The Promise



  Gail Manfre







DIEGO finally meets his betrothed....



Although Diego had told Bernardo he was prepared to meet Selena, he balked at the last moment by sending his mozo with a note to his father disclosing the reason for his tardiness. Diego had used the pretense of changing his clothes to watch unseen from his bedroom doorway as Don Martino introduced his daughter to his father. From his vantage point Diego discerned the señorita was fairly tall, probably taller than Magdalena. He noted the grace of her bearing, as she appeared to glide rather than walk across the patio. If I could see her face .... well, I shall in a minute or two. I suppose it is time for my entrance.

Bernardo ascended the stairs and gestured to him with upturned hands. What is wrong?  Your father is quite upset with you.  

All right, I am coming, I am coming,” Diego reproached himself as he failed to conceal his dismay at having to invent another reason, which his father would label an excuse, not to enter into a prearranged marriage.  

Don Alejandro had greeted Don Martino at the patio gate. He had tried to talk Diego into welcoming his guests with him, as was proper, but Bernardo reported to Don Alejandro that  his son insisted upon changing his chaqueta for the second time that morning.  

Don Martino was roughly Alejandro’s height but there the resemblance ended.  Señor de Rojas was heavily muscled and his beard was a dull red.  His broad face bore the look of a man who was accustomed to getting what he wanted regardless of the obstacle or cost.  

Bernardo looked askance at his master. You are wearing the same jacqueta.  But you said in your message ...  

“Si, mother,” Diego replied as he rolled his eyes. Together they descended the stairs leading into the patio.  He could hear the pleasant sound of feminine laughter as they entered the sala.  

Señorita de Rojas was seated with her back to the entrance when Don Diego made his appearance. From his stiff demeanor, Alejandro saw Diego’s discomfort regarding his attendance at this meeting. Don Martino saw the icy expression on Diego’s face and coughed nervously.  Then Selena saw Don Alejandro’s angry glance directed at Diego and she sighed deeply.  

Ai yi yi! Alejandro gasped inwardly.  Privately he was livid with Diego’s conduct, but he somehow recovered his composure. “Ah, Diego there you are. You of course, remember Don Martino de Rojas,”  his father said affably.  

“Certainly,” Diego archly replied, careful to avoid glancing in the señorita’s direction.  

Señor de Rojas returned young de la Vega’s respectful bow.  “And here is my ah...  daughter, Selena Teresa Alvar de Rojas y Perez.”  

Only then did Diego dare to concentrate his attention on the señorita. As he reached out to kiss her proffered right hand, he nearly gasped from surprise.  She had pushed back her mantilla and smiled up at  him.  Señorita Selena was quite lovely ... for a woman her age, he said to himself.  

Selena nodded her head fractionally. “Diego, how charming to see you again.  You have certainly grown up in more ways than one since your years at the Spanish Court,” she replied gaily.  

Rather than release her hand, he found himself unable to move. Belatedly, he realized that he was staring.  

“Y-your pardon, señorita!” Diego managed to say at last.

Selena waved her fan to and fro across her chin.  “I am not ...what you expected, Diego, eh?”  

“No,” he whispered as he continued grasping her fingers.  Her skin seemed to glow from some secret inner beauty. Selena’s eyes were a smoky shade of gray and her hair was a dark shade of brown/black, somewhere between deep chestnut and charcoal. Her lips were full and begging to be kissed.  he thought suddenly. Diego’s eyes continued to focus on them.  

“You are most definitely not what I expected! You are ...very lovely, Señorita de Rojas.”  

She smiled languidly up at him.  “For a woman my age,” Selena replied mischievously.  

“Selena, what a fine thing to say!” Her father protested. To Don Martino’s surprise, Diego laughed.  

“Touché, senorita. Please excuse my boorish behavior.” Don Diego bowed to her.  Oh my ... she is very nice. Hmm. Very intriguing. He mused to himself.  

Selena chuckled also.  “Of course, Don Diego. No offense taken. You are most assuredly a gentleman.”  

Don Alejandro’s manservant, Jorge Paco, announced that luncheon was served.  

Diego immediately offered his arm to Selena and escorted her to the luncheon table. The meal proceeded smoothly and afterwards Don Alejandro asked Don Martino to join him in the library for some jerez. Then both dons suggested that the “young people take a stroll in the de la Vega garden.”

The young caballero was extremely happy to oblige their wish but he resolved to be honest with Señorita de Rojas first.  But as they headed for the patio, Selena turned to him.                                     

“Señor, I must be frank ...” the señorita began  

He hurried her out into a quiet spot in the garden.  “A-and, Senorita?”  he sputtered for he was of the same opinion. Diego kept thinking how beautiful she was and how boorish his earlier behavior in the sala was. She attempted to avert her head but Diego reached down and gently turned Selena’s chin up toward him.

When Selena remained silent, Diego said haltingly, “T-there is something you should know about my feelings ...”          

“Surely you realize that we are now engaged,” she whispered.

“Selena, this is one thing that I do not joke about. I loathe arranged marriages!” Diego emphatically replied. “I find myself compelled to be completely honest with you.  

Her body slumped.  “But you know why my father is here! Diego, he is now literally begging Don Alejandro to accept me as his new daughter-in-law.  Don Martino is telling your father that he is desperate to marry me off. Never mind our feelings in this matter!” she bitterly replied. “Don Diego, I am perfectly aware of your sentiments regarding me. I know what a handicap a wife of my age would be to a hidalgo of your exalted social standing.”  

What can I possibly say to counteract the truth?  he said to himself. Have I not said, as much to my father regarding the impossibility of a marriage with a woman I do not love?  

Despite his attraction to her Diego found himself saying “Yes, I knew our fathers had already concluded a marital contract. But as I have just stated ,surely you realize that I do not ...”  

“...Love me? But how could you? You do probably do not remember when I was introduced to you in Madrid.” she said, still whispering. “How often had I dreamed that I would be betrothed to someone whom I loved and who would give his heart to me in return.”  

“Lo siento mucho.”  Diego gallantly replied as he lightly brushed his lips once again across the back of her right hand.  

“Gracias, Diego. Our marriage would be a terrible mistake.”  

She uttered her words with such sadness and despair that he was moved to comfort her further.  He tenderly kissed her hands.  

“Would wedlock with me be so...unbearable?” he inquired, suddenly intrigued by their newly discovered common ground.  

“No!  It is the circumstance by which we would be joined together.  I could not abide an arranged marriage with a caballero that does not love me!”

Diego searched her gray eyes for any sign of untruth. He found none.  “Señorita, I crave your pardon. I confess I have done you a terrible disservice because I believed all of the gossip about---”  

“The ’old maid‘ of the Pueblo de Los Angeles, with the face of a Medusa.,” she quietly added

“Well ... sí,” he reluctantly admitted.  

“What will you do if your father commands you to marry me?” Selena  asked suddenly.  

Diego glanced over her shoulder.  “I honestly do not know how I will react. Like your father, mine only has my best interests at heart.”  He craned his neck towards the garden entrance. “My father is obviously striking a hard bargain since I do not see him angrily striding through the garden,” he said in a lighter tone.

Seconds later, as if on cue, Don Alejandro appeared at the garden gate. “Diego? Selena? Where are you?”   

“Here comes one of the bridges that we have to cross,” she muttered.  

Diego nodded. “In ways that neither of our fathers would expect, senorita. Over here, father!“  

“Diego...” Don Alejandro abruptly stopped talking and looked at the quite unexpected sight of his son’s arms around Señorita de Rojas.  Ah, you two look positively charming together!”  

“Father, we definitely need to!”  His son urgently whispered to Don Alejandro.  

“Muy bien, Diego, but afterwards in the library. Don Martino and the señorita are also staying for dinner. But now,” Don Alejandro said emphatically, “I believe that there is plenty of time for the two of you to take a carriage ride into the country, eh? Señorita Amontildar will serve as dueña.”  

How can I refuse my father’s request without appearing to be churlish?  Diego decided to surrender to good common sense and asked Bernardo to gather the carriage for them.  

Selena shook her head. “Did you notice the eager look in his eyes, Diego?”  

“Sí.  We shall work something out, señorita. We have not yet lost the battle.”  

“Battle? Whatever do you mean Diego?” Selena inquired.  

Diego lightly squeezed her hand. “The battle to control our own destinies.”  

The reality of their de facto betrothal suddenly evaporated his joy upon finally meeting the lovely Selena de Rojas. Belatedly, he remembered an ancient Chinese curse that stated “may you live in interesting times.”  That Chinese philosopher must have meant his words for him, for both he and Selena were indeed caught in a most interesting situation. 





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