All a dream
The Paolinis and the van Beins went in the first gondola. Jessica, Bill, Rosemary and Michael were in the second, with the stooping, tattered figure of Harding at the oar. The two boats pushed away from the Palazzo d’Argento and glided out into mid-stream. All around them there was darkness; whispering, liquid, creaking night in which the dim shapes of other gondolas passed and passed. The sky above them was a battleground, fought over by clouds and stars. The stars were gaining; their freckles of light springing out thickly in the wake of the scattering clouds. And between the battleground and the liquid night, between heaven and earth, were the branching chandeliers in the great windows of the palazzi, spilling light like a benediction on the middle air.
In a scared voice Jessica said: ‘Looking up at these palaces I sometimes think it’s all a dream that we live in one ourselves. I think I’m a – a fruit-urchin, or the girl who brings fish round. And I sit and dream how wonderful it must be to really live in them. Isn’t it silly?’
‘Goose!’ Bill said, laughing.
Michael felt another thrill of repulsion. How grotesque all this business of ‘if’ and ‘might-have-been’ always was. Women were so fond of it; seeming to find some virtue in an ability to twist the good solidity of the real world into mad, fantastic patterns.