An Excerpt from Murder On The Rue Cassette, the new Serafina Florio mystery publishing this fall:
Paris, April 1874
Exuding a scent of spoiled flowers, Sophie de Masson, squinted into their faces while telling them how much they hadn’t changed and how much she loved Rosa’s hat. “Our design in Palermo, no doubt.” She peered at Serafina’s bare head but said nothing.
Serafina noticed Sophie was not in mourning. Instead, she wore a day dress of gold and silver, exquisitely crafted and in the latest fashion with burnished gold lace trim at the wrists and neck. As she leaned forward, her eyes narrowed, and Serafina noticed something strange about the woman’s face. Before she could decide what it was, Sophie crossed her legs and Serafina’s attention was diverted by the woman’s petticoat in antique lace and her diamond-studded slippers with velvet ribbons. On her right hand, Sophie wore three rings, an emerald surrounded by pearls, a small sapphire on her little finger, and a thick silver and gold band with a square ruby in the center on her middle finger. Her neck was surrounded in lace and pearls. She wore a fitted jacket of a darker shade than the dress but in the same weave, flaring over the the bustle and continuing down the back to form a train. Ten in the morning and the woman was painted and coiffed to perfection with a subtlety of style uniquely French. Her maid must have spent hours.
“We’re here to talk about Elena and to extend our condolences,” Serafina began.
“No need. Good riddance, I say.” Sophie raised her head.
Serafina reached for her tea clutching her chest, taking deliberate breaths. She took a gulp of the steaming liquid and glanced at Rosa whose face was red.
“If I may, I’d like to see the body.”
“Buried, I’m afraid, in a family plot on my estate in Versailles. In ground blessed by the rabbi.”
“But Elena was christian.”
“In name only.” She sipped her tisane through rouged lips. “Everything she did was for herself, despite the family’s wishes. Her ancestors suffered for centuries. They were compliant when Frederick II of Aragon made them wear the red wheel. They were banished from their homes, made to live in ghettoes, finally expelled from the island, refusing to convert. Slowly we crept back, but still we have to hide. My brother’s a fool for remaining in Palermo, and you ask me why I buried his daughter according to the law? Her forebears never renounced their faith, and just because Elena wanted a title, she converted—that wretched father-in-law of hers insisted on it. No dignity, I’m afraid. Her husband’s religion meant nothing to her. She trifled with God, and now see what her cleverness has wrought. No, the least I could do for her and the sake of our ancestors was to bury her according to our tradition.”
Serafina was silent.
Rosa stirred in her seat, a rustle of taffeta, a whiff of rose water. “I would think that religion, whether Catholic or Jewish, meant nothing to her. But she wasn’t a bad person, really. She wished no one harm.”
Serafina slid her friend a backhanded look.
As if she didn’t hear Rosa’s remark, Sophie said, “Here I can follow our rules for burial, so I did. I was thinking of the family, not of the living, but of the generations.”
Photo: Grand Hôtel du Louvre, Paris, Public Domain