The Gift

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 4

MORE DECISIONS

 

“Father, I am home.” Diego announced to Don Alejandro, trying to appear cheerful. Alejandro merely grunted a response as they entered the library. Don Alejandro motioned for him to sit down in the nearest chair. “Diego, I believe that you know what the topic of this conversation will be. “

“Oh?” Diego said as he sat down in the nearest chair. He rubbed his bleary eyes as he watched his father begin to pace the library.

“My son, I realize now that you have been severely hurt by Anna Maria Verdugo’s rejection! Diego, I am ashamed to admit this, but I decided to read the note from Señorita Verdugo outlining her refusal of your marriage proposal. Since Anna Maria is such a vain, immature child who is still besotted with Zorro, she was definitely not a suitable marriage partner for a de la Vega! However, you have now reached the age where you should fulfill your family obligations! This family needs a male heir, and I am not going to donate our family‘s estate to the Church!”

Diego abruptly rose from his chair. "But, surely you would not do that! I know that you mean well --”

" No!“ exclaimed his father. "There will be no more excuses!

His son was too fatigued to argue and sat back down.

“You have been cold and disrespectful toward me since our return home from Monterrey! I have seen far less of you than usual during the past two weeks. If I were not aware that you were out riding as Zorro at night, I would conclude that that you were deliberately avoiding me. Diego, I have reconsidered my opposition to your marrying at all, and I have arranged a more suitable match for you! Please try to understand. Your impertinent behavior must cease!“

“Dios!” Diego exclaimed, “ I have not been my usual gallant, charming self because I need some rest,” he said testily, “but really father!“

“Diego, I am not in the habit of repeating myself! Before this week has ended, I shall introduce you to your future bride!” Alejandro’s tone softened a little. “Sí, I do believe that you need some rest. Please remember that I am your father and I love you! However, I am serious regarding this matter. You will marry and marry soon! If this marriage means the end of your riding as Zorro, then so be it! You have made personal sacrifices far beyond your duty to the people of California. Zorro cannot ride forever and I am certain that our people are very grateful for all of your accomplishments. I do not mean to force this matter upon you, but I feel that I must!“ Alejandro rested his hand on Diego’s strong shoulders. “I am not accustomed to these late hours as you are, I am retiring for the night. Hasta mañana, my son.“

Diego sighed. “Sleep well, my father. He shook his head at Don Alejandro’s change of heart regarding his view of Zorro’s career. He was too exhausted to think of anything else but rest so he returned to his room for the night.

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

The first person, whom Diego usually saw upon awakening later that morning, was his faithful friend and mozo, Bernardo, who customarily woke him at nine o’clock. Since his master had returned just before one am earlier this morning, Bernardo did not wake him up until after eleven. Diego had barely begun to yawn when Bernardo excitedly started to sign the two important things he felt he had tell his young master.

“Wait until after I have finished shaving, Bernardo, and then begin at the beginning!” the young de la Vega groaned.

When his mozo completed Diego’s morning shave, he started signing to Diego how worried he was that Diego had been in such a dejected mood the night before. His little manservant waved his hands, first placing his fingers on his heart and then moving them to Diego’s chest, meaning “Whatever I can do to ease your pain, my friend...”

“Gracias, mi amigo.” Diego replied as he cleaned his face. But before Bernardo could continue, Diego gave him the shaving mirror and began to painstakingly examine his moustache trim. Bernardo sighed inwardly at his master’s natural fastidiousness. [Patience is a most desirable virtue, he repeated the adage that his madre had taught him, patience is a most desirable virtue!]

Finally, Diego was satisfied with his appearance and he winked at Bernardo to fetch his most elegant shirt. “My ride immensely improved my mood, as you were well aware,“ Diego said. “But after talking with my father,“ Bernardo’s master sighed and shook his head. “My dear father decided last night to lecture me regarding my ‘surly mood!“ Diego suddenly fell silent and he momentarily closed his eyes.

“Please, if you are able to, tell me everything my friend.“

My father has already selected a more suitable bride for me and I shall meet her before the end of the week.“

His mute friend rolled his eyes and slapped both hands against his face. ‘And, my young friend, I can only hope that you did not answer him with your usual witty sarcasm!’

Diego’s mood immediately became somber. “No, my silent one, I certainly did not! However, something bizarre happened to me in the Garden of the Gods last night. But, never mind. What was the other thing that you were so excited to tell...“

A soft knock on his bedroom door halted him in mid-sentence.

He motioned to Bernardo to open the door after he donned and tied the sash on his robe.

“Ah, Crescencia!” Diego greeted the de la Vega’s oldest and most efficient house servant. “You are looking exceptionally lovely this morning. To what do I owe the honor of this personal visit?”

Crescencia looked warily around Don Diego’s room as if she feared that the walls had ears.

“Well, Don Diego. ... I may be behaving improperly, but I felt that you should know that Don Alejandro is waiting for you in the patio--”

“But, my dear Crescencia, that it hardly an unusual thing for my father to be doing in the morning!”

“Sí, sí, Don Diego, but Don Alejandro wants to see you immediamente because he has special guests this day. Don Cornelio Esperon and his daughter, Señorita Moneta!”

Cresencia folded her arms and shot Don Diego and Bernardo a knowing look.

The young de la Vega suddenly understood the implications of these particular guests’ appearance so soon after his father’s recent lecture. By the Blessed Virgin, my father had already made a betrothal contract with Don Cornelio before he even spoke with me! Then he realized that Cresencia was waiting for some kind of emotional outburst from him. Instead he put his hands lightly on Cresencia’s arm and keeping his tone of voice neutral, said “Muchas gracias, you have done me an enormous service. I shall not forget that. Por favor, inform my father that I will meet him in the patio shortly.“

“Certainly, Don Diego!“ Crescencia replied as she curtsied and left the room. Diego closed the door behind her.

Bernardo looked askance at Diego. “Well,“ his mozo indicated with his hands, “you could have certainly done worse than Señorita Moneta and you almost did!”

So, that is what you were trying to tell me. Dios! My father most surely has told Don Cornelio that I shall be ecstatic to have his daughter as my bride. His reasons? This

fiancée is not besotted with that ‘rascal of a rogue Zorro!’ And ’tis ‘high time that I marry’!” Diego quoted his father’s words to him just before one a.m. this morning.

Bernardo laughed silently at Diego’s imitation of his father. He gestured, “But I see in your eyes my master that you are determined to make your destiny!”

“Si! I was going to tell my father this morning I shall marry someone who loves all of me, whole and entire, both as Diego and Zorro!”

Now his manservant teasingly wagged a finger at him. “Moneta has something that Anna Maria will never have ... humility... and a warm heart!”

Diego pretended to ignore him and finished tying his scarf. “Well Bernardo, I have had certain feelings for Doña Moneta for quite a while now. When his manservant looked at him strangely, Diego merely shrugged his shoulders.

“Come my friend, I must never keep my father or a beautiful lady waiting!”

Diego slapped him on the back and then they both rushed down the stairs to reach the patio.

[[[[ZZZZZ]]]]

 

Don Alejandro was becoming very nervous since he told his specially invited guests that Diego would be more than happy to be betrothed to Moneta! He kept apologizing to Don Cornelio regarding his son’s tardiness. He paced back and forth on the patio ceramic tiles so much that Don Cornelio teased Alejandro he was acting just like a first time expectant father!

“Cornelio! You do not know Diego as well as I do! How he loves to stay out until all hours of the night! “Ayi! yi yi!” he muttered to a chuckling Don Cornelio, who tried to ‘console‘ his old friend.

“You should not worry so much, Alejandro. Diego will be down shortly, of that I am sure. He has always been a dutiful son to you has he not?”

“Why, ah, yes, yes of course.” Don Alejandro hastily replied. “Diego has been the best son that an old man could ever hope for.” He still kept checking his pocket watch to see how long it would take Diego to come down to the patio after he sent both Bernardo and Crescencia to awaken him.

“See, what did I tell you, Alejandro? There is Diego now!“ Don Cornelio said to Alejandro. “Are you well, Diego? You look rather tired!”

“Don Cornelio, con permiso, I wish to speak with Diego before we all sit down to have some morning hot chocolate.”

Don Cornelio smiled. “Alejandro, you do not need my leave to have a talk with your own son!“

Don Alejandro quickly grabbed Diego’s arm and ushered him into the sala. “Alabado sea el Señor!” the elder de la Vega sighed with relief. “Well, Diego, I see you finally got out of bed! I must have a word with you privately about your marriage to Señorita Moneta!”

Diego coolly eyed his father. “Yes, I see. So this is the reason for Don Cornelio’s and Señorita Moneta’s presence here this morning. And you and Don Cornelio, you had this betrothal all arranged before you spoke to me last night, eh?” Diego crossed his arms and looked down his nose at his father.

Don Alejandro was not to be dissuaded by Diego‘s chilly tone of voice. “Exactamente! I have agreed to a marriage between you and Señorita Moneta. The details we will be negotiated today. Father Felipe will be informed of your engagement later this week.” Alejandro suddenly stopped in mid-sentence. “Do you have any objection to these arrangements?” He inquired with an edge in his voice.

Diego pulled back his mouth in a tight grin. “I bow to your wishes in this matter,” he said quietly.

Alejandro rolled his eyes. “Diego! Sarcasm ill becomes you. Come, we are keeping Moneta from her husband-to-be!”

When Diego reached the patio, he immediately went to Don Cornelio and bowed. “It is an honor for the de la Vega family to have such a distinguished guest at our hacienda.

“And it is good to see you this fine autumn morning, Diego.” Don Cornelio said with genuine warmth. “Of course, Diego, you know my daughter, Moneta.”

“Buenos Dias, Señorita Esperon.” Diego picked up her dainty right hand and gently pressed his lips to the back of it. He riveted his eyes on her creamy flawless complexion and then let his gaze linger on her full, pink lips. When he smiled at her, Moneta thought that she would lose herself in the fierceness of that hazel gaze. Then, to her wildest joy, Diego held her hand next to his heart.

“Where are my manners! Por favor, please sit down, Señorita. You are always lovely, but today ...“ Diego gestured grandly. “Today your beauty will inspire me to compose poetry in your honor! Now, what can I do for such a lovely companion this morning? ”

Moneta and her father hid knowing smiles. Don Alejandro intercepted the unspoken message between father and daughter and he laughed to himself. He turned his head and privately thanked God that at least it seemed that his son was looking -- and behaving -- better than he had since his most unfortunate experience with Anna Maria. He thought to himself, Ah, well, Bethia Elizabeth, pray for me that I will be successful in marrying off our son this very morning!

Don Alejandro cleared his throat. “Ah, Don Cornelio my old friend, perhaps we should leave the two young people alone. Do you not agree?”

Cornelio Roberto Muñoz Esperon agreed immediately. “Indeed, Alejandro, the weather is so perfect today. Two such young people should be strolling through your lovely garden, and not listening to two old gentlemen discussing business!”

“Don Cornelio,” Alejandro said swiftly. “I have just received a new shipment of Jerez from Madrid. “I would certainly like your opinion regarding this new vintage. Do you think that you and Moneta can stay for lunch and perhaps or dinner later tonight?”

“Yes, I do believe that we can force ourselves to do exactly that!” He winked at Don Alejandro.

 

 

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