1636 The Flight Of The Nightingale – Snippet 13
“Your Grace,” was said in a quiet voice. Ferdinando looked up from where he was comparing two of the lenses to each other, to find Roberto Del Migliore standing two paces away from his desk. As soon as the other man saw that he had the duke’s attention, he gave a bow, somewhat deeper than the bow he had given earlier in the day.
Ferdinando sighed. It was going to be bad news — he could already tell that. He set the lenses down on the velvet with care, then folded his hands together and looked at the palace-major. “Yes?”
“At your direction, Your Grace, I went to the chambers of Maestra Francesca Caccini, taking with me Alessandro Nerinni, Cesare Falconieri, and my attendant, Paolo Gagliardi.”
“Such a redoubtable group of men,” Ferdinando murmured.
Del Migliore responded with a nod, and continued, “Her door was indeed barred, but Gagliardi was able to open the shutters and boost a servant into the room to withdraw the bar.”
There was a moment of silence, before the duke observed, “And was the Maestra in her chambers?”
“No, Your Grace. From all the signs, she had not been there in some time — certainly at least a day, probably two, possibly three.”
Ferdinando sat up straight. “You are telling me that she may have left the palace two or three days ago?”
“Very possibly, Your Grace. Captain Falconieri is checking with the guards now to see if any of them recall seeing her leave the palace, and Alessandro is checking with the servants, but based on what was reported and based on what we have seen, then yes, it appears she left the palace as much as three days ago.”
“Madonna mia,” Ferdinando muttered as he sat back in his chair. “Grandmama will have a fit.”
The palace-major wisely did not respond to that.
Straightening, Ferdinando said, “Find her. If she is in Firenze or the surroundings, find her and bring her here to me. If she is not to be found, report that as soon as you have made that determination.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Del Migliore gave an even deeper bow in acknowledgment of the commands.
Ferdinando waved his hand. “Go. Go.’
Roberto headed for his office. He found both Alessandro and Paolo waiting on him when he arrived.
“The daughter’s name is Margherita,” Alessandro said. “Her father was the Maestra’s first husband, one Giovanni Battista Signorini, another musician in the court. And the last anyone knew she was residing in Convento della Crocetta, as were some of the other daughters of members of the court. Her son was named Tommaso, after his father, Tommaso Raffaelli, the Maestra’s second husband. The boy died a year or so ago. A winter flux, one of the women said.”
“And the convent is locatedâ€¦” Roberto said.
“On the Via Laura,” Paolo replied.
“Then what are you still doing here?” Roberto demanded. “I believe I gave you an order.” The smile on his face belied the sternness in his voice.
Paolo straightened from where he leaned against a wall. “On my way.” A moment later, his footsteps were receding down the hallway. Roberto looked to his assistant.
“I suppose it is possible that we will find the Maestra somewhere in Firenze, but I have a feeling in my gut she’s run farther than that. Accordingly, I think we need an inventory of what is left in her room. Take one of the clerks and see to it. And do a deeper search than we did. There’s always the possibility that something was left behind that we will find useful.”
“Right.” Alessandro rose from his seat. “That shouldn’t take long. And you’re going to busy for the next little while, anyway.”
Roberto raised his eyebrows.
“The princess wants to talk to you as soon as I find you,” Alessandro said with a smirk.
“So I’ll just go see about that inventory you wanted,” Alessandro said as he went out the door.
Roberto stood alone in the room for a moment, after which he took a deep breath and betook himself to the quarters of the dowager duchess. He was met at the door by none other than the duchess’ trusted companion Maria, and was ushered to a room where the duchess obviously held court at times. There was a throne-like chair at one end of the room, he noted, albeit one somewhat less ornate and regal that that possessed by the grand duke. But all those present in the room were clustered around a lounge set to one side of the room, on which the dowager was reclining.
Maria escorted Roberto through the numbers of women standing around, taking him through to the dowager herself.
“Principessa,” Maria said, “here is Palace-Major Del Migliore, come in answer to your summons.”
“Messer Del Migliore,” the dowager said, opening her eyes and holding out her hand.
Roberto took her hand and dropped to one knee beside the lounge. “Principessa,” he said as he bowed his head.
“Have you found La Cecchina for me?”
“No, Principessa, we have not. She was not in her quarters. We are looking through the rest of the palace now, but I suspect that she is not within its walls.”
The dowager’s eyes opened wide, and she struggled to raise up, aided by a young woman in servant’s clothing who stood at the head of the lounge.
“You mean she has gone to the city and not returned? How long has she been gone?”
“It’s not certain she has left the palace,” Roberto replied. “Until we have verified that, I would rather not speculate about anything else.”
The dowager’s hand tightened its grasp on Roberto’s hand with surprising strength. “You find her, and bring her back to me. She is like a daughter to me, and I want to see her safe.”
Releasing his hand, the dowager settled back on the lounge. “You may leave, Messere. I am weary.”
Roberto rose to his feet and gave a courteous bow, aware of all the eyes upon him. He locked eyes with Maria for a moment, and quirked the corner of his mouth. Her own lips tightened in response. Message now sent and received, the palace-major retired from the chamber. Once in the corridor outside the chamber, Roberto stood, shook his head once, and returned to his office.
Roberto sat behind his desk and reviewed the current ledger of palace expenses. It looked like he was finally going to have to speak to Grand Duke Ferdinando about the expenses being incurred by his grandmother. The dowager duchess was outspending the budget for her maintenance by a noticeable amount. Until recently he had been able to smooth it out by transferring some underspent discretional funds from other accounts, but those were gone. The duke was going to have to either authorize some significant changes to the budget and accounts, or he was going to have to rein in his grandmother. Either way, Roberto wasn’t looking forward to the conversation.
Footsteps sounded in the outer room. “The capitano in?” Roberto heard addressed to the clerk outside his office. Paolo was obviously back from his errand.
“In here,” he called out. He looked up from the ledger as his attendant entered the room. “Well? Tell me you have good news.”
“I could tell you that,” Paolo said, taking his plumed hat off and lodging it on a peg in the wall near the door, “but I’d be lying.”
“Merda,” Roberto muttered.
“That and more,” Paolo agreed.
“So what is the news?”