The High Ground


Excerpt from Death In Bagheria, a work in progress

Thursday, March 24, 1870

As they walked through the atrium, Serafina  saw a maid standing next to a potted plant and asked her to show them the way to the top of the house. “We’d like the clearest view of the grounds.”

“You’ll want the roof garden, ma’am, at the top of the main staircase. I’ll be ever so glad to show you.”

“No, I was thinking of something a little more private, a back staircase, perhaps?”

“This way, then,” she said with a bob and smile. “If you’ll wait for me here. I’ll just be a moment fetching the keys.”

When she returned with a jangling key ring and enough candles for the three of them, she introduced herself as Lina, a parlor maid, and bade Serafina and Rosa follow her through a side door adjacent to the dining room. Serafina watched while Lina unlocked another door leading to a landing, warmer and stuffier than the rest of the house. Directly inside, Serafina noticed that there were two doors and was told that one led down to the kitchen, the other to the floors above. “For the servants’ use only, quick access to our quarters as well as a back way to the ballroom and the family’s bedrooms,” she explained.

As far as Serafina could see in the candlelight, the hallway and stairs were immaculate and she smelled lemon polish. “Used frequently?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am, used all the time by us.”

There was something effervescent about this young woman. Tall and graceful, Lina was typical of the parlor maids Serafina had seen in the big houses, with shining hair braided and wound around the back of her head, clothed in a beautifully tailored uniform, a slight bustle in the back, crisp apron and cap. Her smile was engaging, with two front teeth slightly crossed, and she spoke with a slight lisp but in perfect Italian with a pleasing, rather husky voice.

“We take the meals up from the kitchen this way.”

“To the dining room?”

“Yes, and there’s a more intimate dining room off of the ballroom on the second floor; and sometimes the family dines in the roof garden in good weather. It’s on the top of the house.” She paused, seemed to consider. “Of course, that was before the baroness took ill.”

Photo: In the Madonie, overlooking Cefalu. Credit: lorca56 (Flickr)

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