For a while, we never spoke. Since the incident, everyone had rearranged themselves and I was jammed in beside him. The French family was now seated under the awning away from the sun’s glare, Pierre wrapped in towels and dejected, his head down, after a serious scolding. As our moment of quiet continued, I was aware that Mr. James and I were touching between the linen of his jacket and the bombazine sleeves of mine. It was a strange sensation and I could not decide whether or not I should move away. As there was no further conversation, I began to consider him as I felt that slight, not unpleasant pressure on my arm. Was he married or promised in engagement? Like myself and Francis Methuen! As we chugged towards the landing at San Michelle, I realised that no conversation had not mattered. There was no need for any because I had begun to feel comfortable in his presence. Breaking into my musing, he stood up and said, ‘Why are the English so formal? Why in such a climate must you observe every detail of mourning? Is it not enough to be sorrowful about the loss of a loved one and to visit a cemetery with a gift of flowers?’
I held up my flowers, a little crushed now. ‘The Vikings burned the dead on ships,’ I said.
‘And had a celebration,’ he said.
‘I would love that when I die,’ I said.
‘And hopefully not any time soon.’
He smiled and I nodded. ‘One never knows.’
A few passengers were disembarking. We joined them. ‘Mourning is three months for an aunt, Mr. James.’ My tone became solemn. ‘Already it has been two.’
‘You see, I am correct. The English are obsessed with ceremony. A whole quarter year is excessive, and please do not call me Mr. James. My friends call me Theo. I feel I should call you Emma. I’ve known you for at least an hour…and more if we include the palace.’
‘Of course, the agony of St Sebastian.’
‘Grotesque but fascinating.’
‘I did notice.’
Theo offered his arm and we walked together through the cemetery. It would be absurd to keep passing each other on the pathways, he remarked and I agreed. We would be constantly nodding in the polite way the English favoured and sometimes Americans too, he said. He bowed and I accepted his companionship. The island basked in the slumbering afternoon. I felt the ghostly echoes of so many souls slipping along the graveyard’s pathways. A gravestone had worked its way loose from the ground as if a single dead soul had made a bid for freedom, back into the living world.
‘Don’t you feel it?’ I said turning to him.
‘What? Feel what?’
‘Ghosts lurking here?’ I said.
‘What a peculiar thought.’
He stopped, bringing us to a halt and looked at me, his eyes puzzled. ‘You are unhappy?’
‘No, not exactly,’ I said quickly. ‘I don’t intend to be morbid. I just feel ghosts haunt Venice. They make their way over the lagoon into the passageways and flit across bridges. I fancy they could travel back to a distant time and are liberated. They borrow the stones of Venice as a temporary home.’