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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMarietta: A Maid Of Venice - Chapter 13
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Marietta: A Maid Of Venice - Chapter 13 Post by :AndyW Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2012 Read :1118

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Marietta: A Maid Of Venice - Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII

Zorzi swung himself along the dark corridor on his crutches after Pasquale, who opened the outer door with his usual deliberation. A little man stood outside in grey hose and a servant's dark coat, gathered in at the waist by a leathern belt. He was clean shaven and his hair was cropped close to his head, which was bare, for he held his black hat in his hand. Zorzi did not like his face. He waited for Zorzi to speak first.

"Have you a message for me?" asked the Dalmatian. "I am Zorzi."

"That is the name, sir," answered the man respectfully. "My master begs the honour and pleasure of your company this evening, as usual."

"Where?" asked Zorzi.

"My master said that you would know the place, sir, having been there before."

"What is your master's name?"

"The Angel," answered the man promptly, keeping his eyes on Zorzi's face.

The latter nodded, and the servant at once made an awkward obeisance preparatory to going away.

"Tell your master," said Zorzi, "that I have hurt my foot and am walking on crutches, so that I cannot come this evening, but that I thank him for his invitation, and send greeting to him and to the other guests."

The man repeated some of the words in a tone hardly audible, evidently committing the message to memory.

"Signor Zorzi--hurt his foot--crutches--thanks--greeting," he mumbled. "Yes, sir," he added in his ordinary voice, "I will say all that. Your servant, sir."

With another awkward bow, he turned away to the right and walked very quickly along the footway. He had left his boat at the entrance to the canal, not knowing exactly where the glass-house was. Zorzi looked after him a moment, then turned himself on his sound foot and set his crutches before him to go in. Pasquale was there, and must have heard what had passed. He shut the door and followed Zorzi back a little way.

"It is no concern of mine," he said roughly. "You may amuse yourself as you please, for you are young, and your host may be the Archangel Michael himself, or the holy Saint Mark, and the house to which you are bidden may be a paradise full of other angels! But I would as soon sit down before the grating and look at the hooded brother, while the executioner slipped the noose over my head to strangle me, as to go to any place on a bidding delivered by a fellow with such a jail-bird's head. It is as round as a bullet and as yellow as cheese. He has eyes like a turtle's and teeth like those of a young shark."

"I am quite of your opinion," said Zorzi, halting at the entrance to the garden.

"Then why did you not kick him into the canal?" inquired the porter, with admirable logic.

"Do I look as if I could kick anything?" asked Zorzi, laughing and glancing at his lame foot.

"And where should I have been?" inquired Pasquale indignantly. "Asleep, perhaps? If you had said 'kick,' I would have kicked. Perhaps I am a statue!"

Zorzi pointed out that it was not usual to answer invitations in that way, even when declining them.

"And who knows what sort of invitation it was?" retorted the old porter discontentedly. "Since when have you friends in Venice who bid you come to their houses at night, like a thief? Honest men, who are friends, say 'Come and eat with me at noon, for to-day we have this, or this'--say, a roast sucking pig, or tripe with garlic. And perhaps you go; and when you have eaten and drunk and it is the cool of the afternoon, you come home. That is what Christians do. Who are they that meet at night? They are thieves, or conspirators, or dice-players, or all three."

Pasquale happened to have been right in two guesses out of three, and Zorzi thought it better to say nothing. There was no fear that the surly old man would tell any one of the message; he had proved himself too good a friend to Zorzi to do anything which could possibly bring him into trouble, and Zorzi was willing to let him think what he pleased, rather than run the smallest risk of betraying the society of which he had been obliged to become a member. But he was curious to know why Contarini kept such a singularly unprepossessing servant, and why, if he chose to keep him, he made use of him to deliver invitations. The fellow had the look of a born criminal; he was just such a man as Zorzi had thought of when he had jestingly proposed to Giovanni to hire a murderer. Indeed, the more Zorzi thought of his face, the more he was inclined to doubt that the man came from Contarini at all.

But in this he was mistaken. The message was genuine, and moreover, so far as Contarini and the society were concerned, the man was perfectly trustworthy. Possibly there were reasons why Contarini chose to employ him, and also why the servant was so consistently faithful to his master. After all, Zorzi reflected, he was certainly ignorant of the fact that the noble young idlers who met at the house of the Agnus Dei were playing at conspiracy and revolution.

But that night, when Contarini's friends were assembled and had counted their members, some one asked what had become of the Murano glass-blower, and whether he was not going to attend their meetings in future; and Contarini answered that Zorzi had hurt his foot and was on crutches, and sent a greeting to the guests. Most of them were glad that he was not there, for he was not of their own order, and his presence caused a certain restraint in their talk. Besides, he was poor, and did not play at dice.

"He works with Angelo Beroviero, does he not?" asked Zuan Venier in a tone of weary indifference.

"Yes," answered Contarini with a laugh. "He is in the service of my future father-in-law."

"To whom may heaven accord a speedy, painless and Christian death!" laughed Foscari in his black beard.

"Not till I am one of his heirs, if you please," returned Contarini. "As soon after the wedding day as you like, for besides her rich dowry, the lady is to have a share of his inheritance."

"Is she very ugly?" asked Loredan. "Poor Jacopo! You have the sympathy of the brethren."

"How does he know?" sneered Mocenigo. "He has never seen her. Besides, why should he care, since she is rich?"

"You are mistaken, for I have seen her," said Contarini, looking down the table. "She is not at all ill-looking, I assure you. The old man was so much afraid that I would not agree to the match that he took her to church so that I might look at her."

"And you did?" asked Mocenigo. "I should never have had the courage. She might have been hideous, and in that case I should have preferred not to find it out till I was married."

"I looked at her with some interest," said Contarini, smiling in a self-satisfied way. "I am bound to say, with all modesty, that she also looked at me," he added, passing his white hand over his thick hair.

"Of course," put in Foscari gravely. "Any woman would, I should think."

"I suppose so," answered Contarini complacently. "It is not my fault if they do."

"Nor your misfortune," added Fosoari, with as much gravity as before.

Zuan Venier had not joined in the banter, which seemed to him to be of the most atrocious taste. He had liked Zorzi and had just made up his mind to go to Murano the next day and find him out.

On that evening there was not so much as a mention of what was supposed to bring them together. Before they had talked a quarter of an hour, some one began to throw dice on the table, playing with his right hand against his left, and in a few moments the real play had begun.

High up in Arisa's room the Georgian woman and Aristarchi heard all that was said, crouching together upon the floor beside the opening the slave had discovered. When the voices were no longer heard except at rare intervals, in short exclamations of satisfaction or disappointment, and only the regular rattling and falling of the dice broke the silence, the pair drew back from the praying-stool.

"They will say nothing more to-night," whispered Arisa. "They will play for hours."

"They had not said a word that could put their necks in danger," answered Aristarchi discontentedly. "Who is this fellow from the glass-house, of whom they were speaking?"

Arisa led him away to a small divan between the open windows. She sat down against the cushions at the back, but he stretched his bulk upon the floor, resting his head against her knee. She softly rubbed his rough hair with the palm of her hand, as she might have caressed a cat, or a tame wild animal. It gave her a pleasant sensation that had a thrill of danger in it, for she always expected that he would turn and set his teeth into her fingers.

She told him the story of the last meeting, and how Zorzi had been made one of the society in order that they might not feel obliged to kill him for their own safety.

"What fools they are!" exclaimed Aristarchi with a low laugh, and turning his head under her hand.

"You would have killed him, of course," said Arisa, "if you had been in their place. I suppose you have killed many people," she added thoughtfully.

"No," he answered, for though he loved her savagely, he did not trust her. "I never killed any one except in fair fight."

Arisa laughed low, for she remembered.

"When I first saw you," she said, "your hands were covered with blood. I think the reason why I liked you was that you seemed so much more terrible than all the others who looked in at my cabin door."

"I am as mild as milk and almonds," said Aristarchi. "I am as timid as a rabbit."

His deep voice was like the purring of a huge cat. Arisa looked down at his head. Then her hands suddenly clasped his throat and she tried to make her fingers meet round it as if she would have strangled him, but it was too big for them. He drew in his chin a little, the iron muscles stiffened themselves, the cords stood out, and though she pressed with all her might she could not hurt him, even a little; but she loved to try.

"I am sure I could strangle Contarini," she said quietly. "He has a throat like a woman's."

"What a murderous creature you are!" purred the Greek, against hex knee. "You are always talking of killing."

"I should like to see you fighting for your life," she answered, "or for me."

"It is the same thing," he said.

"I should like to see it. It would be a splendid sight."

"What if I got the worst of it?" asked Aristarchi, his vast mouth grinning at the idea.

"You?" Arisa laughed contemptuously. "The man is not born who could kill you. I am sure of it."

"One very nearly succeeded, once upon a time," said Aristarchi.

"One man? I do not believe it!"

"He chanced to be an executioner," answered the Greek calmly, "and I had my hands tied behind me."

"Tell me about it."

Arisa bent down eagerly, for she loved to hear of his adventures, though he had his own way of narrating them which always made him out innocent of any evil intention.

"There is nothing to tell. It was in Naples. A woman betrayed me and they bound me in my sleep. In the morning I was condemned to death, thrown into a cart and dragged off to be hanged. I thought it was all over, for the cords were new, so that I could not break them. I tried hard enough! But even if I had broken loose, I could never have fought my way through the crowd alone. The noose was around my neck."

He stopped, as if he had told everything.

"Go on!" said Arisa. "How did you escape? What an adventure!"

"One of my men saved me. He had a little learning, and could pass for a monk when he could get a cowl. He went out before it was daylight that morning, and exchanged clothes with a burly friar whom he met in a quiet place."

"But how did the friar agree to that?" asked Arisa in surprise.

"He had nothing to say. He was dead," answered Aristarchi.

"Do you mean to say that he chanced to find a dead friar lying in the road?" asked the Georgian.

"How should I know? I daresay the monk was alive when he met my man, and happened to die a few minutes afterwards--by mere chance. It was very fortunate, was it not?"

"Yes!" Arisa laughed softly. "But what did he do? Why did he take the trouble to dress the monk in his clothes?"

"In order to receive his dying confession, of course. I thought you would understand! And his dying confession was that he, Michael Pandos, a Greek robber, had killed the man for whose murder I was being hanged that morning. My man came just in time, for as the friar's head was half shaved, as monks' heads are, he had to shave the rest, as they do for coolness in the south, and he had only his knife with which to do it. But no one found that out, for he had been a barber, as he had been a monk and most other things. He looked very well in a cowl, and spoke Neapolitan. I did not know him when he came to the foot of the gallows, howling out that I was innocent."

"Were you?" asked Arisa.

"Of course I was," answered Aristarchi with conviction.

"Who was the man that had been killed?"

"I forget his name," said the Greek. "He was a Neapolitan gentleman of great family, I believe. I forget the name. He had red hair."

Arisa laughed and stroked Aristarchi's big head. She thought she had made him betray himself.

"You had seen him then?" she said, with a question. "I suppose you happened to see him just before he died, as your man saw the monk."

"Oh no!" answered Aristarchi, who was not to be so easily caught. "It was part of the dying confession. It was necessary to identify the murdered person. How should Michael Parados, the Greek robber, know the name of the gentleman he had killed? He gave a minute description of him. He said he had red hair."

"You are not a Greek for nothing," laughed Arisa.

"Did you ever hear of Odysseus?" asked Aristarchi.

"No. What should I know of your Greek gods? If you were a good Christian, you would not speak of them."

"Odysseus was not a god," answered Aristarchi, with a grin. "He was a good Christian. I have often thought that he must have been very like me. He was a great traveller and a tolerable sailor."

"A pirate?" inquired Arisa.

"Oh no! He was a man of the most noble and upright character, incapable of deception! In fact he was very like me, and had nearly as many adventures. If you understood Greek, I would repeat some verses I know about him."

"Should you love me more, if I understood Greek?" asked Arisa softly. "If I thought so, I would learn it."

Aristarchi laughed roughly, so that she was almost afraid lest he should be heard far down in the house.

"Learn Greek? You? To make me like you better? You would be just as beautiful if you were altogether dumb! A man does not love a woman for what she can say to him, in any language."

He turned up his face, and his rough hands drew her splendid head down to him, till he could kiss her. Then there was silence for a few minutes.

He shook his great shoulders at last.

"Everything else is a waste of time," he said, as if speaking to himself.

Her head lay on the cushions now, and she watched him with half-closed eyes in the soft light, and now and then the thin embroideries that covered her neck and bosom rose and fell with a long, satisfied sigh. He rose to his feet and slowly paced the marble floor, up and down before her, as he would have paced the little poop-deck of his vessel.

"I am glad you told me about that glass-blower," he said suddenly. "I have met him and talked with him, and I may meet him again. He is old Beroviero's chief assistant. I fancy he is in love with the daughter."

"In love with the girl whom Contarini is to marry?" asked Arisa, suddenly opening her eyes.

"Yes. I told you what I said to the old man in his private room--it was more like a brick-kiln than a rich man's counting-house! While I was inside, the young man was talking to the girl under a tree. I saw them through a low window as I sat discussing business with Beroviero."

"You could not hear what they said, I suppose."

"No. But I could see what they looked." Aristarchi laughed at his own conceit. "The girl was doing some kind of work. The young man stood beside her, resting one hand against the tree. I could not see his face all the time, but I saw hers. She is in love with him. They were talking earnestly and she said something that had a strong effect upon him, for I saw that he stood a long time looking at the trunk of the tree, and saying nothing. What can you make of that, except that they are in love with each other?"

"That is strange," said Arisa, "for it was he that brought the message to Contarini, bidding him go and see her in Saint Mark's. That was how he chanced upon them, downstairs, at their last meeting."

"How do you know it was that message, and not some other?"

"Contarini told me."

"But if the boy loves her, as I am sure he does, why should he have delivered the message?" asked; the cunning Greek. "It would have been very easy for him to have named another hour, and Contarini would never have seen her. Besides, he had a fine chance then to send the future husband to Paradise! He needed only to name a quiet street, instead of the Church, and to appoint the hour at dusk. One, two and three in the back, the body to the canal, and the marriage would have been broken off."

"Perhaps he does not wish it broken off," suggested Arisa, taking an equally amiable but somewhat different point of view. "He cannot marry the girl, of course--but if she is once married and out of her father's house, it will be different."

"That is an idea," assented Aristarchi. "Look at us two. It is very much the same position, and Contarini will be indifferent about her, which he is not, where you are concerned. Between the glass-blower and me, and his wife and you, he will not be a man to be envied. That is another reason for helping the marriage as much as we can."

"What if the glass-blower makes her give him money?" asked the Georgian woman. "If she loves him she will give him everything she has, and he will take all he can get, of course."

"Of course, if she had anything to give," said Aristarchi. "But she will only have what you allow Contarini to give her. The young man knows well enough that her dowry will all be paid to her husband on the day of the marriage. It does not matter, for if he is in love he will not care much about the money."

"I hope he will be careful. Any one else may see him with her, as you did, and may warn old Contarini that his intended daughter-in-law is in love with a boy belonging to the glass-house. The marriage would be broken off at once if that happened."

"That is true."

So they talked together, judging Zorzi and Marietta according to their views of human nature, which they deduced chiefly from their experience of themselves. From time to time Arisa went and listened at the hole in the floor, and when she heard the guests beginning to take their leave she hid Aristarchi in the embrasure of a disused window that was concealed by a tapestry, and she went into the larger room and lay down among the cushions by the balcony. When Contarini came, a few minutes later, she seemed to have fallen asleep like a child, weary of waiting for him.

So far both she and Aristarchi looked upon Zorzi, who did not know of their existence, with a friendly eye, but their knowledge of his love for Marietta was in reality one more danger in his path. If at any future moment he seemed about to endanger the success of their plans, the strong Greek would soon find an opportunity of sending him to another world, as he had sent many another innocent enemy before. They themselves were safe enough for the present, and it was not likely that they would commit any indiscretion that might endanger their future flight. They had long ago determined what to do if Contarini should accidentally find Aristarchi in the house. Long before his body was found, they would both be on the high seas; few persons knew of Arisa's existence, no one connected the Greek merchant captain in any way with Contarini, and no one guessed the sailing qualities of the unobtrusive vessel that lay in the Giudecca waiting for a cargo, but ballasted to do her best, and well stocked with provisions and water. The crew knew nothing, when other sailors asked when they were to sail; the men could only say that their captain was the owner of the vessel and was very hard to please in the matter of a cargo.

In one way or another the two were sure of gaining their end, as soon as they should have amassed a sufficient fortune to live in luxury somewhere in the far south.

A change in the situation was brought about by the appearance of Zuan Venier at the glass-house on the following morning. Indolent, tired of his existence, sick of what amused and interested his companions, but generous, true and kind-hearted, he had been sorry to hear that Zorzi had suffered by an accident, and he felt impelled to go and see whether the young fellow needed help. Venier did not remember that he had ever resisted an impulse in his life, though he took the greatest pains to hide the fact that he ever felt any. He perhaps did not realise that although he had done many foolish things, and some that a confessor would not have approved, he had never wished to do anything that was mean, or unkind, or that might give him an unfair advantage over others.

He fancied Zorzi alone, uncared for, perhaps obliged to work in spite of his lameness, and it occurred to him that he might help him in some way, though it was by no means clear what direction his help should take. He did not know that Beroviero was absent, and he intended to call for the old glass-maker. It would be easy to say that he was an old friend of Jacopo Contarini and wished to make the acquaintance of Marietta's father before the wedding. He would probably have an opportunity of speaking to Zorzi without showing that he already knew him, and he trusted to Zorzi's discretion to conceal the fact, for he was a good judge of men.

It turned out to be much easier to carry out his plan than he had expected.

"My name is Zuan Venier," he said, in answer to Pasquale's gruff inquiry.

Pasquale eyed him a moment through the bars, and immediately understood that he was not a person to be kicked into the canal or received with other similar amenities. The great name alone would have awed the old porter to something like civility, but he had seen the visitor's face, and being quite as good a judge of humanity as Venier himself, he opened the door at once.

Venier explained that he wished to pay his respects to Messer Angelo Beroviero, being an old friend of Messer Jacopo Contarini. Learning that the master was absent on a journey, he asked whether there were any one within to whom he could deliver a message. He had heard, he said, that the master had a trusted assistant, a certain Zorzi. Pasquale answered that Zorzi was in the laboratory, and led the way.

Zorzi was greatly surprised, but as Venier had anticipated, he said nothing before Pasquale which could show that he had met his visitor before. Venier made a courteous inclination of the head, and the porter disappeared immediately.

"I heard that you had been hurt," said Venier, when they were alone. "I came to see whether I could do anything for you. Can I?"

Zorzi was touched by the kind words, spoken so quietly and sincerely, for it was only lately that any one except Marietta had shown him a little consideration. He had not forgotten how his master had taken leave of him, and the unexpected friendliness of old Pasquale after his accident had made a difference in his life; but of all men he had ever met, Venier was the one whom he had instinctively desired for a friend.

"Have you come over from Venice on purpose to see me?" he asked, in something like wonder.

"Yes," answered Venier with a smile. "Why are you surprised?"

"Because it is so good of you."

"You have solemnly sworn to do as much for me, and for all the companions of our society," returned Venier, still smiling. "We are to help each other under all circumstances, as far as we can, you know. You are standing, and it must tire you, with those crutches. Shall we sit down? Tell me quite frankly, is there anything I can do for you?"

"Nothing you could ever do could make me more grateful than I am to you for coming," answered Zorzi sincerely.

Venier took the crutches from his hands and helped him to sit on the bench.

"You are very kind," Zorzi said.

Venier sat down beside him and asked him all manner of questions about his accident, and how it had happened. Zorzi had no reason for concealing the truth from him.

"They all hate me here," he said. "It happened like an accident, but the man made it happen. I do not think that he intended to maim me for life, but he meant to hurt me badly, and he did. There was not a man or a boy in the furnace room who did not understand, for no workman ever yet let his blow-pipe slip from his hand in swinging a piece. But I do not wish to make matters worse, and I have said that I believed it was an accident."

"I should like to come across the man who did it," said Venier, his eyes growing hard and steely.

"When I tried to hop to the furnace on one leg to save myself from falling, one of the men cried out that I was a dancer, and laughed. I hear that the name has stuck to me among the workmen. I am called the 'Ballarin.'"

The ignoble meanness of Zorzi's tormentors roused Venier's generous blood.

"You will yet be their master," he said. "You will some day have a furnace of your own, and they will fawn to you. Your nickname will be better than their names in a few years!"

"I hope so," answered Zorzi.

"I know it," said the other, with an energy that would have surprised those who only knew the listless young nobleman whom nothing could amuse or interest.

He did not stay very long, and when he went away he said nothing about coming again. Zorzi went with him to the door. He had asked the Dalmatian to tell old Beroviero of his visit. Pasquale, who had never done such a thing in his life, actually went out upon the footway to the steps and steadied the gondola by the gunwale while Venier got in.

Giovanni Beroviero saw Venier come out, for it was near noon, and he had just come back from his own glass-house and was standing in the shadow of his father's doorway, slowly fanning himself with his large cap before he went upstairs, for it had been very hot in the sun. He did not know Zuan Venier by sight, but there was no mistaking the Venetian's high station, and he was surprised to see that the nobleman was evidently on good terns with Zorzi.

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CHAPTER XIVZorzi had not left the glass-house since he had been hurt, but he foresaw that he might be obliged to leave the laboratory for an hour or more, now that he was better. He could walk, with one crutch and a stick, resting a little on the injured foot, and he felt sure that in a few days he should be able to walk with the stick alone. He had the certainty that he was lame for life, and now and then, when it was dusk and he sat under the plane-tree, meditating upon the uncertain future, he felt a
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CHAPTER XIIOn that day Marietta felt once more the full belief that Zorzi loved her; but the certainty did not fill her with happiness as on that first afternoon when she had seen him stoop to pick up the rose she had dropped. The time that had seemed so very distant had come indeed; instead of years, a week had scarcely passed, and it was not by letting a flower fall in his path that she had told him her love, as she had meant to do. She had done much more. She had let him take her hand and press
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