The Regency dining room with its classic silver and burgundy stripes and velvet curtains of the same deep red color was a striking contrast in sober austerity. Yet at a far end corner of the room, two brown Chesterfield armchairs and an Oriental coffee table embedded with mother-of-pearl, added a hint of relaxed atmosphere and suggested the odd after dinner brandy or cigar. The walls were literally covered from side to side and from top to bottom with old tapestries and portraits of people from different epochs.
Serena was not sure whether these were family ancestors or just some famous knights and cavaliers with their noble ladies, but she did not dare to ask any more questions.
Louisa dropped heavily onto one of the Chesterfields. “We hardly ever use these rooms nowadays or the ones upstairs for all it matters. They would only gather dust and add to the burden on poor Rosina’s shoulders,” she said.
Serena wasn’t listening she was staring at a large painting over the mantelpiece and seemed transfixed. The almost black sky dramatically lit here and there with bold brushwork of vivid red and bright yellow, suggested forceful storms and lightning, and a few protruding white rocks were savagely being battered by a dark tempestuous sea. The whole entanglement of lights and shadows was so cleverly veiled by a light mist that she felt transported in a sort of three-dimensional world, so real it was almost tangible.
The scenery looked eerily familiar, and Serena drew closer. She focused, spellbound, at a particular point where between fog and angry sea she could vaguely perceive a gray shadow. A cold sweat ran down her spine, and she nearly felt sick. This was certainly beyond any coincidence or obsession. This looked more like a conspiracy. Was she condemned to be haunted by that mysterious man for the rest of her life? Or, had the artist gone through the same harrowing experience and managed to express on the canvas the fathoming moment with such sensitivity that it was visible only to a privileged few?
“Who painted this?” Serena asked still staring in awe at the artwork.
Louisa had been observing her with raised interest, and her question snapped her out of a reverie of memories from a very distant past… where once a little girl with curly brown hair and big brown eyes stood in this room and pointed at the painting. “Who is this man, mémé? I’m sure I saw him once before when walking on the seafront with uncle Emilio?” And her nana’s voice came back to her scolding. “You were told many times not to enter this room without permission.”
“An uncle of mine, I believe,” Louisa said focusing again on the present. “It was long before I was born, but from what I gathered there seemed to be a strange story attached to it.” Louisa was scrutinizing the young woman’s profile half expecting some sort of reaction.
Serena did not budge for fear of facing her employer and thus revealing her true feelings. Her knees felt like jelly, and she wished she could turn the clock back and run away. Despite her discomfort, she turned around and smiled at Louisa totally ignoring her last remark.
“I think you may have outstretched yourself enough for one day. You look very tired. Perhaps you should rest before dinner?” Serena said.
Louisa sensed the reticence in Serena and thought it best not to insist. “Yes, perhaps you are right,” she conceded. “I might go and lie down for a while.”
Containing all things romance.