Chapter 1


Some years before the Great War, there lived in a little house on one of the side canals of Venice, an honest workman and his family. Giovanni Minetti, for such was his name, was employed in a certain glass factory in Murano, while, in all Venice, there was no one with fingers more deft in the making of beautiful lace than Luisa, his wife.

At the time of our story, Andrea, the elder child, was nearly eight, and his little sister, Maria, two years younger.

Consigning the children to the care of her uncle (old Paolo, the caretaker of St. Mark's), Luisa would go each morning to the lace factory, returning just in time to prepare the simple dinner, at eventide.

Those were wonderful days for the children, for though they missed their father and mother, they were always happy with old Paolo.

"Buon giorno" [Footnote: Good-morning.] they would shout every morning when he stopped for them on his way to the famous church, and Maria, holding tight to one of the old man's hands, would trot along by his side, while Andrea, more independent, would run on ahead in his eagerness to thread the narrow streets catch the first glimpse of the Piazza, as St. Mark's Square is called.

Then, while the old man cleaned and dusted, the children wandered about the dusky interior, touching the gold mosaic figures with awed fingers, or gazing reverently at the great altar front of silver gilt.

After a little, hand in hand, they would scamper out into the bright sunshine where they never tired of the many wonderful objects that make St. Mark's Square a fairyland for young and old alike.

"'Roglo!" little Maria would cry, as she pointed upward to the great clock with its dial of blue and gold. It was the nearest she could come to pronouncing "orologio," the Italian word for clock. Then she would listen as hard as ever she could, hoping the bronze figures would strike the hour on the bell.

But Andrea loved best the horses that stood above the entrance of the church. In his little soul he almost worshiped the fiery steeds and loved to fancy himself seated on their backs. He even went so far as to plan to scale the wall in order to satisfy his ambition.

"Sometime, I will do it," he used to say, as he struck a determined attitude, and Maria would look at him with adoring eyes. How venturesome he was! He was taller than she by half a head, and his added two years gave him a place in dignity far above her.

It was no wonder the boy should be so crazy over the great bronze steeds when one remembers that Venice is practically horseless and that they were almost the only ones he had ever seen.

Perchance, even, as they talked, they would hear the flutter of wings, and some half-dozen pigeons, with soft coos, would light on their shoulders. Then Maria would laugh aloud with delight, and Andrea would forget his wild dreams as they stroked the glossy wings and admired the bright eyes, all the while feeding them dried peas or grain with which their mother never forgot to see their pockets were supplied.

If, by chance, they flung a handful on the ground, in a second there would be a whole flock of pigeons, lighting on the pavement.

Then Maria would clap her hands, and Andrea would have all he could do to see that no bird, greedier than the rest, got more than its share.

The children would be so absorbed that they would become quite unconscious of the tourists that would gather to watch the pretty group, for Venice was full of tourists in those days—people who came, even from far-off America, to see the wonderful St. Mark's Square, and hard-hearted, indeed, was the man or woman who could turn away without buying at least one bag of grain from insistent vendors and join the children in feeding the pigeons.

But I have not yet begun to tell the wonders of St. Mark's Square. This was in June, 1910; the Campanile was being built to replace the old one that had fallen in 1902, and to little Maria and Andrea, there was a fascination in watching the workmen lift the great stones into place from the confused debris at its base.

If the Piazza was wonderful, so, too, was the piazzetta with the Ducal Palace with the golden staircase and the two columns, the one surmounted by the winged lion of St. Mark, the other by St. Theodore, standing on a crocodile.

Sometimes, after having wandered to the edge of the Grand Canal and looked away to the blue dome of the church of Maria della Salute, they would run back to the Square and, hand in hand, go window-wishing among the shops that line its sides. No one who has never seen these shops of Venice can form any conception of how fascinating they are with their strands of glittering beads or yards upon yards of marvelous laces.

Often Andrea would exclaim, as they flattened their noses against the glass, "When I am a man, I will work in the glass factory as my father does, and, perhaps, who knows, I shall discover some new glaze which shall make all the world amazed?" He had never forgotten the day when his father had taken him to the factory and shown him the molten glaze and the workmen blowing the glass into marvelous shapes. That day he had decided upon his future career.

But little Maria cared more for the laces, and would shyly point to some especially beautiful piece and say softly:

"Perhaps, it was the madre who made that."

Once she followed an American woman into the shop and stood by her side watching her bargain for an exquisite collar. So intently she looked that the woman turned and met her gaze, remarking to her companion:

"Even the children have it in them—I mean the love for beautiful things; and did you see her fingers?—any one could tell they were meant for lace-making."

Sometimes the children lingered so long in this way that the bronze figures would strike twelve, and they would have to hurry back so as not to keep old Paolo waiting for his noonday lunch.

Then, in some little recess around the corner of the church, with countless pigeons waiting for the crumbs, they would sit with him, sharing his frugal meal. When they had finished, he would sometimes take them for a ride in his shabby gondola on the Grand Canal, and on the way they would beg to stop for just a moment at the famous well with two porphyry lions. Andrea was tall enough to clamber by himself after the manner of young Venetians, and nothing would do but Paolo must lift Maria, so she, too, would proudly straddle one of the fierce figures. There they would sit while the old caretaker would count the pigeons bathing and splashing in the water.

But, better than anything else, the children liked to snuggle close to their companion while he told them wonderful stories until it was time for him to go back to work.

While they watched with fascinated eyes, he would trace a diagram in the pavement to show how the Grand Canal, in its wanderings, exactly describes the letter "S." His eyes would glow as he told of the grandeur of Venice in the time of the Doges, or cause the children to shudder at gruesome accounts of how, in the olden time, the prisoners were thrown from the Bridge of Sighs, into the water below.

Perchance, he would tell of the wedding of the Adriatic and call Venice the Bride of the Sea, or give a vivid account of how the body of St. Mark was brought there in the long ago.

In fact, his tales were so realistic, that it almost seemed as if he must have been an eyewitness of every incident he narrated.