‘Viens ici, Pierre. Viens ici tout de suite,’ the mother shouted at him. She stood up on the rocking boat, pushed past the American and tried to catch hold of her son. Reaching out to catch his shirt she grasped air. The child was gone. Passengers rushed to the edge of the boat. They were pointing. The child was bobbing up and down, his striped sailor shirt bright against grey water and his blond head held parallel to the wave. He thrashed out and began to swim alongside the boat. What if the boy should be pulled under and drowned? It was ironic that we should be sailing to the island of the dead. My friend stared for a split second at my heavy black parasol. Immediately grasping his meaning, I handed it to him. He leaned over the side and stretched it out to the thrashing child who grabbed hold of its handle. The boy reached up to be drawn in. Arms pulled him to safety. Towels appeared as if from nowhere. In fact, they came out of bright voluminous bags carried by Italians travelling to the beach huts along the Lido. My parasol was returned to me.
It trailed seaweed and as I removed the slime with a cloth the father whipped from the basket, I laughed my relief. The child had survived thanks to some quick thinking and a ridiculous parasol.
‘Are you so long by the Adriatic you are used to catching seaweed like a mermaid?’ the American remarked. He extended a long slender hand. ‘Theodore James.’
I felt a foolish sense of deja vue and stared at him. No, he was not that bad-tempered man we had seen in the Ambassador, though he shared his name. Mr. James shook my extended hand and we exchanged a minuscule string of seaweed. Laughing and removing it with the cloth I said, ‘Emma Matilda Plumptre. No indeed, Sir, I am no mermaid and I have not been in Venice long.’ A sigh slipped from my lips. ‘In many ways, it feels as if two months has been an eternity. I have come with my Aunt Beatrice and my cousin to bury a relative who died months ago. Consumption.
‘You are visiting the cemetery? A coincidence. I am travelling to San Michelle also. You see, I am a newspaper man. I send gossip from Venice to New York. Today, I am writing about the islands of the Lagoon.’
‘I see,’ I replied and we fell silent.