The Gift

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

1809---LOS ANGELES

Don Alejandro always enjoyed hearing the laughter of children around him. Diego was now even more precious to him ever since the untimely death of his beloved wife, Bethia Elizabeth de la Cruz. He chuckled softly as he watched Diego and his friends playing in his hacienda‘s garden. There he stood in the middle of a “battle” he had concocted, barking orders! Oh, my son, must you always be the leader, the hero?” Don Alejandro once asked him.

Sí, papacito!” Diego indignantly replied, “I must fight to protect the weak...the innocent ... just as you and Mother taught me!”

Diego was wearing a wooden saber he himself had made and he was defending Spanish womanhood’s honor, said honor today being represented by Rosarita Lopez and Moneta Esperon.

“”NO!” his friend Joaquin Roberto Alvarez shouted. “I refuse to be the enemy again! I do not want to be a Moorish Prince! I want a chance to be El Cid, the hero!” He tossed aside the Arab headdress his mozo had made for him. I want to...”

Diego pulled Joaquin behind a couple of rosebushes. “Amigo! Did you know that one of a hero’s responsibilities is that after he rescues the lady, he must marry the fair maiden!“

The horrified look on Joaquin’s face was priceless ...at least it seemed so to Diego.

“B-but, I do not wish to marry - at least not yet!” Joaquin yelped loudly enough for Don Alejandro, Don Cornelio and Doña Imelda Lopez to come running into the garden.

“Rosarita, Moneta are you both all right? What is this nonsense I overheard about ‘marriage’?” Don Alejandro demanded.

“It is nothing, father.” Diego said nonchalantly. Don Alejandro rolled his eyes heavenward. He prayed to himself Ayi yi yi! Mi Bethia Elizabeth, it is a time such as this that I really miss your wisdom and patience!

“Muchachos, I think that all of you should go inside and clean yourselves up for lunch, vamoose! And as for, you, my son, we shall have a ‘gentlemen’s discussion’ after dinner tonight!”

When lunch was over, the children returned to the patio, where their respective teachers gave them their reading lessons. Estrellita Huerta and Juanita Gomez, were the duennas of Rosarita Lopez and Moneta Esperon respectively. Their lessons today were problems in simple bookkeeping and translating French poetry. However, they began their studies by reading a History of the Lives of Spanish Saints. Moneta whispered to Rosarita. “I am so bored reading about such perfect people. Surely, they must have had played games as children, and ...”

“Faites attention, et tais-toi! [Pay attention and be quiet] “ Senora Gomez chided Moneta, “or I shall fetch the switch!”

Joaquin and Diego were sharing Joaquin's tutor, Profesor Geraldo Diaz y Donario, who yesterday ordered his young charges to read medieval Spanish poetry and philosophy. In addition to these subjects, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they also studied algebra, French and the elements of composition.

Joaquin’s tutor had been a history professor at the University of Madrid and Don Alfredo, Joaquin’s father, had hired him to tutor all three of his sons. His name was Geraldo Maria Tremontar Diaz Y Donario, and he had inherited an ancient title from his father but nothing else. The Ninth Condé Diaz y Donario had had to feed and clothe five sons and three daughters, and Don Geraldo was the youngest child. He was sent to be educated at a Dominican seminary in exchange for some land the Condé would grant to the monks for a new orphanage. Don Geraldo genuinely loved children and teaching, and he had made a very profitable living from tutoring.

“Caballeros” he began, “HOY VAN A ESCUCHER LA LECTURA SOBRE LA POEMA EL CID!” El Cid, [“LORD”] whose story was first told to noble and upper class Spanish children in the early part of the thirteenth century, was considered to be their country‘s supreme example of the classic hero. Every male hidalgo child dreamed of becoming a warrior like this legendary defender of Spain. Diego remembered his father relating to him the tale of El Cid when he was barely four years old.

“Have both of you read today’s assignment? Bueno!“ Joaquin, what is the true hallmark of a hero?”

 

“Well, El Profesor, he performs good deeds, such as rescuing ladies from the evil

Moors and slaying dragons!” Joaquin said. “And also a Spanish hero must...”

Don Geraldo could scarcely believe his ears. “SLAYING DRAGONS?” His voice boomed throughout the patio. “Dios! Whatever shall I do with you, Joaquin! Diego, can you correctly answer the question?”

Diego squeezed shut his hazel eyes before responding. “A true hero not only performs good deeds but he must also be pure in heart, mind and soul. And he must always obey His Majesty the King of Spain.” When Diego opened his eyes Don Geraldo was frowning.

“Once again my caballeros, you have only have partially understood the Song of El Cid. A hero must have compassion, a deep empathy for his fellow man. There are no perfect heroes, my fine young men. “

Profesor Donario paused briefly before continuing. “And Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid‘s real name, disobeyed King Alfonso VI of Castile by carving out a kingdom of his own -- the Province of Valencia. Our Cid did dearly covet wealth, lands and titles. When you read more of the Canto del Mio Cid, remember the hero whom you earnestly worship was all too human. That is all for today!”

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]]

 

Rosarita and Moneta enjoyed being invited to the de la Vega hacienda because both girls were secretly “in love” with the already charming Don Diego. Each girl always wanted to be the “lady fair “ whom their beloved caballero would rescue from the centuries despised Moors. The other girl was relegated to portraying a Moorish Princess whom the gallant Spanish hero would first “save” and send to his castle to be his servant.

“Remember next time, Rosarita! I want to play the Lady Regina Isabella Hernando---” Moneta whispered between her embroidery stitches.

“No! Lo siento mucho, amiga mia, but Diego has declared me to permanently play the part of his Lady Regina ...” “OUCH! “ Rosarita was shocked that her friend stuck her with a sewing needle! “Mamacita! Mamacita!” Señorita Lopez yelled.

“I do not believe you!” Moneta shouted as Don Alejandro and the other adults arrived to separate the two clawing and hair- pulling girls.

But Rosarita was determined to stake a claim on her hero. “And, Doña Imelda, Diego de la Vega has formally promised to marry me when we reach the age of eighteen!”

Doña Imelda Lopez was mortified. ”ROSARITA! You shall be confined to your room indefinitely when we return home this evening. Now apologize to Don Alejandro, your host!”

“I-I am sorry, Don Alejandro. But Diego did promise!”

Don Alejandro had reached the end of his rope regarding the children’s antics. Never mind how inappropriate the idea of 12 year-olds discussing (at least for the present) taboo subject of marriage was! He wearily thought.

“Diego, come here this instant!”

Diego at least had the grace to look chastened. “I can explain, father Doña Imelda.... I overheard both of you talking about ... marriage...between our families and I really like her... Rosarita, I mean.” He straightened his shirt tie. “I thought.... I truly meant no harm. Señorita Rosarita Lopez, Doña Imelda I crave your pardon. Your servant!” And then he bowed.

Rosarita shot a victorious look at Moneta, who felt tears sting her eyes. Oh, Diego! She thought sadly as she bit her lower lip. It is I who love you! I know we are too young, but I know how I feel!

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Moneta was thrilled that her father, Don Cornelio, decided to remain at the de la Vega’s hacienda until the following morning. Although her duenna sat between her and Diego on a garden bench, she was very happy to be able to speak with him at all.

“Moneta?”

“Sí, Diego?”

“I believe that I can let you play the heroine once in a while.”

“Would you.... At least. once or twice a month...’” Moneta batted her tiny silk fan to and fro in front of her face.

But her duenna noticed her flirting and confiscated Moneta’s fan. “Honestly,

Señorita! You shall not behave in such a fashion! Now I am going to fetch some water and you two MUST behave or I am afraid that it is the switch for you, Señorita Moneta and, Diego, I shall certainly inform Don Alejandro you were encouraging her to behave so outrageously!”

As Señorita Juanita’s round form disappeared from her view, Moneta lightly rested her hand across Diego’s knee.

“Diego?”

Diego turned to face her. When he did, she leaned closer to whisper into his ear.

“Remember, Diego, I SHALL ALWAYS LOVE YOU. Never forget me, Moneta Maria Esperon Lopez, your one true love!” She then boldly kissed Diego on his cheek before she scurried back to the sala.

When Diego later faced Don Alejandro for their ‘gentleman’s discussion, ‘ he found it somewhat difficult to concentrate on his father’s words. I may have promised that I would marry Rosarita but Senorita Moneta never bossed me around and Rosarita never kissed me like Moneta did! he thought to himself.

“---And remember Diego, a gentleman never eavesdrops on his father’s private conversations!” His father said as he concluded his lecture and gave Diego permission to go to bed.

“Sí, papa.” Diego sighed. Later that night before he fell sleep, he was preoccupied with but a single thought. A señorita kissed me, Diego! It felt .. good. No, it felt wonderful!

 

 

[[[ ZZZZ ]]]]

LOS ANGELES 1821

 

El Zorro touched his face. It was wet. Something warm and soft nuzzled his neck. Bewildered, he leapt up with a half-drawn saber. “Diego!” He yelled. “Where are you? We must return ...” Tornado snorted in alarm, breaking his train of thought.

“Tornado! What in the world?” He quickly scanned his surroundings. The Fox was once again alone. I dreamed everything! He quickly mounted and spurred Tornado back to the secret cave. Diego has returned to his rightful place --as part of me not as a rival. I feel refreshed and renewed--and at peace with myself!

When the Fox returned to the secret room, he quietly began undressing. As he pulled the black silk shirt over his head, one of ‘Diego‘s‘ lace kerchiefs floated to the stone floor. “I left that home, I am certain of it. I was positive that it was all a dream. Yet here you are!” he said aloud.

The secret door whooshed open to reveal a half asleep Bernardo. “Oh, Bernardo! You should not give up your precious sleep for me! He heartily slapped his hands on his mozo’s shoulder.

Eh? What are you trying to say? “Oh, my father wants to see me in the library. Very well, later this morning! I shall see him after I have rested.”

Bernardo shook his head vigorously and he pointed down a few times.

“NOW!” He wants to see me now?” But it is after one o’clock in the morning!”

His manservant began tugging on Diego’s arm.

Diego wearily sighed as he pulled on his dressing gown and robe.

“Fine, fine, Bernardo, I am going, I am going!” and he turned to go down the flight of stone steps to the first floor.

 

 

Chapter Four
Chapter One
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