book clubs, women authors, women's stories and women's art are the four intertwined strands of this vine.

A History Lesson

Isabel was drawn to one shelf of books about Spanish history. She retrieved the largest of the volumes, Spain During the Reign of Isabella, and opened it to the first page. She began to read about when and where Isabella was born and how she came to power. As she read she thought about the choices that women had during the fifteenth century, if they were rich and of high birth, reflecting that not too much had changed. She did not hear the door open and was not aware that she was no longer alone in the room.

“I see you are interested in the history of Spain, as I am,” said Señor Sierra Vargas.

Isabel was so startled that she dropped the book, which landed with a loud whump. Coming to her side, Señor Sierra Vargas leaned down at the same time as Isabel, his hand resting on hers as she gripped the book. They lifted it together in one movement as one person, and he did not release her hand from either the book or his own hand, instead using the moment to draw her nearer to him.

“There are many lessons in this volume. Lessons for ascending to a position of power and for using that power,” he smiled, but it was less a smile of happiness than it was of triumph.

“Welcome to my house once again,” he said, and at this he took the book from her hand and went over to the shelf where she had gotten it.

“I hoped you would be interested in these volumes of history, as I have been,” he said. “It is important to learn from the past as one marches into the future, don’t you agree?”

“I hardly know anything about history,” Isabel answered. “Except art,” she added after a moment.

“But art is history,” he answered, slowly sliding the book back into its place on the shelf, watching Isabel carefully as he did. “For instance, perhaps the greatest painting in all the history of Western art is Las Meninas by the genius Velasquez. Do you not agree?”

“It is a great painting, a masterpiece,” Isabel agreed, surprised that Señor Sierra Vargas knew of this painting, or indeed, of anything about any work of art.

As if answering her thoughts he said, “I am a student of many things. For instance, I know good food and good champagne.” He motioned to the table. “Shall we begin?” he asked, and led her to the other side of the room.

Isabel could no longer pretend she had not come for only one reason. As he poured the champagne into her glass, she asked him about Estrellita and what he had found.

“Patience, my dear,” he said. “What I tell you and when won’t make any difference in what happens to your daughter.”

“But your assistant said she had already made it across the border. What does that mean?” Isabel asked.

“Simply that she and her lover found someone who was willing to smuggle her over. It is not difficult, you see. Thousands are doing it every day. And for one more Mexican girl, well, the price may have been high, but I hear she managed the fee by selling something of great value,” he said.

Isabel Part 2, Episode Seventeen

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