Once again, a glowing sun gave new life to the fertile Lombard plain, while the streets that ran like veins through Milan's medieval heart darkened with rustling shadows.
Still, the surrounded city maintained a musty aroma born of its thick stone walls. More noxious odors permeated its narrowest passages, but lessened as these merged with broader avenues . . . avenues that led, ultimately, to the pleasant relief of open squares.
In such spaces lined with plane trees, the city's residents strolled to exhibit trappings of a more prosperous age. On their fingers gleamed gold, as well as old gems proclaiming wealth--though rarely the love of current fashion. Clad largely in black, with linens the color of antique ivory, they went proudly about their business or pleasure, watched by statues with smooth, protruding eyes.
In an avenue adjoining one particular square stood a house just taller than the rest, whose upper windows reflected the spires of the city's vast cathedral. Suddenly, the walls and roof tiles of this dwelling and those around it began to throb with a clamor of bells--a reminder to both the religious and the worldly. However, this was ignored by a collection of urchins who ran through the square below, laughing and tossing a leather ball.
Now, a boy begged another to lob the object forward, while enemies attempted to alter its course with jabs of sharp elbows, and kicks at their companions' shins. Sedate strollers looked on with disapproval, occasionally raising an umbrella, or a cane, in protest.
The ball was caught; its new possessor, a ragged, grinning child of eight, looked for a likely accomplice. Instead of risking a throw through jostling arms and feet, he kicked the ball high into the air; it streaked in a surprising arc. Some who watched imagined it would go through an open window and be lost, perhaps forever! Others feared that when it did come down it would splash through the filth in the gutter, endangering them all.
Yet when the leather sphere landed, it went nearly unnoticed. By then, most in the square had seen something else descending, too . . . more slowly, it seemed, and with far greater import. Young and old pointed toward the tall house half a block away, and to something there in the street--something white, lying on the paving stones.
It may have been that others cried out, but what was later recalled was a scream propelled from the throat of the falling body. This still seemed to echo as the boys raced to investigate, pursued by shouting men and staggering, moaning women. Few were uncertain of what they would find. Such an event was far from unheard of in a city that lived with summer heat--where men, and more often women, sat or leaned by open windows.
The boys came to a halt, staring at what they found. One looked away--and then, with wonder, up. In a high frame, he saw a man with fair skin and reddish hair. He, too, wore white, for he leaned out in his shirtsleeves, most likely from a room in his own home. He stood absolutely still, staring at the body below, while the curtains on either side of him fluttered in the breeze. A moment later he turned, and was gone.
Soon many in the street moved away as well, some with looks of pity, others with revulsion written on their slack faces. The boys, shifting from foot to foot and still curious, watched while a handful of knowledgeable gentlemen knelt to be sure. But nothing would ever return life to the young woman who lay there, her dark hair in disarray, her body clad only in a shift. She was still very beautiful, though her head was turned back at an absurd angle. Clearly, the fall had killed her. That much, even the boys could tell.
However, as several others continued to stare up to the fatal window whose curtains still waved almost gaily, some asked themselves the usual question, which came from a greater experience of life.
The fall, certainly. And yet, might there also have been . . . something more?
Buffeted by a fierce night's wind and rain, the brig Swallow
lay over on her side as she churned along through the white-crested Atlantic. Most on board had seen worse weather, but still they clung to their loved ones--at least, those who had them near. Others made do with sacred books or brandy bottles. Yet another group of passengers down in the very bowels of the craft shook in solitary misery, with nothing to cheer them at all.
Above these timid souls, seamen did a good night's work in the rigging, adjusting canvas sail or replacing tatters as they blew out, keeping their vessel alive. Nor was their work in vain, for by the light of a new day it was seen that the ship had run through the storm, and would have little trouble maneuvering the channel into which it now sailed. The wind, yet fresh, in fact gave the captain a chance to steer sharply as he made his way past black rocks and grassy islands, at last gaining a clear view of his destination.
There, finally, was Boston. At last count it was home to seventeen thousand, all owing the several oceans much for their livelihood, and indeed for their oft-envied wealth. At any rate, that was the way it looked to the Swallow's captain who made do with very little, while out upon the sea.
He smiled, noticing some of his liveliest passengers clinging to the side of his vessel, gulping salt air that caused their neck cloths and shirt ruffles to whip as they gazed upon the shore. No doubt after this passage they'd pray never again to leave it! The sight these gentlemen devoured was pretty, the captain had to admit--almost like a toy town, quite nicely made. Before them fresh white houses seemed to sit on smooth mounds of green baize, bathed in sparkling sunlight, sung to by circling gulls. Indeed, the province of Massachusetts had much in it to admire . . . if its inhabitants did strike a man from Spithead as overly zealous. Boston, surely, had more than enough church spires pointing up at the Creator, proclaiming the godliness of her citizens!
This citizen of a greater world was glad to be bound for a long, unholy wharf that stretched out to welcome seagoing men and their cargoes. His own load was a mixed one this time, for part of it had come to him unbidden. But he would likely make out well, after all. In a few hours he would get on with his own affairs, while those whose lives he'd preserved went ashore and scattered, giving him precious little thanks for a job fairly done. Some, at least, he would be glad to be rid of! Yet he supposed there was little likelihood of great improvement in the next lot to come aboard, when he began the tedious voyage home to Portsmouth.
This thought caused the captain to shake his head ruefully as he continued to watch the pointing passengers below--until Long Wharf claimed his full attention.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from No Rest for the Dove by Margaret Miles. Copyright © 2000 by Margaret Miles. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.