The Promise

by 

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

 

SEÑORITA SELENA DE ROJAS

 

Alejandro de la Vega has plans for Diego ....

 

“Diego,” said his father to him over breakfast, “have you heard the latest news regarding that despicable Capitán Glorioso?”   

“No, what has the dastardly gentleman done now?”  Diego asked without looking up from his book of romantic poetry, a ruse which the young hidalgo hated to use in his efforts to maintain the fiction that he was a studious wastrel, for at heart Diego was a man who relished action as many men his age did.  

Alejandro sighed in exasperation. “Diego, could you at least feign a passing interest regarding the events in your community?” But to his father’s surprise, Diego was scowling as he casually flipped through the poetry book.  

 Oblivious to his father’s stare, Diego worriedly thought, what has the sadistic fool done now?  

“Ah, then you do not approve of that dishonorable man‘s enslavement of poor and uneducated women?”  Alejandro responded, searching his son’s face for the reason behind Diego’s strong and out of character reaction to the mere mention of Capitán Glorioso’s name.  

“Sí, father I do not approve.”  

“One would think otherwise,  Diego.” Alejandro noted quietly.  

“Why do you say that father?” Diego said as he finally met his father’s gaze.

Alejandro walked up to his son. “Diego, such a fierce look came over you when I asked your opinion of  the commandante’s behavior. Exactly what is troubling you? Surely you can confide in me.“ The elder don stood there with his hands behind his back clearly expecting a response to his question.

Diego closed the book he had been toying with and frowned again before answering. “Bernardo and I saw ... we saw young Don Stefano Alvarez ... with one of the ladies of La Casa de Hospitalidad last night!”  

“Did you speak of this incident with either Don Stefano or his uncle, Don Alfredo?”  

“No.”  Diego lowered his gaze but his forehead remained lined from concern.  “I thought that I would inform you first regarding this sensitive matter and perhaps  you could ride over later today to see Don Alfredo and discuss Don Stefano’s behavior with Don Alfredo.”  

“Diego, I am glad that you broached this subject.  I had already planned to see Don Alfredo anyway on another matter. Of course, I shall discuss his  nephew’s conduct with him.”  

“Gracias. Oh, father?” Diego asked.  

“Si, Diego?” Alejandro asked irritably.  

“What is the ‘latest news’ you were about to tell me?”  

Don Alejandro’s face contorted in anger. “Crescencia went shopping in the  pueblo earlier today. Apparently, Capitán Glorioso released Señora Suarez from the cuartel without food or water on the road leading to the San Gabriel Mission. The people believe that she perished somewhere on the Camino Real. Some of the péons and shopkeepers formed a search party but have found nothing. Glorioso is responsible for her death, Diego. He could have slit her throat and that would have been far more merciful than to throw her out on the Camino Real as if she were a piece of unwanted goods! Ai!”

“Indeed,” was Diego’s cryptic response.

Alejandro‘s temper finally exploded. “’Indeed’? That is all you have to say regarding this despicable waste of life? Diego, really!” His father ran from Diego’s bedroom and slammed the door behind him.

As soon as Alejandro left, Diego hurled his glass of jerez to the floor. Dios, mi ...

   

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Don Martino de Rojas returned to his hacienda in relatively high spirits.  He had just received some good news from his old friend, Don Alejandro de la   Vega.  Don Alejandro had agreed on the dowry amount that Selena’s father  had pledged in exchange for Don Alejandro’s acceptance of his daughter’s hand in marriage. At last, I will be rid of my troublesome offspring! Selena is not unattractive, he thought as he reread Don Alejandro’s engagement proposal letter, but she is too smart for her own good. I should never have permitted her to have private tutors! The local caballeros, once they got to know her, were completely frightened by her intelligence. Every time I have made a suitable match for Selena in the recent past, the outcome has been the same.  Ai! And those last two!  

Selena maintained that both of her recent suitors were “addled” and did nothing but amuse themselves by horseracing with the other wealthy young hidalgos and were always displaying their sartorial splendor by attending innumerable parties. Don Martino glanced at the oil portrait of his late wife. I dread this conversation, but I suppose I can not blame Selena for telling those two caballeros that Hell would freeze over first before she would marry them!  Well, it was time to break the news to her.  

“Selena! Please come into the library we have something very important to discuss.”  Her father said as he met her at the foot of the sala’s staircase.  

“Sí, papa,“ she replied uneasily, knowing perfectly well that another engagement was forthcoming.  

Don Martino paced the flagstone floor in his library. “Selena, I have made one final marriage contract for you and you have no choice in this matter, for if you refuse this suitor you will be sent to a nunnery in Madrid.” He stopped his stride long enough to gauge her reaction.

A convent!  Selena thought dejectedly to herself. A dull, spiritual death or humiliation at the hands of a husband who was marrying her only for the more than generous dowry that she was certain her father had negotiated out of extreme anxiety.  

Sí, father?” she asked in a choked voice.  

“Your husband to be is ...Diego de la Vega.”  

“Sí?” Selena almost fainted from joy.  Father must not suspect  I have loved him so for the past several years, but I do not really know him. She struggled to keep her face neutral as her father continued his standard betrothal speech.

“Diego is handsome, nice and very wealthy, Selena,” Don Martino said gently, trying to ease the fact he was not going to give his daughter any room to maneuver herself into scuttling this betrothal,  “and he .. “  

“.... he has all of his original teeth, ten fingers, ten toes and hair also.” Selena retorted.  

“SELENA!”  Don Martino grabbed his daughter and shook her as hard as he could. “You will obey me in this matter, comprende?”  

When her head finally cleared, Selena whispered her assent.  

“Excellente. Although Don Diego has never met you, I am certain that as the years pass and you give him many male children, you and he will come to develop affection for each other. Now, go and select something pretty to wear, perhaps the rose silk dress.  We shall have the engagement lunch tomorrow afternoon.”  

Selena cried herself to sleep. Dios, mi! Diego de la Vega! She had loved Diego the first time that she had seen him at King Ferdinand VII’s court in Madrid three years ago. Even at eighteen years of age Diego possessed a certain savoir faire that the other sons and nephews of the Grandees and Hidalgos lacked. She learned from her fellow ladies in waiting at court that Diego was a true gentleman and did not take himself too seriously. She moaned softly. Often she dreamed of what a gentle yet strong lover he would make. But there was a fly in the ointment.  Señorita de Rojas also had learned from her circle of friends that Diego could not abide arranged marriages, and she was just as determined not to enter a loveless marriage as Diego was. How ironic, I am to marry the man of my dreams and he does not have any amorous feelings for me. To Selena, her future looked to be very grim indeed.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

 

Diego rose earlier than usual the next morning and was dressed before ten o’clock.  He needed time to think because today was the day that his father would betroth him to Señorita de Rojas.  To a female almost three years older. Sweet Virgin, at least let her be charming and somewhat attractive. Don Martino de Rojas has a reputation as a tough marriage negotiator.  I suppose I could accept her ... later, much later. But how I will juggle my marital obligations with my duty as Zorro?   Diego looked at his mozo and shrugged in resignation.

Bernardo smiled as he noticed Diego nervously pacing back and forth in his bedroom and made his sign in the air for a lovely lady, meaning Diego’s yet to be announced fiancée, Selena de Rojas.

"Well," Diego laughed, "my opinion of her physical attributes remains to be seen, eh?"  

His mozo grinned broadly.  I am happy to see you in such pleasant humor.   

"Gracias, my friend. .. . I think!” Diego bowed his head, deep in thought. “Bernardo, it was Señorita de Rojas who sent men with a wagon to pick up Maria.  How she knew of Maria's release so precisely is quite a mystery."  Don Diego rubbed the back of his head. "It seems that El Zorro has a new friend and ally against the commandante.  We also know that Maria Suarez had children.  Have you had any results from your discreet inquiries at the church in Los Ángeles?"  

, my master. One of the Indian servants in the local church heard the Friars discussing "a rich Spanish lady” who gave a large donation of pesos to Father Felipe for the care of the Suarez family.  

"Ah, most interesting. You have done well, Bernardo. This morning I get to meet Señorita de Rojas in the flesh. Did you not tell me earlier that the lady in question usually travels heavily veiled?"  

Bernardo shook his head. I do not remember telling you any such thing my master! Remember a gentleman never listens to gossip, he added, furiously twirling his hands in the air.  

Don Diego chuckled aloud.  "We shall see what today brings.  If the local gossip is correct then my friend, I am in serious trouble because my father is most insistent regarding this marriage due to my refusal to accept Magdalena,"  he added.  

His mozo looked concerned.  You still have some feelings regarding her?  

"For Magdalena?  It shall take some time or a most extraordinary woman for me to completely forget her, if I ever can."  Mentally shaking himself, Diego checked his pocket watch. "Eleven fifteen. Don Martino and his daughter are due to arrive at any time now.“  He motioned for Bernardo to open the bedroom door and peek outside.  

Sí, the de Rojas carriage just pulled up to the patio gate.  Bernardo mimed to his master. No, I cannot see her face because it is heavily veiled!    

Bernardo hid a smile with both hands as he closed the door.  Ready?  

Don Diego's eyebrows rose in mock horror.  "No, but that will make no difference in any case,"  was Diego’s exasperated reply. “Dios! So she is heavily veiled!"  

His manservant touched his arm. A woman with such a kind heart...  

Diego nodded. “You are correct as usual. Come on, now I believe am ready to meet to my future bride."   

Have courage, my master.  Can an arranged marriage really be that awful? Bernardo signed.  

“Yes, my friend. To me it would be a fate worse than death,“ Diego replied with the same haunted look on his face Bernardo saw the night he returned after Zorro saved Magdalena’s life on the Camino Real. I suppose Don Martino ordered his daughter to disguise her unsightly appearance before she emerged from their carriage, was the caballero’s last thought before leaving his room.

 

 

END OF CHAPTER SEVEN

 

 

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