"BAIT & SWITCH"
Six Months Later
"You've what?" Diego roared at his father in surprise.
"I've been writing to Francisca for nearly five years now," replied Don Alejandro, unaware of the censure in his son's tone. "We starting corresponding with each other about the time you left for university."
"But to invite her here?" questioned Diego. "To consider marrying her. . ."
"I think it's lovely," Zafira interrupted her husband's inquisition. She walked over and took one of the elder de la Vega's hands. "I'm so happy for you, Father," she said as she squeezed his hand.
"Gracias, hija," said the old don. He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. Then he eyed his son balefully. "I don't understand your attitude, Diego."
Diego hung his head. He was totally overwhelmed by his father's announcement that he was considering marriage to a woman he had been corresponding with for several years. A woman he had never met. A woman, no matter how nice or kind she might be, would never take the place of his mother.
"I know you're thinking about your mother," said Don Alejandro, seemingly reading his mind. "You know that no one could ever take her place in my heart." He put his arm around Zafira. "But a man gets lonely, son. He had needs. . ."
"Si, si, I understand," Diego cut in, not wanting to hear about his father's ‘needs'. He knew all about needs. Especially since Zafira hadn't come to his room for over a month.
"Nothing has been set in stone," the elder de la Vega was saying. "But I cannot see any obstacle in the way of our marrying."
"Diego, you should be happy for your father," Zafira scolded. She glanced up coyly at her father-in-law. "No doubt he sees our wedded bliss and wants the same for himself."
Diego had to bite his tongue to stop the nasty retort he had been about to utter. Wedded bliss, indeed. They slept in separate bedrooms. They only made love when she wanted to. They shared no interests together except reading. And even there, their tastes were disparate. Zafira liked to read light hearted romantic novels written in Spanish, whereas he preferred more classical literature in a variety of languages. She treated Felipe like he wasn't there and resented the time Diego spent with the boy. Wedded bliss, indeed, he scoffed again.
"Well, Señora de la Peña arrives next week," said his father. "You'll just have to get used to the idea by then, Diego."
"Yes, Father," said Diego downheartedly. He barely glanced up as Don Alejandro and Zafira left the room. Instead, he stared at the lump of clay that sat on the table before him. He had planned to do a bust of himself, just for the challenge of it. But now, perhaps he should make something that would be suitable as a wedding present.
Diego punched his fist into the soft clay. No, he thought angrily. He'd do the sculpture of himself. Who he truly was, not this persona he now exhibited to the world. He would worry about a gift only if became necessary to do so.
[parts of the following scene taken from "Deceptive Heart" written by Bruce Lansbury]
The appointed day that the señora's coach from San Pedro was due to arrive finally came. Diego spent the morning working on the bust of himself, which was turning out quite nicely, if he did say so himself. He had to hide a smile as his father and Zafira walked into the parlor where he was working.
"Diego, tell me how I look," demanded Don Alejandro. He was wearing a light gray jacket with tails and matching trousers. His white linen shirt had been ironed within an inch of its life. The elder de la Vega came over and peered into the mirror Diego was using in order to sculpt himself.
"Just as you did ten minutes ago," Diego commented a bit impatiently.
Don Alejandro fiddled with his tie as he stared in the mirror. "Huh?" he said absently. "Tell me again."
"And five minutes before that," replied Diego, not bothering to keep the annoyance from his voice.
"You look splendid, Father," Zafira assured her father-in-law as she shot her husband a quelling glance. She went over and brushed an invisible piece of dust from the old don's shoulder.
"Good, good," said Don Alejandro, straightening his jacket. "First impressions are everything."
Diego rolled his eyes before returning to work on his bust. "I still can't believe you'd consider marriage to a woman you've never even met," he remarked as he shaped the clay around the sculpture's chin. At least he had known Zafira, he thought pompously, even if it had only been for two months. All at once, the words his amigo, Miguel, had quoted to him, ‘marry in haste, repent at leisure ,' took on a whole new significance. Diego wished now he had heeded them.
"Oh, but I do feel as though I've already met her," his father was saying as he pulled out a miniature painting of the widow from his jacket pocket. "For five years now, Francisca, and I have corresponded," he declared dramatically, "sharing our deepest thoughts and feelings. First our pens, then our hearts found each other."
The old don's prose was interrupted by Felipe, who came bounding through the front door. The lad pointed eagerly toward the open door.
"Ah, Felipe's sighted the coach," Diego interpreted. He reached for a cloth so he could wipe the clay from his hands.
Don Alejandro took out his pocket watch and looked at the time. "The coach?" he asked fretfully. "But it's an hour early."
"Everything is ready," stated Zafira. "Don't worry, Father. Everything is perfect."
"Good, good," said the elder de la Vega vaguely, adjusting his tie once more. "Shall we go meet her?" He offered Zafira his arm and lead her away. A churlish Diego followed them.
Felipe ran ahead of the others to the hacienda gate. The coach was lumbering down the road and came to a shuddering stop in front of the house. Diego donned his jacket with his father's assistance.
Felipe went to open the coach door. A young beautiful woman emerged from its dark interior. Don Alejandro took out the miniature of the elderly woman once again.
"Hmm. Doesn't quite look like her," he murmured as he studied the cameo. Diego was thinking the very same thing. Then his father turned his attention to the young woman who stood smiling before him.
"You are Señora de la Peña?" he asked uncertainly.
"I am Francisca," the woman confirmed. "And you are Don Alejandro?"
"The same," replied Don Alejandro who was now wearing an inane grin.
The young señora rushed over and enveloped the elder de la Vega in a hug. Diego looked over at Zafira who seemed undisturbed by this turn of events.
Why had the woman misrepresented herself, he wondered as he watched as his father embraced the señora. She was obviously not the person depicted in the miniature she had sent Don Alejandro. Why the ruse?
"Diego, Zafira," said his father, beckoning them closer. "Señora, this is my son, Diego, and his wife, Zafira.
"Pleased to meet you both, " said the young widow. She gave a little curtsy as the couple murmured their greetings.
"You must be exhausted after your long journey," stated Don Alejandro solicitously. He offered Señora de la Peña his arm.
Diego and Zafira followed the other couple from the gate to the hacienda door. Once inside, Don Alejandro had Zafira show the señora to the guestroom she would be using. Diego used the opportunity to pounce on his father.
"Ask her about the cameo," he demanded. "It's obviously not her."
"I know, I know," conceded the old don. "She must have a good reason."
"Si," Diego commented suspiciously, "I'm sure she does."
"Diego, what are you implying?" asked the elder de la Vega in a hurt voice.
"Nothing, Father," his son replied. "But I really think you should ask her about the painting as soon as possible."
"Fine," said Don Alejandro a bit exasperated by Diego's nagging. "After she's rested."
Diego nodded. He only hoped that his father would follow through on his promise.
Three hours had passed by and the señora had not reemerged from her room. Diego was irritated by his father's cavalier attitude toward the whole matter.
"Father," he called out as he spied the elder de la Vega in the foyer.
Don Alejandro stopped and turned to look at his son. "Yes, Diego?"
"Don't forget to ask her," Diego reminded him. "Although I think you should have asked her immediately."
"You wanted me to follow a lady into her chambers?" queried the old don in a scandalized tone.
Zafira strolled into the room then. "Diego, leave him alone," she ordered vexedly. "It's his business, not yours."
Diego had been about to reply when their attention was drawn to the sound of the señora's bedroom door opening and the lady in question coming into view.
Diego leaned over and whispered to his father. "Ask her now."
"Ah," said Don Alejandro as he walked toward the young widow and held out his arms. "I trust your rooms are to your liking, Señora."
Francisca beamed at him happily. "Quite beyond my expectations, Don Alejandro," she replied.
The old don just stood there, grinning foolishly. Diego noticed his father's rapt gaze and rolled his eyes impatiently. He then nudged his elbow into the elder de la Vega's upper arm, hoping to stir him from his stupor.
Don Alejandro scowled at Diego before taking the señora's arm and leading her away from his son. He proceeded to point out the view from various windows. Diego decided to take the bull by the horns, so to speak.
"Excuse me, Señora," he said politely but firmly as he stepped between his father and the young woman. A woman he now noticed was about the same age as his own wife.
"Diego, stop it," hissed Zafira under her breath. She was glaring at him crossly.
Diego ignored her. He looked intently at the widow clinging to his father's arm. "My father would love to give you a lesson on the local geography," he began, "but he refuses to ask a simple question that plagues us all."
Francisca had the decorum to look slightly uncomfortable. "It's about the cameo, isn't it?" she asked with her eyes downcast.
"Yes," Diego answered.
"Yes, yes, yes, of course,"interjected Don Alejandro as he took the miniature painting from his jacket pocket. "The cameo. You would good enough to send me this, Señora." He handed it to the young widow.
Francisca looked at the miniature before
turning and walking a few steps away. "I did."
"You are not that lady," Diego pointed out unnecessarily.
"I. . . I cannot say I am disappointed," his father said, the vapid smile gracing his face once again.
"I confess to the deception, gentlemen," announced Francisca as she spun around to face them once again. "Don Alejandro, try to understand. Five years ago, I was a young widow, lost in grief, and despite the attentions of others who sought my hand, lonely." She took a deep breath before continuing. "I joined our correspondence society and found there a man of honor, of integrity, romantic imagination."
She looked up to gaze at the old don affectionately. "You, Señor. The warmth of our letters grew. We reached out and met each other at a level of intellect, reason, even affection I have never experienced."
"So true, dear lady," agreed Don Alejandro ardently.
The señora walked up to the elder de la Vega. "But our letters could not tell me what you expected of me," she said humbly, casting her eyes downward again. "I am many years younger than you, Señor."
"And so very beautiful," pronounced Don Alejandro. He took her hands and led her over to a chair in the parlor. She sat down as the old don took a seat opposite her. Diego held out a chair for his wife before sitting down across from her. He looked on skeptically as his father reached over and grasped Francisca's hand, ignoring a censorious glare from Zafira.
"I wanted you to desire me for what we shared in our letters," stated Señora de la Peña.
Don Alejandro nodded. "You were testing my sincerity," he said understandingly. Diego rolled his eyes again.
"The cameo is of my distant aunt, Consuela," explained the young widow. "She is happily married and a grandmother. Can you forgive me?"
Both Zafira and the elder de la Vega smiled at her indulgently. "Ah, of course, of course.," said the old don as he rose from his chair. He walked over to where a decanter of wine sat on a table and began pouring it out in the crystal wine glasses. "My deepest respects to your aunt, Consuela," he said, again with a insipid smile. "And her grandchildren."
Diego made a rude noise. Zafira reached across and tapped him on the knee before glowering at him. "Behave yourself," she whispered.
Don Alejandro turn around and gazed at Francisca. "After all, if a man is promised silver, would he refuse gold?" he asked rhetorically. Chuckling, he handed the young woman a glass of the wine as Diego's expression grew pained. The old man was really making a fool of himself, he thought.
"A toast, Diego, Zafira," said his father, handing them each a glass. "To a noble lady." The four of them brought their glasses together. "Señora," the elder de la Vega continued, "to the ties that bind sympathetic souls"
Don Alejandro and Francisca smiled at each
other as they drank while Zafira looked on approvingly. Diego glanced
suspiciously at the young señora as he took a sip of his wine.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER FOURTEEN