The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER 19

 

 

REPUTATIONS RESTORED

Madre de Dios! For a minute I believed that Capitán Glorioso was going to invite himself to luncheon and supper!” Don Alejandro fumed as she opened a hidden door behind a splendid medieval tapestry. “But your bogus fainting spell was a most skillful maneuver, Señorita. I imagine you are a formidable chess player!”

“Gracias, Don Alejandro, but I was most upset at seeing that mask. I thought I had been more careful in removing any evidence that the Fox had been in the Rica Luna Cave.“ Selena sighed. “Despite or rather, I should say because of Glorioso’s assurances to the contrary, I do not think my acting was completely convincing.”

“Señorita, I pray you are wrong.“ Don Alejandro held a large lantern for Selena so she could navigate the hacienda’s concealed passageways. Suddenly he noticed a light coming towards them. “By the Three Marias! Who could ...”

Selena de Rojas stepped forward and called out “C’est vous, mon amie? Repondez-moi vite!”

They both heard a voice singing the first eight bars of the French national anthem La Marseillaise. The señorita answered with her coded response “la belette est parti!” [The ferret has departed.]

Amontildar called out "Mistress Selena, it is I. Bernardo and I have been with Don Diego since he insisted upon leaving de bed because Le Monsieur knew de commandante would come to search the hacienda. I went to see how Monsieur Diego be fairing while both of you be entertainin’ de capitaine and discovered him just outside the bedroom door. We just now tryin’ to get him to lie down,” Amontildar stated. Selena‘s maid lowered her gaze. “Mistress, me, I brought Bernardo avec moi because I knew le monsieur would give me de trouble, yes. Amontildar shook her head. “Mais, chere, le monsieur Diego, he be some entête [stubborn]! But he not strong enough to walk at all!”

“Diego!” Selena whispered. “Thank le Bon Dieu both Amontildar and Bernardo were with him...

“Trés bien, chere. Amontildar you have done well.’’ Selena then instructed Amontildar to hold one of the lanterns while Don Alejandro and Diego’s mozo carefully supported and guided the still weak Diego between them back to the secret bedroom. The women left the two men alone, for she knew how relieved Don Alejandro was to learn his son was not imprisoned in Glorioso’s cuartel. Bernardo took a position just outside the door while Selena reentered the sala via the hidden door and began to practice on her piano while she waited for Don Alejandro’s return.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Don Alejandro sat down next to Diego's bed. "Diego, my son, I am so happy you are alive and are safe in the De Rojas hacienda. Thank all the Saints!" the hacendado whispered. He desperately wanted to tell Diego that he knew all about his nocturnal activities as the Fox. No, this must be Diego’s decision, not mine. Bethia, I hope I can be patient enough to wait for our child to reveal his secret to me. Don Alejandro relaxed in his chair and watched his son resting. When he was certain that Diego was fast asleep, he drew the blanket over his son's chest and kissed him gently on the forehead. Bernardo was waiting outside the secret bedroom door when Don Alejandro emerged. The hacendado checked the corridor to make sure they were alone.

“Please stay with Diego until he reawakens. Did you bring several changes of clothes with you?

Diego’s mozo nodded vigorously as he waved his hands I have everything my master needs. Bernardo smiled warmly at Diego’s father.

“Bueno. First, show me the way back to the sala. Señorita de Rojas and I have much to discuss,” Don Alejandro ordered.

Bernardo did so and as the hidden door slid open in the sala’s wall, Selena rose from the piano to greet Don Alejandro. She saw the grim set of his jaw and despair gripped her soul. Ah, here comes another fatherly lecture on the proper behavior of unattached females in our society. I have heard this so often I could recite Don Alejandro’s speech for him! Selena kept her head bowed as Don Alejandro motioned for her to sit.

“We must have a little talk, my dear. There are two things I think you should know Selena,” he said solemnly as he paced the sala’s floor directly in front of her.

“And they are Don Alejandro?” Selena became even more alarmed at the gravity that had seeped into his voice and the frown that had now replaced his handsome smile.

“You should realize that someone will doubtlessly gossip about Diego’s stay under your roof. Everyone gossips and, everyone, including myself, listens to it.“ Don Alejandro gently touched her arm. “Listen to reason, Señorita! I remember hearing and, I regret to admit, repeating, some scurrilous gossip regarding your ... unsuitability for marriage, and even more ... very unpleasant rumors, ” the elder de la Vega said softly.

She laughed until tears fell down her cheeks. “’Unpleasant’ rumors Don Alejandro? Why I am known as the ‘Medusa of Los Angeles!’ I have heard everything about me, Don Alejandro, everything,” she added with a trace of acrimony.

Señorita,” he warned as he frowned at her. “Have a care. My utmost concern is that the de la Vega name not be besmirched by any hint of scandal. But, I am not a harsh man, Selena. I believe that Diego should announce your engagement to him as soon as possible.

Selena froze. “Don Alejandro it is my understanding that Diego ...” she began to say.

“My child, I have seen the way that you look at my son since your late father introduced you to him and, the tenderness you have shown Diego to return him to health.”

Her heart leapt for joy. Señora de la Vega. What woman would reject such a wonderful man as he? Then she scolded herself. YOU DID, you foolish twit, more than a fortnight ago! How many women are given a second chance at happiness? You know in your heart Don Alejandro is right. As for Diego, the fire I noticed in his eyes - could it be love?

Yes, I have loved your son for a long time. If Diego will have me, Don Alejandro. You know as well as I Diego will not enter a loveless betrothal. I repeat, I will accept his proposal only if he truly loves me.”

Don Alejandro embraced her. “I am sure that love conquers all.”

“Excuse me ... Alejandro ... but what was your second matter you wished to discuss? Was it concerning El Zorro ... and Diego...?”

“Selena, I now know as well as you do that Diego is El Zorro. But I am not going to disclose this knowledge to him. If he wishes to reveal his alter ego to me, so be it. The decision must be his and his alone.”

Selena was unable to hide her shock. “But, Don Alejandro! Do you realize how much Diego has suffered, with you believing him to be a coward?”

Don Alejandro suddenly appeared to age greatly before her. “Si. I have completely misjudged him. But Diego, like every man, has his pride Selena.”

“Very well, I shall respect your decision. But I am so frightened for him, Don Alejandro! The commandante is so ... evil; so sadistic! I fear...” Selena shivered at the horrible idea of Diego in Glorioso’s custody. She gazed up at her father-in-law to be. ”’Tis ironic is it not, Don Alejandro, that my father is finally getting his wish. Diego will be my husband and this bride to be has a lot to learn about men.”

Her future father-in-law grinned. “My dear, men and women have been trying to understand each other since the Creation. That is part of the frustration and fun of loving someone of the opposite sex.” Don Alejandro responded gaily as he winked at Selena.

                                      ZZZZZZZZZZZ

Several days later when Diego awakened, he did not know whether it was day or night. His mind was finally beginning to clear as Diego remembered Selena brought him to her hacienda from the Rica Luna Cave after a lancer shot him in the head. Dios, mi! Now she knows I am El Zorro. ...and he also remembered Glorioso had been here looking for the Fox. Must speak with her again regarding the commandante. By St. Teresa, I am ravenous. As he turned his head he saw Bernardo was grinning at him.

“Bernardo!” Diego joyfully exclaimed. “I am very glad to see you! Dios, my friend, I am in dire need of a bath and a shave.”

His mozo grimaced. My master, I would have to agree. Hot water is on its way as we speak. And fresh clothing. And I will have to do something about your hair!” Together they laughed until they both were close to tears. Just after Diego’s bath as Bernardo was helping him change into his calzoneros, they heard a knock on the door. Diego retrieved his silk robe from Bernardo’s outstretched arm.

“Entrez, I am awake!” Diego called out. His hazel eyes brightened with joy when he saw it was Señorita de Rojas. “Buenos dias, señorita. I wish to thank you for your kind hospitality, and,” he added nonchalantly, “your guest is famished!“ Diego reached out to lift the linen napkin covering the tray she held in her hands. “May a guest have some of that delicious food that I smell on the tray carried by the lady of this hacienda?” he inquired in his most charming voice.

“You may indeed. For breakfast, I like to eat huevos rancheros or Creole grillades. I also prefer hot chocolate or café au lait to drink. I did not know your preferences in cuisine, so I brought a little of everything,” Selena stated quietly.

Diego yawned before responding. “Cafe au lait...ah yes, I remember I had some while I was enrolled at University in Spain. It is strong, ah.. chicory coffee with hot milk.”

Correct, Señor. Amontildar has also made some plantain fritters for you as a special treat.”

“Plantain fritters? Do you grow plantains in your garden, señorita?” Diego asked.

“Si , and I have actually been known to get my hands dirty doing some of the gardening myself, Señor de la Vega,” Selena responded with a trace of humor.

“Ay Yi Yi! Touché! I will have to leave your home before I become as large as Sergeant Garcia,” he said as their eyes joined and they both erupted into laughter.

Then his expression became unreadable as he murmured “Tell me, what other charms do you possess that I have yet to discover?” Before Selena could turn her head to answer, Diego reached out with his muscular arms and pulled her into a tight embrace. His lips crushed hers, robbing her of breath but she was beyond caring. Selena’s feminine instincts took over and she responded to his deep kiss.

“Mi corazon ...” he whispered into her ear as Diego unfastened her hair clasps and was rewarded with a cascade of thick, dark and curly hair falling onto his chest. “Marry me Selena.” He had elevated her chin up to meet his eyes, and she was unable to move, but Selena was sure that she did not ever want to leave his embrace again.

“Y-yes, Diego,” she muttered haltingly.

Diego was confused by the hesitancy in her answer and he felt that he had to ask Selena the one question that he had sworn to himself was necessary for his marital happiness.

“Be honest with me Selena. “Is it El Zorro you love or the man behind the mask that you are willing to marry?”

“I love you, Diego. When you kissed me as the Fox my mind was so confused because when I gazed into his eyes they were the eyes of Diego de la Vega! Y-you realized that when El Zorro ... you were in my bedroom, I would have, most willingly, what I mean is ...” she blushed and Diego grinned knowingly.

“You have never been with a man before, I understand, Selena.” A sudden thought struck him. “Selena, surely you are not afraid of me?

She exhaled finally. “Yes, I am. I am afraid that you will think that I am ignorant or--worse.”

Diego molded her body against his chest. “No, Selena. I would never, ever willingly hurt you! Do you believe me?” His eyes burned both with worry and desire.

“Si!” Selena exclaimemd as her gray eyes smouldered with love.

He groaned, “Before I regret or do not regret the loss of control, leave me to eat.” Diego flashed one of his solar bright smiles at her. “Gracias again, m’il lady. What time is it?”

“Eight o’clock, I think. Your father, of course, is staying until tomorrow morning. We will be joining him for luncheon later this afternoon at twelve-thirty. Until then Diego.”

Her handsome hidalgo winked at Selena and her skin turned crimson. When she returned to her room she had to splash cold water on her face. Amontildar came to her bedroom a little while after she had bathed to pour musk oil on her bare shoulders and massaged her back.

“My mistress will marry de tall handsome gentilhomme n’est-ce pas?” Her maid already knew the answer but Amontildar wanted to hear the lovely news from her mistress’s own lips.

Selena’s entire being glowed. “Oui, mam’selle, he has asked me to be his bride. Il est tres brave et il a un bon coeur.[He has a kind heart and is very courageous.]

Amontildar pushed up the sleeves of her long puffed cotton overblouse and put her light brown colored hands on her formidable hips. “Dis octaroon lady believe dat Mistress Selena be making a good choice, dat is what Amontildar be thinkin’!”

 

END OF CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

 

 

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