By half-past ten, Mary Rose and I were drinking coffee in the foyer of The Ambassador. I was reading a small guidebook to The Doges Palace and had just replaced my cup on its saucer when I heard someone arguing with the receptionist. I glanced up. Just over the hallway, a man in a Panama hat banged his fist in anger on the front table. He was American and seemed to be haggling over his bill. The sun was slanting along the corridor towards the desk drowning him in light so I couldn’t see his face. A stream of Italian quickly rising to a crescendo followed. Mary Rose looked up from her notebook, just as he turned towards the entrance, about to stalk off.
‘My goodness, Emma, I do believe that’s Henry James, you know, that writer. I’ve seen him here before. Aunt Lucinda knew him. I wonder should I introduce myself.’
‘Umm, not the right moment, I should imagine.’
At that moment, the man threw coins on the counter and stalked off loudly muttering something about paying a sovereign for coffee, bacon, and eggs.
‘He’s mean,’ I whispered. Mary Rose shrugged her shoulders.
We rummaged around in our purses and found money for our own morning coffee. We made sure to leave a generous tip, gathered up our parasols, paid, and left for the palace which opened at eleven. Henry James had vanished into the crowds heading in the direction of the Municipal Gardens.
For an hour we wandered through halls filled with marble columns and looked with indifference at paintings. The assault of such vivid colour upon my senses and the cruelty of martyrdom expressed in the images left me with a sense of unease. I never again wanted to see another painting of St Sebastian pierced with arrows but we were not to escape for there he was hanging in the last gallery watching from the corner as we passed through an archway into the quiet of a small courtyard. We settled in a stone arbour. I remarked that the day was so hot, it would be pleasant to walk among the cypresses on Cemetery Island. I suggested we ought to find flowers to lay by the new headstone.
Nothing happened as we had planned. Mary Rose knocked her foot against the bottom of our stone seat and hurt her heel. As she attempted to stand, she banged her toe. ‘Emma, I can’t go on,’ she declared at once. ‘You must continue on your own. I won’t spoil your day.’
‘No, we can visit the island tomorrow or the following day,’ I protested. ‘I’ll take you back. Besides, I have a letter to write.’ I sighed.
‘Rather you than me,’ she said voicing my own thoughts. ‘Francis Methuen is a fossil, so serious. You’ll have no fun when you’re married, soo old. Break it off and if not, make the most of your freedom now.’ She stared at my dark gown. ‘If you can, that is, clad as we are like nuns.’