"A BIRD IN THE HAND. . ."
It was several days later that Felipe found Diego in the secret cave behind the hacienda. The older man was sitting at the large mahogany desk, idly twirling a quill between his fingers. He looked up when he noticed the boy coming into the room.
"I thought to write a note," said Diego, crumpling up the piece of paper he had been scribbling on. "But I don't know what to say." He tossed the aborted note at the pile of other wadded up balls of paper on the desk.
Felipe made several gestures that had Diego grimacing.
"Yes, I know I should have said something the other day when he caught us fencing in the foyer," Diego interpreted. "But how can I? Father is going to be totally devastated by the news that the woman he is going to marry has a lover." Diego shook his head sadly. "It will kill him."
Nodding his head, Felipe then pointed toward the cave entrance. Diego got to his feet.
"I almost forgot," he said as he walked out from behind the desk. "Father wants me to go into town with him."
He put his hand on Felipe's shoulder and the two of them exited the cave.
[parts of the following scene taken from "Deceptive Heart" written by Bruce Lansbury]
A short while later, Diego walked out the front door of the hacienda with Don Alejandro. "Francisca and I, we've decided on an Easter wedding, Diego," said the old don.
"An Easter wedding?" queried Diego, his voice full of concern. Easter was barely a month away. "Isn't that being a trifle hasty?"
"How ironic," his father replied with a short laugh. "It's always the young who are so impetuous. They have all the time in the world."
Diego stopped in his tracks and put his hand on the elder de la Vega's arm, bringing him to a halt as well. It was now or never, he thought, if he wanted to stop his father from making the biggest mistake of his life. "What if she's not the woman you think she is?"
"Diego!" Don Alejandro interjected. "Your tone disturbs me. Do you know something I don't?"
Diego crossed his arms over his broad chest. "Father, this is very difficult for me to say. . ."
Unfortunately what he had been about to reveal was interrupted by Francisca, who came running up to them. "Alejandro, Diego. I've been looking for you," she said breathlessly.
Don Alejandro was all smiles as he kissed her cheek. "Ah, Señora, we were just discussing the wedding," he stated.
"Ah, we have so much to prepare," said Francisca, taking a step back away from her novio.
"Precisely," agreed the old don. "Now, if you'll both have excuse me, I have an appointment with my lawyer. Francisca has suggested a contract and I've agreed."
"I thought you wanted me to come with. . ." Diego began.
"No," said his father. "You should stay here and get to know Francisca better. After all, she is going to be your new stepmother." He lifted Francisca's hand to his lips then headed toward the stables.
Diego felt awkward as he was left standing there with Francisca. Never, he told himself, this woman would never take the place of his mother. And if that meant hurting his father, it was just the price he would have to pay to keep this fortune hunter away from him.
No doubt sensing his hostility, Francisca turned away from Diego before speaking. "You don't trust me, do you, Don Diego?" she asked cautiously.
"A good friend of mine, someone I trust, saw you with your lover last evening," declared Diego, trying to seem dispassionate.
Francisca paled. "Can I convince you that what your friend saw was not what it appeared to be between Ramirez and me?" she inquired in a cajoling tone.
"Ramirez?" queried Diego, the control over his temper cracking a little. "Your lover?"
"Once," Francisca conceded reluctantly. "I was younger, without parents. Easy to seduce. Later I realized what a monster he was, but by then I was virtually his slave." Tears began to leak from her eyes.
Diego did not buy her pitiful little story portraying her as a helpless victim. Not after what he had seen. "My friend did not see a master and slave at the tavern," he said impatiently.
Francisca turned away, wiping the tears from her
"The truth," said Diego forcefully.
Francisca started walking away as she spoke. "Two months ago we are on a boat out of San Carlos. Ramirez's luck was out, he was desperate." She glanced up at Diego who was walking along side her. "I regret to my dying day for having introduce him to a kind, open-hearted woman who told of her correspondence with your father."
Diego stepped in front of Francisca, stopping her in her tracks, and looked down at her angrily. "Señora de la Peña," he surmised. He wondered what had happened to the poor woman, though he had a good idea of her fate.
"Her last letters with the suggestion of marriage were written by Ramirez, in her hand," explained Francisca, still drying the tears from her face.
"So you would marry my father and this scoundrel would take over his estates," said Diego. "And the real Señora de la Peña?"
"Ramirez drowned her off the boat," said Francisca flatly.
Diego nodded. That was what he thought had happened. "So he's truly a murderer."
"He'll be at the tavern later," Francisca
informed him as she stared at the ground. "Have him arrested.
I will testify to his crimes."
"You'll be on the next coach out," stated Diego unequivocally. "You will leave a gentle but firm message to my father explaining a change of heart." Maybe it would be better this way, he thought. Much better than finding out that the woman Don Alejandro thought he loved turning out to be a lying, cheating harpy with a murderous lover.
Francisca was nodding meekly. "Anything, I swear," she promised. Diego noticed that she was crying in earnest now.
"And surely I will be at the tavern," Diego declared. "And surely, Ramirez will hang." He turned and walked away, intending to ride into the pueblo to turn the murderer into the authorities.
He came around the outside of the hacienda and spied Felipe leaning against the building. Eavesdropping on his conversation with Francisca, he guessed with a smile
"Bring the carriage, Felipe," instructed Diego. "We must go to the pueblo immediately."
The lad started to obey but stopped in his tracks as Diego shouted, "Wait!" Felipe looked in the direction that the other man was staring and watched as a white bird flew toward the pueblo.
"Ring-necked doves, grouse, and quail all abound in California,"stated Diego, "but not homing pigeons." So the devious little witch was warning her lover that their ruse has been exposed. He had the horrible feeling that he would be a dead man the moment he stepped foot in Los Angeles.
Diego then tipped his head, indicating that Felipe should follow him. "I have an idea," he said to the youth. "Come on."
They had just walked through the front door of the hacienda when Zafira came rushing up to them. "What did you say to Francisca?" she asked in a demanding voice. "She's in her room, crying her eyes out."
Diego closed his eyes. "It's nothing that concerns you, Zafira," he said firmly.
"But she's my friend," his wife whinged. "I want to know what you did to her."
"I did nothing," declared Diego truthfully. "She brought this all upon herself." He glanced over for a second at Felipe, who kept his head down as he waited for them to finish.. "I need to go into town. If you will excuse me. . ."
"Diego de la Vega, you tell me what happened," said Zafira warningly. "Or I will never sleep with you again."
He laughed mirthlessly. "Hardly a threat, my dear," he said through clenched teeth as it had been six weeks since the last time she had allowed him into her bed. He looked over again at Felipe, who was pretending not to listen but whose young face was flushed with embarrassment. "However, this is neither the time nor the place to discuss such matters. I'm going into town. Adios."
This time he swept past her, Felipe following in his wake. Zafira spun around and stared at him, open-mouthed, he noticed as he glanced over his shoulder as he walked away.
It was nearly an hour later that Zorro and Felipe brought their wagon to a halt about half a mile outside the pueblo gate.
"This is as close as we should get," said Zorro, jumping down from the driver's seat. "Come on, help me get this set up."
Felipe climbed over the seat and into the wagon's bed, where he lifted a brown-striped blanket. Both he and Zorro hoisted the straw-filled form wearing Diego's brown suit and placed it in the wagon's seat. Felipe arranged the reins in the dummy's gloved hands as Zorro settled the sculpture of Diego's head onto the padded shoulders. He then plopped on the wig of black hair which they had made using hair from Toronado's mane and tail.
They walked backward several steps and admired their handiwork for a moment. Felipe signaled something to the man in black.
"Yes, I think it will fool anyone waiting to ambush the unsuspecting Don Diego," agreed Zorro. He then put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Go back to the hacienda. I will take it from here."
Felipe shook his head defiantly before clearly gesturing his intentions. The masked man sighed wearily.
"Felipe, we've been over this before," he explained as he untied Toronado from the back of the wagon. "You cannot be seen assisting me. Your life would be as forfeit as mine if you were caught." He placed both hands on the lad's shoulders and made the youth look him in the eye. "You know I cannot let that happen. I'm your guardian. I am supposed to protect you, not get you hung for treason."
Zorro smiled. "I will tell you all about it when I get back," he vowed. "Promise."
Felipe shrugged then nodded. He watched as the man in black slapped the horse's rump, sending it on its way into Los Angeles before he swung upon the black stallion's back and rode away..
It was much later that evening before Diego got a chance to keep his promise to Felipe. "Then Ramirez pulled out a pistol and aimed it at Zorro," he said as he neared the end of the tale as the two of them sat in the secret cave. "But Zorro flicked it into the air with his saber and caught it."
Diego mimicked the motion of catching the pistol as Felipe smiled. "Then," Diego continued, "Mendoza tried to arrest Zorro."
Felipe rolled his eyes. Diego laughed. "Yes, well, Zorro turned Ramirez over to the good sergeant instead." He shook his head. "I think that murderer will be locked up for a long time."
Felipe nodded solemnly then made the gesture they used for a woman.
"Who? Victoria?" said Diego, confused. "She was there but. . ." His voice trailed off as he noticed the youth's expression of consternation. "Oh, you meant Francisca," he said quietly. "She's going to jail as well."
Diego got to his feet, intending to leave but Felipe grabbed his arm. The lad's hands made a flurry of gestures that had Diego wincing.
"Why did I assume you meant Señorita Escalante?" he interpreted. He went over to the laboratory table and placed his hands on it, then bowed his head. "She was there, watching the fight. Zorro nearly bumped into her while he and Ramirez were fighting on the tavern porch. I guess that's why I. . ."
Felipe shook his head vehemently and Diego realized that the boy didn't believe him. Then the lad made several more signals.
"I know I'm married!" exclaimed Diego, slamming one of his hands against the table. "Every minute of every day!" He turned to stare at the youngster. "You know what she's like. I don't have to tell you what a shrew she can be."
He turned his head away and gazed off into the back of the cave. "That's what I have to put up with every day. I know, it doesn't excuse anything. I didn't mean for this to happen. It just did."
Felipe pointed at Diego, then placed a hand over his heart, then made the sign for woman.
"Si, I love Victoria," Diego replied. "But no one can know, Felipe. No one. Especially Zafira." He saw the look of confusion and concern in the young man's eyes. Realizing it was not right to unburden himself on the poor teenaged lad, he placed a hand on the boy's shoulder
"I'm sorry, Felipe," he apologized. "This is my problem, not yours. It's unfair to expect you to deal with it as well."
Diego tried to smile reassuredly at the
youth, but failed miserably. Felipe nodded curtly then got to his
feet, grabbing a broom. Sighing again, Diego also stood and watched
at the boy started sweeping the stone floor. Shaking his head, he
walked out of the cave.
Z Z Z
The next morning, Diego and Don Alejandro stepped
out of the hacienda, one on either side of the fraudulent Señora
de la Peña. During the Alcalde's interrogation of her the
previous evening, they had learned her name was really Eva Machado and
that she was from Veracruz. It sickened Diego to learned that she
was only a year younger than he was. It was hard to believe she was
such a hardened adventuress.
"Señor," Eva said to his father as they walked to the gate, "the real Francisca showed me some of your letters. You made her very happy. And I only wanted to say that if I met a man like you instead of Ramirez, I might have been a better woman."
The elder de la Vega stared down at her, either not having anything to say to her or not trusting himself to reply. A rattling noise drew his attention as two soldiers drove up to the hacienda with a prison wagon. Inside the cage, Eva's lover, Ramirez, was grasping onto the bars, glaring at them defiantly. One of the soldiers marched up to Eva and grabbed her by the arm.
Diego and his father watched in silence as she was pushed into the back of the wagon and locked inside. Diego glanced over at the old don at his side and saw the pain that fleetingly passed over his face.
"You'll be over it soon enough," he advised.
Don Alejandro shrugged. The prison wagon drove away with the two criminals inside, clutching its bars. Zafira emerged from the hacienda as it rattled by the front gate.
"I cannot believe it," she said despondently. "I thought she was my friend."
Her father-in-law turned and put his arm around her shoulders. "She fooled us all, my dear," he said, his voice sad but touched with bitterness. Don Alejandro looked over at Diego, who stepped over to stand next to Zafira.
"So, you two have been married for almost a year now," the elder de la Vega stated. He eyed them speculatively. "So when am I getting a grandchild?"
"Father, please," said Diego, his face growing hot and flushed. It was hard to impregnate your wife when she would only allow you to make love to her on the odd, rare occasion, he thought angrily.
"Babies, Diego. I want babies!"
Zafira glanced furtively from one man to the other. "Father, I haven't had a chance to tell Diego yet," she said. She looked up at Diego and he was taken aback by the hatred he saw in her blue eyes.
"But I'm going to have a baby."
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER SIXTEEN