collection of short stories mostly written
DISCLAIMERS: Fireworks owns 'em, let's hope for another season at least.
Tessa just stood in the doorway and watched as the doctor paced back and forth, muttering something under his breath in a language she assumed was English. The rustle of her silk skirt alerted him to a visitor and he turned with an exclamation of surprise. His face closed for a second in annoyance, and Tessa's spirits plummeted. She gripped her basket more tightly and drew herself up, fixing on her lips what she hoped was a friendly, non-committal smile.
"Oh, Señorita Alvarado. I didn't hear you knock," he said acerbically.
"That's because your door was already open, and I just walked in," she replied as evenly as possible, though her temper was beginning to rise. "Did I interrupt your prayers, Doctor?"
"What? Oh, you mean the line I was saying to myself. It's part of a poem I learned as a boy. It was practically beaten into my head so naturally I forgot it as soon as I could. Now, it's driving me mad to remember the rest of it. I only have the first line."
"What is it? Maybe I could help," she said as she ventured further into the office, setting her basket on the table.
Helm laughed. "It's an English poem so you're hardly likely to know it."
"Tell me the first line anyway."
He repeated the line in English, and Tessa gave him an impatient glare. "En Español, por favor. No habla Inglés."
"It probably doesn't' translate well. But here is the first line, ""She walks in beauty like the night," he said in Spanish, "and that's all I can remember of the damned poem."
and replied, in Spanish,
Helm's mouth gaped open, then he shook his head, laughing, "I am truly astonished that you would know that poem, and in Spanish too."
Tessa felt her face warming at his spontaneous praise and decided it was time to leave. "Here are the salves that Marta prepared for you. I should be going now. Marta is waiting at the wagon."
"Wait, please. Could you teach the whole poem again? It's very important." Helm reached a restraining hand on her arm, then removed it quickly when he realized what he had done. "Excuse me, señorita. I would consider it a great favour if you could spare me just a few more minutes of your time to teach me the poem." His earnest face leaned near her, a pleading look in his green eyes.
"Of course, doctor. Why do you wish to learn this poem?" Tessa saw him withdraw slightly and look away evasively.
"I just need to remember it, that's all."
For the next half hour, Tessa coached the doctor with the expressive love poem until she was sure he had it perfectly. After his profuse exclamations of gratitude which made her flustered and not a little angry, she took her leave and joined Marta at the wagon.
Marta had been sitting on the bench, fanning herself, and looked very warm and a little put out at the long wait. "It doesn't usually take so long to deliver a few jars of ointment, " she said tersely. "I could have done it myself if I had known you would be in there forever. What took you so long?" Seeing the aggrieved look on Tessa's face, she asked, " Is there something I should know?"
"I was teaching him a poem," Tessa said disconsolately.
"A poem? What poem?"
Tessa repeated the verses to Marta whereupon the older woman fell back against the wagon seat and laughed heartily. Tessa regarded her with an annoyed pout. "I don't see anything funny about it!" she said sharply. "I teach him a love poem so he can say it to another woman? That isn't funny. It's ridiculous!"
Marta sobered for a second, wiping her eyes. "Especially when that other woman is you." Marta chuckled involuntarily, unable to contain herself in spite of the dark looks she was getting from Tessa. "Well, you'll soon hear that poem again, and then you'll know if it was time well spent teaching it to him." Marta gave her a sly wink and a playful nudge.
Sequel to Byron's Mistress - Spanish flag, boat & glass of wine
Fireworks owns them.
Cat and String
"I sense your presence immediately as I watch your shadow cross the floor toward me. As I look up at you, those bewitching dark eyes mock my efforts at pretended indifference. My heart begins to race as if with tachycardia, and the floor boards beneath my feet rock as if I'm on a boat on the water. The vision of you, standing outlined against the harsh sunlight in the doorway, races through my veins like wine. In the sudden stillness, all I can hear is the rushing of the wind across the dusty plaza and the snapping of the Spanish flag atop the governor's residence.
In your eyes, I see a playful curiosity. Why am I reciting a line of poetry, over and over? I'll use that curiosity to lure you inside, like dangling a string in front of a cat. Will your inquisitiveness lead you further, or like a cat, will you remain aloof to all my efforts?
I jibe at your lack of manners in not knocking on my door, and I watch with amusement as you bristle like a cat whose fur is rubbed the wrong way. You want to know about the line of poetry I've been repeating and I tell you in English. Another rub of the fur, but at least, I have your attention. And then to my surprise, you actually knew the poem by Byron, and in Spanish. I watch the rose colour your cheeks at my unfeigned praise. As you turn to leave, I touch your arm and that touch ignites a fire within me. And in you, though you pretend as I do. As I'm pretending that I don't remember the poem in order to detain you longer. It's all I can think of, and for a very short while, it's enough. I've dangled the string and the cat reaches for it, a feint with her deadly claws sheathed.
You find me a rather dense pupil, it takes so long to learn the lines. And I can see in your eyes, that I've wounded you. You know the poem is intended for another woman, the dark side of the woman now seated at my table, patiently teaching me the verses. Whose pain is the greater, I wonder yours because you think you are not loved or mine, because I cannot admit it until you trust me with your dark secret.
Finally, I must let you go. Your friend is waiting in the hot sun, and I've kept you as long as I could. I watch from my window as you cross the square toward your Gypsy companion. I see you speak to her and see her laugh, but I know there is also compassion in that laugh. She would never hurt you or let harm come to you if she could prevent it. Like a mother cat, so fiercely protective of you is she."
Helm lifted the glass chimney from his lamp, and moved the page he had just written into the flame. As his words began to burn and char, he sensed the presence of another. Behind the mask, she watched curiously as the last of the paper was burned and gone. The cat had taken the string into her unsheathed claws and was drawing it and its holder inexorably toward her.
The Ghost Ship
It was one of the most amazing spectacles he had ever seen! Montoya stood transfixed by the vision as he stood upon the shore in the early morning chill. His gaze was directed at something far out on the ocean, beyond the combers that foamed over the reef, beyond the dark waters that billowed like blue satin in the weak sunlight, to the fog that shrouded the far horizon. Limned in the soft grey mist was the vague outline of a ship under full sail. From his vantage point, it looked ghostly, ephemeral. He felt his chest expand with longing as he watched the spectral ship which seemed to float eerily between ocean and sky. Like my dreams, he thought desolately, drifting elusively away just as they seem within sight. All my ambitions come to nothing, thwarted by Fate, by a masked woman who is determined to destroy me.
Montoya compressed his lips into a hard line, grimly remembering the cause of his being sent to this dreary outpost. Falsely accused of collaborating with the French during their occupation of Salamanca. I was only trying to keep the peace between the occupying army and the citizens. If I was a little harsh with the Salamancans, it was only to stop the French from being more so. No one understood my intentions or believed me. Only my mother's title saved me from a worse fate than banishment to this hellish place. He sighed deeply as he watched the ship gliding southward. It's probably sailing back to Spain, he thought wistfully, as I wish I was able to do.
For long moments, Montoya contemplated the ghostly ship as it moved slowly across the horizon. The sound of hoofbeats on the strand made him turn with annoyance. A soldier rode up and leapt from his horse, then ran up to the colonel and snapped a smart salute.
"What is it?" Montoya rasped out irritably. "Can't a man have a few minutes to himself?"
The soldier swallowed loudly, and croaked, "I have a message for you, Colonel."
Montoya's shoulders sagged. He could guess what it was. "Well, give me the message, you idiot!"
"Señorita Alvarado asked me to tell you she is waiting in your office with the fine to pay for her worker who was arrested yesterday for drunkenness." The message came out in a great rush as if the soldier was glad to be rid of it. He watched the colonel warily, waiting for his reaction. It was not what he expected.
"Tell her I will be with her in a few minutes," the colonel said, world-weariness edging his tone. He turned to gaze once more at the ship, but it had vanished into the mist. He laughed shortly, but continued to watch the horizon, hoping for another glimpse of the ship. Somehow that vision seemed to tug on his soul, reminding him of the younger Montoya with his head full of dreams and heart full of passion. Now he felt dead inside except when roused to wrath. The only passion I seem to have left is rage, he thought morosely.
He didn't know how much time had passed before the sound of sand being scuffled brought him back to the present. Glancing to his right, he saw Señorita Alvarado trudging down the beach toward him, a grim expression on her face. He felt a moment of guilt, then annoyance. He remained where he stood, determined not to give way to her.
"Colonel Montoya," she began a little breathlessly. "I waited for you and you did not appear. The time for the punishment is getting close and I am here to pay the fine." Her voice was tinged with exasperation. She added, "I think Pedro has been punished enough for his misconduct. A night in your horrid jail and the sickness that followed his excesses will have taught him a lesson. There is no need for a flogging."
Though she tried to keep her voice reasonable, Tessa heard its hard edge and watched Montoya reacting to it. But I have to try, she thought in desperation. She noted the set of the colonel's jaw as he stood more rigidly and his cold eyes flicked over her. He is obstinately opposed to me for some reason, she mused as she searched for a way to ameliorate the cruel punishment that awaited her worker.
"Colonel, if you persist with this flogging, my worker will be disabled for days. There is much to do on my hacienda, and I can't spare even one man. Please, accept the fine, and dismiss the punishment."
"Señorita Alvarada," Montoya began patiently, "If I let him off so lightly, what message does that send to others? That they can do as they like and others will pay the price? The peons are like children. They require a firm hand, and as you seem unable to wield it, others must do it for you. The flogging will go on as planned, as much to punish the drunken peasant as a warning to others. Now, I must return to my duties to oversee the disciplining of your errant worker." This last was said as a rebuke and he observed with grim pleasure as Tessa recoiled slightly.
"Take half of the fine, and give half of the punishment, Colonel," Tessa persisted. She reached out to restrain him, and pleaded with her eyes. Marta had told it would be useless to reason with him, but Tessa would not give up so easily. She could see him considering, perhaps relenting. She watched his eyes warm slightly as they passed over her and wondered what he was thinking. A warm flush rose to her cheeks as it occurred to her that he might think she was offering herself in exchange for a pardon for her worker. She removed her hand from his sleeve and stepped back a pace.
He smiled grimly. "I accept your terms. Give the money to Grisham. Now, I must return to the pueblo to see to the discipline." He walked toward his horse, then turned. "Are you coming to watch, señorita?" He saw her chin come up haughtily and her dark eyes flashed angrily at him. Why would she be interested in that bloodless English doctor, when she could have a Spaniard to unleash that passion that is always seething below the surface? A man like myself who knows the ways to please a woman, he thought, as his hot gaze slowly took in the way her breast rose and feel deeply with emotion. If only ...he left that thought unfinished as he waited for her answer.
"No!" she snapped, then more moderately added, "I will come to the doctor's office after he has attended to Pedro's wounds, then I will take him home in my wagon." She clenched her jaw and turned to look out over the ocean. The sound of hoofbeats diminished and Tessa's spirits dropped to a low ebb as she contemplated the fate awaiting her poor worker.
On the horizon, she saw a ship emerge from the mist, its white sails billowing in the warm breeze. Reflectively, she watched as it sailed south, on its way back to Spain. I wish I could be on that ship, she thought longingly. When I was in Spain, I had no responsibilities. I did as I liked. Now, I have so many burdens, it sometimes seems unbearable. A hacienda to run, workers to pay and their demands to attend to, and of course, the Queen's obligations and risks. What would it be like to be on that ship, free at last of all these cares? Like that ship, I am following my destiny, into whatever storms and perils it may lead me. Tessa sighed heavily, trying to keep her thoughts from what was happening in the pueblo. Sunlight caught the sails of the ship suddenly, creating a radiance almost hurtful to look at. Will my future be as brilliant as those sails, she wondered hopefully.
Mary Poppins - Not!
Closing her umbrella, Tessa sighed with relief as she passed from the relentless hot sun to the dim coolness of the shaded alley. She was taking a shortcut to the harnessmaker's in the next street. Chico, her horse, needed a new bridle. As she was about midway through the alley, what seemed to be a blur of rags launched itself at her from the shadows, catching her off guard and thrusting her against the adobe wall of a building. For a second, she panicked as a grimy hand gripped her throat. She felt her purse being pulled away from her arm and a sudden fury took over. She kneed the assailant in the groin, then stabbed him in the gut with her umbrella, finally using its ivory handle to clout him on the skull. He fell at her feet with a loud groan. Breathing hard, she leaned against the building, and looked down at her attacker. He was middle-aged, filthy, smelly...and unconscious. Tessa hesitated, unsure whether to call for help or just step past and continue on her way.
A sound at the far end of the alley made her look up ...into the astonished eyes of Dr. Helm. He strode swiftly toward her with an incredulous expression on his face. Tessa felt a mild panic seize her. What had he seen? In a breathless voice, she exclaimed, "Oh, Dr. Helm. Thank God you're here. I was so frightened." As he neared, Tessa held her hand out to him and began to fall as if fainting.
The doctor moved past her to the fallen man and she landed on the hard ground with a loud yelp of pain. Indignantly, she got back up, fixing the doctor with a look that would have melted a block of ice. "Well," she snapped, "Chivalry is certainly dead! First, you just stand there while I'm being attacked, then you leave me, the injured party, to help the attacker!"
Helm turned to look up with a wry grin on his face. "I practice chivalry when I see a damsel in distress. I saw no one of the particular description around here. As to being the injured party," he gestured at the man lying inert near his feet, "it's pretty obvious which of you is injured the one who's unconscious."
He continued to look at her closely with narrowed eyes, and Tessa could see the suspicion forming there. She swallowed quickly and said, "I caught him by surprise and got lucky when he stumbled."
Helm gave her a sceptical look. "Right. I don't think I've ever seen a more impressive display of umbrellasmanship. Maybe you should try a sword next time." With a derisive snort, he turned back to the assailant who was just coming to. "What do you plan to do with him?"
Tessa shrugged. "If I turn him over to Montoya, he'll be hanged for theft. It seems too extreme for just trying to steal a purse. But if I let him go, he may harm someone else. What do you suggest, Dr. Helm?"
"Lost your zeal for justice suddenly?" At that moment, the assailant leapt to his feet, pushing Helm to the ground and escaped down the alley. Helm laughed while getting up to dust himself off. "Well, I guess he made your decision for you. To be on the safe side, I'd better go with you down this alley."
Tessa blushed and stammered, "You don't need to protect me, Dr. Helm. I'll be all right."
"Protect you? It's me I was worried about in case he's still lurking about."
©Maril Swan - 2001
Feedback? Yes, please - Maril Swan
For more stories, go to Vignettes Four
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