Falier nodded his head and replied vaguely. Truth to tell, he understood very little beyond this—that the friar had been before him once more, and that he could but follow as a child trustingly. And the city was in danger! His heart beat quick when he heard the words.
“Excellency,” he stammered, “the boat shall be there—at ten o’clock—in the shadow of the church of San Luca. But first—”
“No,” said the priest, quickly, “we have done with our firstly—and your gondola waits, I think, signore!”
The bells of the Chapel of St. Mark were striking the hour of eight o’clock when, Fra Giovanni stepped from his gondola, and crossed the great square toward that labyrinth of narrow streets and winding alleys they call the Merceria.
The Piazza itself was then ablaze with the light of countless lamps; dainty lanterns, colored as the rainbow, swayed to the soft breeze between the arches of the colonnade. Nobles were seated at the doors of the splendid cafes; the music of stringed instruments mingled with the louder, sweeter music of the bells; women, whose jewels were as sprays of flame, many-hued and dazzling, hung timidly upon the arms of lovers; gallants swaggered in costly velvets and silks which were the spoil of the generous East; even cassocked priests and monks in their sombre habits passed to and fro amidst that glittering throng, come out to herald the glory of a summer’s night.
And clear and round, lifting themselves up through the blue haze to the silent world of stars above, were the domes and cupolas of the great chapel itself—the chapel which, through seven centuries, had been the city’s witness to the God who had made her great, and who would uphold her still before the nations.
The priest passed through the crowd swiftly, seeming to look neither to the right nor to the left. The brown habit of the Capuchins was his dress, and his cowl was drawn so well over his head that only his eyes were visible—those eyes which stand out so strangely in the many portraits which are still the proud possession of Venice. Though he knew well that an assassin waited for him in the purlieus of the church of San Salvatore, his step was quick and brisk; he walked as a man who goes willingly to a rendezvous, and anticipates its climax with pleasure. When he had left the great square with its blaze of lanterns and its babel of tongues, and had begun to thread the narrow streets by which he would reach the bridge of the Rialto, a smile played for a moment about his determined mouth, and he drew his capuce still closer over his ears.
“So it is Rocca whom they send—Rocca, the poltroon! Surely there is the hand of God in this.”