The Earrings

wpamin_crpTales from the Past

The old Contessa lay in her massive bed looking as though death was about to pay her a formal visit. She was propped up by many pillows beautifully edged in the finest bobbin lace. In her right hand was a fine coral and gold rosary. A nurse, a nun and an old monk were attending her. She had received the last rites and had blessed all her six children asking them to love each other and remain united for her sake. The next morning at 6 a.m. as the Angelus bell chimed Maria Veneranda Eugenia started her great trip into eternity. She expired in the company of her three attendants – the nurse, the nun and the monk. Her last words whispered to the bearded old Franciscan friar were, “The earrings.” “Please explain,” the monk had begged, but nothing more was forthcoming. He questioned the nun, and then the nurse, but none knew what the old lady had been talking about. The monk then asked to see Giordana the trusted old maid. “Giordana,” he said, “the Contessa has passed away. Please send messages to her children to come. The nurse and the nun are attending to the body. There is something else that I wish to say to you, so please come straight back.” Maria Carla the Contessa’s unmarried fifty-year-old daughter walked solemnly into the room. Without a tear, she approached the great bed. She knelt down for at least two minutes and then, bending over the bed, she kissed her dead Mother’s hand, the hand that held the rosary. As she left the room she acknowledged nobody. Giordana returned shortly after. She told the monk that she had organised messages to be sent to the Contessa’s children. “Now,” she said, “what is it you wanted to tell me?” The old monk, using his intuition, asked, “Where are the earrings?” Giordana said, “They are safe.” The room soon started to fill up with those members of the family who lived close by. Maria Carla was back – more maids, Giovanni the odd-job-man, the undertaker also arrived, another cleric, an important one this time – a monsignor. Soon Maria Veneranda Eugenia’s body would be moved into the finest room in her palazzo and the public allowed to visit. The funeral was attended by both the Sovereign’s and the Bishop’s representatives among a great assembly of Maltese society. The old Contessa was eventually laid to rest in the family vault at St Dominic’s Priory in Rabat. Two weeks later Notary Onofrio Frendo Bardon requested a meeting with the heirs for the opening of the will. Maria Veneranda Eugenia had made a secret will which was registered in Court. The Notary had made the application, and the procedures were conducted without any complications or delay. That Tuesday morning the whole family was gathered at the late lamented Contessa’s palazzo and the notary had started reading. “The Palazzo del Ferro and the fields which I own that surround it I leave to my beloved son Stefano. … The remainder of my immovable property is to be divided equally among my children. … Before dividing my chattels, I leave the long gold gran’spinatt chain to my only unmarried daughter Maria Carla together with my diamond feather brooch. … the large rosetta ring I bequeath to my daughter-in-law Maria wife of my son Stefano.” After a number of other bequests including something for the god-children, the maids and for masses for her soul, came the surprise. The notary continued, “I order my executors to present the large diamond earrings which were given to me by my … Read More

The Buckles

wpamin_crpTales from the Past

Zarek Battista was a humble and hard-working carpenter who had saved just about enough money to think about getting married. The love of his life was a good girl who could sew well and also make lace. Her two years in the kitchen of a noble family had taught her to cook and bake. She went to church every day, and, unlike her fiancé, she could read and write a little. Lucia Preca was thrifty and worked hard to save money. She was employed by an old lady as nurse and companion. They both made lace, and Lucia was allowed to sell what she produced. When the old lady died in 1830 leaving her twenty pounds, Lucia had already amassed a further twenty pounds. She and Zarek had ambitions to own their own property and had cast an eye on a little abandoned farmhouse with ten tumoli of land. The place was dilapidated: the ceiling of the upper room had collapsed. Nobody had lived in it for years, nor was it in demand as it stood, all alone, over a mile out of the village. The land around was rocky and would not be suitable for cultivation without importing soil and building rubble walls. The old well was empty and badly damaged by explosives stored probably during the French occupation of 1798. Zarek made an appointment to meet the landlord. The old Count asked him to sit, and chatted quite amiably about the present situation under the British and his memories of how he and his farmers had vanquished the Napoleonic troops. He was in no hurry to come to the point. He enquired about Zarek’s family. Finally the Count said, “What can I do for you?” “Well,” said Zarek, “I believe you are the owner of the farmhouse on the land called ta Agatin and I was hoping that you may be prepared to sell it to me.” The Count looked at Zarek, “Yes, yes it is yours for a hundred pounds.” And then seeing Zarek’s expression he added, “You can pay over ten years at three per cent interest. You are getting a bargain my boy, but I must warn you there are problems. You are young, and if you take it, I am sure you will make something of it.” Zarek said, “It’s a deal. I can give you twenty pounds on contract.” “Right,” said the Count, “Speak to Dr Agius my notary whose office is next to the Parish Priest’s house here in the village.” Zarek broke the news to Lucia. Within a week he had endorsed a preliminary agreement with the Count. A month later a contract was completed. Work on the farmhouse started without delay. Lucia’s two brothers, both stonemasons, agreed terms to start on the job of restoration and improvement. Zarek would make the windows and doors and also some of the furniture. One bright summery day Zarek decided to explore the extent of the damage inside the well. His brothers in law supplied long ladders, and with a reflecting lantern in one hand and a small pick around his waist, he started his descent. Down, down he proceeded slowly to the bottom of the bell-shaped well. Finally, at a depth of some three storeys among the herbage and rubble, he was able to explore the great crack which allowed all the water to escape. He estimated that it would involve a lot of work to put right as part of the rock wall was protruding from what must have been a considerable blast. There were carob tree roots which had broken through … Read More

The Châtelaine

wpamin_crpTales from the Past

There was a state of tension in the palazzo. Considering the circumstances it was reasonably quiet, however at regular intervals the screaming voice of Contessa Maria Sant Gatto shattered the silence. “Let me warn whoever it is that whoever stole my châtelaine is going to pay for it dearly. I will not tolerate thieves in my house. It’s prison for you whoever you are. I am giving you till midday to put it back otherwise this house will be swarming with police. The Commissioner is my friend and he will know who is telling lies. He will examine each and every one of you. Do you hear me you little thief. You will not escape.” The Contessa often wore her beautiful gold châtelaine. Attached to it were some items of great value both in real terms and also in sentimental ones, and there was the key. The key opened the draw of her desk in which she always kept her jewellery. The ball was tomorrow night. She had to get to her emeralds. She was not prepared to break into the marquetry bureau that had belonged to Grand Master Manuel de Rohan. A terrifying thought crossed her mind – had they been stolen too? The clock finally struck twelve and, in came the Count. “Maria,” he said, “the Commissioner is here and he has brought two special investigators to assist him. Please tell all the maids to wait outside my study.” Within minutes Maria, Carmela, Antoinetta, Donatina and Giuseppa the maids had assembled to be followed almost instantly by Marianna the reliable old cook and her assistant Fioretta – and Coronella the seamstress. The gardener, who was not allowed into the house anyway, was spared the ordeal, but Elia, who usually ran messages, was also put into the queue outside the Count’s study. When the three police officers scrutinised this mixed assembly, three maids were crying out of sheer terror and the old cook looked angry. It was she who spoke, “If you have done nothing wrong,” she said, “there is nothing to be afraid of. The Police will catch the guilty one.” The Commissioner had a very gentle manner and asked the youngest into the study. His first words were, “Please sit down.” “What! Do you mean me?” she answered. “Yes. Now tell me, what is your name?” “Antoinetta, Sir.” “When did you last see her ladyship’s chatelaine?” “Last night, when I was turning down the bed.” “Where was it exactly?” “On her bedside table.” “Was anybody with you?” “Yes, Maria.” “Anybody else?” “Yes, my lady.” “Thank you. You can go now. Please call Maria.” Maria’s answers were the same as Antoinetta’s. When asked where she last saw the gold chatelaine, she answered that she had seen it on the edge of the bedside table. The Commissioner thanked her and asked to see nobody else. He then rose and left the room with his investigators. “Madam,” he said, “Please may we enter your bedroom. Is it convenient?” “Yes, yes,” said the Countess. The Commissioner assessed the situation. He looked around the room. He looked at the bedside table. He examined the great four-poster bed which was supported on four very flat bun feet – this meant that the bottom of the bed was only two inches off the ground. He tried to look under. As he got there, all he saw was darkness and a great flush rose to his head. He got up again with the help of his assistants. “Right,” he said, “we must move the bed!” “Impossible,” said the Countess, “It will have to be dismantled. … Read More