I've debated a bit about exposing this raw output, but it's what I wrote yesterday and today. I might edit it here, but let's take it a minute at a time, shall we? I haven't cleaned up all the Spanish, so disregard that. (Or, if you see any errors, kindly point them out so I won't forget to edit them.)
Marie brought her head-long rush to a stop, working to keep upright as she teetered before three men seated around a barrel. Laying on top of it were two planks that formed a rough table, which was littered with cards and poker markers that shook and bounced as the men scrambled to their feet. Blinking back indignant tears, Marie realized she knew two of the men, the Dominguez brothers. Enrique reached forward and snatched a bottle of liquor off the table and hid it behind his back. Patricio removed a cigarillo from his lips and palmed it."Señorita Maria, ¿que le pasó? Ah, what ees happen weeth you?" he asked in a mixture of Spanish and English, his voice raspy with concern.Marie shook her head, more to clear it than to indicate a negative response. "I— Nothing of— It was a momentary trifle," she ended, flustered more than she would have wished. That Tom! She must speak with Pa, as soon as could be done."If there's something we can do, miss?" the man unknown to her asked, his voice low and melodious. "We would be happy to assist you in any way." He removed his hat and inclined his head.She noticed that his hair appeared to be black and wavy in the firelight, not unlike that of her brother James. She put the back of her hand to her nose to mask a snuffle. "Thank you sir. There's nothing of importance to be done. I thank you all for your concern." She nodded toward the men and turned to go, but the black-haired man grasped her elbow and stopped her."Miss. I beg you to sit and compose yourself." He motioned to his recently-abandoned chair, then spoke to Patricio, "Traiga un vaso de agua." Then he again addressed Marie. "Will you take a glass of water? You seem uncomfortable.""I— I thank you, sir. And you are. . . ?""C. G. Alderson, at your service." He bowed as he made his hat cut a figure through the air.Marie imagined the hat would look quite at home if it had a feather sweeping from the side of the crown. Oddly, the thought did not strike her as ridiculous, but as courtly and comforting. The man seemed genuinely concerned for her welfare. With that, Marie took the chair offered by Mr. Alderson.Enrique Dominguez brought her a tin cup of water, and Marie accepted it, wondering when Patricio had delegated the task to his brother. She put the cup to her lips, sighed, and took a sip. What did it matter who fetched the water? Her life had shattered into shards around her ears."Miss, you really must allow us to help you, if you have trouble to be mended."It was the same man speaking, Mr. Alderson."Sí, señorita," chimed in Enrique. "Queremos— We want to ayud—help you si es posible." He looked at Patricio, as though he were seeking affirmation that his speech was in proper form."It was nothing," she repeated. "A slight disagreement.""Who would offer you such an affront?" Mr. Alderson seemed taken aback at the temerity of annoying her. "You have but to mention his name." An unspoken threat to the malefactor hung in the air."His name?" Marie felt a small smile lifting her lips. "You are sure a man wronged me?" Her tears had gone.Alderson hung his head. "Dear lady, I beg your pardon at making any false assumption." He raised his head again and looked her straight in the eye, one eyebrow raised. "It would be the highest dishonor to distress such a fair creature as yourself. That is my only defense, that I imagined some scoundrel of the male persuasion gave you an insult. Was I not right, dear lady?""Sir, you were not wrong, but I doubt the offense will reoccur." Marie heard herself using formal language, and cast her eyes down to mask any delight that might be showing in them. "Once my father takes a hand. . . ." She stopped herself. It was likely that her father would disregard any misgivings she had at this late date. "That is to say. . . ." Again, she felt at a loss for words. What could she say, not knowing where this weekend's affair would lead her? Might Pa go through with his scheme to announce her engagement to that odious young man? Her mouth went dry."You are distressed anew," Mr. Alderson stated. "Would a sip of spirits fortify you?"Marie first felt shock, then reconsidered, as the feeling drained off. Why not? It works for men. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.Somehow, she found herself steadying the bottle that Mr. Alderson had wiped on his sleeve and brought to her mouth. She took a sip. White fire burned down her throat as she swallowed once, twice, then thrust the bottle away."There. That should hearten you."Marie felt herself shudder at the strong taste. She licked her lips to cleanse them of a lingering drop. It burned her tongue. She sensed, rather than saw Mr. Alderson tilt his head at the Dominguez brothers, who melted away from the table and left her alone with him.Alderson placed the bottle on the table and seated himself beside her. He drew the chair close, momentarily bumping his knee against hers. "You must tell me your troubles, my dear," he said.