James Fenimore Cooper.

The bravo : a tale online

. (page 1 of 33)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe bravo : a tale → online text (page 1 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


IIUu0irat& (Cabinet Eiitum



James Fenimore ,Cooper

Dana Estes & Company



6 1 ?




STRETCHING ms ARMS Frontispiece

Photogravure from Darley steel plate


Photogravure from a photograph


Photogravure from Barley steel plate


IT is to be regretted the world does not discriminate more
justly in its use of political terms. Governments are usual
ly called either monarchies or republics. The former class
embraces equally those institutions in which the sovereign
is worshipped as a god, and those in which he performs the
humble office of a manikin. In the latter we find aristoc
racies and democracies blended in the same generic appella
tion. The consequence of a generalization so wide is an
utter confusion on the subject of the polity of states.

The author has endeavored to give his countrymen, in this
book, a picture of the social system of one of the soi-disant
republics of the other hemisphere. There has been no at
tempt to portray historical characters, only too fictitious in
their graver dress, but simply to set forth the familiar opera
tions of Venetian policy. For the justification of his like
ness, after allowing for the defects of execution, he refers to
the well-known work of M. Daru.

A history of the progress of political liberty, written
purely in the interests of humanity, is still a desideratum in
literature. In nations which have made a false commence
ment, it would be found that the citizen, or rather the sub
ject, has extorted immunity after immunity, as his growing
intelligence and importance have both instructed and re
quired him to defend those particular rights which were
necessary to his well-being. A certain accumulation of these
immunities constitutes, with a solitary and recent exception
in Switzerland, the essence of European liberty, even at this


hour. It is scarcely necessary to tell the reader, that this
freedom, be it more or less, depends on a principle entirely
different from our own. Here the immunities do not pro
ceed from, but they are granted to, the government, being,
in other words, concessions of natural rights made by the
people to the state, for the benefits of social protection. So
long as this vital difference exists between ourselves and
other nations, it will be vain to think of finding analogies
in their institutions. It is true that, in an age like this,
public opinion is itself a charter, and that the most despotic
government which exists within the pale of Christendom,
must, in some degree, respect its influence. The mildest
and justest governments in Europe are, at this moment, the
oretically despotisms. The characters of both prince and
people enter largely into the consideration of so extraordi
nary results; and it should never be forgotten that, though
the character of the latter be sufficiently secure, that of the
former is liable to change. But, admitting every benefit
which possibly can flow from a just administration, with
wise and humane princes, a government which is not prop
erly based on the people, possesses an unavoidable and op
pressive evil of the first magnitude, in the necessity of sup
porting itself by physical force and onerous impositions,
against the natural action of the majority.

Were we to characterize a republic, we should say it was
a state in which power, both theoretically and practically, is
derived from the nation, with a constant responsibility of
the agents of the public to the people a responsibility that
is neither to be evaded nor denied. That such a system is
better on a large than on a small scale, though contrary to
brilliant theories which have been written to uphold differ
ent institutions, must be evident on the smallest reflection,
since the danger of all popular governments is from popular
mistakes; and a people of diversified interests and extended
territorial possessions, are much less likely to be the sub
jects of sinister passions than the inhabitants of a single


town or county. If to this definition we should add, as an
infallible test of the genus, that a true republic is a govern
ment of which all others are jealous and vituperative, on the
instinct of self-preservation, we believe there would be no
mistaking the class. How far Venice would have been ob
noxious to this proof, the reader is left to judge for himself.



I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand ;
I saw from out the wave her structures rise,
As from the stroke of the enchanter s wand ;
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying glory smiles
O er the far times, when many a subject land
Looked to the winged lions marble piles,
Where Venice sat in state, throned on her hundred isles.


THE sun had disappeared behind the summits of the Tyro
lean Alps, and the moon was already risen above the low
barrier of the Lido. Hundreds of pedestrians were pouring
out of the narrow streets of Venice into the square of St.
Mark, like water gushing through some strait aqueduct, into
a broad and bubbling basin. Gallant cavalieri and grave
cittadini; soldiers of Dalmatia, and seamen of the galleys;
dames of the city, and females of lighter manners; jewel
lers of the Rialto, and traders from the Levant; Jew, Turk,
and Christian ; traveller, adventurer, podesta, valet, avvo-
cato, and gondolier, held their way alike to the common
centre of amusement. The hurried air and careless eye; the
measured step and jealous glance; the jest and laugh; the
song of the cantatrice, and the melody of the flute; the grim
ace of the buffoon, and the tragic frown of the improvisa-
tore; the pyramid of the grotesque, the compelled and mel
ancholy smile of the harpist, cries of water-sellers, cowls of
monks, plumage of warriors, hum of voices, and the uni
versal movement and bustle, added to the more permanent


objects of the place, rendered the scene the most remarkable
of Christendom.

On the very confines of that line which separates western
from eastern Europe, and in constant communication with
the latter, Venice possessed a greater admixture of character
and costume, than any other of the numerous ports of that
region. A portion of this peculiarity is still to be ob
served, under the fallen fortunes of the place; but at the
period of our tale, the city of the isles, though no longer
mistress of the Mediterranean, nor even of the Adriatic,
was still rich and powerful. Her influence was felt in the
councils of the civilized world, and her commerce, though
waning, was yet sufficient to uphold the vast possessions of
those families, whose ancestors had become rich in the day
of her prosperity. Men lived among her islands in that state
of incipient lethargy, which marks the progress of a down
ward course, whether the decline be of a moral or of a phys
ical decay.

At the hour we have named, the vast parallelogram of
the piazza was filling fast, the cafes and casinos within the
porticoes, which surround three of its sides, being already
thronged with company. While all beneath the arches was
gay and brilliant with the flare of torch and lamp, the noble
range of edifices called the Procuratories, the massive pile
of the Ducal Palace, the most ancient Christian church, the
granite columns of the piazzetta, the triumphal masts of the
great square, and the giddy tower of the campanile, were
slumbering in the more mellow glow of the moon.

Facing the wide area of the great square stood the quaint
and venerable cathedral of San Marco. A temple of tro
phies, and one equally proclaiming the prowess and the
piety of its founders, this remarkable structure presided over
the other fixtures of the place, like a monument of the re
public s antiquity and greatness. Its Saracenic architec
ture, the rows of precious but useless little columns that
load its front, the low Asiatic domes which rest upon its


walls in the repose of a thousand years, the rude and gaudy
mosaics, and above all the captured horses of Corinth which
start from out the sombre mass in the glory of Grecian art,
received from the solemn and appropriate light, a character
of melancholy and mystery, that well comported with the
thick recollections which crowd the mind as the eye gazes
at this rare relic of the past.

As fit companions to this edifice, the other peculiar orna
ments of the place stood at hand. The base of the campa
nile lay in shadow, but a hundred feet of its gray summit
received the full rays of the moon along its eastern face.
The masts destined to bear the conquered ensigns of Can-
dia, Constantinople, and the Morea, cut the air by its side,
in dark and fairy lines; while at the extremity of the small
er square, and near the margin of the sea, the forms of the
winged lion and the patron saint of the city, each on his
column of African granite, were distinctly traced against
the background of the azure sky.

It was near the base of the former of these massive blocks
of stone, that one stood who seemed to gaze at the animated
and striking scene, with the listlessness and indifference of
satiety. A multitude, some in masks and others careless
of being known, had poured along the quay into the piaz-
zetta, on their way to the principal square, while this indi
vidual had scarce turned a glance aside, or changed a limb
in weariness. His attitude was that of patient, practised,
and obedient waiting on another s pleasure. With folded
arms, a body poised on one leg, and a vacant though good-
humored eye, he appeared to attend some beck of authority
ere he quitted the spot. A silken jacket, in whose tissue
flowers of the gayest colors were interwoven, the falling col
lar of scarlet, the bright velvet cap with armorial bearings
embroidered on its front, proclaimed him to be a gondolier
in private service.

Wearied at length with the antics of a distant group of
tumblers, whose pile of human bodies had for a time arrest-


ed his look, this individual turned away, and faced the light
air from the water. Recognition and pleasure shot into his
countenance, and in a moment his arms were interlocked
with those of a swarthy mariner, who wore the loose attire
and Phrygian cap of men of his calling. The gondolier
was the first to speak, the words flowing from him in the
soft accents of his native islands.

"Is it thou, Stefano? They said thou hadst fallen into
the gripe of the devils of Barbary, and that thou wast plant
ing flowers for an infidel with thy hands, and watering them
with thy tears! "

The answer was in the harsher dialect of Calabria, and
it was given with the rough familiarity of a seaman.

"La Bella Sorrentina is no housekeeper of a curato!
She is not a damsel to take a siesta with a Tunisian rover
prowling about in her neighborhood. Hadst ever been be
yond the Lido, thou wouldst have known the difference be
tween chasing the felucca and catching her."

" Kneel down and thank San Teodoro for his care. There
was much praying on thy decks that hour, caro Stefano,
though none is bolder among the mountains of Calabria
when thy felucca is once safely drawn up on the beach! "

The mariner cast a half-comic, half-serious glance up
ward at the image of the patron saint, ere he replied:

" There was more need of the wings of thy lion than of
the favor of thy saint. I never come further north for aid
than San Gennaro, even when it blows a hurricane."

" So much the worse for thee, caro, since the good bishop
is better at stopping the lava than at quieting the winds.
But there was danger, then, of losing the felucca and her
brave people among the Turks? "

"There, was, in truth, a Tunis-man prowling about, be
tween Stromboli and Sicily; but, Ali di San Michele! he
might better have chased the cloud above the volcano than
run after the felucca in a sirocco! "

"Thou wast chicken-hearted, Stefano!"


"I! I was more like thy lion here, with some small ad
ditions of chains and muzzles."

"As was seen by thy felucca s speed? "

"Cospetto! I wished myself a knight of San Giovanni a
thousand times during the chase, and La Bella Sorrentina a
brave Maltese galley, if it were only for the cause of Chris
tian honor! The miscreant hung upon my quarter for the
better part of three glasses; so near, that I could tell which
of the knaves wore dirty cloth in his turban, and which clean.
It was a sore sight to a Christian, Stefano, to see the right
thus borne upon by an infidel."

"And thy feet warmed with the thought of the bastinado,
caro mio? "

" I have run too often barefoot over our Calabrian moun
tains, to tingle at the sole with every fancy of that sort."

" Every man has his weak spot, and I know thine to be
dread of a Turk s arm. Thy native hills have their soft as
well as their hard ground, but it is said the Tunisian
chooses a board knotty as his own heart, when he amuses
himself with the wailings of a Christian."

" Well, the happiest of us all must take such as fortune
brings. If my soles are to be shod with blows, the honest
priest of Sant Agata will be cheated by a penitent. I have
bargained with the good curato, that all such accidental ca
lamities shall go in the general account of penance. But
how fares the world of Venice? and what dost thou among
the canals at this season, to keep the flowers of thy jacket
from wilting? "

" To-day, as yesterday, and to-morrow will be as to-day.
I row the gondola from the Rialto to the Giudecca ; from
San Giorgio to San Marco; from San Marco to the Lido,
and from the Lido home. There are no Tunis-men by the
way, to chill the heart or warm the feet."

"Enough of friendship. And is there nothing stirring
in the republic? no young noble drowned, nor any Jew


"Nothing of that much interest except the calamity
which befel Pietro. Thou rememberest Pietrello? he who
crossed into Dalmatia with thee once, as a supernumerary,
the time he was suspected of having aided the young French
man in running away with a senator s daughter? "

"Do I remember the last famine? The rogue did noth
ing but eat maccaroni, and swallow the lachryma christi,
which the Dalmatian count had on freight."

"Poverino! His gondola has been run down by an An-
cona man, who passed over the boat as if it were a senator
stepping on a fly."

" So much for little fish coming into deep water."

"The honest fellow was crossing the Giudecca, with a
stranger, who had occasion to say his prayers at the Reden-
tore, when the brig hit him in the canopy, and broke up the
gondola, as if it had been a bubble left by the Bucentaur."

" The padrone should have been too generous to complain
of Pietro s clumsiness, since it met with its own punish

"Madre di Dio! He went to sea that hour, or he might
be feeding the fishes of the Lagunes! There is not a gon
dolier in Venice who did not feel the wrong at his heart;
and we know how to obtain justice for an insult, as well as
our masters."

"Well, a gondola is mortal, as well as a felucca, and both
have their time; better die by the prow of a brig than fall
into the gripe of a Turk. How is thy young master, Gino;
and is he likely to obtain his claims of the senate? "

"He cools himself in the Giudecca in the morning; and
if thou would st know what he does at evening, thou hast
only to look among the nobles in the Broglio."

As the gondolier spoke he glanced an eye aside at a
group of patrician rank, who paced the gloomy arcades
which supported the superior walls of the doge s palace, a
spot sacred, at times, to the uses of the privileged.

" I am no stranger to the habit thy Venetian nobles have


of coming to that low colonnade at this hour, but I never
before heard of their preferring the waters of the Giudecca
for their baths."

" Were even the doge to throw himself out of a gondola,
he must sink or swim, like a meaner Christian."

"Acqua dell Adriatico! Was the young duca going to
the Redentore, too, to say his prayers? "

" He was coming back after having; but what matters it
in what canal a young noble sighs away the night! We
happened to be near when the Ancona-man performed his
feat; while Giorgio and I were boiling with rage at the awk
wardness of the stranger, my master, who never had much
taste or knowledge in gondolas, went into the water to save
the young lady from sharing the fate of her uncle."

"Diavolo! This is the first syllable thou hast uttered
concerning any young lady, or of the death of her uncle! "

"Thou wert thinking of thy Tunis-man, and hast forgot
ten. I must have told thee how near the beautiful signora
was to sharing the fate of the gondola, and how the loss of
the Roman marchese weighs, in addition, on the soul of
the padrone."

"Santo Padre! That a Christian should die the death
of a hunted dog by the carelessness of a gondolier! "

" It may have been lucky for the Ancona-man that it so
fell out ; for they say the Roman was one of influence enough
to make a senator cross the Bridge of Sighs, at need."

"The devil take all careless watermen, say I! And what
became of the awkward rogue ? "

"I tell thee he went outside the Lido that very hour,
or "


" He was brought up by the oar of Giorgio, for both of us
were active in saving the cushions and other valuables."

" Could st thou do nothing for the poor Roman ? Ill-luck
may follow that brig on account of his death ! "

"Ill-luck follow her, say I, till she lays her bones on some


rock that is harder than the heart of her padrone. As for
the stranger, we could do no more than offer up a prayer to
San Teodoro, since he never rose after the blow. But what
has brought thee to Venice, caro mio? for thy ill-fortune
with the oranges, in the last voyage, caused thee to denounce
the place."

The Calabrian laid a ringer on one cheek, and drew the
skin down in a manner to give a droll expression to his
dark, comic eye, while the whole of his really fine Grecian
face was charged with an expression of coarse humor.

" Look you, Gino thy master sometimes calls for his
gondola between sunset and morning? "

" An owl is not more wakeful than he has been of late.
This head of mine has not been on a pillow before the sun
has come above the Lido, since the snows melted from Mon-

" And when the sun of thy master s countenance sets in
his own palazzo, thou hastenest off to the bridge of the Ri-
alto, among the jewellers and butchers, to proclaim the
manner in which he passed the night? "

"Diamine! Twould be the last night I served the Duca
di Sant Agata, were my tongue so limber! The gondolier
and the confessor are the two privy-councillors of a noble,
Master Stefano, with this small difference that the last
only knows what the sinner wishes to reveal, while the first
sometimes knows more. I can find a safer, if not a more
honest employment, than to be running about with my mas
ter s secrets in the air."

" And I am wiser than to let every Jew broker in San
Marco here, have a peep into my charter-party."

" Nay, old acquaintance, there is some difference between
our occupations after all. A padrone of a felucca cannot,
in justice, be compared to the most confidential gondolier
of a Neapolitan duke, who has an unsettled right to be ad
mitted to the Council of Three Hundred."

"Just the difference between smooth water and rough


you ruffle the surface of a canal with a lazy oar, while I run
the channel of Piombino in a mistral, shoot the Faro of
Messina in a white squall, double Santa Maria di Leuca in
a breathing Levanter, and come skimming up the Adriatic
before a sirocco that is hot enough to cook my maccaroni,
and which sets the whole sea boiling worse than the cal
drons of Scylla."

"Hist!" eagerly interrupted the gondolier, who had in
dulged, with Italian humor, in the controversy for preemi
nence, though without any real feeling, "here comes one
who may think, else, we shall have need of his hand to
settle the dispute Eccolo! "

The Calabrian recoiled a pace, in silence, and stood re
garding the individual who had caused this hurried remark,
with a gloomy but steady air. The stranger moved slowly
past. His years were under thirty, though the calm gravity
of his countenance imparted to it a character of more mature
age. The cheeks were bloodless, but they betrayed rather
the pallid hue of mental than of bodily disease. The per
fect condition of the physical man was sufficiently exhibited
in the muscular fulness of a body which, though light and
active, gave every indication of strength. His step was
firm, assured, and even; his carriage erect and easy, and his
whole mien was strongly characterized by a self-possession
that could scarcely escape observation ; and yet his attire
was that of an inferior class. A doublet of common velvet,
a dark Montero cap, such as was then much used in the
southern countries of Europe, with other vestments of a sim
ilar fashion, composed his dress. The face was melancholy
rather than sombre, and its perfect repose accorded well
with the striking calmness of the body. The lineaments of
the former, however, were bold and even noble, exhibiting
that strong and manly outline which is so characteristic of
the finer class of the Italian countenance. Out of this
striking array of features gleamed an eye that was full of
brilliancy, meaning, and passion.


As the stranger passed, his glittering organs rolled over
the persons of the gondolier and his companion, but the
look, though searching, was entirely without interest. Twas
the wandering but wary glance, which men who have much
reason to distrust, habitually cast on a multitude. It turned
with the same jealous keenness on the face of the next
it encountered, and by the time the steady and well-balanced
form was lost in the crowd, that quick and glowing eye had
gleamed, in the same rapid and uneasy manner, on twenty

Neither the gondolier nor the mariner of Calabria spoke
until their riveted gaze after the retiring figure became use
less. Then the former simply ejaculated, with a strong res
piration :


His companion raised three of his fingers, with an occult
meaning, toward the palace of the doges.

"Do they let him take the air, even in San Marco? " he
asked, in unfeigned surprise.

"It is not easy, caro amico, to make water run up stream,
or to stop the downward current. It is said that most of the
senators would sooner lose their hopes of the horned bonnet,
than lose him. Jacopo! He knows more family secrets
than the good Priore of San Marco himself, and he, poor
man, is half his time in the confessional."

"Aye, they are afraid to put him in an iron jacket, lest
awkward secrets should be squeezed out."

"Corpo di Bacco! there would be little peace in Venice,
if the Council of Three should take it into their heads to
loosen the tongue of yonder man in that rude manner."

" But they say, Gino, that thy Council of Three has a
fashion of feeding the fishes of the Lagunes, which might
throw the suspicion of his death on some unhappy Ancona-
man, were the body ever to come up again."

"Well, no need of bawling it aloud, as if thou wert hail
ing a Sicilian through thy trumpet, though the fact should


be so. To say the truth, there are few men in business \vho
are thought to have more custom than he who has just gone
up the piazeztta."

"Two sequins!" rejoined the Calabrian, enforcing his
meaning by a significant grimace.

"Santa Madonna! Thou forgettest. Stefano, that not
even the confessor has any trouble with a job in which he
has been employed. Not a caratano less than a hundred
will buy a stroke of his art. Your blows, for two sequins,
leave a man leisure to tell tales, or even to say his prayers
half the time."

" Jacopo! " ejaculated the other, with an emphasis which
seemed to be a sort of summing-up of all his aversion and

The gondolier shrugged his shoulders with quite as much
meaning as a man born on the shores of the Baltic could
have conveyed by words; but he too appeared to think the
matter exhausted.

" Stefano Milano," he added, after a moment of pause,
"there are things in Venice which he who would eat his
maccaroni in peace, would do well to forget, Let thy
errand in port be what it may, thou art in good season to
witness the regatta which will be given by the state itself

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe bravo : a tale → online text (page 1 of 33)