Chapter 1

A demure young woman sat in the front row of a small church in Italy. Her hair was bound in a bun at the nape of her neck, covered by a black lace veil. Her dark eyes stared unseeing at the two wooden boxes that were laid in front of the altar. She stood as Father Antonio invoked the final blessing.
"In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord."
"Thanks be to God." Came her strong young voice, untainted by sorrow. She turned and knelt to the tabernacle as a group of twelve charitable men walked up the aisle to lift her parents and bring them to their final resting place. She walked quietly along behind them, Father's hand on her arm and the rain spattering her veiled face as they went to the cemetery.
After the burial she returned home, ignoring Father Antonio's pressure on her arm and his kind voice asking her if she would join him at the rectory for dinner. She needed time alone.
She opened the door to her parents' small cottage and laid her wet, heavy coat on the back of a chair, one of the few pieces of furniture she had been able to keep. By the end, her parent's need for medicine became more important than any of the material possessions they had and the rent still had to be paid. She pulled off her mud-laden boots-smelling of the sludge that had filled up her parent's graves. She stood and looked around the room her father had previously filled with the furniture he made himself by hand. All gone. All but for the bed her father had hand-carved for her mother for their wedding night. The last of the Morvelli family moved towards it slowly, each step on the worn wood of the floor creaking audibly in the silent cottage. She gripped the round top of the cherry bedpost that her father had fashioned so carefully. He had been especially gifted with his hands. They were nimble and quick to swoop up his young daughter for a kiss after a long day at work. Diana Morvelli smiled at the memories the post evoked. Some bitter, some very sweet. She sat down carefully on the mattress, running her hands over the blankets her mother had sewn. She laid her head on the pillow and pulled up her feet. She lay there for a few minutes staring up at the raftered ceiling. Her parents had slept, loved, and died in this bed. She remembered nights when she would creep in with them-eager for comfort after a horrific nightmare. The kind of nightmare she felt like she was having now-except she was never going to wake up. There were no mother and father to comfort her; no bed to crawl into but her own. She put a hand on the pillowcase and felt water. She realized she was crying. Then, the last Morvelli finally gave herself over to sorrow.

Diana awoke on her parent's bed to the sunshine of the day after her parent's funeral. She had cried herself to sleep. She was feeling stronger and weaker at the same time, and although the thought of the loss of her parent's still gave her pain, a new net had grown in her heart. The kind the caught the sorts of nightmares she would have from now on-only real ones. She used water from a bucket she kept to wash her face and opened the windows to the small cottage and waved to a few people as they passed on their morning errands. She looked in the cupboard and found one loaf of bread. She smiled a rather bitter smile to herself and tore off a very small piece. Munching on a bite, she straightened the bed and dusted up a little. Then she sat down in the remaining chair and thought seriously about her options. She knew of no relations whom she could go and live with. She didn't think that her parents had ever expected any need for help from relatives. The fever had come too quickly for many plans. They were delirious most of the time and knew nothing when they were not. She could not imagine living with any of her neighbors and attempting to find her own trade. Her mother and father had taught her no trade-they had thought that they had many years. In fact, all her misfortunes stemmed from the unexpectedness of her parents' deaths. She knew Father Antonio would willingly take her in, but she knew from long acquaintance with the priest that he was not very well off himself. He lived off the generosity of his parishioners and did not always have enough to eat himself. She knew perfectly well that she would always be fed before him and he would starve away before letting her go hungry. She meant to stand on her own two feet. With this thought her chin tilted up a little. She was very proud and intended to take charity from nobody. Her head lowered under the responsibilities she felt now. She arrived at the same predicament as before with still no solution. She would have to learn a trade and-suddenly there was a knocking at the door. Diana dried her eyes and opened the door to a quaint young man who bowed and held out a small piece of paper.
"For you Signorina. From Signor Beneducci. He said it was very urgent, Signorina." Miss Morvelli nodded and handed the boy a coin to which he bowed again and turned away to the busy street. Diana stood for a few minutes with the door open, looking down at the small paper the boy had handed her. Urgent? She shivered, though she felt no blow of cold air. However, she closed the door and went to the bed to read the message. She unfolded the paper and her eyes scanned the words. Her eyes narrowed in confusion as she read.

Miss Morvelli- I must ask you to meet me at my office to discuss your father's will and the provisions he made for you. Please come as soon as possible. Some very important new developments have occurred and I believe it might relieve your mind very much if we might talk. I have an office on Curzon Street. My name is on the door. Please come as soon as is possible for you.
Sincerely,
Giovanni Beneducci

Diana could not make much of the message but the words "new developments" caught her eyes and the thought that her father might have made provisions lightened the burden on her heart considerably. She wrapped a shawl around her arms and fastened a veil to her hair. Picking up her small bag, she left the house, quite unaware in what new way she would see it when she next saw it.