Read Daughters of the Doge Online
Authors: Edward Charles
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical
April the 1st 1556 – Ca’ da Mosto
The search by the authorities had remained with me and I could no longer enter the Ca’ da Mosto with any sense of returning home to a safe haven. Now, I arrived there with a feeling of foreboding, and stayed away as often and for as long as I could.
I began looking in earnest to find us somewhere else to live. The earl had wanted to be close to ‘the lady’, but recent events had made it abundantly clear that she did not want him on her doorstep, and I was clear that my own loyalties lay with Veronica rather than Courtenay
Thomas would, I was sure, resume his work at the Oratorio, and I tried to ensure that wherever I chose would be as convenient for him as possible. But whatever considerations I may have fed into the equation on my friends’ behalf, all roads seemed to lead back to the area I now knew best the triangle between Tintoretto’s workshop, the Trattoria Sensazione and the convent at Sant’ Alvise.
Eventually I found a good, dry and comfortable house to rent on the Fondamenta della Sensa, right in the middle of this triangle. It was much smaller than our previous residence, but when you discounted the unused commercial space of the Ca’ da Mosto, the living space was comparable. The
there was wide, and being on the north side of the Rio della Sensa, the building was south-facing and flooded with light. The pavement of the
was of a yellowish stone whilst the brickwork of the houses opposite was a warm chestnut pink – almost the colour Tintoretto called Venetian red.
The house itself was of three storeys: the ground floor housing kitchens and living quarters, with private rooms above. I selected the best rooms for the earl, and made sure that Thomas and I both had dry and comfortable rooms of a good size. I resolved to move in as soon as possible, and planned to meet the agent for one final visit and to sign the lease at the house.
The prospect of moving from the Ca’ da Mosto lifted my spirits. Apart from Andrea and his mother, the cook, I would have the place to myself for another two or three weeks. That thought led my mind back to Faustina and I decided I would write her a short note, which I could leave at the trattoria for Hieronimo to deliver.
Suddenly, it was all beginning to feel tidy, as if the pieces of my life were starting to fit together. I sat at the table and wrote.
Dear Suor Faustina,
I hope I can address you thus, for the thought of my next meeting with you seems to lift my spirits and I find myself looking forward to our conversation.
My companions and I will soon be moving house and as a result, I shall, in future, be closer to you than I was before. . .
I put down my pen and looked, perhaps for the last time, out of the window of the Ca’ da Mosto and across the Grand Canal.
Closer to you than I was before.
Until Veronica had talked about what might be in Suor Faustina’s mind, I had thought of her purely as a nun – a beautiful one, to be sure, but not a person who might have sexual feelings; perhaps even feelings towards
But, once planted, the possibility would not go away.
I thought of her long blonde hair, and what it would be like to stroke it; of her smooth cheek and what it would be like to rub my own cheek against it whilst breathing words of comfort in her ear; of her soft, expressive mouth and what it would be like to kiss those nervous lips. And when I removed the restraints on my mind, and let it roam free, I found myself thinking of that long slim body and how, released from the fear and repression of the convent, and the nun’s habit that sometimes encased it, she might respond to my touch.
The thought was so strong that I had to put it to the back of my mind before I dared commence writing once again.
I have not forgotten my promise to you. Please be assured I am doing everything I can to find the means to release you from your situation and will continue diligently to work on a plan. Please be patient, for as you told me, it will not be easy, but I am confident I shall prevail before too long.
In the meantime, is there anything you need which I could have sent to you?
Your friend and supporter,
I sanded the letter and read it through. ‘I am confident I shall prevail before too long.’
On what basis did I write those words? In truth, I had absolutely no idea how to overcome the difficulties in her life, and for a moment I felt sick at the thought that I might be building her expectations unfairly, only for her to see them dashed to the floor as I failed to deliver.
I took a deep breath. I must simply try harder. Her situation was unfair and unacceptable and I had promised to help. The responsibility was mine now, and I simply must rise to the challenge. But how? Something would come up. If right was on your side, it always did, didn’t it?
I folded the letter, sealed it and set off for the Fondamenta della Sensa.
April the 4th 1556 – Harbourside tavern in Chioggia
I had never seen so much seafood, and the smell of it was quite overpowering. The catches included crabs, shrimps, octopus, clams, eels and dozens of species of fish.
Sebastiano was in his element, for his family included fishermen from Murano and the prices here were good. His uncle had lent him the fishing boat on condition that he bought and brought back some of the specialities of the Chioggia market, and I quickly found myself forgotten.
I found the ‘red tavern’ without difficulty, right at the waterside and, with an hour to spare, I settled down in an unobtrusive corner to watch the boats arriving at the quayside, and the fish being landed and sold to the crowd of eager customers who milled around excitedly. Although much larger and busier, it reminded me of Brixham on a hazy, lazy day.
I waited, drinking a glass of wine as slowly as I could, and eating freshly cooked prawns with fresh bread. It was approaching midday and I was beginning to wonder if I had come on the wrong day when there was a gentle tap on my shoulder.
I turned to find Walsingham, who had slipped gently into the seat behind me. I went to speak, but he signalled silence. ‘Come to the back where we can see without being seen.’
I followed him to the back of the tavern, taking the remainder of my prawns with me. ‘I didn’t see you come in.’ I said it in a way which sounded more accusatory than I had intended.
Walsingham grinned. ‘I was already here when you arrived. I decided to wait and make sure you were not followed.’ I gulped. That thought had not entered my mind. Sebastiano and I had sailed alone across the lagoon, with no other boats close to us. Neither of us had announced our intentions, except Sebastiano, who had only told his father in order to obtain the boat.
I looked up and saw John Cheke and Peter Carew walking past the window of the tavern. Walsingham whispered, ‘They are being careful. There is danger about, as they will tell you soon.’
Cheke and Carew must have turned, for now they came back and entered the tavern. Cheke peered into the darkness, his old eyes not what they had been, but Carew saw us immediately. Walsingham made no reaction and Carew did likewise, leading Cheke to a corner table across the tavern. They sat together, heads low, talking quietly, while Walsingham looked round the room, watching for reactions. After a full ten minutes, in which no new customers entered, he was satisfied and we crossed over to join the others.
We did not shake hands, but greeted each other quietly and got straight down to business. As on the previous occasion, Walsingham took the lead.
‘Gentlemen, we are gathered here today to formalize our party into a society. I suggest we call ourselves the Sons of England. Our long-term purpose is known: to hasten the end of Queen Mary’s reign and to ensure that she is replaced by none other than the Princess Elizabeth. But that, in itself, will not suffice, for even when that has been achieved, and achieved it will be, Queen Elizabeth will be surrounded by unreliable men, not just active Catholics, but weak men and backsliders, who are in many ways more dangerous to our cause.’
Sir Peter Carew growled his agreement. ‘Damn their eyes the lot of them.’
Walsingham continued. ‘Sir Peter, perhaps you will acquaint Richard with your recent experiences?’
Carew growled again. ‘I was in Venice, visiting friends, when I was attacked. There were five of them:
paid thugs. It was no robbery and no accident. I heard one of them say, “There he is, with the black beard,” and they came straight at me. They made two mistakes – underestimating a professional soldier, and giving me those few seconds of warning. My sword was out before they reached me.
‘I ran the first attacker through the throat with my sword and went for the ringleader. In my experience, when attacked by a group, always go for the biggest first. It worked; I cut him across the face, blinding him, and he fell, screaming. The other three wavered and I cut one hard in the neck. He dropped like a stone, silent and dead within seconds. It was the blood on the pavement that saved the other two, for as I went after them I slipped in it and staggered. By the time I had recovered my balance, they were gone.’
I found myself gripping the edge of the table. ‘Who were they?’
Carew hissed, his temper raised by the memory of the fight. ‘Nobody Paid thugs. But I got to the bottom of it. The blinded one was screaming in pain, half his face hanging off, and begging me to finish him off. He told me who paid them before I cut his throat. “The old reverend gentleman from Lucca,” he said.’