In the spring of 1739, Gabriella Deza stands poised on the verge of womanhood. A product of her guarded upbringing, she is naive in the ways of love until dashing Manuel Enriques declares his love for her. Quite by accident, Gabriella uncovers a plot hatched by British spy whose job is to capture the town and fort, Castillo de San Marcos. Armed with her information, Manuel embarks on a dangerous mission to entrap the spy and save the town from being overthrown by the British. Unfortunately, Gabriella herself is caught in the trap and kidnapped. Can Manuel find and save her before it is too late?
The first rays of sun rose above the ocean, setting the waves afire. I gazed out my window, watching the town of St. Augustine awake. Sounds from the kitchen below blended with the calling of the men on the docks and the soldiers at the fort.
Tradesmen opened shops as women called to one another from their houses. Carpenters and stonecutters continued repairing the walls and buildings after the latest British attack. Seagulls called raucously along the shore waiting for whatever scraps got thrown to them, fighting over the merest, insignificant crumb. All these were comfortable sounds, mingling together into a familiar morning melody.
As my bedroom faces the ocean and hence the rising sun, I wake early, before any of my family, enjoying these last quiet moments. Yawning and stretching deliciously, I dressed and sat at my desk to compose a letter to my grandmother in England. I had not written anything but the date, 15 February, 1739, when the door to my room flew back connecting sharply with the wall, thus announcing the arrival of my little brother, the pest
“Gabriella, play with me!” Marcos stood in the doorway of my room; play swords in hand, a look of petulant defiance on his face.
“Not now, Marcos,” I replied, looking up from my desk. “I’m writing a letter. Swords are a boy’s game. Go ask Tomas to play.”
“No! I demand you play with me!” He yelled, stamping his little foot. “You will! Mamá!”
“All right, you spiteful, little wretch! I’ll play with you for five minutes.”
I played swords with him. The five minutes turned into thirty. The thirty turned into five and forty. I tried to be patient until he smacked me once too often with his sword because I wouldn’t die every time he stabbed me. He set up a howling and wailing, bringing his nurse, his mother and finally Papa!
I knew I would be on dreadfully thin ice with Papa, but I found tears generally to be effective against him. My Grandmama Griffin always said, “When you need the upper hand over a man, cry. He’ll give you anything if only you will cease!”
I burst into sudden, vehement tears. “Oh, Papa!” I cried before Marcos could speak. “Marcos hit me with his sword and he hurt me!”
This actually was the truth. I had a lump or two, and bruises all over to prove it. I never lied outright to Papa. As a result, my father always believed me.
“Let me see, Bella.”
He used his pet name for me, a good sign. I showed him the scarlet welt on my arm and the bruise growing on my shin.
Papa pressed gently on my arm. Although it didn’t hurt badly, it was tender, so I cried bitterly, fresh tears splashing on his hands. He wore his concerned face. Raising his spectacles from his nose, he ruffled his thinning dark hair with his free hand. Sighing deeply, he straightened slowly.
“Marcos, come here.” My brother hung back, afraid of Papa’s tone of voice. “Marcos, come forward when I speak!”
Marcos looked at his mother, finding no help, he stepped forward, terrified.
“A gentleman doesn’t hurt a lady. Do you understand?” Marcos nodded, his lip trembling with suppressed tears. He bit his lip to keep from crying.
“You’ve hurt your sister, and she’s a lady. You will apologize to her. If you want to play hard, you call Tomas or one of the other boys.”
Marcos nodded again. Papa hugged him until he stopped crying and spoke softly to him.
“Now, my son, you tell Bella how sorry you are that you hurt her and you promise it won’t happen again.”
Marcos snuffled twice, wiped his little, cherry red nose on Papa’s proffered handkerchief and came over to me. He put his chubby little arms around my neck giving me a damp kiss.
“I’m ever so sorry I hurt you, Bella. I won’t ever do it again, I promise!”
I hugged him close to me. Sometimes the insufferable little beast can be sweet. “I forgive you, Marcos. I know you will be more careful.”
He went off for breakfast with his mother and nurse. Papa lingered as I went back to my desk.
“To whom are you writing, Bella?” He asked almost too casually.
“To Grandmama in London, Papa. I received a letter a few days ago.”
He spoke in a casual way, which he often used to convey his deep concern. “What have you told her?”
I replied in all honesty. “I’m telling her about the picnic I had with Rosa and Melina.”
I was bursting into an animated account when my father’s preoccupied silence stopped me. The lack of my prattling roused him.
“I apologize, Bella.”
A long pause followed. When he spoke again, he seemed tired and worried. “It’s hard for your stepmother here, Bella. She isn’t strong, much as your little mother, God rest her. She suffers much from the climate. I’m taking her to her father’s home in Jamaica for a few weeks. Perhaps she’ll find it more suitable. At any rate, a sea voyage will do her good.” He turned from me slightly. “I need to know that Marcos won’t come to any harm while we are away.” He paused again, awaiting a reply.
“Yes, Papa.” I spoke with hesitation, not yet able to read my father’s intentions.
“I know you girls don’t like him very much, and perhaps that’s my fault. An old man having a son after so many years, I indulge him. I’m asking you to care for him while we are away. Can you do that for me, Bella?” He turned worried, red rimmed eyes to me, his look imploring.
“I’ll take great care of Marcos for you.” How could I refuse?
“That’s my angel!” His smile was broad, but tears crowded his eyes. “Bella, I’m almost afraid your stepmother will die in Jamaica. You may have found her difficult the last few years. But I know you’ve never wished nor treated her ill.” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “I do love her so, Bella. The idea of losing her is just too much for me!” He began to cry.
“Oh, Papa!” I rushed to him, my arms around his neck. “You mustn’t worry over anything, Papa. I’ll take care of Marcos for you. But please, don’t believe that Clara will die! Each day you must pray to our Blessed Mother for her son Jesus to heal Clara and make her well. Marcos and I will say a Rosary for her every day. I promise.”
His tears subsided and I felt him relax. He even smiled slightly, ruffling my hair.
“You know, Bella, after my mother and yours died so close together, I lost faith in God and I didn’t know why He punished me. When I met Clara, I knew I had been blessed with a second chance. I know now the Father wouldn’t give me a second chance, only to steal it away. Thank you, Bella.”
My father and stepmother left on the early tide the next morning. We stood on the dock, waving to them until their ship was out of sight. As it was a beautiful morning, Marcos and I went for a walk along the river, admiring the boats in the harbor and counting seagulls. That game lasted until Marcos tired of it and ran at the gulls, startling them into flight. Laughing and roaring, he ran after the frightened birds. They performed amazing antics trying to get away from the child. I watched with glee, holding my sides as the stays of my corset bit into my ribs.
Tempted beyond my ability to resist, I joined Marcos in his little game. I’m sure the townsfolk thought Governor Deza’s two youngest children had completely lost their minds, but they ignored us. Giggling and breathless, we went back to the house, crossing the plaza by the market. The time with Marcos suddenly did not look quite so bleak.
I awoke one morning some weeks later, to find the house in a flurry of activity. The servants busily prepared for guests. Before leaving, Papa gave my sisters permission to have a party. I was too young to attend, but I always managed to stay up late and watch the ladies in their beautiful dresses and the young officers from the fort dancing. Soon I would be allowed to join them as my fifteenth birthday was in May.
That night, I watched the guests arrive. Among them, I saw Manuel Enriques, our father’s aide-du-camp. Always a favorite with the ladies, he cut a rakish figure in his snug britches and close fitting jacket. His dark eyes were rimmed with black lashes. They smoldered like embers in his disarmingly handsome face. His long, wavy, dark hair was tied back with a ribbon that matched his coat. He danced with many ladies, favoring none and always seemed to be aware of the eyes upon him, for he moved with a grace few other men could muster.
I found myself watching him closely, not wanting to take my eyes from him. I think he sensed my perusal, because from time to time he glanced around as if looking for someone. Once or twice I thought he might have spotted me, but I ducked below the level of the window before he looked directly at me.
I noticed Irena was taking nearly every dance with
the same gentleman. He limped slightly when he walked, otherwise performed admirably on the dance floor. Irena had eyes only for him and he for her. I wondered who he was and determined to ask her the next day.
I remained in my hiding place until Ana, our housekeeper, bustled me off to bed, scolding dreadfully. Ana loves to fuss. I often think she isn’t happy unless she’s catching Marcos or me doing something she can scold us over.
The music and chatter kept me awake for some time as I imagined myself in a beautiful dress, on the arm of a handsome man. Closing my eyes, I could see Manuel’s sharply chiseled profile. With this image in my mind, I fell into a happy slumber.
I rose at my usual time and prepared a special breakfast for Irena. It was my intention to find out all about her beau. She woke around noon, ringing the bell for someone to attend her.
“Good day to you, Irena. You certainly look lovely today,” I sang as I set down her tray.
Her dark eyes sparkled happily. “What is this about, little sister?”
“I want to know the name of your new beau so I can tell Papa when next I write.” I sat on the end of her bed, bouncing excitedly.
She threw her pillow at me in playful anger. “And how do you know I’ve a new beau? You were supposed to be in bed!” Her eyes looked dreamily off out the window and her attitude changed completely. “His name is Jason Purcell,” she said in a soft voice.
Her eyes glittered in the sunlight filtering through her white lace curtains. Sighing heavily, she closed her eyes in rapture. I had never seen my sister so smitten before.
“When we met, I knew we were destined to be together. He’s asked me to marry him! Papa gave his permission before he left.”
For a moment, she seemed to have forgotten me altogether. “Bella, what time is it?”
“It was five minutes after noon when I came in, Irena, why?”
She jumped out of bed and dashed to her wardrobe, hurling dresses out on her bed. Panic stricken, she fumbled with her nightdress, unable to work the buttons.
“Oh! I forgot to tell Ana to wake me earlier! I’m to meet Jason for luncheon with his mother! He’s calling for me at one! It will take me all that time to get ready! Oh, what shall I wear!?”
“Never worry, big sister. I’ll call Ana and together we’ll have you looking like a queen when he arrives. You wear your new yellow dress and I’ll get some fresh roses for your hair.”
By the time I got back with the roses, Irena’s dress was on and her hair done. I handed the flowers to Ana to arrange and stood looking at my sister.
“Irena, what is it like to be in love?”
Her face glowed with happiness as she tried to find words to describe such a powerful emotion. “It’s hard to describe, Bella. It’s like being hot and cold at once and being hungry and full all at the same time. It’s a grand and glorious feeling!”
Ana giggled, looking Irena up and down like she was a lunatic. “I’ll have to tell that to Pedro next time I see him.” She smiled. “He’s not so interested in the cold and empty part, he likes the hot and full better.”
She winked meaningfully at my sister who blushed deeply. I looked very puzzled and started to ask Ana a question, when the clock struck fifteen minutes before the hour. Irena listened as if she expected to hear the carriage arriving.
“He’ll be here soon. I should await him below.”
“Nonsense,” Ana chided her. “If there was one thing I’ve learned from your stepmother, a lady makes the gentleman wait at least five minutes before she exits her boudoir. Then she makes her grand entrance with all eyes upon her. So here you shall stay, my lady, until he’s seated with a glass of sherry at his elbow. Then I’ll fetch you.”
She turned to me in a businesslike fashion. “Miss Bella, go fix your hair and neaten your dress. You look a
sight. You can’t greet your future brother-in-law like that!”
I must have looked as astonished as I felt. “I’m to receive him? I don’t know what to say! Where is Maria?”
Ana pulled a serious face, but the laughter was in her eyes. “Your sister indulged a tad too much at the party last night. She’s feeling under the weather. She suffers from a sick head and shall be indisposed.” She struck a dramatic pose, hand to her forehead, and tried not to giggle, but it escaped her in any case.
“So neaten up, I believe I hear the carriage pulling up at the door, you’ve perhaps two minutes to prepare. Go!”
She shoved me out of the room and down the hall then went below to await Jason. I hurried to my room, fixed my hair as best I could then pinched my cheeks, fluffed my skirt and had a last look at myself.
Not bad, I thought, pleased with what I saw. I’m quite different from my sisters, taking my coloring from our mother, who was English. My hair is a rich chestnut brown, my eyes a deep sapphire blue. We look very much alike, my sisters and I, but where they are dark, I’m light and my skin is fair. My sisters said they envied me my fair coloring, for they were one in the crowd of Spanish ladies, but I stood out like a rose among the thorns.
Ana was calling me from below so I took one last look to be sure all was well and went down. Jason stood in the doorway, his hat in hand, while Ana made a fuss over him and the gentleman with him. He was a fellow I didn’t know by name, but had seen from time to time at the fort. As I greeted them and led them into the drawing room, Ana got drinks for the gentlemen as Jason introduced his companion.
“Miss Gabriella, may I introduce my good friend, James Wellington Stevens. He is a surgeon attached to the fort.”
I curtsied politely as Dr. Stevens bowed over my hand. “Miss Gabriella, delighted to meet you,” he said.
His voice was delightfully deep. His Spanish was superb, though he spoke with the clipped speech of an Englishman.
“Doctor Stevens, I am pleased to make your acquaintance. Have you been in Florida long?”
“The better part of five years, Miss Gabriella. I came over to study tropical diseases. The Indians have some amazing cures. I am writing a treatise to share with my colleagues in England.”
“How fascinating,” I declared, though I was unsure if I found it so or merely thought I should.
James went into a long monologue about some frightfully contagious disease, enumerating the cures he had studied. I made the polite noises required by my station, allowing myself to examine the two men closely.
Jason was dark of hair, fair of complexion and his eyes were a piercing green. He wore his hair naturally, not affecting a wig as so many did. It was shoulder length, tied neatly at the nape and he wore no facial hair. He was a moderate sized man, strong and lithe, who, despite his limp, moved like a dancer more than a soldier. His voice was like warm honey; rich, light and sweet.
James was taller than Jason and somewhat stockier of build, not fat, more muscular. He had sandy blond hair and blue eyes that danced when he spoke, with a ruddy Englishman’s complexion which looked as if he would burn if out in the sun too long. His baritone voice rang like the big church bells.
We made polite conversation until Jason began to look at his watch. It had been roughly five minutes since they had arrived. I nodded to Ana and she smiled at me from behind them, making her way to the stairs.
“I’m sure Irena will be down shortly. You know how ladies are, we’re always putting on the finishing touches.”
James smiled warmly at me while Jason looked distractedly at the door.
“How can one improve upon perfection?” James asked.
I replied with a giggle, “Oh, Dr. Stevens, ladies never find perfection with themselves.”
He smiled again, his blue eyes lingering on mine. I know I blushed, for I had never had a man look at me in such a way.
“Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. If I’m not mistaken, my good friend here has found his.”
He nudged Jason who was too distracted to reply. I heard the board on the landing creak faintly.
“I do believe that I hear my sister. Please follow me.”
Both men sprang to their feet when I rose. Jason fairly raced to the door in order to open it for me. I was pleased to see that he contained himself enough not to shove me aside and run to Irena. He stood closely behind me instead, gazing over my shoulder.
Irena was a vision in her yellow chintz. She had a soft pink shawl draped round her shoulders, matching the exquisite roses in her hair. The sun had chosen just then to come in the window illuminating her, making a wreath of blue black around her head. I heard Jason gasp beside me as he gazed up at her.
The color rushed to Irena’s cheeks as she descended the stairway, dropping her eyes shyly when she stood on the last step. Jason’s eyes fairly glowed when he looked at her, the love so clearly expressed.
He moved forward as if in a dream, holding his hand to aid Irena from the bottom step to the floor. This was not necessary of course, but he wanted an excuse to touch her. James looked at them, smiling softly, his eyes glittering with ill suppressed merriment. Leaning in toward me, he spoke in a near whisper.
“Methinks my friend Jason hath been bit by love.”
“It’s as well,” I said teasingly. “For my sister hath been bit by the same bug.”
James smelled like fresh laundry and newly washed hair. I found him most interesting. He seemed to hold me in regard as well, I could see in his face, his eyes twinkling merrily. But I didn’t see the look I saw in Jason’s.
“My dear Miss Gabriella, we seem to be ready to take our leave.” James spoke in a teasing tone. “I trust some day you might be willing to have me drop by again. Perhaps we can talk at greater length about the subject of medicine.” He smiled up into my eyes as he bent over my hand and kissed it gently.
“I should like that, of course, Dr. Stevens,” I said in the same bantering tone.
Irena breezed out the door on Jason’s arm. Dr. Stevens bowed one last time to me as he followed them out. Rising, he reached and closed the door behind him with a smile and a wink.
Ana walked around me and smiled in a knowing way. “It seems that not only Miss Irena has an admirer.” She smirked. “We shall see how well the young Englishman is received, eh?”
Giggling, she went back to the kitchen again and left me to my thoughts. Me with a gentleman caller? I laughed lightly to myself. To think at fourteen I already had a man kissing my hand! Grandmother Deza would spin in her grave and I could hear my mother’s voice chiding me as she did when I was a child.
“Now, Gabriella, was that proper?” I giggled aloud and spun around in circles on my toes until I was dizzy.
The thought struck me that I didn’t know Dr. Stevens’
age. It could be that my father wouldn’t allow a mature man to call on me! I went to the drawing room and rang for Ana. When she entered, I ran to her and grabbed her by both hands.
“Ana, how old do you think Dr. Stevens is?”
“Goodness, Miss, you’ve given me such a fright! Let me think.” She put her hand to her brow. “I’d say he’s to be at least three and twenty, perhaps older. He has, after all, attended college and medical studies. I can’t be sure, Miss, but he’s not over thirty. Why?”
I looked at her imploringly. “Ana, do you think my father would allow him to call, with him being so much older?”
Ana’s laughter echoed up the stairs and down the hallway. “Lands, child, is that what this is about? I dare say he can’t argue too much as he’s near old enough to be the mistress’ father. But it’s the company he keeps you should question, not his age.”
She looked at me knowingly but I failed to catch her meaning. I knew servants were often privy to information that their masters were wont to learn later, but what could she possibly mean about James? From what I could see, he was a perfect English gentleman. These being turbulent times, the English were not always well liked by the Spanish. However, he was charming and warm with a good manner to him. He was also a physician, as such, respected in the community.
Daydreaming distractedly, I spent the better part of the afternoon pretending to work on an embroidery piece I was making as a sampler. I confess, I spent more of the day picking out the mistakes than actually progressing. Finally I set it aside, wondering if the material and thread were salvageable.
Just before five, I heard a carriage pull up. I was expecting Irena home, instead it was Manuel Enriques. He was not announced, but I heard his voice in the hall speaking softly to Ana. He excused himself and left before
even saying hello to me
I found that to be not only rude but quite peculiar. Manuel was very polite to us girls and always spoke, however briefly, before taking his leave. As I was rising to see what it was all about, Ana knocked softly at the door as she came in. She looked nearly as confused as I felt. She gave me a large envelope and excused herself.
The envelope was addressed to me in my father’s
hand. I slit it open. Inside was a single folded sheet of paper with a quickly written note.
“Dear Bella, You will be pleased to know your stepmother is feeling much better. In fact, we board the ship in two days time to bring us home. She misses her little son and her big girls. She’s happy at the prospect of returning, although she was glad of the long visit with her mother. With luck, this letter should arrive before we do, as this freight is leaving earlier than our ship. We should be home the seventeenth of this month. Fondest regards, Papa.”
That was good news! Clara was well and both of them were coming home. I had been so afraid that Papa would sail home alone, leaving yet another grave in his past.
I thought to tell Marcos right away, then realized it was the evening of the sixteenth! After a short talk with Ana, I knew everything would be taken care of.
Since Irena was not yet home, Maria was still sick in bed and Marcos had eaten, I supped alone in the dining room. The large room with its high ceilings made me feel quite small in comparison.
I brought my thoughts back to James. They drifted of their own accord to Manuel. I couldn’t fathom why he had rushed off so abruptly, unless there was important garrison business. That must be it, I decided. After all, he was a very busy man. He need not have taken the time to drop off the letter himself, he could have had a messenger do it.
Manuel was never rude. In fact, he was quite suave and polite. He was a tall, powerfully built man, tanned a rich brown by the Florida sun. His dark eyes were piercing having a golden fire in their midst. His black, wavy hair flowed past his shoulders and he kept it pulled back in a tail at the nape of his neck. He sported a small mustache and striking goatee beard that I found both charming and slightly wicked.
His gaze often drifted to me when we were in a group, though he seldom spoke. Perhaps he was shy, although he didn’t strike me as such. Possibly, he didn’t know what to say to me. I wondered if he were attached, and decided I would have to get Ana to ask around
Tossing down my napkin, I crossed my arms and thought a moment. Why on earth was I thinking of having Ana ask around about Manuel? I had intended to have her gather information on Dr. Stevens for me. However, now I was in this line of thought, why not both? Surely a lady could entertain the idea of two beaux? I could be excused a small flirtation or two before having to settle down and wed.
My mind was churning when Ana came in to clear the dishes. What I was thinking must have shown in my face, for Ana stopped by the table, smiling broadly.
“And what mischief are you cooking up there, Miss Gabriella? I see in your eyes the look of a lady plotting the fall of man.”
I looked up at her, pursing my lips as if she had offended me. Instead my eyes sparkled and I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Perhaps so, Ana.” I looked at the ceiling, the wall, the floor, out the window and fiddled with my napkin. “Tell me, Ana, what do you know of Señor Enriques who was
Ana hesitated to answer at first. She was always eager to impart what she knew of the local men. Be it good or bad, she held to the gossips’ truths of the town. She sighed deeply and seated herself at the table, another thing she had never done.
“Miss Gabriella, I’d not talk awful of anyone as you know.” She held up her hand. “I know I gossip, Miss, but that’s just for sport. I mean to really speak ill of someone with full knowledge and malicious intent and I just won’t do it.” She sighed again. “All I can say, Miss, is that one is better left unnoticed. Best to let sleeping dogs lie, Miss.”
She nodded slowly, looking very closely into my eyes. I’m sure I frowned, for I was quite confused. This entire afternoon had me in a deep quandary I couldn’t get out of. In fact, every way I turned, something else made the quagmire deeper until I was nearly to the point of being buried in it. She reached out and patted my hand.
“Miss Gabriella, I know you’re wondering about all this. I apologize. You’re just a little young to be asking about a man like Señor Enriques. He’s not your sort. Nor is that young Dr. Stevens. I won’t speak ill. But I’ll say this, steer clear of them both, Miss.” Her expression was of deep concern, but I saw only the face of one who opposed me.
“Oh, bother being too young! I’m nearly fifteen and I shall be old enough to wed soon. Why does everyone treat me like a child?”
I threw my napkin to the floor, rushed out the door and banged it behind me. As I ran up the stairs, I saw Ana briefly as she left the dining room, carrying the tray of untouched food, shaking her head sadly, speaking to herself in a voice I couldn’t hear. In my anger, I flung myself across my bed, still dressed.
I was horribly offended. Here my father had entrusted me with the care of his only son. Yet apparently the staff thought I was too much of a child to be in charge of myself! I wept bitterly until I fell into a fitful sleep.
In my dreams I walked alone along the pier as the wind whipped at my clothing. I felt icy needles of cold rain pierce my dress, stinging my hands and face. It was dark and I was afraid to be there alone, but didn’t know where else to go. My father was coming home. I was there to meet him.
The shadow of a man detached itself from the darkness moving near me. His face barely showed in the soft, golden glow of a lantern. His features shadowed, he stood next to me. I didn’t notice when he put his arm around my shoulders, nor when he held me closely to him. His arm around my shoulders was warm, steady, comforting. I gazed up into his face, for he towered above me.
Suddenly, the grip on my shoulders became painful. He was holding me so tightly I could hardly draw breath! Turning me to him, his lips searched for mine. Then he was pressing me hard against him, crushing my mouth with his own! His strong hands held me like a vice and wouldn’t let go. I tried to cry out, but he pulled my hair hard, lifting my face to his.
Close to him as I was, I saw him more clearly. He barely looked human at all, but had the face of a beast! His features were contorted with anger and lust. Again, I struggled, trying to scream, but he held me in an unyielding embrace, his mouth hard against mine.
Barely able to breathe, I awoke with a start, gasping sharply. Shaking my head to clear it, I heard the clock in the downstairs hall strike one. I struggled to undress in the dark, still feeling the places where he had held me.
What had prompted such a dream? Was it brought on by Ana’s insinuations? I shook it off the best I could and lay back down in my nightdress. I didn’t sleep much until around dawn, then only fitfully and didn’t dream.
Sunday morning dawned gray and sullen, casting a mood of gloom over the household. We should have been happy to have the family back together. Instead we were muttering to ourselves, listless, unhappy and snappish with each other. The heat was unbearable and the air hung heavy upon us. I heard Cook say to Ana that it was storm weather. We made our way to mass on foot, for the chapel was only a short distance from our house. The congregation seemed oppressed by the weather. Even Father Moses was less energetic. His sermon should have been bold and fiery, instead it was damp and musty as a cellar.
Communion, always a time for celebration for me, was merely a duty to be performed. Father Moses ended mass as quickly as he could without seeming to be unsightly, and we all went home as the first drops of rain began to fall.
By the time we reached the house only minutes later, we were drenched from head to foot! Marcos shivered uncontrollably and Irena looked flushed in the face. A chill permeated the rain. For so hot a day, it was suddenly quite cold.
Blessedly, the hail held off until we were inside, but we prayed our friends and neighbors had made it home or found shelter for the hailstones were as big as musket balls!
As I went upstairs, I heard a commotion on the loggia, then a banging at the door. Ana rushed to the door before I could get back downstairs. There, in a huddled mass, were some of our friends who lived further than we. They were also on foot and the hail had caught them before they reached home.
Ana handed out towels then went to the kitchen to warm some bricks and ask the cook to make tea. Irena, Maria and I bustled around gathering the ladies’ hats and gloves. Marcos collected the gloves and hats of the gentlemen and the maid brought in sheets from the linen cupboard to protect the furniture.
Just as we were sorting ourselves out, there was more pounding at the door. I couldn’t imagine who would have braved such weather. Then Manual, drenched to the skin, hair clinging to his face, burst in!
“The ship!” He managed to gasp. “Your parents’ ship is foundering! They need all able bodied men to come to the wharf immediately. Hurry!”
He left to spread the word. I heard the church bell ringing, calling all men to give aid. The men in the room leapt to their feet. Ana rounded up the servants to help. They gathered stout ropes carrying them to the docks.
Marcos wanted to go help his Mamá, but I insisted he stay home. “A boy of five, though he’s big and strong, can’t go out in this weather! I forbid it. Go to your room, change into a dry nightshirt and get into bed at once.”
“I’m not a baby, Bella! I want to go help Mamá and Papa! I’m strong!”
“Marcos, you would simply get in the way. There is nothing you can do. If you won’t go voluntarily to your room, I shall take you there myself!”
He stuck out his tongue, crossed his arms and plopped on the floor, ready to have a temper tantrum for me. With that, I lifted him, kicking and screaming, into my arms, carried him up to his room and plopped him unceremoniously on the bed. I should have locked the door behind me, but I didn’t have the key. I went down to see to the preparations being made, grabbed my cloak and was ready to run out in the rain when I heard the front door slam.
“Marcos!” I screamed, for I knew it was he. “Marcos! Oh, God, why didn’t I lock his door!?” Dropping my cloak, I ran after him, calling his name.
The rain was so heavy, I soon lost track of him in the storm. I knew he’d be heading to the wharf, so I found my way there as best I could. Once I reached the shore I began to call him. My voice was drowned by the sound of the wind.
“Please,” I begged of the men that I knew. “Will you help me find my brother?”
But all were too busy to listen to a young lady who was too foolish to stay out of the storm. I could see Papa’s ship in the ocean heading toward the wharf, as the waves pounded it on all sides. It looked ready to break apart! I began to pray as I ran looking for my little brother.
“Oh Lord, protect them and help me find my brother!” I repeated over and over as I ran through the crowd, pushing my way in the press of men.
It was then I saw Marcos. He was trying to help deploy ropes. The men on the shore tied off stout hemp lines to the pier and were roping themselves in to wade out into the storm. They formed a life line should the ship break apart. Other men were standing and holding the ropes to bring in the others if they foundered in the waves. No one was watching my brother. They were all too busy with their appointed tasks.
I saw the approaching wave before he did, for he was not looking at the sea. He had turned briefly to implore the men once more to let him help, but none gave him their ear.
“Marcos!” I called, though he couldn’t possibly hear me. “Marcos, behind you!”
The wave moved faster than I could, with all my damp skirts around my legs. I knew I couldn’t reach him and he was going to die. Despite his faults, I realized I dearly loved my little brother. I didn’t want to lose him. I couldn’t even think what his death would do to Papa.
Dellani Oakes has lived in Florida since 1989. During her first visit to St. Augustine, Florida, she fell in love with the city. Her admiration for the early Spanish settlers turned into inspiration for her novel, “Indian Summer”, available from Second Wind Publishing. http://www.secondwindpublishing.com
Although she rejected most of the original draft, certain aspects of the tale remained—for instance, first person POV, as told by the youngest daughter of the Spanish Governor, Gabriella Deza. Years of research went into the background of the story, as well as several trips to St. Augustine to immerse herself in the history and feel of the ancient city.
Dellani is a former A.P. English teacher, editor and newspaper columnist. She is now a substitute teacher, author, and Mary Kay lady. Which means she can instruct classroom full students, correct your grammar and give you makeup and skin care advice, all without breaking a sweat.