University of Virginia Library


Giannino Pasquali was a smart tailor some five years ago
occupying a cool shop on one of the smaller canals of Venice
Four pairs of suspenders, a print of the fashions, and a motley row
of the gay-colored trousers worn by the gondoliers, ornamented
the window looking on the dark alley in the rear, and, attached to
the post of the water-gate on the canal side, floated a small black
gondola, the possession of which afforded the same proof of
prosperity of the Venetian tailor which is expressed by a horse
and buggy at the door of a snip in London. The place-seeking
traveller, who, nez en l'air, threaded the tangled labyrinth of
alleys and bridges between the Rialto and St. Mark's, would
scarce have observed the humble shop-window of Pasquali, yet
he had a consequence on the Piazza, and the lagoon had seen
his triumphs as an amateur gondolier. Giannino was some thirty
years of age, and his wife Fiametta, whom he had married for
her zecchini, was on the shady side of fifty.

If the truth must be told, Pasquali had discovered that, even
with a bag of sequins for eye-water, Fiametta was not always the
most lovely woman in Venice. Just across the canal lived old


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Donna Bentoccata, the nurse, whose daughter Turturilla was like
the blonde in Titian's picture of the Marys; and to the charms of
Turturilla, even seen through the leaden light of poverty, the unhappy
Pasquali was far from insensible.

The festa of San Antonio arrived after a damp week of November,
and though you would suppose the atmosphere of Venice
not liable to any very sensible increase of moisture, Fiametta, like
people who live on land, and have the rheumatism as a punishment
for their age and ugliness, was usually confined to her brazero of
hot coals till it was dry enough on the Lido for the peacocks to
walk abroad. On this festa, however, San Antonio being, as every
one knows, the patron saint of Padua, the Padovese were to
come down the Brenta, as was their custom, and cross over the
sea to Venice to assist in the celebration; and Fiametta once more
thought Pasquali loved her for herself alone when he swore by his
rosary that unless she accompanied him to the festa in her wedding
dress, he would not turn an oar in the race, nor unfasten his
gondola from the door-post. Alas! Fiametta was married in the
summer solstice, and her dress was permeable to the wind as a
cobweb, or gossamer. Is it possible you could have remembered
that, O wicked Pasquali?

It was a day to puzzle a barometer; now bright, now rainy,
now gusty as a corridor in a novel, and now calm as a lady after
a fit of tears. Pasquali was up early and waked Fiametta with
a kiss, and, by way of unusual tenderness, or by way of ensuring
the wedding dress, he chose to play dressing maid, and arranged
with his own hands her jupon and fazzoletta. She emerged from
her chamber looking like a slice of orange-peel in a flower-bed,
but smiling and nodding, and vowing the day warm as April, and
the sky without a cloud. The widening circles of an occasional


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drop of rain in the canal were nothing but the bubbles bursting
after a passing oar, or perhaps the last flies of summer. Pasquali
swore it was weather to win down a peri.

As Fiametta stepped into the gondola, she glanced her eyes over
the way and saw Turturilla, with a face as sorrowful as the first
day in Lent, seated at her window. Her lap was full of work,
and it was quite evident that she had not thought of being at the
festa. Fiametta's heart was already warm, and it melted quite at
the sight of the poor girl's loneliness.

“Pasquali mio!” she said, in a deprecating tone, as if she were
uncertain how the proposition would be received, “I think we
could make room for poor Turturilla!”

A gleam of pleasure, unobserved by the confiding sposa, tinted
faintly the smooth olive cheek of Pasquali.

“Eh! diavolo!” he replied, so loud that the sorrowful seamstress
heard, and hung down her head still lower; “must you take
pity on every cheese-paring of a ragezza who happens to have no
lover! Have reason! have reason! The gondola is narrower
than your brave heart, my fine Fiametta!” And away he pushed
from the water-steps.

Turturilla rose from her work and stepped out upon the rusty
gratings of the balcony to see them depart. Pasquali stopped to
grease the notch of his oar, and between that and some other embarrassments,
the gondola was suffered to float directly under her
window. The compliment to the generous nature of Fiametta,
was, meantime, working, and as she was compelled to exchange a
word or two with Turturilla while her husband was getting his oar
into the socket, it resulted (as he thought it very probable it
would), in the good wife's renewing her proposition, and making a
point of sending the deserted girl for her holiday bonnet. Pasquali


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swore through all the saints and angels by the time she had
made herself ready, though she was but five minutes gone from
the window, and telling Fiametta in her ear that she must consider
it as the purest obligation, he backed up to the steps of old
Donna Bentoccata, helped in her daughter with a better grace
than could have been expected, and with one or two short and
deep strokes, put forth into the grand canal with the velocity of a

A gleam of sunshine lay along the bosom of the broad silver
sheet, and it was beautiful to see the gondolas with their gay colored
freights all hastening in one direction, and with a swift track
to the festa. Far up and down they rippled the smooth water,
here gliding out from below a palace-arch, there from a narrow
and unseen canal, the steel beaks curved and flashing, the water
glancing on the oar-blades, the curtains moving, and the fair women
of Venice leaning out and touching hands as they neared
neighbor or acquaintance in the close-pressing gondolas. It was
a beautiful sight, indeed, and three of the happiest hearts in that
swift gliding company were in Pasquali's gondola, though the bliss
of Fiametta, I am compelled to say, was entirely owing to the
bandage with which love is so significantly painted. Ah! poor

From the Lido, from Fusina, from under the Bridge of Sighs,
from all quarters of the lagoon, and from all points of the floating
city of Venice, streamed the flying gondolas to the Giudecca.
The narrow walk along the edge of the long and close-built island
was thronged with booths and promenaders, and the black barks
by hundreds bumped their steel noses against the pier as the agitated
water rose and fell beneath them. The gondolas intended
for the race pulled slowly up and down, close to the shore, exhibiting


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their fairy-like forms and their sinewy and gayly dressed
gondoliers to the crowds on land and water; the bands of music,
attached to different parties, played here and there a strain; the
criers of holy pictures and gingerbread made the air vocal with
their lisping and soft Venetian; and all over the scene, as if it
was the light of the sky or some other light as blessed but less common,
shone glowing black eyes, black as night, and sparkling as
the stars on night's darkest bosom. He who thinks lightly of
Italian beauty should have seen the women of Venice on St. Antonio's
day '32, or on any or at any hour when their pulses are
beating high and their eyes alight—for they are neither one nor
the other always. The women of that fair clime, to borrow the
simile of Moore, are like lava-streams, only bright when the volcano
kindles. Their long lashes cover lustreless eyes, and their
blood shows dully through the cheek in common and listless hours.
The calm, the passive tranquillity in which the delicate graces of
colder climes find their element are to them a torpor of the heart
when the blood scarce seems to flow. They are wakeful only to
the energetic, the passionate, the joyous movements of the soul.

Pasquali stood erect in the prow of his gondola, and stole furtive
glances at Turturilla while he pointed away with his finger
to call off the sharp eyes of Fiametta; but Fiametta was happy
and unsuspicious. Only when now and then the wind came up
chilly from the Adriatic, the poor wife shivered and sat closer to
Turturilla, who in her plainer but thicker dress, to say nothing
of younger blood, sat more comfortably on the black cushion and
thought less about the weather. An occasional drop of rain fell
on the nose of poor Fiametta, but if she did not believe it was
the spray from Pasquali's oar, she at least did her best to believe
so; and the perfidious tailor swore by St. Anthony that the clouds


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were as dry as her eyelashes. I never was very certain that Turturilla
was not in the secret of this day's treacheries.

The broad centre of the Giudecca was cleared, and the boats
took their places for the race. Pasquali ranged his gondola with
those of the other spectators, and telling Fiametta in her ear that
he should sit on the other side of Turturilla as a punishment for
their malapropos invitation, he placed himself on the small remainder
of the deep cushion on the farthest side from his now
penitent spouse, and while he complained almost rudely of the
narrowness of his seat, he made free to hold on by Turturilla's
waist, which no doubt made the poor girl's mind more easy on the
subject of her intrusion.

Who won and who lost the race, what was the device of each
flag, and what bets and bright eyes changed owners by the result,
no personage of this tale knew or cared, save Fiametta. She
looked on eagerly. Pasquali and Turturilla, as the French say,
trouvaient autress chats á frotter.

After the decision of the grand race, St. Antonio being the
protector, more particularly of the humble (“patron of pigs” in
the saints' calendar), the seignoria and the grand people generally,
pulled away for St. Mark's, leaving the crowded Giudecca
to the people. Pasquali, as was said before, had some renown as
a gondolier. Something what would be called in other countries
a scrub race, followed the departure of the winning boat, and several
gondolas, holding each one person only, took their places for
the start. The tailor laid his hand on his bosom, and, with the
smile that had first stirred the heart and the sequins of Fiametta,
begged her to gratify his love by acting as his make-weight while
he turned an oar for the pig of St. Antonio. The prize roasted
to an appetizing crisp, stood high on a platter in front of one of


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the booths on shore, and Fiametta smacked her lips, overcame
her tears with an effort, and told him, in accents as little as possible
like the creak of a dry oar in the socket, that he might set
Turturilla on shore.

A word in her ear, as he handed her over the gunwale, reconciled
Bonna Bentoccata's fair daughter to this conjugal partiality,
and stripping his manly figure of its upper disguises, Pasquali
straightened out his fine limbs, and drove his bark to the line in a
style that drew applause from even his competitors. As a mark
of their approbation, they offered him an outside place where his
fair dame would be less likely to be spattered with the contending
oars; but he was too generous to take advantage of this considerate
offer, and crying out as he took the middle, “ben pronto,
” gave Fiametta a confident look and stood like a hound
in the leash.

Off they went at the tap of the drum, poor Fiametta holding
her breath and clinging to the sides of the gondola, and Pasquali
developing skill and muscle—not for Fiametta's eyes only. It
was a short, sharp race, without jockeying or management, all fair
play and main strength, and the tailor shot past the end of the
Giudecca a boat's length ahead. Much more applauded than a
king at a coronation or a lord-mayor taking water at London
stairs, he slowly made his way back to Turturilla, and it was
only when that demure damsel rather shrunk from sitting down
in two inches of water, that he discovered how the disturbed
element had quite filled up the hollow of the leather cushion and
made a peninsula of the uncomplaining Fiametta. She was as
well watered, as a favorite plant in a flower-garden.

Pasquali mio!” she said in an imploring tone, holding up


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the skirt of her dress with the tips of her thumb and finger,
“could you just take me home while I change my dress?”

“One moment, Fiametta cara! they are bringing the pig!”

The crisp and succulent trophy was solemnly placed in the
prow of the victor's gondola, and preparation was made to convoy
him home with a triumphant procession. A half hour before
it was in order to move—an hour in first making the circuit of
the grand canal, and an hour more in drinking a glass and
exchanging good wishes at the stairs of the Rialto, and Donna
Fiametta had sat too long by two hours and a half with scarce a
dry thread on her body. What afterwards befell will be seen in
the more melancholy sequel.