A VENETIAN CRUISER.
It was late in the year 1431. The port of Venice was filled with ships from all parts of the world, bringing to her their choicest stores, and their most costly merchandise, and receiving from her and from her Grecian possessions rich shiploads of wine and spices, and bales of finest cotton.
It would have been a sight never to have been forgotten could we have gazed then on that city of the sea, have watched the cumbrous barks, so unlike our light-winged merchant ships, or our swift steamers, which sailed heavily up and down the blue Adriatic, till they came in sight of the famous city, the resort of all nations, in whose canals, and among whose marts and palaces, might be seen the strange dress, and heard the mingled speech of men from all parts of the civilized world.
One ship was just leaving the port. The vessel, rather a large one for those days, seems but poorly manned, and rocks so greatly among the short white waves, that it is plainly to be seen that she is short of ballast and lading. She is a Venetian trading vessel, bound first to the Isle of Candia, where she will complete her cargo and add to the number of her crew. This Candia or Crete (the very Crete by which St. Paul passed on his voyage to Italy) was at that time under the hard rule of Venice, and its poor inhabitants did her service upon land and sea. The ship stayed at Candia only so long as enabled her to complete her stores of cotton and spice and wine, which were destined for some northern or western market, some French or British port. She was deep enough in the water now, and on her deck lay many an unstowed bale, many a cask of wine, for which the sad-looking Cretan sailors, in their tunics and short cloaks, had not yet been able to find room. Sixty-eight men were now on board, including the patron or owner, Master Piero Quirini, and Christoforo Fioravanti, the sailing-master. Quirini, in his quaint Italian dress, looking strangely unlike a modern sailor, stood amid the piles of merchandise, giving quick orders for its stowage, while the sailing master made all ready for the long voyage which was just beginning.
For in those days a voyage into the western sea was counted, specially while boisterous autumn gales made sailing difficult, as a long and hazardous undertaking. They all knew it must be many months ere they could hope to see home again; but little did any of them guess the strange sad fortunes which should befall them. The Cretan sailors looked back wistfully at the groups of their friends, their wives and mothers and children, whom they had left weeping on the shore, but they did not think how many there were among them who would never return to tell the story of their long voyage. But some at least among them knew and felt that they were in the hands of God for life or for death, and that nothing could really hurt them if they were “followers of that which is good.”
The ship at first sailed on prosperously enough. The sea was calm, and the sky clear above them....