Characters: Dr. Robert Helm, Colonel Montoya, Captain Grisham, Tessa Alvarado, Marta, OFC
Summary: Dr. Helm and Tessa find someone quite unexpected on his doorstep, and Colonel Montoya plots to use her to his advantage.
To Follow the West Wind: Santa Elena Welcomes You
Isabelle, Tessa, and Marta, to whom Isabelle had just been introduced, congregated in Isabelle’s small bedroom. She had done as Robert had bid and changed out of the black dress, and with Tessa’s assistance, had put on instead the nutmeg brown wool. During the change of dresses, Tessa had taken a complete inventory of Isabelle’s clothing, and had found it wanting.
“It simply won’t do, Marta,” Tessa told her servant. “Look. She has only the one dress that can be worn once the weather warms.” She pulled out the pale grey cotton, eyeing it critically.
Isabelle had been more than a little overwhelmed by all the attention and Tessa’s somewhat imperious attitude. “Tessa, I can make do,” she protested.
“The fiesta today is perfect timing,” Tessa continued, seeming not to hear. “With the ship from yesterday, and the merchants with their wares here from Monterey, there should be ample cloth to choose from.”
“Tessa!” Isabelle exclaimed, this time in a much louder voice. Personally, she thought her pride had taken enough of a beating this last year, but it seemed God had a different idea. Sighing, she repeated, “Tessa,” a little more softly. “I appreciate your concern, but I have no money for such things.” She dropped her eyes at the look of surprise then pity on the other woman’s face. “The passage to California took practically everything I had.” Money that was charity to begin with.
“Then you must speak to your brother. You are his responsibility now you’re living under his roof,” Tessa said kindly but firmly. "It wouldn't do for you collapse from heat exhaustion wearing a wool dress in the summer. That would only give Dr. Helm another patient."
Isabelle thought she might cry. Could this get any more humiliating? How could she land on Robert’s doorstep, already dependent on his altruism and then beg for yet more?
“Senorita,” Marta said softly, putting a comforting arm around her shoulder and shooting a look at Tessa. “I know this is difficult. But Tessa is correct; you must have clothing suitable for the climate here. And your brother has standing in the community. He will be judged by how he treats his sister. How would it look if it seemed he was being miserly and disregardful towards you?”
She sat Isabelle on the edge of the bed, stroking her back as if she were a little girl. “It will get better, I promise you. Let Tessa speak to your brother, it will be easier, hmmm?” She leaned her head against Isabelle’s. “The Senorita is an excellent haggler; she will help you purchase what you need. Then you and I will make some beautiful dresses that will be the envy of every woman in the pueblo.”
Tessa sat on the other side, taking Isabelle’s hands in hers. “Listen to Marta, she’s always right.”
“I will remember you said that!” Marta told her, eyes laughing.
Isabelle just nodded, wondering if she would ever stop feeling like she was going to cry.
Tessa had explained the situation to Robert, and his only reaction had been to kiss the top of his sister’s head and give Tessa an amount of gold and silver. Once they’d made their way to the Plaza, he told them that lancing boils was preferable to going on a dress making expedition and that he was leaving his sister in their capable hands. He said something softly to Tessa, then bid the women fair shopping, before leaving them with a grand bow.
They wandered through the various stalls looking at what was available, and Tessa had settled on one merchant in particular. "The butter yellow I think," she said, running a hand across the fabric. "Do you like it, Isabelle?"
"I was actually thinking this one." She laid a hand on a bolt of pale brown cotton. Tessa moved Isabelle's hand over to the yellow one Tessa favoured.
"No mouse colours," she explained. "Those were Dr. Helm's instructions."
"Is that what he said to you?" Isabelle asked, more than a little miffed that now she wasn't even allowed to pick the colours.
"Yes," Tessa replied cheerily. "His only stipulation was that we make sure you get colours that are happy ones." She pulled a bolt of pale pink cloth over. "Now, which do you like best; the pink or the yellow?"
"I hate pink." She knew she sounded peevish, but didn't quite care.
Tessa either didn't notice or had decided to ignore her mood. "Then the yellow it is. It will go so well with your colouring! Now, what do you think for the second dress?"
Isabelle sighed in defeat, running her fingers across several before coming to rest on the lavender. She'd always been partial to that colour. "This one, I suppose."
Holding it up under Isabelle's face, Tessa nodded. "It suits her, don't you think, Marta?"
"It will look lovely," Marta agreed. She had been choosing trim and other bits and pieces needed for the dresses. "The young men of Santa Elena will be very appreciative!" Both she and Tessa laughed at Isabelle's blush.
All their purchases were bundled up and paid for, and Marta left instructions for it all to be sent to the Alvarado Hacienda.
"Now, I'm hungry!" Tessa declared. The other women agreed that food would be a very good idea. "I think Senor Ramirez's empanadas would do quite nicely."
Soon, the three women were eating the most excellent savoury empanadas and drinking lemonade while taking in the sites and sounds of the fiesta. Isabelle had been introduced to so many people, she was sure she wouldn't remember half of them.
"Look, the fandango will be starting soon," Tessa said, pointing to the cleared space in the center of the plaza where a group of musicians had gathered.
"Is it safe yet?" Robert's voice said from behind them. "Shopping all done?"
"Perfectly safe, Doctor," Tessa replied.
Isabelle handed her brother an empanada. "These are delicious!"
"Ah yes, I see you've discovered my secret vice," Robert told her. "Yet another reason it would be an excellent match," he teased.
"Do hush, Robert," Isabelle scolded as her brother made short work of the empanada. He was thoroughly unrepentant, grinning at her wickedly. “You really are quite dreadful.”
"Match?" Tessa asked.
"Pay my brother no mind, Tessa. He just delights in teasing me."
"Senor Ramirez and my sister," Robert explained. "He was quite taken with her when I took her to dinner at the hotel last night. I'm merely pointing out there are far worse things than her marrying a man who can cook like this!"
"Your sister is right, Dr. Helm, you are dreadful!" she said admonishingly, though her eyes were laughing.
"I'll have you know it's my god given duty as a brother to tease my sister!" he informed her loftily. "Anything else would be unthinkable." His wide grin practically split his face.
"Impossible," Isabelle muttered, though she did reach up and kiss her brother on the cheek. "I love you despite it all."
“Glad to hear it,” he told her, tapping her chin with a finger. "And now, if you ladies will allow me to spirit my sister away for a short while?"
"Of course, Doctor. Just don't forget you promised me a dance," Tessa reminded him.
"As if I could ever forget such a thing," Robert said with a small bow. "Senoritas, we will see you at the dance later."
Tessa watched them leave. “I should have been more tactful about her clothes, shouldn’t I?”
“Just a little -- but your heart was in the right place, Isabelle knows that,” Marta replied. “You can be a force of nature, Tessa. Just remember that sometimes it takes a softer touch when dealing with those you are trying to help.”
Nodding, she said, “I was just thinking how I’d have felt in her place. It must be mortifying for her.”
“You are in a position most women aren’t, Tessa. You have no male relatives to answer to; you can be your own woman. You are independent. “
“And I had a father who loved me more than anything in the world. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have had a father you feared, who didn’t love you.” She sounded sad.
“And that is why you must remember to take a gentler hand with Senorita Helm. She is like a timid rabbit peeking out from its burrow, terrified that if it ventures away, the shadow of the hawk will fall upon it. Give her time to realize the shadow is gone forever, and she will bloom. Just be her friend, Tessa.”
“Let her be your friend. Don’t hide behind a mask this time.”
“I’ll try, Marta.”
Part One ][ Part Two ][ Part Three ][ Part Four ][ Part Five ][ Part Six ][ Part Seven ][ Part Eight