Redemption of a Fallen Woman


Chapter One

Elena Ruiz stared out of the window letting her gaze range across the rooftops of the city towards the open countryside and thence to the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, shimmering in a dusty haze. Out there, beyond the jumble of pantiled slopes and chimneys, lay freedom. It was an emotive word. Her fellow countrymen and women had spent eight long years freeing themselves from the French invaders. She had played her part in that, and gladly too. When the conflict ended she desired no more than to live a quiet country life, but such freedom was not permitted women of noble birth. For them the choice was simple: marriage or the cloister.

Betrothal had taken place in a past life when she had been a different person. Young, naive and hopeful she had never questioned her pre-ordained role. The war had seemed far off then. It had caught up with her eventually, of course. As a result marriage was out of the question. No man of good family would want her now. In any case the thought of intimacy filled her with dread. Men did not touch her and the only one foolish enough to try had found himself staring down the barrel of a pistol. Even then it took a bullet crease in his arm to convince him she wasn't bluffing. The incident was sufficient to keep the rest at a respectful distance. Memories were another matter. By day, useful employment kept them at bay but at night the dreams still returned, less often now but no less violent for that. She would never be entirely free of those. Her hands clenched at her sides and she turned away from the window to resume her slow pacing of the floor.

Her companion surveyed her keenly. Although of a similar age to Elena, her dress revealed her to be of the household servant class. In spite of unfashionable olive skin, her face with its high cheekbones and pointed chin was not ill-looking, though the mouth was too large for conventional beauty. However, the dark eyes were shrewd and intelligent and, just now, expressive of concern.

'What are we going to do?'

'I don't know, Concha, but somehow we have to get out of this house.'

'Your uncle's servants are vigilant.'

'Vigilant, but not infallible. I'll think of something.'

'Better to think quickly, then. We have only a few days more.'

'I will not spend the rest of my life shut away just to suit notions of family honour.'

'If we don't find a way out of here you may have no choice. Your uncle is powerful and, as we have already seen, he has the means to compel obedience.'

That was undeniable, Elena reflected. He had no qualms about bringing her to Madrid against her will, and he would have none about expediting the rest of his plan either. As the head of the family now it was his responsibility to guard its reputation, a duty he took most seriously, and she had become a liability.

'I'll think of something,' she replied, as though repetition might make it true.

Since their arrival two days earlier she had racked her brains trying to think of a viable plan. The only person whom she knew would help her was Dolores, but her beloved older sister was married and settled in England now. She might as well have been on the moon. As for Luisa and Estefania...they were lost to her for good. Even after four years the memory was still painful and she pushed it aside, along with all the others pertaining to that time. The past was done with, and if she didn't put her mind to the present problem the future would be irrevocably blighted too.

'At least you are not without means,' said Concha.

'Money is not the problem. There's enough and to spare, but it will be no use unless we can get out of Madrid.'

'If...when...we do leave, your uncle is certain to mount a search.'

'We'll worry about that when the time comes,' said Elena. 'In the meantime we must not give any reason for suspicion. Being under house arrest is bad enough. I don't want to be locked in my room as well.'

Concha nodded. 'You are right. Let it be thought that you are becoming resigned to your uncle's will.'

'Exactly.' Elena made a vague gesture with her hands. 'I have no wish to be at odds with him, or any other member of my family, but as it is...there's no choice now.'

The sound of iron-rimmed wheels and horses'