was an argument he could not win, Daniele agreed.
T he three young people let themselves out by the side entrance that opened into a narrow alleyway running alongside the perimeter wall of the convent. From there it was just a short walk to the hustle and bustle of Piazza San Marco. They walked in single file up the narrow alleyway. To their right stood the convent, the high wall and terracotta roofs of its cloisters shielding the nuns from the watchful gaze of passers-by. No sound came from behind those walls as the three slipped past. Maria had heard the nuns singing mass earlier that morning, but as the sun rose high in the sky, the ladies of the San Zaccaria convent were involved in their daily tasks, undertaken with a minimum of chatter or conversation. Housework – sweeping the marble floors of the cloisters, polishing the gold candlesticks and cross on the altar, preparing food and gardening – all took up the hours during the day until evening vespers, when they would file silently into the chapel and fill the air with their singing and prayers. She thought of Polisena and wondered what she was doing. It seemed so sad that she was unable to come out of the convent and join them on their walk.
As the young people made their way along the dark alleyway, the heat of the day radiated from the high stone walls. It gave off a strong scent, which Maria could never quite identify – dusty, a little dank, sour. After a few moments they emerged into the brilliant, bright light of Piazza San Marco.
‘Let’s walk to the Rialto,’ said Maria. ‘Then perhaps, we could take a gondola back home.’
Leaving the heat and bustle of the Piazza behind, they turned into Merceria, a lane which ran all the way from the Piazza to the Rialto. It was lined with shops selling all manner of luxurious goods such as silk, tapestries, carpets and spices. As they got nearer to the Rialto, the crowds grew denser. Maria caught hold of Daniele’s hand. ‘Stay close to me, caro ,’ she murmured. But her brother pulled his hand away. ‘I’m fine. I’m fifteen. You don’t have to treat me like a child.’
Andrea watched the pair out of the corner of his eye. He was fascinated by them, or at least by Maria. He was originally from the Dalmatian coast and had arrived in Venice at the age of twelve, in search of a better life. He had an uncle, a fisherman, who had offered him bed and board in return for helping to man the fishing boats that he ran from the Riva dei Schiavoni. But Andrea had ambitions for something other than the brutal life of a fisherman, and besides he had no head for the sea. He suffered terribly from sickness when on the water and had no intention of living the seafarer’s life. He had acquired some education before he left home and was determined to continue with it in Venice. He had already worked in several fine houses when he encountered Niccolò. He had been serving at the table of one of dei Conti’s friends and Niccolò, being egalitarian by nature, interested in everyone he met, had slipped into conversation with the boy. He sensed his desire to improve himself. When he established his own household, Niccolò had asked his friend if he might spare the boy to work in his own house. He had offered to tutor Andrea a little each day and was impressed by how quickly he had mastered the written word. He earned his keep and his education by helping the staff in the kitchen, serving at table, bringing in wood, and generally fetching and delivering for the household. But Niccolò sensed the young man’s ambition, and had hopes that, one day, the boy might amount to much more and perhaps become a secretary in his household. When, as was the custom in Venice, one of the great moral speakers of the day gave a public lecture on logic, philosophy or theology, Niccolò would, from time to time, allow the young man to visit Piazza San Marco and listen to the lectures.
Andrea was grateful for Niccolò’s kindness and the
Louis - Sackett's 09 L'amour