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And the secret lay so near--scarcely eluding him!
It was no mere empty jealousy, nor trivial wish for fame, nor greed of recompense--of which he had enough--that forced the veins out on the strong forehead of this master-worker, as he struggled with this question of surrendering all for his daughter's peace. It was the art in which his ancestors had taken the lead from the earliest industrial triumphs of the Republic--an art in which Venice stood first--and in his simple belief it was not less to their glory than the work of a t.i.tian or a Sansovino. In this field he wrought whole-hearted, with the pa.s.sion of an artist who has achieved, and his place and part in the Republic, as in life, was bounded for him by his art. "To stand with folded hands--always, hereafter, to be unnecessary to Venice!"
How should one who had not been born in Venice ever guess the strange fascination of that magic city for her sons, or dream with what a pa.s.sion the blood of generations of Venetian ancestry surged in one's veins, compelling patriotism, so that it was not possible to do aught with one's gifts and life that did not enhance the greatness of so fair a kingdom! It was the wonderful secret of the empire of Venice that here the pride of self was counted only as a factor in the superior pride of her dominion.
Marina had been proud of his cabinet, and he took the little antique lamp she used to hold for him and unlocked the door with a tremulous hand, standing unsteadily before it and trying to hearten himself, as he ruthlessly flashed the light so that each fantastic bit came out in perfect beauty, glowing with the wonderful coloring of transparent gems.
But suddenly those fearful words of Piero's played riot among them, obliterating every trace of beauty, every claim of Venice, every question as to his own judgment or Marina's reasoning--even the ignominy of the secret flight. "_Thy daughter dying_!"
The letters blazed like stars, gleaming among his papers--glittering around the chair where Marina used to sit, climbing up into the air, closing nearer to him--wavering, writhing lines of living fire, tracing those awful words he could not forget----
"My G.o.d!" he cried, "is not Marina more than all!" There was no longer anything in life that he willed to do but to win peace for her, according to her whim.
"Stino!" he shrieked, with a voice louder than the clang of the rude iron bell whose rope had broken in his impetuous hand.
"Light me a fire in the brazier, and burn me this rubbish!" he commanded of the foreman who entered, aghast at the imperious summons, and yet more amazed at the destruction of those precious pages over which his master had spent days of brooding; but he ventured no protest.
"And here," said Girolamo, with a look of relief, as the last paper shrivelled and curled into smoke, "are the keys of these cabinets--thou knowest their contents, and that they are precious. And here shalt thou remain, as master, until my return--keeping all in order, as thou knowest how, and loyally serving the interest of the stabilimento. All moneys which I may send for thou shalt instantly remit by trusty messenger."
"How long doth the Master remain away?"
"So long as it may please the Lady Marina, who hath need of change. And if I return not," Girolamo resumed, after a moment's pause which gave solemnity to his words, "my will shall be found filed with the Avvogadori del Commun; and thou, Stino, shalt answer to the summons they will send thee--if I come no more."
"Master!" cried the faithful Stino, greatly troubled, for these preparations filled him with dread, and were strange indeed for so old a man who had never yet left Venice for a night. "Life is other than we know it away from Venice; and the heart of us goes mourning for the sight and sound of the sea and the color of our skies!"
"Nay, Stino, I have said it," his master answered, unmoved by his imploring eyes.
"When goest thou--that all may be ready?"
"Now; ere the dawn!" Girolamo cried with sudden resolution. "I would say my Ave Maria in the chapel of the Lady Marina. Rouse the gondolier, and lift the curtain that I may see how soon the day cometh."
"Master, dear Master," said Stino tenderly, as he drew the heavy draperies aside. "Already the sun is high, and the household hath been, these many hours, awake."
"So!" Girolamo answered with deep gravity, for the battle had been longer than he had dreamed, yet with his habitual control. "I knew not the time--my thoughts held me. Stino, if I return not, may the saints bless thee for all thou hast been to me since the Lady Marina hath dwelt in the palazzo Giustiniani. And in my will thou art not forgotten."
As Girolamo issued from his own portal, closely followed by Stino and the other superintendents of the great stabilimento who were filled with foreboding at this sudden and surprising decision of their good master, several gondolas wearing the colors of the Giustiniani floated into the waterway from the broad lagoon; and with them, like a flock of sea-birds in their habits of gray and their cowls of white, came the sisters of San Donato, returning from that early chanted Ma.s.s at the palazzo Giustiniani which had been a dream of the Lady Marina's happier days.
The young Senator had urged his boatmen to feverish speed, and his own gondola was far in advance of the train. He bounded from his bark the moment it neared the steps, and, rushing blindly toward the dwelling, encountered his father-in-law on the threshold.
"She is here--Marina?" he questioned, half crazed with grief; and, forgetful of the usual courtesies, would have pushed him aside to enter.
"I have come with her maidens and her child to take her home. Let me go to her!"
And, as Girolamo stood, dumb and dazed, "I beseech thee--conceal her not!"
Looking into each other's faces for one anguished moment, they knew, without need of further speech, that she had gone from them both.
Girolamo gave a great and bitter cry, "My son!" folding his arms about the younger man in measureless grief and compa.s.sion.
And when they could trust their footsteps they went desolately into the house together.
"Nay," Girolamo had answered to every argument. "It is for thee to remain in Venice with her child, that the Signoria be not wroth with the Ca' Giustiniani, and for me to seek and care for her--mayhap, if heaven be merciful, to bring her to thee again! She cannot be far to seek."
"In Padua!" cried Marcantonio, with sudden conviction. "They will sleep in Padua to-night. It _was_ the voice of the Lady Beata!"
"Art thou sure, Marina?"
"Ay, Piero, though it were death to me; and death were sweeter----"
Her hair lay like a wreath of snow across her forehead, from stress of the night's vigil, her lip trembled like a grieved child's, but in her exquisite face there was the grace of a spirit strong and tender.
He helped her silently into the gondola and steered it carefully between the pali which rose like a scattered sheaf, glowing with the colors of the Giustiniani, in the water before her palace. And thus, in the early dawn--unattended, with the sadness of death in her pallid face--the lady of the Giustiniani floated away from her beautiful home--away from happiness and love--into a future cheerless and dim as the dawn lights that were faintly tinging the sea. For the day was breaking, full of gloom, under a sky of clouds, and the wind blew chill from across the Lido.
She sat with her gray mantle shrouding her face, and neither of them spoke, while the gondola, under Piero's deft guidance, quickly gained the steps of the Piazzetta and pa.s.sed on to San Giorgio. Then she touched his arm entreatingly.
"Oh, let us wait one moment before we lose sight of the palazzo! Madre Beatissima, have them in thy keeping!"
She stretched out her hands unconsciously, with a gesture of pet.i.tion, and her mantle slipped back, exposing her pallid, pain-stricken face and her whitened tresses.
Piero was startled at the havoc the night had made, for he had seen her only the day before, in answer to her summons, when she had been far more like herself.
"Santa Maria!" he exclaimed, crossing himself, and awkward under the unaccustomed sense of an overwhelming compa.s.sion. "The Holy Mother must shrive me for breaking my vow, for if San Marco and San Teodoro would give me a place between them before the matins ring again--mistaking me for a traitor--I cannot take thee from Venice. We will return," and already the gondola was yielding to his stroke. "Let Marcantonio bring thee himself to Rome."
"Piero, thou hast sworn to me! Thou shalt abide by thy promise!" she cried, seizing the oar in her trembling hand.
"Ay, Marina, I have sworn to thee," he answered, with slow pauses, "and by our Holy Mother of San Giorgio, I will serve thee like a saint in heaven. Yet I would thou wert in thy home again--already thou hast broken thy heart for love of it."
The gondolas of the people were gathering about the steps of the palaces, bringing their burdens for the day's ongoings in those luxurious homes; the bells were calling to early Ma.s.s; the stir of life was beginning in the city; soon, in her own palace, her little one would wake, and Marco--She stood with straining eyes, yearning for the chance of a face in her palace window--the bare last chance of another sight of his dear face. She did not know that Piero was watching her--compa.s.sionate and comprehending--while she was struggling to outlive the agony for the very love's sake which made it so keen.
It was the only sweetness left in life for her, that this cruel parting was yet for Marco's sake; that she might still plead with the Holy Father for this desperate need of which Marco seemed unconscious--since, in a vision never to be forgotten, the blessed Madre of San Donato had confided this mission to her. She could bear everything to win such a blessing for her beloved ones, only she must reach Rome--surely the Madre Beatissima would let her live to reach the Holy City!
The tide was br.i.m.m.i.n.g the ca.n.a.ls, rising over the water steps; the growing light gleamed coldly on the polished marbles of her palace, burnishing the rich gold fretwork of frieze and tracery--but not any face of any dear one responded to her hungry longing, watching for her in the deep s.p.a.ces of the windows, in token of the love from which she was fleeing.
This also--this last longing--she must surrender!
Her white face grew brave again; she sat down and drew her veil--the ample _fazzuolo_ of the Muranese--more closely about her. "I am ready,"
she said, and turned her face resolutely forward.
As they rounded San Giorgio, turning into the broad Giudecca, a shoal of little boats came over the water from Murano.
"They are the nuns of San Donato!" she said in amazement, and drawing her veil closer. "Piero, canst thou not ask their whither?"
It was so strange, on this morning of all others, to see them turn in the direction of Ca' Giustiniani; there came a vision of her chapel, which her maidens were decking--of the dear altar, at which she should kneel no more--and she held her breath to hear the answer.