The Promise



Gail Manfre















Diego had indeed made plans for him and Selena after the “official” presentation of the de la Vegas’ Nachimiento Belenes. Just the two of us, period. A very intimate one to be sure, he muttered to himself, as he squeezed Selena’s hand and watched the pueblo and tenants’ children swarm up to the courtyard gate to gaze in awe and wonder at the colorful sight. They stared at the elaborate gold painted statues and semi-precious jewel encrusted clothing of the Three Magi, who were kept at a discreet distance from the Holy Family.

Don Alejandro ordered the courtyard gate to be opened and dozens of animated, squealing children flowed inside, heading directly for the Nachimiento Belenes.

Selena raised her right eyebrow as she felt Diego’s breath against her neck. “Mi corazon, did you say something?” Her gray eyes searched his face for an answer.

“No, ma chere. I was only admiring the view and I do not mean la crêche!” he retorted in a humorous tone.

“Monsieur de la Vega,” Selena murmured, “flattery will definitely earn this lady’s favors tonight.”

Diego pulled up her chin. “El Zorro shall hold you to this promise, Madame de la Vega. “Tonight, then.”

“Surprise me, Señor Fox!” she said beneath her Austrian crystal decorated fan so no one else could hear their conversation.

Diego returned her smile and chuckled aloud. “We shall see, Señora de la Vega. Could my bride still be that impatient to be with her husband?”

“Peut-être, [perhaps], we shall see,” was all Selena responded cryptically as she fluttered the fan back and forth across the lower half of her face.

Diego’s heart raced and he felt sweat forming on his brow. Selena is truly ready this time. It had only been the past week since she had felt well enough ... he wrenched from that pleasant memory as he realized Selena had been talking to him and he did not hear anything she had said.

“Faites attention a la fete, Monsieur Renard!” she scolded him in French. “The children have worked so hard and ...”

The festival music emanating from the local musicians guitars and drums announced the arrival of the Posada procession interrupted Selena’s thought.

“Taisez-vous, Madame,” Diego whispered, “be quiet, because the children worked so hard, and ...”

Selena smothered yet another chuckle with her fan. “Touché, Monsieur!”

Just behind the musicians marched two children; José Hernan and Maria Teresa Planito, each attired in fine cloth of gold and silver satin robes and gold shoes. They represented San José and the Virgen Maria, who was riding a burro and were accompanied by the rest of the pobrecitos, some of whom where portraying angels, the Santos Reyes [three Kings], and a host of pastores y pastoras [shepherds and shepherdesses]. All of these children wore colorful handmade costumes; each of them carried a báculo [staff], faroles [paper lanterns] or lit candles.

The parade of Santos Peregrinos [Holy Pilgrims] halted at the courtyard entrance and inquired in song, the traditional Holy Family’s request for lodging. Upon the third request, Diego and Selena replied that the couple could have shelter in the de la Vega stable. After San José and the Virgen Maria took their assigned places in the Nativity Scene, and Father Felipé blessed everyone present. Then the de la Vega servants brought a half dozen pinatas for the children to break open and partake of the shower of fruits, sugar cane, peanuts and other candies contained therein. For the children opening the pinatas was the highlight of the evening.

Selena laughed as Jose and Maria began this eagerly awaited event of the festival by striking a grandee piñata made especially for San Jose and the Virgen Maria. She particularly enjoyed all the children’s efforts in attempting to crack open two piñatas decorated to look like the Fox himself. Selena took charge of the piñata made for the girls and Diego supervised the placement of bandanas around the boys’ eyes.

The boys’ Zorro piñata survived all the young pobrecitos’ attempts to crack it open and shower the lucky boy with its sugary treats. Finally, it was Pedro Suarez’s turn. Pedro was ten years old and was barely over two feet tall. The Suarez family was the largest and the poorest of all the de la Vegas’ tenants. Juan and Lupita Suarez were the parents of six children, all boys, and Señora Suarez was pregnant again. Pedro often did not get enough to eat after his madre doled out twice daily servings of tortillas y frioles, for he often shared his meager meals with his four younger brothers. Lupita’s youngest was a year old and not yet weaned. If it were not for Diego’s charity, the Suarez children would go without goat’s milk and fresh vegetables. When Selena first saw Juan and Lupita’s children, she wept at the sight of their poverty.

“How long have they been your father‘s tenants, Diego?” she had asked him.

“Less than six months, Selena. You should have seen the filthy hovel they inhabited before Padre Felipe took them in and informed El Zorro they needed a decent place to live. I then had our servants rebuild one of the empty buildings on our estate and deepened the nearby well for some fresh water. I also gave them some land to farm, and little Pedro will soon be apprenticed to the farrier in the pueblo.” Diego added quietly, watching her expression change from painful sympathy to genuine happiness at his encouraging words.

“Is it any wonder that I fell in love with you again when my father brought me to your hacienda for our betrothal?” she said as she leaned against his strong shoulders.

Diego felt her body shake as she tried in vain to stifle another yawn. His handsome, hazel eyes watched her with great concern.

“Dearest Selena, you are muy fatigada. You should already be resting in bed ... with your spouse,” he added quickly as he drew her close to his chest.

“Oui, Monsieur, I quite agree.” Selena nodded. She ran her fingers from his shirt ruffles at his throat to his banda until her hand found an envelope inside the large pocket of Diego’s chaqueta “My, my, what is this, Señor Fox?”

Long sable dark eyelashes partially obscured the desire in his eyes. “El Zorro asked me to give you this.” Diego kissed her forehead. Then he released her saying, “Jusqu’a ce soir, madame.”

Startled by his abrupt departure, Selena gasped “W-what ... ?”

“Read the letter, Madame de la Vega, “everything you wish to know lies within,” Diego blew her kiss from the entrance to the patio stairs leading to their bedroom, “you can begin this evening’s adventure by perusing its contents,“ and then he was gone.

Mon Dieu, Selena muttered to herself, what has Diego, or should El Zorro, concocted now? Read the letter, woman read the letter! She waited several minutes and then slowly mounted the stairs to their bedroom. Selena pressed the mantel lever to open the secret room but, as she expected, the black silk costume that Bernardo had placed there was missing and El Zorro had probably already left the secret cave. While she gingerly rubbed the small of her aching back, Selena slit the note open addressed to her:

Mi corazon would do me the supreme honor of dining with me at eleven o’clock this evening upon my return to our hacienda? I know that you will accept my humble offer of companionship and whatever else you desire of Monsieur Renard tonight.

Mam’selle Amontildar has prepared everything necessary for a private Réveillion [midnight supper], so you need not concern yourself with such trivial matters. Further instructions for your preparation to receive me have been placed on our bed. Señora de la Vega, please comply with my simple wishes and I shall promise you a night that you will never forget.

The lovely, musk scented note was signed only with a large:


A light knock at her door startled Selena. Mais, who could this be? She checked Diego’s timepiece laying on the nightstand. Hmm, nine thirty in the evening.

“Chere, Selena, me, I know you be in there. I have come with hot water and lavender oil for a quick bath. S’IL vous plait, I be coming in!”

“Do come inside, Mam’selle,” Selena giggled as she fashioned a courtesy before her personal maid. “But I bathed this morning!”

“Me, I do not care, my mistress. Dis be Monsieur Renard’s orders,” Amontildar said as she began helping Selena remove her elegant ball gown, “at trente minutes past the hour of nine dis evening, I am to bathe you and massage the monsieur’s favorite body oil, lavender on you.” Amontildar had quickly soaped and rinsed Selena twice in less than fifteen minutes. “And,” the Creole octaroon shot Selena a sly glance; “I am to see that Madame de la Vega wears the special silk lingerie Monsieur Renard had Señor Ballerais’s wife made for you.”

Hearing this, Selena wrapped herself in one of Diego’s large white cotton towels and ran over to their bed. She pulled back the coverlet and found a package swathed in gauze and carefully went through the layers of wrapping. She gasped when she saw the peignoir set. Ah, a blush rose satin floor length robe... a full gown made with the most ornate and delicate Alçenon lace Selena had seen in Señor Ballarias’s shop that awful day Glorioso whipped Diego. Mon Dieu! As she shook the negligée loose from the package, she gasped yet again and then chuckled aloud. The nightgown was made of the sheerest silk Selena had ever seen, save for several strategically placed appliqués of the Alçenon lace.

Amontildar tapped her shoulder. “Dat Monsieur Renard, he have de best taste n’est-ce pas?”

“Absolument,” Selena breathed out when she recovered her composure. Then the Creole helped her mistress put on the exquisite peignoir set.

“Now, just you sit there on de bed while de other servants clean up this mess and me; I be back toute de suite with your Revéillon food. Amontildar rolled her deep green eyes. “Sois sage, madame, restez-vous ici.” [Behave and rest there ].

Selena wanted to protest, but her maid pressed her fingers to her lips.

“Now you get under de covers and you be quiet and wait for Monsieur Renard’s return, you hear!” Amontildar chided her.

Selena somehow managed to look contrite and obeyed. A mollified Amontildar and the servants hastily retreated from her bedroom after the Creole maid announced her approval of the food, wine and candles they set on a small dining room table. She only got up once to look at Diego’s watch. Ten thirty ... oh no ... getting sleepy . ... must stay awake...

At precisely eleven o’clock p.m., the door of the secret room whooshed open as El Zorro slipped into their bedroom. His eyes fell on the elegantly appointed table laid out in Selena’s crystal and his mother’s linen, and a wonderful repast of grillades, tortillas, baked oysters in Sauterne wine sauce and some sugar coated beignets sparkling in the candle light. Then he turned around, expecting to see Selena sitting up in bed waiting for him.

Ah, she was exhausted ... she is asleep ... Madre de Dios... she is so beautiful.... Oh my love. He had removed all of his costume except the silk mask and donned his brocade robe. The Fox sat down as gently as possible on the bed and brushed her neck and lips with his own. Zorro moved a lock of her dark chestnut hair and again nuzzled the base of her throat.

“Mmm ... what a pleasant way to wake up ... but am I dreaming?” She asked quietly with her eyes still closed, “a bride can only hope that this is not a dream but reality.”

‘My dearest darling, I am as real as the lips that are touching your own now,” he murmured before beginning the first of several long, deep kisses.

The silk of El Zorro’s mask and his moustache thrilled her senses. Selena opened her eyes after he finished kissing her. “Monsieur Renard, you have convinced me to be yours for the evening. Will you help me with my robe...?”

The Fox gracefully removed the outer layer of silk and his eyes twinkled at her thinly veiled beauty. She reached up and untied the mask as she said, “Let us have no secrets between us, mon ame.”

Nodding his agreement, Diego gently slide the negligee from her shoulders and laid her back down on their bed. As his hands moved down her arms, Selena felt a strange fluttering in her stomach. She gasped, “Oh, my ...”

“Selena!” Diego’s mood abruptly changed. “What is wrong, mi corazon?”

She touched her abdomen. “I could have sworn that I felt,” she hesitated, “there I felt it that time!”

“Felt what, Selena? Answer me?” Diego pleaded his voice heavy with alarm.

She took his right hand and placed it on her abdomen. “Wait a few seconds... there! Selena whispered excitedly, “did you feel--”

“Sí!“ Diego said excitedly, “our child is moving...

“Hmmm .... According to Amontildar, I should not have felt the baby kick for another month. I think, Diego that we may become parents sooner than we think ...perhaps mid-May and not late June!”

In the candlelight she saw his grin broaden into his most dazzling smile. “I shall most assuredly hold you to that promise, Señora de la Vega,” he said as he toyed with the sensitive area behind one of her ears.

“Agreed, beloved....” she murmured, but the remainder of her response was lost in another of Diego‘s most tender embraces.






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