Mrs P’s Lullaby
A Christmas Tale
Songs I Like Series
Text copyright © 2017 Mia Soto
All Rights Reserved
And ever has it been that loves know not its own depth until the hour of separation
Chapter 6: 6 Geese a Laying
December; Italy, 1814
The warm body next to him cuddled deeper into the crook of his side. Sleep was dancing around him refusing his wish to fully awaken to the day. She was soft and long against him and she was his.
A smile of sleepy contentment grew on his face as he wrapped an arm around her and shifted her into him. His head was beginning to clear as memories from the prior night floated in reminding him. His hand wandered down the body he had studied the night before. As he realized something was amiss all thoughts of languid rest evaporated when a scream pierced the room.
“HEY! Get off me!” A woman’s voice shrieked in protest.
His eyes flew open to see her rolling off his bed in a blur of corn silk hair and long limbs. Who was this? She was wearing one of his shirts and naked otherwise as far as he could tell. Her vivid blue eyes were wild and scared and he had never seen a more beautiful woman, than maybe his Maria.
“Who are you?” He jumped up forgetting his naked state, and she cried out slapping her hand over her eyes.
“Signore is all well?” Mara threw open the door to the dramatic scene. In full glory, he spun and Mara covered her eyes in a similar fashion to the woman. At the same time, the angelic woman screeched and fell behind the bed peeking her eyes over a second later.
“Mara, where is your discretion! You must wait before entering!” Paolo retrieved his trousers and jumped around trying to pull them on.
“Discretion, signore!” She huffed opening a small window in her fingers to look at him before saying, “I heard a scream, signore. What might you have done? I was unaware you had a guest.” She inched out backwards still blinded by her hand groping for the door. “I will await you outside, signore.”
He sighed after she closed the door and glanced over his shoulder at the woman crouching behind his bed like a doe waiting for its moment to flee.
“Who are you?” He snapped.
She shook her head refusing an answer. Her face was tense and he could see the terror she had of him. He gentled realizing whatever ever strange events were conspiring she was as confused as he.
“I won’t hurt you.” He chuckled. “But you are after all in my bed.”
After pulling on some clothes, he walked to the end of the bed to gaze down at the woman and held out a hand. “Please.” She took his hand and stood pulling at his shirt to cover her. “Where is Maria?”
She shook her head again. His frustration was rising. There was no time for this. Maybe his father had found Maria and she had fled. Perhaps Father thought to bring a whore to change his mind to show him there were many pleasing options. There was no need to settle on one.
This rankled Paolo and he itched to wrap his fingers around the fleshy girth of his father’s neck. His mind struggled to think of some other reason something so sensational might be happening. Then his body stilled as he remember his silent prayer the night before as he fell asleep.
“Are you an angel?” He asked in all sincerity, watching her register his words, wondering what her reply might be. “Were you sent by God?” She shook her head. “Are you certain? Because you look like an angel.”
“I’m not an angel,” she replied in a soft voice with an unusual accent. Her hand floated to her mouth as a startled look crossed her face. “I’m speaking Italian.”
He frowned and nodded. Had God sent him a mad angel?
“I-I I don’t know where I am.” She moved to look out of the window keeping a wary on him. She had a confident stride, like that of a man. Her body was something amazing to behold, beautiful, if a little thin. She blinked in awe and studied the landscape as if she had never seen it before. “Is this Empoli?”
“It is.” He nodded. He heard a carriage rumble up the lane and the look on her face was indescribable so many emotions were spinning about. She whirled toward him.
“What year is it?”
Oh dear, God had sent a mad one! The puzzled elation he first felt upon seeing her was replaced with fear that she was no angel only a confused disturbed woman. “It is the year 1814, December. Days before advent.”
Both of her hands covered her mouth and the glitter of her ring caught his eye. It was his great grandmother’s ring, the one he was to bestow upon Elizabetta in a few short days. Anger flared. She was no angel nor a madwoman. She was a thief!
“Where did you get that?” He barked.
“What?” She asked confused.
“That!” He pointed at her hand. She cowered away from him as he advanced. It was then he realized how fragile she was, but none of that could temper his anger. “That ring.”
She looked at her hand in wonder. “From a jewelry box in my attic.”
“From my mother’s jewelry box? You’re a thief!” He boomed and she cowered. He raised his arm and dropped it again unable to hit a woman. “Take it off and get out of my house.”
He was angry. He was confused. Where was Maria? And who was this woman left behind in her place?
“You have to help me.” Her soft voice begged. “I don’t know what is happening. This can’t be real. It’s a terrible dream.”
“If you wish. Just get out. Leave the ring and go and I will not set my hounds on you. So long as I never see your face again.” He glared at her as she struggled to get the ring off.
“It won’t move. I can’t get it off,” she cried, frantic to remove the band. She pulled at her finger wincing from the effort. “Why would I steal it and then crawl into your bed?”
Unable to bear a woman’s upset he brushed her hands away with an exasperated sigh. No matter how he pulled, the ring did not budge. Rotating it only brought her cry of pain. It was fixed in place by something much stronger than him. On his last try a shock of ominous power coursed through him from the ring. He dropped to the ground paralyzed in a searing ache. She cried out and dropped beside him.
When the agony subsided, he felt nauseous and dizzy. He sat up wiping his brow and staring at her in awe again. “You are an angel.”
Her shocked look faded to unsettled calm as she sat in a chair resting her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. It was a man’s pose. No lady he knew would sit as such in the presence of a man, of certain not dressed as she was. She washed her hands over her face and flopped back into the chair looking up at his wood latticed ceiling shaking her head as if engaged in a deep and troubled inner dialogue.
“I may be an angel. This may be the most vivid dream I’ve ever had. Or I’m finally losing it. I guess. I don’t know.” Then her eyes floated down to lock with his. “But if you need an angel. Then that’s what I’ll be. Because I need your help.” She looked at him resigned. “I’m scared.”
“Yes, I know,” he said. “I asked God for an angel. And he sent you.”
She flinched at that but asked, “Why?”
“I am in love with a woman I cannot have.”
“Why not?” She seemed bewildered by such a statement.
“Because I’m betrothed to another.” He hesitated before adding, “and because she is beneath me in station.”
She squinted and her brow furrowed. The room fell into an uncomfortable silence which was broken by her laugh. It was the laugh of a mad woman.
“Dear God, I am in 1814.” She rubbed her face as if in pain. She pinched herself and yelped after. Her face was conflicted and nonplussed. “I am not in my subconscious,” she muttered. A strong bluster of wind caused the window to rattle.
She shrugged. “Ok. Let’s roll with this. Ok then. What first?”
He smiled, “I must find Maria.”
“Your love? Yes, your love. I can tell by the look on your face.” She seemed smug or contemptuous of this and that irked him.
“Love does not matter where you come from?” He asked with indignance.
She hesitated before answering. “It matters. It matters a lot. What is your name?”
She responded to his wordless question. “Natalie.”
“A beautiful name for a beautiful woman.” She lifted an ironic brow. He looked her over. “Before we do anything. You must change.”
She blushed. “Agreed.”
He thought for a moment before his eyes lit up. “Sophia. My sister. You are slight like her. I think it might do.”
She gave that crazed laugh again. “Lead the way. This should be fun.”
“Fun?” He tried out the strange word.
She waved his confusion away. “Ignore me. I’m just going insane here.”
“We’ll send Mara. Sit and rest.” He pulled a heavy robe from his wardrobe and wrapped it around her shoulders.
She regarded her image in the framed mirror. The dark velvet dress pooled around her feet, the tight arms constricted her movement but not as much as the tight bodice constricted her breath. The most disturbing part of all was the dangerous swell of her breasts as if with the slightest movement they might spill out from their precarious nest.
It was too tight and too loose in all the wrong places. A point against those romantic images of well dressed ladies in the Merchant Ivory films. This would be miserable to wear all of the time.
“How do they wear this?” She met his appreciative gaze in the mirror. “It’s indecent.”
“Well. They put something there to hide…that.” He waved at her cleavage stopped once more to admire it before blushing looking away. “Mara did you bring that part?”
“No. I won’t foul anymore of my lady’s possessions for this, this…”
Natalie almost laughed if not for how unrelentingly rude the servant had been since returning with the clothes. She was not happy about handing over his sister’s gown. And she was not happy about Natalie, at all.
“Mara go fetch it. She is a lady I assure you. And I will explain when the time is right.”
The woman left the room muttering under her breath. Natalie did not need to hear the words to know it was about her and it was nothing good. The woman barked at the thin gentle man standing at the bed end. “Watch her.”
Natalie saw Paolo slide his eyes away from her breasts as she turned toward him. “I didn’t think you’re supposed to ogle angels.”
“Well, then he shouldn’t send ones that look like you,” he mumbled. Mara scurried back in and he took the lacy cloth from her. “Here, this, tuck it around,” He pointed trying not to look and failing. “that.” She did as he said and a relieved smile spread on each of their lips. He nodded. “Better. Much better.”
She agreed and held up her hand with the ring. “I found this in a jewelry box, in my attic, in a home that I don’t think was this one, in the year 2017.”
She paused to let the shock of that rattle through his head, 2017. It was unimaginable. She took a moment to enjoy the quid pro quo of astonishment on his face. Welcome to my world, she thought.
“Take me to your mother’s jewelry box.” He hesitated. “You know I’m not a thief.”
“I don’t know anything at this point, my lady.”
“Or me. But I think we are going to have to trust each other to get out of this mess.”
“So take me there.”
With resolve he nodded and waved for the door. He led her through the maze of the house into a bedroom, large, airy and feminine. He pointed to a carved chest of drawers and there it sat like nothing exceptional. It was shiny and special, new, not old and tarnished like she had known it.
She opened the top and the kitten popped up and the music played. She closed her eyes in relief and said a tiny prayer of thanks. The secret compartment slid open revealing her wedding band, an eternity band of brilliant and too large diamonds. It had been coveted and sneered upon as a crass display of wealth by women who could not afford the same in Mississippi.
She held it up to his wondrous stare. “This is my ring. I will leave it here until we can exchange yours for mine.”
She put it back and closed the box. Wanting one more look at her ring, she open the drawer again and the ring was gone. They both leaned forward in consternation.
“Where is it?” He asked. His face was astounded when he looked at her. “Truly a black magic is at work here.”
In the corner was a small secretary with paper and a quill pen. A thought came to her. She dipped the pen into the ink well and scribbled in barely legible writing:
Serge – help me. Help me. I am lost and scared. Find a way to let me know that you got this. Natalie.
It was the attempt of a woman on the edge who had no good idea for how to end this nightmare. She blew on the messy ink and she folded it as small as possible and put it into the box. She closed the lid, took a steadying breath and reopened. The note was gone.
Her hand went over her mouth – Paolo’s to his temple. He looked at her in wonder as they exchanged the wordless question to each other about what was happening and shrugging in confusion as an answer.
Please, please, she thought. Serge please get it somehow.
She dropped her hand. “For now, there’s nothing more we can do here. Let’s find this Maria.”