Seven years back, when Florence was besieged by the Emperor and begging for French aid, the burgesses went to the merchant Borgherini’s house: ‘We want to buy your bedroom.’ There were fine painted panels, rich hangings and other furnishings they thought might make a bribe for King François. But Margherita, the merchant’s wife, stood her ground and threw their offer back in their faces. Not everything in life is for sale, she said. This room is my family’s heart. Away with you! If you want to take away my bedroom, you will have to carry your loot over my corpse.
He would not die for his furniture. But he understands Margherita—always supposing the story to be true. Our possessions outlast us, surviving shocks that we cannot; we have to live up to them, as they will be our witnesses when we are gone. In this room are the goods of people who can no longer use them. There are books his master Wolsey gave him. On the bed, the quilt of yellow turkey satin under which he slept with Elizabeth, his wife. In a chest, her carved image of the Virgin is cradled in a quilted cap. Her jet rosary beads are curled inside her old velvet purse. There is a cushion cover on which she was working a design, a deer running through foliage. Whether death interrupted her or just dislike of the work, she had left her needle in the cloth. Later some other hand—her mother’s, or one of her daughters’—drew out the needle; but around the twin holes it left, the cloth had stiffened into brittle peaks, so if you pass your finger over the path of her stitches—the path they would have taken—you can feel the bumps, like snags in the weave. He has had the small Flanders chest moved in here from next door, and her furred russet gown is laid up in spices, along with her sleeves, her gold coif, her kirtles and bonnets, her amethyst ring, and a ring set with a diamond rose. She could stroll in and get dressed. But you cannot make a wife out of bonnets and sleeves; hold all her rings together, and you are not holding her hand.
Christophe says, ‘You are not sad, sir?’
‘No. I am not sad. I am not allowed to be. I am too useful to be sad.’
Hilary Mantel, The Mirror & the Light