To Follow the West Wind - Part One: Santa Elena Welcomes You
"I assure you, Senorita Alvarado, that is a scientific impossibility."
"Truly, Dr. Helm? I must say I am relieved! I can always count on you to make sense of all these confusing matters."
"I'm always happy to be of service, Senorita," he replied, laughter colouring his voice.
"I honestly don't know what I'd do without you, Doctor!" she replied, slightly breathless.
"Oh, I'm sure you would do quite well."
The two walked side by side down the dusty street towards Dr. Robert Helm's surgery in the small Alta California pueblo of Santa Elena. The doctor, a transplant from England, was tall and lean, his hazel green eyes framed by long dark lashes and the crinkle of fine laugh lines. His companion, Dona Maria Teresa Alvarado, 'Tessa' to her familiars, was tall for a woman, with the lines of a young doe, and eyes just as brown. Her long dark chestnut hair hung loose down her back, kept away from her face with fine Spanish combs.
It was March, and the mid-morning sun had yet to take the bite from the early spring chill that seeped up from the coast. Tessa pulled her heavy shawl a little tighter across her chest, glancing up at the doctor with a look that belied far more intelligence than her companion would have given her credit for.
"You're far too modest, Doctor," she remonstrated gently.
Helm laughed outright. "I'm sure I am not, Senorita!"
"Very well! It's far too beautiful a morning to argue, don't you think?" Before he could respond, she asked, "You will be attending the fiesta tomorrow, won't you?"
Glancing down at her, he replied, "I wouldn't miss it."
"Then I look forward to dancing with you at the fandango," she said with more than a touch of satisfaction. Catching sight of something ahead, she tilted her head in curiosity. "You seem to have a visitor, Doctor Helm."
"A visitor?" His eyes sought out his adobe, coming to rest on a figure in black, sitting on a trunk by his office door. He quickened his pace, the look of confusion on his face replaced by the shock of recognition as he drew closer. "Excuse me, Senorita," he muttered absently as he practically ran the last few steps.
"Isabelle?" he asked almost to himself, then louder, "Isabelle?"
The figure in black looked up at the sound of his voice, a smile lighting her face. "Robbie?" She stood, looking as if she didn't quite believe what she was seeing. "Robbie!" she shrieked, as Helm enveloped her in his arms, lifting her off her feet and swinging her around.
Forgotten in the joyous reunion, Tessa looked on, an expression of pain flitting across her eyes.
Gently, he set the woman on her feet, looking down into eyes that matched his. "My God, Isabelle, is it really you?"
The woman blinked back tears, taking a steadying breath. "It really is."
Even dressed head to toe in black, she was a striking young woman. Shorter than Tessa, with a dancer's build, her face was framed by softly waved russet hair, tucked up under a black lace trimmed bonnet.
Helm reached out, brushing her fair cheek with his fingertips, momentarily speechless.
"You are very popular, aren't you Doctor?" Tessa interrupted the tableau , reminding him of her presence. "An old friend?"
Helm shook his head. 'Yes, no, I mean…" Laughing, he took Isabelle's hand, turning his attention to Tessa "Senorita Alvarado, may I introduce you to my sister, Isabelle Helm."
"Sister?" Tessa replied a note of relief in her voice. Relief that Helm didn't notice, but his sister did.
"And Isabelle, allow me to introduce Senorita Maria Teresa Alvarado."
The two women nodded in acknowledgement. "A pleasure," they murmured.
Helm seemed to still be lost in the unexpected arrival of his sister, so Tessa decided to step in. "It's a cold morning, Doctor, and it would appear Senorita Helm has been outside for some time awaiting your arrival."
"What? Oh, yes, you're absolutely correct. Isabelle, how long have you been here?"
"A few hours. Captain Molera kindly brought me into town when it became obvious you hadn't received the letter informing you of my arrival." She looked at Tessa thankfully. "I am somewhat chilled and would welcome a cup of tea."
"Of course! Senorita Alvarado, if you'd excuse us?"
"It was a pleasure meeting you, Senorita Helm," Tessa said.
"Likewise," Isabelle responded before her brother ushered her into his office.
"You're going to love this, Colonel!" The man was practically crowing as he entered his commanding officer's office.
"You'll forgive me if I restrain my excitement till I actually know what you're babbling about, Capitán Grisham," was the acid reply.
The younger man didn't seem at all put out by his superior's response. If anything, his smile grew wider. "No, really!"
Colonel Luis Ramirez Montoya leaned back in his ornately carved chair, his piercing steel blue eyes raking his subordinate. "Very well. What precisely has you in such a state of excitement?"
Tall and compactly muscled, Marcus Grisham, formerly of the United States Army, now Captain of the Guard in the service of his Majesty the King of Spain, tossed an open log book down on the desk in front of his colonel. He slouched negligently, one hand on his hip as he waited for Montoya's reaction.
"And this would be?"
"The passenger manifest from the Perla de la Noche . She made port early this morning."
"I'm aware of that, Capitán! But what exactly is it that you believe is worth my notice?"
Luis Montoya was a slender though imposing man, with an aristocratic bearing. His dark shoulder length hair was swept back and tied in place with a leather cord. He had little patience for fools, and this morning, his Capitán was trying what little he had.
Grisham sighed in exasperation. Montoya was always such a killjoy. "Sir, look at the 'H's'," he instructed.
Quirking a brow, Montoya glanced down, scanning the log. The look of impatience was soon replaced by one of anticipation. "Well now, isn't this an interesting development?" He rubbed thumb and forefinger together, a thoughtful expression on his face.
"I thought so," Grisham said smugly. "Who knew Helm had a wife? The dog!"
"Wife? No, no, much better than that, Grisham. Isabelle Helm is the good doctor's young sister."
"You don't say?" Grisham dropped into the chair in front of Montoya's desk, his long legs extended.
"I do indeed! Though, I admit, I am puzzled. She was supposed to have been married this summer past. Yet here she is, sans husband."
"You seem to be remarkably well informed," Grisham observed, his lips quirking in a lopsided grin.
Montoya turned his full attention to his subordinate, a self-satisfied look passing across his eyes. "The young lady has had occasion to write to her brother since his arrival last year in our humble pueblo."
"I see." Grisham smirked.
"I'm sure you do, Capitán." Montoya smiled a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Fate seems to have been kind to us once more, Grisham," he declared. "I'm sure Doctor Helm will be much more amenable now he has his sister to look out for, don't you?"
"Oh, absolutely, Colonel." The anticipation in his voice was palpable. "Absolutely."
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.