Welcome to the Glassblower’s Daughter, my Christmas story for 2022. As with all my short stories, it’s free and available to share as much as you like.
Just a minor warning with this story. Because it follows on directly from the events of my latest Manxman book, This Bloody Shore, my regular readers may want to finish the book before reading this. The story stands in its own right, but there will be one or two spoilers.
I wrote this story during a recent holiday to Mallorca. We stayed near the little town of Alcudia and my husband and our four friends spent the week cycling. I’m not a cyclist so I planned a few excursions then settled down to do some editing on This Bloody Shore while sitting outside the pool bar.
As far as I was aware, I wasn’t likely to find much Napoleonic history in Mallorca. The Royal Navy had a base on neighbouring Menorca and their presence in these waters kept the French away, so Mallorca was never invaded. However, I couldn’t resist doing a bit of digging around to see if they at least sent troops to the Spanish army.
The first thing I discovered was that Mallorca was indeed invaded in 1811, not by the French but by a small army of desperate refugees from the French storming of Tarragona. I was delighted to find such an immediate link to the end of my latest book and it gave me an opportunity to follow up on two characters from This Bloody Shore.
I spent a lovely week in Mallorca. There was indeed a Mallorcan regiment which went on to fight at Vitoria. There’s a wonderful and historic glassmaking factory and I discovered the story of the Xueta, the descendants of a group of Jewish families persecuted by the inquisition who had still not had their rights restored at the time of this story. I’ve woven these elements into this tale. I hope you enjoy it.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers. It’s been a great year for me, with two books out and I feel as though I’m back on track again. I’m now researching book eight of the Peninsular War Saga. It’s called An Unattainable Stronghold and is set around the 1813 siege of San Sebastian.
The Glassblower’s Daughter
Mallorca, November 1811
It had rained all morning with typical Mallorcan ferocity. Drill and training were cancelled and the one hundred and fifty men of the 13th Mallorcan infantry currently on the island huddled within the leaky wooden farm building they were using as barracks: playing cards, smoking or watching the spectacular display of lightning over the mountains.
Captain Don Bruno Ángel Cortez was glad of the respite, although he would not have admitted it to his ill-assorted collection of non-commissioned officers and men. Since being appointed to the temporary command of two companies of new recruits, he had taken care never to allow them to see any kind of emotion in him other than anger. Ángel had been raised within the rigid structure of an aristocratic, although impoverished Spanish family and had been taught that emotion was a sign of weakness.
Ángel was sometimes envious of his junior officer who seemed to have no such qualms. Captain Don Óscar García, recently promoted after the bloody storming of Tarragona, was from the same social class as Ángel. He had even more reason to take pride in his lineage, as his father was a nobleman and a member of the Cortes of Cadiz, the council which governed Spain in the absence of the Royal family, who had fled the invading troops of Bonaparte. García might have had a comfortable and safe administrative posting in Cadiz but instead he had accepted a post as ADC to General Contreras during his command of Tarragona. Ángel, ten years his senior and a veteran of both Bonapartist and Spanish armies had initially been rather contemptuous of García’s youth and inexperience. The siege and its bloody aftermath had changed that. Óscar García was an intelligent and courageous soldier and the first real friend Ángel had ever had. He was trying hard to hide how much that meant to him.
Ángel was eating breakfast and staring out of the window at the rain when García joined him. News of his promotion had arrived with a consignment of supplies including new uniforms. Ángel liked the red facings of the Mallorcan regiment although he thought it suited García’s dark colouring better than his own fair hair. During their long convalescence recovering from wounds received at Tarragona, García had cut his curly hair short and it made him look older. He set his hat down on a side table, seated himself opposite Ángel and reached for the coffee pot.
“It’s almost empty,” Ángel said.
García grinned. “Nothing else to do this morning, sir?”
“At least it’s not brandy. I’ll ring for some more.”
“No need, I’ll go…”
García was halfway to his feet when the door opened and a young woman entered the room with brisk steps. She bore a fresh jug of coffee in one hand and a basket of bread in the other. The jug was made from local pottery and looked heavy but the woman set it down on the table without effort. García remained on his feet, bowing to the woman. Ángel got up reluctantly to do the same. His junior tended to treat females with what Ángel considered exaggerated courtesy, regardless of their social position. He had even seen García helping the laundry maid when she was bowed down under a heavy load of wet sheets and towels.
The social status of Señorita Raquel Segura confused Ángel. She was the only daughter of his host who was a prosperous glassmaker. Señor Juan Segura was a master glassblower and the owner of a large factory on the edge of Palma which shipped luxury glassware all over the world, although trade these days was limited by the exigencies of war. He also ran a shop in the narrow streets of Palma and ten years ago had purchased a seventeenth century palace within the city walls.
The Casa Segura was the most comfortable billet Ángel had occupied in his fifteen years as a soldier. The entrance was modest, but the interior was a haven of cool rooms, sunny courtyards and terraces and polished wooden floors. Segura was a generous host and his wife, a stately woman of around fifty, treated the two officers as honoured guests. Ángel knew that his attitude to her daughter was churlish but there was something about Raquel Segura that made him deeply uncomfortable. For the first few weeks of their stay he had tried hard to convey without actually saying so how much he disapproved of her friendly manners and forthright speech. More than four months later he had given up because he did not think she had noticed.
García was holding out a chair. “Please, sit. You should not be waiting on us. Have some coffee.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Raquel sat down with a pleasant smile at Ángel. “Just for a short time, then. I have a busy day.”
García poured coffee into three pottery cups, laughing. “You always have a busy day, Señorita. You make me feel very idle, sitting here watching the rain fall. Captain Cortez is right though, we can do nothing with them in this weather. The field we use for training will be so muddy they will lose their shiny new shoes in it.”
“And you will spoil your shiny new boots, Captain.”
“That was my first consideration of course,” García said gravely. The girl laughed aloud.
“Considering the state of you both when you first arrived here, I think you deserve to be properly dressed again. I have never seen such a sight. Dressed in rags with the manners of a grandee. It was very funny.”
“Are you laughing at my vanity, Señorita?”
“Not at all. I was impressed with your dignity, Captain, given that you had lost your boots during the rescue and there were big holes in the toes of your stockings.”
“I will be honest, Señorita and tell you that I felt none of the embarrassment I should have. I was too ill.”
“You look a lot better now,” Raquel said. “Captain Cortez, have you any more news of your next posting? I know that you write five letters a week to anybody who might tell you when you can escape from us. Have you had a reply?”
Ángel flushed. “No news, only gossip, Señorita. The Mallorcan regiment is serving with the Spanish troops under Lord Wellington but I have received no orders to sail. I’m sorry that we continue to be such a charge upon you.”
“Oh do not be so silly, you are no charge at all. Two skinny officers in this big house with such a huge kitchen. You give our cook something to do.”
“Skinny?” García said indignantly and she laughed and surveyed him from well-shaped blue eyes.
“Well perhaps not as skinny as you were. I only ask because if you are likely to be with us at Christmas time we should inform our friends and neighbours as they will wish to include you in any invitations. Let us say that you will be here. Nobody will be offended if your plans must suddenly change.”
“We are not here to attend parties, Señorita,” Ángel said harshly. He realised immediately that he had been rude and wondered why Raquel Segura had this effect on him. He then realised he had forgotten to apologise. His friend blushed slightly and gave him a look.
“What Captain Cortez was trying to say, Señorita, is that we cannot be certain of our plans yet, but are very grateful for you kindness and would love to be included in your Christmas arrangements if we are still here.”
Raquel Segura gave Ángel a long thoughtful look. Ángel looked back at her trying not to appear defiant. She was a tall graceful girl of twenty-two with delicious curves and a riot of dark honey-blonde curls which she wore in a loose knot on the top of her head. Ángel had always preferred slender delicate-looking women who did not trouble him too much with their opinions, but over the past weeks he had discovered that warmly tanned skin, a slightly aquiline nose and a laughing mouth could disturb his dreams much more effectively than any of the aristocratic beauties he had admired from a distance.
The girl rolled her eyes and returned her attention to García.
“You do understand, Captain, that was not what he was trying to say at all, don’t you?”
Ángel’s blush deepened but García began to laugh. “It was what he should have been trying to say, Señorita.”
“That at least is true. Well you shall be invited anyway, Captain Cortez, and if you choose to hold up your nose at our poor Mallorcan celebrations we will not miss you so very much. I must go. Some of the ladies of Palma have been making a collection of warm clothing and blankets for the refugees and I am helping to distribute them. Now that the weather is becoming worse, those without shelter are suffering dreadfully. I am going to talk to my father again about trying to find some abandoned buildings for them. Even half a roof is better than nothing in this weather.”
García stood up immediately. “May I escort you? Perhaps I can speak to some of the council members, I have got to know them a little. After all, if I were not in uniform I might have been on the streets myself.”
The girl smiled. She had a broad smile, with no hint of shyness. Ángel had no idea how to make her do it and wished he did because it always made him feel happier. When she smiled at him it was generally because she was mocking his sour mood or cynical remarks. He wondered how it must feel to be on the receiving end of those smiles as often as García.
As he thought it, Raquel said:
“Captain García, you have been our guests for almost four months now. I would very much like it if you would call me by my name. I am exhausted with this formality.”
García’s face lit up. “I would…that is, would your father not mind?”
“Well I do not suggest that you start calling him Juan, but he will not care what you call me, I promise you. After all it is my name, so only I can choose who uses it.”
“It is such a pretty name. But if I am to do so, I would like you to call me Óscar.”
“Óscar. That is a very good name.” Raquel turned her gaze to Ángel. “And you, Captain Cortez? Must we remain this formal?”
Ángel flinched internally and bowed. “I am honoured, Señorita, but I cannot have you calling me by my first name in front of my men. It would be bad for discipline.”
Raquel gave him a long look and a weary sigh. “That is utterly ridiculous,” she said. “Very well, Captain. You may call me Raquel anyway and I shall continue to call you Captain, in the way of a young girl with a much older friend of her father. It will serve perfectly well.”
“Older?” Ángel said, forgetting his dignity. “I cannot be more than ten years your senior.”
“Really? It seems more. I cannot decide if it is your stuffy manners or your old-fashioned hairstyle. Come, Óscar, we should go.”
It was still strange to Raquel to see the refugees living on the streets of her city. Palma had always had its share of beggars but they were all familiar; in many cases their stories known to her. Her people, the Xuetes, made their own charitable collections separate from those of the church and Raquel had often accompanied her mother and aunt to distribute food, blankets and clothing to those without shelter during the wet winter months.
These beggars were different. More than a thousand men, women and children had fled to the island from the horrors of the French storming of Tarragona, most of them arriving in the British Royal Navy ships or in Spanish frigates. Some had planned their departure enough to bring baggage and money with them. These were the lucky ones, who filled every hotel, tavern and house to rent in Palma and the surrounding area. They were assimilated quickly into local society, bringing new life to the narrow cobbled streets of the city.
There had always been close trading links between Mallorca and Tarragona and some young men had even gone to fight at the siege, returning at its conclusion with stories of war and terror and, in one or two cases, with a Catalan bride. Raquel loved the changes wrought by the newcomers. Catalan food, Catalan manners and Catalan fashions began to appear amidst the staunchly conservative upper classes of Mallorcan society. Balls and dances were given and public dinners were held to welcome the newcomers and to celebrate their survival.
Raquel did not attend such events but the close-knit community of the Xuetes had their own way of welcoming the strangers. Many men of the middling classes had fought on the walls of Tarragona and had lost families and livelihoods when the French overran the town. They had been prosperous artisans and merchants and many had valuable skills; while others were willing to learn. Juan Segura had taken on three of them as apprentices in his glassworks and provided lodgings over one of the storage barns. Raquel knew others of her people who had done the same. The Catalans came without the historic prejudices of the Mallorcans against the Xuetes and were simply grateful for paid work and a place to sleep.
Too many refugees remained on the streets of the city and villages even five months later, surviving as best they could. They slept in the open along the sea front, begged for coins and took casual work where they could get it. These were the people who had lost everything and had no friends or connections who could help them find work or somewhere to live. Many were women with children, their men either dead in the siege or away with the army with no knowledge of what had happened to their families.
Their plight was bad enough during the hot summer months but as autumn brought cooler weather and regular heavy rain, they had nowhere to go. It distressed Raquel to see them sitting hopelessly under makeshift blanket shelters, shivering in ragged clothing. It was fever season and some died, their bodies quietly buried in unmarked graves.
The local Mallorcan authorities and churchmen held meetings to discuss relief and began to make plans for a soup kitchen to keep the refugees fed through the winter. Señora Segura rallied her own friends to donate and distribute whatever clothing they could spare.
“If we wait for those fools at the town hall, these poor people will all be dead by spring,” she told Raquel. “They need help now, not at Christmastide. And they need more than a few dry blankets which will be soaked and rotting within two weeks. They need places to stay. I am going to make some enquiries. There must be somewhere they can go.”
The boxes and bags of donations were being stored above the Segura glassware shop in the Carrer del Sol. Señora Segura had organised a small army of helpers to distribute the offerings and Raquel took her place in the storeroom making up bundles of essentials to be delivered. Óscar García remained beside her, taking instructions without comment and chatting easily to the women, girls and young boys as he handed out the bundles. Raquel shot him an occasional smile. She was enjoying having him working beside her and thought, not for the first time, what an easy companion García was.
Raquel had welcomed her family’s house guests with interest when they had arrived at the end of July. Both had been badly wounded during the siege and although they were beginning to recover, the journey had left García bedridden for two weeks before he was able to join the family at meals and take up some limited duties in barracks. Raquel enjoyed the presence of two attractive young men in the house, especially because neither was from the restricted society of the Xuetes nor from the wider society of Mallorca where she was forbidden to socialise and could not possibly marry. Raquel was not naïve enough to assume that the rest of Spain was free of either class or racial prejudice but it was obvious that neither García nor Cortez knew anything about the peculiar position of the Xuetes in Mallorca which made a pleasant change. She was sorry when, once both officers were up and about their duties again, her father felt obliged to explain to them.
The boxes of donations were almost empty and the volunteers had all left. Raquel rummaged through a basket and lifted out a knitted lacy shawl with a little sound of appreciation.
“This is very pretty, although I cannot believe it will be useful to keep anybody warm during the winter.”
García came to look. “It is for a baby, I think. The kind of thing my mother used to knit for the children of the estate workers. She spent hours on it. I can remember as a boy that I didn’t understand why she did not just buy them from the market and save herself the time, we had plenty of money. But she told me off when I suggested it. It seems that doing the work with her own hands was pleasing to God.”
Raquel laughed aloud. “I do not suppose that God – or the babies – cared at all. I loathe knitting. Or any kind of needlecraft other than embroidery. I like complicated designs with a lot of colour.”
“I know, I was admiring the tablecloth you are working on. I don’t know how you have the patience.”
Raquel shrugged. “I do not really. When I was growing up I loved to run over to the glassworks and watch the men. Sometimes they would allow me to help with the furnace when my father’s back was turned. I envied my brother so much because he was taught everything.”
“Your father told me that he was killed at Talavera.”
“At Medellin. He ran away when he was nineteen and joined the army as a common soldier. He had to do it that way because he could not apply to join the Mallorcan regiment as an officer.”
“Because he was a Xueta?”
“Yes. All form of public office is forbidden to us, including the army. Some of my people have been trying to fight back against it: they have petitioned the king. With the war, of course, nothing much has happened. Perhaps one day.”
Óscar García watched her as she repacked the few remaining items into a wooden box. Raquel was very conscious of his scrutiny. He had particularly fine eyes and an expressive face. For the first few weeks of their acquaintance, Raquel had thought Cortez the more handsome of the two, but she had decided that slate-grey-blue eyes, silver-blond hair and a chiselled profile were no substitute for laughter and warm admiration. She had developed something of a tendre for Óscar García and since his presence on the island was only temporary, she was making the most of his company.
“There. These things may remain until the Christmas collection. Then we may find somebody in need of them. By then I hope the Mayor and his friends will have managed to get their soup kitchen up and running. In any case, my mother has arranged to double the baking in our ovens each week for the Catalans and any food left over in our kitchen is to be distributed to them.”
“Your family is very good, Raquel. And your Xueta charity seems to work much better than the church here.”
“Oh some of the monks and nuns are doing a great deal. It is just that they cannot coordinate anything without two hundred meetings and personal leave from the Pope. It is infuriating.” Raquel realised that her tongue might have run away from her and shot him an anxious glance. García was a faithful churchgoer, unlike his friend and Raquel had begun to attend more often as an excuse to spend more time with him.
She was relieved when García laughed aloud. “They need you to take charge, it would work much better.”
Raquel preceded him down the stone stairs and looked into the shop. Her father’s shop manager was busy with a customer so she lifted her hand in greeting and turned to lock the wooden door to the store room. The rain had stopped though the slick cobbles were still very wet and slippery. It was an excellent excuse for García to offer his arm and Raquel took it with a sunny smile.
“I was wondering if you have time for a walk?” García asked. “There will be no training today and Captain Cortez will already have inspected the barracks six times and be on his third letter to Cadiz for orders, so I am not needed. We could walk down to the harbour.”
Raquel felt a little lift of happiness. “I should like to. There are always things to do, but I like to get some fresh air every day. My mother scolds me about my complexion and says I will never find a husband with a tanned face but I do not care. Someone will marry me. It is not as though the choice is so great.”
García did not answer and Raquel wished she had not said it. She found it difficult to hide her bitterness about the restrictions of her social position but she did not want it to spoil the little time she had with this charming young man from a different world.
They reached the harbour and García turned to look up at the impressive bulk of the cathedral and the Palace of La Almudaina on the clifftop above.
“So beautiful. I’ve seen many glorious churches during my travels but this has to be one of the most magnificent positions for a cathedral. Part way to God before they even started.”
“I wonder if they thought the same about the Royal Palace?” Raquel said. García grinned and took her arm again, beginning to stroll along the sea front.
“You’re very cynical for one so young, Raquel Segura.”
“I am sorry, is it annoying? I will try to stop.”
“I don’t want you to stop. What I would like to do is ask you a great many impertinent questions that I couldn’t ask your father when he was good enough to explain a little about your people. But I will understand if you don’t wish to answer.”
Raquel stared straight ahead at the jumble of masts of the various fishing boats and pleasure craft moored in the harbour. Further out she could see the graceful lines of a Royal Navy frigate. A boat was rowing out towards it, probably with supplies or a visitor. Raquel was used to the comings and goings of the Royal Navy. Their main base was on the neighbouring island of Menorca but they called regularly for supplies or for the officers to take brief shore leave and they were frequent customers in the shop. Raquel knew that the security of her island home, which had never been touched by the brutal French invasion was due to the presence of the Royal Navy.
“I will answer,” she said. “It feels strange to talk of it to a stranger. Everybody here just knows.”
“A stranger?” García said, and something in his tone made her look round in surprise.
“Oh. Oh no, I did not mean that. I don’t think of you as a stranger at all. That is why sometimes I forget myself and say things I should not say.”
There was a broken section of sea wall, low enough to provide a seat. García steered her towards it and to her amusement, took off his coat for her to sit on. Raquel shook her head, removed her dark shawl and spread it for both of them.
“You will get sea water on your lovely new jacket, Óscar, and then I should feel guilty. This is old and the stains will not show.”
García grinned and put his jacket back on. “I have never met a girl who teased me quite as relentlessly as you, Raquel Segura.”
“Does it annoy you?”
“No, I like it. Sit down, gather your thoughts then tell me what it means to be Xueta on this beautiful island of yours.”
Raquel settled herself. She was shorter than he was and her feet did not quite reach the ground. After a long pause, she said:
“You already know a little. My ancestors were Jewish. You are Spanish, Óscar, you must know what that means. For centuries the persecutions came and went. For a time we would be left in peace, then all would change again and we were hounded from our homes or arrested. Some fled abroad. Many were tried and chose to reconcile with the church and become Catholic. Others were burned to death by the Inquisition. This happened all through Spain.”
“I know,” García said soberly. “It’s shameful. One of the only benefits of Joseph Bonaparte’s rule over my country has been the abolition of the Inquisition.”
Raquel shot him a little smile. “Not everybody agrees with you, especially on Mallorca. The people here are very traditional. Anyway, some of the Jews of Mallorca fled. Others gave in and became true members of the church. And some complied outwardly but kept up their traditions secretly. Those were my people.”
“I’ve heard of that happening in both Spain and Portugal,” García said. Raquel thought that he sounded genuinely interested. She had gleaned enough information about their guests to know that both the Spanish officers were from aristocratic families but while Cortez’ long dead parents had lost both money and property many years ago, Óscar García’s father was a member of the government in Cadiz and connected by blood or marriage to many of the ruling families. Judaism had been publicly illegal and privately despised for centuries by his people and Raquel was surprised that he showed no shock whatsoever.
“Here in Mallorca they have their own traditions,” she said and this time did not attempt to hide her bitterness. “There is a book, published more than a hundred years ago during some of these trials. They call it Faith Triumphant and it details the trials and the verdicts and lists so many reasons why my people should not be allowed to take part in public life or even associate with decent Christians. Even now, they publish it again every few years, just in case it should be forgotten. There is also a public display in the St Domingo Monastery of the sambenets – the tunics they made our ancestors wear as punishment, declaring their crimes. The surnames of my people are listed in that book and in that display, to make sure that the people of Mallorca never forget what disgusting creatures we are.”
She could feel his shock and wished that she had not told it so forcefully although she was not sure that she could have found a way to sound light-hearted about it. Miserably, she thought she had probably ensured that this was the last time he invited her to take a walk with him. It was probably for the best, given that nothing more than casual friendship would ever be possible between them, but she had been enjoying that friendship so much.
García reached out and took her hand. Raquel looked at him in astonishment and then down at their linked hands, aware that she had blushed scarlet and felt suddenly shy which was unheard of for her. She could think of nothing to say.
“That’s appalling,” García said and there was no more laughter in his tone. “I cannot believe that is allowed to happen when we are supposed to be trying to drag our country into the nineteenth century. Can nothing be done, Raquel? And what does this mean to you and your family? I’m shocked. You live well, your father has a prosperous business and is a master craftsman. I’d no idea.”
“Oh the Xuetes have done very well in trade and business. It is the only thing we have been allowed to do, you see. Most will trade with us. Some of the more progressive families will even invite us to dinner privately. But we cannot marry their sons or daughters, only within our own kind. We cannot hold public office, nor enter the church or the army. It is as if they found a glassmaker to build a glass wall about us two hundred years ago. He must have been a master glassblower indeed, that man. The glass is so clear and so perfect. Our sons can see everything on the other side of it but when they reach out to touch they find…just glass.”
“And your daughters?” García said. He sounded angry but he was still holding Raquel’s hand so she decided that he was not angry with her at all. She looked up and met the warm brown eyes.
“Daughters are restricted everywhere, Óscar. You know this. Do you have a sister?”
“No, she died when I was very young. I’m an only child.”
“Then you may not be so aware that even were I not from the Xuetes I could not marry where I chose without the approval of my father and there is no profession I could enter because I am a girl. Although I suppose I could have become a nun. I have an older cousin who will manage the glass factory and the shop and my father hopes I will agree to marry him when I have grown up a little and stopped being so angry.”
“How old are you?”
“I am twenty-two.”
“The same age as me. I think if you were going to stop being angry, you would have done it by now.”
Raquel laughed and was surprised that she could do so, given how upset she was. “I am sorry. This is not a pleasant conversation for a walk along the harbour.”
“I wanted to know. And I’m glad you told me. But there is one thing I still don’t understand. You go to church. I have seen all of your family go to church.”
“Oh we are not really Jewish, Óscar. It’s been two hundred years, most pretence turned to reality years ago. There are some churches we feel comfortable in. St Eulalia is my favourite, it is in the middle of the Segell District…the old Xueta quarter of Palma. My family used to live there but we moved out as Father became more successful.”
“You said there have been attempts to petition the King.”
“The King gave us our rights more than thirty years ago by royal proclamation but then withdrew some of them again because of local protests. The arguments go back and forth. We are not always sure any more what our legal rights are, but what we do know is that the people of Mallorca will never allow us to enjoy them unless they are forced to do so. And while Spain fights against Bonaparte, there are other things to think about. Sometimes I used to wish that my father would pack up and move away. To Barcelona or somewhere our surname has no meaning. But seeing what happened in Tarragona, to these poor people and to you…this is not the time for a grand gesture.”
García was silent for a moment, then looked up and gave her a grin which melted her heart. “Perhaps not. But I may be in the mood for a smaller gesture. Come on, I should get you back. It is going to rain again.”
Drill and training resumed the following morning and as if to make up for the brief respite, Cortez pushed the men hard for the whole of the following week. Some of them were not really strong enough for the long hours of work and after a few days, Óscar decided it was time to intervene. He waited until the afternoon siesta when the men had gone to their bedrolls and Cortez returned to the Casa Segura to see if any mail had been delivered. Óscar gave him time to open his letters and set aside a letter from his own mother since he could guess the contents fairly accurately without bothering to read it.
“Captain, we need to talk about the men. Some of them are still not strong enough to train this hard.”
Ángel gave a contemptuous snort. “Well they had better get used to it, García, because they cannot be coddled on the march, or in battle.”
“Some of them only joined a few weeks ago and they came from the streets. From the refugees. They have not eaten properly for months, they need some time to grow strong again.”
“They may not have time,” Ángel said. He was still scanning a letter but now he held it out to Óscar. Óscar took it. He was torn between exasperation at his senior’s intransigence about the men and awareness of how far their relationship had shifted since he had first joined Ángel on Contreras’ staff in Cadiz a year ago. Back then, Ángel would have barked out orders but it would not have occurred to him to share the letter with his junior. Óscar took it and read it quickly then looked up.
“Ciudad Rodrigo? I’ve never been there, have you?”
“I passed through it once. Fortress town on the Portuguese border. We had three days respite after a forced march of four hundred miles and the only things I remember clearly are that it was as hot as Hades, the fish stew was rank and there was a girl at the Golden Bell who could do things with her tongue that…”
“Ángel, for God’s sake!”
Ángel was laughing and the sight warmed Óscar as it always did. It had taken eight months before he had seen the older man manage anything more than a contemptuous sneer. “I can’t believe I can still make you blush, García. Although I found it hard to believe you’d not had a woman at all until you arrived in Cadiz. I suppose you’ve got time to catch up.”
Óscar laughed and handed him back the letter. “I’ve no ambition to catch up to you, sir, I’d be too worried about what else I’d catch along the way.”
“Oh I’m very careful these days. Bored married women and starry-eyed tradesmen’s daughters are my preference. Which of the men are struggling?”
Óscar ignored his flicker of distaste at Ángel’s remark and gave him the names. Ángel shrugged.
“All right. You can move them over to your company, you’ve fewer than I have anyway. Work out what they can do and rest them more often. But talk to them as well. If they can’t improve, they’ll either die on the march or get killed during their first skirmish. We can’t sit down and wait for them halfway to Portugal. If they aren’t strong enough, we may have to let them go. Colonel Julian de Anaya currently commands the 13th Mallorcan regiment and he has written to me about you, García. On arrival, you’ll command a company of your own.”
Óscar looked up quickly, his exasperation forgotten. “Really? I’d expected to act as your lieutenant for a while at least. This is…”
Óscar stopped, a thought occurring to him. He sighed. “Not that I am going to turn it down, sir, but I presume my father arranged that for me? I’m newly promoted and very young. I don’t suppose for one moment…”
“No, he didn’t. The recommendation was mine, based on your performance at Tarragona. I’m not expecting to regret it.”
Óscar was silent for a long moment. He realised that this was the first preferment of any kind that he had won on his own merit and it felt very significant. As he thought it, a glass of wine appeared on the table before him. He looked up. Ángel was holding his own glass, waiting for the toast. Óscar picked up the glass.
“Thank you, sir. I promise you won’t.”
“Good. I’m surprised to see you here. Usually you have slipped away by now to dally with the delectable Señorita Segura who is far too robust to require an afternoon siesta like the rest of her sex. Has she deserted you for a local beau?”
Óscar bit back several acerbic replies. “No,” he said mildly. “As a matter of fact, we have been invited to tour the glass factory this afternoon, sir, if you are interested. There is a visiting merchant from London who is looking to establish regular trade with the island and who may well become a customer. They are putting on a demonstration which will be followed by a grand dinner. Señor Segura would welcome the officers of the regiment, if…”
“Señor Segura had nothing to do with that invitation, boy. Go by all means, I’ve letters to write. But be careful with that girl, she has her eye on you. Not that I blame you, she looks very enthusiastic. But she’s utterly unsuitable marriage material and you’re far too gentlemanly to…”
Óscar set down his glass with a sharp clink on the table. “Sir, please stop it.”
His senior regarded him with raised eyebrows. “Stop what? I’m not serious, boy, I know you’ve more sense than that. I just don’t want a scene with her father before we leave because you’ve unintentionally compromised his ewe lamb. Not that she’d object, mind…”
“That’s exactly what I’m asking you to stop, sir, and you might not be serious but I am. These people are our hosts and they’ve been very generous. I hate the way you speak about them as though they’re automatically inferior because they made their fortune in trade. It’s outdated, unnecessary and rude. I can’t help the way you think but I’m asking you not to share it with me. I don’t see it the same way.”
Ángel did not speak for a moment. He picked up his wine glass and drained it then went to pour another from the decanter on the polished sideboard.
“I am suitably chastised,” he said dryly. “Although I think you would find your father would be horrified at the way you’re running around with a tradesman’s daughter.”
“I’m sure you are right, sir, but I’ve already made it clear to my father that I’m a man, not a boy and I’ll live my life the way I want. Otherwise I’d be dancing attendance in the drawing rooms of Cadiz instead of fighting for my country. Like you, I’ve given blood in that cause and I think that gives me the right to choose my friends and to take exception to you insulting them for your entertainment. You don’t have to agree with me. You just have to respect my request and keep it to yourself.”
There was a brief silence then Ángel reached out, picked up Óscar’s glass.
“That was a very long speech.”
“It was also pompous.”
“I don’t care. I meant it.”
To Óscar’s surprise, the older man gave a faint smile. “Whatever happened to that very respectful young officer who joined me in Cadiz and took on every unpleasant job I landed him with? You were like an enthusiastic but very well trained puppy. I rather miss that at times. But you’re a lot more use these days. I’m not going to change my opinion, García. But I’ll do my best to keep it to myself.”
“Thank you,” Óscar said in surprise. “Are you coming to the glassworks?”
“No, you can give my apologies. I need to reply to Anaya and I want to start listing what supplies we’ll need for the journey and plan our route.”
Óscar could not help laughing. “We’ve two months, sir. You could spare an afternoon.”
His commander smiled and shook his head. “You won’t enjoy it as much if I’m there,” he said. “Go and get changed or you’ll be late.”
Halfway through the afternoon, Óscar realised that Ángel had been right and that he was enjoying the day far more without his senior officer’s faintly disapproving presence. He had visited the factory once before with Segura but it was the first time he had seen a proper demonstration of glass blowing and he was fascinated.
Mr Henry Summers, the English merchant, was a stocky gentleman in a plain suit and a down-to-earth manner. Óscar had wondered what kind of man travelled abroad during wartime in search of new suppliers and new markets when most merchants remained safely at home but he quickly decided that Summers was a man who would always want to be personally involved in the running of his many enterprises. He spoke no Spanish but very good French and he and Señor Segura conversed easily in that language.
The tour took in every aspect of the glass works, from the stokers at the furnace, through the foundry, to the moment when the liquid glass first formed in the blowpipe. The glassmaker chosen to demonstrate the process was Raquel’s cousin Miguel, who had recently attained the title of master glassblower after his three year apprenticeship. He was around thirty, a tall willowy figure who managed the blowpipe with considerable grace. Óscar watched as he turned the pipe from side to side, manipulating it to create the effect he wanted. He seemed supremely confident, a man sure of his own ability and his place in the world. Óscar thought Raquel could do a lot worse for a husband. She remained beside Óscar, explaining every process as they followed the tour and Óscar wished he could hold her hand and tell her just how much he could not stand the thought of her marrying this perfectly good man when she should be with him.
Afterwards they went to watch the final stage of the process which was the engraving of the fine goblet, a task which Señor Segura chose to perform himself. He had designed an elegant motif involving the coat of arms of the city livery company to which Summers belonged, with the merchant’s initials on the other side. Óscar watched the Englishman’s face as he studied the goblet, firing questions at Segura in rapid French and thought that Raquel’s father had found himself a new customer.
It was the first time Óscar had really allowed himself admit his intentions towards Raquel and it was both painful and joyous. His brief quarrel with Ángel Cortez earlier had crystallised feelings that had existed for months. It occurred to him that Cortez, who was not generally perceptive about the feelings of others, had been ahead of him on this occasion.
Óscar did not share Ángel’s opinion of the unsuitability of Raquel Segura as a wife, although he was sure his parents would. His mother had a list of potential brides for her beloved only son and if Óscar had obeyed his father’s wishes and taken up an administrative post in Cadiz, he knew she would have attempted to force the issue by now. As it was, every letter she wrote reminded him that it was his duty as his father’s heir to marry a girl of his own class and provide heirs to the title and the considerable estates.
This was even more urgent given Óscar’s gallant if wholly unnecessary determination to remain in combat. He had almost died at Tarragona and if it had not been for the intervention of Ángel Cortez and the Royal Navy he would have spent the rest of the war as a French prisoner. Was it not possible, his mother wondered, to return to Cadiz even for a short time to do his duty by the family? She could select the bride and make the wedding arrangements for him and his family could take care of their pregnant daughter-in-law if Óscar insisted on returning to fight.
Óscar was revolted by the idea of such an arrangement and had told his parents so, in terms that they could not possibly misunderstand. His father did not mention the matter again but his mother brought it up in every letter, bemoaning his intransigence, until Óscar no longer bothered to read them. He knew perfectly well that Cortez was right. His family would be appalled if he presented them with the daughter of a tradesman as his bride, no matter how wealthy she might be. He was not sure that her Xueta heritage would matter as much because he suspected his mother would know nothing about it anyway.
It did not matter to Óscar. He disliked the idea of being estranged from his family because he loved them but the title meant nothing to him. He supposed that one day he had looked forward to settling down on his family estate in Andalusia but he had known for a long time that he had already moved beyond the traditional values of his parents and he thought that Spain would move with him. If he could not live the life he wanted with the woman he loved beside him, he would choose a different life. What he was not sure was whether Raquel Segura shared his views and would be willing to take that enormous step with him, especially if her family also disapproved.
She was seated beside him at dinner, a lengthy meal with enormous amounts of food and wine. Óscar drank moderately and spent much of the meal flirting with his companion. At the end of the day, Mr Summers needed to return to his ship in order to catch the tide the following morning and his host offered to escort him to his boat personally. Many of the guests chose to follow and it became an impromptu procession lit by torches through the darkened streets of Palma.
Óscar walked beside Raquel. One of the younger men was playing music on some kind of wooden flute and it turned the procession into a parade. Occasionally a shutter crashed open and there were furious shouts from respectable citizens trying to sleep but the Xuetes paid no heed. Summers walked beside his host looking slightly bewildered but thoroughly delighted at this send-off and at some point, Óscar reached out and took Raquel’s hand in the darkness. She did not attempt to draw away but moved closer to him. They walked in step together and in step with the procession, waving as the small boat pulled away from the quay and its lantern was no more than a flickering yellow light on the water.
The party broke up after that, saying goodnight and thanking their host before returning to their own homes. Óscar and Raquel followed the Segura party back through the narrow streets to the Casa Segura. It was a clear December night and very cold and Óscar paused to remove his coat, draping it around Raquel’s shoulders. The brief pause meant they had dropped behind the rest of the group and as Óscar went to take her hand again, she moved closer and drew his arm about her shoulders. They walked slowly and Óscar wondered what her father would say if he took it into his head to turn back to find out what delayed his daughter.
The door was still open when they reached it, the doorman sleepy and uninterested and waiting to lock up. The rest of the family seemed to have gone straight to their beds. Raquel removed Óscar’s coat and handed it to him with visible reluctance.
“I do not want this night to end,” she said.
Óscar took the coat and put it back around her. “Ten more minutes,” he said recklessly. “There will be nobody on the terrace overlooking the bay.”
The blue eyes widened and then she laughed softly and took his hand. “My mother will not be impressed.”
“Nor would mine, but she’s not here. Come along.”
It was very cold out on the wide, tiled balcony but the view of glittering lights along the shore and out on the ships and boats anchored in the bay was well worth it. Óscar stood with his arm about her with her head on his shoulder, the dark gold curls tickling his jaw. He had not thought to speak this soon but it occurred to him that perhaps he would never have such a good opportunity again and at least if they were about to be interrupted by a furious parent, he could honestly claim honourable intentions.
“Raquel – I don’t want this to end either.”
She turned towards him and into his arms. Óscar had no idea if it had been intentional or not and did not care. He bent his head to kiss her and she reached up and put her arms about his neck, drawing him closer.
They stood together for a long time and kissing her settled any lingering uncertainty. Eventually he drew back a little, still holding her hands. There was no light on the balcony and he could just make out her features in the dim light from the window above the terrace. Óscar wondered suddenly whose room that was but he decided he did not care. He took a deep breath.
“Raquel, I shouldn’t be here kissing you on the terrace when I’ve not spoken to your father and I’ve no idea what he’ll say. But given that I’m about to set off an explosion in my family that they’ll probably hear in Paris, I need to be sure of you first. You must know how I feel about you. Will you be my wife?”
He felt her hands tremble in his and for a panicked moment he thought she was going to pull away and flee, then her fingers tightened around his and she gave a little sigh.
“Oh Óscar, I’m very glad you spoke to me first. I’ve no idea either. I don’t even know if we can do this at all. But if we can’t, it won’t be because I don’t love you.”
He drew her closer again. “If you love me, querida, we can do it. I’ll need to explain my circumstances in full to your father, but to you all I can say is that I’m either a very good marital prospect or utterly penniless apart from my officer’s pay which isn’t very much. But whatever happens, I’ll find a way to support you, I promise.”
She kissed him again and he heard her soft laugh in the darkness. “We won’t be penniless, Captain. I’ve no idea if my father will be disappointed that I don’t marry Miguel, but he’d never cut me off without a penny. I am more concerned about my status as a Xueta. I’m not even sure that I am allowed to marry outside my people.”
“They cannot stop you. Legally, that restriction ended years ago along with a number of others. It has been perpetrated by the Mallorcan authorities and upheld by their courts in direct contravention to the dictates of the Royal decree. If we can’t find a priest to marry us here, we’ll take a Royal Navy ship to Menorca and get married there, they don’t have any of these absurd restrictions.”
“How are you so sure?”
“I wrote to them. I’ve a friend in the Royal Navy, we met in Tarragona. He’s in England at present and when I began to think…anyway, I wrote asking his advice. His Captain sent a letter of recommendation to the British authorities there, they’ll give us any help we require. I’d rather marry you here with your family and friends in attendance, but…”
“Father Dominic would perform the service, I am sure of it,” Raquel said. She sounded breathless. “I know you must soon leave. I do not wish to wait, Óscar. Unless your family…”
“That may take a while. I will write to them, but I will not wait for their approval, providing I have yours. Do I?”
Óscar bent to kiss her again, no longer feeling the cold. After a long, very happy moment, he drew back reluctantly.
“We should go inside. Tomorrow I will speak to your father, Raquel, and then…”
“That will be quite unnecessary,” a voice said from above and both Óscar and Raquel jumped. Óscar stepped back, still holding her hand and looked up at the illuminated window. It stood open and Raquel’s father was leaning on the window ledge in shirt sleeves.
“Sir. My apologies. I had no idea. I mean, I would not have…”
“Captain García, it is completely unnecessary to tell me that you would not be kissing my daughter on the terrace if you knew I could see you. I accept your word for it. Raquel, you are wearing the Captain’s coat. Give it back and go to bed, it is past midnight. Tomorrow we will have breakfast together and discuss how this will work. You will not go to Menorca, you will be married here from our home. Congratulations, my children, I think you will be very happy. Now let me sleep, I am tired.”
News of the betrothal reached Ángel through his servant. Manuel had been a refugee from Tarragona, an underfed fourteen-year-old orphan who had attached himself to Ángel aboard the Royal Navy ship and had somehow never left. Ángel had dined in a tavern in the city the previous evening and had watched the procession pass with a curious sense of regret. He wished that he had felt able to accept the invitation and envied García his easy ability to mix with whatever company he found himself in.
He stayed out late drinking and was trying to decide whether to join his hosts for breakfast or get something in town on his way to the training field, when Manuel appeared with a jug of hot water, a welcome cup of coffee and the news that the family was all at breakfast celebrating the betrothal of Captain García to Señorita Raquel. Ángel almost dropped his coffee and scathingly told Manuel not to listen to gossip, but when the boy had gone he sat sipping the scalding black liquid and quietly seethed.
He had been well aware of García’s infatuation with the Segura girl and even more aware that she was a woman who knew how to make the best of her opportunities. From time to time, Ángel had considered making an attempt on the girl’s well-guarded virtue himself. She pretended indifference but in the early weeks of their arrival she had been just as willing to flirt with him as with García. He had not responded and she had withdrawn, concentrating all her efforts on the younger man. Ángel had not expected them to succeed so spectacularly.
Unable to bear the festive atmosphere and the discussion of wedding plans, Ángel went to an inn for breakfast and then rode out to barracks. He was not surprised to receive a note from García on his arrival giving him the news and excusing himself from duty for the day. Ángel badly wanted to scribble a scathing response and send it back with the Segura servant but he stopped himself. He had made his views clear to García and the boy had ignored him. He had no legal right to interfere in the marriage of his junior officer and if García’s letter were to be believed, he could not even complain that it would delay their return to duty. The earliest a transport could be provided to take them to Oporto ready for their march across to Ciudad Rodrigo was mid-January. García’s letter informed him that Señor Segura hoped to arrange the wedding before Christmas to give the young couple some time together.
Ángel read García’s letter again. He had apologised for not catching Ángel that morning to tell him in person and hoped to have his company that evening for a bachelor dinner at their favourite tavern to celebrate. Ángel was surprised at how furious he was. It was not really his business if García chose to ruin himself and it would make no difference to their working relationship; the boy was a professional. But there was something about the girl that bothered Ángel and he decided he needed to speak to Raquel Segura himself.
Raquel had just returned from the market when she met Ángel Cortez in the hallway and sensed that he had been waiting for her. She paused politely and he bowed.
“My apologies, Señorita, I can see that you are busy. I was hoping for a few moments of your time.”
Raquel felt her heart sink. She could guess his views on her betrothal and she had no particular wish to hear them but she knew that Óscar was dreading the conversation and it occurred to her that she might be able to blunt the worst of his senior’s wrath if she allowed him to take it out on her. With a sigh she handed her basket to the maid and led the way out onto the eastern terrace, a peaceful courtyard with a small fountain in the centre and several tiled tables and basketwork chairs.
“Won’t you sit down, Captain Cortez? Would you like some wine?”
“No, thank you. This will not take very long, Señorita.”
“I’m glad about that, since it is obvious you want to shout at me. Very well, let’s get it over with.”
Cortez fixed her with his cool blue-grey eyes. “I should not need to say this to you. Nothing could be more unsuitable than this marriage. You are not his equal in birth or fortune. Because of you his family will cut him off. You will ruin his life and his happiness and what can you bring him in return?”
“I bring him love, Captain Cortez. I understand that has no meaning for you, but in my family it has always been very important. And apparently Óscar agrees with me.”
“Love?” Cortez almost spat the word. “Is that what you think he feels for you? Oh, I’ve seen the way he looks at you and I’ve no doubt that he has feelings, but I promise you he will satisfy those after a week or two in bed with you and will be left with a lifetime of regret. Do you think that a woman like you will be able to hold a man like him?
Raquel had not intended to respond, but she could feel herself getting angry. “A woman like me? And just what kind of woman am I, Captain? I am curious: is it my face, my fortune or my character you object to?”
“It is everything. Your people, although good enough, are not even accepted here on Mallorca. You are outcasts. It is not your fault but that will not help García when he finds himself shunned. Your fortune is well enough for another tradesman, but it is nothing compared to his birth and lineage and everything he will inherit if he marries a woman of his own kind.”
“If, of course, there is anything left of his family fortune by the time the French have ravaged their way through Spain. But do go on, I’m charmed by what passes for your reasoning.”
“As for your character, I think you are a scheming young woman who has taken advantage of a naïve boy to catch herself a husband who might help her raise herself to a better position in life. I do not think you care for him at all. If you did, you would do the decent thing and withdraw from this.”
“Well if that is your hope, you are going to be very disappointed, because I have every intention of marrying him. What happens after that will be up to him. I will go where he goes, follow where he leads. I love him. A man like you cannot imagine what that means. I have heard enough, I am leaving.”
Cortez stepped between her and the door. “Not just yet, Señorita. There was one more item on your list. Your face – and the rest of you. Now that is the reason we are in this situation. On that score I have nothing at all to complain of, I have been admiring it myself for a while now. If I had known you would go this far, I would have taken you to bed two months ago when you were casting lures in my direction. I would have enjoyed you very much and García would have realised what you were like. I should have done it then but perhaps after all it is not too late.”
It had not occurred to Raquel that he would touch her, which made her slow to react. Before she had time to utter more than a squawk of protest she was in his arms, his mouth covering hers. There was none of Óscar’s gentle consideration in this man. His hands moved down her body with a familiarity that appalled her and his mouth bruised hers, forcing her lips apart, his tongue invading her mouth.
Frozen shock was followed by a wave of utter fury. Raquel could not easily scream with his mouth on hers but she managed to make a sound in the back of her throat which surprised even her and caused Cortez to step backwards in astonishment. He stood looking down at her, seeming almost bewildered by what he had just done.
Raquel gave him no time to speak. Stepping forward she lifted both hands and shoved him hard in the chest. He staggered backwards and Raquel began to hit him with both fists, pummelling him as hard as she could, not caring what part of him she connected with. Cortez put up both hands to protect his face and then yelled in pain as her fist struck his left hand. Raquel knew it had been badly injured at Tarragona and that for a time, he had thought he would lose the use of it. His cry made her pause for a moment and Cortez took the opportunity to dodge behind a table.
“Stop it, you’re going to cripple me, you little termagant. In fact I think you’ve already done so.”
“Come out from behind that table and I will castrate you!”
“Then I’m not coming out.” To Raquel’s fury, she could hear laughter in his voice. “Stop. Just stop and breathe, you’re going to hurt yourself.”
“I am going to hurt you!”
“Just listen to me. Listen for a moment. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ve no idea why I did that, it was the most stupid…”
“I know why you did it,” Raquel spat. “It is because you are an animal, a creature who thinks it is your right to bully women, to intimidate those weaker than you, to hurt…”
“Raquel, please stop. That’s not it. I mean I am…perhaps I am some of those things. I am not a good man. I am not like García.”
“No, that you are not!”
Cortez was nursing his hand against his chest as if it genuinely hurt. His eyes were on hers again but his expression was different. “I will go. You will not want me in this house after this. I can find lodgings in town or near the barracks until we leave and I promise that I will not trouble you again. García will think I have left because I disapprove of his marriage. Raquel, you should let him think that. Don’t tell him…”
“Of course I am going to tell him, you imbecile. How else do I explain this?” Raquel touched her lip which was bleeding a little.
“You are a very intelligent woman, you will find a way. As I will find a way to explain why I cannot use my hand for a week. If you tell him I did this, he will challenge me and I must accept. We will fight and he will not be content with first blood, he will want to kill me.”
“I hope he does.”
“He isn’t going to kill me in a duel, Raquel, but I could very easily kill him. Don’t do it.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“No, I am telling you that with a sword in my hand I am all the things you accuse me of being. I cannot always stop.”
Raquel felt a little chill and her anger seeped away into sudden fear. “You would kill him? Your friend?”
“He’s probably the only friend I’ve ever had. Possibly the only one I will have. And I have just realised that if I had the opportunity to kill him to prevent him from marrying you, I might well do it. Let me go, Raquel. Go and find him. Take care of him for me and when we leave for the war I’ll do my best to take care of him for you. It is the only thing I can do for you. Let me do it.”
Raquel stared at him. She was no longer afraid and no longer angry but she was utterly bewildered. “That makes no sense.”
Unexpectedly his expression softened into something like a smile. “None at all, but men often make fools of themselves when they…never mind. I do not want to hurt him, Raquel, but I cannot bear the thought of hurting you.”
Abruptly Raquel felt the beginning of shocked understanding. Her brain rejected it immediately.
“I do not believe you care what happens to me.”
“It is much better that you continue to believe that.”
Raquel did not respond. Memories were coming back to her, flashes of the past four months and she was horrified to realise that in fact she was having no trouble believing him at all. Wrapped up in her growing feelings for Óscar García, she had missed it entirely; but the signs had been there. She could see him watching her come to the realisation that she had been utterly blind.
“Oh. Oh no. Captain, are you telling me that you…”
“Don’t say it,” he said quickly. “I don’t ever want it to be said. You once gave me permission to use your name, Raquel and it seems I have accepted it. Can you not do the same for me? Just this once.”
Raquel realised that her throat was choked with tears. “Ángel…I had no idea…”
“My dear, I had no idea either until just now. But even if I had, you would still have chosen to marry Óscar. You are, as I said earlier, a very intelligent woman. I need to leave now. I need to be alone. Please.”
Raquel nodded, feeling the tears spill over onto her cheeks. He stepped forward, took her hand and bowed over it with an old fashioned courtesy he had never showed her before.
“Congratulations on your engagement, Raquel. Be happy. You both deserve it.”
They were married three days before Christmas and the twelve days of the season were to be an extended celebration before their inevitable separation. Óscar had written to his parents and received no reply; although there had been plenty of time for a letter. He chose not to dwell on it. The Segura family welcomed him as one of their own and a long session with Raquel’s father discussing finances and settlements made it clear that even if the García family chose to cast him off entirely, he could make a good life with these people. Privately, Óscar was wondering if he might make a career in the law. He had spent many hours studying the various legal documents pertaining to the status of the Xuetes of Mallorca and he found it unexpectedly fascinating.
The wedding took place in the church of St Eulalia. Nobody raised any public objection to it and one or two of Óscar’s acquaintances in the town outside of the Xueta community even went so far as to congratulate him. Others did not mention it at all but continued to treat Óscar with courtesy. As long as there were no repercussions for his wife and her family, Óscar did not really care what they thought.
His relationship with Ángel Cortez was still fragile but seemed to be improving again. Cortez had said little about the marriage other than to express concern about its effect on Óscar’s future inheritance. He had expressed his disapproval more tangibly by moving out of the Segura house and taking lodgings close to the barracks but he managed it with surprising tact, citing pressure of work as the cause and the Seguras pretended to believe him. He did not attend the wedding but sent an elegant gift of Castilian china which must have cost more than he could easily afford. Óscar recognised an olive branch and thanked him warmly.
The Segura family usually attended Mass at St Eulalia on Christmas Eve but the two Spanish officers had been invited weeks earlier to attend the traditional Mallorcan midnight service at the cathedral. Ángel, who had a profound dislike of all religion had sent a civil refusal but Óscar had been looking forward to the service. He had been told of the singing of El Cant de la Sibil-la which was a Gregorian melody introduced to the island in medieval times. It was sung virtually without instruments and the singing was led by a boy in medieval costume bearing a sword.
“A sword?” Óscar enquired, when his wife explained the tradition. “That doesn’t sound very much like the birth of the Christ child, Raquel.”
They were lying late in bed, listening to the sound of the household coming to life around them and Óscar had been wondering how he was going to be able to rise from this bed in a month’s time and leave her behind. He had never been this happy in his life.
“I believe the song is about the final judgement,” Raquel said cautiously. “Although I have not been personally of course. I am told that the service and the music is very beautiful. You should go, Óscar and then you can tell me all about it. I’ve often wished to hear it.”
She sounded wistful and Óscar felt a little pain about his heart. He leaned over and kissed her. “Just to remind you that until I have to step onto that ship, I am not going anywhere without you. Come with me.”
“Óscar, I cannot. No Xueta has attended Mass in the cathedral that I know of. We have our own churches.”
“Who say the same Mass to the same God. Come with me.”
Raquel smiled in the way that melted his heart every time she did it. “I love you but you have made your gesture, Óscar and we are married. It is enough.”
“I did not marry you as a gesture but because I love you. And it will never be enough until that book is burned to ashes and that display in St Domingo is torn down. When I come back from the war I shall attend to both personally. I won’t force you to come, Raquel, but I wish you would. I would like to show the world how proud I am of my wife.”
“What if they turn me away?”
“Then they turn us both away and I will make them regret it one day. It’s up to you, querida. I don’t want to spoil your Christmastide.”
“I have you, Óscar. Nothing can spoil this Christmastide.” Raquel sat up. “Very well, I will come. The worst that can happen is a little embarrassment and the best is that I will attend Mass in my own cathedral in my own city for the first time. If you can be brave in battle, Óscar, I can be brave in this small way.”
She was nervous all the same. Óscar could feel her hand shivering slightly in his as they walked through the well-lit streets, strung with lanterns for the season. His father-in-law had shaken his head at the idea but made no attempt to dissuade them.
“I do not think they will let you in, Raquel, but if you are determined, then go. It will be one more protest at the way we are treated and if they turn away an officer who has shed blood for his country and it becomes known, it can only help our cause.”
“I’ll make sure it is known,” Óscar said grimly.
Segura laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “My daughter married a warrior,” he said. “But then so did my son-in-law.”
Heads turned as they approached the brilliantly lit main doors to the immense gothic cathedral. Already the organ played inside and hundreds of candles lit up the space. Through the open door, Óscar could see the huge vaulted ceiling and the glorious colours of stained glass reflecting back the candlelight. By the door he could see a gaggle of robed priests in anxious conversation and several members of the island council in their finest clothing looking grave and unsure. Óscar thought they were plucking up the courage to step forward and tell him that he could not bring his wife into the Mass. He wished he could punch them but he knew that would upset Raquel more, so he steeled himself for the embarrassment and prepared to make a dignified retreat.
Before any of the men was brave enough to step forward, there was an approaching sound which was so familiar that for a minute or two Óscar did not even realise how incongruous it was in this holy place at such an hour. He could see other people stopping, turning to look and he knew suddenly what it was and spun around, putting his arm around Raquel. He could not believe that somehow they were sending out the city watch to make an arrest but the sound of marching feet was unmistakable and Óscar decided that if any man put a hand on his wife, he would kill them.
It was not the city watch. To Óscar’s complete astonishment, one hundred and fifty men of the 13th Mallorcan Infantry were marching in, wearing dress uniform. A familiar voice rapped out an order and the men halted by the door of the cathedral.
Óscar could not believe his eyes. He had never seen Ángel Cortez so neatly turned out. He had cut his silver blond hair short which robbed him of some of his piratical looks and made him look like a professional soldier.
Ángel stepped forward and saluted and Óscar responded automatically.
“Captain Cortez. Er…have you come to Mass?”
“We have all come to Mass, Captain García. In honour of your recent marriage, the men of the 13th Mallorcan Infantry are here to celebrate the birth of Christ and to pay tribute to their brave officer and his beautiful and very courageous wife.” Ángel turned and raised his voice. “Sergeant! Salute to the Captain’s lady!”
There was a swish and clash of steel as swords were drawn and bayonets lifted in salute. Óscar responded, his throat tight. Around them was complete silence apart from the haunting beauty of the organ music floating on the still night air through the cathedral doors.
The Sergeant called the men to order and Ángel Cortez turned to Óscar and his stunned wife. “Shall we go in? The Mass will be starting soon and I’ve no wish to miss any part of it. Sergeant, march the men in and make sure they behave.”
“Their bayonets, sir?”
“Oh.” Ángel looked momentarily nonplussed and beside him, Oscar heard his wife give an undignified snort of laughter. Surprisingly, Ángel grinned instead of glaring at her. “I had forgotten it isn’t usual to take weapons into a cathedral.”
“I think Tarragona may have confused you,” Óscar said. “They can pile them beside the door, Sergeant. Carry on.”
A robed churchman stepped forward to escort them to a pew. Ángel seemed to hesitate for a moment when ushered to sit beside Raquel and Óscar wondered if he felt awkward give his open disbelief in God and everything the church represented, but Raquel smiled at him somewhat mistily and he came forward and sat beside her, while his men shuffled into pews further back.
Óscar stopped trying to make sense of it and gave himself up to the beauty of the cathedral, the glory of the music and the deep sense of spiritual connection he felt during the Mass. During the pure notes of El Cant de la Sibil-la he felt his wife take his hand and glancing at her he saw that her cheeks were wet with tears.
When it was over, Óscar took his wife’s hand and followed Ángel outside. They watched as the men set off back to barracks. When they were out of sight, Ángel offered his arm to Raquel. Wearing a particularly implacable expression he led her towards some of the departing worshippers. Óscar watched in awe as he proceeded to introduce Raquel to the entire council of Mallorca including the High Judge. Óscar thought he looked ready to draw his sword if any man dared to refuse the introduction. None of them did.
Walking back to the Casa Segura, Raquel said:
“Captain Cortez, how are you spending Christmastide?”
“Very comfortably, Doña Raquel, at the home of Señor Moreno and his family. Though I thought I might accompany you to Mass at the cathedral again on the festival of the Three Kings.”
Raquel laughed aloud. “Come to St Eulalia with us and dine with us afterwards. It will be less dramatic, I promise you.”
“Please, Ángel. Just one evening before you have to leave. If you could do this, you can do that. It would mean a great deal to both of us.”
Ángel gave a slightly crooked smile. “Very well, Doña Raquel. Enjoy your Christmas. García, you have put on weight but I expect the march from Oporto to the Portuguese border will soon sweat that off you.”
Óscar stepped forward and drew him into a quick embrace. “You can yell at me all the way if you like. Thank you, Ángel. You’re a very good friend.”
Ángel looked startled but did not pull back. “Not always. Not that often. But it pleases me that you think so. Goodnight, Captain García. Doña …”
The crooked smile came again. “Raquel. Please know that the sight of you marching up to that cathedral daring those old fools to do their worst, will stay with me all my life.”
“Thank you. I once spoke of living behind a glass wall, Ángel. Tonight, you broke it. Only one pane of glass, perhaps, but for me it was a very important one. I will never forget that.” Raquel’s solemn expression vanished and the mischief was back. “And I am glad you took my advice about your hair. It suits you.”
Angel raised a hand to touch his hair involuntarily then stopped himself and gave her an unconvincing scowl.
“It is as well that we’re leaving soon, Doña Raquel or I shall have no dignity left. I wish you a happy and peaceful Christmastide. Goodnight.”
Óscar watched him go, his boots echoing on the old cobbled streets.
“I cannot believe he did that,” he said. “He loathes the church, I’ve never seen him set foot inside one unless he intended to use it as a fortress or a hospital.”
“I do not think he came for the Mass, Óscar.”
Óscar looked down at her. He thought she looked a little sad and wondered if she was upset at Ángel’s stubborn refusal to spend Christmas with them.
“He did it for both of us, Raquel. He has got over his objections to our marriage, I promise you. And it was never about you, it’s just his stupid, outdated notions of social class. In fact he likes you more than I realised.”
Raquel smiled. “As long as you like me, Óscar, I really do not mind.”
Óscar grinned, kissed her and drew her inside. The thought of his impending departure saddened him, but it was Christmas and she was with him and he intended to enjoy every moment he could.