Thursday, March 24, 1870
With help from the domestic and two of her daughters, Serafina had bathed, packed, clothed, and rouged in record time. She chose a traveling dress of deep royal blue organdy with matching hat and gloves, the outfit, one of Giulia’s new creations; the underskirt narrow except for several flounces on the bottom third, the overdress pulled to the back which her daughters assured her was in keeping with the bustled fashion. The bodice was tight fitting, layered over a plain linen blouse with laced cuffs and gathered collar. As soon as the suitcases were secured in the rumble, Rosa, attired in a light wool mauve dress with quite the bustle and multiple flounces and puffs and overskirts, sat facing Serafina. Balancing a basket of food, Renata, wearing a pale lime day dress with a simple fringed overskirt and smart bustle, sat beside Serafina.
“Time for a new midwife’s satchel,” Rosa said, frowning at Serafina’s bag. “Why do you insist on taking that old thing—all scratched up when your mother used it years ago. Besides, there won’t be any babies to birth at the baron’s.”
“Never know.” Serafina’s eyelids scratched. Her lashes were caked with sand. She could barely speak; couldn’t stop the pounding in her head; she missed Loffredo’s warming breath on her neck, and the madam sat there flinging barbs.
“At it all night?” Rosa kept at her insinuations as they rolled and pitched down the via Serpentina. At least they traveled in the madam’s new coach, an elaborate affair with plush seats and push-down side windows, velvet curtains, hand made in Palermo by a fancy carriage maker to her elaborate specifications.
“Betta.” Serafina closed her eyes to the sun and rubbed her brows. The neighing and coughing of the horses, the jingling of the reins sent spikes of pain through her forehead. Thank the Madonna for the waves. They pounded the shore and there was a fine spray in the air. She dropped her window and let the breeze cool her cheeks. The smell of citrus seeped into her soul. Her curls pulled against her scalp. Mesmerized by the ghost of last night, she finished answering Rosa’s question. “She’s out of danger for the moment but needs to stay in bed for the next two months. Otherwise, she’ll lose her unborn child and her own life.” She recalled the sharp coppery smell in Betta’s room.
Rosa shook her head but made no reply.
Serafina listened to the loud exhalation of horses, the thunder of their hooves. Gulls screeched overhead. They drove through fields on the outskirts of town, saw peasants tilling the soil on her left and to her right, the precipitous drop to the sea. She felt her temples throb. “I sent for Loffredo. He’s promised a visit to Betta and her trusted lady’s maid is a constant companion.” Serafina closed her eyes and tried to sleep through the jostling, but the rising sun drove red spikes into her eyes. She wondered how she’d be able to conduct herself today, but she owed it to Genoveffa and the dead baroness to begin the investigation before the baron’s household had too much time to prepare for her arrival.
Photo: Castelbuono, Sicily. Credit: Antonio Llardo (Flickr), Creative Commons