To Follow the West Wind - Part One
Santa Elena Welcomes You
Robert Helm closed the door behind him, leaning against it has he tried to take in the fact his young sister was really standing in the middle of his reception. It had been nearly nine years since he'd last seen Isabelle, just before he'd left for medical school in America. She'd been barely fifteen, a scrawny little thing on the verge of womanhood. Night and day from the mature and self-possessed young woman that stood before him now.
He finally said the words, the reason for her being here, thousands of miles from home. "He's dead then." It wasn't even a question, not really.
She nodded. "Yes."
"As you might expect, I suppose; too much alcohol, too much laudanum." She shrugged. "He fell asleep, and he never woke up."
Helm's eyes flashed. "I can only hope the old bastard got a warm welcome in hell!" he snarled angrily, pushing away from the door.
"Robert, please--" Isabelle began, only to be cut off by her brother.
"No! It's true! I do not want to hear that he was our father and that we should pretend that we aren't glad he's dead and gone! Good riddance, I say!"
"I wasn't going to say that!" she protested angrily. "But do please tell me what I should think and say! It isn't as if I haven't been told exactly that my entire life!" She whirled away from him, her arms clasped tight around herself.
Running a hand through his hair in frustration, he apologized. "I'm sorry, Isabelle--" he touched her shoulder, "--truly. It's no excuse for my appalling behavior, but it has just all been such a shock."
Softly, she said, "I was going to say don't be angry. Don't let him ruin this happy meeting as he has ruined every moment of happiness I have ever had."
Helm drew her into his arms, holding her tight. "You're right." Kissing her cheek, he took a deep breath. "I promised you a cup of tea."
"Shhhh... There will be time for the all the details of how you came to be here later; tea and food first."
She nodded in acquiescence. "Very well."
Reaching over, he opened the door to his study. "I'll bring your trunk in. While I do that, go through the door on the far side of the room, which will take you to the kitchen. When I'm done, we'll see if I can't be a better host, and a better brother."
When Robert finally made it back to the kitchen, he found his sister carefully studying every nook and cranny of the room. She'd removed her coat, bonnet and gloves, and he realized she was still dressed for mourning, her black dress relieved only with a small silver bar brooch at her throat. That would be his sister, following propriety to the letter however much she might have loathed their father.
"You've grown," he told her, smiling.
She sniffed. "I'm pleased you noticed."
"Oh, I'm quite sure the entire male population of Santa Elena will notice. I'm going to have to keep an eye on you," he said, eyes twinkling with mirth.
Ignoring his last comment, she said, "You can't call me Jackie Sprat anymore!"
"Me? I'm quite sure I never called you any such thing!" he protested his innocence. "It must have been your other brother Robert."
Joining in his laughter, she said, "Yes, it must have been. What was I thinking?"
As they'd talked, Robert had begun making tea. "You must be hungry. It's my housekeeper's day off, but I'm sure I can come up with something."
"Famished!" she agreed, sitting at the table. "Anything that isn't dried, salted, or fish would be wonderful!"
"This might do as a start," he told her as he rummaged around in a cupboard, pulling out a ceramic bowl. "Here we are." When he turned back to her, he was holding a small orange. "A ship from the Orient was here last month, and brought these. I have two left."
She snatched the orange delightedly from his hand. "Thank you, Robbie!" Deftly peeling away the thin flesh, she broke off a segment, closing her eyes in rapture as the first drops of juice hit her tongue. "That is the best thing I think I have ever tasted," she declared.
"I remember how good fresh food tastes after a long sea voyage," he told her, pleased at her reaction. "Aren't you going to eat the rest?" he asked, noticing she'd put the remainder of the orange back down on the table.
"I'm saving it for after lunch. I want it to be the last thing I taste," she informed him, sighing in anticipation.
Shaking his head, he smiled at his sister, holding out the second orange. "You can have this last one as well."
Tilting her head, she considered his offer for a moment before temptation won out over restraint and she happily took her prize. "Thank you, Robert," she said demurely, her eyes sparkling mischievously.
"You are quite welcome, little sister." As she finished off the first orange with unrestrained enthusiasm, he laughed.
"What?" she asked suspiciously.
"I was just remembering when you were eight and you convinced Andrew to steal sweets from the trays set out for the party that night. And not only did he, but you also managed to get most of his share as well. You had a similar expression on your face as you tore into your pile."
She joined in his laughter. "Andrew would always do whatever I asked."
"He loved you very much."
"I know," she said softly.
Silence fell as both recalled the bittersweet memory. Finally, breaking the sudden mood of melancholy, Isabelle asked, "Is that tea ready yet?"
"Just." He put the teapot and the cups and saucers on the table. "Let me get the milk."
Soon, they were both sitting at the table drinking the strong brew and eating the bread, cheese and meat that Robert had laid out, quietly enjoying the almost forgotten companionship of childhood.
Part One ][ Part Two ][ Part Three ][ Part Four ][ Part Five ][ Part Six ][ Part Seven ][ Part Eight