At seven o’clock, Francis was just getting into his gondola to go round again to Signor Polani’s, when another gondola came along the canal at the top of its speed, and he recognized at once the badge of the Giustiniani. It stopped suddenly as it came abreast of his own boat, and Matteo, in a state of the highest excitement, jumped from his own boat into that of Francis.
“What is the matter, Matteo? What has happened?”
“I have terrible news, Francisco. My cousins have both disappeared.”
“Disappeared!” Francis repeated in astonishment “How have they disappeared?”
“Their father has just been round to see mine. He is half mad with grief and anger. You know they had gone to spend the day at the Persanis?”
“Yes, yes,” Francis exclaimed; “but do go on, Matteo. Tell me all about it, quickly.”
“Well, it seems that Polani, for some reason or other, thought he would go and fetch them himself, and at five o’clock he arrived there in his gondola, only to find that they had left two hours before. You were right, Francisco, it was that beldam Castaldi. She went with them there in the morning, and left them there, and was to have come in the gondola for them at six. At three o’clock she arrived, saying that their father had met with a serious accident, having fallen down the steps of one of the bridges and broken his leg, and that he had sent her to fetch them at once.
“Of course, they left with her instantly. Polani questioned the lackeys, who had aided them to embark. They said that the gondola was not one of his boats, but was apparently a hired gondola, with a closed cabin. The girls had stopped in surprise as they came down the steps, and Maria said, ‘Why, this is not our gondola!’
“Castaldi replied, ’No, no; our own gondolas had both gone off to find and bring a leech, and as your father was urgently wanting you, I hailed the first passing boat. Make haste, dears, your father is longing for you.’
“So they got on board at once, and the gondola rowed swiftly away. That is all I know about it, except that the story was a lie, that their father never sent for them, and that up to a quarter of an hour ago they had not reached home.”
Chapter 5: Finding A Clue.
“This is awful, Matteo,” Francis said, when his friend had finished his story. “What is to be done?”
“That is just the thing, Francisco. What is to be done? My cousin has been already to the city magistrates, to tell them what has taken place, and to request their aid in discovering where the girls have been carried to. I believe that he is going to put up a proclamation, announcing that he will give a thousand ducats to whomsoever will bring information which will enable him to recover the girls. That will set every gondolier on the canals on the alert, and some of them must surely have noticed a closed gondola rowed by two men, for at this time of year very few gondolas have their covers on. It seems to be terrible not to be able to do anything, so I came straight off to tell you.”