At sixteen she burst into bloom.
I have never seen a black tulip, not a real velvet-black, but if inside its shroud of glossy enfoldings— so like Loretta’s hair—there lies enshrined a mouth red as a pomegranate and as enticing, and if above it there burn two eyes that would make a holy man clutch his rosary; and if the flower sways on its stalk with the movement of a sapling caressed by a summer breeze;—then the black tulip is precisely the kind of flower that Loretta bloomed into.
And here the real trouble began,—just as it begins for every other pretty Venetian, and here, too, must I place the second pin in my chart.
It all came through Francesco. The older sister had died with the first child, and this crab catcher had begun to stretch out his claws for Loretta. She and her mother still lived with Francesco’s father, who was a widower. The mother kept the house for all,—had done so for Francesco and her daughter during their brief married life.
In her persecution Loretta would pour out her heart to Luigi, telling how they bothered her,—her mother the most of all. She hated Francesco,—hated his father,—hated everybody who wanted her to marry the fisherman. (Luigi, poor fellow, had lost his only daughter when she was five years of age, which accounted, I always thought, for his interest in the girl.)
One morning she called to him and waited on the quay until he could hail a passing barca and step from the gondola to its deck and so ashore. Then the two disappeared through the gate of the garden.
“She is too pretty to go alone,” he explained on his return. “Every day she must pay a boy two soldi, Signore, to escort her to the lace factory—the boy is sick today and so I went with her. But their foolishness will stop after this;—these rats know Luigi.”
From this day on Loretta had the Riva to herself.
So far there has been introduced into this story the bad man, Francesco, with crab-like tendencies, who has just lost his wife; the ravishingly beautiful Loretta; the girl’s mother, of whom all sorts of stories were told—none to her credit; big tender-hearted Luigi Zanaletto, prince of gondoliers, and last, and this time least, a staid old painter who works in a gondola up a crooked canal which is smothered in trees, choked by patched-up boats and flanked by tattered rookeries so shaky that the slightest earth quiver would tumble them into kindling wood.
There enters now another and much more important character,—one infinitely more interesting to my beautiful Lady of the Shipyards than any grandfather gondolier or staid old painter who ever lived. This young gentleman is twenty-one; has a head like the Hermes, a body like the fauns, and winsome, languishing eyes with a light in their depths which have set the heart of every girl along his native Giudecca pitapatting