by Lisa Paris
“Oh dear, is my parasol bothering you?” Clara turned to face her with a solicitous little purse of the lips. “It really is brave of you not to bother with one my dear Tessa, the sun plays such havoc with ones skin, and I really would be as brown and wrinkled as a prune if I went without.”
Teresa bit her tongue, and counted to ten, suddenly conscious of her own warm tanned skin, as she looked sideways at Miss Clara’s flawless ivory complexion.
“It’s a little hard to avoid catching the sun out here. We have such good weather most of the time.”
Clara shuddered, and smiled benignly at her as she patted her hand in sympathy. “Well there’s always hope my dear. You could try some lemon juice on those freckles. You never know, it might fade them eventually.”
Teresa tried her hardest not to feel hurt, and she drew a crumb of comfort from an old and particularly dear memory. “My daddy used to tell me freckles were a sign of beauty.”
“Oh how sweet.” Miss Clara trilled with laughter. “Some of these quaint old country sayings are so funny, don’t you think?”
speeded up the horses, and felt a brief, savage sense of satisfaction as
the said parasol nearly flew backwards out of the other girl’s hand. Grinding
her teeth together slightly, she rained down heaven on the hapless Miss
Ellen who had - she suspected, foisted her niece off on her today for the
basest of motives. Teresa didn’t for one second believe that Miss
Ellen’s husband Arthur’s lumbago could have taken such a turn for the worse.
Why - hadn’t she seen Arthur himself only yesterday?
Coming somewhat miserably out of the Cantina all alone and with a harassed
and guilty expression written on his face.
But now here she was, stuck with Miss Clara for the whole day when there were precious seedlings waiting to be pricked out, a length of Brussels lace to be sewn onto the neckline of her new dress, enticing chapters of her book to read.
She sighed again, thinking dark thoughts now . . . Dark and dangerous thoughts concerning two certain young “gentlemen” she knew of - whom, upon being informed that Miss Clara Godrich of the Philadelphian Godrich’s was due to come visiting, had promptly turned tail and headed for the hills. Her brow crinkled slightly as she remembered a pleading encounter with Scott.
“But she really would like to see you again.”
“I’m sure she would, and maybe she will. But a picnic is out of the question.”
And then much more cryptically with Johnny.
“Miss Clara would like to see more of you.”
“Oh, you never know querida, she might get to see a little more of us sometime . . .”
But they’d both been gone by sun-up, and she was already plotting a particularly painful form of revenge for the two of them that involved a certain amount of cleaning and a lack of Chocolate Cake. Turning politely back to Miss Clara, she indicated the broad sweep of the mountains rising up in front of them, and caught her own breath at their beauty.
“Well there they are - one of the views I’ve been promising you. The San Benitos Mountains. Spectacular aren’t they? I never get tired of looking at them.”
Clara yawned jadedly. “Oh I dare say. But when you’ve seen one mountain, you’ve really seen them all my dear Tessa and as you know, I’ve seen mountains in Europe. But on the other hand, I don’t suppose that there’s all that much for you to look at out here is there?”
Teresa looked around her at the majestic grandeur of the distant mountains, the sinuous curve of the Green river and the lush fertile valley which stretched out before them, rolling and verdant as far as the naked eye could see.
“Umm . . . as I’ve never seen any mountains in Europe, I don’t know about that.”
“No,” Clara patted her hand condescendingly. “I can’t imagine you do . . .” And shuddering delicately, she turned up her nose in distaste. “Personally, I can hardly wait to return to civilisation again. Proper manners, polite society - oh, I didn’t mean you my dear Tessa. You do the best you can of course.”
“Yes,” agreed Teresa, a look of brave stoicism on her face. “I do try to - under the circumstances . . .”
And patting her hand again, Miss Clara nodded sympathetically. “Oh you poor dear, you miss so much you know. Only the boring old mountains to look at, the nasty smelly cows. Why at home in Philadelphia, we have such shops you can’t imagine. Dresses and milliners from Paris . . .” “Really?” Teresa’s eyes were round. “All the way from Texas, well I never did!”
Miss Clara’s laughter tinkled. “How sweet. That’s Paris, France, you silly girl.”
“Oh France.” Teresa bit her lip and cast her eyelids down to hide her mirth. “Isn’t that where the cakes come from?”
“Gateaux my dear, gateaux.” Miss Clara shook her head and sighed. “Really, I don’t know how Mr Lancer bears it.”
Teresa trotted them onto the river road, and admired the sparkling water. “Who Scott? Well, he’s too polite to say. All that Boston breeding you know.”
Miss Clara pondered, and inclined her head. “He must consider it his duty to educate Mr Lancer the younger. There’s something so, er . . . wild, about that man.”
Teresa watched from the corner of her eye as Clara’s lips parted, and a slightly glassy look came over her face as she continued.
“It’s a shame they were unable to accompany us today. I had so hoped to see some more of them.”
“Yes,” smiled Teresa sagely. “They both reacted quite startlingly to the news you were visiting. Both of them were especially affected.”
“Really?” Clara preened herself and gave a coquettish little smile. “But then out here in these parts, I don’t suppose they come across a lady like me all that often.”
“Oh no, they don’t.” Teresa agreed earnestly, trying her hardest to keep her face absolutely straight. “I don’t think that either of them have ever come across anyone quite like you before.”
“Well that’s a real shame,” declared Clara sincerely. “I’m certain I could help Mr Scott Lancer in the education of his younger brother. In fact, I should look upon it as somewhat of a challenge.”
“I’m sure you would,” murmured Teresa dryly, as she turned the buggy off the main trail and headed down a rugged track.
“Oh my . . .” Miss Clara held onto her hat. “This is somewhat bumpy . . . ooh!”
Her becoming little confection of lace and artificial cherries slipping wildly askew, Miss Clara held on for dear life as Teresa, very unusually for such a skilled and practised driver, failed to avoid a singularly large pothole in the centre of the track and the buggy lurched and dipped.
“Dear me, I’m sorry Clara.” Teresa turned to her guest with deep concern. “But you seem to have lost your little French hat.”
Struggling with the parasol and the flying ribbons under her chin, whilst trying to keep her balance in a most dishevelled fashion, Miss Clara fought back her annoyance.
“That thing you are wearing is a hat. This my dear Tessa, is a modiste. Or a bonnet at the very least. It cost my papa well over twenty dollars.”
Teresa looked at it in astonishment. “Why you could buy a whole horse for that here, and the saddle as well if you weren’t too fussy.”
“Yes,” said Miss Clara, somewhat acidly. “I’m perfectly sure that you could. Good heavens, wherever are we going?”
Teresa glanced around her with pleasure, and pulled up gently on the reins. “I think we’ll stop for our picnic now - it’s so very beautiful here.”
Miss Clara frowned, and looked about her. “But where are the servants, the tables and chairs. Didn’t you send them on ahead?”
Jumping down from the buggy, Teresa threw back the tarpaulin with a flourish to reveal a picnic hamper and a large Mexican blanket. “This is everything we need.”
Clara’s face fell in dismay. “You mean we have to sit on the ground?”
“Well yes,” Teresa pretended to scout around anxiously. “It should be alright, I can’t see any snakes out here today.”
Miss Clara recoiled in horror, and her voice rose a clear octave higher. “S . . .snakes . . .?”
Teresa grinned, and shook her head. “They’re more scared of us then we are of them. Come on down, we’ll sit in the shade underneath the willows. There’s a really good view of the waterfall from there.”
She reached into the back for the hamper, and purposely ignored Clara’s outstretched hand as the other girl waited to be helped down. Looking out across the large natural hollow pool, Teresa’s spirits lifted as the sun sparkled on the glistening surface, and the waterfall splashed melodically off the rock wall into the deep turquoise water below. She’d been coming to this pool ever since she was a child. Her daddy had taught her to swim here, and the temptation to shuck off her clothes and cleave into the cool, clear depths was almost more than she could resist.
But not today though. Today, thanks to Miss Ellen’s duplicity and Arthur’s lumbago, she was saddled with the Philadelphian Clara. In no time at all, she had set out the picnic and spread down the blanket. Miss Clara sat gingerly, well in the centre. Her skirts fluffed out around her like a big pink marshmallow as she eyed the surrounding rocks and flowers distrustfully.
“I can’t believe this is your idea of a picnic. Why in Philadelphia, a picnic is a social event. We have chairs and tables, and servants to wait us - real china and proper crystal glasses.”
Teresa shook her head in sympathy. “Oh what a shame for you. So you miss all the fun of a real, outdoors picnic then. The sweet smell of grass, the taste of fresh air . . . I always think food tastes so much nicer when you eat it outdoors.”
Clara looked at her as though she were slightly mad and helped herself daintily to a cucumber sandwich, nibbling at the corner, her little finger raised.
“So this is the view you‘ve been praising ever since we left the Lancer estate?” Clara turned her nose up, but Teresa nodded enthusiastically.
“Yes it is. It’s so beautiful here, isn’t it? Why on a clear day, you can see. . .”
The air was split by the sound of a loud whooping and a-hollerin’, and Clara dropped her sandwich in surprise as Teresa looked up above the waterfall, her jaw falling open in shock. A long lean figure, naked as a jaybird, executed a singularly flawless dive off the rocks into the deep water. The sunlight glinted on his fair hair and the arrow-straight lines of his lissom stature, as he cleft the water perfectly and came up shaking his head and laughing.
Another figure strolled out onto the high over-hanging rocks, taking his time, and stretching his arms up in joyous supplication to the sky. There was not a stitch of clothing on his lithe brown body, and his muscles were strong and rolling with definition as he took a reckless run off the edge of the rocks and dive-bombed the man below.
He burst up through the surface like a rocket, hair black and sleek as an otter as he made an immediate lunge at his brother, and ducked him under the water again - the hollow ringing and echoing with laughter as they capered like two playful puppies.
Teresa watched in mortification and growing indignation as she remembered the sly grin on Johnny’s face. His deceptively innocent words. . .
“Oh you never know querida, she might see a little more of us. . .”
turning quickly, she began to apologise to Clara. “I’m so sorry. We’ll
pack up immediately. I don’t know what’s come over them - they can’t know
that we’re here. . .” Her
voice tripped and faltered in dawning amazement as she noticed the
look of wonderment in Miss Clara’s eyes.
“When I said I didn’t know how he bears it, this isn’t quite what I had in mind. . .”
“Clara I. . .” Teresa stopped and burst into a fit of the giggles, turning back to watch what was going on in the pool just as Clara was. “Oh I don’t know,” she said musingly. “I think he bares it rather well!”
Clara nodded; “and as for his brother. . .”
“Ah yes,” Teresa said vengefully, as she planned her retribution; “And as for his brother?”
Miss Clara turned to her and smiled. “Well I did say that I wanted to see more of him, and I do believe, my dear Tessa, that this is quite the best view you’ve shown me all day!”
Lisa Paris 2002.