"CADENAS DE AMOR"

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

"A LITTLE MORE THAN KIN"

    "A baby?" echoed Don Alejandro.  "That's wonderful news!"  He pulled Zafira into his arms and embraced her tightly.  He then took a step back, smiling at her happily before glancing over at Diego.  "Isn't that wonderful news, son?"

     "Wonderful," murmured a stunned Diego.  An tightness in his chest made it hard for him to breath.  A child?   Zafira was going to have a baby and she wasn't too happy about it, if her expression was anything to go by.  His father, however, was ecstatic by the news.  "When?" asked Don Alejandro, his eyes twinkling with excitement.

     "October, I think," Zafira replied after counting on her fingers.

     "You've just made me the happiest man in the world," said the old don.  He hugged Zafira again then he started walking them both toward the hacienda.  "We'll have to redecorate the nursery and find Diego's old cradle.  There's so much to do."

     "And seven months to do it," said Diego sarcastically under his breath.  He was pleased though that the prospect of a grandchild gave his father something to fuss about and would hopefully help him forget about his aborted romance, he thought as he followed his wife and his father back inside the hacienda.

     "Maria!  Maria!" called out the elder de la Vega as he walked through the foyer with Zafira clutching his arm.

     The housekeeper appeared at once.  "Si, Patrón."

     "Maria," began Don Alejandro, grinning broadly, "I want you to have two of the girls clear out the small room we've been using for storage."  He gave his daughter-in-law's shoulders a squeeze.  "I'm going to be a grandfather!"

     The expression on the housekeeper's face did not change although Diego thought he saw a little spark light up her eyes.  "Si, Patrón," she replied.  "I'll see to it at once."

     She started to turn away.  Don Alejandro spoke to her retreating back.  "And if they find the cradle, get two of the men to refinish it.  I imagine it will need some work.  It hasn't been used since Diego was a baby."

     Diego noticed the touch of sadness in his father's voice and looked at his face, which wore a melancholy expression for a brief moment before breaking out into another big smile.

     "What color do you want it painted, my dear?" the old don asked Zafira.  "White?  Yellow?"

      "Those both sound nice," she replied apathetically.  "Whatever you think best."  She extracted herself from her father-in-law's grasp.  "I think I'll take a nap."

      "Oh, yes, yes," agreed his father.  "Of course."   Both he and Diego watched as Zafira ambled leisurely toward her bedroom.    The elder de la Vega slapped Diego on the back.

     "Congratulations, son," he said.  He was still grinning as he walked toward the kitchen.

     Later that evening, after dinner of which Zafira had eaten very little, Diego opened the connecting door between their rooms.  His wife sat at her vanity table, brushing her hair listlessly.  She turned quickly, however, when she noticed his presence and threw her silver filigreed hairbrush at him.

     "Get out!"

     Diego deftly dodged out of the way and the brush hit the wall before falling to the floor.  "Zafira," he said in a pacifying voice.  "I just want us to talk.  I. . ."

     "I don't have anything to say to you," she hissed, picking up a perfume bottle.  "This is all your fault."

     "The baby?"  He chuckled a little.  "If I recall, you were a participant in its creation as well."

     His mind drifted back though to the last handful of times they had made love, nearly two months earlier.  Zafira had initiated every encounter since they had arrived in California.  But those last few times. . .   Diego closed his eyes as he remembered how unresponsive she had been.  How she wouldn't let him kiss her lips.  How she wouldn't look at him, instead keeping her eyes tightly closed.

     It had been a bit unnerving.  Diego had been almost relieved at first when she stopped coming into his room.  But it still didn't explain his spouse's hostile attitude about being pregnant.

     "Zafira," he began a bit coldly as she glared crossly at him.  "I know you're not happy now, but. . ."

     "I haven't been happy since the day I married you," she cut in, setting the bottle back down on her vanity.  "Having a baby isn't going to change that."

     "But it is an innocent in all of this," he declared worriedly.  "You saw my father.  He's overjoyed by this news."

     "Oh, yes," Zafira said sarcastically.  "An heir to carry on the de la Vega name."  She stood up, cinching the sash on her dressing gown.  "You'd both better pray it's a boy, " she sneered, "because this will never happen again.  Now, get out of my room."

     Diego stared at her for a few moments.  He saw the truth of what she was saying in her eyes.  That she would go through with the pregnancy.  That she wouldn't do anything to harm the child inside her.  A sigh of relief escaped his lips.

     "As you wish," he said before turning on his heel and striding from the room.
                                                   Z                                                   Z                                                   Z

     The next few weeks were filled with plans for the upcoming baby.  Don Alejandro had launched himself wholeheartedly into the preparations, not noticing the indifferent stance of his daughter-in law.  It almost broke Diego's heart to watch his father's excitement in the face of his wife's false cheerfulness.  He was nearly grateful for the distractions that the Alcalde provided.  First, Ramón had tried to monopolize the pueblo's water supply.  Zorro had thwarted that plan, thanks to the unwitting help of Sergeant Mendoza.

     It did weigh heavily on his mind that a man had been killed because of his masquerade.  A man whom the Alcalde had hired to impersonate him and to sully his reputation.  And who had been killed by Ramón's own hand, thinking he was shooting the real Zorro.  Diego tried to tell himself that it had been the risk the imposter assumed when he had taken the Alcalde's money.   But he couldn't help but feel guilty about it.

[parts of the following scene taken from "The Best Man" written by Robert L McCullough]

     Two weeks after the imposter's death, a letter from Diego's cousin, Rafael, threw the hacienda into another frenzy of activity.  He was bringing his fiancée to Los Angeles to get Don Alejandro's approval, as head of the de la Vega family, of the marriage.

     Don Alejandro strode into the room, buttoning his cuffs as Diego picked out a few notes on the piano.  "Diego!  They're here!"  The old don gazed appraisingly at his son.  "You're rather well-dressed."

     Diego looked down at his light blue suit, which was the finest one he owned and shrugged.  "Well, it's not every day my cousin Rafael makes the journey south from Santa Barbara with a new fiancée, no less.  You know. . ."  He rose up from the piano bench. "It's hard to believe Rafael is actually getting married."

     "Not anymore difficult to believe that you're going to be a father," stated the elder de la Vega, his grin threatening to split his face.  "It's wonderful that both of you are living up to your responsibilities as de la Vegas."

     "Si, of course," replied Diego, rolling his eyes.

     "Where is Zafira?" queried Don Alejandro, glancing around the hacienda.

     "She's, she's not feeling well this morning," Diego answered through gritted teeth.  A fact she had let him know in no uncertain terms was his fault when he had passed by her room that morning.

     "She's all right, isn't she?" the old don inquired worriedly.

     "Just morning sickness, I believe," said Diego.  He was a bit concerned though.  Zafira's nausea seemed to last most of the day and she had to be unnaturally thin for a woman nearing her fourth month of pregnancy.

     The two men exited the hacienda and walked quickly to reach the gate, arriving just in time to watch as a buggy pulled up in front of the hacienda.   Rafael jumped out and greeted his uncle and cousin before assisting his fiancée, Margarita de Madera, a pretty girl with lively hazel eyes and curling brown hair, from the conveyance.

     Diego watched as his father raised her hand, placing a gentlemanly kiss upon it as Rafael made the introductions.

     "Welcome to our fair pueblo," Diego greeted her warmly.

     "Thank you," replied Margarita, smiling cheerfully.  She was positively bouncing with enthusiasm.  "I've been looking forward to visiting Los Angeles for quite some time."

     "We're flattered," stated Diego before looking over at his father who shrugged.

     "Of course, it's delightful meeting all of you," the young lady continued excitedly.  "But the truth is, I just can't wait to meet Zorro."

     Diego glanced worriedly over at his cousin, who still wore a smile on his face.  But Diego could see the concern in Rafael's eyes at his novia's words.

     Once inside the hacienda, glasses of wine were passed around and Don Alejandro made a toast to the young couple.  "To beauty.  To youth.  To love," he said, raising his glass.

    Diego also lifted his glass.  "And to wisdom," he added before everyone took a sip of their drinks.

     "Can one be both romantic and wise?" inquired Margarita, gazing up at Diego coyly.

     He chuckled mirthlessly.  "One had better be, Señorita," he replied.  If only he had learned that nugget of truth a little sooner, he thought forlornly.

     Felipe rushed into the room then and frantically caught Diego's eye.  "What is it, Felipe?" he asked.  He was coming to know that look on the youngster's face.  Something was happening that needed Zorro's immediate attention.

      "Trouble. . .in town. . .soldiers," Diego interpreted the lad's gestures correctly as affirmed by Felipe's vigorous nod.

     "Soldiers!" interjected  Don Alejandro, setting down his drink.  "I should go."

     Rafael got to his feet as well.  "I'm going with you."

     "So am I," Margarita chimed in as she rose from her chair.

     "The pueblo's under martial law, my dear," said the elder de la Vega, shaking his head.  " It's no place for a woman."

     Margarita stamped her foot.  "Oh, nonsense.  This will be the perfect time to see Los Angeles," she said querulously.   She turned to face at Diego.  "Besides, you'll be there to protect us, won't you?" she asked, smiling up at him.

     Diego shook his head.  "Actually I have some reading to catch up on," he stated, wincing inwardly at the display of cowardice he was forced to show in front of his cousin.

     "Reading, Diego?" queried Rafael, the disappointment Diego knew he would hear clear in the other man's tone.

     "Diego has his own interests, nephew," said his father in the way of a feeble defense.

     Margarita stared at him disapprovingly.  "You would let your father go alone?" she inquired.

     He shrugged his shoulders.  "Well, these things always have a way of working themselves out," he said casually.  "Besides, Zafira might need me."

     Rafael glanced over at Don Alejandro, whose face told Diego that his father wasn't quite convinced of this last excuse.   Margarita stomped out of the room in a huff as the other men departed as well.  Felipe made a Z' in the air with his finger and Diego nodded.
                                                   Z                                                   Z                                                   Z

[parts of the following scene taken from "The Best Man" written by Robert L McCullough]

     It was nearly two hours later when a servant opened the door at the de la Vega hacienda, admitting Margarita, Rafael, and Don Alejandro inside.  Diego was in the parlor painting a picture of a decorative plate and a vase of flowers.  Zafira sat on a nearby settee, desultorily working on a piece of embroidery.

     The elder de la Vega went straight over to the wine decanter and pour out three glasses.  "I was just glad there was enough distraction for you to escape arrest," he said to his nephew as he handed him a glass.

     "The Alcalde can't arrest me with sufficient charge," declared Rafael hotly before taking a sip from his glass.

     Margarita ignored the other two men and turned excitedly to Diego.  "Guess who we saw?" she asked and before he could reply, she answered herself.   "Zorro!"

     "That's always fun," commented Diego, not looking up from his painting.

     "Oh, I've never seen anything like him," gushed Margarita.  "He made fools of all the Alcalde's men."

     "This Zorro's the fool," Rafael retorted angrily.

     "I agree," said Zafira, setting aside her needlework.

     "Oh, my dear!" exclaimed Don Alejandro, suddenly noticing she was sitting there.  "I'm so glad you're feeling better.  Rafael, Margarita, this is my daughter, Diego's wife, Zafira."

     She stood up slowly as Rafael took her hand and bowed over it.  His novia, however, barely acknowledged the other woman, smiling insincerely as they were presented to each other.

      "My new cousin is quite beautiful," said Rafael.

     "Gracias, Señor," Zafira replied, smiling up at him.  She touched her hand to her stomach.  "I'm not feeling so beautiful these days."

     "Oh, nonsense," said the elder de la Vega.  He came over and put his arm around her waist.  "You're the most beautiful woman in the world.  Isn't that right, Diego?"

    "Of course, Father," Diego agreed diplomatically.

     "You are quite right about this Zorro, Cousin Rafael," said Zafira, changing the subject as she sat back down.  "He is an utter fool to think he is helping the people of Los Angeles by brandishing his sword around and stealing from the government."

     Rafael nodded.  "The peasants might be fond of him, but under law, he's just another criminal," he remarked.

     "That's true," acquiesced Don Alejandro.   "If he's ever caught, Zorro will surely hang."

      "And that would be something to see," said Diego, pretending to be still absorbed in his painting.   Rafael walked around to take look as Diego dabbed at  the canvas with his brush..

     "I think my best man is quite an artist," he said.

     Diego looked up at Rafael in surprise.  "Me?"   His cousin nodded.  "Rafael, I'm honored," he replied, genuinely pleased.

    Rafael lifted his glass of wine.  "A toast to my best man," he proposed.
                                                   Z                                                   Z                                                   Z

"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER SEVENTEEN