Niccolo smiled as he looked around the parlor of his childhood home. He had finally finished his schooling at university and was allowed to return home. The carriage ride had been long and bumpy and his envoy had run into bandits a few times, but now he was home and able to put the whole ordeal behind him.
It was too early in the morning for anyone to be up, so he just wandered around the place a bit, making mental notes of the layout in his house. The long ride home had given him time to think about improvements he had in store for the Moretti Estate. He had some money saved from Florence and he happened to know that his parents had a small fortune stashed away in the bank…
“ Niccolo!” Cadence’s shout of joy upon seeing her son pulled Niccolo from his thoughts. He rushed over to give his mother a large hug, pleased to see her so happy at his homecoming.
“ My dearest son! I haven’t seen you in years ! How do you fare?” She said, stepping back. What she said was true- during Niccolo’s time at university, he hadn’t come home once, preferring to take as many classes as possible. “ Quite well, mother. However, I feel a bit out estranged. I’ve received few letters…how is the family doing?” Cadence smiled at Niccolo’s question. She was quite happy when given the opportunity to brag about her family’s many accomplishments.
I suppose I should begin with your cousin, being she is the oldest of your generation… She and her husband are doing quite well. They live in a large house in London, but you already know that. You were present at their wedding. William is doing quite well in his business and is able to keep his family rather happy.
Not long after their wedding, Netta sent a letter announcing that she and William were expecting a child.
It was a girl, which your cousin named in the Italian tradition: Zita.
Goodness, me! How time flies! The girl should be about three or four years by now. Occasionally, Netta sends sketches of her family, but nothing has arrived in a while.
Your oldest sister became pregnant around the same time as Netta.
She and her husband, Destry, had a son, Robert…
They should be about three , also. You talented sister, Maddalena, has sent miniatures of them if you’re curious.
They’re in my bedroom, on my writing desk, for you to look at later.
As you remember, Lucrezia was married not long after we returned from England. She and her husband, Chandler, live in a small house near the center of town. After their wedding, they, too, were expecting a child.
Lucrezia, bless her little heart, works in her husband’s shop. She did throughout most of her pregnancy, up until I demanded she take some rest and enter her confinement.
He has grown so much since he was born! He is the cutest little thing, with curly hair just like his father. I’ve been to visit his family often; he is so jovial and loves company.
Caterina became pregnant quite soon after her wedding. Her husband, Orlando, was so excited.
However, they surprised us all by taking in an orphan child from the foundlings’ home before their first child was even born.
Her name is Heather and she was twelve at the time of her adoption.
She was a modest young thing, pleased to have a home after the tragic death of her true parents many years ago. Caterina supervised her education personally, spending time each day to bring her up as a proper young lady.
She must be around sixteen now. She’s grown into quite the accomplished young lady and her parents are looking forward to making her an advantageous match.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. After Heather arrived, Caterina’s baby was born: a girl who was christened Gemma.
She takes after her father quite a bit; she has his hair color and nose. She must be about two and a half or so by now.
Just recently, about six months or so ago, Caterina gave birth again. This time, it was two daughters; one named Bia.
And the other named Fia. They are tiny little things…it is yet to be determined who they most take after.
No doubt you heard about Giusseppe's wedding. Such drama! Marrying in secret to that Sadie. At least I eventually got the ceremony I wished for. Anyways, Sadie eventually announced that she was expecting.
However, Giusseppe followed in his twin’s footsteps and adopted a child from the foundlings’ home. A boy named Luca, whom Giusseppe had the foresight not to name as his heir.
A son of his blood was born soon after, named Adamo.
He is two now and, very recently, Giusseppe took in another little orphan boy. A dark boy who has been named Gian. His mother was Italian noblewoman and his father a moor. The child was a hindrance to her family, so she gave him to the church. Giusseppe took him and is raising him as his own. He is hardly a year older than Adamo and the two are rather close.
All three boys are close brothers and the house is a happy one.
As you know, Christoforo’s been living here with us with his wife, Sara. He has taken over your father’s apothecary shops. It’s sad to admit, but Piero is old and ailing. Not well enough to go into the shop everyday so he’s relinquished the deed to Christoforo, who is now the sole owner.
They had a son recently named Emilo. He’s sleeping upstairs right now. You can look in on him later, if you feel so inclined.
Your cousin Leonardo has grown into quite the strapping young man. He’s almost eighteen, now.
And his little sisters, Cara and Bella, are quite the little dears. They’re quite the spirited couple…Isabetta worries about what trouble they might get into. There’s rumor they may be sent to the convent. That’s about all you’ve missed so far…Oh, look. Here comes your father. Go say hello.
“ My boy! You’ve finally returned!” Piero pulled his son into a large hug, glad to see his son. “ Father., it’s great to see you too!” Niccolo answered. “ It’s been so long, Niccolo. We must go somewhere to catch up!” “ Of course, father!” Niccolo smiled. “I know just the place.”
Half an hour later, the two men had made their way to a café in town. It was a small shop, situated in a secluded corner of the street, but it served some of the best pasta around.
They ate quickly and talked about Niccolo’s years in university. When their plates were cleared, Niccolo brought up a topic he had been thinking over for a while. “ Father, I have an idea.” Niccolo brought a piece of parchment and laid it on the table between them. “ What is it, son?”
“ During college I met so many boys. Boys that were from families far beneath ours, yet they’re treated like kings! I’ve decided that something needs to be done about our family. We need to show the world how great the Moretti family really is.” Piero didn’t know how to react. In his opinion, their family was great and he had no want for grandeur. “What do you mean, son?”
“ I mean that I’m ready to take over my duty as heir of the family. I am finished with my schooling. I have a spot secured for me as a schoolmaster at Florence University. I’m ready to do my duty for my family and bring back the grandeur that the Moretti family name was once associated with.” “ But don’t you think that our family is great enough? We have everything we could ever want…family, friends, love, money, a house, property.”
“ Father, I know how great the Moretti name used to be. Mansions, titles, privilege, wealth, everything that we don’t have now! Our family is still a member of the noble class, even though we don’t like it. Our family could be great again, if we just put in a little effort.”
“ And what exactly is this effort you have planned?” Piero asked warily. “ Well. First, I’ve drawn up some plans for our house. Plans that will make our estate much more worthy of our name. I know that, long ago, your father had to sell the original Casa di Moretti and I’ve walked past it thousands of times, just thinking how grand our family can be once more!
“ And how much does this plan cost, exactly?” “ Well, I’ve saved up half the cost from odd jobs done during university, and I was hoping that you’d be willing to let me use the rest of your inheritance from your father.”
“ Now, son, listen here! That money is from your grandfather- my only inheritance. I’ve already used some of it to renovate our house over the years and-” “ Father!” Niccolo interrupted, “that money has been sitting in the bank for as long as I can remember. If you let me use it, it will go to good use. I promise.”
Piero leaned back in his chair and sighed. He could see that there wouldn’t be any persuading his son to do otherwise. “Are those your blueprints?”
“ Yes, they are! Here…you can look them over if you wish.” Niccolo slid the parchment over the table for his father to peruse.
Piero looked over the plans carefully. He had to admit, they did look impressive. The number in the corner representing the projected cost was large, but maybe it was worth it… “ Fine. I’ll agree to your plan…I can go to the bank this afternoon and take out the money.”
“ Oh thank you, father! You’ll see, I will make this family great once more!” “ Just be careful, son. Remember that there are more important things in life than wealth.” “ Don’t fret, father. I have great plans for this family and I intend to see them through.”
Piero nodded in reply, not sure what to say. Niccolo took it as encouragement and signaled for the waitress to bring another round of drinks.
A week later, the house had been cleared and was ready for demolition. It had been decided that the best way to proceed with the renovations was to just knock down the existing structure and begin from scratch. The family had taken up residence in an inn in town, except for Christoforo who had moved into his own place with his wife and son, and the project was expected to be finished by the fall.
As Niccolo walked through the rooms for the last time, memories of when he was a boy came flooding back. It was a bit sad to see his childhood home going, but progress was progress. Onwards and upwards, he always said.
On the other side of town, Cara and Bella were enjoying their life of luxury. Now that they were older, they moved into Netta’s old room and were learning under the kind tutelage of their nanny, Marie.
Marie, on the other hand, was running herself ragged trying to keep up with the busy girls. Leonardo stumbled upon her lying in the road, passed out, from too much sun.
He woke her with a glass of water to the face. She promptly apologized and ran back inside. The summer was looking to be warm one and it was just beginning.
Leonardo was putting his summer nights to good use. When his parents turned in for the night, he would sneak out of the house and go into town to have fun late into the night enjoying the company of good friends, good food, and good women.
Of course, some of the servants needed a little incentive to keep quite. It was no problem for Leonardo. The bribes made hardly a dent in the allowance he received from his father and he was able to spend the rest on more pleasurable pursuits.
Soon the family gathered to celebrate a double birthday.
Antonio was up first, blowing out a hoard of candles on his cake.
Isabetta was next, her many years finally catching up with her appearance. Her hair was now white as snow.
Their love for each other, however, was not extinguished.
One morning, Leonardo came back from his late night exploits just as the sun was coming up. He snuck up the stairs, careful not to wake anyone, until he reached his sisters’ room. “ Happy birthday, girls!” he announced, shaking them awake. Today was their fourteenth birthday and the party was set to begin in a couple hours. It was no used trying to get any sleep now.
Cakes were baked and candles lit and soon the girls were standing before the table and making their wishes. Bella wished for many friends in life and Cara wished to continue her education .
After changing into their new dresses, they rejoined the party in time to hear a toast being made to their health and happiness.
They mingled with the guests and had an enjoyable time, the only downside being when they caught their parents in a rather shocking embrace.
The house, however, was rumored to be plagued with ghosts. Every once in a while, mysterious sounds could be heard coming from odd corners and the swish of a child’s skirt could sometimes be spotted as it went around a corner.
Marie was one of the members of the household who had claimed to see the ghost. The stress of the uninvited guest on top of looking after the children singlehandedly eventually got to her. Her hair went grey and she found herself longing to be with her own child once more.
Relief came once summer evening when she was charged with the duty of announcing the fate of her two wards. Bella and Cara were to be sent to the convent.
“ So this is to be our home, then?” Bella asked, looking up at the convent. It was tall and grey, a hulking building shut away from the rest of the world. It didn’t look very inviting. “ Yes, sister. It seems the life of a nun is shall be our fate.” Cara answered her twin. “ Now, girls. A religious life is an honorable one and I am sure you shall be quite happy here.” Marie told the girls, pushing them towards the gate.
The girls took hesitant steps forward. They had been told of their impending journey only a few days ago and had accepted it with as much grace as they could muster. Young girls usually looked forward to parties, fancy clothes, and promises of romance and now these ones would never get the chance to experience them.
Cara pushed the doors open and entered. They stopped in the entry, looking in awe at the tall arches looming above them. Marie hurried to catch up while the girls waited patiently while one of the novices went to tell the Mother Superior that they had arrived.
Upstairs, the Mother Superior received the novice and exited her cell to go greet her new girls. She had been informed of their arrival a week ago and was eager to welcome them into her order.
When she reached the front hall, she was greeted by the form of the two girls standing modestly in somber clothing accompanied by what could only be assumed to be their nanny. “ Greetings, girls. I trust your journey went well?” The girls nodded in response. “Welcome to my convent, ladies. I hope you will be happy here. I trust you are the lady Cara.” The Mother Superior asked the girl with curly hair who nodded once more.
“ And that would make you the lady Bella.” she said, turning to the other girl and giving her a kiss on both cheeks. “I trust you know who I am.” “ I assume that you are the Mother Superior.” Cara spoke quietly with her head bowed.
“ You would be correct, my dear, if not for the fact that I am much more than that. I am your Aunt Bianca and I am so pleased to finally meet you. Now, if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you where you may change into your novice robes.”
Bianca turned and lead the way down the hall, her nieces following with large smiles on their faces.
“ I am excited to have my nieces joining the convent.” Bianca told Marie as the two waited in a sitting room while Bella and Cara changed their clothes. “ Yes. At first, I believe the girls were a bit reluctant to come, but they soon became accustomed to the idea and I believe they shall be very happy here.” Marie answered.
Down the hall, the girls had laced each other into their new robes and tied the veils over their hair. “ We look exactly the same, Cara.” Bella said with a sigh. “ Do calm yourself, sister.” Cara answered, adjusting the folds of her skirts. “Let’s go. Marie and the Mother Superior are waiting for us.”
“ Enter.” Bianca said when a knock sounded on the door. The twins entered, looking identical in their habits. “ You look lovely, darlings.” Marie said reassuringly.
“ Yes, girls. You look quite the picture of pious young novices.” Bianca said as she stood. “Now, if you please, you may show Marie to the door. It is time for you to say goodbye. I shall collect your old thing to donate to the poor and then meet you in the chapel to show you around. Bella and Cara nodded and took their leave, followed by Marie.
“ Must you go?” Bella asked, hugging her nanny tightly. “ I’m afraid so, dear. You’re mother has made the decision and I support her completely. I believe you both shall be happy here.”
“ I shall miss you and the rest of the family terribly!” Cara spoke quietly. “ You shall be okay, Cara! We shall keep in tough and I’m sure you both will find happiness here.”
The girls said their last goodbyes and Marie exited through the gate.
“ Wait!” Bella said, hastening to catch up with Maria.
“ Honestly, child! You are a young woman. Now remember all that I have taught you and you shall do well.” Marie took Bella’s hand and gave it a squeeze before gently pushing her back inside the gate.
The girls watched as their nanny, the mother figure they had always known, as she started off towards home.
Once she was gone, they turned and hugged, trying to lend each other comfort.
Soon, they went back inside, ready to start their new lives in the church.
“ The ladies Bella and Cara have been safely delivered to the convent, signora.” Marie said as she entered the sitting room. Isabetta was playing with the chessboard by herself, coming up with new moves to practice on her husband later that night.
“ And the journey went well? No mishaps along the way?” Isabetta asked, clearing the table. “ None whatsoever.” “ Good, good.” “ Anything else, Marie?”
“ Well. I’ve been wishing to talk to you, signora. Since the youngest of the household have now been settled in the convent, it has come to my attention that there is no one for me to look after.” Marie broached the subject of her impending dismissal delicately. “ Yes, yes. I hadn’t thought about that. I suppose Leonardo doesn’t need a nanny…is there anything you have in mind?”
“ To be honest, I was hoping to leave and join my daughter and her husband in England. I have missed her so since she left and I have recently received news that she gave birth to my first grandchild, a boy. It is my dearest wish to be able to see him before it is too late.”
To Marie’s surprise, Isabetta stood embraced her. “I would be happy to provide transportation for you to London. You have been loyal to my family for many years and now I shall have the pleasure of repaying the many favors you have done for me in the past. I shall book passage for you on the next boat to England. Be ready to leave on the morrow.”
“ Oh, grazie , signora!” Marie exclaimed. Isabetta’s offer was more than she had ever hoped for.
Upstairs, Marie ran into Leonardo as she was going to pack a few of her belongings to take with her. “ Going somewhere, Marie?” he asked when he saw her rush. “ Oh, yes, signore! Bless your kind mother for she has consented and even funded my journey to England to be reunited with my daughter and her family!” “ Oh, how joyous an occasion! I do wish you Godspeed and a safe journey.”
“ And to you, Leonardo, I wish you all the joy in life. I hope you will find joy in your family and success in your father’s business.” Leonardo blushed at the mention of his father’s business. “Actually,” he fumbled over his words, “I’ve decided to relinquish my half of the Costa business to my father’s brother and his children. I’ve decided to go into the military.”
For a moment, Marie was too stunned to speak. Instead she hugged the boy and told him to be safe. She wished him glory in battle before taking her leave to gather her things.
The next morning, Marie rose early and slipped down the hall silently. It was too early, so she left quietly, not wanting to interrupt anyone’s sleep.
As promised, transportation was waiting outside the door for Marie. Her bag was loaded on the top and she clambered in, her boat passage clenched tightly in her hand. God willing, she would be with her daughter soon.
Try as she might, Marie hadn’t left as quietly as she had hoped. Leonardo had been woken by the inadvertent banging of her bag upon the wall. He rose and made his bed, not able to go back to sleep. What he had told Marie last night of his plans to join the military were true. In fact, he was supposed to leave this very afternoon, but he had put off telling his mother until the last moment.
He put his room to rights, organizing his belongings as he knew he wouldn’t be needing them, perhaps ever again.
Just after breakfast, he requested an audience with his mother. He sat in the sunroom, waiting for her arrival.
“ Mother, I have an issue I wish to discuss with you.” “ Of course, my son. You may speak freely.” “ Well, I have decided to relinquish my part of father’s business to my cousin Erocle. I wish, instead, to go into the army.” Isabetta had heard of her son’s interest in the army from his tutors and had suspected his intentions for quite some time, so it was no shock to her.
“ When do you leave?” she asked. “ Tonight.” “ Well, I expect you to talk to your father before you go.” Leonardo smiled and his mother hugged him tightly, not wanting to let her only son go, but knowing that it was time for him to follow his dreams. “ I will talk to father straight away.”
After talking with his father and hastily settling legal matters, Leonardo had called for transportation and was ready to report to the military camp where he would begin his training. As he opened the carriage door, he felt nothing but excitement for he was finally chasing his dream.
Early that November, the new Casa di Moretti was finally finished. It was a grand estate, not as fine as some of the other nobles, but it was very much of an improvement.
“ How are you enjoying the new house, mother?” Niccolo asked Giulietta one afternoon as he happened upon her as she was fiddling with the chess board. “ It is wonderful, my son. You have truly outdone yourself. Come, sit down and let’s play a while.”
“ All right, I suppose I can spare a few minutes before I have head down to the University. I’m giving a lecture on chemicals today.” “ How interesting. And after work, what are you planning on doing?” Giulietta asked as she reset the game.
“ I have not decided yet. Perhaps I shall go into town and have a look around the shops.” “ Why not call upon that lovely girl you met during our stay at the inn? She was quite nice and rather eager to hear from you again, I daresay.”
“ Mother! How could you suggest such a thing? Her father owns a tavern . Hardly a respectable family for me to be seen with.” Niccolo was shocked at his mother’s suggestion. Sure, she was a pretty young thing, but that what she was supposed to remain. A part of his past with no role he could see for her in his future. Giulietta frowned at her son. She did not expect him to react in such a way…she had been sure he felt more than kindness towards the maiden.
“ If not that maiden, then who?” she enquired kindly. “ What do you mean, mother. I have no ladies to visit today. In fact, I don’t know why you bring the subject up at all.” “ I only mean to point out that fact that you are the last of my children to remain unmarried. All of your brothers and sisters have already wedded and I have at least one grandchild from each. It is high time you found yourself a wife, Niccolo!”
“ You see, I am not as young as I used to be and I fear I won’t live to see the day to see you happily settled. It is my dearest wish to see all of my children married before I leave this world. Please try to understand my wishes.”
Niccolo sighed and stared at his pieces. The game had been going on for hardly two minutes and already he was losing. “ Mother, I suppose I can look around a bit. See if I can find any suitable ladies. But I make no promises.” he spoke in even tones, trying to be rational but longing to express his true sentiments. I’m hardly twenty-four! A young man by any man’s standards. Just because my siblings married young does not mean that I must.
Giulietta beamed as she swept her bishop across the board and declared “checkmate”. “ Thank you, son. That is all I ask. Well, maybe a few grandchildren couldn’t hurt…”
“ Oh, mother.” Niccolo sighed as he stood. “I must be going now. My pupils will not wait.”
“ Very well. Have a nice walk and hurry home once your finished. It feels like rain.” Niccolo gave his mother a quick hug before hastening out the door.
Giulietta’s prediction was right and, as Niccolo was walking home from the University that evening, he was caught in a sudden downpour. Seeking refuge from the rain, he ran across the street and ducked into the cathedral.
There weren’t many people inside, just a few scattered here and there saying quiet prayers. They certainly wouldn’t mind if he waited out the storm inside.
He found a seat in the nave that was off to the side and out of everyone’s way. Sitting quietly, he said his prayers and enjoyed the sound of the rain echoing against the stained glass windows.
His thoughts were interrupted when a young girl slipped in through a door in the aisle. She wrung rain from her hair and hurried across the floor, leaving wet footprints behind her. Apparently he wasn’t the only one with the idea to wait out the storm.
Once the girl passed, he stood and followed her down the aisle. It couldn’t hurt to make conversation while they were both stuck inside.
“ Pardon me, signorina.” Niccolo cleared his throat as he waited in the entrance of one of the side chapels. “May I join you?”
“ Si .” She answered softly, not moving her eyes from the stained glass she was tracing with her gaze.
“ Lovely window, is it not?” Niccolo asked as he sat on the bench next to her. “ Si , quite lovely.” she answered in halting Italian. “ Ah, I see you’re not from here. You, my dear, must be French, judging by your accent.” “ Oui, je suis en visite de Marseille. ” “ From Marseille? Quite a lovely place, I’ve heard.” Niccolo replied in French.
At the sound of her native tongue, the lady’s eyes lit up. “My name is Renee Dupont. I am visiting my uncle in Florence for the autumn.” “ Pleased to meet you, Renee. I am Niccolo Moretti. My family lives in town, on the other side of the river. Are you enjoying your visit so far?” “ Oh, yes! Florence is such a lovely place. I begged my uncle to take me to town with him this morning so I could come see the cathedral. I was waiting for him outside a shop when the storm struck. Since the cathedral was so near, I came in here to stay dry.”
Renee stood and brushed off her skirt. It was still damp so she wandered over to a window to give it a chance to dry a bit. She could still hear the rain pelting the glass; clearly the storm wasn’t over yet.
“ It seems we had the same idea, mademoiselle. I was walking home from the University, I am a professor there, and I came in here to avoid getting drenched.” Niccolo stood also and joined Renee in her spot at the window.
“ A professor? How impressive!” she said, smiling. “ Yes, I am the professor of science. I give lectures four times a week and have several pupils that I act as private tutor for.” “ I shall ask my uncle to take me to the University sometime this week. Perhaps I shall see you then.” She answered with a coy smile.
“ Your uncle is quite a nice man, taking you around the city. If he should ever tire of playing guide, you know where to find me. I should be happy to show you around Florence.” “ How kind of you, signore Moretti! My uncle is often quite busy with his business…perhaps it would be easier if I gave you his name and house. That way it would be easier for you to find me.” “ What a clever idea! Pray, do tell me who your uncle is!”
“ His name is Signore Alberti. He lives in la casa della rosa on the bank of the Arno. It’s a grand white house-you can’t miss it.” Niccolo was pleased to hear the name of Renee’s uncle. He knew Signore Alberti. He was a friend of the family and he would have no problem calling on his old friend…if only to see his lovely niece.
With a final clap of thunder, the rain stopped pouring and Renee announced that she must be going. “My uncle will be searching for me, no doubt.” Niccolo bowed to Renee and gave her a quick kiss on the back of her hand. She blushed and hurried off, leaving Niccolo behind to watch her form disappear down the aisle. As he stood there in the chapel, the promise he made to his mother that afternoon came back to him. Well, it certainly wouldn’t be hard keeping it now.
The end for now! I thought this was a funny picture from when Renee moved in. She seems to really like Niccolo and he seems rather pleased with himself.