The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

 

“Don Diego do you have a moment? I would like your advice about something,” Selena said after her father’s funeral, when all the guests had departed. Don Alejandro and Bernardo were standing outside in the patio. Alejandro had been vigorously trying to convince Selena to accept her father‘s marital arrangements. Selena exhaled wearily. I can see where Diego acquired his tenacity and stubbornness. And Don Alejandro still clung to the belief that his son would change his mind and offer himself to her.

“Don Diego, I require assistance in putting my father’s estate in order for probation ... “ Selena said as she indicated for Diego to sit down.

“Of course, señorita, I am at your service,” Diego replied as he bent his head down to gaze into her eyes, an action that nearly melted her soul.

No female could resist such a look unless she was utterly without emotion. Steady, Selena. Are you willing to inspire nothing but pity in the man by continuing to wear your heart on your sleeve where he can tear at your self’s core with a mere glance? His touch on her arm jolted Selena back to reality. She must have said something amiss to anger him because he abruptly walked away from her. Oh, Santa Maria what have I done?

“Selena. Open your eyes. I will not bite you, I promise,” he smiled and laughed at his little joke. Diego handed her a tumbler of dark liquid. “Drink this brandy, all of it. No, do not gulp it, señorita! Sip it!”

Diego sighed. The señorita was trembling so much her teeth were chattering. Surely she cannot be afraid of me. he thought suddenly. “Here let me help you.” Diego held the glass to her mouth while he placed his arm around her back for support.

Selena stopped breathing as her universe shrank to include just the two of them, a man trying to help a friend and a lonely woman vainly trying to tell that man how much she wanted him. But propriety prevented her from doing so and Selena completely abandoned herself in Diego’s magnificent hazel eyes. The strength in his arms was formidable yet he held her as delicately as a piece of china. Diego forced the liquid fire down her lips as she continued staring into his eyes. Surely he could read her thoughts now? Then her self imposed stupor vanished as she realized what Diego was trying to convey to her. Ah, si, it is as I feared ... it is pity ... he feels sorry for me.

“Bueno, you managed to finish the brandy. And now your dueña, Mam’selle Amontildar, should take you upstairs to bed,” he said gently.

“But Diego, I have to begin sorting through father’s things so that Señor Colón, his solicitor, can begin settling the estate.”

“No, not now, you are exhausted. I shall accept no excuses. Wait here on the divan,” Diego said gently over his shoulder as he went to the patio to find her dueña.

While Diego left to retrieve Mam’selle Amontildar, Selena yawned continuously. Must stay awake. What will Diego think of me if I let a little amount of brandy... affect ... my... senses. However, despite her best efforts, her head drooped on her chest and Selena’s eyes closed.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Don Alejandro saw Diego enter the patio and approached his son.

“How did it go?” Alejandro asked Diego gently.

“Meaning did I ask her to marry me?”

His father slapped his head. “May the saints give me strength! What else could I possibly mean? Diego, the señorita needs a strong man to guide and protect her. I fear if you do not take for your wife she will have return to Spain. Selena cannot remain here alone and unmarried! The very idea is absurd. Of course, her sister’s husband may force her to enter a convent,” Don Alejandro added darkly.

Diego looked at the ground. “Father... she is so vulnerable right now. It would be dishonorable for me to take advantage of her distraught emotional state. The last thing that she needs is a marriage of convenience.”

Don Alejandro shrugged. “It is said that time heals all wounds. Let us hope for Selena’s sake that the old proverb is true.”

  “Si. Ah, there is Mam’selle Amontildar now. I told Selena that she should retire for the day. Excuse me, father.”

Diego and Selena’s dueña returned to the sala only to find Señorita de Rojas fast asleep.

“Mais mon cher,” Mam’selle Perrileaux whispered, “me, I am so very glad to see you resting.” She turned to face Don Diego. “Her, she worry herself sick dat she caused her pere to die, Monsieur. I tell her dat not her fault, but her, she no believe me.”

“Of course not, Selena is upset over her father’s sudden death and is talking sheer nonsense, Mam'selle Amontildar. Selena has to grieve for Don Martino in her own way and whenever she raises that issue I shall endeavor to convince her she was certainly not responsible for her father’s untimely death.” Diego gazed down at the dozing Selena. “I will carry her upstairs, con permiso.”

Selena did not even stir as he deposited on her bed. She is lovely and she will find a caballero who will treasure her, I know she will. Diego thought as he kissed her gently on her cheek and drew the coverlet over her. “Hasta la luega, señorita.”

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Zorro rode later that night for personal reasons. He needed to clear his head for his thoughts were filled with the lovely Señorita de Rojas. Would she return to Spain and enter a convent as his father speculated? Or would Selena remain here, ignored by polite society as a figure of curiosity or pity as a lone female without the protection of a husband? Women in his culture were elevated on a pedestal. Men assigned their destiny in life to them. They were to be virgin wives or nuns or creatures of questionable virtue. There was no middle ground - everything in their existence was either black or white. What a waste, he concluded, and how unfair to have your life all plotted in advance by others without a thought given to what a woman wanted or what she might be capable of doing with her life? At least I had a choice, and I thank God for being allowed to shape my destiny as I saw fit. As for me I have to determine if my attraction to Selena is just affection or the beginnings of a deeper relationship. I must see her again, but this time as the Fox.

Tornado suddenly drew to a halt and snorted. “I hear them, my friend.” The Fox patted his horse’s head affectionately. Hmm ... riders from the pueblo, singing loudly and most probably drunk. Zorro pulled his mount into some bushes. He listened to their off key singing [well, at least that is what the riders thought they were doing] and shook his head. One of the caballeros was reciting some love sonnets and had the bad manners to misquote the author of same. The Fox sighed. Enough of this foolishness. Time for action.

The Masked Avenger pulled his own pistola and wheeled Tornado directly into the drunken men’s path, causing one rider’s horse to rear and throw the caballero to the dirt. “Hola, señores! And may I hazard a guess as to where you have spent your evening’s pleasure?”

Don Hector gasped “Zorro!”

“Ai! ‘Tis The Fox!” Don Cornelio exclaimed as he fumbled for his pistola.

“Oh. NOOOOOOOOO,” wailed Don Lorenzo.

“Be quiet, Hector, Zorro is no ordinary bandito. Sí, he will not rob us!” said Don Cornelio Sanchez as he held onto his mount while trying to get up from his undignified fall.

“Do not presume to know what I am thinking, señor. Now throw your weapons on the ground, pronto!“ The Fox said as he motioned for them to throw down their sabers and any pistolas they may be carrying.

“Hurry up, señores, “ the Fox said as he dismounted.

“Señor Zorro, I am Don Hector ...”

“I know who you and your compadres are and where you have been celebrating tonight. At La Casa, eh?”

Sí. Sí. S-Sí!” the three inebriated hacendados chorused between noisy hiccups.

“For shame!” Zorro said disgustedly. “By day you brave gentlemen decry the onerous taxes that Commandante Glorioso imposes upon you and yet by night you gladly pay him enormous sums of money for food, drink and female companionship!”

  Don Hector Armando wagged his finger at Zorro. “That is our private business, Señor Fox!”

“How wrong you are, Don Hector! Do you not realize that no man is an island? Your patronage of that sordid place demeans both the young unfortunate women in question and yourselves! Are you blind to the evil you are encouraging in this community by favoring that establishment?” Zorro asked quietly. “When the Commandante has amassed enough wealth he will try to steal your estates, my fine hidalgos.”

The trio said nothing and the Fox could not tell whether the dons’ silence resulted from the truth of his lecture or their advanced state of inebriation.

“Now tell me Dons Hector, Cornelio, and Lorenzo do you have any pesos remaining in your wallets? Come, come, gentlemen! My finger grows weary on this pistola’s trigger!” The Fox wiggled his and Don Hector’s own weapon at them.

Very reluctantly, they threw their money on the ground.

Don Lorenzo Videras was upset. “Cornelio, I thought you said Zorro was not going to rob us?”

“Shut up!” Don Cornelio retorted, “and do as the Fox says.”

“Excellent advice, Don Cornelio,” Zorro grinned. “Now the rest of you dismount and remove your boots. QUICKLY!” he shouted. “ I have other urgent affairs to conclude this night!”

“W-hat are you going to do to us?” Don Lorenzo asked shakily.

“Simply this, gentlemen. First, you are going to walk home in your stocking feet and I shall release your horses later so they can return to their respective stables. Secondly,” Zorro said as he waved his pistola in the air, “I am going to leave each of you with a memento of our meeting this evening!”

With rapid flicks of his wrist he carved three “Z’’s” one on each of their chaquetas.

“Thirdly, I shall make a donation to Father Felipe in your names with these lovely pesos you have generously entrusted to me. And lastly, if I ever hear or see any of you in Capitán Glorioso’s place of business again, I shall personally inform your wives of your newly acquired distasteful habit. Now vaminos!”

Zorro remounted Tornado and yelled after them. “Señores, in the future please quote Shakespeare correctly. After all, his sense of rhyme and meter is far superior to yours! Buenos noches!”

Don Hector Armando sighed resignedly as they began their long journey on foot. “‘Ay, yi, yi!”

“What are you worried about Hector?” Don Lorenzo said as they stopped to rub their aching feet. “Surely you are not concerned about losing five pesos?”

“Of course not!” Don Cornelio snapped. “But if Zorro should tell Doña Armando----”

Don Hector nodded, nervously contemplating the fury of Doña Cecilia’s anger, and any soothing of her dismay would be extremely expensive and therefore the most painful of all punishments. “By all that is holy, querida Cecelia,” he imagined himself saying to his wife when she learned the truth regarding his ‘business appointments’ in the Pueblo during the past two months, “I did not mean any harm ... I shall never visit La Casa again. I swear an oath on my mother’s grave!”

“You are afraid of your wife?” Don Lorenzo was aghast. “Surely not!”

“Lorenzo, have you ever seen Doña Armando?” Don Cornelio asked.

“No.”

“Lucky man!” Both of his companions chorused.

END OF CHAPTER TEN

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven
Chapter One
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