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"I Giustiniani," they shouted; "il Marconino!"
There was a movement on one of the splendid barges bearing the colors of the Giustiniani; a little child was caught up and held for a moment high in the air; he waved his tiny hands gleefully--it was such beautiful play!
"It is the grandson of Messer Girolamo Magagnati, of the Stabilimenti!"
they cried from the barges of Murano, surging nearer in the waterway.
"He belongs to us--to the people!" for the story was well known, and the people of Venice were not less proud than the n.o.bles who ruled them.
"Viva Messer Magagnati!"
The group upon the deck parted and disclosed an old man with bowed head and faltering movements, supported by the young Senator Giustiniani, who gravely recognized their salute; but there was no answering smile upon his face; and Girolamo Magagnati, who had proudly confronted the senators in their Council Chamber when he had declined their proffer of n.o.bility, in this day of triumph scarcely raised his eyes.
The mothers on the barges lifted their little ones in their arms and taught them to call a name--"Il Marconino!" they ventured, in hesitant, treble tones.
But now the splendid moment was near. The admiral, in his crimson robes of state, had mounted to his place on the Doge's barge, and all the floating crowd had fallen into ordered position, in a hush of vibrant suspense, as, with slow majesty and grace, one by one the galleys of Venice came forth in procession from the great basin of the a.r.s.enal, sweeping round from the Punta della Motta into the lagoon, and pa.s.sing the Signoria with a salute. And now the great bell sounded again from the a.r.s.enal tower, and was answered from the Campanile of San Marco, and the suppressed excitement of the eager spectators burst forth in cries of greeting to the _Marconino_--just set afloat--as she came gracefully around in front of the Doge's barge, full manned and saluting, magnificently equipped, the colors of the Giustiniani waving below the crimson banner of San Marco, with its regnant Lion, and on her prow the beautiful sculptured figure of a little child.
"_Il Marconino! Il Marconino_!"
There was a brief moment of confusion from the coming and going of barges,--a short delay which brimmed their excitement to the fever pitch,--then the waters cleared again of their floating craft, and the Senator Marcantonio Giustiniani stepped forth on the deck to christen the gift of his child.
The people looked, and would have shouted--but forebore--gazing awestruck.
As he stood, firmly planted upon the prow, the crimson drapery of his senator's robe parted and disclosed the firm young vigor of his limbs, in their silken hose, and his very att.i.tude showed power. But he wore the face of a young Greek G.o.d who had lightly dreamed that he could fas.h.i.+on Life out of grace and suns.h.i.+ne, and had waked to carve Endurance out of Agony.
The child, held high in his arms, was radiant in the suns.h.i.+ne, its rosebud mouth parting over pearly teeth in dimpling glee, the breeze lifting the light rings of hair that caressed his soft, round throat, the hands waving in childish ecstasy and grace. As they stood, just over the beautiful bust of the "Marconino" which Vittorio had carved upon the prow, child and father were an embodiment of the play of the crested foam over the deep trouble of the waves beneath.
"Was it thus that the n.o.bles took their triumphs?" the people questioned low of each other. "And where was the Lady Marina, the daughter of Messer Magagnati--_their_ lady, who had been good to the people?"
"She was there--within," some one answered, "she was not strong--the salutes were too much for her. She was waiting within, with her maidens."
"To miss such a beautiful festa! Santa Maria!"--the strong peasant mothers, clasping their infants in their arms, with prattling, barefooted children clinging to their mantles--so glad for this glimpse of holiday--looked again at the beautiful, stern face of this father who had youth and gifts and wealth, his seat in the Consiglio, his boy in his arms--but no smile for the people pressing around him ready to shout his name, and they crossed themselves with a nameless yearning and dread.
But the n.o.bles, with more understanding, looked upon him and forgot their jealousy.
For the Lady Marina was within, waiting with her maidens in a private chamber of the a.r.s.enal until the hour of the banquet, when her presence had been required by the Signoria. Only so much had her father--the giver of the gift--and Marcantonio, on this day of honor to his name--been able to obtain of the imperious Republic. There were rumors afloat, questions were asked, and the body of n.o.bles must bear witness to the clemency of the State, who could be gracious in forgiving. If the Lady of the Giustiniani might not have the custody of her child, it was not that because of her transgressions they would refuse her any grace or honor.
Meanwhile Giustinian Giustiniani, standing proudly erect among the n.o.bles of the Doge's suite, searched the crowd for further homage, and wondered at the silence when the charming figure of the baby Marconino danced in his father's arms--a very embodiment of life and glee.
It was over in a moment, and the crowd of smaller barges fell back in disorder, for the Doge was pa.s.sing through the gates of the a.r.s.enal; the galleys were returning back by San Pietro in Castello, and that which was to follow of the glories of the day was only for the great ones now gathering behind that charmed gate, where the golden chair was waiting in which the Serenissimo should make his royal progress. There was nothing more for the people until the hour of the Ave Maria should call the stately procession forth on its homeward way.
But the brilliant memories of this morning would gladden many a less golden day--Viva San Marco! Their voluble tongues were suddenly unloosed, and those who had been favored with near glimpses of the heroes of the day became centres of animated discussion. Life was good in Venice! "And thou, Nino, forget not that the Madonna hath been 'gentile' to thee! Thou shalt tell thy little ones, when thou art old, that thou hast this day seen, with thine own eyes, the Marconino, who hath given the great galley to the Republic!"
The banquet was over, and there was a stir among the Signoria when the infant Giustinian was called for that he might receive the thanks of the Republic for his princely gift; and a murmur of admiration circled from lip to lip as the blooming child was brought into the banquet hall.
All eyes were now turned upon the Lady Marina, who had hitherto remained surrounded by her household and inconspicuous among the group of n.o.ble Venetian ladies who gave distinction to this festa.
It was Marcantonio who, with a tenderness that was pathetic and a touch that was a caress, led her down from her place and folded the little one's hand in hers. He would have led her to the throne; but a gesture that was scarcely more than a glance conveyed a command he dared not disobey.
They looked to see a flush of pride on her beautiful face as, in answer to the Doge's summons, she came slowly forward, with the tiny hand of the boy clasped in hers--his unsteady, childish footsteps echoing unevenly on the marble pavement between her measured movements. But she walked as in a dream, as if she were no longer one of this bright company, yet strangely beautiful to see, with a face like some n.o.ble spirit,--pale and grieving,--and in her eyes a great trouble that was full of dignity and love. Over the dark velvet of her robe the bountiful, white waves of her hair streamed like a bridal veil, wreathing her brows and her young, pathetic face with silken rings of drifted snow.
But before she had reached the dais prepared for the Signoria at the end of the great hall she paused, as if unable to proceed further, swaying slightly and throwing out her hands to steady herself; a sudden change swept over her face, and for a moment it seemed that she would fall; the child, losing hold of her hand, clung sobbing to her skirts, hiding his pretty head.
Her husband sprang to her aid, tenderly supporting her, but as instantly she seemed to recover her strength, smiling upon him graciously, while she gently disengaged herself from his hold, leaving the little one with him, and gliding rapidly forward, looked around her with unrecognizing eyes.
It had pleased the whim of the Republic to make some ecclesiastical parade on this festa of Venice which followed so closely upon the prosaic closing scene of the quarrel with Rome, wherein no churchly pomp had been permitted; and as Marina's bewildered gaze steadied itself upon the n.o.ble group of the Signoria, with whom to-day, in great state, sat the Patriarch of Venice with mitre and hierarchical robes and all the attendant group of Venetian bishops, a look of intense relief suddenly flashed over the trouble in her eyes--as if that which she had sought with such long suffering no longer eluded her.
"Madre Beatissima!" she cried, clasping her crucifix closely to her breast, and raising her eyes to heaven, "I thank thee!"
The light grew upon her face.
As her whole life had been merged in this struggle which had only conquered her overwrought heart and brain when she had felt that the Madonna had deserted her and delivered her to the wrath of Venice, so now, in her hallucination,--since the Madonna had brought her to Rome,--her faith and power of speech suddenly returned, and she rallied all her strength to fulfil her mission.
In that great and sumptuous Hall, flaunting and gay with banners which chronicled the victories and the power of the Republic--in the impregnable stronghold of the realm, under the astonished gaze of the entire Venetian court and the brilliant throng of the households of n.o.bles and amba.s.sadors who looked down from the circling galleries, expectant and awestruck under the spell of so strange a vision--this pale, slight champion of a desperate spiritual struggle, with no host to help her save her prayers and faith, with no standard but the cross clasped to her breast, knelt at the feet of the Patriarch, while the sunset light through the broad western window made a radiance where she knelt--as if Heaven at last had smiled upon her.
"Oh, Holy Father!" she implored, "have mercy upon Venice! Forgive her unfaithfulness, because she hath meant no sin!
"The Madonna hath granted me to reach Rome at last, because she hath laid her command upon me in a vision and it could not fail. But all those, my loved ones, have I lost by the weary way; and save for her mercy I could not have reached thee.
"With prayers and penance have I striven--and ceased not--since the anguish of thy displeasure came upon Venice. Oh, Holy Father! for all the mothers who understand and grieve, and for our innocent little ones, and for all those, our beloved, who are good and n.o.ble--and yet know not the hard way of submission, because the Lord hath taught them some other way--lift thy wrath from Venice, that our Heavenly Father hide not his face in clouds too heavy for our prayers to reach him!
"It is the will of the Madonna San Donato--thou canst not refuse to lift the doom!"
The words leaped over each other like a torrent--impetuous, pa.s.sionate, as if the moments for speech were few.
"These do I bring--and these, for an offering!" she cried, feverishly unclasping the l.u.s.trous pearls from her throat and girdle and laying them at the feet of the Patriarch. "And all the dear happiness of my life have I given, that I might reach thee with this prayer for Venice!
Oh, Holy Father, accept my sacrifice!"
She reverently pressed the hem of the priestly robe to her lips, and those who knew of her flight from Venice understood that she fancied she had reached the Roman Court and was kneeling in the presence of the Sovereign Pontiff; but in their amazement that she alone, who was dying from the grief of it, did not know that the interdict had been removed, it had not seemed possible to answer her.
But there was no room for anger as they listened--though her plea was a judgment on the court of Venice--for her voice thrilled them with its unearthly sadness, and, looking into her beautiful, spirit face, they saw that all her consciousness was merged in her intense realization of the utmost terror of the curse, and in her one burning hope--to which all things else were as nothing and in which she herself was wholly lost.
The Patriarch, moved with immeasurable compa.s.sion, raised her tenderly.
"My daughter," he said, in a voice that trembled with feeling, "Venice is restored to favor. The Interdict is removed!"
Through the stern a.s.sembly a wave of sympathy surged irresistibly, impelling them to comfort this lovely, grieving lady, distraught by anguished brooding. Scarcely knowing that their emotion expressed itself in words, they caught up the Patriarch's answer and echoed it from group to group--from gallery to gallery--until it gathered impetus and rolled like a Hallelujah Chorus through the vast, vaulted chamber.
"Venice is restored to favor; the Interdict is removed!"
The light grew upon her face.
How should it seem strange to her that her prayer at the feet of the Holy Father had wrought this pardon for Venice--was it not for this that the blessed Madonna of San Donato had sent her? She had promised blessing for sacrifice!
She stood for a moment, radiant, while the chorus of many voices throbbed around her--her face like an angel's for joy and love--a glorified vision in the parting rays of the evening sun--then her faint fluttering breath died in a _Benedicite_!
The vesper bells of Venice came softly through the twilight, calling to Ave Maria.