"CONVERSATIONS & OBSERVATIONS"
"Zafira," said Diego, standing in the entrance to the library several days later. "I need to speak with you."
His wife looked up at him, setting aside the book she was reading. "What about?" she inquired a bit peevishly.
"Perhaps we could go on that ride I promised," Diego suggested hopefully.
Zafira sighed. "Very well," she said, getting to her feet. "If you insist."
She brushed past him on her way to her bedroom to change her clothes. Diego caught her arm. "We don't have to ride," he said. "We could go for a walk instead, if you like."
Wrenching her arm out of his grasp, she looked up at him angrily. "Since when does my opinion matter?" she queried petulantly.
Diego glanced around the hacienda. He could see several of the servants busily going about their work. But he knew they were also eavesdropping on the conversation between him and Zafira. He didn't want to become fodder for gossip in the servants' quarters.
"Ride or walk?" he asked in a tone that brooked no argument.
"Ride," Zafira chose. Giving him a look of annoyance, she continued on to her room.
Forty-five minutes later, she walked into the foyer dressed in her royal blue riding habit. Zafira ignored Diego's proffered arm, passing right by him and going out the front door. Sighing, he followed after her.
They had traveled a mile or so from the hacienda before Diego brought Esperanza to a halt. Turning in the saddle, he waited until Zafira stopped her mare, Conchita.
"I want to know why you hit Felipe," he declared without preamble. It still made him furious to think that she thought she could abuse the boy the way she had.
"He was lying to me," said Zafira with an unconcerned shrug. "He wouldn't tell me where you had gone."
"That was no reason to slap him," said Diego, trying hard to keep his temper under control. "He didn't actually know. I hadn't told him."
Zafira shrugged again. "He's lied to me before, about other things." She stared calculatingly at her husband. "You two are very close, aren't you?" she questioned.
"He's my responsibility," stated Diego. "I'm the one who found him and brought. . ."
"He's your bastard, isn't he?" asked Zafira nastily. "This story about you finding this poor orphan boy all alone on a battlefield. . . It's all just a cover-up." She stared at him accusingly.
Diego could only gape at her, his power of speech totally deserting him. Where on earth had she come up with such a crazy idea?
"Hah," said Zafira when he remained silent. "I knew it was true. It's why you want us to adopt him, isn't it? Well, if you think that I'm going to help you raise some trollop's brat, you are sorely mistaken."
"No," Diego finally replied. "Dios mio, Zafira, I was seventeen when I found Felipe and he thinks he was about six years old. I would have been about eleven when he was born. A little young to be a father, don't you think?"
"Oh," she said in a chastised tone. She then appeared to be considering something for a few moments. "Then he must be your father's by-blow," she stated callously.
"Zafira," Diego warned, "you go to far. My mother was still alive when I was eleven. My father would never have. . . He would never have had an affair with another woman. Ever." He glared darkly into his wife's eyes. "Felipe is not my son nor my father's. He is an orphan I found in Guadalajara and brought here to Los Angeles when I couldn't find any of his relatives to take him in."
"But why then is he a servant one moment yet still treated as a member of the family the next?" she demanded, not bothering to keep the displeasure from her voice. "Why do you waste so much time educating a peasant who will just become a menial laborer when he is older? Why does his welfare concern you so much?"
"Why do you harbor such resentment toward him?" Diego countered. "What has he ever done to you?"
Zafira rolled her eyes dismissively. "He's not one of us."
Diego was confused. "Not one of us?" he inquired. "What does that mean?"
"You wouldn't understand," said his wife. She turned her head away. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."
"But I do," stated Diego. "Zafira, I want to know what. . ."
Zafira whipped her face back around. "I want to know why you escorted that Escalante woman back to the pueblo," she shouted at him. "Why you? Couldn't one of the servants done it instead?"
"She asked me to," replied a stunned Diego, realizing she must have found out from one of those servants. "Zafira, her father and my father were old friends. I was just being courteous."
"I find it hard to believe an important caballero like your father could have been friends with a common innkeeper and his daughter," sneered Zafira. "I've noticed how close those two are. Are you sure she's not your father's mistress?"
Again, Diego was speechless. How could she even think such a thing? There had been no woman in his father's life since his mother had died nearly twelve years earlier. And to insinuate that the elder de la Vega and Victoria. . . It was too reprehensible for words.
"How dare you imply such a thing about my father?" Diego stated indigently. "Victoria is like a daughter to him. She sees him as a father figure. There is nothing improper going. . ."
"He doesn't need another daughter," snapped Zafira. "He has me. I'm his daughter now."
Diego sighed heavily. She was acting like a jealous spoiled child. He knew she was having a hard time adjusting to her new life. But it seemed like she wasn't even trying to fit in. Diego shook his head.
Hopefully now that the crisis in Los Angeles was over, he could take her into the pueblo, have her meet some of the other women in town. Maybe they could even hold a party at the hacienda so she could see that she was welcomed into the community. He decided to bring up the plan to his father as soon as possible.
Zafira was glancing at him inquisitively. She moved her horse over closer to his. He smiled at her disingenuously.
"I'm sorry, Diego," she said, laying her hand on his arm. "I really didn't mean what I said about the boy and your father," Zafira continued. "It's just that since we've arrived here in California, you and I haven't spent much time together. I feel left out."
She was close to tears, he noticed. But he couldn't help thinking that she was using them to manipulate him into forgiving her, especially since she keep peering up at him searchingly through her wet lashes..
But he decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. "It has been a rather trying few days," he conceded. "Maybe now that this Zorro has given notice to this alcalde, things will get back to normal."
Zafira nodded. They both urged their mounts forward, riding side by side. "I still think this Zorro is going about things all wrong," she declared. "He should direct his attention to the territorial governor, not a petty local official."
Diego rolled his eyes. "Let's not talk of such things now," he suggested. "I don't want us to argue anymore."
She agreed and they spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the rancho. Diego showed her all the places he used to play when he was a child and some of the pastures with their herds of cattle and flocks of sheep.
Later that night, when Diego was undressing for bed, the door that connected his room with his wife's opened slowly. He had been in the middle of taking off his shirt but paused as Zafira, wearing a diaphanous nightgown, stepped into the room.
"Diego?" she asked tentatively. She looked up at him and he could see the blush on her cheeks even though his room was lit only by a single candle.
"Yes?" he queried back. "Did you want something?" He decided he wasn't going to make this easy for her. Not after the nearly two months of frustration she had put him through. He knew he was being petty but he brushed aside his feelings of guilt.
Zafira took several steps toward him until she stood mere inches away from him. "I was wondering," she began, "if. . . If you would like to come to my room tonight?"
Diego saw the pink of her cheeks grow even deeper. She was looking up coyly at him, apparently waiting breathlessly for his answer. But he saw something deep down in her blue eyes, something that told him she was really hoping he would say no.
He decided to be perverse. After he let his shirt slide down to the floor, he took her into his arms and crushed her against his bare chest. Then Diego lowered his lips down to hers.
His suspicions of her invitation being a sham were confirmed when Zafira struggled as he kissed her. "My bed is right here," he murmured into her ear as he tore his mouth away from hers. It was surprising for him to discover that, although he wasn't sure if he still loved her, he obviously still desired her, as his hardening manhood undeniably proved.
"Diego, por favor," whispered Zafira as he trailed kisses down her neck. She tried to pull away but he held her fast against him.
"All right, your room then," he said, deliberately misunderstanding her plea. He scooped her off her feet and carried her through the connecting door.
"Diego, stop," she commanded as he placed her none too gently on her bed. "Please."
He stilled the hand that was undoing the fastenings of his trousers. "I thought you wanted this," he said, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice but not quite succeeding. "You asked me to. . ."
"I. . .I know. . . I do," stammered Zafira a bit fearfully as she sat up. "But. . . you seem so angry." She glanced up at him innocently. "You're still upset about what I said this afternoon, aren't you?"
So that's what this was all about, Diego surmised. She had been hoping he would still be upset and would decline her tempting offer of her body. Well, he refused to play her little game.
"It has been forgotten," he said stoically. "Zafira, if you intend to deny me, tell me now and I'll leave you alone."
Zafira looked down at the quilt on her bed. "No, Diego," she said with an air of resignation. "I won't deny you."
She moved over as he sat down on the mattress
and took her gently into his arms.
Z Z Z
[parts of the following scene taken from "Dead Men Tell No Tales" written by Philip John Taylor]
About a month later, Diego was in the library where he had set up his telescope. Things in the pueblo had quieted down and there had been no need for the masked man Zorro to deal with the Alcalde again. The man in black had, however, brought a trio of horse thieves to justice just two weeks earlier. He had only narrowly escaped being shot by the lancers after he had delivered the criminals to the cuartel.
No appreciation, he chuckled as he wrote down an observation on the paper beside him. He had saved Ramón the trouble of hunting the men down and bullets were the thanks he received. Zorro's heroics hadn't all been in vain as he had flirted with Victoria who had blossomed at the attention he had paid to her.
Diego still felt somewhat like a cad, toying with the beautiful young innkeeper's affections. But, he kept telling himself defensively, it was an important part of the charade. Even if his feelings were as real as hers.
He found that his attraction to Victoria only grew every time he saw her, despite the resumed marital relations between himself and his wife. Diego had caught himself more than once fantasizing he was making love to Victoria instead of the woman in his arms. Just the previous evening, he had even almost said her name in the middle of a very tender moment instead of Zafira's.
His face flushed guilty as he remembered his near blunder. Diego took a deep breath and cleared his mind as he stared at the white orb glowing through the lens of his telescope.
Felipe came into the room then, carrying a lit lamp. Diego pointed at the lamp, his eye never leaving the scope. "Turn out that light."
The youth quickly blew out the flame. Diego dipped his quill in a bottle of ink and wrote once again on the parchment before looking up at the lad.
"What is it, Felipe?" asked Diego. So far, there had been no more incidents between the boy and Zafira. In fact, she kept away from him as much as possible. Diego had still seen her though, casting disparaging glances at Felipe from time to time.
Felipe turned, indicating the clock on the wall opposite them.
"Well yes, I know the hour is late," commented Diego, looking through the scope again. "You see there is one obstacle which has vexed astronomers down through the ages. Man can only study the moon at night." The boy didn't need to know that he was also avoiding his wife and a repeat of the night before's nearly disastrous slip of the tongue.
He looked over at Felipe and clasped him on the shoulder. "Take a look," he offered with a smile.
Felipe leaned down and peered through the telescope.
"Isn't she magnificent?" Diego asked rhetorically. "She's the empress of all she surveys." He patted Felipe's shoulder. "You know one day I believe we'll actually journey to the moon."
The young man jumped back away from the telescope and looked at Diego like he was loco.
"I don't mean you and I, Felipe," said Diego with a chuckle "When I say ‘we', I mean mankind."
Felipe smiled with relief. Diego then heard something that sounded like hoof beats in the distance. He aimed the scope lower before looking through it.
"Who could be in such a hurry at this time of night?" wondered Diego aloud. He could see a man on horseback, whipping the reins from side to side as his cape flowed in the wind.
Diego took his eye away from the lens. "That man is riding like a pack of jackals are after him."
He and Felipe looked at each other, then Diego returned to the telescope, peering through it again.
Later the next morning, Diego and Felipe were in the secret cave, where the older man was trying to teach the lad the finer points of swordsmanship when they were interrupted by Don Alejandro's shouts.
"Diego!" the elder de la Vega called out.
"I thought my father went to town?" Diego asked Felipe, who nodded then shrugged his shoulders. Diego tossed his sword to the boy and ran out of the cave.
He emerged from the fireplace then sprinted over to the piano, where he sat down and started playing one of the new compositions he had learned while at university. Don Alejandro came into the room a few moments and stared at his son.
"That's strange," commented Don Alejandro a bit bewilderedly. "I looked in here just a.. . ." He then became serious. "Have you heard the news?"
Diego glanced up at his father as he continued to play. "No."
"Señorita Victoria has been arrested," stated Don Alejandro gravely.
"On what charge?" Diego inquired in alarm, stilling his hands. Surely she wasn't foolish enough to speak treasonously again in the Alcalde's or one of his soldier's hearing.
"Murder," replied his father. Diego was shocked to his very toes. Murder? Victoria? He was positive she would never do such a thing, except maybe in self-defense. He tried to focus on what else the elder de la Vega was saying.
"Sergeant Mendoza found her in a dorm with a bloody dagger in her hand and a dead man at her feet.," Don Alejandro explained. " They arrested her on the spot."
Hoping to disguise his distress, Diego started playing the piano again as his father began to rant. "Now I ask you," said the old don, "how could anyone possibly believe that Victoria would ever . . . Ah, it's an outrage!" He began pacing back and forth beside Diego.
"How convenient that the good sergeant just happened to be passing by a such an early hour," Diego remarked out loud as he mulled over what his parent had told him.
"Yes," replied Don Alejandro automatically. He stopped his pacing when he realized what Diego said. "What was that?" he asked expectantly.
"Ah, nothing," Diego said, acting innocently. "Just an idle thought." He glanced up at his father
"Um, the Alcalde is up to something," declared Don Alejandro. "Victoria needs our help."
Diego ceased playing again and got to his feet. "You're right," he said. "I'll take a basket of food to the jail for her."
"And that's all?" his father asked in an appalled tone.
Diego tried not to let the disappointment he saw in the elder de la Vega's eyes hurt, but it did anyway. "What else can we do?" he queried. "There's no evidence against the Alcalde."
Don Alejandro rolled his eyes and walked away. Diego swallowed hard. Playing the weak-willed scholar was a lot harder than he thought it was going to be. The disappointment he just saw in his father's eyes made him feel ill. He was hurting so many people with this deception. His father, Victoria, Zafira. . . and - if he was going to be totally honest - himself.
Was Zorro worth it? He had asked himself that question more than once. Well, he thought, he was about to find out. The Alcalde was obviously up to no good again, with this blatantly false charge of murder against Victoria, which was no doubt a ploy to capture Zorro.
Diego sighed wearily as he pushed his observations
to the back of his mind and headed toward the kitchen to coax a basket
of food from the housekeeper, Maria.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER TWELVE