It took several weeks before Victoria was back on her feet again, but once her fever had broken, her health had improved rapidly. Doctor Hernandez had stopped by every few days to check on her.
After his last visit, the doctor had taken Diego aside when he finished examining Victoria. "I'm amazed," he said. "I thought she wasn't going to pull through." He patted Diego on the back. "I've seen women die who weren't as sick as Doña Victoria was. She's a strong woman, Don Diego."
"I know," Diego replied.
"You also know there can be no more children," stated the doctor.
Diego nodded. "Si, I know."
"There's no physical reason really," said Hernandez. "But she probably wouldn't survive having another baby. Her age is against her, for one thing. The older the mother, the harder it is for them to recover."
The physician wasn't telling Diego anything he didn't already know. He thanked the doctor and sent him on his way
It was three days later when Victoria appeared in the library dressed in her nightgown and robe. The rest of the family had gathered there and all stopped what they had been doing when she stepped unsteadily into the room.
"Victoria, what are you doing out of bed?" exclaimed Diego, rushing over to her side. "You aren't supposed to up and about yet."
"I couldn't stand being in that room another minute," she explained. "I just had to get out."
She allowed Diego to help her to the chair he had just vacated. Alfonso and the twins came over to stand near her. Don Alejandro beamed at her from across the room. Ana Maria had set aside her needlework and stood up.
"Do you need anything?" asked Ana Maria. "Something to drink or. . ."
"No," Victoria answered, shaking her head. She looked over at Diego. "Why don't you give the boys a fencing lesson?"
"Are you sure?" asked Diego. He hadn't given Alfonso and Digo a lesson since. . . Since that day their world had been turned upside down.
"Oh, Papa, can we?" Alfonso pleaded.
"It's ‘may we,'" corrected Victoria. "It's up to you, Diego. But I would hate to see their new skills get rusty just because of me." She smiled at him then and he knew he couldn't refuse her request.
"Very well," he acquiesced. "Father, could you help me?"
"I'd love to," said Don Alejandro, setting aside his book and getting to his feet.
In less than fifteen minutes, the foyer had been cleared of its rugs and any breakable objects. Diego had brought out the boys's épées and soon the muchachos were reviewing their lessons in footwork and parrying positions.
After the lesson was over, Diego escorted Victoria back to the bedroom. She went without an argument, which told Diego she was more worn out from her little adventure that she would admit.
Once he had help her back into bed, she put her hand on his arm as he was pulling away after kissing her cheek. He looked down at her curiously.
"I want things to get back to normal as soon as possible," she stated. Victoria gazed up at him and Diego could see the tears forming in her lovely brown eyes. "I want to go the cemetery," she said .
She placed a finger on his lips as he started to protest. "Not today, Diego," she said. "But soon."
"Victoria, I. . . Are you sure?" queried Diego. He had not been to the cemetery yet either. He knew he would not be able to avoid it forever, but he had hoped to put if off for as long as he could.
"Si, Diego," she replied. She touched her hand to his cheek. "I'm not made of glass. I'm not going to break."
"Who said you were?" he asked, taken aback at the anger he heard in her voice.
"No one's had to say it," stated Victoria bitterly. "It's the way you're treating me." She moved her hand to his mouth as he started to speak.
"It's not just you," she said. "Though you're the worst one of all."
"Victoria, you almost died," declared Diego baldly. "What am I supposed to do? Let you go out and join the ranch hands?"
"No, of course not," she replied. "Now you're just being stupid." She shook her head. "I just want to get my strength back and have things get back to normal. That's all."
Diego didn't appreciate being called stupid, but dammit, she had almost died. He felt it was his responsibility to make sure she recovered fully and didn't hurt herself in the process. Her stubborn nature would have her trying to do too much before her body was ready for it. It fell on his shoulders to make sure she didn't.
"This wasn't your fault, Diego," Victoria said, breaking into his thoughts. "I know you're blaming yourself. But how were you supposed to know what was going to happen? I can't foresee the future and neither can you." She closed her eyes before continuing. " I wanted this baby as much as you did."
Diego couldn't respond. How could he tell his wife that she was the one who had wanted another child much more than he did? He couldn't tell her that fact, now or ever.
"I'll try to be more lenient," he finally said. "But you have to let us know when you've had enough and promise not to overdo it."
"I promise," agreed Victoria with a smile. She used her hand to pull his face down to hers and kissed him.
A jolt of desire ran the length of Diego's body. Dios, he thought. No more children meant no more lovemaking. How was he going to tell Victoria that part of their life was over? Granted, it would be another month or so before she was recovered enough from giving birth to even consider it. But what was he going to do then?
Diego sighed as their mouths came apart. Victoria was smiling contentedly as she laid back upon her pillows and shut her eyes.
"Rest now, querida," he said before
placing his lips on her forehead. He paused at the bedroom door and
gazed upon his now sleeping wife. Thinking about all the things he
couldn't tell her, he shook his head. He had almost lost her forever.
These soul-crushing secrets he had to bear were a small price to pay in
exchange for her life.
Z Z Z
Diego threw himself back into his vineyards more and more as Victoria's health improved. He was beginning to spend most of his time there as he had done when Victoria had been pregnant. It was months yet until the harvest, but still he found things to do to keep himself occupied. Trifling things that kept him away from the forbidden temptation that his wife was becoming more and more each day.
One day in late May, he was inside the now completed building that would house the winery when he heard a conveyance pulled up outside. Diego was shocked to see Victoria and his father sitting in the de la Vega carriage.
"We're on our way to the cemetery," declared Victoria. "Do you want to come with us?"
Even though it had been three months since their daughter's death, Diego still had not visited her grave. Victoria had mentioned going again several times, but each time he had put her off with one excuse or another. Now, it seemed, she had taken matters into her own hands.
"I'm sorry, querida," Diego replied as he stepped up next to the carriage. "I'm right in the middle of. . ."
"Fine," said Victoria before he could finish his explanation. "Well, I'm going anyway." She looked at him as if she expected him to challenge her.
"Very well," said Diego, not rising to the bait. "I'll see you later at supper."
"Oh, you're coming home for supper?" asked his wife with a touch of sarcasm in her voice. She glanced over at Don Alejandro who sat stonily next to her. "It must be a special occasion."
"Victoria," Diego said warningly. He had noticed lately that she was even more short-tempered than usual. Minor annoyances that before she would have ignored seemed to bother her greatly. Diego wondered if, although Victoria had healed physically, that her emotional scars were still festering. As were his, he acknowledged.
"Adios," she said, tossing her head as she signaled the driver. Old Miguel, one of the ranch hands, flicked the reins and the carriage began to move away.
"Wait," Diego called out. He ran to catch up. "I'll go," he said, slightly out of breath much to his chagrin. When had he gotten so out of shape?
"Bueno," said Don Alejandro with a smile. He got up and took the seat opposite Victoria so Diego could sit next to her. Diego had to climb over his wife though as she would not budge from her seat. Victoria did not look at him as he sat down beside her, but instead fiddled idly with the bouquet of roses she held.
The journey to the cemetery was filled with a silence that was thick with tension. Don Alejandro tried several times to bring his son and daughter-in-law into a conversation, but finally gave up as it was plain the couple wasn't interested in neither what he nor each other had to say.
Diego helped Victoria down from the carriage when they arrived at the small graveyard that was on the outskirts of the pueblo, about a quarter mile from the mission church. Don Alejandro was following behind them at a distance as they passed through the cemetery's gate.
Victoria first stopped at two headstones marking her parents' graves. Pulling two red roses from her bouquet, she placed a flower next to each marker. Then she bowed her head.
As she silently prayed, Diego remembered the trip to Devil's Fortress where her father had been imprisoned for nearly eight years. Zorro had helped Victoria and her brother Ramon, bring Alfonso Escalante's body back to Los Angeles so he could be buried along side his beloved wife.
Glancing over his shoulder, Diego saw his father walking several meters beyond where they stood. The elder de la Vega paused now and then to look down upon the final resting places of several of his old friends. Don Sebastian, Don Carlos, Don Eduardo. . . The list went on and on. Diego realized sadly that there weren't many caballeros left of his father's generation.
Victoria had moved on to another pair of headstones before Diego noticed she had done so. He watched as this time she removed two white roses and placed them on the graves of her grandparents.
Diego could barely recall Señor and Señora Contreras, who had been Victoria's mother's parents. They had been part of the original group of settlers who had come to Los Angeles over fifty years earlier in order to found the new pueblo.
The Contrerases had established the tavern their granddaughter now owned. Their daughter had had three older brothers, but they, like Victoria's brothers, had not been interested in running the business. So Elena Escalante had inherited the tavern, just as Victoria had.
Diego wondered if any of their sons would take an interest in the tavern. He knew that one of the reasons that Victoria hung onto it was the hope that someday one of their children would take it over. But if family history told them anything, it was that the men in her family would not be interested in it.
And now there would be no daughter to continue the line, thought Diego woefully. He glanced up to discover that Victoria had moved on again, this time walking toward the de la Vega plot.
Diego hurried over to his wife. Don Alejandro already was standing there as Victoria came up beside the old don and took his hand.
So much of his father's past was buried in the graves before them. Sebastian and Isabella de la Vega, his parents; his beloved wife, Felicidad, his unnamed daughter, and his unknown son, Gilberto. Another old friend, Sir Edmund Kendall, who had met his untimely death in Los Angeles, had been laid to rest in the family plot as well. And now Don Alejandro's tiny granddaughter had joined them.
Diego watched as Victoria gave his father several of her remaining roses. She then walked forward to where a small marker stood near the headstone of Felicidad de la Vega.
The gravestone was simple. A small carving of a lamb sat atop the marble monument. On it was carved the name ‘Mercedes Maria de la Vega', and the date of her birth and death, 29 February 1832. The date surprised Diego. He had not realized until that moment that his daughter had been born on Leap Day. She would have only been able to celebrate her birthday on its actual day every four years, he mused wistfully.
"Ana Maria picked out a nice headstone," commented Victoria, breaking into Diego's thoughts.
Another thing he hadn't known. He had no idea that the funeral arrangements for their daughter had fallen upon Ana Maria's shoulders on top of everything she had been doing. No wonder Felipe had been upset with him. He had been so wrapped up in his own misery that no one else had mattered.
And all of this must have stirred up bad memories for his son and daughter-in-law, who had lost their first child to a miscarriage. Only then there had been nothing to bury, no way to commemorate their child's short life. Diego reminded himself he needed to thank Ana Maria and Felipe again for everything they had done.
His musings were interrupted once again by Victoria, who was holding out a rose for him to take. A lump formed in Diego's throat as he took the perfect pink rosebud from his wife who kept an identical one for herself.
He knelt down as did Victoria and they both placed their rosebuds in front of their daughter's headstone.
"I wish you would have lived, niña," murmured Victoria, placing her hand on the little lamb. "I wish you could have grown up with your brothers. They would have loved and protected you just as your father and I would have." She wiped a tear from her cheek before making the sign of the cross and bowing her head.
Diego waited patiently until she raised up her head. Victoria reached out to grasp his hand. He helped her to her feet.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" asked Victoria as she brushed off her skirt. She turned to glare at him. "Don't you even care?"
"I care," Diego declared hoarsely. "It's just that. . . It's just. . ." He turned his head to return her stare. "I almost lost you, Victoria."
"But you didn't," she replied angrily. "I'm still alive, in case you haven't noticed. And our baby isn't. She's there." Victoria pointed down forcefully at their daughter's grave.
"Diego, Victoria," cautioned Don Alejandro. "This is neither the time nor the place."
"You're right, Father," agreed Diego contritely. "I'm sorry."
"Me, too," Victoria added quietly, the bitterness gone from her voice. She glanced at both men. "I'm ready to go now."
"Very well," said Diego politely. He offered her his arm, which she took, and they headed out of the cemetery.
Don Alejandro shook his head as he watched them walk away. Then he turned his attention to the headstone in front of him. Bending down, he placed the roses that Victoria had given him on his wife's grave.
"I don't know, Felicidad," he whispered. "Would this have happened to us if you had lived? All this anger and resentment?" He closed his eyes. He liked to think not. The loss of a child should be something that should bring a husband and wife closer together; it would be a shared grief, a mutual loss. It shouldn't be something that would drive them apart.
But he also had the feeling that Diego and Victoria were not mourning the same thing. That his daughter-in-law was grieving for the loss of her child was obvious. It was much harder to tell why his son was so tormented but the death of the little niña seemed to be only small part of his pain.
Sighing resignedly, he made his way to the
carriage where Diego and Victoria sat silently beside each other.
Don Alejandro saw a small glimmer of hope, however, as he noted they were
holding hands even though they couldn't look each other in the eye.
Z Z Z
"THE DEATH OF INNOCENCE" - CHAPTER TWELVE