At the fort pier we are kept waiting for ten minutes while a live duck submits to be weighed for fiscal purposes, and the delay gives an old man with razor-fish a chance to sell several pennyworths. By this time the sun is very near the horizon, setting in a roseate sky over a lagoon of jade. There is not a ripple. The tide is very low. Sea birds fleck with white the vast fields of mud. The peacefulness of it all under such unearthly beauty is almost disquieting.
Next comes Malamocco itself, of which not much is seen but a little campo—almost an English village green—by the pier, and children playing on it. Yet three thousand people live here, chiefly growers of melons, tomatoes, and all the picturesque vegetables which are heaped up on the bank of the Grand Canal in the Rialto market and are carried to Venice in boats day after day for ever.
Malamocco was a seat of ducal government when Venice was only a village, and not until the seventh century did the honours pass to Venice: hence a certain alleged sense of superiority on the part of the Malamoccans, although not only has the original Malamocco but the island on which it was built disappeared beneath the tide. Popilia too, a city once also of some importance, is now the almost deserted island of Poveglia which we pass just after leaving Malamocco, as we steam along that splendid wide high-way direct to Venice—between the mud-flats and the sea-mews and those countless groups of piles marking the channel, which always resemble bunches of giant asparagus and sometimes seem to be little companies of drowning people who have sworn to die together.
[Illustration: FROM THE DOGANA AT NIGHT]
Here we overtake boats on the way to the Rialto market, some hastening with oars, others allowing their yellow sails to do the work, heaped high with vegetables and fruit. Just off the mud the sardine catchers are at work, waist high in the water.
The sun has now gone, the sky is burning brighter and brighter, and Venice is to be seen: either between her islands or peeping over them. S. Spirito, now a powder magazine, we pass, and S. Clemente, with its barrack-like red buildings, once a convent and now a refuge for poor mad women, and then La Grazia, where the consumptives are sent, and so we enter the narrow way between the Giudecca and S. Giorgio Maggiore, on the other side of which Venice awaits us in all her twilight loveliness. And disembarking we are glad to be at home again. For even an afternoon’s absence is like an act of treachery.
And here, re-entering Venice in the way in which, in the first chapter, I advised all travellers to get their first sight of her, I come to an end, only too conscious of how ridiculous is the attempt to write a single book on this city. Where many books could not exhaust the theme, what chance has only one? At most it can say and say again (like “all of the singing”) how it was good!