“ How do I look?” asked Erocle, striking a funny pose and earning a laugh from his mother, Analisa. He was modeling his new tunic and hose that had been completed that morning just in time for his upcoming journey to London. “ Wonderful, son. I daresay you shall make all the English ladies swoon at the sight of you!” Analisa announced, making her daughter, Vittoria, pull a face and leave the room. “ More importantly, son, you shall make a great impression on the investors in London.” Marco said proudly. The Costa family business had been growing at an unexpected rate and they had decided to try their luck in opening an international location.
Erocle had been chosen to open their new location in London while his father and brothers stayed back in Venice to continue the local business. His trunks were packed, his passage was booked, and the carriage was waiting outside. He had said goodbye to his brothers and sisters came into the parlor to tell his parents that he was going.
“ Goodbye, my son. Have a save journey and write as soon as you land. And don’t forget that the letter sent to your cousin, Netta, may not have arrived yet. Even if it hasn’t, she should allow you to stay at her house until you’ve made more secure arrangements.” “ Yes, mother.” Erocle gave his mother a kiss before saying goodbye to his mother
* * * Erocle was glad to have solid ground under his feet once more as he walked down the path to the front door of his cousin’s house. Even though he grew up in Venice along the canals, he had never really liked water. He knocked loudly on the door, wondering if his letter had arrived. He sure hoped it had; arriving suddenly on a doorstep and asking for a place to stay wasn’t the best way to make an entrance.
He needn’t have worried, though, for a redheaded girl soon opened the door and stepped out to greet him. “ You must be, Erocle Costa. Netta’s cousin. We’ve been expecting you.” Tina said with a smile.
“ At your service, signorina.” Erocle said with a bow. The woman was pretty, young, not of the servant class, and appeared to be unmarried. Plus, she was kind; a woman after his own heart. “May I ask your name? I don’t believe we are acquainted.” “ I am Leontaina Basso, companion to the mistress Antonia. You may call me Tina, though.”
“ Tina,” Erocle smiled, “A pretty name for a pretty girl.” Tina smiled and leaned in closer. Netta certainly hadn’t warned how handsome her cousin would be. “You flatter me, signore. I am nothing special.”
Erocle leaned back and whistled. “I think you are too hard on yourself, Tina.” “ Hmm. Well, I suppose I should take you to Netta now.” Tina said, rolling her eyes. She stepped past Erocle and opened the door.
“ Netta, you have a visitor.” Tina announced as she came into the nursery. Erocle lagged behind, looking around and admiring the architecture.
Netta tucked her daughter, Zita into her cradle and motioned for Erocle to enter the room. “Ah. Dearest cousin, I welcome you to my home. At the moment, my husband is out, but he will surely welcome you once he returns.”
“ I thank you sincerely, signora, for opening your home to me and allowing me to occupy your guest room. I promise that I shall not be a bother to your household.” “ Oh, nonsense! I am glad of your arrival; it gets a bit dull around here at times and a new face shall liven things up a bit.”
Across the room, Tina picked up Zita and rocked her back and forth, listening as Netta and Erocle chatted amiably about inconsequential things such as the weather and his journey from Venice.
“ He has nice eyes, don’t you think?” Tina whispered in Zita’s ear as they rocked. There was something about the man that attracted Tina. Nothing that she could pinpoint, but it was certainly there and it seemed there would be no ignoring it. “ Tina?” Netta’s voice pulled her from her thoughts. “I have to go see to supper. Will you please see Erocle to his room?” Tina nodded in response and tucked Zita back into her cradle.
“ You’ll be staying in the guest room; it’s just down the hall. If you’ll please follow me, I shall take you now.”
“ I’d follow you anywhere.” Erocle said slyly. Tina bent her head so he didn’t see her roll her eyes. His words were certainly pretty, but she knew a man of his class could never feel anything for her. The daughter of a lowly nursemaid. She kept her head bent as they left the room so didn’t see as Erocle traced her form with his eyes as they walked.
Later that night, Tina went around to light the wall sconces. It was something she enjoyed doing; bringing light to the house when the sun went down. She knocked quietly on Erocle’s door. He had been in his room all afternoon, even taking his meals on trays. He would certainly be needing his candles lit by now.
“ Enter.” Erocle said upon hearing the knock. “ I’ve come to light your candles, if you would like.” “ Oh, thank you. The ones on the desk, if you please.”
Tina obediently crossed the room and lit the candelabra on the desk. She noticed a mess of papers lying there. So that’s what’s kept him occupied all night.
“ If that is all, good night, signore.” Tina said, her hand already on the doorknob. “ Wait one moment, Tina.” Erocle said, crossing the room from his spot at the window where he had been using the last rays of the light to work. “ Yes? Something else, signore?” “ Um. Well…” “ Do you need something?” “ Uh, perhaps…” Erocle racked his brain for someway to stall the beautiful Tina. Something that would keep her in his company if only for a little while longer. “ Yes?” she asked impatiently.
The next thing she knew, Erocle had pulled her close and was kissing her. Her legs wobbled, but he supported her weight close to his body. He had found the perfect way to stall her.
Stopping only a moment to blow out the candles that Tina had just lit, Erocle kept kissing Tina, counting on the fact that she wouldn’t be missed and no one would interrupt them.
He moved her swiftly to his bed and climbed up next to her. Her dress and his tunic had been lost long ago. Tina made a small noise, almost in protest, which made Erocle draw back. He looked at her questioningly, asking if she wished him to stop. Tina knew she could never say no. Nodding her head, she leaned and kissed Erocle back.
She knew her feelings toward him. Maybe it wasn’t so crazy for Erocle to feel the same way. Maybe there really was such thing as love at first sight.
Early that morning, Erocle woke and pulled Tina close to him. She stirred a bit, but didn’t wake. He watched her sleeping form in awe. He had arrived not even a day ago, never expecting any of this to happen. Now he had met the woman of his dreams and there was no going back. He kissed her gently on the forehead and shook her awake. It was almost sunup and he knew she would want to go back to her room and dress.
“ Morning already?” she asked dreamily. She rolled over and grabbed her underclothes from the floor. Erocle pulled on his hose while she laced herself loosely into her corset.
“ Meet me later?” he asked as he pulled her close and kissed her. “ Perhaps.” Tina said and winked. “ Tina…Am I crazy to feel this way about after knowing you for less than a day?” Tina had been wondering the same thing not a moment ago. “Well, if you are crazy, then I am equally insane.” Erocle laughed and kissed her again. “ In all seriousness, though. I think it best to keep this between us, Erocle. For the time being, at least.” Erocle nodded, kissed Tina one more time and watched as she gathered her clothes and left in a hurry.
Back in her room, Tina let out a sigh of relief. She had made it back safely without being seen by anyone. She washed her face and dressed quickly. When she finished, she paced the room, not knowing what else to do. Last night had changed her and she was positive that Erocle felt the same way she did. But he didn’t know the truth. She was nothing better than a maid, not the nigh-born companion he took her for. Perhaps it would be best if she ended the whole thing before it began.
A cry echoed from the room next door. The nursery was connected to Tina’s room, as per her request when they first came to London. Even though she was no longer a servant girl, her mother had taught her much about children and she enjoyed feeling useful. Even though it wasn’t required of her, Tina often acted as nursemaid to Zita when her mother was otherwise occupied.
“ What do you think, darling?” Tina asked as she took the baby from her cradle. “Should I meet him later?” Zita cooed eagerly, as if encouraging Tina to plunge head first into the situation. “ What do you know? You’re probably just hungry.” Tina said as she left the room with the baby cradled in her arms. With each step she took, she pushed the situation farther from her mind. She would think on it later.
Down in the kitchen, Tina took a bottle from the larder and began feeding Zita. Soon after, Netta came in with a large smile on her face. “ Good morning, girls!” she said brightly. “Did you sleep well?” Tina blushed bright red and murmured “yes”. “ Well, I’m starved! What shall we have to break our fast this morning?” Netta moved to the larder, but Tina stopped her.
“ Here, take Zita and I shall fix us some food.” she said, handing the baby to her mother. Netta took her daughter and rocked her back and forth, talking nonsense at the same time.
“ Did you sleep well?” Tina asked as she placed some pastries in a pan to warm. “ Quite well. William visited my chambers last night again.” Netta said with a grin. She rather enjoyed the nights she spent with her husband. “ How nice for you.” Tina said and blushed again. This time, she really did know how nice such nights could be.
“ You know, Tina. We really should start looking for a husband for you. I’m beginning to think my tales of marriage are boring you.” “ We’ll see, Netta.” Tina said, stoking the fire under the pastries and standing up. He may be closer than you think.
When breakfast was warm, Tina took the pan out to the dining room to serve. “ I’ll be back in a minute. I’m going to put Zita back in her cradle.” Netta left the room, rocking a sleepy girl in her arms.
Tina set out two plates and put the rest of the pastries on the sideboard. She began to eat, mulling over her thoughts and was startled when Erocle appeared and helped himself to a plate. “ Do you mind if I join you?” “ Not at all.” she replied softly.
Erocle tried to make conversation, but Tina stayed pretty quiet until Netta returned. She had made up her mind and decided it was best to distance herself from Erocle before she got too emotionally involved. “ How do you fare, cousin?” Netta asked when she sat down. “ Quite well, actually. I slept very well last night and I woke in a rather good mood this morning.” he winked at Tina, who looked away.
“ Good for you. This looks delicious!” she said, taking a large bite of her pastry. “ Did you have a pleasant night as well, Tina?” Erocle asked, earning a glare from Tina. Could he make it any more obvious?! He was practically announcing their relationship to the world. She answered with a curt “yes” and stuffed the rest of her food in her mouth.
“ If you please, excuse me. I am finished and have things to attend to.” Tina stood and hastened to the kitchen, leaving her plate for the servants to pick up later.
“ Are you finished?” Erocle asked, rising from his seat and taking Netta’s plate when she nodded that she was done. He took the dishes to the kitchen when Netta went back upstairs to visit her daughter.
Erocle stood in the doorway and watched as Tina washed her hands in the water basin. He cleared his throat gently to make his presence known.
Tina turned with a start and fumbled to stop the water flow. “ Signora Vijayakar has finished her meal. I’ve brought her plate; I hope that’s okay.” “ Of course; the servants will clean up in a bit.”
Erocle put the plates aside and closed the gap between him and Tina. He caressed her cheek, making her blush and shrink back. “ What is it? Something’s wrong.” Erocle said, noticing her aversion to his touch. “ It’s nothing.” “ No, it is most certainly something. Now, tell me.” “ If you insist. My conscience will allow me to continue our relationship no further.” “ We have already gone as far as possible, my dear.” he said with a wink.
“ Listen to me, please. You are a wealthy merchant’s son while I am merely a lady’s companion. It is not right for us to be together, and I ask you to understand that.” “ Now, see here, Tina. I don’t care if there were oceans separating us. Even if I was a lowly slave and you the ruler of all the world, I would find a way to make you mine. I don’t know what it is but there is something about you that is completely irresistible and there’s nothing you can do to stop my affections.”
Tina tried to respond, but found she could formulate no response. She had no way to counter Erocle’s declaration of love, so she guessed it was best to go along with it. Erocle leaned in and kissed her and she felt all of resistance melting away.
Erocle moved his mouth across her shoulder and all the way down her arm. Shivers moved up and down her spine in reaction to his touch.
“ Tina, I thought I’d let you know that I am going over to Maddalena’s this afternoon!!” Netta announced loudly as she entered the kitchen with her daughter in her arms. Luckily, her attention was absorbed in the infant so she missed the passionate display of affection across the room.
Tina and Erocle jumped away from each other, trying their hardest to hold in their laughter.
“ Thank you for telling me. I shall make some cakes for you to take over, if you wish.” Tina said, stepping forward. “ Have a pleasant visit, cousin.” Erocle said, bowing. Netta shifted Zita to one arm and looked up for the first time. “What are you doing in here?” she asked her cousin.
“ I was- well- that is to say-” he struggled to find an excuse for his presence. “ He was helping me with an errand. I asked him to return that book to the library.” Tina came to his rescue, finishing his sentence for him. She stepped forward and offered to that Zita who was struggling in her mother’s arms.
“ Yes, errand. I came in here to get the book and now I’m going to go.” Erocle said, grabbing the book off the counter and leaving the kitchen while he flipped nonchalantly through the pages.
“ Your cousin is a nice man.” Tina said as she took the baby. “ That he is. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get ready for my visit. The pastries are not necessary, thank you, though.” Tina curtseyed quickly to her friend and left to wander around the grounds with Zita.
On her way to her room, Netta took a shortcut through the library where she found Erocle flipping through a book. When he saw her, he asked her to stop for a chat.
“ Of course, cousin. Chat away.” Netta said and sat down. Erocle put his book down and thought about the best way to go about the conversation, “Your husband seems a nice man. He works with a certain Richard Gresham, importing textiles from the mainland..” “ Ah, how interesting. And your companion, Signorina Basso. What of her family?”
“ Well, Tina has lived with us my entire life. In fact, she is only a few months older than me and was there the night I was born. Her mother was my nursemaid, her father having died before she was even born. She and her mother took up permanent residence with my family, her mother working as my nanny and Tina as my personal maid.” “ So, how did she come to be your companion?”
“ It was when I became betrothed to William. I wanted someone to travel with me and we had grown very close in our years growing up, so I asked her to be my companion. She agreed, and that is where we are now.” Erocle nodded and thanked his cousin for the information.
She stood and curtseyed before leaving the library to go to her chambers. Erocle stayed in his seat, thinking about what he had just heart. So, Tina was the daughter of a wet-nurse. No wonder she felt they were unequal in status. At least he now knew the truth…not that it mattered to him. He had slipped a note into her pocket in the kitchen and, judging by their actions in the kitchen, he was guessing that she would accept his invitation that night.
Upstairs, Tina was tucking Zita into her cradle. She had found the note tucked in her pocket and while Netta was out on her own excursion, Tina was planning one on her own.
As requested, Tina met Erocle in the library that evening. Netta was at Maddalena’s house, William was at work, and Zita was asleep. That gave them free reign of the house.
They continued their meetings for weeks on end. They met only when the rest of the house was asleep and didn’t so much as linger their gazes at each other during the day.
Tina felt bad for sneaking around Netta’s back with her cousin, so she kept their relationship a secret, urging Erocle to go along with her.
However, one night Tina decided to go straight to her bed instead of to Erocle’s.
She had stayed late in the library, reading a copy of “Tirant lo Blanch” that Netta had translated for her years ago. She skimmed the pages as she found her way to chambers.
Erocle had been waiting for his lover’s appearance and was worried when she never showed. Curious, he wandered the halls until he found her chambers and realized that he had never been to them before. She had always come to his.
He knocked on her door and heard a soft ‘enter’ come from within. He did and was shocked to see Tina stoking her fire and readying for bed.
“ Can I help you?” she asked as she poked the logs and sent them roaring to life. “ I needed my candles lighted, but no one ever came. I was wondering if you could help me with that dilemma.” Erocle smiled wickedly and took hold of Tina’s waist.
“ Well, I suppose I know a thing or two about lighting candles.” Tina said and leaned into Erocle’s kiss. She had thought she was going to skip seeing her lover that night, but apparently fate had a different plan for her.
As they kissed, Erocle scooped Tina up in his arms and moved towards the bed.
He laid her down and sat next to her, trying to balance on the narrow mattress. “ I love you.” Erocle said, pulling Tina closer to him. Tina didn’t hesitate a second before saying she loved him too.
Later that night, they were woken by a loud cry coming from the next room. Zita had woken and was demanding attention.
“ You can stay here; I’ll go see what Zita needs.” Tina said, motioning for Erocle to lay back down on the bed.
Tina went into the nursery and, instead of listening to her, Erocle followed. Tina quickly changed Zita’s linens and placed her gently back into the cradle, rocking it until the baby was asleep again. Erocle stood back the whole time and just watched.
“ Come on, let’s go back.” Tina said, but before she could take many steps, Erocle had encircled her with his arms and was kissing her, complimenting her on her way with children.
Tina smiled and led the way back to her room. Erocle laid on the bed while she got the fire going again. “You look nice from this angle.” he said, patting the bed beside him. Tina shook her head no, she wouldn’t join him, and lingered by the fireplace.
“ What is it?” he asked once he had come to stand by her. “ I don’t want to wake Zita. She’s just fallen asleep.” “ Well, then. We can be quiet.”
“ Let’s just sit for a while.” Tina said, pulling Erocle down onto a rug on the floor.. They sat with their backs to the fire, locked en each other's embrace for a while.
Eventually, Erocle pulled back to speak, “Tina. We’ve been sneaking around like this for quite some time now, and I have been hoping to make it official. Marry me?” Tina was shocked. She had expected their tryst to continue until he bored of her or came to his senses, but marriage had never entered her mind.
“ Why do you hesitate? Do you have any reservations? If so, please do tell me so that I may correct them!” Erocle became worried when Tina didn’t answer right away. “ There’s something that I should have told you a long time ago. We are more separated in class than you have ever known. In reality, I am a servant, so lowly as to not be a worthy wife for you. My mother was Netta’s nursemaid and I her personal maid. I was only elevated because of our friendship. I beg you to reconsider your offer.”
Erocle stood abruptly and pulled Tina up along with him. He knelt on one knee and made her stand in front of him. “My dearest Tina.” he began, “I confess I have known of your status for quite some time now. Netta told me months ago and it hasn’t made one bit of difference as to my feelings towards you. In case you didn’t know, men in my family pay absolutely no regard to whom they can and cannot love. In fact, my own father ran off with a nun and has encouraged me to follow my heart in choosing a wife. Now, I ask again. Will you accept my hand?”
Tina pulled Erocle up from his kneeling position and kissed him.
The next morning, Netta rose at her usual time and became concerned when her friend did not join her for breakfast. When Tina never showed, Netta went up to find what had become of her companion. She knocked on the door and heard movement inside.
“ One moment, please!” Tina said as she rose quickly from her bed. Apparently she had overslept. “ Are you alright in there? It’s not like you to stay in your chambers all morning!” Netta said as she tried the handle only to find it locked. “ Yes, I’m fine! Just overslept, that’s all.”
Erocle smiled at his betrothed’s haste to get him from the room. She pointed silently to the door that led to the nursery and mouthed go in there . He tiptoed across the stone floor, trying no to make a sound while Tina went to pick up the room a bit.
“ Erocle!” she whispered, causing him to turn around. She threw him his nightclothes that had been discarded in the middle of the floor. He caught them and exited her chambers, smiling to himself.
Tina unlocked her door and opened it, allowing Netta to enter. “Why was it locked?” she asked as she watched her friend make her bed. “ Oh, I heard a noise last night and I became frightened, so I locked it.” Tina tried to brush the situation aside, but Netta wasn’t fooled that easily. She knew her friend was hiding something.
In the nursery, Erocle slipped his nightclothes over his head and looked in on Zita who was slumbering peacefully. “ That Tina is an interesting one.” he mused silently to himself as he waited to hear Tina unlock her door and let Netta in.
When he heard Netta leave the hallway and begin asking Tina all sorts of question, he slipped stealthily from the nursery and closed the door behind him.
He took off running as fast as he could down the hall, hoping to make it to his room unnoticed.
Luckily he did. He dressed as fast as he could, hoping that his presence was not missed that morning either.
Back in her room, Tina dressed as Netta grilled her for details. “ I also noticed my dear cousin, Erocle, was missing from the table this morning.” Netta said, trying to get a reaction from Tina.
“ Oh, was he? Perhaps he slept in as well.” she answered casually. Netta sighed in defeat. Clearly she wouldn’t get any information from Tina this morning. “Well, in any case, I have a surprise for you!” “ What?” “ I- excuse me a moment.”
Netta took off running from the room, leaving a very confused Tina standing alone.
Netta turned into the closet where they kept a chamber pot and lost her breakfast. Tina followed her friend, hovering in the hallway with a worried expression on her face.
“ Are you alright? Are you ill?” Tina asked once Netta had emerged from the closet. “ Quite well, actually. It’s what I had wanted to tell you- I am expecting a baby!”
“ Oh, congratulations!” Tina exclaimed and enveloped her friend in a hug.
“ Congratulations are in order? For who?” Erocle interrupted as he opened the door, almost smacking the girls.
“ For me, cousin.” Netta answered, “I was just telling Tina, here, that Signore Vijayakar and I are expecting a child.”
“ In that case, I shall offer my congratulations as well!” Erocle said as he hugged Netta.
When Netta and Erocle started a conversation, Tina decided that it was time to take her leave. Without drawing attention to herself, she slipped away quietly and went down the stairs.
It was nice out, so Tina stretched out on the grass. She grew distracted watching the clouds and didn’t notice when Erocle came out too.
“ Mind if I join you?” he asked, making Tina jump. She smiled and motioned for him to join her, though. “ It’s nice out today, is it not?” he asked casually, pointing to some birds flying across they sky. “ That it is, darling.”
“ That’s wonderful news about Signora Vijayakar’s baby, don’t you agree?” “ Quite so, Erocle. In fact, I have some news of my own and I think it time I shared it…I am with child as well.”
Erocle beamed and pulled Tina closer, barely containing his excitement, “I am to be a father?” “ Yes. I confess that I have known for some time, but was hesitant to tell you.”
“ You needn’t have worried; I couldn't be more enthusiastic. We shall have to announce our betrothal soon with our wedding to follow immediately after…perhaps we shall make the announcement this afternoon when the master of the house has returned from work.” “ Very well…” Tina trailed off, accepting the fact that they would have to tell Netta of their engagement sooner or later. Sooner, now that they were also expecting a baby.
Ahem. A noise from across the courtyard made Tina and Erocle pull apart and look for their intruder. Netta stood on the path, looking incredulously at the couple lying in the grass. Her cousin and her best friend?!
Tina and Erocle rose and stood sheepishly. They had been found out.
“ Ha! I knew there was something going on between you!!” Netta shouted as she ran across the yard. “I thought you had been sneaking behind my back and I was right !!” “ I suppose it’s time we tell her, don’t you think?” Erocle asked Tina, who nodded her head in response.
“ Yes, you were correct, cousin. Tina and I are betrothed as of last night and I have just found out that I shall be a father later this year.” “ You’re betrothed?! And you didn’t think to tell me until now ?”
“ Please, Netta. Try to understand. This was never anything planned…it just…happened. We were going to tell you this afternoon.” Try as she might, Netta could not stay angry at her friend. It was a happy occasion and she should be pleasant. “Very well. It is now my turn to offer my congratulations to you both.”
“ Thank you.” Tina and Erocle said in unison. “ Now, I have something for you, my dear.” Erocle said as he bent down on one knee. “I bought this a week ago in hopes that I could give it to you soon. I would have done it last night, but unfortunately, I didn’t have it at hand.”
Tina blushed as Erocle slipped a gold band on her finger.
Netta looked away as Tina proclaimed her joy over the ring. They were a lovely couple, she had to admit.
Tina and Erocle were too involved in each other to notice when Netta left in order to give them some privacy.
That afternoon, Netta greeted her husband at the door, bursting to tell him news of the impending wedding. “ Dearest wife, answer me something. Am I delusional, or did I just see your cousin and your companion walking ‘round the estate arm-in-arm?” William asked with a puzzled look on his face.
“ No, you are not delusional.” Netta chuckled. “Apparently they have been sneaking behind our backs and have recently become engaged. They told me only this afternoon when I caught them in the courtyard together.” William laughed a hearty laugh and stated that he would be glad to offer up use of his grounds to hold the ceremony.
“ That is very kind of you.” she said, taking her husband’s hand. “ Anything to please my wife and her family.”
“ Speaking of family, how are you feeling this afternoon?” Netta had told her husband of the baby this morning and he was overjoyed at the prospect of an heir. “ I am very well. No need to worry on my account.” she answered.
“ Well, if you are ever in need of anything, just say the word and your wish shall be my command.” William pulled his wife into a hug and then left to do some business in his office.
* * * “ You’re not dress yet, dear? The guests have all arrived!” Erocle was surprised to see his fiancée still in her underclothes. “ I was just changing Zita into her dress, then I will change into mine.”
Erocle watched as Tina laced the strings on Zita’s blue party dress. When she finished, Zita was set free to play while Tina dressed herself.
“ Hurry down, then. Both of you.” Erocle said as he pat Tina’s stomach and left the room to greet the guests.
A few minutes later, Tina was dressed and ready and standing underneath a trellis decorated with blossoms. Zita stood next to her mother’s stool, watching the ceremony with slight interest.
As Erocle and Tina exchanged vows to honor and obey, Tina could not help but think how perfectly everything had turned out.
Finally, they kissed to seal their vows and the crowd clapped and cheered loudly.
Back inside, Netta poured wine for the large crowd of guests that had been invited.
All of Erocle’s family had made the long journey from Venice to be present at the wedding and a few associates of Erocle’s were included in the celebration as well.
The evening passed spent in the company of good friends and good food.
That night, the newlyweds adjourned to their chambers to spend their first night together as husband and wife. “ Are you sure it’s alright to be together tonight?” Tina asked worriedly. Intimate relations were frowned upon during pregnancy, but Erocle had assured that nothing ill would result from them spending one night together, considering the circumstances. After all, it wasn’t every day that one celebrated their wedding.
“ I promise, dear, that everything will be fine.”
“ Very well.” Tina smiled and let her husband pull her to their bed in order to consummate their marriage.
The next few months went by in a blur. Erocle was busy supervising construction on their new house, hoping to get it done before the baby was born, though it wasn’t looking likely.
Tina and Netta enjoyed each others company as they both eagerly awaited the birth of their children.
They both had great plans for their children to be raised in each others company, hoping that they would come to be as close as their parents were.
One night, just after the sun set, Tina went into labor. The midwife was sent for, but she was busy delivering twins and it looked as if it would be a while before she could come. It looked as if it was all up to Netta now.
Tina was helped to her old bedroom and Netta prepared for the delivery. The men of the house had been roused and were pacing the floor outside, asking the saints to guide Tina through the birth.
Around midnight, Tina was pronounced the mother of a healthy baby boy. Netta promptly swaddled him and placed him into Tina’s arms. Tina smiled at her son and pronounced him perfect.
“ I hate to be a bother, Tina, but I believe we shall have to switch positions.” Netta said through clenched teeth. Her baby had chosen the most unsuitable time to arrive.
Tina grimaced and rose to swap positions with her friend. She laid her son carefully on some blankets and gathered the materials once more.
In the hall, William and Erocle were thoroughly confused. They had heard the wail of a newborn baby a while ago, but no one exited the room to inform them of anything. What had happened? Was Tina in danger? Did the baby not survive?
“ Come on, Netta. Almost there!” Tina said encouragingly as she set a new bowl of warm water beside some unused towels.
Tina swooned a bit and leaned against the bedpost for support. It probably wasn’t the best idea to be doing this so soon after the birth of her own son, but there wasn’t really any other option.
Soon, Tina announced that Netta, too, had given birth to a son. He was bathed and swaddled and given to his mother.
The girls carried their sons into the adjoining nursery and tucked them into the two new cribs that had been commissioned.
Hearing the doors open and close, Erocle and William came into the nursery, not willing to wait another moment to hear the news. They were shocked to see that both girls had given birth that night and that they were proud fathers of healthy sons.
Seeing his wife’s exhaustion, Erocle scooped his wife into his arms and carried her to their chambers so she could get some rest.
William also carried his wife down the hall and tucked her safely into bed.
* * * Months later, Tina and her son were getting along well. A dual christening had taken place a few weeks after their birth where Tina’s son was named Riccardo and Netta’s son Sandro.
One afternoon, Tina had been feeding Riccardo when she heard someone coming up the lane. She was the only one home, other than the servants, so she went to answer the door.
She was extremely surprised to see her mother standing outside the door, looking in awe at the landscape. Sure, they had communicated with letters over the years, but they hadn’t seen one another in years. Tina was surprised to see how her mother had aged. Her hair had gone grey and she was bent with age- not an image she had ever pictured.
“ My darling daughter! And this must be my grandson, Riccardo!” Marie exclaimed as she hastened to see the baby in her daughter’s arms. “ Yes, but why are you here? Not that I am not pleased to see you, mother. It is just a surprise!” “ I have been released from my service at the Costa household. The last of Isabetta’s children has grown up and I was no longer needed.”
“ How great…but why here ? In London?” “ You are a mother yourself, now. Imagine being separated from Riccardo for as long as I have been from you. I have missed you terribly all these years and, now that there is nothing left for me in Florence, I have come to be close to you, my dear.: “ Well, it is a shock to see you, mother, but I am glad. Would you like to hold him?” Tina said, offering her son to the old woman.
Marie took the baby and held him close. She kissed his cheek and smiled, happy to be with family once more. “ I was just going to put him down for a nap. Would you care to join me?” Tina asked to which her mother nodded eagerly in reply.
Tina led her mother to the chamber she shared with her son and husband. She stood back and watched as her mother tucked her son into bed. “ Erocle is at our new estate. He is overlooking the final details to our house…it should be finished by the end of the week.”
“ Perhaps I would be able to see it sometime…” Marie asked as she pulled a blanket over Riccardo’s small body. “ Of course, mother! I’m sure my husband will be pleased to see you when he returns this afternoon.”
“ Shall we go somewhere else to talk? I don’t want to wake Riccardo.” Marie asked her daughter. “ Sure. We can speak in the library.”
Tina led her mother through the house, giving a short tour along the way. Marie was surprised to see the riches that her daughter lived amongst; and she could only assume that her new husband was just as wealthy. “ So, how do you find England so far, mother?” “ Perfectly pleasant, if not a bit chilly.” Tina smiled at her mother’s comment. It was the exact same way she had felt when she had first come here.
“ Where are you staying?” “ Nowhere yet. My boat docked this morning and I came straight here.” “ Well, I would be pleased if you stayed with us. And I’m Signore Vijayakar would not mind either.”
Marie smiled at her daughter’s request. It was exactly what she had been hoping for, “It would be my pleasure, darling.”
When they heard the front door open and Netta set her things down in the hall and call for her friend, Tina and Marie stood. “I’m glad you came, mother.” Tina said, hugging Marie. “ Is that Netta?” Marie asked, hearing someone’s skirts swish as she walked down the hall.
“ Yes, it is. Come, I shall reintroduce you two. It’s been a while since you saw each other.” Tina said, leading her mother into the hall. Maria smiled when she saw her old ward; she looked so grown up.
* * * That weekend, Erocle had pronounced his house finished and ready to move in to. Their belongings had been packed and loaded onto a carriage and Netta gathered with her husband and daughter to say their goodbyes. They were sad to be going, but exited at the same time. Tina hadn’t seen the house yet, Erocle had insisted on keeping it a surprise, but she had heard great things about it.
As the carriage drove in front of the house, Tina exclaimed in joy. The house was perfect for their small family; she couldn’t wait to see the inside.
Tina and her mother walked through the house, exclaiming at each room and decoration. Erocle’s designs were splendid.
Maria took Riccardo inside and straight to the kitchen. Upon meeting his mother-in-law, Erocle had extended her an invitation to move in with them which she had immediately accepted.
The last part of the tour was the gardens. Erocle led his wife outside and over the winding paths, pointing out different plants as they went.
The path ended in an area covered by a stone sunshade. Tina rushed forward, excited to
“ So, do you like the house?” he asked, taking his wife’s hand and kissing it. “ In all honesty, I couldn’t have designed a better home for our family.” she said, fanning her face in mock modesty. “ So you are happy then?” “ Quite so, husband. I do love you, Erocle.” “ And I you, Tina.”