Thursday, March 24, 1870
They continued their climb, lifting their skirts.
At the top of the stairs, the maid led them through a small enclosure with a few narrow steps leading to the roof. Serafina’s heel caught on a loose tile, but she was able to right herself before she fell. Those sharp movements again, a voice inside her counseled. Breathing in and out, she admonished herself to move with decorum and thoughtfulness.
“We’re able to walk all the way round, a lovely view from up here,” the maid said. “But grasp the rail if you go near the edge. Years ago a young man plunged to his death. Some say he was a servant who’d had too much wine; others say he was a friend of the family, but no matter …”
She had their full attention.
“He came up here and wandered too close to the gutter. One story has it that he slipped and fell, another that he was pushed.”
Serafina looked at Rosa and shuddered.
The maid continued. “The baron refers to it as “the accident that happened long ago, a foolishness best forgotten.” He doesn’t want anyone talking about it, so a cautionary word. If you wish to know more, ask the butler or the cook who says she can still hear his screams in her sleep, a piercing cry that echoes in her darkest dreams.”
Resolving to walk with deliberation, Serafina stepped closer to the side, unmindful of the maid’s words, her eyes fixed on the sea and the lowering sun. When she felt the railing touch her knees, she backed up a bit and stared down at the dizzying height below, trying to judge the distance to the ground and testing her resolve, despite the fright she felt in her groin. Her head began to swim.
“What are you doing, you fool?” She felt hands tugging at her from behind.
“Best get back here, ma’am. Keep away from the edge,” the maid called. “That railing’s too short for you. A strong gust of wind and you’d be over in no time.”
“You’re daft, Fina! Don’t you ever do that again!” Rosa’s eyes blazed as she yanked her away from the railing.
Fanning herself with her hand, the maid tried her reassuring smile, but it fell flat. “Please, ma’am. Don’t do that again. We need you. I shouldn’t have told you the story of the accident.”
“Stuff and nonsense. Glad you did. Fina’s nature is half wild, but I know she won’t misbehave again.” Serafina felt the madam’s vengeful fist in her side.
Photo: On the roof of a baglio in Sicily. Credit: Antonio Llardo (Flickr), Creative Commons.