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centre, the height of the latter renders it necessary to place him who steers on such an elevation, as will enable him to overlook it. From these several causes, a one-oared boat in Venice is propelled by a gondolier who stands on a little angular deck in its stern, formed like the low roof of a house; and the stroke of
given by a push instead of a pull, as is common elsewhere. This habit of rowing erect, however, which is usually done by a forward, instead of a backward, movement of the body is not unfrequent in all the ports of the Mediterranean, though in no other is there a boat which resembles the gondola in all its properties or uses. The upright position of the gondolier requires that the pivot on which the oar rests should have a corresponding elevation; and there is, consequently, a species of bumkin raised from the side of the boat to the desired height, and which, being formed of a crooked and very irregular knee of wood, has two or three row-locks, one above the other, to suit the stature of different individuals, or to give a broader or narrower sweep of the blade as the movement shall require. As there is frequent occasion to cast the oar from one of these rowlocks to the other, and not unfrequently to change its side, it rests in a very open bed; and the instrument is kept in its place by great dexterity alone, and by a perfect knowledge of the means of accommodating the force and the rapidity of the effort to the forward movement of the boat and the resistance of the water. All these difficulties united render skill in a gondolier one of the most delicate branches of a waterman's art, as it is clear that muscular strength alone, though of great aid, can avail but little in such a practice.
The great canal of Venice, following its windings, being more than a league in length, the distance in the present race was reduced nearly half by causing the boats to start from the Rialto. At this point, then, the gondolas were all assembled, attended by those who were to place them.
As the whole of the population, which before had been extended along the entire course of the water, was now crowded between the bridge and the Bucentaur, the long and graceful avenue resembled a vista of human heads. It was an imposing sight to look along that bright and living lane, and the hearts of each competitor beat high, as hope, or pride, or apprehension became the feeling of the moment.
“Gino of Calabria,” cried the marshal who placed the gondolas, “thy station is on the right. Take it, and St. Januarius speed thee!"
The servitor of Don Camillo assumed his oar, and the boat glided gracefully into its berth.
“Thou comest next, Enrico of Fusina. Call stoutly on thy Paduan patron, and husband thy strength; for none of the main have ever yet borne away a prize in Venice.”
He then summoned in succession those whose names have not been mentioned, and placed them, side by side, in the centre of the canal.
“Here is place for thee, Signore,” continued the officer, inclining his head to the unknown gondolier; for he had imbibed the general impression that the face of some young patrician was concealed beneath the mask to humor the fancy of some capricious fair. -" Chance hath given thee the extreme left."
Thou hast forgotten to call the fisherman,” observed the masker, as he drove his own gondola into its station.
“ Does the hoary fool persist in exposing his vanity and his rags to the best of Venice ?”
"I can take place in the rear," meekly observed Antonio. “ There may
be those in the line it doth not become one like me to crowd; and a few strokes of the oar, more or less, can differ but little in so long a strife.”
“Thou hadst better push modesty to discretion, and remain."
“ If it be your pleasure, Signore, I would rather see what St. Anthony may do for an old fisherman, who has prayed to him, night and morning, these sixty years ?”
“ It is thy right; and as thou seemest content with it, keep the place thou hast in the rear. It is only occupying it a little earlier than thou wouldst otherwise. Now, recall the rules of the games, hardy gondoliers, and make thy last appeal to thy patrons. There is to be no crossing or other foul expedients; naught except ready oars and nimble wrists. He who varies needlessly from his line until he leadeth, shall be recalled by name; and whoever is guilty of any act to spoil the sports, or otherwise to offend the patricians, shall be both checked and punished. Be ready for the signal.”
The assistant, who was in a strongly manned boat, fell back a little, while runners, similarly equipped, went ahead to order the curious from the water. These preparations were scarcely made, when a signal floated on the nearest dome. It was repeated on the campanile, and a gun was fired at the arsenal. A deep but suppressed murmur arose in the throng, which was as quickly succeeded by suspense.
Each gondolier had suffered the bows of his boat to incline
slightly toward the left shore of the canal, as the jockey is seen at the starting-post to turn his courser aside, in order to repress its ardor, or divert its attention. But the first long and broad sweep of the oar brought them all in a line again, and away they glided in a body.
For the first few minutes there was no difference in speed, nor any sign by which the instructed might detect the probable evidence of defeat or success. The whole ten which formed the front line skimmed the water with an equal velocity, beak to beak, as if some secret attraction held each in its place, while the humble, though equally light bark of the fisherman steadily kept its position in the rear.
[Antonio is allowed by " the Mask” to take the lead in the race.]
Come, thou goddess fair and free,
Haste thee, nymph, and bring with thee
And to the stack, or the barn door,
Sometimes walking, not unseen,
Straiglıt mine eye hath caught new pleasures,
Hard by, a cottage chimney smokes
Sometimes with secure delight
She was pinched, and pull’d, she said;
Tower'd cities please us then,
These delights if thou canst give, Mirth, with thee I mean to live.