Excerpt from Death In Bagheria, a work in progress, publishing next month
Friday, March 25, 1870
While Serafina and Rosa concentrated on getting through the meal, Loffredo and the baron carried the day, plying the housekeeper with questions about Paris, asking her what she thought of the emperor’s feud with the kaiser, issues in which neither she nor Rosa were interested but which intrigued and flattered the housekeeper. Indeed, Doucette’s cheeks were flushed, no doubt from all the attention, and she seemed more animated than Serafina remembered her being, but perhaps it was the wine.
The dinner guests sidestepped Naldo who ate without entering into the conversation or looking at the others seated at table. Earlier, when introduced to Loffredo, he shook hands with him briefly, did not once engage him or his other guests in conversation, other than to gaze with his flat eyes at Serafina a few times, looking through rather than at her. As soon as she returned his attention, he looked away. For the duration of the meal, Naldo seemed preoccupied, kept his head down, cutting his food into small pieces like a child. When Loffredo asked him about his travels, Paris in particular, he said, “I’ve not been,” and continued placing tiny squares of food into his mouth. The moment was an awkward one and Loffredo risked a look at Serafina. For his part, the baron, sitting at the opposite end of the table, took no notice of his son’s behavior.
“It is the painting and the culture, the learning, the vibrancy of the city that interest me,” Loffredo was saying. “Many of my surgeon friends studied there and my wife is mesmerized by the city. She will never return, I fear.”
There was a silence after his announcement. At least the baron knew enough not to ask a question.
Doucette said, “Baron Haussmann’s renovation was good for France, of course, a Paris made more beautiful, but it was carried out on the backs of the people. Some of us, you see, paid a steep price. We lost our home.”
Loffredo set down his fork and knife. “Yes, I read of such horrors. How terrible for you!”
“Your house had been in your family for generations, I believe you told me,” Serafina said.
“A terrible loss for you,” Rosa said. She pressed a linen to her mouth.
“Oh, we were promised a pittance, but it has been more than ten years and still we have not seen compensation. It broke my mother’s heart and she died shortly afterward. Her death was why I agreed to return here with Lady Caterina.”
The baron shoved a large forkful of food into his mouth, his eyes twinkling in Doucette’s direction. “Well, I for one, hope there is a war,” he said, chewing. “That will force the French to withdraw their troops protecting the papal states and we’ll just see what Garibaldi does with that.”