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 all over the place.
Zarek started to climb back up the ladder, then stopped half way. What caught his eye was something that looked like a slightly displaced block of perfectly rectangular stone. With his pick, he pulled it out and, behind, was a little metal box. He put it into his shirt and did not mention it when he emerged from the well.
He headed straight to the house where Lucia worked. Lucia answered the bell. “Do you have a minute?” he said. “I think I have found something.”
Together they examined the most magnificent pair of diamond and pearl encrusted gold shoe buckles. They were dusty, but with great care Lucia brushed them gently.
“What do we do now?” said Zarek.
“You will wear them for our wedding,” said Lucia, “and if ever we run out of money we will not have to worry much, will we?” she added with a smile.