"Bellosguardo," near Florence, 1919
A smartly dressed couple surveyed the large salon of the once-grand and venerable old house. The young woman eyed the room with an expression of disgust as wind whistled down the chimney and formed eddies of debris like miniature tornadoes in the corners of the room. She clutched her fur-trimmed coat closer and shook her head.
"Rico, you can't be seriously considering buying this place!"
The woman's companion, a powerfully built, square-faced man in a dapper gray suit and overcoat, was her husband, the renowned tenor, Enrico Caruso. He guided her gently toward the gaping hole in the wall that gave onto a tantalizing view of the Tuscan countryside. Long ago, the opening held elegantly detailed French doors that framed the view.
"Doro, I have spoken to you many times of my dream for a school for the opera―," he began to say before she interrupted him.
"I know, Rico dear, but this house is no place for your dream. Look around you; this house," she paused and spread her arms wide, letting her coat fall open, "is a nightmare."
While the two quietly argued, a small, dark man entered the room from the battered foyer. He stood quietly with head lowered, but his ferret-like eyes darted nervously about the room. Aldo Bertani, the real estate agent, had spent weeks luring the great tenor to the house. Bertani instinctively knew that Caruso wanted the house the moment he saw the opera star's eyes light up as he crossed the threshold. And if the rumors were true, Caruso always got what he wanted. Bertani counted on Caruso winning the argument with his beautiful, young American wife.
The young woman tapped a slim, well-shod foot and shook her head. Chestnut curls peeked around her fashionable felt cloche hat. Her blue eyes flashed in temper to the utter delight of her adoring husband. He smiled indulgently as he circled the room and waved his arms expansively.
"It will be beautiful, Doro, when we finish restoring it to its former glory. All this will be yours," he said with a melodic laugh.
She stalked up to him, effectively ending his pirouette, and turned her heart-shaped face up to his.
"I don't want it," she hissed.
Aldo Bertani was not the only observer of this domestic squabble. Another presence lurked undetected. The ghost of Galileo Galilei listened and saw with disembodied senses from a vantage point near the ceiling. "Bellosguardo" had been first his home and then his prison after the inquisitors convicted him of heresy in 1633. His earthly life ended in the house, but his soul lingered ―unrepentant still―bound between earth and an afterlife.
Galileo's ghost watched the young woman, who reminded him so much of his Marina, and knew that she was carrying a child. Not even the young mother knew, but Galileo knew.
In the end, Caruso got his way. Galileo's ancient home, empty and woefully neglected for more than fifty years, would belong to Caruso at an exorbitant price. The real estate agent wisely curbed his greed, but even so, made a handsome commission on the property which enabled him to put aside work for two comfortable years.
In the course of time, workmen descended on the property to restore what the ravages of time had destroyed. Galileo watched in astonishment as the garden was torn up and new trees planted. Flower-filled tubs were installed on the new terraces.
He fled to the attic when the floors were ripped up and replaced, and into the trees when the walls were opened up and odd bits of cable and tubing installed. He cowered in the wine cellar, but there, too, workmen came and did strange things that left him feeling querulous and unhappy. The centuries of solitude he endured were supplanted by the ringing of hammer and saw, and he found himself longing for peaceful oblivion.
At last the renovation was complete. Large, horseless carts filled with all manner of lush furnishings lumbered up the new gravel drive and disgorged such bounty as Galileo had never imagined. Strange people filled the rooms and chattered incessantly until he thought he would go mad with the noise. When the house grew quiet once more, Galileo came out of his hiding place and explored the house and grounds. He marveled at the wonders of the modern world, and no matter how much he pondered them, there was much he could not understand. Once Galileo's brain had divined the most innovative scientific theories; now, intricate thought had become a spectral memory―just as he was himself.
One day, an inexplicable feeling of intense anticipation overtook him. The family arrived in a cavalcade of large, black vehicles that came soundlessly up the drive. He counted seven vehicles that seemed to glide with some uncanny power. A veritable crowd of people emerged from them and clustered in the front garden to gaze and point at the ochre-hued house.
Galileo recognized the couple, now with their young child―a girl. They started up the flower-bordered walkway trailed by the rest of their family and retainers. Servants scurried out of the house and began to unload large cases from the back ends of the vehicles. Galileo's interest was piqued, and he followed them as they explored the ground floor of the house. He tried to sort out the relationships of the people, but there were so many he gave up, and instead followed Caruso and his young wife and child.
Caruso left them to settle themselves and wandered into the rooms that remained largely unfurnished. Galileo followed after him and looked on as massive trunks were brought into these rooms. One of the servants―Galileo later learned he was Caruso's secretary, Fucito―busily unpacked musical instruments and portfolios filled with sheets of music while Caruso inspected the rooms with an expression of deep satisfaction on his face.
Though the notion of time eluded him―for night and day held meaning only for the living―Galileo eventually learned the names of all the family and staff. In addition to the three servants in charge, there were Signor Caruso's brother, Giovanni and his wife; and Caruso's sons, Fofo, the elder, and Mimmi, about fourteen, from his early union with a sultry soprano; and lastly, Mimmi's governess.
Signora Anna Maria, Caruso's stepmother and a most intimidating matron, was also in residence. She worshiped Enrico and detested her other stepson, Giovanni. Galileo observed her carefully. He watched her as she sat with her needlework every evening, each stitch accompanying her incessant criticism directed at Mrs. Caruso. The litany of barbs was endless—that the baby was being spoiled, that she was not fed and washed properly—reducing Mrs. Caruso to tears. White-haired, intensely superstitious and devoutly religious, Galileo noticed that she favored Enrico's older son and totally ignored Mimmi.
The family was boisterous and argumentative. Galileo lost interest in listening to their bickering in an unintelligible country dialect. Instead, he concentrated his attention on little Gloria and her mother. The child made him yearn for his own favorite daughter, Virginia, who even from her convent cloister, was ever his dutiful and loving daughter.
Mysteriously, Galileo's powers increased. The feeling of queer transparency left him, and he grew stronger from the energy he absorbed from the living. His newfound energy enabled him to move objects, and he sailed through the house in the dead of night while everyone slept. In the morning, the servants were amazed to find pots from the kitchen in the bathtub and bath towels in the garden. He opened and closed doors and windows. When his diversions were blamed on the age of the house and the wind, he took to sighing loudly. The family heard the very walls of the house moaning and became frightened. He took delight in hiding Signora Anna Maria's rosary and knocking over the statues of saints in her room, for he understood that no amount of prayer could cure the blackness of her soul.
Caruso departed on a concert tour, and with his controlling authority gone, the ghost witnessed the family at their worst. The old lady commenced to belittle and berate the young wife, accusing her of hiding her rosary and disturbing her room. The young wife's denials did nothing to placate the old lady. Signora Anna Maria increased her petulant demands on the servants, thinking perhaps that they were responsible.
The youngest son was now free to pursue a campaign of torture; he would seek out little Gloria while she slept in her coach beneath the trees in the garden and pinch her little legs and twist her fingers. The child shrieked in pain, bringing the young mother running from the house. The boy would lie to the mother that an insect had probably stung the child, assume an air of innocence, and swear he had not seen or heard anything to cause such fearful wailing.
Galileo's expanded powers emboldened him. He assumed the role of protector of little Gloria and her mother. When the boy next approached the sleeping child in the garden, a tree limb suddenly broke and struck him senseless.
"Come quickly," the gardener exclaimed when he ran to the governess after finding Mimmi sprawled in the garden under the tree. The governess and the gardener helped him into the house and revived him.
"Dio mio," Signora Anna Maria said, as she clasped her hands to her ample bosom in distress. Mimmi was left with a nasty bump on his head and a scolding that he was too old to be climbing trees.
"But I wasn't climbing the tree," the boy protested.
That evening when the old lady began her nightly harassment of the young mother, a pillow flew from the settee and struck the old woman squarely in the face, sending her screaming from the room.
Caruso returned in response to a cable from his trusted secretary and found that most of his family had decamped, leaving only a few of the servants and the newly-serene mother and child.
Told of the events and being of a superstitious nature, he packed up his little family and fled to the south, to his villa in Sorrento.
Galileo's ghost was left alone in the beautifully restored house and garden which he haunts to this day. Caruso's opera school never opened for he died shortly after he arrived in Sorrento.
Every now and then, reports surface of beautiful music emanating from the house. And some of the neighbors have even claimed that when the nighttime air is crystal clear, they hear a glorious tenor voice soaring up to the stars.