Three days passed like centuries. Father Mateu had come to the townhouse before she had left for Castell de Amontoní to discuss the matters of the Marquesa’s funeral. The girl gave her ascent to everything he said, nodding from the terrible numbness that had taken residence in her soul. The event would take place in the cathedral within a fortnight, and she could trust him to manage everything with the Marquesa’s attorneys. When he had moved to leave her, Veronica had rushed to him and hugged him. The priest was taken back by the gesture, but he allowed the child the time she needed to hold him before quietly moving on.
Returning to Castell de Amontoní, where hundreds of condolences came from throughout the city, Veronica wondered if the news had yet spread beyond Barcelona, and what might come from the remainder of Spain and the outside world. She had always known of and understood her aunt’s celebrity, but had not grasped the scope of her role until the Marquesa’s attorneys had requested an audience with Veronica.
They had come to the house after mid-morning on the third day, an army of seven men, all of whom retained a single client, the noble House of Amontoní. Somber would not do them justice, for these men presented themselves before their lady’s niece with an underlying tension in the eyes that represented utter horror. No doubt, they had already heard rumors from their own private sources that this girl’s engagement with the youngest son of Don Ferrero had been called off. They likely had found the notion of settling the business at hand with a barely sixteen-year-old girl, who was not even married and had no family to be consulted with in this affair, to be utterly horrifying. In their present actions was their future, and after a career of serving a single house with no true heir, they had settled themselves to take charge of the situation and inform the young child what it was they expected her to do.
“There is an urgent manner before us,” the head of the panel began, shortly after delivering a customary dialogue of condolences and apologies for burdening her at a time like this. “In the months before her passing, your aunt had seen to it that all possible precautions were taken to ensure her estate would be settled before you were to be married three years from now.”
Veronica did not react to this statement in any way that was threatening to the gentlemen, but merely held her concentrated gaze at them, allowing them the opportunity to say all that was of the utmost importance to them. Indeed, she would hear everything they had to say without resistance.
“I must ask you, though, to settle one issue for us. We have heard speculation that your engagement with Dídac Ferrero has been called off. Will you tell us now if this is true?”
“Yes, we are no longer engaged to be married, señor,” she consented to him without a moment’s pause. There was silence in the long seconds after she announced this, as Veronica allowed the men to well ingest the state of affairs. “Then, as your future is no longer set,” the middle-aged man continued, “it is with the utmost urgency that we settle these matters for you.”
A somber shuffling commenced among the group as they produced documentation that was handed to this man, Señor Rios, who spoke for them.
“The Marquesa had concentrated our efforts in the past year towards securing her estate into the hands of your union with young Señor Ferrero, but as that is no longer a factor in our efforts, I must revert to the previous design, which addresses our situation now. The Marquesa had settled a wide series of parameters for her estate should, upon her death, her daughter, I mean yourself, be left as primary beneficiary.
Veronica did not understand why he would refer to her as the woman’s daughter and thought he must surely have misspoken. The twisted furrow of her brow caught the man unprepared and he paused.
“It certainly does not come as a surprise to you that your aunt named you as her heir? There is a very sizable inheritance left to your sister in Madrid, as well, but as…”
“Why did you call me her daughter?” Veronica interrupted the man.
Señor Rios was caught off guard by the inquiry, not understanding the purpose of her words? “Of course, the Marquesa served to legally adopt you last summer after the passing of her sister. Forgive me if it is upsetting that I refer to you in this way. I can understand how it might be distressing… I apologize, I was simply speaking of your legal status in these matters.”
“She adopted me?” the girl gazed at him with doubt.
Señor Rios looked to Veronica now with concern. “Yes, of course. Certainly, you are aware of this action and agreed to it.” It was not a question but a statement.
Veronica did not respond, but let the men sit and draw similar conclusions that they dared not utter. The ramifications of this child not knowing of her guardianship being obtained by the Marquesa was unthinkable. The woman had provided the child’s signature of assent to Señor Rios and clearly acknowledged Veronica’s agreement.
“It is I who must ask your forgiveness, Señor. I am not myself today.” She staved off tears, weary from these awful days and the man’s baffling words and looked down at her hands for a moment until the pain tempered before raising her eyes to address him. “Thank you for your patience. May I ask you, would you explain to me why my aunt chose to adopt me? It is a moving gesture, certainly, but I cannot see the point of it. There’s not a doubt in my mind that she would have left me with security, regardless. Does it somehow make your duties easier?”
“The succession, my lady. Becoming your aunt’s child was necessary for the succession of her title to pass to you upon her death. Well, it was but the first part. There was also the agreement of Her Majesty, Queen Isabella, that the title would be transferred not only to your heirs, but that it would be entitled to Señor Ferrero after you were wed, and naturally after your aunt had entered mortality, that he should become the Marqués de Amontoní. Of course, as you will not be joining with young Ferrero, and you have been made the new Marquesa de Amontoní, that does not matter now. In this case, we are only obligated to complete the transference of the estate to yourself and discuss how it must be further transferred upon your own eventual passing.”
Veronica sat in perfect cold silence, staring at the man’s eyes. She stopped being able to see clearly before he yet finished but continued to hear his words as her eyes failed. The girl was at a loss to fathom how all this could have been made to come to pass.
“This is possible?” asked Veronica, emotionless, more so of herself than Señor Rios.
“It is certainly not usual, but there is precedent for adoption to be used in cases where a nobility is in danger of dissolution due to the absence of heirs. Your aunt had long been elusive on the matter, and I dare say it was not of much great concern to her, if I may be so indelicate. But as you were orphaned… do forgive me for speaking of you in this way… but the event changed the Marquesa’s outlook on the matter, and she employed our services to ensure that it would be done. It was not much for us to complete your adoption, but, of course, this all lay with the Crown, in whose judgement all such matters rest. Really, it is in Her authority to make or break any one of us as she pleases. Happily, Her Majesty approved of the Marquesa’s request, and so the matter is done.”
Veronica stared at the man for a long while, waiting for some untold answer to come to her in the last second that might give her reason to renounce his explanation, but none came. “What will this entail? I mean, will I have to travel to be presented?”
“It will be necessary at some point, I imagine. And there will, no doubt, be requirements made upon you for appearances of various types. And, of course, you will serve at the pleasure of the Crown in whatever capacities you may be called upon for. And neither I nor these gentlemen would be the person who will relay that information to you when the time eventually comes. But this is certainly not a moment when any of that need burden you. For now, we will simply guide you through the process of designing the estate’s future and ensure its survival. It is quite an undertaking, as I’m sure you can imagine. The House of Amontoní is more than four centuries old, and even if we are able to keep your aunt’s designs largely intact, I’m afraid this will all exhaust your patience in little time.”
The girl nodded to the man gently, allowing the changes to wash over her.
“My men and I wish to be of whatever service we can. I will not skirt around the fact that you are very young and may not feel you are ready for this responsibility. Please understand, I do not mean that in any way as a slight, for it is not. You will likely spend your life learning these matters, and though your aunt certainly never expected to leave you with this burden before you were ready, if at all, I want you to know that she professed a great confidence in you. I can assure you that we will remain faithfully by your side through all of this.”
Veronica knew that what the man had said to her was true, and to be now in his guidance brought her no small measure of confidence that she would survive this week. “Thank you, señor.” Relief welled up at his kindness. “I thank all of you.”
“Thank you, my lady. I knew your aunt from before you were born, and I can say without reservation that the Marquesa would have been proud of your courage in this matter.”
Veronica smiled after much thought on this and addressed him now with a certain purpose.
“Is that all then? Should we begin on the task at hand?”
“Very good, my lady, if you are ready...”
“Before we begin, a couple of things,” she interrupted him.
Rios became concerned to hear his first call to order, that which this young lady had already managed to formulate for him.
“You will understand the enormous amount of attention the house has received in the last few days, and will no doubt receive for several weeks to come, I fear it is more than I can bear. I would appreciate it you would direct any calls of sympathy upon yourself, as my representative. It would all be too unbearable to deal with this outpouring while I am so very much still in mourning.”
“But of course, my lady,” he assured her. “I will take on all of that for you. It is not a problem.”
“And when we are done with the transference, I would also appreciate it if you would book passage for me to Rome. The thought of being here for the coming weeks is really quite terrifying and I would very much like it if you would make all the necessary arrangements for me to stay in Rome during this time. I wish to leave as soon as possible. I have already prayed with my aunt and said my goodbyes. I will not attend her funeral at the end of next week. For myself, it would be quite unnecessary, and I don’t wish to face the mobs of people who will likely be there. I will, of course, need a chaperone, as I am now on my own. If one of your associates would be so very kind to escort me and help me on my journey and during my stay?”
“Oh, surely, my lady, that would be of no difficulty whatsoever. Señor Borges would, I’m sure, be honored to escort you on your trip.”
Veronica noticed the young Señor Borges sit up immediately and nod his endorsement. “It would be my honor, Marquesa.” He could not help but to appear confused by the prospect.