Chapter 3044047

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Chapter NumberPART III. I.
Chapter TitleTHE MAD ENGLISHMAN OF VENICE.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3044047
Full Date1893-01-11
Page Number6
Corrections0
Word Count3272
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954)
Trove TitleUnder the Great Seal
article text

OUR NOVEL.

[NOW FIRST PUBLISHED^

UNDER THE GREAT SEAL,

A NOVEL,

BY

JOSEPH HATTON,

Author of " Clytie," " By Order op the

Czar," " John Needham's Double,"

,f Cruel London," &o.

PART III.

CHAPTER I.

"Tab Mad Englishman op V_ici.ce."

'Two rains. The first almost human in its time-worn aspect, its blind windows,

broken columns. The second entirely naman, the living wreck of a man. The first a decayed palace witli a brave and brilliant history. The second a man, battered by cruel blows of fate, aged before his time, but with the windows of his sonl still nndimmed, except for here and there a film that had come from the shedding of many tears.

The marble ruin was not entirely deso- late. It had a custodian, one who knew it when its echoes resounded to the laugh and shout of triumph and festival. The human rain was alone, solitary in the great world. In its pinched and wounded heart lay the everlasting difference be- tween the dead ruin and the -living ; it 'Was the well-spring of hope that keeps green some green sunny spots in the dreariest past and freshens the most arid

forecasts of the futnre.

At the date of this history, Triarte, the historian, will tell you that visitors to Venice must have remarked in passing down the Grand Canal an ancient build- ing with its open loggia on the first , storey, ornamented with marble columns,

having Byzantyne capitals. The antique facade set with slabs of Greek marble and encrusted with circular escutcheons wasfal ling into rain, its interstices choked with earth and moss. Here and there trailing Tines and varied creepers had taken root in floor and crevice, giving that touch of leaf and flower that always arrests the attention wherever it is observed among the halls and palaces of this city in the sea. The Turkish custodian still lived there and might be seen leaning against the last arch of the loggia, a type of Eastern innobility, indifferent to the gon- dolas passing and repassing under his eyes, looking, but seeing nothing. "A , poet who did not know that placidity of

the Oriental, which looks lite dreaming, and yet is so dreamless, might have imagined that he read a look of wistful mess in this man's eyes, and that the forlorn warder was thinking of the ancient glories of Venice."

In these present days if yon would see » with the eyes of the historian and follow

the adventures of the hero of Heart's

Delight yon mast look back through the spick and span facings of the palace that have blotted out the resting place of the prisoner of Tafilet. There are Venetians still living who knew the old palace and its, pictnresque custodian. The stones are fresh that have been piled on the ancient foundations, and the present writer has moved his gondola by the steps in the Grand Canal, and talked with an old Venetian who had seen the faded

faces, and knew the stranger whom they called " the mad Englishman."

The building was the old Fardaco dei Turchi, predecessor of the new palace, built in the thirteenth centary.or of which the present bailding is supposed in many respects to be reproductive of the blind

old house which had for its custodian and

sompanion the Oriential, who was a familiar figure in Venice, when Alan Keith was released from his moorish prison. Three hundred years after the splendid entertainments that the Lords of Briare gave there, tho palace became the residence of the Turkish merchants and dealers, and it was in its last days of de creptitnde and picturesque misery when Alan Keith begged for shelter at the hands of the Turkish custodian.

They were well met these three, the blinking old Turk in the shadow of the crumbling palace and the half demented sea-farer who had been landed by a Spanish ship to take his chances of life

and death m Venice. There was some- thing most articulate in the woes of the three. The palace spoke to the human fancy in whispers of parasite leaves that held many of the marble stones together. The custodian addressed the Englishman, bnt to Alan it was in the unknown tongue of Franee. Alan replied in a guttural English that was full of recollections of the Scotish vernacular, with now and then a smattering of French words and Span- ish, such French, however, as might have been English, to the Turk who could only guess at the stranger's meaning. There was, however, between them a sympathetic langnage which they could not mistake. They Both belonged to the miserable. They had both seen strange adventures ; they wore both old ; they were both poor; poverty knows its fellow. The custodian of the decaying palace clung to the old walls for love and not for wager. Alan had about him the few gold and silver soins that some philanthropic Spaniard had given him when obtaining his release {rom the Moorish dungeon. Elsewhere he had treasure in abondance, away on the silent shores of the sceret waterways of Demon's creek : always supposing that the supposed graves had remained undis tarbea except by wind and weather.

Duting all the days of his imprisonment Alan had never forgotten any circumstance connected with his life at Heart's Delight. Dropped down off Labrador blindfolded he felt that he could steer into the silent harbour whence the canning vengeance of Lester Bentz had driven him and his com-

rades to fall victims to the English ship of war. When some unknown powor had come to the aid of the urisoners at Fenitia, he had selected to bo put ashore at Venice, feeling that of all cities in the world he might there possibly still have a friend. He remembered the young priest's talk of Venice as his home, of the probability of his removal thither, and that he had a mother living iu Florence.

More than twtnty years had gouo by eince then, ami Father Lavello might be dead. He might, however, have left behind him some friend upon whom he could count for advice and help. Twenty

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years was long in the memory of friend- ship, but short in the memory of a foe; and Alan knew not to what extent his name might be branded with the penalties of treason and' crime, with piracy and murder in the annals of British jnstiee. Gould he have known that he was dead in the official report of the admiral of the " St. George "-dead with all his com- rades, dead and bnried with his pirate ship beneath the deep and stormy waves

that roll around Bahama» coral reefs-he

might have selected to. bo pnt on board some English ship ; bat he was wary, and his his mind ; turned to Yenice and Father Lavollo. H& had taken upon him- self a new name by way of wise precau- tion, and resolved to feel his it ay to the abiding-place of Father Lavello, and know something if his. record and the character he boro with his people before entrusting to him the secret ot Ms existence and his desires. His long imprisonment had made him secretive and mistrustful; dniled his perceptive qualities ; given his eye a trick of wandering, and given to his speech a certain hesitancy that to the

common mind marked him down as imbe- cile. And so once more he was dnbbed the mad Englishman, and later he was assigned not only a name but a local habitation: he was called "The Mad Englishman of Venice."

But Alan was far from mad. Dreamy ? Yes, far more so than the dreamy-looking custodian of the time worn palace ; dreamy, with lucid intervals of energy and passion ; dreamy, with poetic mem- ories of a saintly wife and child ; dreamy, with sounds of the sea ia his ears and mirthful voices ; dreamy, with the light, of the crackling fire of a winter's hearth in his memoty, and pictures of domestic peace, of neighbour's sitting in the wintry glow of peat and wood. He was a dreamer gazing back on sunny seas and happy fisher-folk, a dreamer who falls from paradise to hell, from happiness and peace and domestic love and home to tyranny and wrong; to battle, murder, and tempestuous fights at sea ; from lying by the side of a wife beloved beyond all women to lying prone by her grave, victims both of them of a lawless law and lawless magistracy. Yes, he was a dreamer indeed, this wanderer who paused as if from sheer sympathy by the rough steps of the decaying palace with its long robed and be-fezzed. custodian, a wrinkled, silent, bright eyed, ruminating Turk.

Surely this ruined house was the place where such a bony, withered, hawk-eyed mariner as Alan Keith should rest; this was the sentinel of silent palaces and mysterious boats who should make him welcome. And so he addressed himself to the Turk, and the Tnrk came out of his reverie to look with pitying eyes upon the stranger. Such a presentation of pictur- esque age were these three that one^i mind rests upon it with awe and wonder ; The two strange men, the one dead palace.

It was an instinctive act of hospitality

that led the Turk to take the wanderer in. A humble boatman had rowed him from

the qnay in his sándalo, and here he had lef c him with the Turk, who, opposite in creed, in thought, in every way, still found reason for comradeship with his grim petitioner. They were both alone, one with his memories.the other a stranger in a strange land. The custodian however had acquaintances. He had lived long enough in Venice to adopt some of her habits and to be on speaking terms with certain frequenters of a café in a shady corner of the steps that lead upwards over the Rialto bridge. Here he wonld once or twico a week take his cup of coffee and

smoke his chibouk and listen to the con-

versation of other guests while they sipped their diluted anisette or drank their black coffee, denouncing with bated breath or blatent defiance, as the case > might be, their Austrian masters. The blonde mis-

tress of the landlord with her lightly shod feet, showing shapely anales in white stockings, wonld pay special attention to the silent Turk, and the Venetians wonld often talk at him of the time when Yenice was great and free, and the Fonda dei Greahi, one of the glories of the Grand Ganai. Otherwise the custodian had neither kith nor kin nor friends in Yenice. He had permitted, however, the friendly encroachments of a certain humble gondo- lier and his wife te find a lodging in a wing of the palace overlooking a back canal, in return for which they gave him such domestic service as he required, did his marketting, eooked his food, and in winter made desperate ¿if unavailing efforts to keep his saloon warm. Atilio was the gondolier and Teresa was his wife, and they could both speak a little English picked np in the service of a great mer- chant who had traded round the world and had once taken them to the great port of London. But Atilio had never heard such strange English as the grim stranger spoke and Teresa had never seen outside so evidently mad a lodger as he whom his excellency, the Signori, had thought well to shelter and protect.

In such a multifarious community as that of Yenice in those days, with its strange sails from Eastern ports and West, with its curious fisherfolk from the islands of the lagoons, its mysterious Jews of the ghetto in their picturesque gaberdines, its Austrian officials and sentinels, and its grave old citizens, it might have been thought that Alan Keith wonld have escaped notice ; 'but he seemed to impress mysteriously the most ordinary person ; his ganntfigure towering above the crowd, the long, patched and foreign coat he wore reaching, from his neck to his buckled shoes, and decorated in some queer bar- baric fashion; his long spider legs in faded velvet trunks and silken hose ; his bony hands and pallid bony face, his sunken eyes that shone like meteors from beneath his shaggy eyebrows ; his long, thin grey hair, and his restless mannet' j they knew not what to make of him, the simple gondolier and his wife, and the keeper of the cafe* whither the silent Turk had taken him, were so much at a loss ; and in a very short time he came to be spoken of as " the mad English- man." Once unwittingly he had offended a number of men and boys on the quay by some remark tfhieh he thought was a complimentary expression in choice Italian and which was' nothing like it. They made for him to testify their anger in blows, bnt the gaunt Engländer scat- tered them like leaves before a mighty wind. Mischief wonld have been done, had not an English captain whose ship was lying in port awaiting her sailing papers, interposed and explained what, the stranger had intended to say, whereupon the crowd burst into laughter, and insisted on shaking hands with the poor mad fellow; for now they knew-he must be mad to call them villains and beasts of

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burden, when he had» meant to d6 them

honour.

And 60 Alan wandered about the city, which was to him a* dream within-a dream, and he a ghost from some other world. He was happy, quite-happy, foc a long, long time, free to come and go, with

shelter for his head and food for his head and food for his stomach. No gaoler held him by the heels. Once in a way, the Austrian challenge- of " Malt ! Wer daJ" broke in npon his dreams, but the sentinel would smile good naturedly as the mad Englishman retired with a bow of submission and a "pardon me8sieur," spoken with a broad Scotch accent. Alan, indeed, began, to think he had been translated to Paradise, and for a time what he considered to be the ambi- tion of his latter days» faded out in the free air of Italy; for it was free to him» the very essence of the snpremest liberty, whatever it might be to the Italians, whose aspirations he did not understand. He found that the few gold and silver pieces which his Spanish deliverer had deposited with the suit of clothe» with which he had been endowed, and the bundle of curious linen that had been placed for him on board the ship, went along way in the estimate of the unspeakable Turk, and that an odd coin now and then, made Atilio and Theresa bqjbh willing servants, however mad he might seem to them-a madness that was not vicious, be it said, but a madness that was unmistakable-especially when, as had happened more than once, Alan had tossed one of his strange coins npon the cafe counter to treat some lasgnwne to a cup of wine, or had himself indulged in an extra glass of brandy with his coffee ;

for then his eyes wouhjj, fairly blaze, and

be would talk of fights on sea and land, of stormy waters and the haunted lands of distant shores, but even then, he spoke with a kind of reserve that emphasised

his madness.

There was neither latitude nor longi- tude in his inconsequential yarns ; but once in a cafe down by the quay, he had been led into making overtures to an Erglish captain concerning a buried treasure. He had discovered a sudden energy during a talk between the captain and his mate. They had heard of a sunken Spanish galleon that of late had shifted, and now showed her masts, and into whose hold a Frenchman had dived and found it full of gold. Thereupon Alan's dream of peace, and happy days of freedom in an earthly paradise had gone back to reality, and ne felt how poor he was, yet how rich, that he might still

have a son alive to whom he owed a

fatherly dnty, and to whom for the sweet sake of an angel mother in Heaven, he felt a yearning affection.

" I Ken of a treasure," he said, looking np from the seat where he had been huddled smoking a wooden pipe with a long reed stem, " and, eh mon, if I'd a ship, and ane or twa good hans, I'd mek the fortune of him who'd provide it; a nod's just as gude as a wenk to a blind

horse.'*

The sailors looked with undisguised surprise at the foreign looking withered old man, who without invitation joined in their conversation, and made a wild declaration of secret wealth, not in French or German, not in Italian, or Moorish, or Hebrew, but in Scotchy English, and at

Venice.

" Where d'ye hail from, master?" asked the captain.

"Ah, ah," laughed Alan, "that's a vera easy question."

" I should say so," remarked the mate, pouring ont a fresh glass of Chianti for

his chief.

" Ef I could jest mek a contract wi' ye, givin' me command o' yer shep," said Alan, "within sixty days ye'd nae no

further cause to sail the seas."

"Very likely not," said the captain, good naturedly, "and no ship to sail in maybe; join us, friend, in a glass of wine for the sake of bonnie Scotland; that's where ye hail from, I'm thinking."

" May be," said Alan, " we knaw where we hail f rae, but where are we gaein' ? That's the puzzle, eh ?"

Alan felt he was being questioned ; and he was still wary abont committing him- self ; for he had yet to learn on what legal grounds he stood. He had reason to expect Father Lavello in Venice. Idly as he had spent his time, dreaming in the sun, revelling in his freedom, he had nevertheless busied himself in enquiries about Father Lavello ; and the gondolier

had at last made out what he wanted. In

the first place Alan's method of pronounc- ing the Italian name had been a barrier to inquiry, and in the next place Father Lavello had left Venice for Verono ; and Atillio had succeeded in having conveyed there a letter from Alan, to which an answer had been received by word of mouth, implying that Alan would very soon see the priest whom he sought. This progress had only been achieved within a few days of the incident on the quay ; and Alan felt that he might be very near the discovery of things of the last import« ance to him, and he became the more cir- cumspect. At the same time, he had ox late brooded over a possible means of visiting Newfoundland, more particularly the scene of his buried fortunes, and the deep interest which the two English officers were expressing in the sunken treasure of a Spanish ship, unloosed his tongue ; but to no further purpose than to convince the strangers that he was a softy, a dreamer of dreams, a harmless lnnatic.

[To be continued on Saturday.']