"Papa! Papa! They're here! They're here!"
Five-year old Alfonso de la Vega burst through the front door of the hacienda carrying a large, long package. The excited little boy was followed, at a more sedate pace, by his grandfather, Don Alejandro.
Diego emerged from the library when he had been reading yet another book about making wine. It was one of the few things he did lately; learn about wine making or checking on his vineyards. The vines he had planted five years earlier were finally going to mature in the fall. He was becoming rather obsessed with his grapes.
"Not so loud, Alfonso," he admonished. "Your mother and brothers are taking a nap."
"Sorry, Papa," said the youngster contritely. He lifted up the parcel to show his father. "The swords are here. Now me and Digo can learn to fight just like Zorro."
"That's ‘Digo and I'," corrected his grandfather. "And si, you can be just like Zorro." The old don smiled indulgently at his grandson and patted his raven haired head.
Don Alejandro had resigned his position as the Alcalde of Los Angeles about six months earlier, a decision so far he did not regret. The new alcalde was the son of one of his amigos. Don Antonio Rodriguez was doing an excellent job and was also smart enough to seek advice from his immediate predecessor.
Alfonso waited impatiently for his father to unwrap the box. He was thinking about how thrilled his cousin would be about the weapons it contained. Digo wasn't really his cousin but actually his nephew. His adopted brother Felipe was the young Digo's father. But when Alfonso had been younger, he just could not fathom the relationship. So Felipe and Ana Maria became ‘Tio' and ‘Tia' and their sons, Diego and the nearly two-year old Jaime became his ‘cousins'.
Cousin Diego, at almost five, was a year younger than Alfonso, who would be six in a few months, but only an inch shorter in height. The two muchachos were inseparable companions. They were often joined in their play by the younger Diego's cousins, Ricardo and Roberto Mendoza. The amount of mischief the four lads got into when they all got together was mind boggling.
It didn't help matters that almost since birth, the de la Vega boys had heard tales of the legendary fox of Los Angeles, El Zorro. They would sit and listen raptly for hours of their fathers' stories of the masked hero. Neither of them quite realized that Zorro had been Alfonso's papa.
The elder Diego had decided several months earlier that the two youngsters needed to learn to fence properly instead of constantly whacking at each other with sticks whenever they pretended to be Zorro. Felipe had also agreed it was a good idea. The boys' mothers needed a little more convincing, but finally had acquiesced. Diego had ordered four beginner's blades for them from Spain.
The de la Vega males were all admiring the finely crafted Toledo steel foils. Don Alejandro picked up one and gave it a few practices swings. "Nice balance," he commented. "These will do just fine."
"When can you start teaching us, Papa?" asked Alfonso, eyeing his abuelo with envy. "Today?"
Diego chuckled at the boy's eagerness. "No, hijo, not today," he replied. "How about tomorrow afternoon? We can go inform your cousin and Tio Felipe right now if you like."
"Si, Papa, gracias." Alfonso ran out of the house to the stables. He had been riding practically since he could walk and loved to help saddle his pony. Diego shook his head as he watched his son for a moment before turning back to his father.
"I do hope you know what you are getting into," said Don Alejandro drily. "It's going to take a lot of patience to teach children so young."
"I think I can handle it," replied Diego. "After all, I taught Felipe to fence. And look how well he learned."
"Si, that's true," agreed the elder de la Vega. But still he thought Diego was taking on more than he could handle. He had noticed a restlessness in his son the past few years and felt this desire to teach the boys fencing came from that dissatisfaction. It was obvious that Diego and Victoria were happily married, he was extremely proud of his sons and he had shown himself to be a competent manager of the ranch.
But underneath this contented exterior, Don Alejandro sensed that Diego missed the adventure and the exhilaration of his life when he had been Zorro. Diego was more like his father than he wanted to admit. But wisely, the old don kept these thoughts to himself. Far be it from him to stir up trouble.
"I'm going to check on Victoria and the twins before I go," announced Diego. "Could you make sure Alfonso doesn't leave without me, por favor?"
His father nodded his agreement and headed out after his grandson as Diego make his way toward the bedrooms. He first opened the door to the room where his twin sons, Alejandro and Francisco, who would be three years old next month, were napping. They had just recently been moved from the nursery to their new larger bedroom.
Diego smiled as he saw them snuggled together on one of their beds. They would often crawl into the other's bed as they didn't like being separated. He quietly closed their door then continued on down the hallway.
Again, he slipped silently into a bedroom, his own this time and gazed down upon his wife lying upon their bed. Concern etched itself into his face as he did so.
Victoria was expecting again and was about six months along. This pregnancy was quite different than her first two however. She had breezed through both of them with hardly a problem. Even the carrying the twins had been easy for her.
But this time, Diego sighed wearily, she was sick all day long. Dark circles had become permanent fixtures under her brown eyes and her complexion was very pale.
Victoria, being the stubborn person she was, kept insisting to her husband that she was fine The doctor had assured them everything was progressing normally. She also like to point out that Ana Maria had had a lot of morning sickness with Jaime, her and Felipe's last baby, who was now eighteen months old and perfectly healthy.
Diego looked down upon her, her raven curls mussed against the pillow. His eyes locked on the swell of her belly which she cradled with one hand. She was so beautiful and once again he thought of how lucky he was. His musings were interrupted as she started to stir.
"Hola," she said as she brushed the hair from her face. Sitting up slowly, Victoria gave him a weak smile. "Are the twins still asleep?"
"Si," answered Diego. "Alfonso and I are going over to Felipe and Ana Maria's. Our son's package finally arrived from Spain."
"Oh, so the swords are here," Victoria commented as she rubbed her back. She shook her head. "I hope you know what you're getting into."
Diego held his irritation in check. Why was everyone questioning his instructing the boys in swordplay? Felipe was the only other person who understood his need to do so. And even so, he had noticed his adopted son throwing a concerned glance or two in his direction whenever the subject was discussed.
These thoughts were driven from his head as Victoria got to her feet then immediately plopped back down onto the bed, bringing her hand to her temple.
"Are you all right, querida?" Diego knelt down beside her, putting a steadying hand on her shoulder.
"I'm fine," Victoria declared as she rose up off the bed once again, this time a bit more slowly. "I just got up too fast. I'm all right, Diego," she added, a little peeved by his somewhat smothering solicitude.
"I can stay home, if you need me to," suggested her husband. He did not pick up on his wife's annoyance at his offer.
"I'll be fine, Diego," Victoria reiterated. "If you can wait a moment, I have some things for Ana Maria you can take with you."
Diego nodded then watched as his wife walked into the adjoining nursery. Or waddled might have been the more appropriate term. She had gained a little more weight with this pregnancy than with her others. But this brought a smile to Diego's face. The added pounds had been placed in the most alluring places.
Although it might have been his frustration doing his thinking for him. Since Victoria was so tired and ill all the time, making love was out of the question. There had been several occasions that she had wanted to do so, but Diego, fearing for her health and that of the unborn child, had made his excuses.
It was another reason he had spent so much time lately in his vineyards. He needed the distraction. Victoria came back into the bedroom, carrying a bundle of clothing. She eyed her husband curiously as she handed the garments to him.
"These are for Jaime," she instructed. "Just a few things that the twins have outgrown."
"Adios, Victoria," he replied before kissing her cheek. "We'll be back before supper."
"Adios." Victoria followed him out of the room and down the hallway. She stopped outside Alejandro and Francisco's room and waved as Diego glanced over his shoulder at her before continuing on his way.
Dios, she was so beautiful.
Diego cursed his self imposed celibacy, groaning a little at the thought
of at least five more months of it. Shaking his head to clear it,
he passed through the front door and strode quickly to the stables where
an impatient Alfonso was waiting for him.
Z Z Z
Felipe leaned back in his chair and took off his glasses. I need an apprentice, he thought not for the first time as he rubbed his tired eyes. Another morning of reading legal texts had made them burn and itch with fatigue.
He had finally had to admit to himself as well as to everyone else that he needed to wear corrective lens. Several years earlier he had been struck on the head by falling rocks during an earthquake, rendering him blind. And even though he had regained his eyesight, his vision had been adversely affected.
His practice as a lawyer was growing as was the need for him to do more and more reading. A couple of years ago, he had had to surrender to the fact that he needed glasses.
But otherwise, Felipe was thoroughly enjoying his life now. He had his beautiful wife, Ana Maria and two fine sons, Diego and Jaime. His chosen career was exciting and fulfilling. His horse breeding operation was coming along nicely as well. He could hear and speak and was surrounded by a family who loved him.
Felipe looked out the window of his office at the paddock where Viento and two other stallions were grazing. Putting his glasses back on, he could see out to where the pregnant mares were confined. If everything went well, he was going to have a busy spring.
His gaze then turned to the corral which held the yearlings. A grin crept onto his handsome face as he quickly made up his mind. The law could wait, Felipe thought as he tossed his glasses onto the book he had been perusing. Spending the afternoon working with the year-old colts and fillies felt definitely more inviting at the moment.
Intending to find his old amigo, Paco, who now worked for him, he headed out of his office. The former de la Vega vaquero and his wife were Felipe and Ana Maria's only servants. Flora did most of the housework and helped Ana with the cooking and the children. Felipe remembered the argument he had had with his grandfather and father over the matter. Since he had refused to become Diego's heir when he had been adopted, Don Alejandro and Diego had made him accept a deal that gave him five hundred acres when he became a lawyer, another five hundred acres upon the elder de la Vega's death and then a thousand more upon Diego's death.
Felipe had not wanted to agree to this arrangement but finally acquiesced to the other two men's insistence. They had been concerned when he had built the modest adobe casa his family now lived in and became appalled at the lack of servants he and Ana had desired. Don Alejandro had offered his grandson his choice of ranch hands and house maids.
They just didn't understand, he thought with a shake of his head. He wasn't afraid of hard work and actually enjoyed it. It made for a nice contrast with the sedentary nature of his legal practice. He could only sit still for so long before he started to go stir-crazy.
He hadn't quite reached the front door when a loud rap sounded upon it. He opened it, saw who his guests were and said, "Hola, come in, come in."
Diego and Alfonso walked inside the casa. "Hola, Tio Felipe," greeted Alfonso. "Where's my cousins?"
Felipe didn't have time to answer as the boys in question came running into the foyer. "Alfonso, como esta?" asked the younger Diego upon seeing his cousin. Jaime toddled behind in his brother's wake and was babbling animatedly.
"Guess what, Digo?" said Alfonso before continuing excitedly, "the swords are here! And Papa says we can start our lessons tomorrow afternoon!"
Cousin Diego was suitably impressed as the elder Diego glanced over at the boy's father. "I assume that is all right with you?"
Felipe nodded, still wearing the huge grin. "I don't think you have much of a choice." He indicated the two lads who were now pretending to lunge at and parry each other with imaginary blades.
Diego chuckled at the muchachos' eagerness. No, he thought, he was going to have an easy time teaching these boys all he knew about fencing. It was something they obviously wanted to learn. And Diego had always found a willing student was an obedient student.
Just then, Ana Maria appeared in the archway leading to the kitchen, causing Diego to remember the bundle that Victoria had entrusted with him. "Buenas dias, Ana Maria," he said as he handed over the clothing. "Victoria said these were for young Jaime."
"Hola, Do. . .Diego," she replied. It had taken a couple of years for her to break the habit of calling her father-in-law Don Diego. It still didn't seem natural to say just his given name. She hid her discomfort by examining the garments he had given her. "Tell Victoria gracias."
"I will," he declared with a smile.
"How is she doing?" asked Ana Maria.
The mirth faded from
Diego's face but he hesitated only a second before answering. "She's
just fine," he lied.
Z Z Z
"THE DEATH OF INNOCENCE" CHAPTER TWO