A. R. Conti Fulwell
Copyright © 2015 by A.R. Conti Fulwell. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2015 by A.R. Conti Fulwell. All Rights Reserved.
Sunsets in Florence are always spectacular; so much so, many say they can strike awe into the hardest of souls. To watch the sky fade like an orchard in bloom, from cobalt to rose, and then orange, and then finally, a succulent lemon arises, using its tartness to spread light on the day.
If only such a sight could be captured on canvas.
Lina d’Odini stood facing the eastern wind, watching the sunrise in hopes of savoring it in her mind just long enough to copy it in brush strokes. She knew she could not stay much longer, but just to see something so beautiful would give her something to be thankful for, no matter what the day might bring. Not knowing how long she had been staring, she heard the rooster crow. Time to face the day, she thought. Gradually, she made her way from the old manor house to the new. The old manor was small with only three rooms, and completely hidden under a hillside. After five long years, the new manor house stood finally completed, just before Lina’s father had left. She gazed up at it in the distance, admiring its regal elegance, the brightest token of her father’s accomplishments. Taking a breath of the cool morning air, Lina crested the hill, wishing her father walked beside her.
Why did we need this manor? What was the point in building it? She shook her head. Money. Money was always the answer. Long gone were the days of chasing the Catone children around the yard, carefree day after carefree day, leaving her with all sorts of questions. If Lady Catone was not her mother, as she had so plainly stated a thousand times or more, then who was? Where was her father then? Why was she here? Sometimes when the wind blew, she could almost hear their voices, telling her that one day all of this would make sense. Lina walked a bit further, down the stone pathway to the kitchen door. It was a heavy door, but she managed with little effort to force it open.
“Well, if it isn’t lovely Lina,” Monica joked. “How are you this morning?”
“Fine as ever, and yourself?” Lina replied.
“Marvelous. Would you help me with these eggs?”
Lina helped Monica boil a dozen eggs for the family’s breakfast. “I’ll never understand why three people eat four eggs apiece,” she said.
“You don’t understand,” Monica began. “The mistress likes a choice between half-‐‑baked and hard-‐‑boiled.”
Lina blinked. “Four of each?”
“Four of each.”
Monica spooned four eggs out of the boiling water and placed them in a small bowl, and then, after a few minutes, did the same with the rest. “Go ahead and send these out,” she said. "ʺRemember, Lady Catone is not a morning person.”
Lina nodded and entered the breakfast room. It was completely silent. Lady Catone sat at one end of the table while her son, Pierro, sat at the other. Lady Catone’s stepdaughter, Sofia, sat solemnly between the two.
“Well, are you going to hold them, or are you going to serve them?” Lady Catone demanded.
“Forgive me, Madam. I was taking in the harsh morning air.” Lina and Sofia exchanged sarcastic glances.
“Well, I hope in doing so, you have not forgotten the meal,” Lady Catone said.
Lina put a bowl down in front of Sofia, Lady Catone, and Pierro. Pierro had been eyeing Lina from the moment she walked in the room. Lina rolled her eyes in disgust. He was by no means unattractive, but his stare, his eyes black as night, led most to believe that his mind was always miles away. She treasured her memories of Pierro as a boy, telling her about every piece of art he saw. Being six years her senior, he would take her by the hand, and together they would walk to the home of Pierro’s uncle, Filippo Lippi. Filippo was a kind man, even on some occasions letting Pierro and Lina help him mix paint, no matter how much of a mess
they made. Amazed by Filippo’s ability to use his cumbersome hands to bring the past to life, Pierro and Lina would sit and watch intently as Filippo worked tirelessly at his canvas. His depictions of the saints were food to Lina’s hungry soul. The day Filippo left Florence to paint the frescos for the Spoleto Cathedral, Lina and Pierro worried they might never see him again. When word of his death reached the Catone Manor, Pierro took refuge in the darkest corner of his mind. So many times Lina sought to bring him out of his gloom to no avail. Now his hollow eyes watched her every move when they were in the same room. Today was no different. Shaking the memories from her mind, Lina kindly excused herself and went back into the kitchen.
“You survived!” Monica joked.
“Barely.” Lina laughed.
Liliana, another loyal servant, entered from the oven room with a small cake.
“Lili! I see you have brought our means of celebration,” Monica said.
“Indeed I have.” Lili beamed.
“Means of celebration for what?” Lina inquired.
“Well, there is this lovely little story. Would you like to hear it?” Monica tried not to giggle.
“Certainly,” Lina said catching the satirical intrigue in Monica’s voice.
“There is a special girl who is turning seventeen today, and I thought that proper celebration was in order.”
Lina laughed. “Who is it?”
“Well, it’s you silly! Forget your own birthday? You’ve been around here too long!” Monica laughed deeply.
Lina laughed too. “Well thank you. This is nice of the both of you.”
“Oh, not a problem, Lina!” Monica beamed. “Lili! Cut the cake!”
Lili cut the cake into three pieces, and all three women took good-‐‑sized bites.
Suddenly, there was yelling in the next room. Sofia burst into the kitchen. “She says, and I quote, ‘who on earth would make such foul eggs?’ Alas, they had a fowl beginning. Therefore, they were bound to have a fowl ending.”
“Well put, Sofia.” Lina laughed. “I think Lady Catone inhabited your body for a short period of time. Are you sure she has left you?”
Sofia giggled. “I’m quite certain she has left. By the way, happy birthday Lina!”
“Thank you. Want some cake?” Lina asked breaking off a piece from her own.
“Certainly.” Sofia flopped down on the wooden bench next to Lina.
Lina glanced around the room, knowing that this was the only family she had ever known. She had heard Lady Catone speak in hushed tones about the man who brought her to the Catone Manor, and then disappeared, but the lack of detail left Lina feeling hollow. Lina could still remember the day one of the servants ran away, the day Lady Catone explained the inferiority of Lina’s birth without once batting an eye. Lady Catone ordered Lina to take the place of the missing servant; so instead, she adopted Monica, Lili, and Sofia as her family. Family, Lina thought, taking another bite of the cake. I could not have imagined a finer one.
“Monica, did you tell her about the ball?” Sofia asked.
“What ball?” Lina asked.
“The one you’ll be attending tonight.” Sofia practically squealed.
Lina scoffed. “A servant at a ball, for what? To clean up spilled wine and soggy plumes?”
“Of course not, Lina,” Monica began. “Besides, you and I both know that the dirt under your nails is just for show.” Monica winked.
Lina laughed. “You’re correct. I have never been sold, traded, or trained.” Lina went back to the oven to take out the bread before it burned.
“Oh, come on now, Lina! You must go!” Sofia protested. “You honestly don’t believe mother’s story, do you?”
Lina rolled her eyes.
“How many times have I told you? She did not mean any of it. The man who brought you was no peasant. You know she still carries his handkerchief. The gold embroidery does not lie. You deserve to be there as much as I do.”
“What am I to do at a ball?” Lina asked placing the bread on a serving plate.
“Dance, flirt, have fun – Lina, you’ll love it!” Sofia said dramatically.
“I’m not so sure.”
“You do not have to dance, Lina. You can refuse. Though I think you might give in. I’m sure there will be a line of gentlemen waiting for a turn.” Sofia beamed.
“And what am I to say to these gentlemen when they ask me my name?”
“Oh Lina! What’s in a name?” Sofia protested. “Just play coy!”
Lina sighed, knowing there was no putting her off. “Fine then, what am I to wear?” Lina asked, certain that this issue would certainly detain her.
Sofia beamed. “That is where I come in.” She put her arm around Lina. “You see, I don’t know what I should wear either, so you will be modeling my gowns for me.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” Lina said.
Sofia chuckled. “You can borrow a dress of mine.”
“If I’m helping you get dressed, then who is going to help me?” Lina asked picturing herself lacing up her own corset.
“I will, silly! See you after breakfast!” Sofia said running back into the breakfast room. Lina followed with the bread plate.
“Good Lord! Did you start from scratch? What took you so long?” Lady Catone demanded.
“I was just explaining to Lina the difference between four-‐‑minute eggs, and four one-‐‑minute eggs,” Sofia said glancing at Lina.
Lina tried not to laugh.
“Do you think this is comical, Angelina?” Lady Catone demanded.
“No, not at all. It is indeed a serious matter,” Lina replied.
By that afternoon, Lina had convinced herself that going to the ball was a good idea. Though it was probably best if she did not dance with anyone, she decided maybe she could pass the time by sketching the palace courtyard. After all, she had heard of its exquisite landscaping and could not resist bringing a sketchbook. It had been far too long since she saw something worthy of a canvas.
“Lina, what should I wear?” Sofia asked from inside her armoire.
“Whatever you please. I do not know why you long for my opinion. It is of no importance compared to some,” Lina said, working on some embroidery.
“I just can’t choose between these two,” Sofia said.
“It depends on what sort of message you want to send,” Lina said.
“What do you mean?” Sofia asked.
“Well, pink definitely accents your golden hair.” Lina combed her fingers through Sofia’s hair. Sofia giggled. “But maybe you want something to accent your bright eyes, like this green?” Lina said looking at the green dress hanging on the door of Sofia’s armoire.
Sofia giggled. “Well, what about you? What are you wearing?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“You need blue,” she said pulling out a blue gown.
Lina gasped. “But Sofia, that’s brand new! You have never worn it! I couldn’t, I just couldn’t.”
“You can and you will. Who knows, you might actually have to dance with someone tonight.” Sofia giggled.
“Because I am going to be sketching the courtyard.” Lina sat up straighter on Sofia’s bed.
Sofia scowled. “You’re going to a ball, to sketch a courtyard?”
“Yes. It will keep me from being noticed.”
Sofia laughed. “I doubt that.”