Peace on Earth

 

 

Part Four

 

 

Diego sat quietly looking over the rim of his wine glass at Don Lorenzo.  The man was about ten years older than himself, his hair turning steely gray to match his eyes.  His long fingers were beginning to become gnarled and stiff.  The pointed beard was meticulously clipped, as was his mustache.  

“Diego, this exchange of lands will be of benefit to both of us.  I will have more pasture land and you will have the benefit of another pond for your cattle.”

“Yes, it is something that we should have done a long time ago.”  He had enjoyed the ride to survey the lands in question.  Only the pain of his wound marred the excursion.

“There is something else to consider as well, my friend.  You are not getting any younger.  Now, you know that I am not saying that crassly.  I am simply stating the same fact that I did a month ago.  Have you thought about my proposal to marry my widowed daughter?  She would still be able to bear you children, you know.  And she would bring a woman’s touch to that hacienda that has been a bachelor’s den for so long.”

Diego had thought about it.  And had seriously considered it.  The offer had been initially given after Bernardo died and when Diego had had so much time to think gloomy, lonely thoughts.  Lorenzo was correct; it was empty in the casa grande.  It did need a woman to make it less lonely.  And at the time, he had thought Zorro gone forever.  There would be no worry about a secret identity to keep.  But for some reason, alarm bells had sounded this time when Lorenzo had again brought the proposal to his attention.  Somehow he felt that this kind of union would not be good; it wouldn’t be right.

“If you are worried about Imelda’s baby…” Lorenzo ventured, when he got no response from his fellow don.

Diego shook his head.  “Of course not, Lorenzo.  I like children.  It is that I am not sure about a relationship which has not started with love,” he blurted out, before he thought about a more diplomatic answer.

His friend laughed heartily, motioning for a servant to refill the wine glasses.  “Diego, marriages have been consummated without love for centuries.  Why would that stop you now?  You know this would be a good marriage.  Love could come later.  My daughter would be a good match.”

Sighing, Diego answered, “I know, Lorenzo, but that does not make it right for me.” 

“You did not seem quite this reticent the last time we talked.”  Lorenzo took several sips of his wine, studying the younger man carefully.  “I hear that you took in an Americano woman.”

Diego jerked his head up in surprise.  “How did you hear about that?  She and her children only arrived yesterday evening.”

“Servants talk among themselves.  Incurable gossips, they are.” 

“I have not had the pleasure of meeting them yet,” he said guardedly.

Lorenzo visibly relaxed.  “Then why not accept this offer of mine?”

Why not, indeed, he asked himself.  Then a slight, whispery voice in his mind said, No!  It had been soft, but as clear as the voice of Lorenzo Leon across from him.  No.  Imelda is not for you.

“Because Imelda deserves better, Lorenzo,” he finally said.  Standing up, Diego set the crystal wine goblet down and smiled at his host.  “I enjoyed the meal and the conversation.  I am pleased that we could come to an agreement on the land.   And I wish you much good luck in your search for a new husband for your daughter.  She deserves a younger man, Lorenzo.  One who loves her and one she can love in return.”

As he rode toward home, he wondered at his decision.  What was wrong with him?  He wanted to leave loneliness behind; he wanted laughter in the house.  A week ago, he was ready to accept Imelda as his wife.   Now?  Was it because he had begun riding again as Zorro?  What did the little voice want him to do?  He almost felt foolish, but at the same time, he knew the decision was right.  Zorro or no Zorro, this union between Imelda Leon and himself was not meant to be.

As he crested a hill, he heard laughter in the small valley below.  Squinting in the bright westering sunlight, he watched as Jeremy and Henry splashed and played in the shallows of a pond.  He saw Sarah watching from under a large, spreading oak.   Miguel, the head vaquero, and Isadora had taken them on a picnic.  That is good, he thought.  He would go home, change into something a bit less formal and then meet them as they returned.

But he continued to watch the Americanos, unobserved.  Perhaps in a few minutes, he would ride down and introduce himself, he thought, and then accompany them back to the hacienda.  The sun reflected burnished gold off Señora Hamilton’s auburn hair.  He heard her laughter as she watched the antics of her boys and it made him feel happy.   Jeremy ducked under the water and then pulled Henry after him. Both boys came up spluttering and laughing.  Diego watched avidly, enjoying his surreptitious pleasure until the throbbing in his arm became too much to ignore.  Looking down, he saw a small red stain on the sleeve of his chaqueta.  Sighing, Diego knew that precluded meeting them now.  

Soon afterward, when the sun was directly in his eyes, touching the tops of the hills to the west, he finally turned his bay and trotted home.  Before going to the stables, he took a roundabout way and entered the secret cave.  Quickly, he washed the wound, grimacing when the cold water of the little spring touched the hot and damaged flesh of his arm.  Cursing softly, he saw signs of infection and trudged up the stairs to fetch the medicines he kept in the bottom of his wardrobe.  Cleaning and wrapping his wound one-handed became tedious and frustrating, and he was sweating by the time he had finished.  Looking down at the bandage, he realized with a wry smile that he was not a very good doctor.  He washed the blood out of his shirt and chaqueta, dried them as best as he could and mounted his horse. 

When he rode out of the cave, Diego was surprised to see that it was dark.  The chill night air hit his flesh and made his skin crawl.  Riding sedately along a little used trail, he soon rode into the stable and greeted the same sleepy stable hand as the night before.  “Well, Paco, it would seem I am making a habit of coming home late. Rub him down, and then release him into the corral.”  The boy nodded and took the reins. 

When he walked into the sala, he was surprised to see it empty.  Isadora, hearing him enter, soon was at his side.  “Don Diego, we saved dinner for you.  Beef ribs with rice and beans.  Señora Hamilton and her children liked it very much,” she bantered. 

“Where are the señora and her children?”

“They went out riding today and were very tired when they returned.  They have already gone to bed, patrón.  Sit down and eat your dinner.”  

Wearily Diego did just that, enjoying the meal that Juanita had prepared.  Washing down the last bite with a few swallows of fine de la Vega wine, he thought that Señora Hamilton’s idea of retiring early wasn’t such a bad idea.  

“Was your meeting with Don Lorenzo successful, Don Diego?” Isadora asked, her curiosity palpable.

Diego chuckled, feeling mellow and indulgent.  “Yes and no.”  He paused and let the young woman’s anticipation build for a moment or two.   “Yes, the land exchange went very well. And, no, I am not marrying Imelda Leon.”

“Oh,” Isadora said softly, her voice betraying neither disappointment nor satisfaction. 

Diego had not been able to determine if the servant felt him to be a ‘brother’ or a possible suitor, but this time she gave him no clues.  “Isadora, you will most likely be the first to know if and when I do marry.  Probably before my intended does,” he said sardonically, his tongue held firmly in his cheek.

Graciás, Don Diego,” Isadora replied brightly.  As he rose from his seat, she gathered the dishes.   “Would you care for a cigar in the library?”

“No, I think I will go on to bed as well.”

Buenos noches, Don Diego.”

Buenos noches, Isadora.”

But sleep would not so easily come.  Diego pondered his conversation with Lorenzo Almeda, the scene at the pond, the events of the past six months.  He also tried to ignore the pain of his arm, but found it an impossibility.    Finally, he put on his robe and quietly slipped down to the library, where he sat staring at the dying fire.  In the amber coals he saw oil lamps and torches, and then a manger and a baby.  His eyes closed and he saw the scene even more clearly.  Then it slowly changed and he saw the face of Sarah Hamilton in front of him.   Her disheveled auburn hair framed a smudged, but still dignified countenance.  Her blue eyes regarded him steadily…. 

___________

 

After spending a restless evening trying to sleep, Sarah entered the library, and finding it already occupied, gazed at the sleeping man carefully.  This must be Don Diego de la Vega, she thought in amusement.  She wondered why someone still so handsome was living alone.  And she wondered about his absences.  It would appear that the servants were well versed in running this house on their own.  Juan and the woman, Isadora, were very kind, but still the fear had been with her.  Despite the reassurances of Señor Zorro, despite her own reassurances to her children, she couldn’t help but wonder at her family’s reception from de la Vega. 

Señor Alvarez had refused to help them once he had found out about her husband’s death.  The magistrate’s aide had explained all of this, he being the only one involved in her case who could speak any amount of English. Two months of letter writing, of wondering and fretting and she was going to be forced on a man who didn’t want anything to do with her, by those who didn’t want anything to do with her.  Despite all reassurances, she was afraid of it happening again.

Tears threatened to spill and she turned to the fire.  Señora Hamilton,” a soft voice said behind her.  Jerking around she stared at the man in the chair.  The reflection of the dying fire showed in his eyes; they reminded her of someone else.  He sat up straighter in his chair.  “You are most welcome in my hacienda.” 

“Zorro told you?”

“Yes, he told me everything, and I want you to know that you are welcome here as long as you want to stay.  As you can see, this hacienda is more than big enough to accommodate you and your sons.”

Gracias, señor,” she said.  The breath she had been holding was slowly released. 

“Please, just call me Diego,” he instructed. 

“And I am Sarah,” she replied.  His voice was authoritative, but gentle.  He reminded her of her dead husband and the tears that had threatened to spill now did so.  In the quiet times of the night she found the fear that she suppressed during the day threatening to overwhelm her.  She felt so alone, so unprotected.  And yet, now, at this moment, she felt a measure of security, and wondered how long it would last.  All of the emotions of the past months were now almost more than she could bear.

Señora… Sarah, what is wrong?” he asked, rising from his chair in alarm.  He handed her a handkerchief.  “Are you ill?”

“No, I am fine, it’s just… I… I’m overwhelmed.  First with the kindness of the masked man, Zorro, and then with your kindness.  And you reminded me of James….”

“Your husband,” Diego stated.    She nodded.  “Tell me about your journey and how all this misfortune happened, if you don’t mind,” he prodded gently, sitting back down and motioning for her to sit near him.

For the next several hours she spoke.  She talked about Boston where she and James had married and where the boys had been born.  That led to the circumstances of their travels from Massachusetts to San Diego.  She detailed the hardships of such a journey on those whose lives had been mainly spent in a large city.  “James would not think of traveling by ship.  He would become deathly ill just walking on the seashore.”

“I imagine that made life interesting, living in Boston,” Diego said, knowing that the American city lay on the Eastern seaboard.  He was mesmerized by her voice and her story, and had momentarily forgotten his fatigue.   “So you tried to come on your own overland.”

“No, there was a group of us until Santa Fe.   Then we came on our own.  We were not too far from here when James was poisoned.  He died in the wagon as we were driving into San Fernando….”  After she had finished, she looked at him.  “Diego, now that I have laid bare my soul, tell me about yourself,” she prodded, curious about this man. 

He did so, speaking fondly of his father, his boyhood days on the ranch, his time in Spain, attending the university.  He talked a great deal about life in California.  She began seeing things that she had no idea existed when she was waiting for the magistrate to make his decision.  California began to have some appeal to her, due to the magic of his words.  Diego had a remarkable presence about him, she thought, and she began to feel not only comfortable with him, but she found herself drawn to him.  Sarah noticed, however, that his narrative was conspicuously devoid of personal events, and she wondered if his life was so placid for the past twenty years that he felt that nothing of importance had occurred to him.  

“Sarah, it is the season of Navidad.  Do you think you and the boys would like to see a Posada procession tonight?” Diego asked, changing the subject.  Suddenly the lack of sleep and the long ride had caught up with him.  And as much as he was enjoying Sarah’s companionship, he felt hot and wanted to get away from the fire. “Provided, of course, that we get some sleep.   It is probably near dawn, “ he added with a chuckle.  His laugh was infectious, and she laughed along with him. 

“Of course, I would like that.  It would be good for the boys to feel something other than sadness and anger,” she replied. 

Diego got up stiffly from the chair.  “Sarah, let me accompany you to your room.  Sometimes, in the dark it is easy to trip over things in a strange house.” 

With a smile, she rose from her seat near the hearth.  Then she saw Diego stagger and grab for the back of the chair.  Rushing to his side, she grasped his arm to steady him and heard his breath hiss forcefully between his teeth.  Helping him back to his seat, she felt a wetness under her hand.  Looking at her palm and then at the sleeve of his robe, she saw blood on both.  

Revelation hit her like an avalanche.   Now she knew why his eyes reminded her of someone she knew, why she felt the same strong presence as she had with Zorro.   You are Zorro!” she exclaimed, the revelation confusing her, while at the same time exhilarating her.

 

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