by Melissa Rea
Gabriella stands on a gallows one day before her 19th birthday in 1718. She tells her story to a young blacksmith, a surly milkmaid, and a mute dwarf who is much more than the muckraker he seems. The pampered daughter of a count, Gabriella’s entire existence has been her music, until one afternoon’s sensual exploration leads to the shame of two noble families and her exile to a convent school for orphan girls, the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice, Italy. Antonio Vivaldi, the school’s Maestro of the Concerto, teaches the students and composes.
She tells of her friend, Veronica, a sublimely talented violinist whose cold eyes hide tragic secrets and of whose murder she now stands convicted. With tears in her eyes, she speaks of her love, Raphael, the handsome overseer whom she had planned to marry. The story of her desperate attempt to learn the truth of a terrible curse that took her own child’s life, and save Veronica from a dark affair, holds the crowd’s rapt attention.
Now she must escape with the help of her friends, from the Ospedale, and perhaps those in the crowd assembled to watch her hang.
Release Date: November 16, 2021
Genre: Historical Romance
~ A Pink Satin Romance ~
I stand this bright summer morning on the gallows that will end my life. Though the sun rises just above the trees and warms my face, my whole body trembles. I feel a soft breeze ruffle my hair and plaster it to the tears that flow down my cheeks. I rub my wrists, grateful that the soldiers who guard me feel I no longer need to be tied. They stand twenty feet from me, looking bored, evidently unafraid that I might escape. A high wall encloses the courtyard surrounding the gallows. Down a narrow street, I see several buildings and red liveried soldiers stand at this entrance as well. Three people stand watching: a milkmaid, a young blacksmith and a dwarf.
It is odd that this gallows stands within the walls of a convent, close to Venice, where I spent so much happy time. A nun told me, as she watched me dress in this simple white garment that will be my last, that this gallows is reserved for the execution of important people in special circumstances. Am I special because I am innocent of any murder? Or is this a parting gift from friends who, though they cannot stop my death, have arranged this special place for my execution?
This singular gallows looks more like a stage than a place to end one’s life. The wood I stand upon is over twenty feet wide and the boards have been sanded and feel smooth as silk beneath my bare feet. The dark wood from which the rope will hang is polished with wax until it gleams in the morning light. Though the setting may be special, the play to be performed today can only be a tragedy.
I catch my breath and feel the need to speak to those souls who will witness my end. “I beg of you your kindness. Would one of you have something I might sit upon?”
The woman takes a step nearer, pushes a dubiously white cap back on her head with a plump hand and answers me. “I’ll not lift my little pinky to give no murderess comfort. Them you killed ain’t none too comfortable, I’d wager. Them that rots stinking in the grave.” The woman bites off those words through thin pale lips and rubs her hands against her ragged dress, splashed from hem to sleeve with mud. She hugs a milking pail tight against her.
I smile as best I can manage. “Your point is a good one and you would win that wager, but I am innocent. The girl I stand accused of murdering was my friend, and I grieve for her death as much as for my own, too soon to come. Though I will hang for her murder, my only crime is that I tried to save her.”
Tomorrow would mark the beginning of my nineteenth year. I fear there is little chance I will see that day dawn. I find it ever more difficult to stem the tide of tears.
The woman cackles and nods at the two men standing near her. “Ain’t none of our concern why you swing. And that sniveling won’t change a thing.” She pushes the tangle of red hair that hangs below her cap out of her eyes and she looks me up and down as if I were a cow whose milk has soured. Smirking, she turns her milk pail over and sits down. “We come to watch a hanging and watch it we will.”
She speaks true. I must pass the short time left me with some bit of grace, as I was taught. Perhaps if I could tell my tale, their listening might give me a crumb of comfort. I can do nothing but sit awkwardly on the edge of the gallows and tug the thin garment up at the neck in an attempt at modesty. I look at the three people staring up at me in anticipation of the entertainment I will soon provide. “Might it be more pleasant to hear my tale than to watch me snivel?”
They examine me, squinting in the morning light. The young blacksmith in a leather apron smiles at me. “I will listen, Miss. I want to know your tale.” His face is smudged with soot, but his dark eyes are kind. He stands tall, muscled arms crossed. The tiny man between the milkmaid and the blacksmith is dressed all in brown and holds a pitchfork. On his back is a pack nearly as large as he. He says nothing but nods and in his smile there are fewer teeth than in his fork. He lays his fork on the ground and settles down on his pack to listen. The young man stands with his feet wide apart. Shifting her weight until she is comfortable on the overturned bucket, the woman looks up at me expectantly.
“My life, short that it may be, has not been all sorrow, and I would tell the good with the bad.”
“Wait,” says the young man in the leather apron. “I will fetch you my stool. I’ll do no blacksmithing till this deed be done, anyway.” He runs across the courtyard and down the street a short way to a rough wood building with smoke curling out of a brick chimney. Returning in a few minutes with arms full, he hands me a three-legged stool, then sits himself down on a nail keg.
The milkmaid snorts. “You, Smithy, I wager you’d not be giving her a thing if she weren’t a pretty piece. Everybody knows what brings any of you with a prick to stiffen at the sight. That thin dress they gives ‘em for hanging don’t cover much.” The woman cocks her head at me. “That angel’s face won’t keep you from swingin’ but go on. My milkin’s done for the morning and I got nothin’ better to do.” She leans back and begins to pick her teeth with a piece of straw.
Now sitting comfortably on the blacksmith’s stool, I begin again.
“My name is Maria Gabriella Constanzi, daughter to the Count Pompeii of Florence. I inherited this face from my dear mother. It has served me well, as such things can be of use to a maid.” I could feel my cheeks grow hot; but if I am to tell my story, I must tell all of it and tell it true.
“You can believe what I tell you, for what would be the point of lies on my last day? I beg your indulgence when I call myself a maid, because while I have no husband, neither have I the innocence to deserve that title. Thank you, gentle lady and kind gentlemen, for agreeing to listen.” I give my audience a little bow of my head even on the gallows I cannot shed the manners taught me by my mother.
The smithy gestures toward the milkmaid. “Bess surely ain’t no lady.”
The red head cuffs him in the ear. “Marco, you ain’t no gentleman, nor Spud neither.”
We all laugh. Even in this most dire of circumstances, this shared laughter soothes me.