Back in their residence in San Agustin, Señor Mercado sat in his sala, perusing the sheaf of letters signed in Doña Consuela’s hand with trembling fingers and unblinking eyes. His daughter, lovely in a pearl gray shawl around her shoulders, sat across from him in a settee, drinking tea in a cup rimmed in gold and hand-painted pink and purple flowers. Serafina turned her eyes to the clock by the mantel, noting luncheon would be ready in fifteen minutes.
The gentleman sank in his seat and dropped the letters to the floor; his eyes darted to his daughter, who warmly smiled over her cup. “A back-handed slap to the cheek! Mi hija, how can you do this?”
“Pray, papa, what have I done?” she said in sweet accents.
“Y-you let yourself be lured to this harridan, t-this crook!”
“La! I believe she gave you a chance to pay your debt without emptying your coffers.”
“By making you marry one of her deplorable sons!”
“Come now, papa. Why, it was only this morning you praised one of these deplorable sons of his neck cloth and yellow daffodil.”
A soft scratch on the door and the announcement of a visitor interrupted the heated words the Señor had in mind, and he told the servant in a cool manner to let the guest in. A stout man entered, dismissed the servant with a curt nod, and sat himself beside Señor Mercado.
“Padre Leandro,” the Señor said with a veiled, subtle frown of his brows. “Such a pleasure to have you seated with us.”
“But it was not a pleasure not to see either of you at church this morning,” he retorted. “I hope you are not contemplating of transferring to another parish.”
“Absurd,” gasped Serafina. “Papa and I would never think of removing ourselves from your parish, padre, especially when you beat anyone suspected of demonic constitutions.”
“Serafina!” admonished her papa.
Serafina put her cup down, nodded her head, and said, “I believe it is time for luncheon.”
“Yes, yes, luncheon! Would you like to partake it with us, padre?”
Luncheon was enjoyed in silence, and when the padre bade his farewells and good days, the father ordered his daughter back to the sala. There was much to discuss, in Señor Mercado’s opinion, of Doña Consuela’s sons and the padre.
For sure he had admired Luciano’s address and Alberto’s quiet, if penetrating, presence, but Señor Mercado thought the two young gentlemen lacked in so many ways and had too many flaws, as what most fathers would think of their daughters’ suitors; and he would not allow Doña Consuela have her way with his child, as what she’d done to him.
“You must think me to be a peagoose, don’t you?” exclaimed his daughter hotly with a bright flush creeping on her cheeks.
Señor Mercado stared at his daughter under half-slit, scrutinizing eyes, and dismissed the question with a quick flourish of his hand. Peagoose, indeed! She was his daughter—bright, lovely, and far from being a peagoose. “Your mama, bless her soul, would not like this.”
“Oh,” Serafina cried, “would she rather let me sit prettily and watch you be carried away to prison for failing to pay what is due to Doña Consuela? No, sir, I shan’t! May I also remind you I need not marry any of her sons?”
“Need not marry?” echoed the Señor in wonder. “She expects you to marry! And may I remind you of your behavior towards Padre Leandro? Has my daughter forgotten her manners?”
“Bah!” she snapped. “The padre is a gudgeon, a mutton-head!
The color on her cheeks heightened, and the young señorita in unchecked frustration threw her hands in the air and screamed all the unholy phrases she could muster. For Papa was as much of a mutton-head as the padre, who made it his hobby to beat little boys in his private quarters in the middle of the night, and, to her shock, even after mass. The image of Alberto came to her mind, and she supposed he had the same reasons for his aversion of church.
Antonio Mercado, realizing he could not argue with his daughter, especially when she had her mother’s temper, nodded his head, and said in resignation, “Very well. But promise me, you will not marry either of them!”
A self-satisfied smile hovered on the lady’s lips, and she assured him, “I could scarcely feel anything towards them other than indifference, Papa.”
The rest of their afternoon they spent packing portmanteaux and bandboxes for their extended stay in Las Biñas. By evening they’d left instructions for the household help and letters to be delivered the next day for the Señor’s shipyard partners and man of business.
The next morning, with their luggage set by the door, the father and daughter waited in their sala for the coach the Doña had promised to arrive. Serafina had just finished a cup of tea when horse hooves drummed and stomped in a hurried beat. Outside the window, she saw, to her astonishment, a handsome man perched on the driver’s seat holding the reins in an easy manner, and, realizing with a blush, that Luciano was the driver.
“Young braggart,” Señor Mercado hotly said behind her.
“He looks elegant, though,” she confessed, a dimple peeping.
The Señor gave his daughter a glacial stare. “Be sure you don’t fall in love with either of them, Serafina,” was the icy retort.
The ride to their summer house in Las Biñas could have been quiet, but the Doña, in an elated, jubilant mood, could not repress her excitement upon learning of Luciano’s cunning. The usually languid young man, whom she’d thought had no real interest on Serafina, made a dashing move at dawn of secretly taking a coach from their stables to pick the lady up from her home in San Agustin. When the servants relayed this to the Doña, she quickly passed the information to her other son over their breakfast table.
Alberto, who listened to this tidbit with a patient look in his eyes, said in a steely note, “Just so, Mama.”
The Doña wondered of this reply for a moment before the image of white laces and red roses sprang to her mind. She had no doubt that by the end of the month she’d be preparing for a wedding.