Stepping out of the Inquisition courthouse brought Veronica to tears.
Not because of anything that had been lost to her, nor in relief; by the end, she had been afraid not for herself but for Marco, and the moment that Ramberti had stood also, Marco had been saved. Of course Veronica had also been in danger, but it had not felt that way, whatever the truth was. It had felt as though she were invincible, invulnerable - as though even if the guards had dragged her out and burned her alive, they could not really have touched her, not in any way that mattered.
So she did not weep for her own life, nor for Marco's, in the end. She wept for the beauty of it - for what it felt like to have the door opened before her, to step out onto the street of Venice in late afternoon and see the sun gold upon the buildings, hear the water lapping gently in the canals. Her heart, her soul, felt suddenly full, full to overflowing; and she wept.
She was rubbing her cheeks dry and laughing damply when Marco appeared - as if the world had not already been kind enough to Veronica Franco today.
"Veronica," he said, his voice rough with gladness; and then he said her name again, more carefully, as though he thought too loud a sound might hurt her.
She turned her face away to wipe it dry properly and then turned back and smiled at the uncertainty in his gaze. "I am all right," she said, and it was so gloriously true that she laughed again.
Marco had secured a gondola, and helped her into it with a careful hand at her waist. She was still wearing her torn blue dress and her hair was all a-tangle, her face unwashed and her body rank; but when she lowered herself to the cushions, warm with sunlight, and dipped her fingers in the cool water of the canal, she felt like a dogaressa.
Veronica lay back and closed her eyes against the sun. All her years of silks and satins, pearls and peacocks, and it turned out this was luxury: to have a cushion beneath her head, to be warm, to be alive.
There was a shuffling of cloth as Marco settled alongside her; Veronica shaded her face with one hand so that she might open her eyes, and was greeted with the sight of his gentle smile. "I will take you home, Veronica," Marco murmured, "and then you must rest."
"I am half asleep already," Veronica said, and gave up shading her eyes so that she might reach out and touch his hand. She had used up all her eloquence; her mind had only simple thoughts to give, the brightness of white roofs in sunlight and the grace of the gondola's motion, but there was one thing left that she had yet to say. "Thank you, Marco." So little, compared to what he had tried to do for her, but he would know how much she meant by it.
The smile slid from his mouth, and he looked at her with sweet intensity, his free hand coming down upon her tangled hair. "You have nothing to thank me for," he said quietly; and she fell asleep like that in the gondola, lying in sunshine, looking at his face.
Waking, leaving the gondola, stepping back inside her own home at last - all these passed like a dream, the clearest sensation Marco's hand against her hair before she drifted off again. When she woke for true, it was in the small gray hour just before dawn; she was alone on her own sweet mattress, and she looked up at the shadowed ceiling and smiled.
Poetry was buzzing at her fingertips like a bee, and she rose in the half-light and found her paper, her ink. There had been no time for it before, but now there was the rest of her life - which could so easily have been mere days, mere hours, but now seemed like a gloriously long time.
Veronica had not been able to truly weep for her mother, but she wrote for her now, in the dark; wrote of her face and her smile, the generosity Veronica had not quite managed to appreciate and the quiet apologies she had murmured as she died. They were narrow little poems, lines uneven in the dimness, and probably they would not ever be published, but that was not why Veronica wrote them.
She wrote, too, in an effort to capture that great swell of feeling that had come over her as she stepped from the courthouse; this was as surely doomed to fail as the effort to capture what her mother had been, but that did not mean Veronica could stop trying. And, as the sun rose, she tried also to capture Marco - Marco, standing in the courthouse and shouting; Marco, solemn and drunk in a gondola; Marco, propped on an elbow beside her, gently touching her hair.
She sank into the words so deeply that she was startled when the first ray of sunshine fell red-gold across her paper. There was ink splattered across her fingers and a little on her nightdress - most likely on her face, too, and Veronica looked at her hands and laughed.
When the call at the door came, not long after, she answered it like that: practically undressed, in only a nightgown, with ink on her fingers and her face. It was Marco at the door, as Veronica had hoped it might be, and he looked at her with his mouth curling and then kissed her stained fingertips.
"I've interrupted you," he said, chuckling.
Veronica should have laughed at him, ducked her head and said something clever; but it was a new day, the sun still low and fat and golden, and the only thing Veronica had left in her heart was the truth. "Never," she said, and she drew him in close enough to kiss his cheek before she waved him inside.
He had a letter from Beatrice, the words as sweet and bright and gently inquiring as Beatrice herself; but he had not come just to deliver it, Veronica knew. His gaze was on her face as she read it, searching, and when she looked up, he said, "Come now - and do not lie to me, I know how you are when you've been writing. Have you eaten?"
The answer was no, of course, and Veronica admitted as much. Marco sent for fruit and bread and water, and Veronica had longed for each so desperately in the Inquisition's cell that when they came now she ate and drank them slowly, a bit at a time. She had written in her cell, she remembered; would they let her back in to copy it down off the wall? She had to stifle a laugh at the thought of lodging such a request.
"I knocked the letter off my table this morning," Marco said, conversational, cutting himself a thick warm slice of bread. "I might have left without it, if it had not been for Giulia."
Veronica stopped halfway through a pear, the cool juice smearing across her mouth, and stared at him. Giulia - Giulia must have been there, she realized slowly. A senator's wife, Marco's wife; she must have been at the trial.
"She had seen it fall," Marco said. His tone was light, deliberately so, but his gaze was trained on Veronica's face: he knew what he was saying. "She picked it up, and gave it to me before I left. She knew you would not like to miss it."
Such an unexpected kindness, on a morning already so full of sweetness. She swallowed the soft wet bite of pear and then smiled at Marco. "And she was quite right," Veronica said gently. "I must have Beatrice by again, now that it is all sorted out." Did Beatrice still want Veronica to train her daughter, after this? How many courtesans had been less fortunate than Veronica? How many prostitutes, even, women who had never been lucky enough to command a courtesan's price or a senator's loyalty?
Veronica paused, halfway to picking out her own slice of bread. Even the lucky ones often lost property, and a woman without property was a woman damned.
"What are you thinking, my love?" Marco said, gently teasing. "I know that look in your eye. That is the look you get when you are about to spout a dozen lines on the unkindness of love, or draw a sword on my cousin in the middle of a garden."
Veronica tossed an apple at him, laughing. "Nothing so dramatic, I promise you," she said. "It is only - I am so lucky, Marco. So lucky to have had my mother, to have Beatrice, to have you. How long will the Inquisition remain? How many more will they accuse, and how many of those will be as lucky as I?"
Marco looked at her for a long moment and then sighed, reaching across the little tray of food to weave his fingers through her own. His hands were always so warm. "You will not rest," he said, "until you have robbed them of all satisfaction."
Veronica held his hand more tightly for a moment. "I have spent my life studying satisfaction," she said, a little wickedly, "and the giving of it; why should I not also learn the taking away?" She looked at him a bit more seriously. "There is so much that is marvelous in this city, Marco, and yet it is given to so few. My life at last is mine again; why should I not do with it as I please?"
"And to save the world is what pleases you," Marco said with a shake of his head; but he was smiling when he looked at her again. "Of course it is."
"What is the purpose in dreaming," Veronica said, "if you dream only small dreams?"
"Well, of course you would not know," Marco said, laughing. "You have never dreamt a small dream in your life."
He drew her hand near enough to him so that he might kiss her fingers, and she shivered at the touch of his mouth and then reached out with her free hand and threw another apple at him. He let go in surprise, and she sprang up in delight and ran from him, giggling like a girl a dozen years younger, 'til he caught her at last - and this time, he did not let go.
Franco's concern for impoverished young women "at risk" took concrete form in 1577 ... when she drafted a supplica (petition) to the Venetian government requesting the foundation of a home for women who, already married or having children, were thus ineligible for the existing [women's homes]. Although it appears from the Casa del Soccorso documents attending to the actual administration of the home that Franco did not, in fact, have a part in [that administration] ... (these homes were administered by noblewomen), the original idea for the institution nevertheless remains Franco's. Her petition ... directly addresses women's needs and takes into account the reasons why they might choose to continue in their present wayward life instead of accepting the severe restrictions imposed on them ... [by other] charitable institutions.
- from The Honest Courtesan by Margaret Rosenthal, p. 131