He was still bent over, untying the ropes, and she quickly leaned back and kicked the brute hard, right on his butt. The kick sent him flying over the peer, head first, right into the water, fifteen feet below. He landed with a loud splash.
Caitlin quickly ran up the rope ramp, Rose by her side, and pushed her way onto the huge sailing ship, packed with people.
It had happened so fast, no one, she hoped, had seen it. That seemed to be the case, as the crew pulled in the roped walkway, and the ship began to set sail.
Caitlin hurried to the edge and looked down: she could see him splashing in the water, bobbing his head up, as he raised a fist up at the boat.
“Stop boat! Stop boat!” the man screamed.
His cries were drowned out, though, as hundreds of excited passengers cheered at the boat’s finally setting sail.
One of the crew noticed him, though, and ran over to the side of the boat, following the man’s finger, as he pointed towards Caitlin.
Caitlin didn’t wait to see what happened. She quickly ducked into the thick of the crowd, Rose at her side, ducking and weaving this way and that, until she was deep in the center of the boat, in the thick of the masses. She pushed deeper, and kept moving. There were hundreds of people crammed together, and she hoped they wouldn’t spot her, or Rose.
Within minutes, the boat was gaining speed. After a while, Caitlin finally breathed deep. She realized that no one was coming after her, or, as far as she could tell, even searching for her.
She began to cut her way through the crowd more calmly, Rose beside her, heading towards the far side of the boat. She finally made it, squeezed her way beside the crowded railing, and leaned over and looked.
In the distance, the brute was still bobbing in the water, pulling himself up onto the dock—but by now he was just a dot on the horizon. Caitlin smiled. Served him right.
She turned the other way and saw that Venice loomed straight ahead.
She smiled wider, leaning over and feeling the cool seawater pushing back her hair. It was a warm day in May, and the temperature was perfect, and the salt air refreshing. Rose jumped up beside her, pressing her paws on the edge of the railing, and looked out and smelled the air, too.
Caitlin had always loved boats. She had never visited an authentic, historic sailing ship—much less, sailed on one. She smiled and corrected herself: this was no longer a historic ship. It was a modern one. It was 1790 after all. She almost laughed aloud at the thought.
She looked up at the tall wooden masts, rising into the sky. She watched as the sailors all lined up and heaved on the thick ropes; as they did, yard and yards of heavy canvas were raised, and she could heard the flapping of the material. It looked heavy, and the sailors sweated in the sun, yanking the ropes with all they had just to raise the canvas a few inches.
So this was how it was done. Caitlin was impressed by the efficiency of it all, by how seamlessly it worked. She couldn’t believe how fast this huge, crowded boat was moving, especially without the benefit of modern engines. She wondered what the captain of the ship would do if she told him about 21st century engines, about how much faster he could go. He’d probably think she was crazy.
She looked down and saw, about twenty feet below, the water rushing by her, small waves lapping against the side of the boat. The water was so light, so blue, it was magical.
All around her, people squeezed in, all trying to make their way to the railing and look out. She looked around and realized how simply most of them were dressed, many in tunics and sandals, and some barefoot. Others, though, were dressed elegantly, and seemed to try to keep away from the masses. A few people wore elaborate masks, with a long, beaked nose. They laughed and jostled each other, and seemed drunk.
In fact, as she looked, she noticed that a good portion of the passengers were swigging from bottles of wine and seemed drunk, even in the early morning. The entire boat, now that she noticed it, had a festive, rowdy atmosphere, as if they were all on their way to a giant party.
Caitlin pushed her way along the railing, through the crowd, past parents holding up children, and slowly but surely made her way to the front. Finally, she had the view she wanted. She leaned over the edge, and watched as the boat bore down directly on Venice.
The unimpeded site of the city took her breath away. She could see its outline, the beautiful, historic buildings, all lined up neatly next to each other, all built to face the water. Some of the facades were really grand, ornate, their white façades covered in all sorts of moldings and details.
Many had arched walls and arched windows open to the water, and, amazingly, had their main entry doors right at water level. It was incredible. One could literally pull right up to one’s front door by boat and step inside.
Amidst all the buildings, there were spires rising from churches, and occasional domes punctuating the horizon. This was a city of magnificent architecture, of a grand, ornate style, and it all seemed designed to face the water. It did not merely co-exist with the water—it embraced it.
And all along it, connecting one side of the city to the other, were small, arched footbridges, steps rising up each side and a wide plateau in the middle. These were crowded with people walking up and down or just sitting on the edge, watching all the ships as they passed by.
And everywhere— everywhere—there were ships. The canals were absolutely crammed with traffic, with ships of every shape and size—so much so, that she could hardly see the water. The famous gondolas were everywhere, too, their oarsmen standing on the edge, steering them in the water. She was surprised by how long they were, some seeming to stretch nearly 30 feet. In between these were smaller ships and boats of all sorts, some for delivering food, some for taking out waste. This place was alive, bustling. She had never seen anything like it in her life.
As she surveyed the crowds, the masses of humanity, she felt a chill in her spine, as she wondered if Caleb could be among them. Could she be looking at him right now? She knew was being foolish, especially from so far away, but still, she tried to look, to scan their faces, to see if maybe, just maybe, she could spot him.
As Caitlin took in the magnitude, the immensity of the city, the thousands of people swarming in every direction, a part of her, the intellectual part, felt hopeless. She realized that this was a futile mission, that there was no possible way she could ever find Caleb among all these people. But another part of her, the part of her that believed in destiny, felt excited, felt optimistic, just knew that somehow, deep down, if Caleb were here, they would find each other.
And either way, she could not help but feel the thrill of adventure and excitement. She was traveling. Journeying around the world. About to experience a new city.
And maybe, just maybe, Caleb would be on its shores.
Caitlin filed off the boat with the hundreds of other passengers, squeezed between them as she worked her way, Rose beside her, down the steep rope ramp. It was utter chaos. By now, most, if not all, of the passengers were rowdy and drunk, and it was a free-for-all getting to the dock.
Caitlin was relieved when her feet touched the ground, and she quickly guided Rose with her away from the thick crowd, off the dock, and onto the streets of Venice.
It was overwhelming. Caitlin had hoped that once she got away from the boat, that the crowds would ease up—but that was hardly the case. There were crowds everywhere. She was getting jostled left and right.
She found herself in an enormous open square, around which were built immense buildings, all facing it. She read the sign: Piazza San Marco. St. Mark’s Square. Dominating the square was an enormous church, the Basilica di San Marco, and across from it was an immense, skinny tower, reaching hundreds of feet into the sky, The Campanile. As if on cue, the huge church bell tolled, and the sound filled the square like a bomb.
Thousands of people milled about, engaging in a dizzying array of activity. As she ventured tentatively out into the square, strangers approached her from every direction, all trying to sell their wares. They held out small, wooden dolls, brightly colored glass, flasks of wine, and most of all, masks. Everywhere she looked, there were masks. Even stranger, everywhere she looked, she was shocked to see people wearing them. The predominant mask was white, with a long, beaked nose, but there were masks of all shapes and sizes. Even stranger, many people walked about in full costume, some fully cloaked. It was as if she’d arrived in one huge Halloween party. She had no idea what the occasion was. Did people here always dress like this?
As if that were not enough, everyone seemed to be drunk, or quickly getting drunk. People laughed too loud, sang songs to themselves, jostled each other, and openly drank from jugs of wine.
There was music everywhere, every few feet another guitarist, or violinist, sitting on a crate or stool, playing away with an open hat and asking for tips.
Completing the scene were jugglers, comics, clowns, and performers of all sorts. Before her, one man juggled brightly colored balls, while another man juggled torches of fire. Caitlin stopped, in awe, watching.
She was soon jostled roughly, and turned to see a large man, dressed in a cloak and mask, drunk, stumbling, his arm around an elaborately dressed courtesan. As Caitlin watched, he reached down and grabbed her rear roughly, and she screamed with laughter.
This city was like a circus. It was the rowdiest, most chaotic place she had ever seen. She marveled that all this licentiousness could be taking place right here, in front of these churches. It was the strangest dichotomy she had ever seen. Was the city just one, endless party? Or had she arrived at some special time?
Caitlin spotted a small group of finely dressed woman cutting their way through the crowd. They were each dressed in elaborate gowns, ruffling their way, and held a small pouch to their noses as they went.
Caitlin wondered what they were holding, and at just that moment, it hit her. The stench. She had been too stunned to notice it at first, but now, as she walked, she was overwhelmed by the horrible smell of everyone and everything around her. It smelled like no one here had bathed. Ever.
And then she remembered: of course, no one had. It was 1790, after all. Plumbing hadn’t been invented yet. As the sun grew higher, and the temperature grew warmer, the stench grew even worse. Caitlin held her nose, but no matter which way she turned, she couldn’t get away from it.
That’s why those women were holding those pouches to their noses: to block out the smell.
Caitlin suddenly felt claustrophobic, and spotted what looked like a side street; she cut her way through a group of jugglers and guitar players, and as she crossed the square, she saw that there were many side streets leading in and out of the square. They were more like narrow alleyways, underneath arched buildings, and she ducked into the nearest one.
Finally, she could breathe; Rose looked relieved, too. They headed down the narrow side street, and it weaved its way left and right. The streets were so narrow, and the buildings blocked out most of the light, and she began to feel confined in this city. She stood there, debating which way to go.
She had barely ventured a few blocks, and already she felt disoriented, turned around. She had no idea where she was going, or where to look for Caleb—if he was even here. She wished she had a map—but then again, she had no money—or, at least, no real money—to pay for one.
Worse, she felt the hunger gnawing away at her again, and felt herself growing more irritable.
Rose, as if reading her mind, whined. The poor thing was hungry, too. Caitlin was determined to find a way to get them both food.
She suddenly heard a wooden shutter opening up above, followed by a loud splashing. She jumped back, as a bucket of water hit the ground, close to her, startling her. She looked up and saw an old woman, missing teeth, looking down as she finished emptying a bucket, and then slammed closed the shutters.
Caitlin smelled a horrible stench, and didn’t need anyone to explain to her what the woman had just done: thrown a bucket of urine out the window. She was revolted. She heard another shutter opening, in the distance, and looked over and watched someone else do the same. She looked down and realized that the streets were lined with urine and feces. She also noticed several rats scurrying to and fro. She nearly wretched. It made her, for the first time, really appreciate the inventions and comforts of her time that she had always taken for granted. Plumbing. Sewage systems. She longed for cleanliness, and felt more homesick than ever. If this was a sneak preview of urban life in 1790, she wasn’t sure she could handle it.
Caitlin hurried along, before any more shutters opened, and finally saw what looked like an opening up ahead. She reached the end of the alleyway, and it indeed opened up onto another square, this one less crowded. She was relieved to be out of the side streets and back out into the open light and air again.
She crossed the square, and sat on the edge of the large, circular fountain, in one of the few empty seats amidst the crowd. Rose jumped up beside her, and sat looking up at her, whining.
As Caitlin sat there, trying to collect her thoughts, a person approached, holding out a canvas and pointing at it with a paintbrush. She looked up at him, puzzled, and he kept pointing. “I draw your picture,” he said. “Very pretty. Very nice. You pay me.”
Caitlin shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t have any money.”
The man quickly hurried off. Caitlin looked around the square, and noticed street artists everywhere, all trying to get people to pay them. And then she noticed something which alarmed her: packs of wild dogs. They combed along the sides of the square, rifling through trash, and she saw one dog stop and look her way. It seemed to focus on Rose—and soon, it was trotting in their direction.
Rose must have sensed it, too, because she turned slowly and faced the oncoming animal. Caitlin could feel Rose tense up, and she tensed, too. The large, mangy dog looked somewhat like a German Shepherd, and it came up to Rose, and sniffed her. Rose sniffed back, her hair standing up on her back; as the dog tried to walk behind Rose, Rose suddenly snapped, snarling with an unearthly noise, baring her teeth, and biting the dog’s neck—hard.
The dog yelped. Although it was bigger, Rose was clearly more powerful and she did not let go.
Finally, the dog took off.
Rose, worked up, sat there, snarling, a vicious, unearthly sound, and several people backed away, giving them space.
Caitlin was shocked. She had never seen Rose like that before. It made her realize Rose was not the small, innocent pup she remembered; she was growing up, and would soon be a full-bred wolf, and a force to be reckoned with.