The Gift

 

 

CHAPTER 16

ADVANTAGE DEL'AMO

 

Diego lay on his side in their bed always fascinated to watch the gentle rhythmic rise and fall of Moneta’s chest as she slept. He let his gaze glide slowly down her lovely, curvaceous form. Dios! How tempted he was to methodically caress every inch of Moneta’s body, guiding her playfully back to consciousness with his tender lovemaking! Unfortunately, there was no time. He groaned aloud and Moneta briefly stirred, but the sedative she had taken at eight o’clock in the evening was too strong and her head again lay back down on the goose feather pillow. He placed the white and gold embroidered brocade bedcover over her and kissed her goodnight. Diego rose to stretch his long, lean muscular legs and noticed the wooden crib that Bernardo was painstakingly carving for them resting against his dressing table.

He gently tapped the fine rosewood and tried to imagine a baby..no, their baby, their child, their son resting there, smiling up at his dear parents. Diego would not care if his firstborn were a girl; he and Moneta had already secretly decided to name their first daughter Teresa Bethia Carmela. If they were blessed with a son, they reached a compromise after their respective fathers each vigorously requested that the newlyweds name the male heir after the paternal grandfather or the maternal grandfather. Diego and Moneta decided not to reveal their choice of names until the baby’s birth. He smiled to himself yet again as recalled yesterday afternoon’s conversation with both fathers.

“But Diego,” his father argued, “you are not following de la Vega family tradition of bestowing a name on the pending male heir three months after your announcement of your wife’s pregnancy!”

His son rolled his eyes and then winked discreetly at Moneta who hid her amusement behind one of her maternal grandmother’s silk fans.

“And you and Don Cornelio, the both of you already know that the baby will be a boy, eh?”

Don Alejandro and Don Cornelio exchanged exasperated looks. “Certainly!” Don Cornelio commented smugly. “Agreed!” Don Alejandro threw his arms around Moneta’s father’s shoulder.

“And, Diego ... Moneta. that is your final decision?” Don Cornelio asked quietly.

Diego finished lighting up one of his favorite cubanos. “Sí.”

“May the Santos give me strength!” Diego’s father said in a quiet voice.

 Moneta got up and gave both her father and Don Alejandro hugs.

Don Cornelio kissed his daughter goodnight. “Come on, Alejandro, I am ready for a rematch regarding my loss to you last week in that chess game!”

“Fine, fine, mi viejo!” Don Alejandro hugged Moneta good night. Diego bowed to both gentlemen as they left the sala.

Just before the library door closed and they heard bursts of laughter.

“Oh, Cornelio. you are a betting man are you not?” Diego and Moneta overheard Don Alejandro ask her father.

“Well, that depends, Alejandro ..”

“Would you care to make a small wager regarding .. what time of day or night the child will be born? A wager between two hidalgos..”

Diego looked at Moneta and chuckled. “At least that will keep them busy for a while anyway!” he exclaimed.

Moneta laughed until she was almost breathless. “My, my.” she said between bouts of giggling, whatever is happening to the older generation!”

“Speaking of finding something to occupy our time,” Diego whispered to her as they reached their bedroom door. ‘”there will be no more talking until much, much later!”

Moneta placed her fingers over his mouth. ‘Hush, Diego, and kiss me!”

“Mmm.” was his only response.”

He continued to observe Moneta as she slept. Diego thought how extraordinarily beautiful [at least in his opinion] Moneta appeared to be just before she miscarried. Some women were ill during their entire period of confinement, or only during the first trimester. Not Moneta! She had never complained about any discomfort other than a couple of days of morning sickness since the day of their betrothal. He thought with infinite tenderness as he watched Moneta turn on her side with her back to him. How I truly admire her courage in deciding to keep the child. Such a splendid woman -- to give an unwanted and innocent baby all of her love so that the baby would not experience a lifetime of despair and misery due the stigma of growing up without a father.

Diego picked up some crocheting Moneta had left draped over one side of the crib. It was a pair of almost finished booties. He held the tiny items next to his heart as several tears meandered unchecked down his face. Diego sighed quietly. [Ah yes, by the Blessed Virgin and the will of God, we shall have other children!]

After making certain that Moneta was resting comfortably, Diego pressed the button on the mantelpiece above the fireplace in their bedroom that revealed a secret room. There with Bernardo’s help he transformed himself into the Masked Avenger. Bernardo signed to Zorro; it was a good thing that I gave Dona Moneta the sleeping potion in her milk this evening that you requested wasn‘t it?

The Fox placed his hand on his mozo's shoulder. "Whatever would I do without you? Bernardo, I want you to stay with Moneta constantly throughout the night while I am gone. She is still so distraught over losing the baby and along with the fact that Ricardo is free to harass us mentally and physically!”

Bernardo briefly detained him at the top of the staircase leading to the secret cave. Doña Moneta feels that she is cause of all of your recent troubles! My friend, you must reassure her that this is not so. She loves you so much! His mozo stopped his little speech when he saw his master’s eyes brimming with unshed tears.

“Believe me, Bernardo, I have been doing exactly that.” He shrugged his shoulders wearily. “Time grows short. I am on my way to San Gabriel to see our ‘friend’ Ricardo del'Amo. I’m afraid that he will be disappointed that it will not be a social call. Remember, do not leave Moneta’s side until I return!"

Of course, my master. Bernardo touched tbe Fox’s arm. Please be very careful!

Zorro winked his thanks at his faithful friend and then he and Tornado vanished into the night. As he rode down the Camino Real, he began praying to his favorite saint. Oh, dear St. Teresa of Avila, watch over my beloved Moneta as you have protected my mother country Spain. St. Teresa, beseech Our Lord Jesus to send us an abundance of his graces from His hands, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight, amen. His heart greatly encouraged by presenting his troubles before his Saint and His God, the Fox hurried Tornado onward to begin the hunt for his human prey.

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Both Ricardo and Anna Maria were unable to sleep. They stood on the hacienda’s balcony together holding hands in the moonlight, absorbed in each other, as only newlyweds could.

“What are you thinking about, mi corazon?”

“Almost a full moon.” Anna Maria noticed. “Look for yourself. I can see what the Norte Americanos call the “Big Dipper!”

Del'Amo whispered into her ear. “No, there will not be a full moon until Return to bed. It is getting cold and I know several wonderful ways to warm you up!” As he caressed her face and neck, Anna Maria sighed blissfully beneath his firm yet velvet soft touch.

“Does the new Señora del’Amo desire more of this attention from her eager husband?”

“Sí” was all Anna Maria could say. She looked up lovingly at her new husband and sighed. Then she remembered the awful conversation between Ricardo and her father-in-law of earlier that day.

"Ricardo, whatever shall I do if Governor Ramirez orders you to complete your jail sentence? Honestly, we simply cannot allow that milquetoast Diego and that -- what was it you called Moneta de la Vega she snickered at the word -- to interfere with our marriage! They are beneath our contempt!”

He snorted derisively. “Anna Maria, please stop worrying about an event that will never happen. I, Ricardo del’Amo, do hereby solemnly swear an oath that I shall not serve another day in jail! Satisfied, my beloved? Oh and, regarding your assessment of Senor y Senora de la Vega, contempt is too mild a term!”

"Do you know how much I love you Ricardo?" she asked huskily.

"Sí, about half as much as I adore you Anna Maria! Enough talk, let us retire for the evening and I can show you exactly what I mean!"

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Zorro crept through the hacienda’s courtyard and stable and was not surprised that he failed to disturb either the animals or the soldiers at their posts around the hacienda. Although the Governor sent more than a half dozen soldiers from the Monterey Presidio to guard the del'Amos’ temporary residence, there were only four soldiers on duty. Like military guards everywhere who found themselves posted to a boring assignment they were all fast asleep!

He was moving along the side of the hacienda quite rapidly when he heard voices above him. Thank the Virgin, it was only the sound of Anna Maria’s and Ricardo‘s idle chatter. Fortunately, I do not have to deliver my message personally to either one of them, although I am sorely tried! he thought. However, as he listened to their sarcastic comments he became physically ill at the depth pf their callowness. The Fox silently begged His Creator for the strength to keep his mind focused on tonight’s objective. So, Moneta has a ‘moon face,’ has she? What an idiot Anna Maria is not to see how Ricardo was using her!

Finally, the couple left the balcony and closed the door to the bedroom. After ten minutes or so had passed, the Fox unfurled his whip and snapped it up towards the balcony. [Whack!] Zorro crouched behind several flour barrels in case his whip made enough sound to awaken either the just retired Indian servants or the del‘Amos. He heard nothing and proceeded to vault over the balustrade without touching the wood.

When the Fox reached the door to their bedroom he stood up and removed a small piece of parchment from his pocket and slipped an envelope underneath the door. Zorro waited awhile longer to see if anyone had heard him and then he stealthily moved back down the balcony and leapt onto Tornado’s back for the long ride home.

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]][

 

Moneta Esperon de la Vega awakened just before eight o‘clock am to find Diego’s gorgeous hazel eyes engrossed in studying every detail of her face. She reached over to return his sensuous touch as he caressed her cheek for several minutes before he spoke.

Mi preciosa! Did you sleep well? Concern played momentarily across his face before he quickly composed himself. “Can you forgive my harsh words of last night?”

“Beloved husband, of course I can! I only wanted to break the monotony of sitting here at my hacienda with practically nothing to do! Diego, I would like to --”

“Sí, mi corazon?” he responded between kisses that he began showering on her neck and throat. “Moneta, permit me to tell you what you were going to say. You wish to travel to Los Angeles, eh?“

Moneta laughed softly. “If you do not allow me at least one shopping trip before our annual Posada, I shall go quite mad!”

He tweaked her nose in amusement. "Moneta, I will allow you to travel to Los Angeles under these conditions and these conditions only! Since my father and I still have more preparations to oversee regarding our annual Christmas Eve fiesta, El Noche Buena, we must attend to matters that require our personal supervision. Bernardo shall go with you and he shall remain with you at all times; two, you will only stay in Los Angeles for a couple of hours, no more! Bernardo will have strict orders for you to come home after that, comprende?”

"Oh Diego, Gracias! I shall be certain to obey those instructions to the letter!”

“All right! Tomorrow I will let Bernardo escort you into the pueblo!”

“Gracias, querido mio!” Diego, I have one more request and I am afraid how you will feel about this idea!”

Moneta looked away from Diego but there was no escape from his strong arms.

“Señora de la Vega,” you have but only to ask.” He smiled at her so intensely that Moneta wanted those lips to kiss her for all eternity.

“I want to have a baby---as soon as possible-- a son of your body and blood - OUR CHILD, in every sense of those words!“ Moneta stared deeply into hazel eyes that suddenly became incandescent with his love for her.

Diego sat up very straight. “If you believe that you are sincerely ready my love, than I am more than willing to .... do my share!” he grinned mischievously. “Shall we begin mi preciosa?”

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Anna Maria accidentally tripped on the edge of their bedroom carpet and twisted her ankle. “Oh, my goodness! My ankle hurts so!’ she complained as she bent down to retrieve her slippers. “Ricardo?” She picked up the white envelope that Zorro had left the night before. “I-it is addressed to you!”

“I shall read it in a few minutes. Now please lay down on the bed while I prop up your foot.”

He called for his mozo, the Chiricahua Apache Jorge Paco and sent him to fetch Dr. Raphael Raimondo. Ricardo picked up Anna Maria from the floor and helped her back into bed. He propped up her foot on a pillow and had one of the kitchen staff bring cool water so he could pat her forehead with a damp washcloth. Then Ricardo sat down at his desk in their bedroom and started to read the envelope’s contents.

“Señor Ricardo, I have you under constant observation, and should you leave the hacienda without Governor Ramirez’ permission, I shall carve a large “Z” on your chest right through to your back!” --EL ZORRO!

“Bastardo!” Don Ricardo yelled not caring who overheard him.

Jorge Paco mentally cringed when he heard his master’s shouting reverberate throughput the hacienda. [Unless I run away from this muy rabio caballero I shall go crazy,] he thought disgustedly. [I wonder if the de la Vegas need any servants?]

“Anna Maria, I tried to tell you that Zorro is in league with Diego! Read this!”

She blanched as read the Fox’s threat. “I-I just don’t understand him.... I simply cannot believe what I see before me!”

Ricardo rushed to get dressed. “Dearest, I will not tolerate this gilded cage any longer--I am going to the de la Vega hacienda and challenge Diego to a duel until the death!”

“NO! Ricardo, if you violate your parole Governor Ramirez shall imprison you for 20 years!“ she said while crying hysterically.

He ignored her as he walked around the second floor balcony. “Bueno. There are only four guards this morning rather than the usual ten to twelve. I shall go downstairs, calmly eat breakfast, and then pretend to fall ill. The rest of my plan should be easy!” he told her.

Ricardo finally sat down next to his despondent wife. “Anna Maria, I cannot allow El Zorro, your hero or not, to insult my manhood. It is a matter of honor!”

“Pah! I am sick and tired of hearing you talk about honor as it if it were a hobby in which you can choose to indulge in or ignore on a whim! Furthermore--’”

“UHHHHHHH!! Anna Maria moaned as she landed on their bed.

“R-ricardo, you struck me! Anna Maria gasped.

He reached down to pull her up “Listen to me, my ‘dearest wife’! If you breathe a word of my escape to anyone, when I am finished with Diego and Moneta de la Vega, not even Zorro will be able to protect you!“ Satisfied she was no longer a threat to him, he went downstairs to put his sadistic machinations into motion. Later that morning he mounted his favorite horse, Sky Fever, and galloped toward the de la Vega hacienda. As Del’Amo raced towards the outskirts of Los Angeles, his timepiece told him that it was almost three thirty and it would be dark soon. But Sky Fever sensed his master’s impatience and Ricardo could have sworn that his mount ran so fast that the animal’s hooves barely touched the ground. It was almost two weeks before Christmas and he knew that Diego and Moneta, like the rest of the local hacendados, usually spent the daylight hours shopping for the de la Vegas’ La Noche Buena Posada on Christmas Eve. If my luck holds, I am certain to meet Señor and Señora de la Vega just before the last bend the road to their hacienda.

Unknown to him, another rider departed from Ricardo’s ‘gilded cage’ several minutes behind him But this rider knew a little traveled short cut to del’ Amo’s destination...

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Bernardo helped load another of Doña Moneta’s innumerable packages into their carriage. They had made several previous trips to pueblo without incident. But today Bernardo was worried since they were going to be late arriving home. He showed his pocket watch to her.

“My! I did not realize that it is nearly three o’clock; we should have been home a half-hour ago. Diego will be livid!“ Bernardo wasn’t worried about his master’s temper. Like Don Alejandro and Don Diego, he realized that Moneta would be safe only if Ricardo del’ Amo served a long prison term or if he were dead.

 

[[ZZZZ]]

 

Jorge Paco pounded on the de la Vegas’ patio gate. Diego had just opened the door to the secret room to begin his transformation into El Zorro when he heard the noise. A sense of dread told him to personally respond. “Who is there?” he asked as he ran down the stairs to the open the gate. However, Crescencia reached the gate before him.

“Don Diego! It is Jorge Paco, Don Ricardo’s mozo!”

“Sí, Crescencia, I know who he is. Please fetch some water for our guest.”

“At once, Don Diego!”

“Gracias a Dios!” An exhausted Jorge said as threw himself into a chair. “Don Diego. Señor Ricardo. Bad news. left the hacienda. H--he is armed with pistols...looking for you... and Doña Moneta.”

Don Alejandro came running into the patio as Crescencia had seen him exiting the library while she was on her way to the kitchen. His father grabbed Diego. “Over here,” he whispered. “You change into Zorro and I will get Cresencia to take care of Ricardo’s mozo. Meanwhile I shall fetch Sergeant Garcia!”

“Agreed!”

Don Diego soared back upstairs to the secret room, threw on his black silks and quickly vaulted himself into Tornado’s saddle. [Blessed Virgin please do not permit any harm to befall my beloved Moneta or my best friend, Bernardo!] “Fly my Black Whirlwind, fly! “ He yelled.

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Ricardo’s body stiffened. He had just stopped long enough to let Sky Fever drink some water from a nearby stream when he heard a woman’s voice singing --no -- praise all the Saints! That is Moneta singing her favorite Christmas carol, Adeste Fiedeles. Moneta’s voice grew louder and stronger.

He quickly hid behind some foliage and watched her carriage approach. Dios! No Diego! But wait! Moneta was accompanied by Bernardo! How both of their deaths will torment de le Vega for the rest of his life! Ricardo chuckled. Oh, what a stroke of luck!

“HEYAAAA!” He spurred Sky Fever directly in front of the carriage, aimed both pistolas at Moneta de la Vega and fired.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!” Moneta screamed as loudly as she could. Then she felt a sharp burning sensation across her left temple. She fell from the carriage onto the Camino Real and embraced the peaceful oblivion rushing to meet her.

But as Don Ricardo fired his pistolas, Bernardo threw himself in front of Señora de la Vega.

Zorro’s heart jumped in his chest as he heard the shots. “BY THE VIRGIN! HURRY, TORNADO!” he shouted.

He leapt from his saddle before Tornado completely stopped. He had arrived too late. Moneta lay unmoving on the Camino Real, her delicate face covered with blood. He looked up only to see Ricardo was already disappearing over a hill. The Fox tenderly reached down to hold his beloved wife as closely to his heart as possible. Sorrow flooded his senses so completely he did not hear Don Alejandro and Jorge Paco dismount from their horses and kneel beside him.

 

 

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