"THE DEATH OF INNOCENCE"
A few minutes after Diego's abrupt departure, Felipe appeared in the bedroom doorway.
"What's going on?" he inquired before yawning. He looked around the room in confusion. "Where's Diego?"
"He went to get something," replied his wife. She handed him their son before going over to the bed.
"What?" asked Felipe as he tried his hand at soothing his fussy son.
"I don't know," Ana Maria replied. "He just said he had something that could help and ran out the door. He didn't say what it was."
She removed the now dried cloth from Victoria's face and dipped it again in the bowl of water. Placing it back on the feverous woman's forehead, she then sat down on the bed.
It was several minutes later when Diego returned carrying a tray that held two steaming mugs. He picked one up and handed it to Ana Maria. "Let it cool a bit," he instructed, "then try to get her to drink all of it."
Ana Maria blew on it several times. "What is it?" she queried.
"Willow bark tea," Diego stated. He poured a little water from the pitcher that was on the bedside table into the second mug before handing it to Felipe. "I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner. It will help with Victoria's fever and with Jaime's tooth pain."
"Gracias," said Felipe. He put the cup up to his son's lips. "Just a couple of sips," he said coaxingly.
Ana Maria was more successful in getting Victoria to drink the tea. Its affect on her was almost immediate. She had calmed down and was now resting peacefully.
"I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner," Diego reiterated. "The Indians use willow bark for fever and pain. I should have thought of it sooner."
"Well, you thought of it now," said Ana Maria, placing the now empty mug on the tray. "Diego," she began, "you really should get some sleep. I can stay. . ."
"No," Diego replied, shaking his head. "Your family needs you." He glanced up at Felipe who was holding the now sleeping Jaime and wearing a thankful grin.
"If you're sure," Ana Maria said hesitantly.
"Si," responded Diego. "I'll be fine."
Diego waited until Felipe and Ana Maria had left the room, quietly closing the door behind them before kneeling down beside the bed.
"I'm so sorry, Victoria," he said, lifting her hand to his lips. "I wish I had thought of the tea sooner. I love you, querida." He kissed her hand again.
If she got better. . . no, when she got better, he thought fiercely, there could be no more children. He couldn't risk losing her like this again. This pregnancy had taken its toll on her, although she would never admit it. Victoria had just laughed off his concerns, saying that the baby was probably a girl, which everyone knew rob the mother of her looks.
No, no more children. Diego gazed
down upon his sleeping wife. He leaned over and kissed her lips gently.
They had their sons and with them they were going to have to be content.
Z Z Z
Victoria's fever lasted through the rest of the night and into the next morning. Either Diego or Ana Maria made her drink a cup of the willow bark tea every four hours yet the fever remained. She was resting quietly however, and for that, Diego was grateful.
He allowed Ana Maria to sit with Victoria while he went to go eat lunch with his father and the boys. Felipe wasn't there, he spent most days either engaged in his law practice or caring for his horses. He only came back to the hacienda in the evenings. In some ways, life was still going on as normal.
At the table, Alfonso looked up from his plate of enchiladas. "Papa, are you going to let us visit Mama again?" he asked hopefully.
"How about this afternoon?" suggested Diego with a smile. "After you finish your chores."
Predictably Alfonso groaned. Diego has to suppress a small chuckle.
"I still think it's a bad idea," declared Don Alejandro, as he set down his fork.
"Why?" queried Diego, his mood swiftly changing to anger. "Why is it such a bad idea?"
The old don glanced around at his grandchildren who were all looking wide-eyed at the adults' conversation. "Not now, Diego," he replied, indicating the boys.
"Fine," said Diego in a huff. He threw down his napkin. "If you will excuse me." Not waiting for a response, he got up and left the table.
"Why is Papa mad?" Alfonso asked his abuelo. "Did I do something bad?"
"No, hijo," said Don Alejandro. "It is nothing you did." He tried to smile reassuredly at the youngster but failed miserably.
They ate the rest of their lunch in silence. After they had been excused, Alfonso and Digo hurried to finish the older boy's daily chores.
It was mid-afternoon before a timid knock sounded on the bedroom door where Diego sat brooding in the chair beside his wife's bed.
Diego immediately popped out of the chair and went to open the door. "Alfonso," he said as the boy was revealed. "Are your chores completed?"
The muchacho nodded his head vigorously. "Si, Papa," he said. Then Alfonso looked up worriedly at his father. "Alejandro and Francisco are still taking their nap. Do I have to wait until they wake up?"
"No," Diego replied. He opened the door wider. "Come in."
The lad skipped happily into the room and stopped at his mother's bedside. "Is she really going to get better?" he asked.
"We have to believe it, Alfonso," said his father. "You've been saying your prayers?"
Nodding solemnly, Alfonso reached out and touched Victoria's hand. "Hola, Mama," he said cheerfully. He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "I've been a good boy, Mama. Digo has been staying with me in my room. And Jaime too. But he's staying with. . ."
Diego smiled as he listened with half an ear to the rest of the news Alfonso was telling Victoria. He was keeping a closer watch on his wife's face, to see if she would respond again as she had done the day before when the boys had visited.
"Diego," said his father quietly from the doorway. Diego could see the elder de la Vega was ready to continue their earlier conversation.
He slipped out of the room as Alfonso chatted non-stop at Victoria. "Father, I. . ." he began.
"Diego, you have no idea what you are doing to those boys," interrupted Don Alejandro. "If she dies. . ."
It was Diego's turn to cut in. "She's not going to die," he said angrily through gritted teeth.
The old don sighed. "Of course, we all are praying for her to pull through," he stated. "But, son, you need to be practical. Those muchachos could be scarred for life if they see their mother die."
"Like I wasn't?" snapped Diego. "I was haunted for years by Mother's death. Did you know that? I imagined all sorts of horrible things that had happened to her. A twelve year old can have a very vivid imagination, you know."
"Son, I was trying to protect you," said Don Alejandro. "I wanted to shield you from the grief. . ."
"Do you know that your grief frightened me so much that I still dream of that time?" Diego asked rhetorically. "I had never seen you so. . .so devastated. You were my father. I looked to you for guidance and you just pushed me aside."
The elder de la Vega shook his head wearily. "It's true, Diego. I was devastated by your mother's death. I wasn't thinking rationally at the time, I have to admit. But I did what I thought was best for you at the time."
"I know you did, Father," acquiesced Diego. "But it was wrong."
"And you think your way is better?" his father inquired argumentatively. "So be it," he added, shaking his head once more. "I just hope your sons don't hate you for it." He turned to leave.
Diego reached out to stop him by placing a hand on Don Alejandro's shoulder. "Father, I don't hate you," he said contritely. "I never hated you. This situation, it's bringing out so many bad memories for all of us." Diego glanced back toward the bedroom door. "I think that Victoria in her delirium is reliving her mother's execution."
He was unprepared for his father's reaction. "Madre de Dios," muttered the old don. Diego thought the older man had aged ten years right before his eyes.
"Father?" queried Diego, his voice full of concern. "What's wrong?"
"Señora Escalante," Don Alejandro said in a strangled voice. "I did something to her I'm not proud of, Diego. Something horrible."
Once again, Diego was shocked. "Father, what could you have possibly done to Victoria's mother?" he asked, full of morbid curiosity. "You didn't. . . You're not the one who turned her in to the authorities. . .?"
"No, Dios, no," replied the elder de la Vega. He closed his eyes. "No, after your mother died, after the doctor had left, she, Elena, Victoria's mother, was crying. She had been there throughout the whole ordeal, helping the doctor. We reached out to each other for comfort." He shook his head. "I kissed her, Diego. I kissed her with your mother still lying there on the bed."
Diego just stared at his father for several awkward moments. "That's all you did?" he asked tentatively, not sure if he wanted to know anymore details, especially if. . .
"That's all?" echoed Don Alejandro. "That was enough. When I realized what was happening, I pushed her away and was sick." He opened his eyes to stare at his son. "I've seen you and Ana Maria together, Diego. You need to be careful. She's your son's wife."
"Father, I would never. . .ever. . I know who she is," Diego sputtered with indignation. "Just because. . ."
"I never would have dreamed I would have did what I did either," replied his father. "I loved your mother. I hadn't looked at another woman since the moment I met her. I was so distraught it clouded that fact and also the fact that Elena Escalante was the wife of one of my oldest friends. But I kissed her anyway."
Diego digested this information with a heavy heart. His father was right. If Victoria did. . . die (he still had a hard time even thinking about it), he would have to be careful. Ana Maria was Felipe's wife. If anything improper happened because he was out of his head with grief. . . Well, he didn't know if he could live with himself or face his eldest son again. He struggled to pay attention as his father started speaking again.
"It's why I made sure I kept an eye on Victoria after her mother was executed and her father went to go join the rebels," he said. "It was the least I could do, after what I had done to her mother."
"Father, you did nothing wrong," Diego commented. "You weren't in your right mind. I'm sure Señora Escalante knew that and that she forgave you. She was a kind-hearted woman."
"Si," the old don agreed with a lump in his throat. Then he smiled faintly. "A trait she passed on to her daughter."
Diego smiled as well, thinking of all the good and generous deeds his Victoria had done. She didn't deserve this, he thought crossly. She was a good woman, a good wife, and a good mother.
Don Alejandro's hand on his shoulder aroused him from his reverie. "Son, I had no idea that you were so affected by what I did when your mother died. Maybe you are right. Maybe it is a good thing that the boys see Victoria and that they know what is happening." He paused and they could both hear Alfonso still talking to his mother. "Although they are so young, they might not understand what is going on anyway."
"Alfonso knows," stated Diego. "He's been blaming himself for this. He thinks that he and Digo caused Victoria to go into labor and his sister's. . . death." Another concept he was still having trouble dealing with, if his hesitance to even mention it was anything to go by.
"He's a smart lad," said the elder de la Vega with pride. "You're right, he'll remember this when he's older."
"Papa! Papa!" called the boy in question from the bedroom. "Come here!"
Diego and Don Alejandro gave each other panic stricken glances before dashing into the room. Alfonso was sitting on the mattress, holding his mother's hand. He was bouncing up and down excitedly.
"I think she's waking up," he declared. "Look."
The youngster was correct. Victoria's eyes were fluttering open, just as they had done the day before. Then they opened completely. Diego could tell she was not completely focusing on her surroundings, however.
"Mama, Mama, it's me, Alfonso," said the boy enthusiastically, gently shaking her arm. "Mama."
Victoria brought her free hand up to touch her forehead. "‘Fonso?" she whispered. "Wha. . .?" She closed her eyes again for a second, then reopened them, this time obviously taking in where she was.
Diego knelt down on the other side of bed. "Victoria, querida," he said earnestly. "You've been in bed with a fever for nearly a week. Ever since. . . ever since. . ." He couldn't finish his explanation when he saw the heartbroken look in his wife's eyes.
"Diego," she murmured tiredly. "I'm. . . I'm so. . ."
"Shh, querida, it's all right," he
said reassuringly. He placed his hand on her forehead. It was
cool to his touch. The fever had finally broken. She was going
to be all right.
Z Z Z
Author's medical note: Willow bark should not be given to children as it contains the same ingredients as aspirin. Aspirin given to a child with a fever can cause Reye's Syndrome, a disease that causes vomiting, fatty deposits on the liver, disorientation, and swelling of the kidneys and brain. It can be fatal. Of course at the time this story is set, they had no idea what aspirin or what Reye's Syndrome were (Aspirin came along in the late 19th century. Reye's Syndrome was discovered about 1978.). Little Jaime was lucky and didn't have a fever along with the pain of cutting a new tooth. :)
"THE DEATH OF INNOCENCE" CHAPTER ELEVEN