Burdens Of The Dead – Snippet 34


“They’ll change their minds about that. After you have done, come back. I’ll have had time to interpret this, and to look at the maps.”

“He is an exceptional map-maker,” said Benito, mildly envious.

The Old Fox nodded. “And an exemplary agent. He seldom fails. But he could not find you for some time.”

“That may have been more luck than judgment,” said Benito.

“Or divine intervention,” said the Old Fox, smiling wryly.

*  *  *

Benito and the fleet were able to sail, much to the shock and surprise both of the people of Corfu, and the ship-crews, two days later, to meet the fleet of Genoa and a token five ships from Aragon, sailing for Corfu.

He had had news from the tritons of a huge storm.




The addition into his household of a lively inquisitive toddler, was a not-unmixed joy, Marco found. It was true, that she had an infectious laugh and craved being cuddled, it was true she was not what you would call anything like “naughty.” She was tender-hearted to a fault, and had cried so much over a dead bird found on the balcony that they now let her feed the birds from there. Her giggles rang through the halls, and made even the grimmest servant smile.

As for Kat, well, Kat adored the child. And at first it had been hard to get her to part from the little girl. But now that she had settled in, well, her presence was also not an unmixed blessing. ‘Lessi liked being with him most, Kat second most, and if possible, both of them. She was often found glued to their sides. Yet she was perfectly capable of vanishing the minute he turned his head.

And she was into everything. “Like a monkey,” one of the servants had sighed, and Marco was inclined to agree. She could not see a drawer or a cupboard without wanting to open it, and if possible, play with what was inside. How she managed to do that, as little as she was — at least once, he’d found that she had patiently pulled out all the (now emptied) drawers beneath the one that was out of reach, and used them as a sort of staircase to get to the one they had fondly thought was safe. He was strongly considering finding a way to tie drawers and cupboards shut. As much of a nuisance as it would be if someone wanted something, the consequences of her getting hold of something that could harm her were not to be thought about.

And everything went into her mouth, which was the other problem with her constant rummaging. Books too! So far she hadn’t actually ruined anything but there were a few leather-bound volumes that now had gummy corners.

Then there were mornings. Ah yes, the mornings. She got up very early and her idea of a good time was to slip out of her nursery and creep into their bed. Squirm in between them, and giggle. And wiggle. And twist and turn and pat her hands on them and sing to herself. And her little feet were never still. She was as restless a child as her father was as an adult.

It was hard to grasp just how the addition of one very small person could add so much extra effort to life at the Casa Montescue, but certainly the servants seemed to have twice as much work now, and he and Kat half as much time.

And yet…and yet… No one could bring themselves to actually complain, not when she would come up to you and tug at your sleeve and when you looked down at her, she would put up her arms and lisp, “Tiss?” She was very good at bringing all of them — from Lodovico to the scullery maids, around her very small thumb.

But something had to be done, and Marco knew it. Rescue came at last from an unexpected quarter. Marco had forgotten the priest from Cannaregio, and his promise to look for some form of genteel employment for the woman who had lost her daughter. When Old Pietro came to his study — where Alessia was attempting to open drawers, many of which had surgical implements in them — and told him Father Gotaro begged for an audience, and had a woman accompanying him, he felt very guilty indeed.

‘Lessi of course did not let him go alone. They went to the small drawing room off the main hall, where Pietro had put the visitors to wait — It was raining outside, he could scarcely have left them on the step, he later explained. Marco set his niece down, opened the door and she toddled in.

The priest bowed…but not the woman. The woman instead squatted down, ignoring Marco, her face transformed, tortured lines eased — hands outstretched to Alessia — who, being the child she was, trotted cheerfully up to her.

“Ah. M’Lord.” The priest bowed again. “What a lovely child. I just wanted to press the matter,” he jerked his head slightly at the woman entranced with Alessia. She was smiling, looking like a different person. “It…does her so much good to be with the little ones. She’s hard to get to eat properly. But local mothers…” he shrugged. “I suppose they blame her.”

Marco could understand that, even if it wasn’t logical. He could also understand just how easily a toddler could disappear into the canal. Of course not here in the Casa Montescue — the door-handles were out of reach, and there were servants about to find and watch. But…

And that was when he put two and two together and realized that this was the answer to both problems. They could use some help with Alessia. This woman wouldn’t be alone, and the priest was right, she clearly adored children and was good with them. The priest vouched for her. With all the servants here, he could simply tell them that rather than interrupting their own work to be running after the child, all they needed to do was to keep a discreet eye on ‘Lessia and her nursemaid, just in case something was needed. It would do the woman a great deal of good. And it would assuage his conscience.

He cleared his throat. “Well, actually, Father, I hadn’t actually found anyone yet — but as you see, we’ve acquired our little niece temporarily. It occurs to me that we could give her a trial with Alessia. It would be a temporary thing — until my brother and sister-in-law get back. I’ll talk to Katerina about it, this instant.”

Before the priest could thank him, he got Pietro to go and find Kat.

Kat was less-than-sure, when they spoke in the hall. “I mean, Marco…we don’t know her at all.”

“We could try it out for a day or two. Alessia’s interests must come first of course. Just mornings. They will stay inside the Casa. There are always servants too — and us.” It was obvious — at least to him that they were going to have to do something of the sort. They hadn’t had enough hours in the day before ‘Lessia; now…now it was very difficult to get anything done.

And he and Kat had no privacy.

She seemed to be mulling all that over in her mind. “Well…let me meet her. I really didn’t like that priest.”

They went in, and rather than standing on her dignity—the potential employee was sitting on the floor, playing peek-a-boo with a laughing Alessia.

A better way of persuading Katerina would have been difficult to find. The woman stood up, curtseyed — still being held onto by Alessia. Her voice was quiet and sad and her accents refined.

By the second day the new nanny Marissa was an essential part of the household. Not only did she get in very early, but her only task was to entertain and watch ‘Lessi. Which she did with an obsessive care. She talked to her, listened to her, carried her, fetched toys, fed her…”Makes life a lot easier,” said Marco, listening to the laughter as they sat in bed.

It did. It was a few hours which were now miraculously and deliciously less full of a small child. You couldn’t not love ‘Lessi — she was just rather a dramatic and chaotic change in their previously childless lives. Marco began planning on getting to that less sedentary lifestyle. Of course Marissa was only a support, and there to help while they were home, and while they had temporary custody of Alessia, but perhaps later…

Well, at this point, who knew what the future would bring.