7 A Proposal for Serafina 2
Serafina waited by the windowsill, stabbing her needle into the lacy kerchief the initials of Señor Mercado. Her papa, a drifter of a gamester, promised to arrive not later than noon, but, to her expectations, ran late, seeing as how the clock by the banister read thirty minutes past noon. She put aside her threads and needles and rang the bell for tea, something that could hopefully distract her from waiting any further for Papa's arrival.
The servant, a comely girl, set a small tray by the window ledge and poured a cup for her mistress. Serafina dismissed the girl with an elegant wave of her fingers; and just as she was to take her first sip of tea, the beating of hooves alerted her of an incoming visitor. She stuck her head out of the window and saw the fast approach of Papa's carriage.
"Mistress, it be ye father," said the servant who'd just brought her tea.
"Yes," whispered Serafina. She jumped to her heels and quickly walked to the main entrance, standing in wait to greet Papa.
The carriage drawn by four horses stopped right at the steps, and Señor Mercado, in hasty fashion, jumped out puffed and overdressed in a blue coat and cravat with a red brooch pinned neatly at the center. He was a peacock, trying his best to mimic the latest European fashions his friends had seen.
"My! Ever so early for my birthday, papa," Serafina said in greeting and turned her cheek to Papa for a kiss.
The father exchanged this good humoured banter with a rueful smile and led his daughter into the dining room, where they partook honey-cured ham, beef broth, steamed white rice, and a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting baked by Serafina herself. Once the servants cleared the table, two glasses and claret were set.
Señor Mercado filled the glasses and raised his, cheerily saying, "To my daughter Serafina, who has grown lovelier since I last set my eyes on her." For indeed she'd grown lovely, as what the Señor expected.
Serafina was of uncommon beauty, as she had her mother's dark eyes and dimples, which played peek-a-boo every time she smiled or laughed. Only a blind fool would call her plain.
"Papa, you spoil me with such empty flattery," she said with a giggle.
"Ah! But I must compliment my and your mother's work. With my jaw line and her vivacious countenance, how can we not have a pretty child such as you?"
The luncheon and drinks were appetizing and good, but the Señor felt it climbing up to his throat. Dash it, he thought and slammed his glass down with such force Serafina jumped from her seat. He smoothed his hand over his hair and stared at his daughter with a twinkling eye. Damn that old, wrinkled fool! I must tell Serafina!
"P-papa," Serafina choked and put her glass down. She wondered why he looked at her with a nasty scowl and pinched brows. "Is the claret not to your liking?" she asked.
"My dear girl," her father said under his breath, and he grabbed for her hand and gave it a squeeze. "How must I go about this?" he muttered to himself, staring at his wide-eyed daughter.
A curl of his lip cleared the scowl on his brows, and Señor Mercado gave his daughter's hand a pump, and carried on with the claret until he had finished half of the bottle, while Serafina had two glasses. He stared at his daughter again with the same twinkling eyes, and huffed a deep, heavy breath.
Even the claret could not muddle his mind or make him forget that Saturday was just two days away. In two days the guardia sibil would take him and arrest him for his unpaid debt with the Doña. He was a flimsy peacock with a penchant for bad investments, but he wouldn't sacrifice his daughter because of his own folly.
The Señor was deep in thought when a servant came into the room bearing a note in her hand. She whispered to Serafina, "A letter, miss, from an old friend—is what they told me to say."
"They?" Serafina exclaimed softly and gingerly took the note off of the servant's hand. When the servant left, Serafina unfolded the sheet of paper and read quietly, while the Señor wondered who could have written his child such a short missive.
It was a while before Serafina uttered a word, and when she did Señor Mercado's muddled brain sobered.
"I've been invited," she sighed and smiled. "Doña Consuela is having a dinner party this coming Saturday. It says here you and I are invited and you know the details, Papa."
"D-details…?" Señor Mercado stuttered, and beads of sweat trickled down his face and neck. That sly, wicked witch, he angrily thought.
Seeing the dark look on her father's face, Serafina put the letter down and said, "You've been distracted since luncheon ended."
"Distracted?" the Señor echoed. "Must be your imagination, child."
"Very well, if you say so. Are we going to the dinner party, then?"
"No," Señor Mercado exclaimed.
"Why? The Doña is a good friend of mine," she said matter-of-fact.
"Wha—since when? You've only met her once."
Serafina nodded. "Yes, and we've been corresponding with each other since."
Señor Mercado jumped out of his seat, grabbed Serafina by the shoulders, and snapped, "You fool!" He stepped back and put a hand over his eyes, saying in a sob, "Now there is no other way!"
"Other way what?" Serafina cried.
"My girl, my girl," Señor muttered, "Doña Consuela wants you to wed one of her sons! That is why she invited you."
"Yes, Papa," she steadily said, "and I already agreed to the Doña's proposal just a month ago."
Señor Mercado put his hand down, and, in shock, swooned to his left and dropped to the floor.