There, one night, from my seat against the opposite wall (I was dining alone), I was amusing myself watching a table being set with more than usual care; some rich American, perhaps, with the world in a sling, or some young Russian running the gauntlet of the dressing-rooms. Staid old painters like myself take an interest in these things. They serve to fill his note-book, and sometimes help to keep him young.
When I looked again the waiter was drawing out a chair for a woman with her back to me. In the half-light, her figure, in silhouette against the cluster of candles lighting the table, I could see that she was young and, from the way she took her seat, wonderfully graceful. Opposite her, drawing out his own chair, stood a young man in evening dress, his head outlined against the low, twilight sky. It was Mahmoud!
I sprang from my seat and walked straight toward them. There came a low cry of joy, and then four outstretched arms—two of them tight-locked about my neck.
“Tell me,” I asked, when we had seated ourselves, Yuleima’s hands still clinging to mine. “After I left you that last night in the garden, was the boat where we hid it?”
“Who rowed you to the steamer?”
“My old caique-ji.”
“And who got the tickets and passports?”
For centuries the painters of Venice have seized and made their own the objects they loved most in this wondrous City by the Sea. Canaletto, ignoring every other beautiful thing, laid hold of quays backed by lines of palaces bordering the Grand Canal, dotted with queer gondolas rowed by gondoliers, in queerer hoods of red or black, depending on the guild to which they belonged. Turner stamped his ownership on sunset skies, silver dawns, illuminations, fetes, and once in a while on a sweep down the canal past the Salute, its dome a huge incandescent pearl. Ziem tied up to the long wall and water steps of the Public Garden, aflame with sails of red and gold: he is still there—was the last I heard of him, octogenarian as he is. Rico tacks his card to garden walls splashed with the cool shadows of rose-pink oleanders dropping their blossoms into white and green ripples, melting into blue. As for me—I have laid hands on a canal —the Rio Giuseppe—all of it—from the beginning of the red wall where the sailors land, along its crookednesses to the side entrance of the Public Garden, and so past the rookeries to the lagoon, where the tower of Castello is ready to topple into the sea.