about her.
“ That is a very nice cat,” said Miss Goodwin.
“ Yes,” answered the Descendant, “ she is a nice cat ; she is my cat.”
“ Your cat is my friend. She comes to me every afternoon ; she comes over the roofs and in through the window. She never stays away on account of the weather ; yesterday, she came in the midst of a great thunderstorm.”
“ I am glad the signorina likes my cat. Is the window the upper one, on the canal side ? ”
“ Yes,. ’ replied Miss Goodwin ; “ it is the window with the fine view. I spend a good deal of time there.”
“ So much the better,” thought the boy. “ Some day, when she is looking out, she will hear a splash below. At first she will see nothing; then she will see my head come up from the water, and she will hear me calling, ‘ Buon giorno, signorina! ’ and she will exclaim, ‘ Saints of Paradise ! why, it is little Marcantonio ! How well he has learned to swim! ’ ”
“ I talk to your cat,” said Miss Goodwin, intent upon introducing her second new word into the conversation. “ I ask her advice, I tell her my secrets, I play to her on my mandolin. She is my very good friend ; she is the only friend I have in Italy, — I mean the only confidential friend. There is nothing so beautiful as confidential friendship.”
Marcantonio let himself down into the garden. “ Is confidential friendship like the other things ? Is it better old ? ”
“ What other things ? ”
舠 Lace.” said the boy, — " lace, and china, and cloth, and carved wood ; and does the signorina think that my dear grandmother is more beautiful than Angelica, and that a poor family in an alley is better than a rich family in a palace ? But possibly the signorina is not an artist, and does not know about it. Artists like things old and faded ; the German signor was delighted when he found my grandmother.”
“Yes, I know about it,” said Miss Goodwin, “ only it is not easy to explain,” and she looked at the tortoiseshell eat on the wall, as if to ask, “ In case you had to explain this, how should you begin ? ”
The tortoise-shell cat looked back with a warning expression, which said plainly, " I should not begin.”
舠 I must tell you first,” continued the lady, not heeding the warning, “ why it is beautiful to be young. If one is made of lace, or china, or cloth, or carved wood, it is beautiful to be young because one has no weak places, no stains, and no scars ; and if one is a person, it is beautiful to be young for somewhat the same reasons. The baby Angelica resembles the early morning, when nothing has yet happened, but all manner of wonderful things are going to happen. Some people like the early morning better than the evening ; that is a matter of taste. I think perhaps one has to he an artist to like the evening best. To be an artist does not always mean that one is able to paint pictures or write poems. It means a certain way of seeing and feeling. A great many people are able to see and feel in this way who could never paint a picture nor write a poem ; and the reason that artists, and people with the eyes and feelings of artists, like old things best is because the beauty of old things is so much rarer and finer than the beauty of young things. One can be young once only, but that once is certain, whereas old age is not certain at all. Many a piece of lace, or china, or cloth, or wood has been destroyed before it had time to grow old. When things are allowed to live through a great many years, they often become of priceless value. This is partly on account of soft changes which creep into their coloring, partly because of their rareness, partly because of their story. There is no story in the morning or in very young things; instead of a story there is the promise of one.”
Miss Goodwin paused to collect her thoughts; on the wall the tortoise-shell cat nodded approvingly.
“ It is much more difficult for a person to fade well than for a thing,” the lady began again. “We know at once if a person has faded well by the expression of the eyes and the sound of the voice. In order for a person to fade well, the person must try to have good thoughts. I am fading now ; therefore I have to be very careful about my thoughts. Of course it is better if one has always been careful.”
Miss Goodwin arose and went towards the house. At the doorway she turned back, and said to the boy, who had followed her: “ I forgot to tell you about friendships and families. Friendships are best old ; it does not so much matter about families, and whether it is worth more to be a Doge in a palace or a descendant in an alley depends entirely upon the Doge and upon the descendant.”
The English lady, the American signorina, and the German artist were on their way to a serenata, —a serenata being on the present occasion a serenade given by Venice herself to herself, under the windows of her own palaces.
It was very quiet passing through the narrow canals, walled in by the tall, still houses, and watched over by silent stars, until the last water-street ended suddenly before the splendors of a floating Eastern garden, which had been caused to spring up and blossom for this summer festa. In the garden stood a palm-tree, whose leaves were like leaves of silver, and all about rose smaller trees covered with brilliant fruit and snow-white flowers. The gondola had come into the Grand Canal, where close together, with the garden of light in the midst, hundreds upon hundreds of other gondolas had assembled, each boat touching its neighbor, and all the high iron prows turned in the same direction. The boats were waiting to drift with the tide and the music through the length of the broad river, until the late hours of the night themselves should drift into morning.
The prima donna, standing on the musicians’ barge, began her song, and slowly the gondola fleet floated towards the great black arch of the Rialto, and the bridge flashed into a glow of crimson, as if from very excitement; for how could the palm - tree pass under unharmed ? “How, indeed?” the people asked curiously.
The tree settled the question by gradually sinking into half its former size, and then rising again when safely beyond the bridge, quite like a tree in a fairy tale. Then, on the balconies of the nearest palace appeared dark-faced men in flowing robes and white turbans, royal guests from an Eastern court. In their honor the boats paused for a moment, the musicians played the Carnival of Venice, the prima donna sang her most warbling song, and the people cried, “ Bravo ! bravo ! bravissimo ! ”
Directly across the canal rose the palace of Marcantonio’s ancestor, upon which a golden light had been thrown, causing it to shine like a thing enchanted. At Miss Goodwin’s side the English lady was saying, “ Your interesting acquaintances are in the next boat.”
The Descendant and his family were arranged very much as they had been that night on the water-steps : in front, the boy and his father; behind, the grandmother with the contented eyes, the mother with Angelica, the two aunts still wearing cinnamon-colored shawls over their heads, and the four little sisters still holding one another by the hand. The Descendant and his family were all smiling. As Miss Goodwin smiled back, Marcantonio thought, from the look in her eyes, that she must be fading very well, and that she was a thousand times more beautiful in her white hat and dress than the prima donna with the roses in her hair; and he wondered if this charming American signorina were now able to do anything so difficult as diving from the top of the bridge.
“ To-morrow evening,” said the boy to himself, “ when I have done it, I shall ask her if I may become her confidential friend; and then she will play to me on her mandolin, and tell me the secrets she tells to the tortoise-shell cat.”
The concert drifted slowly away from the palace of Marcantonio’s ancestor. As it passed the Santa Maria della Salute, a white light covered the church like a bridal veil, and below, in the square, the old bell tower flushed crimson, exactly as the bridge of the Rialto had done two hours before. Again and again the prima donna sang her most warbling songs. Again and again the baby Angelica laughingly reached out her arms to the glittering palm-tree. Again and again the people shouted, “Bravo! bravo! bravissimo!” Then the white, white church and the red, red tower vanished, the garden of light became a garden of shadows, the gay lanterns on the ships grew dim, the boats parted company, and there was nothing more to be seen except the faint outlines of a city and a sky filled with twinkling stars.
Miss Goodwin awoke the next morning, as she generally did, to the confused sounds of strange cries and the treading of many feet on the bridge below. If she had listened, she would have noticed that the cries were louder and stranger than she had ever heard before, and the movement of feet was more hurried; but she neither listened nor opened the faded green shutters. It was better that she should keep them closed on this summer morning ; better, too, that for once she should pay no attention to the sounds without.
A little later she went down to the breakfast - room. As she entered, she heard the German artist exclaiming that he did not understand how people could be so imprudent, as to let a boatful of children go off by themselves; and the English lady, looking very pale, said she was of quite the same opinion. One of the maids stood by the table weeping bitterly.
“ What is the matter ? ” asked Miss Goodwill.
“ Matter ! ” said the English lady. “ Where have you been ? What were you doing half an hour ago ? ”
Miss Goodwin replied that she was in her room ; that she did remember hearing a good deal of noise, but one always heard that in the morning; she had not even opened her shutters.
“I wish I had not,” said the English lady. “ It was terrible. I shall never forget it.”
Herr Lindemann had gone to the balcony, and was talking to some one below. “ Were you there, Valentino ? ” he asked.
“ Si, signor,” answered the man. “ I was the first to reach the boat. The children are all saved, but we almost lost little Angelica. We should have lost her without our brave Marcantonio. God be praised for the boy’s courage! It is a pretty story about his learning to swim. He wished to do something for the American signorina, in order to become her friend. He thought it would please her to see him dive from the top of the bridge. He felt obliged to tell me, because he feared that if I did not know his intention I might think he had fallen into the water again. The signor remembers how he fell in before,”
In the alley every one was weeping and smiling and embracing whoever came near, after a most unrestrained and unlimited fashion. Marcantonio himself was nowhere to be seen.
舠 There are times when it is not pleasant to have a fuss made over one,” said the English lady, who had been mildly participating in the alley’s demonstrations. “I give the child credit for a great deal of proper feeling. I am going down to the Piazza to buy him a present,” and she asked Herr Lindemann, upon whose judgment she was in the habit of relying, to accompany her.
Miss Goodwin, therefore, went home alone. As she passed the garden she heard a child sobbing. The Descendant was lying on the grass, his head resting against the tortoise-shell cat.
“ My dear little friend,” said Miss Goodwin, sitting down beside the boy.
The Descendant raised his head. " Is the signorina speaking to me or to my cat ? ”
“ I am speaking to you.”
“ I thank the signorina,” said the boy, whose eyes were shining. “ I was coming to ask this evening if I might be the signorina’s friend, but I was going to do something for her first. I did not cry when the boat was overturned. It was afterward, when I looked at Angelica, and remembered how near she came to being like one of those things that get lost, and never have any story.”
“One must cry some time,” remarked Miss Goodwin, who Was crying herself a little in a cheerful way, “and the best time is always afterward.”
She stroked the cat’s damp fur, saying that she felt very proud of her two Italian friends.
“ Confidential,” corrected Marcantonio.
“ Of my two confidential Italian friends,” repeated Miss Goodwin.
“ Will it grow old, does the signorina think ? ”
“ You mean our friendship? It is old already. Age in friendship does not always mean years.”
The Descendant laughed joyfully. The tortoise-shell cat jumped up from the grass and danced around with a spray of the honeysuckle vine. From the top of the wall a bird flew up to the tower. Under the cool arcades of the Piazza, the English lady, with the fresh color back in her checks, had just poured a cup of coffee for Herr Lindemann, and another for herself. Altogether it was a very happy day in Venice.
Harriet Lewis Bradley.