As Cardinal Fratelli leaned back in his chair, smiling, glad to have a moment of peace, someone wrapped on the door. Slightly opening it, he peeked his head through and saw Dina, the kitchen-maid standing there. She wore a light blue dress, her brown hair tied-back and tugged the door fully open.
“Your Eminence, I know you aren’t feeling well today but your brother is here. He wants to see you immediately,” she said.
Fratelli walked out and at the hallway’s end, he met a tall, muscular man with handsome features and amber eyes just like his own.
“Angelo, you have to come to my house at once!” he stammered, “Michele is very sick!”
“Ernesto, wait, I’ll be out in a minute…let me fetch my gloves…”
“You don’t need those,” Ernesto replied and jerked his arm, leading out the door.
In the front-yard of Fratelli’s villa waited a small, uncovered coach. Ernesto climbed atop and helped Fratelli after him. The cardinal sat uncomfortably. He shifted abruptly, clutching the armrest beside him when their driver urged the horses forward. As trees blurred past, leaving the city and crossing open country, Fratelli glanced aside. Used to smoother transport, he closed his eyes against bumps and jolts. At last everything stilled. Ernesto jumped down and left Fratelli struggling to plant his feet solidly on the ground.
Before a stately farmhouse, built of wood and dull-yellow brick, he stood beside Ernesto who tugged the door open then shouted, “Michele, we are here!”
Michele’s figure emerged from another room, her dainty, olive-toned skin shining dully in afternoon sunlight. Moving aside her silken black curls, she stared with rich, dark-brown eyes.
“My, you poor creature, you look exhausted!” Fratelli cried.
Ernesto elbowed him.
“No Michele dearest, you look beautiful” he said- then asked the cardinal, “Doesn’t she look just stunning?”
Scowling, Michele plumped down on the couch nearby. Soon as she did so, a bell rang out as her brown-pointed; Siamese cat came running into the room.
“Oh Bella…” Michele sighed, taking the cat into her arms.
Seeing Fratelli standing so close, Bella peered curiously with pristine, blue eyes, and mewed.
“She wishes for an audience with you, Angelo,” Michele said.
She handed Bella to Fratelli. He uneasily pried the cat’s claws from his fine sleeve and uncomfortably held her. Perceiving this discomfort, the cat squirmed, landed a nice tear in Fratelli’s red cassock then jumped down. Sticking a finger through the hole, he groaned.
“Are you feeling better, Michele, my dear?” Ernesto asked, sitting next to her.
“I believe so…” she replied, “I keep thinking that maybe… I’m pregnant.”
Fratelli stirred, his lips curling with joy, his hands nervously folded and he inquired, “Am I going to become an uncle?”
“I don’t know…” she answered.
“How can’t you know!” Ernesto cried
He took his wife’s hand. His deep amber eyes stared at her, begging.
“Ernesto, these things are complicated…” Fratelli stated.
Now glancing up towards him, Ernesto remarked, “and how do you know?”
The cardinal blushed, looked again at the hole in his garb and responded, “I’ve read about it…of course.”
“You two!” Michele said, “Are starting to make me feel worse.”
Simultaneously, both men stepped away, letting light shine from the window onto her comely face. She breathed deeply, appearing quite relieved. They remained, sat and conversed for about an hour. Ernesto retrieved a brass time-piece from his trousers and hesitantly announced:
“It’s getting late, should I take His Eminence home?”
“How I wish you could just stay here…” Michele told Fratelli who anxiously eyed the window.
The skies had darkened somewhat as grey clouds covered the sun. They were thick, gauzy bands but not menacing or harboring a storm. Returning his attention to them, Fratelli spoke:
“Let us share a glass of wine first- to celebrate.”
Smiling, Michele stood but Ernesto stopped her and went into the kitchen himself. Resting back in her seat, she snickered childishly, holding within those mysteries a woman could hold. After Ernesto returned, Fratelli unseated, took the wine-bottle and blessed it with a swift gesture.
“Thanks be to God!” he gasped.
Twilight already engulfed the city in shadows when Fratelli arrived home on horseback, led by Ernesto. He dismounted, stroked the horse’s neck and shook his brother’s hand.
“You have my blessing and profound congratulations,” he said.
“But…we really don’t know?”
Fratelli laughed, “I suppose not. Be careful, sleep well my brother.”
As the cardinal turned his back, striding indoors, Ernesto gripped the reigns of his horse and circled. His stern face betrayed no excitement but surely, he felt it. Pacing at a trot, he glanced homewards and smiled wide against the setting sun.