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CHAPTER II

Now, you might be thinking that the picture I'm drawing is out of my own head. Let you not be thinking of it as it is now, a city of shadows and ghosts, with a few scant visitors mooning in the canals. The Pride of the West she was, the Jewel of the East. Constantinople was her courtyard. Greece, Egypt, Abyssinia, Bulgaria, and Muscovy, her ten-acre fields. The Crusaders on their way to fight the Saracen stopped to plead for her help and generosity. There were no soldiers more chivalrous, not even the French. There were no better fighters, not even the Highland clans. Sailors? You'd think those fellows had invented the sea. And as for riches and treasures, oh! the wonder of the world she was! Tribute she had from everywhere; the four great horses of Saint Mark they came from Constantinople. The two great marble columns facing the Piazetta, sure, they came from Acre. When foreign powers wanted the loan of money, it was to Venice they came. Consider the probity of Venetian men. They once held as pledge the Crown of Thorns itself. King Louis IX of France redeemed it.

The processions of the tradespeople were like a king's retinue, and they marching in state on the election of a doge. Each in their separate order they'd come, the master smiths first, as is right, every one garlanded like a conqueror, with their banner and their buglers. The furriers next in ermine and taffeta; the tanners, with silver cups filled with wine; the tailors in white, with vermilion stars; the wool-workers, with olive branches; the quilt- makers in cloaks trimmed with fleur-de-lis; the cloth-of-gold weavers, with golden crowns set with pearls; the shoemakers in fine silk, while the silk-workers were in fustian; the cheese-dealers and pork-butchers in scarlet and purple; the fish-mongers and poulterers, armed like men-of-war; the glass-makers, with elegant specimens of their art; the comb-makers, with little birds in cages; the barber-surgeons on horseback, very dignified, very learned, and with that you'd think there'd be an end to them, but cast your eye back on that procession and you'd find guilds as far as your sight would reach. . .

Let you be going down the markets, and what would you see for sale? Boots, clothes, bread? No, they were out of sight; but scattered on the booths, the like of farls of bread on a fair-day, you'd find cloves and nutmegs, mace and ebony from Moluccas, that had come by way of Alexandria and the Syrian ports; sandalwood from Timor, in Asia; camphor from Borneo. Sumatra and Java sent benzoin to her markets. Cochin China sent bitter aloes-wood. From China and Japan and from Siam came gum, spices, silks, chessmen, and curiosities for the parlor. Rubies from Peru, fine cloths from Coromandel, and finer still from Bengal. They got spikenard from Nepaul and Bhutan. Their diamonds were from Golconda. From Nirmul they purchased Damascus steel for their swords. Nor is that all you'd see, and you'd be going down by the markets on a sunny morning, and a fine- thinking, low-voiced woman on your arm. You'd see pearls and sapphires, topaz and cinnamon from Ceylon; lac and agates, brocades and coral from Cambay; hammered vessels and inlaid weapons and embroidered shawls from Cashmere. As for spices, never would your nostrils meet such an odor: bdellium from Scinde, musk from Tibet, galbanum from Khorasan; from Afghanistan, asafetida; from Persia, sagapenum; ambergris and civet from Zanzibar, and from Zanzibar came ivory, too. And from Zeila, Berbera, and Shehri came balsam and frankincense. . .

And that was Venice, and Marco Polo a young man. And now it's only a town like any other town but for its churches and canals. There's many a town has ghosts, but none the ghosts that Venice has; not Rome itself, or Tara of the kings.

"Once did she hold," Randall quoted, "the gorgeous East in fee; And was the safeguard of the West; the worth Of Venice did not fall below her birth, Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty. She was a maiden city, bright and free; No guile seduced, no force could violate; And, when she took unto herself a mate, She must espouse the everlasting Sea!"

Time is the greatest rogue of all. Not all the arrows of Attila can do the damage of a trickle of sand in an hour-glass! Tyre and Sidon, Carthage, ancient Babylon, and Venice, queen of them all.

I am describing Venice to you for this reason. You might now stand where Troy's walls once were and say to yourself: "Was this where Helen walked with her little son? Was this where the loveliest face of ages wept?" And a chill of doubt would come on you, and you would think, "I've been wasting my sorrow and wasting my love, for it was all nothing but an old tale made up in a minstrel's head."

And sometime in Venice, after your dinner in a hotel, you'd go out for a while in a BARCA, that would have no more romance to it nor the bark a gillie would row, and you salmon-fishing on a cold, blustery day, and you would feel disappointed, you having come so far, and you'd say: "It was a grand story surely, and bravely did it pass the winter evening; but wasn't old Malachi of the Long Glen the liar of the world!"

I wouldn't have you saying that, and I dead. In all I'm telling you, I'd have you to know there's not a ha'porth of lie.




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