The next day, Diego hired a carriage.
He went to extreme pains to make certain the horses pulling it were
white. It was a good thing he
had brought enough money to find these magnificent animals!
But it was essential. Perhaps
AnnaMaria would somehow make the connection between white horses and her
lost love, Zorro. Even
through wine-sodden eyes, Diego hoped that she would see him for who he
was. Even if he no longer was
the hero of her youthful past.
That afternoon he drove out to the Verdugo hacienda.
The sky was brilliantly blue, the sun shone brightly, and the birds
sang in the trees as if they sang an opera.
Diego merely smiled on his ride.
He experienced a sensation in his inner being that he couldn’t
quite interpret, except that this visit would determine both his and
AnnaMaria’s fates. But a
strong sensation it was. Perhaps
it was just nerves, but in any case Diego would be certain within hours.
Arriving at the Verdugo hacienda,
Diego tied the reins and stepped inside the patio.
Sitting along the fountain was AnnaMaria. Her hair had been fastened atop her head as if she were about
to experience the first encounter with a suitor.
It warmed Diego’s heart. She
was sober, she had taken pains to look presentable, and the effort had
been worth it. Diego saw the
lovely senorita he had years
earlier fallen in love with. It
was as if no time had passed at all.
“AnnaMaria?” he spoke softly.
She wasn’t startled, but she quickly looked up and smiled the
smile Diego had never forgotten. He
walked over and sat down next to her.
“Do you know how lovely you look?” he asked her.
The flattery was totally unintentional.
Diego meant it with every fiber of his being. “I
don’t think I have ever seen you looking lovelier.”
AnnaMaria blushed like a silly adolescent, as if she had never had
suitors before who complimented her.
Somehow she knew that these were not words to gain favor, but that
they came straight from Diego’s heart.
“I hope you don’t mind, Diego.
I had a basket of food prepared so that we could have something to
eat.” She turned to where
the basket was and, turning back, received an approving nod from Diego.
“How can you read my mind so well, AnnaMaria?
I had totally forgotten about eating today, just thinking about
spending the day with you!”
AnnaMaria blushed again. How right this felt. The years suddenly melted away and she saw Diego through the eyes of her youth. How handsome he had been and how very handsome he still was. Time had not altered the de la Vega looks. And without wine to mar her eyesight, she was seeing very clearly now. She raised her hand to Diego to help her stand so that they could be on their way. Ever the caballero, he took her hand and traded places with her so he could take the basket of food. And he led her to the gate.
Stepping outside to the carriage, AnnaMaria gasped.
Her eyes were wide as she scanned the white horses. Her head swam slightly and she felt weak.
She felt like royalty. These
horses were exquisite.
“Is something wrong, AnnaMaria?” Diego asked concerned.
He felt her waver slightly as they emerged from the patio.
“Well,” he thought, “the horses seem to have an effect on
her!” And Diego was feeling
rather content that he’d made such a choice of horseflesh.
As they went on their way there was a freshness to the air
AnnaMaria hadn’t experienced in so long that she couldn’t recall the
last time. Perhaps she’d
allowed her misery to blind her to the simple things in life, she thought.
But now the air seemed to crumble the scales on her eyes that wine
and unhappiness had marred. Now
colors seemed brighter, birds seemed to sing more clearly, and AnnaMaria
suddenly felt like a young senorita
again. As if life really
wasn’t over for her yet.
Finally, coming to a stop, Diego helped AnnaMaria from the
carriage, and then fetched the basket of food.
As she stepped down, AnnaMaria was again struck with an odd feeling
when she waited by the white steeds.
She shook her head to try and clear her mind and why she should
react to a pair of white horses. But
Diego reached her and they walked over to a shady place beneath a tree to
eat the food.
“So, AnnaMaria, tell me all about what has been happening with
you since we last met. I want
to know what you have been doing with yourself and how, after all these
years, you have changed so little!” Diego urged.
Some of the smile dimmed from AnnaMaria’s face, but she found
some Verdugo dignity and began. “Well,
Diego, my father passed away about 15 years ago.
It seems like yesterday. And
I miss him so. He was one of
the few people I could talk to as an equal.
He never made me feel inferior because I was a woman.
But other than that, I can’t think of anything of significance
that has happened.”
Diego wasn’t sure how he could encourage her to talk about her
thirst for wine and what caused it. For
a couple of minutes he rummaged through the basket and began to remove the
food and drink, distributing it between the two of them.
Taking a bite of the bread, Diego tilted his head and looked at
her. Suddenly the words
wouldn’t be contained. “AnnaMaria,
when I walked into the tavern last evening, you appeared to be so troubled
by something. Your beautiful
eyes….they seemed dimmed by some deep hurt.”
He didn’t want to allude at all to the wine and was thankful that
he’d managed to speak so as not to offend or embarrass.
AnnaMaria sighed heavily. Then
her Verdugo courage surfaced. “Diego,
I do not know how to explain this, except to be very blunt.
Since even before my father’s death I have not been happy.
After he died I simply did not know how to mask my pain.
I lost two of the men I dearly loved.
And I found myself sampling the hacienda’s
best wines. It only helped to
forget the heartache for a short time.
And the pain always came back, so I continued to drink the wines to
keep the pain away longer.
I became lonely and began going into the tavern to drink wine.
It is not easy to talk about it, and I haven’t spoken about it to
anyone. For some reason, when
you came into the tavern and sat at my table, something inexplicable
changed. I felt….I felt
like I wasn’t alone anymore when I recognized you.
Something that felt very comfortable seemed to rush through me.”
Diego thought for a minute. Then
he asked her, “AnnaMaria, you mentioned two men that you had lost. Did you lose a husband?”
“No, Diego. I never
married. I was too foolish, for one thing. The first man I felt I’d lost was Zorro.”
She laughed lightly at her own past folly.
“I waited and waited for Zorro to return and make me his wife.
Anyone else who tried to win my hand went away rejected. For some reason I always thought that when the time was
right, he would be back. I
lost the chance on marriage, having a family, growing old together with
someone I loved, due to the silly whims and dreams of a foolish young
girl. When my father died, it was just pure loneliness that I lived
with. No one was around to
challenge me. I’d lost my
Diego listened to her words. He
felt half guilty at not coming back to Monterey.
But as Zorro he’d had a mission he’d felt he had to see
through. He’d also lost the
chance of happiness with a woman.
“Zorro never revealed himself to you?” Diego asked.
“But what about that day in the plaza when he was offered
amnesty?” AnnaMaria began
to redden in her cheeks with embarrassment and wring her hands.
“He did not show, did he?”
Diego said. It was
more of a statement than an inquiry.
“That is very sad. I
was certain it would happen. But
being an Angelino, I know that Zorro would never have purposely hurt you.
He had a good reason, I am certain.
And he maintained his mission for years after that offer of
amnesty. I suppose, AnnaMaria,
that Zorro was trapped in his own crusade.
He could not let people down who would look to him for his help. And I would guess that since so much time had gone by, he
most likely believed someone had been fortunate to claim your hand.
But he would not have intentionally hurt you.
Never has he been known to hurt people’s feelings that he cared
AnnaMaria nodded in understanding.
“Si, Diego. I know.
He said as much to me after the amnesty had been withdrawn.
But it was the case, at first, that I believed he would return.
And holding on to that dream year after year, well, as foolish as
it was of me, no other man was able to take his place.”
Diego felt the need to make her smile and laugh again.
“Not even Ricardo del Amo? Surely
he would have been suitable!” he joked.
And he was successful. AnnaMaria’s
eyes lit up a little more and she laughed as if years had peeled away.
Diego had to ask. “AnnaMaria,
would you have known Zorro without his costume?”
She looked at him oddly, as if she didn’t quite understand the
question. “What I mean is,
Zorro planned to reveal himself to you.
And you had said even to me that it wouldn’t matter who or what
he was. Do you remember?” AnnaMaria
gingerly nodded the recollection. “So, what I am asking, AnnaMaria, is if you would have
actually known who was standing before you.
If Zorro had revealed himself to you, his real person, would you
have known it was him or was it the black clothes he wore?”
AnnaMaria pondered the ideas Diego suggested.
Finally she looked up again. “I
suppose I was too young at the time, Diego, but I suppose the black
clothes he wore would have made a difference.
I mean, had Zorro taken off his mask to me at some time after the
amnesty offer, I would have seen who he was.
How else would I know? Anyone
could come up to me and claim to be Zorro.”
“Si, AnnaMaria, that is
true. But what I am
suggesting is that your heart, your eyes, and your ears would recognize
him. If you were unable to
see with your eyes, your ears and heart should have been able to recognize
him, wouldn’t you agree?” It began to sound as if Diego were trying to justify himself
and make excuses for not having returned to claim the senorita he so desperately loved once. And if he was not mistaken, Diego suspected he still did.
He suddenly realized that, although they may not be young enough to
be parents, they were forever young enough to find happiness with each
other. Diego decided to put
AnnaMaria to a test. “AnnaMaria,
tell me. Would you be very
angry if Zorro came here to Monterey now, so many years later, to finally
The senorita looked at
Diego with yet another odd look on her face.
“What a strange question, Diego.”
She took a sip of some of the water that they’d brought.
Tilting her head in thought, she looked at him to answer.
“I suppose I would feel somewhat hurt, si.
I mean for so long I’ve felt like I’ve been forgotten, as if it
all had been a dream or Zorro didn’t feel the same way or mean what he
that would hurt. But for how
long, I cannot say. Much time
has gone by and there hasn’t been a day when I have not thought about
the situation and circumstances. I
have thought about it very much. I
believe in my heart that despite the sacrifices, time would melt away the
years. And with what you said
earlier about Zorro’s need to serve the people, it does all make more
sense now. So perhaps I
wouldn’t be angry or hurt too long.”
It was quite a confession, Diego thought.
AnnaMaria had definitely matured.
She’d suffered heartache and losses.
And truth be told she wasn’t an old woman at all.
She still had plenty of youth.
Not the immaturity of the daughters all the haciendados
would marry off in their teen-age years, but AnnaMaria was still vibrantly
“Do you think I could teach you to hear with your heart,
AnnaMaria?” he asked. He
had a devilish look about him. And
once again AnnaMaria gave him a strange look, although she laughed as
“ ‘Hear with my heart’?
And exactly how is this taught, Diego?
You have some very strange questions today!
When did this start happening to you?” she asked with teasing
Diego joined in. “I know it sounds very strange. I guess all the years Bernardo served as my mozo I learned a few things from him, like using the other senses when you lack one. He communicated very well for someone who could not speak.” The thought of his old friend, confidant, and servant quieted him for a moment. He missed Bernardo. “But let me try something, con permisso? I want you to close your eyes, relax, and think back to the last time you saw Zorro.”