Authors: Stacy Gregg
Francoise’s face dropped. “It is one night!” She shook
her head in disbelief. “Can you not stop thinking about horses and have fun just for one night?”
“I’m sorry but dressing up in a silly costume and flinging myself about isn’t actually my idea of fun,” Avery retorted.
“Ohhh!” Francoise pushed her paella plate aside and stood up from the table, utterly furious with Avery. “You, you make me so mad! You don’t seem to care at all about…” Francoise suddenly realised that everyone was staring at her and finished her sentence half-heartedly, “…tradition.”
Then she stormed out of the dining room.
After Francoise’s departure everyone hastily finished their paella and moved to the living room to sip hot chocolate and eat
– thick, rich desserts that tasted of baked toffee on top and creamy custard beneath. Issie wolfed down her dessert much faster than the others so that she could wander down to the stables to say goodnight to Angel and Storm before she went to bed.
It had been a strange day, she thought, as she walked across the cobbles towards the stallions’ quarters. Well, to be precise, it wasn’t the day that was strange, it was Francoise. The Frenchwoman had seemed so calm and cheerful today at training, but completely lost her cool at dinner. Now that Issie thought about it, Francoise had been moody ever since they had arrived in Spain.
Issie noticed that there was a light on as she approached the stables. Perhaps one of the grooms was in there? It seemed a bit late for them to still be here. The stalls were usually in darkness at this hour.
“Hello?” Issie’s voice echoed through the cavernous interior of the stallions’ quarters. “Is there anyone here?”
There was silence for a moment and then a voice, at the far end of the corridor. “
, I am in with Marius.”
Issie walked down to the far end of the stable block. In the last loose box, Francoise was busily grooming Marius. Still dressed in her yellow silk gown, she was furiously working a body brush over the stallion’s rump.
“Francoise? Why are you out here in the middle of the night?”
“Marius needed grooming,” Francoise said, bending
down to work on his legs. “And I needed to calm down and let off some steam.”
Francoise stayed focused on the horse’s hocks, brushing furiously.
“I told you today, didn’t I, Isadora, that riding horses was all a matter of feeling?”
“Yes,” Issie agreed, wondering where this was leading.
“So how can it be,” Francoise asked, “that Tom Avery can be such a great rider, when that man has absolutely no feelings at all!”
“What do you mean?” Issie was totally baffled now.
Francoise began to briskly brush Marius’s tail. “He is a heartless, thoughtless fool!”
Issie watched as Francoise whipped the tail back and forth, her anger building with each brush stroke. She had always known that Francoise and Tom shared a very delicate and tempestuous relationship. But things had been different on this visit. Avery and Francoise had been constantly bickering and arguing ever since they had arrived at El Caballo Danza Magnifico.
“I mean,” Francoise continued her rant, “he comes all the way here and I thought he would have changed,
but he is more maddening than ever! The most infuriating man!”
Francoise threw the dandy brush down on the straw of the stall floor and put her head in her hands.
Issie was shocked. She had no idea Francoise felt like this. “You really can’t stand him, can you?”
Francoise turned to Issie with wide eyes. “Oh, Isadora!” she said. “It is worse than that, much worse.” She paused and took a deep breath. “I think I am in love.”
“But how can you be in love with Tom?” Issie was stunned. “I mean, ever since we got here you’ve been totally miserable.”
“I am!” Francoise agreed. “Isadora, it’s all gone so wrong! I thought he loved me too but now, oh, I don’t know…”
Francoise took a deep breath and then the truth came pouring out. She and Avery had started emailing each other six months ago, organising the arrangements for Storm to come home to Chevalier Point.
“It was all about the horses at first,” Francoise explained, “and then we began to talk about other things. Our emails became, well, romantic…”
“Romantic!” Issie was floored. “Tom?”
Francoise nodded, “His words were so sweet. But then when he got here, it all just seemed to go wrong. I didn’t know what to say, and neither did he. So we both said nothing. And now we keep getting into these stupid fights…”
Francoise sighed and dusted the horse hairs off her yellow silk dress. She picked up the dandy brush she had thrown onto the straw and put it back in the grooming kit. “He did not even notice my dress tonight,” she said sadly. “And he refuses to even consider taking me to the harvest dance.”
Issie was too stunned to speak. How could she have been so blind all this time? And poor Francoise! No wonder she was so upset.
“I’m sorry Francoise,” Issie shook her head, “I wish there was something I could do to help.”
Francoise suddenly pulled herself together and resumed her haughty composure. “There is. You can learn the
as quickly as possible and leave El Caballo Danza Magnifico and take Tom Avery away with you. Being around him is making me miserable and crazy. The sooner he is gone, the better!”
After that disastrous evening Francoise seemed to make a point of turning up at dinner in her jodhpurs and shirt, straight from the stables, as if to emphasise the fact that she could no longer be bothered. She made sure that she always sat as far away from Avery as possible and barely took part in the dinner conversations, leaving the table with haste as soon as the meal was done.
Avery, meanwhile, looked every bit as miserable and uncomfortable as Francoise. All of this was in stark contrast to Mrs Brown and Roberto Nunez who were always talking and laughing and swapping recipes for Spanish dishes. In fact Issie was beginning to wonder if her mother and Roberto were getting on a little too well. She expressed this concern to Stella in an email after dinner late one evening. Stella emailed back:
Ohmygod! What if your mum and Roberto fall in love and get married? Then you can go and live in Spain and I can come and visit you and the handsome Alfie – who will by then be your step-brother so you cannot date him of course because that would be weird, right? But I could
still go out with him and he would take me in his arms and we would fall madly in love…
Typical Stella. Issie wished she’d never said anything. It was crazy to think that her mum and Roberto might be in love. Issie didn’t want to move to Spain, she liked living in Chevalier Point! And the stuff about Alfie? Stella had never even met him!
What Issie regretted the most though was telling Stella about Avery and Francoise. Issie knew she mustn’t mention her conversation with Francoise to anyone at El Caballo Danza Magnifico. But she figured it would be safe to blab it all to Stella in New Zealand, thousands of miles away.
Stella had written back,
I can’t believe Tom has broken her heart! I am going to give him a piece of my mind when he comes back to the pony club!
Issie was horrified. Stella was a total gossip and by the time they got home it would be the talk of the Chevalier Point Pony Club. Avery would know Issie had told them and he would want to kill her!
At least things were beginning to improve in the riding school, Issie consoled herself. Since Francoise had taken her riding through the olive grove, Issie felt like her
understanding of dressage had stepped up a level. When the
tossed out terms now, like having the horse ‘between the leg and the hand’, she understood what they meant. She was able to listen to their advice and join in their conversations.
was the tanned, whippet-thin, Corsican rider, Jean-Jacques. Two years ago, Francoise had found Jean-Jacques working at her old riding school, the famed Cadre Noir de Saumur, and had convinced him to come and work for El Caballo Danza Magnifico instead. Jean-Jacques didn’t speak good English, but he somehow managed to convey his advice by saying very little. He was always helpful, taking Issie aside if she was having trouble mastering a manoeuvre; spending time with her and giving her tips. With his help she began to learn the piaffe and by the end of the week she had managed to get Angel to perform his first piaffe in the middle of the arena with the whole troupe watching them.
“Put the legs right back and keep the hold on reins,” Jean-Jacques instructed. “Now with your heels! Sit up! And hold him!
The thrill of performing a perfect piaffe was unbelievable. The powerful, grey stallion stepped down
the centre of the arena at a trot and then, as Issie gave him the signal, he stopped and began to trot up and down on the spot, lifting his knees high in the air but not moving forward a single inch!
“Bravo! Well done!” called out Jean-Jacques, Francoise, Alfie and the rest of the
from the sidelines.
Francoise seemed delighted with Issie’s progress. “Next week,” she told her, “we will begin work on the ‘airs above ground’. If you can grasp them at this rate then they should take no more than a week or two to learn. And then you may take Nightstorm home.”
Two weeks ago nothing would have pleased Issie more than to have heard this news. But when Francoise said this, she felt sad somehow. Issie knew that Francoise was still upset about Avery and it seemed a shame that things had worked out this way.
After Issie’s piaffe, the
had finished training and gone home for the day and Francoise and Alfie had gone back to the hacienda. It was only 6 p.m, dinner was a long way off and the sun was still high in the sky. Issie’s legs ached from a hard day’s training, but even with aching legs, she couldn’t resist the chance for a quick ride on Storm before nightfall.
The bay stallion nickered when he saw her walking towards his stall, craning his neck over the Dutch door and giving little whinnies of excitement.
“Did you think I’d forgotten about you, boy?” Issie said, stroking his velvet-soft muzzle over the partition door. “I’m going to take you out for a ride. I’ll just get your gear out of the tack room and then we’ll go.”
The tack room at the El Caballo Danza Magnifico wasn’t your typical pony-club affair. It was a grand, wood-panelled room at the far end of the stable block. The room was circular and at its core stood a three-metre wide, solid, wood-panelled tower that extended from the floor all the way up to the top of the high-vaulted ceiling. Carved wooden saddle racks were attached to this tower, like branches sticking out of a Christmas tree.
When Issie walked into the tack room, she didn’t realise that there was someone else already in there, hidden out of view on the other side of the tower. She did, however, notice the footprints.
They weren’t ordinary footprints. They were cut-outs in the shape of a man’s shoe, made from brown paper and dotted about on the concrete floor at strategic intervals. The footprints were laid out in pairs, with
chalk lines drawn on the concrete and arrows pointing from one pair to the next like a diagram.
Issie was baffled by the footprints. She was even more confused when she heard the tango music start up and Tom Avery’s voice from behind the wooden tower, chanting over the top of the Spanish rhythms.
“Right foot forward,” she heard Avery talking to himself. “One-two-three and…turn! And left-one-two-three and…”
Issie watched in amazement as Avery, completely absorbed in the patterns on the floor, tangoed his way out from behind the wooden tower. He was concentrating so hard on putting his feet in the right place and holding his hands around his imaginary dancing partner that he didn’t notice Issie until he was almost on top of her.
“Isadora!” Avery practically let out a squeak and jumped backwards. “What are you doing in here?” Issie tried unsuccessfully to suppress a grin. “What are you doing?”
Avery was flustered. He bent down and began picking up the brown paper footprints that he had laid down on the floor. “I was, umm…this isn’t what it looks like…”
“It looks like you were teaching yourself how to tango,” Issie offered helpfully.
“Well in that case,” Avery said, ‘I suppose, yes, it is what it looks like.”
“But I thought you told Francoise that dancing was a waste of time and you weren’t interested?”
Avery looked slightly pained at being reminded of this and shook his head. “It’s complicated Isadora, you wouldn’t understand…”
“But I do!” Issie was excited. “You wanted to ask Francoise to be your partner but you can’t actually dance! You lost your nerve and now she’s not speaking to you. So you’re in here, trying to learn the steps to the tango and summon up the courage to ask her to the dance.”
Avery looked utterly astonished. “Umm, well, yes, I suppose that just about sums it up really…” Then he looked suspiciously at Issie. “How did you figure all this out?”
Issie smiled at him. “I can’t tell you that. But if you ask Francoise to the dance, I’m pretty certain she’ll say yes.”
A look of cautious delight appeared on Avery’s face.
“If I were you,” Issie added cagily, “I would do it straight away. Ask her tonight, after dinner.”
Avery looked awfully pleased. Then he realised once again how foolish he must seem with his handful of paper footprints and his iPod still playing the tango in the corner of the tack room.
“Listen, Issie, if you wouldn’t mind not mentioning any of this…”
“…to Francoise? Of course I won’t!” Issie said. “I won’t tell anyone.”
Issie made a quick dash to grab Storm’s saddle, bridle and a saddle cloth off their rack and then grinned at Tom.
“Right then,” Avery said. “Well? What are you still standing here for? Off you go!”
Issie could hardly contain her excitement as she tacked Storm up. Avery did like Francoise after all! It was so obvious, really. After Francoise’s prickly responses to his attempts to woo her, Avery had been too shy to ask her to the harvest dance – especially since he was a terrible dancer! But now that Issie had given him the hint it seemed certain that he would pluck up the courage. She
couldn’t wait to tell Stella. Imagine if Francoise and Avery ended up dating! Seeing as Stella already knew, then surely there was no harm in emailing her about this new and exciting development as soon as she got back from her ride.
Issie set off around the walls of the compound, taking the same path she had taken the other day with Francoise. If she were riding Angel then she would have used this opportunity to try out her schooling tricks, doing shoulder-ins and the flying changes through the trees. But Storm was too young and green to learn such things, so she just stuck to the basics; walking, trotting and cantering, asking the stallion to listen and respond to her aids without question. She was surprised at how much better her riding had become after all those dressage lessons in the arena. Her seat was so much deeper and her balance was much better too.
She did wonder though whether she would really be able to teach Storm the
moves by herself once she got him home. It was one thing to perform them at El Caballo Danza Magnifico with Francoise or Jean-Jacques to help her, but it was quite another matter to master the moves so that you knew how to do them
without an instructor at your side. Once she was home again, would she really be able to do
all on her own?
Issie still wasn’t confident that she could master the
moves full stop. But she wasn’t about to speak of her fears to anyone, especially not Francoise or Roberto Nunez. If they thought she couldn’t handle training Storm then they would never let her take her horse back to Chevalier Point. And she wasn’t going home again without her beloved stallion. Not this time.
Storm was eager for dinner by the time they got back home. He nickered and paced as he waited for Issie to mix up his hard feed. Issie loved to watch him eat, to hear his soft snuffles as he hungrily devoured his feed. By the time she had put his lightweight cotton stable rug on and left his stall, it was getting late. She hurried back to the house and found the others already gathered in the living room having tapas.
“Isadora!” Roberto greeted her brightly. “We were just
wondering where you had got to. Now that you are here we can go through to the dining room. Dinner has been served and—”
He was interrupted by a knock at the door. “Excuse me for a moment,” he told the others, and he walked out into the hallway.
Issie could hear mutterings in the hall. Roberto, and another voice, a familiar one. And then Roberto called out, “Francoise, could you come here? There is someone to see you.”
Francoise frowned and walked out into the hallway. Issie and Alfie, unable to control their curiosity, exchanged a glance and then slipped through to the sun lounge at the front of the house so that they could peer out through the curtains of the front window to see who it was.
!” Alfie exclaimed when he saw who was standing at the front door.
“Ohmygod!” Issie couldn’t believe it either.
Standing on the doorstep, with a bunch of wilted sweet peas clutched in one chubby fist, wearing his best suit, was none other than Miguel Vega.
“What is he doing here?” Alfie asked.
They didn’t have to wonder for long as they could hear every word that Vega said. “
Francoise,” Vega gave a bow, “please, these are for you.” He thrust the bunch of sweet peas clumsily into Francoise’s hands.
“Merci, thank you,” Francoise was clearly baffled. Vega stood there staring at her.