The element itself till seven years heat
Shall not behold her face at ample view,
But like a cloistress she will veiled walk
And water once a day her chamber round
With eye-offending brine - all this to season
...dead love, which we would keep fresh
And lasting in her sad remembrance.
Twelfth Night, Act 1 Scene 1
Ma querida Theresa,
I was disappointed in your previous letter, which was more melancholic than I had hoped. You really must try to rouse yourself a little, dearest. You surely have no cause for gloom, living in C ádiz as you do, with society at the snap of your fingers and the theatres and salons only a brief carriage-ride away! Granted, we were all very sorry about Sebastien – he was a cheerful fellow, and a most attentive and adoring husband. But you must look to the future – and certainly not hide yourself from the world, dear! Particularly now. A new husband will not come knocking of his own accord. One has to seek them out. Unless, of course, you do find you prefer religion after all? That would solve a great many difficulties, if it weren’t for -
My dear, I am quite forgetting why I was writing to you. I have an invitation. I told Pedro about the little difficulties of your reduced circumstances on your widow’s pension, and like the dear man he is, he at once offered a place for you here with us! Is this not generosity? Not to mention, your little contributions will be ever such a help to the housekeeping (I need not disguise from you, dearest, that since that unpleasant business with the sugarcane harvest, our finances have been a little straitened. So much so, that I am afraid I could not prevail upon Pedro for more than half of your passage.)
But all will be right once you are here! You can be quite the little lady’s maid, as I remember from our younger days in Madrid - and the dressing-woman I had here is so dreadfully stupid, and does not speak a word of Spanish. She does it to spite me, I am sure. I shall be very glad to let her go once you are here.
P.S: By the way – before you leave C ádiz, you must make sure to pack the latest ladies journals. French dress is all the rage now – and we see so little of the fashionable world here in Saint-Martin! I am determined to be quite the fashionable woman amongst the planter’s ladies - with your help, of course.
Your loving sister,
And that, Theresa reflected drearily, appeared to be that, as far as her elder sister was concerned. The end. Finito.
It was what people did, of course, when the crunch came. When the money ran out, or you spent what you didn’t have. People took what they had and ran to the West Indies, where you could live cheaply, quietly and below the attention of the law - if there was something worse in your past. There were more than a few gallant cavaliers of Spain who had tactfully... emigrated, after being found with the wrong man’s wife, or found his creditors no longer willing to wait. That was why Luisa-Cristina and her puffed-up pigeon of a husband had gone to lie low in Saint-Martin, after some hare-brained investment of Pedro’s had gone wrong. The Cádiz debtors could whistle for their money as much as they liked, but there wasn’t a gaol that could hold defaulters a thousand miles distant.
Musing, she traced the hurried scrawl of her sister’s signature with a fingertip, scarcely aware of what she did. In the dull silvered shaving mirror on Sebastien’s desk – no, her desk, now – she caught sight of her own dim profile and started a little, still unused to the outline of her mourning cap.
A pale-faced ghost stared back at her from beneath the black gauze veil, grey eyes glittering. Sweet Jesu, Theresa thought, peering at her reflection. Do I really look like that now?
It reminded her of Sister Annunciata’s tales back at Sacré-Coeur in Marseilles of the Dame en Noir. The Dark Lady, who supposedly walked the convent cloister, sadly rattling her chains and creeping up on bad little girls who stayed awake too long.
Theresa had enjoyed that story as a child. It had been the sort to make your flesh creep, but in a safe, comforting way; when you knew the candle was only an arms length away, and you were safe in bed, and the boggarts under the bed were just...stories.
Everything was so much simpler when all you had to fear were the monsters that lived in the cracks of your imagination. Once you grew up, the monsters became much more prosaic, and far more terrifying. Loneliness. Poverty. Hunger. Humiliation.
Still. Luisa-Cristina put it ...bluntly in her letter, but it was true. There was always a convent.
Theresa had considered it. It was a quiet, tidy way to live for a widowed lady, and living with the nuns would be like going back to school at Sacré-Coeur again. She would be retreating back into the solemn whitewashed cloisters of her childhood. And it was respectable. Many widows, rich and poor alike, took the veil in earnest, either as a nun or a lay sister: spending the rest of their lives praying for their husbands, but...
There were always the others.
Theresa thought with a stab of dismay of the retired lay sisters she often saw in church – a row of sanctimonious wrinkled faces shuffled along the walls of every cathedral and church she had ever visited. All drab severity; pretending penance whilst jealously jogging elbows for a better place in church, sniffing derisively at the beggars on the cathedral steps whilst swinging carved gold and ivory rosaries…
Her jaw hardened. No. Never the convent.
It was as good as admitting her married life was a failure, or a mistake. As though Sebastien was something she regretted.
Theresa glanced down at the painted miniature she wore on a ribbon about her neck. Sebastien’s kindly blue eyes looked back at her, gently, as always, the soft sheen of his fair hair gleaming in the evening sunlight.
No. She would never regret Sebastien.
But there was no money to stay here in Spain. The government pension she received was scarcely enough to keep body and soul together. The Condé de Barrós had also made it politely, but firmly, clear that any connection she had to his family had died with his nephew.
If Sebastien wandered back from his grave – the way Theresa’s niñera had assured her the dead did, every night - he wouldn’t recognize his little wife. He’d wonder who that sad-faced crow was with the paper-white face and reddened eyes, and fly away on the back of the wind, never to be seen again.
And Cádiz had become unbearable simply from the memories the place held. The streets where they’d walked. The places they’d visited. The gardens where they had laughed, and loved, and dreamed of all the places they would see together...
She couldn’t even look at the church where they had been married, much less pray there. All her prayers seemed to have crumbled away.
So, Theresa thought, sitting up straighter. The convent – no. Cádiz – no.
This left, at the last, Luisa-Cristina’s vision of her future. She would be an unpaid lady’s companion, suffered to remain solely for the sake of the limited little widow’s government pension she received for Sebastien’s civil service work. She would sit with her elder sister, listen dutifully to her chatter, be her waiting-maid, and generally act as a piece of social furniture, to be wheeled out and exhibited as an example of Don Pedro Alvarez’s Christian charity…
She would have laughed at the idea once. But now...
Well, why not? She thought, dully. Maybe the Holy Virgin would be kind, and wash her overboard on the crossing. She could join Sebastien, floating fathoms deep in his sacking shroud in the Atlantic...
Had he even had a shroud? She found herself wondering, with a sick fascination. What did they do on quarantined ships, when disease broke out and men died like flies? Did they even have the time to read a prayer over the dead? Or did they just tumble him over the side like a broken doll for the eels and the sea-carrion to pick at-
No. Stop it. Don’t think about that. Think about the way he used to smile at you. Think of the good things – the picnics in the hills, the supper-party where you first met – the things he’ll say to you when you see him again…
She looked down again at the miniature about her neck and clasped it in both hands, willing Sebastien’s face into her mind.
‘Tell me what to do, my love,’ she breathed. ‘Please. Tell me where to go...’
‘Seńora de Barrós?’ Jacinta’s voice came suspiciously from outside the door. ‘Is that you?’
‘Who else would it be, Jacinta?’ Theresa said wearily. ‘Come in.’
Seńora Jacinta was a small, vigorous-looking Catalan woman who had escaped the usual fate of emptying crab-buckets and mending fishing-nets on the quayside in Cádiz as maid-of-all-work for the Widow de Barrós. She was fifty-three, stout as a pepper-pot, and, in her own words, “too old to put up with nonsense.” Theresa paid her so much a week for cooking and cleaning. In return, Jacinta scrubbed floors as though they had done her a mortal injury, scolded the little ragged street urchins who dodged about the street outside their lodgings, and generally treated Theresa like a vaguely wilful child - who for some reason held the purse-strings.
Theresa wouldn’t have traded her in for a thousand well-bred Parisian lady’s maids. They understood each other too well.
Jacinta crossed her arms accusingly as she crossed the threshold of the study to find at the desk.
‘Oh. Moping again. I see.’ She said, bluntly. ’Just as well I left market early, eh?’
‘I wasn’t moping.’ Theresa rubbed a hand across her forehead, trying to shift the sick headache that was throbbing in her temples. ‘I was thinking. Luisa’s reply arrived today.’
‘Oh?’ Jacinta’s greying eyebrows rose a fraction. ‘What does she say?’
‘Offered me a home on Saint-Martin with her.’ Theresa picked up the oilskin packet and handed it across to her. ‘With money for the journey, too.’
Jacinta whistled, weighing the pouch in her hand. ‘So she wants you there?’
‘Wants me? No. She and Pedro want Sebastien’s pension there.’ Theresa shrugged. ‘She’s prepared to tolerate me if I come with it.’
Jacinta unloosened the purse strings and peered critically into the bag. Her mouth turned down at the corners. ‘Not much silver there. Stingy. That’s a bad sign. Still...’ she shrugged. ‘The West Indies, eh? Not a bad place to start over when you go.’
‘If I decide to go,’ Theresa corrected sharply, rocking the worn out chair back and forth. She had huddled into the folds of the white fichu folded across the bosom of her gown, hands clutching the black silk ribbon around her neck. ‘I’m still thinking, aren’t I? There’s still the convent...’
‘Oh, so you want to bury yourself alive in a convent now? After all you said about it yesterday?’ Jacinta put her hands on her hips. ‘Mother of God, give me patience! So you want to be a withered old crow like the hags on the cathedral steps?’
‘You know I don’t.’ Theresa’s slender, long-boned hands fidgeted again with the ribbon, clasping her husband’s portrait close. ‘But... to leave, so soon after...’
Aha, Jacinta thought. So that’s it, is it? No wonder she looks as sad as Ash Wednesday.
‘Niña,’ she said, as gently as she could, ‘Your Sebastien... he isn’t here. You understand? That fine marble tablet the Condé put up to Don Sebastien is just a stone. ‘
Theresa’s dark head drooped a little lower over her hands. Jacinta couldn’t read her expression behind the widow’s veil. ‘It’s not just –‘
‘It is. It’s nothing. A piece of rock. No coffin, no tomb. Nothing. And even if he were there...’ Jacinta hesitated, before carrying on. ‘You carry the best parts of your husband with you, Señora. You understand? In your heart, and in your head. You don’t have to leave him behind. You pack him up close, here –‘ she made a fist, and held it to her chest like a salute. ‘And then you can look at the world and spit in its eye, because you already have what’s important.’
Theresa looked up at that – and at the determinedly cheerful note in Jacinta’s voice. The false briskness hid a note of emotion she hadn’t heard in her quickfire chiding before now.
‘I never heard you talk like that before-’
‘You didn’t need it before, that’s why.’ Jacinta said shortly, going over to the clothes press in the corner. She picked up Theresa’s light summer cloak and held it out. ‘You’ve been cooped up in your husbands’ study, moping over his portrait all day. That’s enough to make anyone think slow. What you need is fresh air.’ She picked up Theresa’s light summer cloak from the peg on the wall and held it out. ‘Go for a walk, Señora. Think. In the sunlight, not locked up in here. You’ll have your answer before you return.’
You think? Theresa thought bitterly – but it was a petty thought, one she kept to herself. She shrugged herself into the cloak, before looking out through the wrought iron latticework at the endless blue sky above. Jacinta was right, it was a beautiful evening. She could hear the gulls crying as they wheeled over the harbour, a ships bell chiming gently somewhere in port...
Unbidden, a fresh thought came to her.
‘You know, I think you’re right,’ she said thoughtfully. ‘I’ll find my answer.’
‘Oh yes?’ Jacinta looked at her, oddly. A faint suspicion had crossed her mind that Señora de Barrós had just decided to throw herself in the Bay of Cádiz – but no. Doña Theresa might be wilful, but she wasn’t a fool.
‘Don’t fuss. I’ll be back before it even has time to get dark, I swear it…’ Theresa gently put her aside and headed towards the door. ‘I need to pray.’
‘Oh, as though you don’t do that enough!’ Jacinta called out sourly after her.
The Virgin of the Seas was not a popular place of worship, like the cathedral. It was a small tumbledown old church tucked into a shadowed side-street, far away from the busy thoroughfare or the fashionable places of resort – because the church of the Virgen del Carmen was anything but fashionable.
The flaking plaster showed the cracked brick front; the single, weary-looking priest who performed Mass always looked exhausted. The altar-boys were ragged little urchins with rags wrapped about their feet, dusting grimy hands off surreptitiously on their robes. And occasionally, if you weren’t careful, the prayer-cushions would leak sawdust and mouse-droppings.
It was, as the Condé de Barrós would have disdainfully remarked, a “peasant” church, for the fishermen and sailors. Theresa believed she was the only gentlewoman in Cádiz who actually frequented it – or who had a memorial to a loved one there.
But then she loved the place with a wistful nostalgia she couldn’t suppress.
When she was very small – before schooling and courtship and… everything else, her mother used to bring her to the Virgen del Carmen when her father rode out to the shipyards for new commissions for his workshops. The oh-so-familiar smell of accumulated incense here was a way back to the past she could follow, just like the smell of fresh wood shavings on her father’s coat when he came back from his workshops, eyes alight with the gleam of a thousand plans.
Later, after she had returned from Marseilles as Senora de Barrós rather than ‘little Zaza’, she had come here to pray for Sebastien when he first went to sea…
And now she had come here to say goodbye...again.
She wandered over to the carved stone tablet set in the wall, raising one hand to gently touch the carved edge of the memorial. For one moment she pressed her forehead to the cold marble, trying to see if she could feel some answering response from… somewhere. Her mind. Her heart. The places in tales where love lived.
Sacred to the memory of Sebastian Diego de B arrós, died of fever aged 28 years, upon the 22nd day of August 1749.
‘Hello, my love,’ she said quietly. ‘No need to tell you why I’m here. You know already. But… I need you to help me. Help me decide,’ she whispered into the silence. ‘Please?’
She half opened her eyes, peering under her eyelashes up at the altar just in case the great wooden statue set in its niche had miraculously raised its head to say, smilingly, Look, Theresa, here is your answer!
Hum, Theresa thought wryly to herself. Life didn’t work like her niñera’s stories of miracles and magic and lovers vows. She shouldn’t expect it by now. But that didn’t stop her dreams.
She shut her eyes.
Where Theresa’s father Señor Baltasar (who now rested quietly in his own country churchyard up north) had carved out his dreams in fine Spanish oak, Theresa now carved with different tools.
Her mind took the tales her niñera had told her, combined with the thousand scraps of fable and legend she had picked up in the convent, and sketched out dreams for herself with the same loving attention to detail.
Every moment in her visions of impossible reunion had been honed and polished into an impossible perfection.The living Don Sebastien would have been very puzzled to make out a case for himself as the glorious figure she had created in her mind.
But there he was in her head, her lost husband- beautiful as an angel with his fair hair shining like burnt gold loose on his shoulders, rising through a background of soft, heavenly blue to say… to say…
‘Alms, Señora?’ A lean hand shot out, pulling imploringly at Theresa’s skirts. Theresa froze, jolted from her dreams. She turned, half-annoyed to have been dislodged from her imaginary cloud... to see a ragged beggar woman, crouching in supplication on the stone flagstones outside her pew. ‘Alms?’
Her Spanish was…strange. Granted, Cádiz was a port town and you encountered all manner of foreigners there; you had everything from Moors to Englishmen – but Theresa couldn’t place the woman’s accent . It was lilting, and oddly unfamiliar to her.
‘Chut!’ One of the women in the front pew had turned round and seen the beggar woman. She rose up, all indignant outrage. ‘Nasty thing, begging inside the church! Get out on the steps where you belong! My apologies, Señora. She knows she shouldn’t be here –Go on with you! Out!’ She grabbed a broom leaning against the wall and made a couple of swipes with it. The bundle of rags let out a savage hiss and scuttled backwards, out of range
Theresa thought, with a pang about the sour faces of the widowed lay sisters and put out a restraining hand.
‘Stop! There’s no need for that. Leave her alone. She’s done me no harm.’
‘But my lady! Letting a nasty thing like that in –‘
‘Oh, you think beating a poor woman in front of the altar makes you virtuous?’ Theresa pointed to the statue. ‘I would like to hear how you explain that to your confessor. Let her be.’
The women subsided, muttering, as Theresa opened her reticule and drew the beggar woman aside, to the shelter of the church steps. She took out a few silver coins. ‘I apologise, Señora. Here. Take this.’
The beggar woman’s tanned brown hand flashed out from her ragged cloak, closing over the coins with lightning speed. Theresa had thought she was old, at first – but the hand was that of a young woman, no cracks or wrinkles or the bulging veins of age. And there were marking – strange, red markings, winding around her wrist and up her forearm…
‘Silver and kindness, lady?’ Dark eyes stared out at Theresa from behind the rotten wrappings she held swathed close about her face. ‘Those are rare gifts both, unbidden.’
To Theresa’s mounting unease, the beggar woman kept her eyes fixed on Theresa’s face, unblinking, like a cat watching its prey. She blinked, as though she had seen something she could scarcely believe. Her hand shot out again to grip Theresa’s wrist, overlong nails digging into Theresa’s skin.
‘Like for like, lady. ’ she said, her gaze sharpening. ‘Let Shansa read your fate -‘
‘Fate?’ Theresa attempted to pull away, alarmed. Fortune-telling had been harmless in Marseilles. Here, it was a dangerous profession, especially in the face of the Inquisition. However harmless it was, it smelt like sorcery to the church fathers. And this peculiar woman was doing it here, on the church steps. She tried to laugh. ‘I need no fortune-telling hopes, Señora. And I did not give you alms for fortunes-’
She attempted to pull away, shrugging off the woman’s hand. But Shansa shrugged, her grip tightening easily. ‘True. There’s a dead man in your past. I see him.’
Theresa froze – before she looked down at her black dress and her eyes hardened. For a moment there, she had nearly been fooled. She scoffed, openly.
‘You don’t need to pretend to tell that much...’
Shansa’s intent stare glazed over for a moment as she stared into Theresa’s face – but she also strangely seemed to look beyond it; as though she could read something else there. ‘You came here to make a choice, Señora. Your choice is already made. Have faith. The sea gives back what it takes away, one way or the other.’
For a moment, Theresa’s vision blurred. For a tantalizing instant, she saw Sebastien, smiling beatifically at her with the sunlight reflected in his hair…
She stopped doubting.
‘What did you say?’ she clutched at the woman’s arm in her turn. ‘Do you mean Sebastien? Have – have you seen him? In my future?’
‘The sea gives back what it takes.’ Shansa looked at her, strangely, from within the rotten cloth wrappings that covered her head – a mixture of remote pity and strangely unfocused interest.
The ragged veil slipped back from the beggar woman’s face, and to Theresa’s shock, she saw the woman’s head was shaved, her face and scalp marked with the same unending whorls of patterns many times repeated. A strange scarlet circle, edged with gold was burnt into her forehead like a brand.
Theresa shrank back, her common sense fighting her desperate need to believe.
This wasn’t true. The woman was mad, a dreamer who fancied herself a witch, - and perhaps dangerous, should some over-zealous observer see her. She should throw the woman off, flee back inside the church and pray...
‘I know what I see.’ Shansa said fiercely, as though guessing Theresa’s thoughts. Her nails dug in harder, drawing bloody crescents on Theresa’s forearm as her grip tightened. She sucked in a sharp breath, as though she was in pain. ‘Blood can’t lie. Yes, I see him. The dead man in your past - but the dead, oh... the dead lie in your future now, Señora. There is one who advances eagerly towards you on that sea you hesitate to cross...’
She released Theresa’s wrist almost thoughtfully. ‘Hmm. Interesting.’
‘What?’ Theresa’s thoughts were a whirl. She half wanted to sneer – what, a tall dark stranger, from across the seas? How original. But she couldn’t summon the energy for scorn to hide how shaken she actually was. The woman’s words had cut too close to the truth.
Theresa was hooked, like a worm. She needed to know more. The strange beggar woman Shansa had now drifted almost dreamily away from the church steps, turning down towards a narrow side-alley.
‘Wait!’ Theresa scurried after her. ‘Senora – please, I beg you! What about Sebastien? How will the sea give him back to me? How?’
The beggar woman shrugged, drawing her hood back over her head. ‘Take what you have with you, Señora, in your heart and in your hand. But be careful. Sometimes what you carry is not you expect...’
She trailed off, and vanished into the side-alley.
‘What? That doesn’t make – wait, how did you know what Jacinta –‘
Theresa trailed off.
The side alley was empty.
It shouldn’t have been. It was a narrow muddy track, more a neglected gap between buildings than any true street. There wasn’t room for a rat to hide. But there was no trace of the woman – not even a footprint in the dust.
The peasant women from inside the church had wandered out to the front steps, and were eyeing her with evident smug satisfaction at her shock and dismay.
‘Told you so, Señora.’ the one with the broom said tartly. ‘That heretic beggar woman is nothing but trouble.’ She spat on the ground.
‘She was some escaped slave from the islands, wasn’t she?’ the other woman said darkly. ‘Probably worships her old gods.’
‘Careful, Señora, she has probably given you the evil eye in thanks for your silver!’
They both burst into shrill, unfeeling laughter.
Theresa sniffed, trying to draw herself up to hide the churning confusion and dismay in her face.
They were probably right to laugh at her; she scolded herself as she took the road home. The beggar woman had probably been just some lunatic, babbling meaningless nonsense and scrabbling for what she could get. There was no truth in –
In any of it? A sly voice whispered inside her head. How did she know Sebastien died at sea? You never told her that. No-one could have told her that. It says ‘fever’ on his tomb.
Servants talk, don’t they? She could have found out –
Jacinta doesn’t gossip. And the beggar woman knew things – things she couldn’t possibly have found out. Besides, the voice asked, a little cruelly, Who cares enough about you and your affairs to gossip in Cádiz?
But the words rattled around persistently in her head, however much she tried to dislodge them. “The sea gives back what it takes…”
Her hands clutched convulsively at the ribbon of Sebastien’s miniature again, trying to think how it could be possible.
‘Oh. You’re back! So soon?’ Jacinta turned round at hearing Theresa’s step in the kitchen. ‘Well then. I hope the walk did you good?’
‘I… don’t know,’ Theresa said slowly. ‘I’m not sure. But… I think I have my answer now. About what I should do.’
‘You have?’ Jacinta’s eyes flicked upwards. The Señora had put her widow’s veil back, so she could read her mistress’ expression for once. Theresa did have a little more colour in her cheeks, that was true enough. She looked oddly... resolute. There was an unwavering determination that hadn’t been there before.
‘I shall join S-I mean, I shall go to Luisa-Cristina. In Saint Martin.’
Theresa could have bitten out her tongue in alarm. She had nearly, whirling as she was between scepticism and desperation, said “Sebastien” rather than her sisters name.
Instant relief spread over Jacinta’s face. She beamed, widely. ‘There’s my Doña Theresa!’ she said delightedly. ‘I knew you’d come to your senses at last! You’re young yet – there will be good things after this, you’ll see -
‘Yes...’ Theresa said obediently. She avoided Jacinta’s gaze, just in case she could see the conflict bubbling there. ‘Of course. That’s what I thought.’
No. It wasn’t. But the beggar-woman's prophecy couldn’t be wrong! It was too personal, too direct – an appeal that seemed to go straight to the centre of her dilemma. It couldn’t be just chance, or coincidence, as Jacinta would no doubt reason out if she told her…
Jacinta… Jacinta would ridicule it. Jacinta would laugh, and stare, and scold, and call her “childish-foolish” for believing such a tale as that.
I’m a cunning madwoman then. I keep my madness to myself.
But I don’t care what Jacinta would think, Theresa thought defiantly. It’s my chance to try for happiness again. Who wouldn’t jump at that? Even if I’m wrong and it was all nonsense, even if it is just Luisa-Cristina and Saint-Martin and boredom for the rest of my life…
At least I chose something new. Something different. I didn’t just go back to the convent. I went forward.
‘… and I’ve packed your things.’ Jacinta said, smiling slyly. ‘Ready for you.’
Theresa blinked, taken aback for a moment. Jacinta, she had quickly discovered, sometimes knew her better than she knew herself.
‘You sly thing!’ She aimed a playful smack at Jacinta’s shoulder. ‘What if I’d decided I was joining the sisters?’
‘You wouldn’t.’ Jacinta said decisively. ‘Too much sense in you to be a saint, Señora. And you’re too stubborn. Heaven and the sisters wouldn’t stand for it.’
Her smile was suddenly a little watery. ‘Though Lord knows I will miss working for you, Señora. You’ve been a good mistress, even if you are childish-foolish about some things …’
‘Childish-foolish?’ Theresa said, smiling inwardly. She hadn’t quite been able to avoid the accusation, after all.
‘As a baby,’ Jacinta retorted, shaking her head, as though to dislodge the excess water in her eyes. ‘But there! You’re young. Time cures that.’ She straightened up, smiling. ‘Now. How about something to eat? There’s still some wine left. We can drink to your Luisa-Cristina and her home on Saint-Martin.’
Theresa had been careful to tug down her sleeve to hide the raw marks of the beggar-woman’s nails on her forearm. It wasn’t only to evade Jacinta’s inescapable common sense over the black bread and vegetable stew that served as supper; it helped to pretend her decision was sensible. A rational choice she had made of her own accord, rather than a reckless jump into the unknown.
Besides, Theresa reflected, as she took up her candle to bed, the odd encounter already seemed vaguely dream-like. Perhaps she had just nodded off into an uneasy sleep in the church pew, after all? Maybe it had all been some fantasy inspired by her niñera’s tales, mingled with her uncertainty and grief…
Gingerly, she lifted up her cuff to snatch a glimpse of her arm.
She was almost afraid they wouldn’t be there.
But the marks still showed. They were red, angry-looking crescent moon shaped dints now. She had better be careful to bathe them, just in case of infection. God alone knew what midden the beggar-woman had likely been picking through for scraps…
But…it did happen, after all. Theresa couldn’t suppress a queasy jolt of... anticipation. Yes, it was foolish and stupid, and Heaven knew how reckless a chance to stake her future on– but there it was. She couldn’t gainsay it.
But how is the sea going to give Sebastien back to me?
Thoughtful, she blew out the candle, to better dwell on the question in the dark.