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 grandmother Marchesa Eufemia and originated in the estate of Gran’Balì Frà Antoine Marie de Rochefoucaud to the Procurator of the Chapel of St Charles built by our ancestor Carlo Pandolfo Borg de Ribera. They are to be affixed to the ears on the painting of the Madonna della Grazia by Mattia Preti known as the Cavaliere Calabrese.”
There was a gasp of dismay among the distinguished audience. One of the in-laws was heard to mutter, “She had no right to do this – he got round her – no wonder he came so often – I never trusted him.”
Her will ended with the words, “May God have mercy on my soul.”