“Amontildar, I did not realize
until today Diego had actually fallen in love with me,” Selena said.
All my life I tried to explain to my dear deceased father that I neither
could nor would marry a man simply for convenience’s sake.”
Mais chère, one cannot have
everything! Why in Louisiana on de plantations, all de white masters
have darkies for der mistresses. The ladies in those big houses, dey do
not marry for love, dey marry for security. And dem femmes des
grandes maisons [wives of the plantation owners] they know ‘bout
their men’s pillow girls! Speak ze truth, me.”
“Different culture, Amontildar.
How do they live with men of such low morals? Mon Dieu! Selena
Amontildar shrugged. Do all the
time, les Grands blancs [the big and important white men]. They
have de power and they make de rules, my mistress.” Her personal maid
touched her arm. “Mais, chère, you have a head on your shoulders and
besides Monsieur Diego, he love you. You be fine, you see!”
Selena unclasped her hands which
she was unaware had been clinched so tightly that her knuckles were
white. “You really think so?”
As sure as Le Bon Dieu [the
good Lord] made the sunshine ma petite [my little one]! Now you
hush and make yourself look pretty for your amour, eh?” Amontildar
As she changed into a pale blue
silk and cotton dress and added an onyx and sandalwood comb to her dark
tresses, Selena worried that she might accidentally reveal to Diego
about Don Alejandro’s discovery of his secret identity. She wondered
how long his father could maintain this fiction and continue to act as
if Diego were still a “spineless cobarde [coward].“ Her heart
ached for her betrothed but she knew that when Diego sensed the time was
right, El Zorro would do the proper thing.
When Selena entered the sala, she
thought that her handsome fiance looked absolutely stunning. She
absolutely adored the ornately decorated chaqueta wore and its
navy blue color nicely complimented his slightly olive skin and dark
hair. His chaqueta was festooned with pale gray embroidery and
tiny seed pearls. Bernardo had selected one of his fancier pale blue cambios,
shot through with silver thread, which in her opinion accentuated
his masculinity. A lock of Diego’s thick curly hair rested in the
middle of his forehead. Selena’s heart fluttered nervously at the
thought of running her hands through his hair ...
Don Alejandro and his son stood up
to greet her. Don Diego's eyes sparkled with joy and something else that
was burning in her fiancé's eyes, something private, which existed only
gentlemen. It is very good to see you again Don Alejandro. Diego, you
are certainly looking much better than when you first arrived ay my hacienda.”
she impishly added. both men chuckled at her small joke.
Amontildar and the entire household
staff took great pains to create a formal yet charming setting for
Selena’s special guests. The long mahogany dinner table was covered in
ivory-laced damask material. Her great-grandmother's favorite bone
china, pale yellow in color, together with leaded crystal goblets and
wineglasses, reflected her family's good taste. The silver utensils,
which Selena had always loved, had been brought over by her
great-great-grandmother from Spain in 1695 when she settled in Mexico
City. Don Alejandro was seated to her right in the place of honor, and
Diego sat across from him.
Selena had carefully chosen the
luncheon wines as well as the menu itself. Her head servant had prepared
something totally unexpected for Señorita de Rojas's guests. Rather
than serve typical Spanish cuisine, Amontildar decided to introduce
Creole items to Don Alejandro as Selena had informed her Diego was
already very familiar with New Orleans cuisine. She had created a great
pot of seafood gumbo, with white rice, French garlic bread, and
asparagus salad with tomatoes. Don Alejandro looked curiously at the
“brown gravy stew” that Juan Gomez ladled into his bowl.
"What, my dear, may I ask is
this type of .. soup?" Don Alejandro inquired politely.
Don Diego decided to answer for
her. "Father, it is known in New Orleans as gumbo. Gumbo is
made with browned flour gravy, or roux, which is sauteed slowly in a
cast iron pot. He swirled his spoon around in his bowl and commented how
large the shrimp were.
Selena smiled. "Sí, we are
indeed now fortunate that the Spanish government has allowed us to trade
more freely with foreign powers. If an American ship
Diego's father hesitantly tasted
the gumbo. After he tried several teaspoons his eyebrows rose until they
nearly reached his hairline. "It is rather spicy, isn't it? But I
do like it indeed."
Don Diego was too busy eating his
gumbo to comment further upon the wonderful meal Selena was serving. He
was already starting his second bowl of gumbo when his father pushed
himself away from the table stating that he was already full.
"Do not misunderstand me, Señorita,
the food is absolutely wonderful. Ai, for an old man like myself,
it is really too spicy," the elder de la Vega stated quietly.
"I understand perfectly, Don
Alejandro, there is no need to apologize. I dare say that the people in
New Orleans have cast-iron stomachs!" Señorita de Rojas gaily
Diego caught the appreciative
glance his father gave Selena. He mused wryly. Knowing my father as
well as I do, I suspect that he has concocted something. We shall see
when dessert is served. While Juan Gomez and two young Indian girls
cleared the dinner table under Amontildar‘s watchful eyes, the young
caballero could not help but stare at his fiancée. Diego much preferred
this dress she was wearing as it accentuated her bosom but revealed only
hint of cleavage. And pale blue was definitely her color, although when
he recalled visiting Selena in her bedroom as Zorro, his senses were
inflamed by the deep rose hue of her silk nightgown.
“Father, there is something that
I must tell you,” Diego said as he lit a cigar for his father and then
one for himself.
“Oh? Hopefully you are going to
tell me that you will supervise the annual transactions with our broker
in San Pedro.” Don Alejandro said between puffs on his cigar.
“Father! This is a very important
step for me, no us.” Diego thrust out his chin and gingerly
placed his hands over hers. “Selena and I are engaged to be
“W-hat?” Don Alejandro replied
in what he hoped was genuine surprise. “That is marvelous, Diego!”
Diego rolled his eyes heavenward.
“Father, you have that mischievous look on your face!“ Diego swept
his gaze from Selena, who was blushing most charmingly, back to Don
Alejandro, who was balancing himself on the balls of his feet and
assiduously avoiding his son’s scrutiny by blowing circles of cigar
into the air.
Ah, sí. I detect what has
occurred while I was recuperating in bed. Diego
chuckled to himself. “Now, father, I ask that I may please have a
moment alone with my fiancée.” Diego crossed his arms over his chest
and looked directly into his father ‘s dark eyes.
“Ay, yi, yi! I suppose so, Diego.
But only for a couple of moments. And Diego?” Don Alejandro said
before he departed the sala, “ do try to behave yourself!”
“But of course. Am I not my
father’s son?” he retorted wickedly.
Don Alejandro sighed. “I was
afraid you were going to say that. Five minutes, Diego, and five
After Alejandro left the dining
room, Diego held Selena in his arms.
How long until we are united
in marriage for all eternity. I never want to leave his arms again. She decided as she reveled in the tenderness of his touch.
“Selena,” Diego began,
“Selena I sense that you are not being totally forthright with me.”
he said firmly. He cupped her chin in one of his massive hands. “Look
at me. Did my father ---”
She pondered what he was going to
say. Here it comes. I am trapped ...he is going to ask me if Don
Alejandro has learned that he is El Zorro. “Si, Diego”? she
“How much pressure did my father exert to have you accept our
betrothal? I want the truth, querida... now,.” he added firmly,
keeping her face turned up to him.
Selena exhaled in relief. Grace
á Dieu, I do not think I can ever lie to Diego. she thought. How
those hazel eyes pierce my soul!
“Don Alejandro said both of our
reputations would eventually be tarnished since someone who has seen you
here will undoubtedly gossip. I told him that my ‘reputation,’ my
good name, was in doubt once I passed the age of twenty still
Diego rolled his hazel eyes which
now appeared to adopt some of the blue color of his chaqueta.
“I can guess the remainder of his lecture. He wanted to protect the de
la Vega family’s honor, correct?” He relaxed his hands fractionally
and Selena was finally able to move her head.
“Corazon, he could not believe that I would reject your proposal again if
I thought you were going to marry me out of pity!”
Then her betrothed shifted Selena
onto his lap and began kissing her in that tender, sensitive area below
her right ear on her neck. “Wish I had been there to witness that
conversation!” Diego murmured between kisses.
“Don Alejandro is all bark and no
bite, at least regarding me. You are forgetting the effects my acerbic
wit, my feminine charms, my adorable gray eyes have on men,” Selena
dryly replied as returned his kisses with increased passion of her own.
“Por favor, I surrender!“ Diego
laughed as her rocked her back and forth. “My love, when I think of
how foolish I was not even to give you a chance!”
“That is in the past, Diego.
“This is now--” Señorita de Rojas began, and ...”
But his lips obliterated the rest
of her response. “I can barely wait until our wedding night, mi
corazon. To Diego’s amused satisfaction Selena blushed at his bold
She saw herself reflected in his
vision. “Truly? I am so...”
“Let me prove it, Señorita.”
he murmured against her cheek. He moved his left arm behind her back and
he bent down to kiss her more deeply than he ever had before.
“Harrumph, Diego! Behave like a
gentleman! I can see where you two will bear close watching. Ai!” Don
Alejandro said in jest as he reentered the sala. “Of course, I do not
blame you, Señorita de Rojas.“ Diego’s father chuckled at her vain
attempt to convince him she was not avidly kissing Diego while his
father was patiently allowing them some time alone together. Selena’s
action of thrusting her arms behind her and adopting a well-practiced
aura of innocence did not deceive Don Alejandro at all.
“Father you know of my opinion
regarding long engagements?” Diego responded, while curling one of his
arms around Selena’s waist as he ignored his father’s reproving
“Would December the first be so
difficult for you, Diego?” Don Alejandro suggested as he quietly
watched the beginning of the future of the de Vega line and this
Diego momentarily tore himself away
from studying the smokiness of Selena’s gray eyes to answer his
father. “Hmm. ... I suppose six weeks will pass quickly.”
“My son, some of the social
proprieties have to be observed!“ There was that strange twinkle in
his father’s eyes again. “Besides, I have already arranged for the
banns to be read in church this Sunday!”
“I, for one, am not surprised,
father!’ Diego responded as he threw back his head and laughed
“Gentlemen, shall I pour three
glasses of jerez to celebrate the occasion?“ Selena asked as
she went to the mahogany cabinet that displayed her mother’s crystal.
“Bueno,” Father and son
responded as one.
Don Alejandro grasped Diego’s
arm. “Diego there is one other matter that you need to tell your
betrothed,” he gestured to Selena. “An important subject we were
discussing while you were changing for luncheon, my dear.“
Diego hesitated before speaking. He
wanted to choose his words carefully since he did not want to hurt
Selena’s feelings. “Querida, I want you to move into our
hacienda as soon as possible. I do not believe that you will be safe
“Because of that couchon
Glorioso?” She said between gritted teeth.
“He poses a real danger to you,
Selena. You are an unmarried woman of considerable means and you have no
living blood male relative. To Capitán Glorioso you would make an
excellent wife for a member of the Grandee class. And father tells me
you have granted the commandante permission to call upon you next week?
Understand, Selena, I am not blaming you for what you did because you
were trying to protect ...”
Diego paused. Almost slipped and
said to protect me--Zorro --from being taken prisoner by the commandante.
Madre de Dios ! Diego swallowed some Jerez before continuing;
“you know what I mean,” he added quietly.
‘Ah, si,“ Don Alejandro seized
the sudden lull in conversation, “Diego is correct, my dear. That violardo
de mujeres is indeed insane,” his father added.
Selena de Rojas closed her eyes.
Soon, despite her best efforts to restrain herself, tears marched
silently down her cheeks.
Diego held her tightly. “Cry all
you want, Selena, release all those pent up emotions now, rather than
Except for those six years that she
spent in Madrid with her mother’s sisters, she regarded this hacienda
as her home. Although she had lived a rather lonely existence, her
social isolation made worse by the fact her father always referred to
Selena as “his homely daughter,” this casa was a place full
of happy memories thanks to her dear mother, Señora Veronica Aulida
Maria Cadiz y de Rojas Cabildo. Selena had lived most of her adolescent life
here and both of her parents‘ graves were lying in the garden
underneath a papper tree.
But that is now in the past,
and as Señora Veronica de Rojas believed, life is for the living., and
you make your destiny, she heard her mother ‘s voice
echoing in her head. Embarrassed beyond words, Selena dried her tears.
Diego patiently waited for her to
compose herself. “Sweetheart, I realize that this is an extremely
difficult thing for me to ask of you. I regret I have to insist on a
“But it is the right thing to do,
Diego,” Selena said resolutely as she looked at Don Alejandro and then
shifted her full attention back to her beloved Diego.
He held up her hands to his lips
and kissed them. “I can not wait until you are truly mine, querida,”
Diego whispered into her ear.
END OF CHAPTER 20