Their judgment was based more upon blind wishing than upon sound reasoning. For it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to thrust aside what they do not fancy. — Thucydides

Travels and Adventures of Marco Polo - George Towle




Last Days of Marco Polo

At the time of Marco Polo's return to Venice, he was about forty-six years old, that is, in the prime of manhood. He might yet look forward to many years of health and vigor; and might, had he so chosen, have undertaken new expeditions to remote lands. But he had at last grown tired of wandering. In his prison life at Genoa, he had often thought how happy he might be in a home of his own, with a loving wife by his side, and children playing about his knees and had felt that with such a home he would be quite content to settle down for the rest of his life.

On finding himself at Venice once more, he arranged his affairs as if he were now resolved to settle down there. He fitted up his house anew and now for the first time took part in the affairs of commerce which his family had long pursued. He owned a large share in the trade which they carried on and soon was busily engaged as a merchant.

Then he began to look about him for a wife. As a nobleman and a traveller of the greatest distinction, Marco Polo was a welcome guest in the best houses in Venice. He was invited everywhere, and, had he chosen, he might have gone every night to some feast or ball. His friends were countless, and belonged to the highest social rank while his own hospitable nature continually filled his house with merry parties, gay masqueraders, and hilarious feasters. His tall, stalwart person, his courteous bearing, his fine, expressive features, and his wide renown, made him a special favorite with the noble dames and demoiselles of Venice, who loved to hear him recount his adventures, and showed him, in many coquettish ways their admiration of his exploits. To them he was a brave hero, who had fearlessly encountered many perils, and had survived the most bitter hardships and hairbreadth escapes.

Marco therefore had ample opportunities to make choice of a life partner; it seemed certain that wherever he paid his court he was sure of being kindly received.

Among the noble families whose acquaintance he had made after his return from Cathay, was that of the Loredanos. The head of the family was a wealthy nobleman, a member of the doge's Council, and a man of mark in Venice. Loredano had two lovely daughters. One, Donata, was a tall stately brunette, about twenty-five; the younger, Maria was a delicate blonde, with rich auburn hair. Marco Polo was soon attracted to the beauty and graces of Donata. To be sure, he was twenty years older than she but his heart was still fresh and young, and had never before been touched by the passion of love. It was all the stronger in a man of his age and vigor. He soon became very attentive to the young signorita. He visited her at her father's house, or in her company sped over the beautiful bay in his luxurious gondola. It was observed that he was always at her side at the balls and fetes, and that he paid her special honor at the festivities at which she was present in his own house.

The fair Donata seemed pleased with his attentions, and gradually learned to feel the sturdy cavalier a warm affection. The course of their love ran smooth; and when Marco Polo asked the consent of Loredano to their betrothal, the noble councillor at once and joyfully accorded it.

Then came sweet happy days when the middle-aged cavalier courted his young lady love, and spent long dreamy hours in her beloved company. Never a day passed that he did not spend a portion of it with her. It soon became known through Venice that Marco Polo was to wed Donata Loredano; and their friends vied with each other in giving parties and masques in honor of the event.

This pleasant courtship was not of long duration, for Marco was eager to be "married and settled." The wedding was a grand affair. It took place in the stately church of San Lorenzo, where Nicolo Polo lay buried, and which was destined also to receive the remains of his more famous son. The ceremony was performed by an archbishop, assisted by numerous priests. The doge with all his retinue was there, and so was the flower of the nobility and wealth of Venice.

The bridegroom attended by his brother and other relatives, made his appearance in a gorgeous suit of satin, while about his neck hung a massive chain of gold, the insignia of a knightly order which had been conferred upon him. Upon his head he wore a satin cap, above which rose several flowing feathers of white and blue; while at his side hung a jewelled scimitar, which had been given to him by Kublai Khan as a token of his affection. The multitudes that crowded densely the sombre old church noted the manly presence, the proud carriage, and the noble features of Marco Polo, as he strode up the nave beneath the high, echoing arches, and declared to themselves that even at his age, he made a comely and imposing bridegroom.

The bride appeared splendidly dressed, with a long gauzy veil that flowed to her feet, and every part of her dress sparkling with jewels. She looked beautiful and happy, and all the world envied Marco Polo his possession of the fair Donata Loredano.

The wedding festivities lasted, as was the custom in Venice, a week. They began with a bounteous banquet at the Court of the Millions, which was kept up till the streaks of dawn shot between the heavily curtained windows. There were fetes of gondolas on the water, sports at a country seat which Marco Polo had purchased out of his abundant wealth, and masquerades at the palaces of Loredano and other friends.

Then followed the quietest and perhaps the pleasantest period of Marco Po1o's life. Established in his luxurious home at the Court of the Millions, surrounded by hosts of friends who were devotedly attached to him, with a lovely wife whom he adored and who admired and loved him, held in high esteem and confidence by the doge and all the highest dignitaries of the Republic, abundantly able to indulge in every pleasure and recreation for which his taste inclined him, his lot indeed seemed a fortunate one.

There was plenty of work to occupy his time in the business house which had so long been carried on by his family, and which was still in a prosperous condition, In this he took a keen personal interest, and thus at once employed his time profitably, and added new stores to his abundant wealth. His travels in the East had been of great benefit to the trade of his house; for he had made the acquaintance of many merchants in Persia, India, Arabia, Asia Minor, and Constantinople, and had formed business connections with them which were now of much advantage to his trade.

Not long after he had married and settled, Marco Polo was surprised and delighted to receive a visit from two Persian travellers of high rank, who had come to Venice on a commercial errand. They went to the Court of the Millions to see Marco, of whose fame as a traveller they had heard, and to bear him a message of friendship from the fair young queen Cocachin, who gratefully remembered Marco's gallant attentions to her while journeying from Cathay to Persia, and who sent him a beautiful jewel in token of her gratitude, Marco was grieved to learn, about a year afterwards, that this lovely young queen had died, mourned by all her new subjects and by her gallant husband.

Marco soon found himself one of the most important citizens of Venice. Still active and energetic, he began to take part in public affairs and ere very long, was chosen by the doge a member of his grand council, in which he soon won the reputation of being a sagacious and keen-sighted statesman. There was a time, indeed, when it seemed not unlikely that the great traveller might some day be himself elected doge but the prospect passed away before his death. Meanwhile, he not only served the state as councillor, but went on embassies to various countries, and made treaties of peace or alliance, and patched up quarrels.

In due time, Marco Polo found himself the father of a thriving young family. Three little daughters were the fruit of his union with his beloved Donata—Fantina, Bellela, and Moreta. They grew up to be as pretty and gentle as their names. Marco greatly desired to have a son, who should be the heir of his name and wealth. But Providence denied him this blessing. He was delighted with his little girls, however, and when they became old enough, was wont to take them on his knee, and relate to them the strange adventures he had met with by land and sea in remote lands. They were very proud of their father, who had seen and done such wonderful things; and listened as eagerly to his stories as children do nowadays to the Arabian Nights and Robinson Crusoe.

As the girls grew up, they proved as handsome and engaging as their mother had been in her own youth and now the Court of the Millions was besieged by gallant young suitors for their hands. There was not a youth in Venice who would not have been proud to ally himself to so distinguished a family as that of the Polos had become and such was the beauty of Fantina and Bellela, that had they been poor, they would not have lacked ardent wooers. Then other weddings were celebrated at the Court of the Millions. Fantina first, and then Bellela, chose their cavaliers, and were duly wedded to them; and Marco Polo, now wrinkled and grizzled, was soon happy to find himself a grandfather. Thus many years passed in serene and contented prosperity. Marco, as he grew older, was less and less tempted to attempt new adventures. He was blessed with a delightful home, was crowned with plenteous honors, and felt himself a conspicuous personage of the time. He was often visited by travellers from a distance, both from Western Europe and from the more remote East and always received them with the bounteous hospitality for which he was known far and wide.

He lived nearly a quarter of a century after his return from captivity at Genoa; and rose bright and well on the morn of his seventieth birthday, appearing as if he had yet many years to survive. But soon after, he was laid low by a fever which from the first betrayed serious symptoms that alarmed his family. He grew worse and worse; and the news spread through Venice that the illustrious Marco Polo lay dangerously ill.

Immediately the doors of the Court of the Millions were besieged by crowds of anxious and inquiring friends. The doge sent daily to ask after the health of his honored councillor; and Marco's wife and daughters tended at the bedside night and day. It soon became but too apparent that the life of the heroic old traveller was fast ebbing away. Still his mind was often clear, and then he talked serenely and even cheerfully with his beloved ones. He had always been good and upright, and death, which he had so often braved in years gone by, had but few terrors for him now. Then came a sad day when the doctors despaired of restoring him to health, and gently broke the news to the grief-stricken wife and daughters. Marco Polo still lingered a few days, growing feebler and feebler each hour, but suffering little pain, One sunny morning, the end came. It was peaceful, serene, and happy as his later life had been. The old man sank gently into Donata's arms, and ceased to breathe.

Venice was wrapt in gloom at the death of its most famous citizen and for several days no other subject was talked of in its marts and in the public squares where the people met to chat and gossip. The doge and his court went into mourning, and tributes to Marco Polo's memory were paid in the grand council of the Republic. He was buried with great pomp and ceremony, and laid in the old church of San Lorenza beside his good father, and where his own marriage, and the christening and marriage of his elder daughters, had taken place.

His memory was kept green by the Venetians for generations and centuries after his death. Three hundred years after, a stately marble statue of him was erected by the city in one of its squares, and still stands to commemorate the honor in which Venice held him; while, two centuries after his death, his direct descendant, Trevesano, was elected doge, and presided over the Republic.

Thus lived, and thus died at the goodly age of three-score and ten, the greatest of the early explorers of the remote and unknown regions of the Orient who may be said to have introduced Europe and Asia to each other and to have discovered the vast possibilities of a commerce between the two continents. He thus did invaluable service to the world and it is pleasant to remember that, after all the perils and vicissitudes through which he passed, the long and weary exile from home that he suffered, and the subsequent misfortune he encountered while fighting for the preservation of Venice, he reaped the full reward of his perseverance and patriotism, and enjoyed a long after-life of prosperity, honor, happiness and domestic bliss and that his memory still lives his name being written high up on the roll of the world's most illustrious discoverers and benefactors.


THE END.