The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

THE CAPITAN’S VISIT

 

 

The mistress of the hacienda de Rojas dipped her head slightly to Glorioso and raised her right hand for the capitán to kiss. The commandante squeezed it so tightly that the señorita flinched at the physical contact. He smiled at her like a predator who had finally cornered its prey and is anxious to toy with its meal before satiating its hunger.

Selena would not allow him the pleasure of seeing her becoming upset with his boorish behavior. Simply because this brute great pleasure in acting superior, I can not allow him to nettle me. Mon Capitaine foolishly believes I am a naive ingenue, clueless in the art of deception. Trés bien. Selena said to herself. I shall permit him to labor under that delusion.

Bienvenidos, welcome to my father’s home, Commandante Glorioso. And greetings to you, Sergeant Garcia and Corporal Reyes.”

Glorioso’s deep blue eyes scrutinized her face for any hint of artifice. Her warmth appears to be genuine he mused to himself.

“Gracias, Señorita de Rojas,” the capitán replied stiffly as he reluctantly released her hand.

“Many thanks for welcoming me into your hacienda, Señorita de Rojas.” Garcia said before removing his hat and simultaneously nudging Reyes to do the same.

“Si.” Corporal Reyes echoed. “It is an honor to be invited here again.”

‘You are quite the gentleman, Corporal,” she purred softly. “Now Capitán Glorioso what can I do for you? Refreshments perhaps?” Selena then directed Glorioso’s attention to her other two guests. “Of course, you remember one of the Pueblo de Los Angeles’ premier citizens, Don Alejandro de la Vega?”

The commandante turned to glare at Don Alejandro. “A surprise to see you here, de la Vega.”

Don Alejandro bristled at his insolence but decorum decreed that he return the capitán‘s bow. “I have come to pay my respects to the Señorita as her father and I were old friends. And your business here, sir?”

Glorioso’s smile was as false and frigid as a blizzard in the Sierra Madre Mountains. His glacial blue eyes darted around the sala, mentally cataloging all of the objects in the tastefully furnished room. The barely concealed look of avarice on the capitán’s face reminded Señorita de Rojas of a ferret.

“Official business, de la Vega,” the commandante retorted acidly. He continued his visual examination of the de Rojas’s hacienda while he dismissed Don Alejandro’s presence with a wave of his hand. Diego’s father turned away slightly from Glorioso so he could hide his revulsion for the capitán.

“Oh, Amontildar,” Senorita ordered, “please serve some refreshments, some hot chocolate for Bernardo and myself, and some jerez, perhaps the vintage from the year 1799, for our gallant capitán and Don Alejandro. Is jerez acceptable, gentlemen?”

“Most certainly, senorita,” Don Alejandro said with a twinkle in his eye, his admiration of Señorita de Rojas growing stronger as he watched her deftly handle the commandante’s ill manners and the superficiality of his charm. Was Glorioso really so obtuse that he did not recognize sarcasm when he heard it? The elder de la Vega wondered to himself.

“Most acceptable, Señorita,” Glorioso replied formally, “with one exception. He pointed his riding crop at Bernardo. I do not drink with servants,” he tilted his head towards Don Diego’s mozo.

Don Alejandro clenched his fists and Selena stepped between Glorioso and Diego’s father to prevent a confrontation.

“Ah, gracias, mi capitán. You must forgive me,” Señorita de Rojas said softly. “I fear I have been a very poor hostess, ignoring the Spanish Court’s Rules of Etiquette.” She waved her fan at Don Alejandro. “Señor, if you will dismiss Don Diego’s valet?” Selena hoped that her eyes conveyed the desperation that she dare not reveal in her voice.

“Certainly, my dear.” Don Alejandro responded affably. He stepped closer to Bernardo and made a sign for him to leave. Bernardo, playing his part perfectly in this charade, bowed to the señorita and then to the commandante before retreating to the kitchen.

The triumphant look on Glorioso’s face completely disgusted Selena. Nevertheless, she remained calm. Remember that you have El Zorro, correction, Diego, the man you love, hidden in your hacienda. She somehow forced herself to smile at this viper of a man.

“Capitán, perhaps you will permit me to serve all the lancers some vino de casa and some sandwiches? Oh, and where are my manners?” Selena speculated aloud, as she pulled the sala’s cord for requesting her servants. Chetta Yellow Flower, an Apache from the San Gabriel mission, immediately answered Selena’s summons.

“Si, my mistress?” Yellow Flower asked.

“Tell the cook and Amontildar to prepare more sandwiches for the remainder of the commandante’s lancers. And please bring some hot chocolate for me, por favor,” Señorita de Rojas ordered.

Both de Rojas and Don Alejandro saw the internal struggle between impatience and common courtesy skirt over the capitán’s features. Fortunately for everyone involved the latter emotion was victorious.

“As you wish, Señorita de Rojas,” he bowed fractionally in her direction.

“You are certainly most gracious, Capitán Glorioso.“ Selena replied and told the lancers to follow one of her Indian maids to the kitchen. Sergeant Garcia and Corporal Reyes thanked her and practically fell over each other to reach the promised refreshments.

“Now then, señor, to the purpose of your visit here. Did you find El Zorro?” She looked at her odious guest through half lidded eyes.

“No, but he is wounded.” Capitán Glorioso warily observed Selena and Diego’s father for any sympathetic reactions to this statement.

“So, you wish my permission to search this hacienda. Understandable. Por favor, indulge yourself, but would the capitán permit a suggestion?”

Glorioso pretended to study his meticulously manicured fingernails. “What is the lovely señorita’s helpful hint?”

Selena grasped the servants’ bell summons and pulled three times. Amontildar instantly appeared.

“Si, my lady?”

“Capitán Glorioso. This is Amontildar Perrileaux, a Creole from New Orleans and the head of my servants, Amontildar, you are to obey my guest’s every order until he is satisfied that I am safe from El Zorro’s chicanery.”

Oui, Madame, Avec plaisir. Would you follow me por favor, Mon Capitaine?” the Creole said politely.

Glorioso raked Amontildar’s form with a contemptuous look before replying to the señorita. “Sergeant Garcia will carry out the inspection after he and the lancers have eaten, ah, with your kind permission. And Señorita?”

“Si, mi capitán?” Selena kept her voice neutral despite his obvious contempt for Amontildar.

“If you do not mind, Señorita de Rojas, but I not accustomed to dealing with servants!” he said in a voice laced with contempt as his gaze never wavered from Selena’s face.

She acquiesced with a nod of her head. Oho, commandante, you almost cornered me there. You, sir, are a Grandée in name only , but you do not care how you treat others not of your social class. “If I have offended, Commandante Glorioso, you must forgive me. You are dismissed, Amontildar. Some more Jerez, gentlemen?”

Glorioso sipped his Jerez as he walked around the sala and commented upon her father’s good taste. “This is a magnificent hacienda. Surely, Señorita Selena, you must feel somewhat isolated and lonely living in such a large home as this, without the benefit of ... male protection?”

Don Alejandro sputtered into his glass of Jerez. Such audacity! Ai! If mere thoughts could strike someone dead, then the commandante would have died just now from the disdain on the señorita’s face!

Selena fluttered her silk fan back and forth across her face. “I have wonderful memories of growing up here, Senor.” Changing such a personal subject, she asked “you said that dreadful rogue El Zorro was wounded?” she responded casually.

“Why yes, señorita. And I found something very interesting at the Rica Luna waterfall. He retrieved a large white kerchief from his waistcoat pocket and unwrapped it. Glorioso held up a piece of black cloth soiled by blood.

“Oh, capitán! Is that blood?” Her gray eyes were huge. “By the Virgin!” Selena feigned shock and held her hand to her forehead. “Dios, mi!” She began rapidly working her fan to and fro across her face as if she were about to faint.

“I crave your forgiveness, Señorita. This is part of Zorro’s mask.” He watched Don Alejandro for any sign of sympathy. The elder de la Vega’s face paled. Then the commandante asked smugly, “Why are you so shocked, Don Alejandro?”

“Do you not see that you have upset Señorita de Rojas?” The elder de la Vega rushed to her side. “There, there, señorita, calm yourself.”

“Si, Don Alejandro, mais Mon Dieu! That is real blood.” Selena desperately hoped she could convince Glorioso she about to faint, and he would take the hint and eave the hacienda. “Oh my, Don Alejandro, would you hand me that glass of water please?”

Don Alejandro continued to make a big fuss over Glorioso’s social gaffe, although he knew that the Commandante had deliberately shown her Zorro’s blood-caked mask. A clever trick, capitán, and excellent acting, Selena. Don Alejandro smiled inwardly. “Put that thing away, Capitán Glorioso. Here, Señorita, drink my jerez. Bueno. Is that better?” Don Alejandro patted her arm.

“Y-yes, gracias señor,” she rearranged her mantilla and pointed her fan at Glorioso. “Now I am relieved, Capitán!”

“’Relieved?’ I do not understand,” he frowned at her. “Please enlighten me, señorita!”

“Certainly. You have shown me proof that the Fox is wounded. Surely he will be much easier to capture? And El Zorro will then be unable to rob this hacienda; my belongings and I will be safe?” Selena fluttered her eyelashes up at Glorioso.

Commandante Glorioso held himself perfectly erect. “To be sure.”

“Sergeant Garcia reporting as ordered Commandante,” The sergeant told Glorioso as he saluted his superior officer.

‘Yes,” the capitán replied again riveting his eyes on Señorita de Rojas’s now ashen face. Well she appears to be genuinely shaken up by seeing the mask, but my instincts tell me for the wrong reason. Glorioso thought as he contemplated his next move.

“We have thoroughly searched the hacienda, sir. And the stable, the garden, and the chapel, and the cellar, and the two storehouses. Nothing!”

Glorioso pounded his armchair in frustration. “Very well, order the lancers to return to the Cuartel.”

“At once, Commandante,” Sergeant Garcia replied with his usual sloppy salute.

“Thank you for the refreshments, señorita.” Glorioso pulled up her hand and kissed it before she could move it away from him. “ Adios.”

“May I accompany you to your mount, Capitan?” she inquired quietly. “After all, I am glad that we have a member of the Grandées in our pueblo to remind us of our proper manners.”

Totally non-plussed by her offer, Glorioso bowed, looking very confused. “Certainly,” he offered her his arm, which she graciously accepted.

When he had mounted his horse, Glorioso decided one last time to rattle her composure. “May I call upon the señorita in a week to formally offer my condolences on the death of Don Martino?”

“Of course, Your Excellency Visconde de Estrada,” Selena replied, deliberately using his royal title.

“Muy bien and gracias, Señorita de Rojas. Next Wednesday, perhaps?”

“Bueno, Excellency.” Selena curtsied. She remained outside making certain Glorioso did indeed take the road leading back to the pueblo.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

“By all the Saints! That Diablo!” Don Alejandro later fumed. Then he sat down in one of the sala’s Roman x-shaped mahogany chairs. “Señorita de Rojas, I think you will regret accepting Glorioso’s pending social call.”

You may be right, señor, but I had to get him to leave. Selena wordlessly replied by positioning her closed fan against her lips and then pointing it toward her feet. “Chetta, please leave us alone.”

The elder de la Vega bowed, indicating he understood her unspoken message. He handed his glass of jerez to the Indian servant girl and waited until the servant departed before discussing the health of his missing son.

“Si, I am most relieved that Diego is alive and not sitting in one of Glorioso’s cells. “Lead on, Señorita de Rojas,” Don Alejandro said as he extended his arm to her.

Selena curtsied deeply to Don Alejandro and began walking toward the far wall’s hidden doorway. “This way, señor. “

“Ah, after that magnificent performance, señorita, after you!” Don Alejandro said, his voice again filled with admiration.

 

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Glorioso propped his feet atop his office desk and sipped some Madeira and allowed his fantasies regarding Selena de Rojas to have full reign. Well, my military instinct tells me Señorita de Rojas was not being completely truthful regarding her denial of harboring the Fox. If she has given shelter to El Zorro, I shall imprison and then execute her for high treason. If not, Selena is still unmarried and living alone in that splendid hacienda. I know I can win her heart. And, with the de Rojas fortune, I can finally restore my family to the Grandee class. That milquetoast Diego de la Vega was stupid to reject her father’s betrothal agreement. Selena de Rojas was also attractive and an accomplished, competent social hostess. And Rubenesque! How I adore voluptuous women! The thought of her lying beneath him, where he could control her, absolutely intensified his lust. Like all the others of her sex, Selena was arrogant but he was expert in teaching women how to appreciate him as their lord and master.

 

 

END OF CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

 

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