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Lucy Fitch Perkins

Venice

For two beautiful bright days they remained on the boat, as it made its way up the eastern coast of Italy, and on the morning of the third, there, rising before them out of the mists, like a dream city afloat upon the waters, was Venice! It was so lovely, with its domes, towers, and palaces mirrored in the still waters, and its hundreds of sails making spots of bright colour against the blue, that for a short time the children almost forgot their grief. As the boat entered a great lagoon, and slowly made its way through the Canal della Giudecca to the landing-place, Carlotta grew more than ever vigilant. The children had hoped against hope that some way of escape might appear when they reached the dock, but Carlotta remained at their elbows every moment, and under her watchful eyes they could not even speak to each other, much less to any one else.

It was evident that she meant to make them understand how impossible it would be for them to get away from Venice, for as the boat rounded the western side of the island upon which the city is built, she pointed out to them the mainland, lying two miles away across the water, and the long black railroad bridge which is the only connection between the two.

"You see how it is, my little ones," she said. "One cannot leave Venice without a boat, a ticket on the railway, or wings! And truly, how could any one wish to leave it? Luigi has been wretched all the time he has been away, and never wishes to desert his beloved city again. You too will feel the same."

The children made no reply. They were as helpless as caged birds, and could only follow her silently, as she loaded them with bundles, and, herself carrying the organ and the monkey, led the way across the gang-plank to the dock. Staggering under their burdens, they entered the city of Venice. Oh, if they could only have entered it with their dear Babbo, or Mammina, how happy they would have been, for there, right before their eyes as they walked, were all the wonderful things which Beppo had learned about in his geography!

There were the canals with the gondolas flitting about on them like black beetles on a pool. There were the great beautiful buildings with their fašades rising out of the water, and their back doors opening upon narrow streets or tiny open squares. There were the glimpses of blossoming tree-tops hanging over high walls, and of balconies gay with potted geraniums and carnations in bloom. There were the beautiful stone door-ways with gayly painted posts beside them, to which empty gondolas were tied.

The air was misty and fragrant with sea smells, and in every direction they looked their eyes were greeted with the lovely colors of the old buildings, reflected in the water so clearly that it seemed as if there were two cities, one hanging suspended upside down below the other. It was so different from Florence, from Rome, from anything they had ever seen before, that the children forgot even that they were hungry, and went up the streets wide-eyed with wonder, absorbed in all these marvels.

"Get on, get on!" said Carlotta crossly, behind them. "Your eyes will pop out of your heads, and drop in the street if you stare so. Carina is hungry, and so am I, and we must earn our dinner before we eat it."

Through one narrow street after another they made their way, until at last they reached an open square fronting on the water.

"Here is the market," said Carlotta, depositing the organ in the middle of the open space, and the children, sighing with relief, also dropped their bundles and gazed about them. Drawn up to the water's edge were many boats loaded with great baskets of fruit and vegetables. Merchants swarmed about these boats like flies, and the produce was immediately purchased and placed in stalls or booths around the edge of the square, where people with market-baskets on their arms were buying their provisions for the day.

It was a busy and crowded place, but Carlotta gave the children little time to look. "Dance," she commanded, as she began to grind out a tune upon the organ. Carina sprang to the top of the box, and began to hop up and down in time to the music as the children went through the wild contortions of the trescone. A crowd immediately gathered about them, and the coins began to rain into Carina's tambourine.

When the dance was finished, Carlotta led the way to a booth in the square, where hot macaroni was for sale, and here their hungry mouths were filled with the first warm food they had tasted for several days. They ate and were comforted. Then, leaving the market-place, they passed through narrow streets and over little bridges spanning the canals, until they reached another small open square in a crowded portion of the city. Carlotta walked faster and faster as they approached it, and the Twins had almost to run to keep up with her.

As they entered the square, a small dirty boy about Beppo's size suddenly gave a shout. "It is Carina!" he cried, and, not noticing Carlotta or the Twins, he seized the monkey in his arms and kissed its little black face. Carlotta gave him a playful slap.

"Ecco!" she cried to the Twins. "Here we have the brave Giovanni! And he cares nothing for his godmother! He loves only the little black monkey! See, Giovanni! I have brought two playmates for you. They were lost, and I have protected them out of charity. They will live with us."

Giovanni stared at the Twins for a moment, then he ran out his tongue at Beppo. "I can lick you!" he cried. Beppo stiffened with fury. All the pent-up rage of the past weeks rose up within him, and here was some one on whom he could legitimately wreak it! He dropped his bundles, rolled up his sleeves, and roared, "Come on!"

Giovanni threw the monkey at Carlotta and instantly came on! A crowd of ragged boys and girls gathered about them, and the fight began. It did not last long, for Beppo had taken boxing-lessons along with his other studies, and he met Giovanni's advance with a swift blow which sent him spinning to the ground. Then he sat upon him until he begged for mercy, while the crowd squealed with delight. Carlotta turned the organ and the monkey over to Beppina, picked Beppo off the prostrate Giovanni, and then, seizing the two boys by their collars, thumped their heads smartly together.


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"Ecco!" she said. "Now you have had your fight, you can be friends." Loading them both with bundles, she marched them across the square to the back door of a dilapidated house, with the crowd surging about them. Here she drew them into a narrow entrance and, leading them up two flights of dirty stairs, knocked at a door. It was opened by a slatternly woman, who gave a shrill cry of astonishment when she saw the group on her threshold.

The monkey evidently knew her, for he leaped from Giovanni's arms to her shoulder and began to pull her hair.

"Santa Maria! Santa Maria!" screamed the woman. "If it is not that devil of a Carina come back again! Let go of my hair, you demon, or I'll wring your black neck!"

Carlotta laughed, and picked the monkey off Giovanni's mother just as she had picked Beppo off her son a few moments before.

The children, left to themselves, stared about at their new quarters, while Giovanni stared at them. The room was large, bare, dilapidated, and dirty. On the floor were some old mattresses filled with corn-husks, which were evidently used as beds. There was a wooden table with some soiled dishes standing on it, and, beyond this and a few chairs, there was no furniture except two pots of geraniums on the window-sill. A door opened into a smaller room beyond, and through it they could see a stove, with a kettle standing on the floor beside it.

Giovanni had evidently made up his mind that any one who could "lick" him must indeed be a hero, for, having finished his critical survey of the Twins, he said affably, "My father is a gondolier. What's yours?"

"A Marchese," said Beppo.

"Holy Madonna!" gasped the boy. "Doesn't he do any work?"

"No," said Beppo. "He just goes to Rome to help the King."

Carlotta overheard them. "Don't you ever say that again, you wicked little liar!" she cried fiercely. "If you do, I'll cut off your tongue." She turned again to the other woman.

"Do they look like the children of a Marchese? I ask you," she said. "They were lost, and I have taken care of them out of charity! They sing and dance to pay for their keep, but it's little enough they bring in at best! Old Ugolone is dead, and Luigi has stayed behind to dispose of the van and the donkeys. With the money he gets for them he'll buy a boat and pick up a living on the canals. We shall go no more on tours about the country. It does not pay. There are as many soldi to be found in Venice as anywhere, and with the organ and Carina we shall get along, even with two extra mouths to feed!"

Giovanni's mother winked her eye and nodded a great many times.

"Si, si," she said. "There will be many tourists in Venice this summer, and it is not to believe the way Americans throw money about. Mario says their pockets are lined with gold!"

Sick with terror, the children turned away from Carlotta and looked out of the windows.

"See me," said Giovanni. He wanted to do something to make himself admired after his recent humiliation, so he doubled himself across the sill of the open window and leaned far out over the canal which flowed directly beneath. "Look!" he cried, waving his legs at the peril of taking a header into the water.

His mother seized him. "Madonna mia," she screamed, "that boy would rather drown than not," and, giving him a smart spank, she jerked him back into the room by a leg. Giovanni rubbed the spot and grinned sheepishly, as his mother followed up the punishment by a flow of speech which sounded to the Twins much like the chattering of the monkey. "Get along with you!" she said finally, giving him a shove.

"Come," said Carlotta to the Twins when this little scene was over. "Soldi grow only in the street," and, picking up the organ, she led the way down the stairs.

The children were glad to follow, for they preferred the streets to such a dwelling, and Giovanni, thinking it advisable to remain out of his mother's sight for a while, followed them, carrying the monkey in his arms.


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