‘This place is unhealthy,’ I said sharply and removed my hand from the balustrade. The fingers of my black glove shone with slime. I pulled out my handkerchief and wiped it away. As we emerged from the doors and into the street beyond, I spotted the American again. He was seated on some stone steps and glanced up as we passed. Opening his satchel, he drew out a flask. Overcome with embarrassment, I swept us on to the landings.
The inside of our longboat was covered in black cloth so it was as if we had entered a coffin. We leaned back into the upholstery and listened to the oars’ plash and the slaps of small waves on the boat’s prow. Even Mary Rose was quiet. She sat as serene as a Carpaccio virgin. We slid to a halt by the Rialto and my cousin disembarked. She started through the doors into our building, then turned around and called, ‘I’ll tell mother you will most probably return with Mrs. Arnott. Remember, she told us yesterday when she called on Mama that she intended visiting her husband’s grave today.’
She turned and was gone. I felt the most wonderful sense of excitement as I instructed the boatman to return to San Marco. There, I dined alone in a café on the piazza and sat admiring the façade of St Mark’s Cathedral thinking how much I agreed with Mr. Ruskin. The stones were indeed more interesting than the paintings for they contained the true Venice because as you turned every whispering corner or sailed under bridges centuries unfolded from the images captured in carvings. A flower seller wandered by the restaurant front. I called her over and purchased three yellow roses for Aunt Lucinda’s grave. I paid for my lunch and left. As I ambled through the piazza I spotted a familiar Panama hat bobbing along towards the direction of the seafront. For a moment he was before me and a heartbeat later he was concealed by a crocodile of nuns who were marching into the Cathedral. I lost him.
The vaparetto swarmed with passengers, all heading for the islands—Murano to visit glass emporiums or to the Lido to bathe. I wondered how many would set down on the cemetery island of San Michelle. The air was cool and sweet-smelling. The wind had changed and blew from the sea. I found a place to sit, then arranged myself. Looking across towards the sea that lapped against the side of the craft, a Panama hat was almost obscuring my view. He was on vaparetto already, on the curve of the seat across from me, just by the prow. A family sat with him, a mother, two daughters, I suspected, because they looked alike, and a small boy who was eating a peach. Further along the bench, the father carried a basket of neatly folded clothing. I thought these to be bathing outfits. They were speaking in French. I could almost lean forward and touch the American with my parasol. He sat watching the sea with indifference on his countenance, his satchel placed across his knees, his arms folded across his breast like St Sebastian about to be martyred.
The French mother pulled out a handkerchief and began to wipe her son’s face when of a sudden the boy snatched it, wriggled from his mother and ran past the American. He leaned over the side and began to trail the handkerchief towards the water.