Ring of Fire
The next day, Ania seemed to be
everywhere at once in the hacienda. Everything had to be perfect, from the
sala and dining room, which naturally had to be ready for the company, to
the cellar and upper rooms, which made no sense to the servants since the
company would have no reason for being in these rooms. However, necessary
or not, Ania saw that it was done. As understanding as the young patrona
usually was, they were all seeing that there were times that you just did
not test her patience. By mid-afternoon, the hacienda gleamed like a
castle, with flowers in all the lower rooms and all the candles trimmed
Ramón had watched all her
preparations with great interest. He seemed to find Ania's attitude, about
which he was not fooled for an instant, rather amusing. Why she should be
in such a state over Anna María was a puzzle to him. After all, even if
Diego had paid her court two years ago, the young woman still seemed set
on seeing this outlaw, Zorro, did she not? Finally, Ramón had shrugged
and given up trying to make sense of it. He supposed he would never
understand everything about women. He had not before his wife had died,
and he certainly could not claim to now. He soon found that it was simply
easier to stay out of Ania's way during all the hustle and bustle. It was
definitely a great deal more peaceful.
When she retired to her room to rest
during siesta, Ania spent considerably more time deciding on what to wear
than she did resting. She finally chose a dress of green silk. At her
cuffs and the slightly low neckline, were touches of soft white lace. The
effect, along with a tall comb of mother of pearl, was anything but
simple. There! she thought. I will not be outshone in my own
Ania fretted when Diego did not come
as he so often did at siesta time. She hoped this did not mean that Zorro
had been needed. It would be hard enough playing her part with Diego here.
Without him, the temptation to speak her mind would be almost too great.
She tried to remind herself that Anna María would be very disappointed in
this trip to Los Ángeles and was to be pitied, but she was having trouble
feeling truly charitable toward her. The fact that Anna María had told
some of the servants that she wished to see Zorro and asked that they tell
anyone who might be able to get the word to him, had not improved Ania's
mood in the least.
However, when Ania and Ramón met
their guests at the head of the steps leading up to the front of the
hacienda, Ania's gracious manner was irreproachable. Her attitude and
actions would have been welcome in any court on earth. Indeed, as he
watched her, Diego decided that court was exactly where she had learned it
all. He wondered just how deeply hidden under the illusion her true
feelings ran. Hopefully, far enough that nothing unexpected would occur.
The fact that even he did not sense any animosity in Ania's words or
actions was not truly comforting. He knew Ania well enough to know that
even with him, she could completely disguise her true feelings, and his
senses told him that he should stay close to her side.
His staying close to her was just
what Ania wished. She tried to push her jealousy out of her mind, and
succeeded as long as he was with her. She was actually beginning to enjoy
the role of hostess.
As they sat at the long oak table
being served, Ania said, making conversation, "Monterey seemed to be
a very pleasant place to live, Anna María. I was there only a couple of
months ago myself."
"Oh, really? You did not
mention that before," Anna María replied. "Yes, I am very fond
it, although Monterey is not as lively as what you must have experienced
"I quite prefer Monterey, or
anywhere in Alta California, to Spain," Ania said dryly. "As for
being lively…well, I have heard that the capital has had its times. I am
sure it would have enough excitement for me."
"Sí, I suppose that to one
raised in West Florida, Monterey might seem very lively indeed," Anna
María commented as she met Ania's eyes with a level stare. "I
understand many of the pueblos there are quite small, are they not?"
Ahhh, Ania thought in surprise, so she DID catch my defensiveness the other
day when we met and I dropped the fact of being at court so casually.
She felt a sense of challenge as she returned Anna Maria’s gaze. So
she wishes to play word games, does she? Ania smiled slightly as she
began to plan how to subtly lead the conversation where she wanted it to
go. However, looking up, she caught Diego watching her closely. He
appeared tense, ready to leap in with a comment to distract Anna Maria if
things went too far. His expression was not a happy one. Ania’s
intentions immediately shifted away from confrontation. Ah, well! I did
promise Diego I would be good. That is a pity. It might have been fun.
Looking back at Anna Maria, she said,
"Well, I must admit that mine was, at any rate. I’m afraid I was
often known to create my own excitement."
"To that I can attest!"
Ramón commented, entering into the conversation. "Ania was the queen
of ninety day wonders when we were growing up. The people who lived in our
area were always talking about one thing or another she had done. Her form
of excitement usually got her into hot water, and as often as not, dragged
her brothers and me along for the ride." Laughing, he launched into a
tale of Ania’s two younger brothers and him climbing to the roof of a
barn on a dare. Of course, the dare had come from the then nearly
thirteen-year-old tomboy, who was already at the peak of the roof herself.
It pleased Ania to have Ramón take
an interest in Anna María. His banter kept Anna María’s attention away
from Diego. Her cousin had
been very attentive to Anna María all evening. That certainly helped Ania
keep her promise of self-control. Ania
had to admit to herself that Anna María did not seem to think very
seriously of Diego as a possible lover. As Diego had explained, it
appeared she merely viewed him as a friend at most, a friend as close as a
brother, as he phrased it. That was another reason she was attempting to
behave as she had promised. As long as the topic of Zorro did not come up
between them, that is how things would remain.
"Ania, you were allowed to get
away with such things?” Anna Maria asked. “Why, it sounds as if you
had as much freedom as your brothers.
Is not West Florida still somewhat dangerous? That is certainly so
here," Anna María looked at her a touch speculatively, or so Ania
translated the look.
"Oh, yes," Ania answered.
"I was given a great deal of freedom, but not without being taught
something of how to take care of myself."
"Actually, Ania," Ramón
corrected, "you were not so much GIVEN the freedom as you took it. I
imagine you gave Luisa the majority of the gray hairs on her head."
"From what you both have told
me, that is probably so, Ramón," Diego commented with a smile. Ania
smiled back at him.
"I have to admit that I did
take a lot of privileges, Anna María. I was very competitive with my
brothers. I was usually determined to do whatever they did," she
"What things did they do that a
lady would be allowed to do?" Anna María asked.
Ah! The word 'lady'....
Ania started to comment but did not as a servant walked up to whisper
something to her.
"Please excuse me, señorita,
but there is a man who begs that you will come and speak to him." the
"What does this man want with
me? Can he not wait?" Ania questioned.
"Who is this man?" Ramón
leaned toward her to ask.
Ania knew exactly what he was going
to say next. She sighed. Even
if she was irritated at the interruption as well, she did not wish him to
be concerned. "Now, Ramón,
it is all right, really. I am
sure I do not need you to escort me just to see what this man wants here
in my own patio. You do have a guard just outside the gate. It is probably
just one of the people living near here. I do still help them as a
curandera, you know," she soothed. Across from her, she noticed Diego
looking curiously toward the door. She smiled at him reassuringly as well.
Men! she thought in exasperation. It is a wonder they do not
suffocate women with their concern.
"Sí, Señorita Ania, it is Jesús
Rivas,” the servant went on. “He
says his youngest child is sick and having trouble breathing. He asked if
there is something you might do."
Ania noticed that Anna María was
looking at her oddly, as one might a freak of nature. She remembered the
more common attitude toward many curanderas here. So she thinks she is
too good to mix with the people, even when they need help, does she?
Ania mentally dared her to say one thing about it.
"YOU...a curandera?" Anna
María gasped in surprise, unconsciously taking Ania up on the dare.
"But surely they can turn to the doctor, or go to one of their
own," Anna María continued, with a frown. "After all,
being a curandera might put one in rather questionable situations, might
"Oh, should a lady stop to
think of things like that when another human being needs help?" Ania
looked at Anna María coldly as she rose from the table. I have no time
for this now. "I will see what I can do for him. Please make
yourselves at home while I am gone. Con permiso," she said with a
look around the table.
She paused as her gaze fell upon
Diego, who looked decidedly uneasy after her last response. For an
instant, she felt irritated with him as well. I said no more than I
should and a great deal less than I could, she thought defiantly. Then
she shrugged, letting the feeling slide away as she smiled slightly at
him. It was not his fault. "Alma," she said as she passed a
middle-aged servant coming in with a dish, "please see that
everyone's glass remains full and their food is to their liking until I
return." With that, she quickly went out to the patio area to speak
with the peon.
Anna María looked after her
curiously as she left. "She is a rather unusual woman. I do not think
I have ever met anyone quite like her, Diego."
Diego looked thoughtfully after Ania
as well. "I think the word would be 'unique', Anna María, and I very
much doubt that you could have met anyone else like her. If you all will
excuse me, I will make sure everything is all right. Con permiso?" He
rose and left the dining room.
As she turned back to Ramón, Anna
María asked. "You must have grown up under somewhat exceptional
circumstances, Don Ramón. Is West Florida so different from here?"
Ramón responded by not only telling
her a bit about West Florida, but also about the years he had spent
growing up in Castilla y León. He admitted that his father had sent him
to stay with his Tío Miguel so that he might learn just how good he had
had it in his father's house. Instead of feeling punished, however, he had
enjoyed the less refined life of growing up in the "wild colonial
area". After going back to Spain and completing school, he had
eagerly accepted His Majesty's request that he return here as his
representative. "I find the life in the colonies fresher, more
exciting in its own way. I also," he said with a meaningful look at
Anna María, "find the people here much more fascinating."
"Why, gracias, Don Ramón!"
Anna María said with a smile as she looked down and then back up at him,
immediately understanding his compliment. "That is certainly very
nice to hear." She was finding this man with the clear blue eyes
rather interesting herself. If it were not for other pledges kept in her
heart, she might find him even more so. However, that was neither here nor
there. She could, at least, enjoy the conversation now.
Outside Diego found Ania still
talking to a tired looking man. "Jesús, you mean that she has been
sick since yesterday? What have you been doing since then?" She
listened closely as the child's father told her what had already been done
and then quickly went upstairs. Soon she returned with a few herb packs
and told the father how to use them to help the little girl. "I shall
say a prayer for her tonight, as well," Ania assured him.
Diego stood by quietly as the man
thanked Ania and left. He had gotten so used to the freedom with which she
interacted with the common people of the area that he had forgotten how
unusual her actions were. He had no doubt that she would find some reason
tomorrow to be on her land near the man's home and would 'just happen to
stop by' to check on the child. He smiled. Yes, unique describes her
"What are you smiling
about?" Ania asked with a smile of her own.
"Oh, nothing. Can I not smile
at you when I wish?" Diego asked as he leaned back against the patio
Ania laughed. "I shall remind
you of that the next time I am smiling and you ask me what is in my
"I have never called it
devious, Ania, but you must admit, with you some smiles definitely lead to
mischief," he grinned. He looked casually over his shoulder at the
door leading back into the house. A merry spark of mischief shone in his
own eyes as he turned back to her. "We seem to have done something
rare indeed, at least, for the moment. We have given Ramón the
Ania needed no further invitation.
She stepped up to him, gently resting her hands against his chest as he
pulled her into his arms to kiss her. "You know, Diego," she
said quietly as she leaned her head against his shoulder for a moment,
"I think there just might be some good to having Anna María here
"Oh?" he said.
"Knowing how much of the 'green eyed monster' has resided behind your
own green eyes these last few days, I am very surprised to hear you say
"Yes, she makes a very good
distraction for Ramón. For that, she is almost worth keeping
around," Ania said, cutting her eyes up at him to see his reaction.
"Almost," she stressed.
Diego laughed. "Well, that is
at least an improvement on your part. However, we probably should go back
in. Otherwise, Ramón may have the whole group out here on some pretense
or other." Feeling much more relaxed, the two did just that.
It was too bad the peace did not
last. Inside, everyone had moved back into the sala and the conversation
had turned to El Zorro and his exploits. Ramón, as the one person in the
room who had heard of Zorro, but had never seen him, could not imagine
what the attraction could be between a high born lady and an outlaw. Diego
and Ania returned just in time to hear him comment, "I have heard you
say that you wish to meet this outlaw, Zorro. Surely you do not propose to
do this alone, señorita. How do you know that this outlaw is to be
trusted with a lady of your beauty?"
"Señor," Anna María
replied, casting him a sharp look, "only the fact that you are a
stranger to California excuses you for that comment. Zorro can be trusted
under any circumstance!"
"You make him sound like a
saint, señorita!" Ramón scoffed.
"Perhaps he is not a saint, but
I know he is a very good man, a true caballero. I will be in no more
danger from Zorro than I am from you!" Anna María insisted.
Ramón looked down into his glass
and laughed ruefully. “Well, I am not sure whether that is a compliment
or not, Señorita Verdugo. I suppose it is something of value that you see
me at least as honorable as this outlaw.”
Anna María shook her head and
smiled. “If you knew him,
you would be honored at the comparison,” she assured him.
"Anna María, I do wish you
would listen to him,” Tía Alicia interjected fretfully. That is the
very thing I have been worried about ever since we left Monterey."
"You are worrying for nothing.
Someday you will understand," Anna María said flatly. Her tone made
clear that this was definitely not the first time she had argued the
point. "I must see him and I am going alone!"
Ania quietly accepted a cup of tea
from Alma. This would, no doubt, have been a point where she might have
been expected to come in on Anna María's side of the argument. However,
why should she be in favor of Anna María going alone to meet Zorro? She
personally trusted Zorro a great deal further than she did Anna María. Hmmm,
this might be a good way to tease Diego without Ramón, Anna María, or
her aunt knowing what I am doing? Ania hid a smile behind her teacup. I
wonder what Don Alejandro would think of it, though. Ania glanced
thoughtfully to the far side of the room where Ramón and Don Alejandro
were talking. Perhaps she could try a mild tease here and watch to see if
it bothered Don Alejandro.
"You know, Anna María, there
might be something in what your aunt says here. There are many women who
throw themselves at him,” she said as if considering something she had
heard. “Perhaps he has become... used...to that sort of thing. I mean,
Zorro is quite a rascal. I am certain he is more of a rogue than you know.
After all, he is a man and men can be...unpredictable...at times. One can
never be too sure,"
"Oh, that would never be the
case with El Zorro!" Anna María argued.
Ania felt Diego's knee silently
nudge the back of her chair. Don Alejandro was leaning his chin against
his hand, with fingers slightly concealing his mouth. She was willing to
bet that he was watching his son and was trying to hide his amusement. Bueno!
As long as I do not get dangerously close to revealing anything, he does
not seem to be worried about my teasing. She wished she were in a
position to see Diego's reaction. He would hide it well from others, but
she was willing to bet that she could see a reaction. This is almost
too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Ramón looked at her in sincere
surprise for a moment. "You," he finally laughed, "are
urging caution here? You who have never been known to be overly cautious
in your life?"
"Well, perhaps I have learned
caution as I have gotten older," she shrugged. "After all,
people do change."
"Not Zorro! He would not
change!" Anna María declared.
Hmmmm, perhaps I had better
change the direction of the conversation now,
Ania thought. This will not help Diego's feelings. I do not wish him to
feel too sorry for her before he has to speak with her as Zorro.
Ania shrugged. "Maybe you are
right, Anna María, but it has been my experience that most people do
change. By the way, Diego was telling me the other day of a friend you
both know who sounds like he would have been interesting to meet. Do you
still hear from Don Ricardo? She
turned to her cousin, with a smile, “This man sounds a great deal like
Fernando Larosa. Remember him, Ramón?"
"Oh, indeed, Ania," Ramón
said, "although if this man were like Fernando, I would not actually
call him 'interesting'. Exasperating is more the word.
It is a wonder your brothers did not kill Fernando for some of the
things he did in the name of humor! I nearly succumbed to that temptation
myself a time or two."
"That is why I was interested,
Ramón. I wanted to know if Diego’s friend had changed. I hear from
Antonia that our own practical joker has. She says that Fernando has
become quite serious," Ania commented. “If anyone other than she
had told me, I would have said it was a lie.”
"Ha! Were I to find myself wed
to Anica whatever-her-name-was, as he has, I would probably become quite
serious, too," Ramón said with a shake of his head. Ania ignored his
comment as she looked back at Anna María.
"Ricardo?” Anna María said
with a teasing glance Diego's way. “Yes, I still hear from him
frequently, unlike some people I could name."
Ania tensed as she saw the glance,
but managed to hide it from all except Diego. "Why, Diego, you should
be ashamed!" she said with a laugh. "One should never get so
wrapped up in the trivial things of life that they could not find the time
for important things like writing close friends. What ever could have been
that important?" She smiled lightheartedly, but when Ania glanced
back at him, she could see that this line of conversation was making him
"Ricardo also has visited in
Monterey several times since that summer that Diego was there,” Anna María
continued. “I do not think that he has changed much. He still seems to
enjoy his jokes. However, I think he is a bit more careful that he does
not play his jokes on the wrong person now,"
"It is about time Ricardo grew
up a bit," Diego commented.
"Well, I seem to remember you
playing a few tricks, too, Diego," Anna María said. She cocked her
head to the side and smiled coyly as she took a sip of her wine, then
looked back up at him. "If you two had not been trying to impress me
so much, you both may have had a more peaceful time that summer."
"Perhaps a more peaceful time,
but hardly a more enjoyable time," Diego admitted.
Ania echoed to herself. Humph! "Amazing what grown men will do
with a little encouragement, is it not?" she commented just loud
enough for Diego and Anna María to hear. As she looked up, she saw
irritation in the other young woman's eyes.
Diego, almost too casually, walked
around to the mantel and turned, leaning against it slightly, so that he
was now facing Ania. He raised an eyebrow at her as she smiled innocently
Ania was careful to turn her most
guileless smile on Anna María. "Sometimes men seem not to have a
brain in their heads!" she continued brightly. Yes, their thinking
had all moved south for the breeding season! she thought sarcastically
to herself, unconsciously using a phrase she had overheard Luisa use in
scolding her brothers when they had gone too far in trying to impress the
young señoritas of their pueblo. Diego glanced quickly at Anna María and
then back at her.
"I suppose you learned that
from the caballeros at court," Anna María stressed the last word
"Oh, of course there were those
who tried to impress me at court, but actually I learned more by watching
three older brothers and, oh, one or two male cousins try to impress the
ladies," Ania replied casually with a glance at Ramón.
"And I suppose you were totally
innocent of any encouragement on your part, sí?" Anna María asked
as if that was what she would expect, but the look in her eyes said
Ania looked down and brushed a
non-existent wrinkle from the green silk of her skirt. "As a newborn
babe! Although I did observe at other times that the amount of silliness
others experienced was usually in direct proportion to the encouragement
from other sources." She looked up with eyes wide, as if this was
somewhat shocking to her. Across from her, she was aware for just an
instant, of Diego's fingers starting to tap the edge of the mantel. Then
he forced himself to stop fidgeting. With his back to the other men, he
stared hard at her for an instant and Ania could almost hear his thoughts.
Inwardly, she sighed. Ah, well! I had better not go any further. I did
Anna María toyed with the glass in
her hand for a moment, then set it on the edge of the table next to her.
"Well, I suppose it depends on your viewpoint. One generally finds
what one looks for." She gave Ania a level stare, which Ania met
calmly before looking back down at her teacup and sipping.
Ania saw Diego glance down for an
instant at Anna María, then roll his eyes heavenward. Out of the corner
of her eye, she could see Don Alejandro, still watching his son, as he
himself carried on a conversation with Ramón. She did not think either of
the two could have heard their comments, but she saw that Don Alejandro's
dark eyes carried a bit of humor as he glanced from her to Anna María to
Diego's broad back. No doubt he had guessed the direction their
conversation had taken. Ania got the distinct impression that he was more
than a little amused at his son's expense.
"Well, gentlemen," Ramón
interrupted her thoughts by saying, "I think I would enjoy a cigar
after that good meal my cousin's staff prepared for us. I picked up these
cigars when we stopped in Havana on our way here. I can assure you two
that they are of exceptional quality. Shall we go out onto the patio and
enjoy them? Ania has already told me what she thinks of them. For some
reason, she does not appreciate their robust aroma. Con permiso." He
grinned at Ania as he rose from his chair.
When Ramón turned a questioning
look on Don Alejandro, Ania glanced at Diego to see what he would do.
Surprisingly, she caught a brief look of indecision. Going with them would
be the natural thing for him to do. However, Ania could see that he was
extremely uneasy about leaving her and Anna María here together. Seeing
this, Ania's heart softened. She really should not have teased him even as
mildly as she had. She realized that all of this had put him in a very
uncomfortable position. Ania caught his eye and smiled as reassuringly as
she could. 'I will remember my promise,' she tried to say with her
expression. He raised an eyebrow and gave her an uncertain smile.
"Diego, surely you will be
joining us on the patio,” Don Alejandro said as he stopped patted
Diego’s shoulder. “I am sure the señoritas and the señora will do
just fine in our absence,"
With a final look at Ania, Diego
agreed, "I am sure you are correct, Father." He stepped away
from the mantel and more nearly faced the entire room. "Con permiso,"
he said with a slight bow.
"Señora y señoritas,"
Don Alejandro said with a bow of his own. As they walked out the door Ania
heard him softly chuckle as he continued speaking to Diego. "Ay!
There are some situations that Zorro himself might have trouble handling,
are there not, son?" Ania could tell that Diego had replied to his
father. Although she was quite unable to tell what he said, it had a
strained, not-quite-happy sound to it. Perhaps it is I who needs to
grow up, she thought guiltily. She resolved to show him she could be
No one spoke for a few minutes as
the three women sat with their own thoughts. Finally the silence was
broken as Tía Alicia began asking questions about the rancho and West
Florida, as well as general questions about how Ania came to meet Diego
and Don Alejandro.
Anna María watched Ania as she told
of the first year she had been in Los Ángeles and how grateful she was to
the de la Vegas for all they had done for her. "I lost almost all of
the family I loved when we came here, but still I have been lucky. I seem
to have found another family who is coming to mean a great deal to me. Don
Alejandro has already become almost a father to me, and Diego... Well, what can I say of him?" Ania glanced toward the
door to the patio, her expression speaking volumes of what was in her
heart. "The longer I know him, the more special he becomes to me.“
"I am glad to see that Diego
has found someone who loves him as much as you seem to,” Anna Maria
said. “You have been blessed, Ania, to have been given time to get to
know Diego. He has always been a very wonderful friend. He deserves to
have all the happiness that can possibly come his way. I can only hope to
have more time to get to know the man I love better. Hopefully, after
tomorrow night, that can begin happening," Anna María said
"You are determined to see
Zorro then?" Ania asked.
"Sí. Surely, he will have
heard that I am here and wish to see him by now," Anna María
"And what if he does not come,
Anna María? I understand from Diego that you met Zorro the same summer he
was last in Monterey. Has he seen you in the two years and more, since
then? Have you even heard from him?" Ania asked seriously.
"Well, no, but there could be
many good, honorable reasons for that," Anna María insisted. "I
know he will come."
"Two and a half years might
have changed a lot, Anna María. It is crazy to think that it would
not," Ania began.
"And baseless jealousy is not
crazy?" Anna María looked up at Ania with anger flashing in her
"Anna María!" Tía Alicia
A quick retort came to Ania's mind,
but she pushed it away. I will keep my promise to Diego, she told
herself forcefully. Solemnly, she met Anna María's eyes and then looked
down into her cup before she spoke. Only when she knew her words would be
under control did she look back up and speak. She tried to look and behave
contrite. Oh, Diego, you are the only person for whom I would ever
swallow my pride like this! Ania took a deep breath and said aloud,
"I am sorry, but I suppose my situation is a bit unusual. I have
heard many things of the summer Diego spent in Monterey. Surely, you know
how much you figured into that time. It was quite a shock to have you
suddenly appear here. I know that you and Diego were once very close. I
apologize if I have offended you."
"All right, I suppose I cannot
blame you, but I doubt that Diego was ever as serious about me as all
that,” Anna Maria replied. “He knew as soon as I did that I loved
Zorro. Diego is a very good friend. That is all.
He knows that he can never be more than that. I mean, he is very
sweet, but I want more than that. Zorro is all I have even wanted in a
love. He is brave and fearless. When something happens, he takes action.
He does not merely discuss it and give advise like..." Anna
María began, before stopping as she realized how her comment was going to
"Like Diego, you are
saying?" Ania frowned and finished for her.
"Oh, please do not
misunderstand me on this. As I said, Diego is very sweet. He is a good
friend, who has always tried his best to help me.
However, he and I could never have been satisfied together, not
after I met Zorro," Anna María stated.
"What sort of man do you truly
think Zorro is? How can you
possibly know? You saw him a few times more than two years ago. I find that a very flimsy basis for a marriage," Ania
"Well, obviously he is a
caballero,” Anna María responded. “He would be someone well respected
in the community. Someone everyone will know has strong beliefs and who
can be counted on to side with what is right. He, no doubt, gets things
done wherever he lives and would surely be respected for his forcefulness.
I am sure he is a man of action."
Sí, he would be if it would not
get him caught! Ania agreed to
herself as she watched Anna María thoughtfully.
"But what if he is not like
that?” Ania asked. “I mean, perhaps he is quiet and dignified with
things but not at all what one would expect of a man of action. He could
not run about doing things all the time, now could he?"
"You mean, more like
Diego?" Anna María chuckled, but not unkindly. "He is
trustworthy and kind, but I think even you will admit that he is not
exactly a man of action. If anything, he always erred on the side of
caution when he gave me advice before, not that I would not have been
better off listening to him." She looked down and frowned slightly at
Ania was too busy breathing a sigh
of relief to wonder about what that memory was. She had been far too
careless in describing what Zorro might have been like in his other guise.
Only Diego's carefully tailored manner kept Anna María from seeing that
society’s usual view was totally wrong. Ania suddenly realized that she
must accept that view and resist the urge to defend him from the
misconceptions of others. Those misconceptions protected him much as his
skills did and she must learn to value them as she did his abilities. Quit
thinking with your emotions and use the sense God gave you! she
scolded herself. Ania quickly took a sip of her now cool tea to cover the
chagrin over her slip of the tongue.
After a moment, Ania asked,
"But how will you be able to know him better while he rides as Zorro?
Would not anyone who knows you and your story, also know to look closely
at any man you marry?"
"Perhaps, IF Zorro was still
riding when that happened. But, I imagine you have found that people often
have short memories. If Zorro no longer appears, then with time, they will
quit seeing him in any man I take an interest in, will they not?"
Anna María answered.
"I don't understand," Ania
said in a shocked tone. "You are expecting him to stop riding as
Zorro? But how could he, Anna María? There are many problems in the
world. What would the people do without their Dark Angel?"
"I do not know and I do not
care!" Anna María suddenly cried out passionately. "Surely you
heard two months ago what was being said...that he had been killed by one
of this fool of a comandante's men. You have no idea how I felt when I
heard that. For days, I could not bear to see or talk to anyone. Joy and
relief filled me when I
heard he was alive. How can you understand such a thing with quiet,
dependable Diego? You two can look forward to a peaceful old age together.
But Zorro, he should no longer do these things or someday the rumors will
be true. I must try to stop him, especially now. How can any peon's life
be worth risking his? Let someone else have the fame and glory!"
The room grew quiet again as each
woman sat dealing with her own thoughts. Ania had to look away from Anna
María and fight with her own emotions to keep from screaming her thoughts
at the blind, selfish woman across from her. You foolish woman! You
claim to love him and yet you have not a clue as to why Zorro does what he
does, do you? And as far as how I could not possibly understand how you
felt to HEAR that, how would you have handled struggling to give him a
chance to survive? To sit with his blood on your hands as you prayed to
God and all the saints that he not die? And then to know beyond any doubt
that he must, because of the strength of his caring, risk everything again
for these people, these peons. He would not be satisfied or happy with
himself if he turned his back on them. Ania
desperately held her temper. Yet she had to say something. She could not
hold all of her feelings inside.
"I do not believe he will ever
willingly give it up, as long as he is young and strong,” Ania said,
finally breaking the silence. “Before
you say I do not know him, I do! I am one of the people, whom you labeled
as only peons, that he risked his life saving AFTER you would have had him
accept amnesty in Monterey.” Anna María looked up at her in surprise.
Ania had left that part out of her tale. “He was not there soon enough
to save my father and brother, but he saved my life, that time and twice
more. If he stops doing what
he does, how many people will die without aid, and how would HE feel when
he heard about it?" Ania paused and drew a breath. She would have
said more had not something alarming occurred at that moment.
As Ania finished her last word, the
sound of horses and other animals on the grounds around the hacienda began
to be heard from every direction. They all sounded near panic and wild, as
if the devil himself were on their backs. "What in heaven's
name?" Ania asked as she looked toward the windows in bewilderment.
"I am not sure..."Anna María
started as her aunt rose in alarm.
Gradually a new sound was added to
the animal noises shattering the quiet of the evening, a low rumble that
started almost as a feeling rather than a sound. The rumble rose in
intensity and became a vibration that seemed to go right through Ania to
her very bones. She watched in horrified fascination as her teacup and the
wine glasses on the tables began a mad dance and finally crashed to the
"Earthquake!" Anna María
exclaimed. She and Tía Alicia quickly rose to leave the building.
Ania could only stare wide-eyed.
Never had she had such an unsettling feeling. To have the very earth under
her feet, which had no business moving, shimmy and moan, was like
something out of a nightmare. Ania felt the blood drain from her face as
her fingers clutched desperately at the armrest of her chair. She, of
course, had heard that California had earthquakes frequently. There had
been several to the north of Santa Barbara in the last eighteen months,
but never near enough for her to feel them. For a moment, she was unable
to move. She looked up, dazed; suddenly realizing that Diego had come back
"It is all right, Ania,"
he said calmly. "I am here. Let us get you out of here!" He
pulled her to her feet, gently tucking her head close to his shoulder, and
led her toward the door. At that moment the earth gave a final rumble and
fell quiet. Everyone stopped and looked up at the ceiling and walls around
them. The animals quieted as they lost their fear and settled down.
Don Alejandro came in and went
immediately to Anna María and her aunt, seeing to their safety. Ramón
stood watching from the door, nearly as white-faced as Ania. By now, the
other two women were laughing the whole thing off.
Ania however still clung to Diego.
"I think," she finally said softly in a shaky voice, "there
are some things in California that will take some getting used to."
She drew comfort from Diego's calm presence and hoped that someday she too
could take such things in stride as the others had. She shuddered again.
That acceptance was not going to be easy.
Alejandro soon decided that it would
be best if he and Diego went home and made sure there was no damage to the
Hacienda de la Vega. As Ramón and Don Alejandro helped Anna María and Tía
Alicia into the buggy for the ride back, Diego managed to get a moment
alone with Ania. Having nearly recovered from her fright, she had other
things on her mind. "Diego, will Zorro be meeting Anna María
tomorrow night?" She looked closely at him, green eyes showing her
Diego met her eyes solemnly, his
expression almost begging her to understand. "Sí, do you not see
that that is how it must be?"
Ania nodded and
prayed for peace with his decision as she kissed him. Although her
jealousy told her otherwise, she knew that it was only right that Zorro
set things straight between himself and Anna Maria, and Zorro would always
do what was right. He must free both himself and Anna Maria to go on with
their lives. That was what he was going to do, was it not? Si! That is
what he has said he will do, and I must trust him.
I will trust him. I must, Ania insisted to herself.
However, she also knew that tomorrow night would be long for her,
very long indeed.