"THE DEATH OF INNOCENCE"

CHAPTER THREE

     Felipe and Diego walked slowly back to the hacienda after their inspection of the vineyards and the winery.  The latter was in the final stages of construction and was due to be completed before the harvest in the fall.

     The younger man was impressed by the care and attention to detail that Diego lavished on the operation.  Felipe grinned as he realized it was all probably caused by his adopted father's frustrations.  He chased the thought from his mind as he noticed that Diego was still speaking about the wine making process.

     ". . .and that's why it's vital the grapes are picked at precisely the right moment," stated Diego.  He glanced over at his son, who smiled and nodded.  He failed to notice the glazed look in Felipe's eyes as he continued.  "The sugar content is so important.  It can make or break the quality of the wine."

     Felipe chuckled, causing Diego to stop and stare at him.  "What's so amusing?" the older man asked somewhat defensively.

     "This sudden interest in viticulture," commented his son.  "You don't even drink wine."

    "It's not all that sudden, Felipe," Diego pointed out.  "Remember that trip to France I took ten years ago to learn about wine making?  It has just taken this long for the dream to become a reality."  He turned and swept his hand across the rows of vines.  "All this, Felipe, means employment for the people of Los Angeles.  We're going to need men to pick the grapes, then process them into wine.

     "Of course, we can't employ all of them year long but hopefully by paying them decent wages for their work, they'll be able to support their families," declared Diego.  "Victoria has already promised to buy what she needs for the tavern.  And the Americanos who own the new general store, they have agreed to purchase ten cases."

     "Señores Temple and Rice have done quite well for themselves in the four years since they first arrived in Los Angeles and set up their shop," replied Felipe, seizing at the opportunity to change the subject to something other than wine.

      "And some people have resented that, haven't they?" asked Diego.

     "Si," Felipe answered tersely.  He had represented the two Americans for more than their share of lawsuits.  Claims of damaged goods, rotten food, and other allegations of poor merchandise had plagued the storekeepers since they opened their business.   Most of Los Angeles's citizens had welcomed the choices the new shop offered.  But there were a few who begrudged the changes that were occurring in the fast-growing pueblo.

     "There will always be some who will to cling to the old ways," commented Diego.  "Father was saying just the other day that about one third of the pueblo's population is now Americans.  And more are arriving every month, it seems."

     "That's true," agreed his adopted son.  "Did Abuelo tell you the latest news?"  He hoped that elderly caballero had because he didn't like to be the bearer of bad news.  His profession as a lawyer had him conveying it more often than he cared to do so.

    "No."

    "An Americano is opening another inn in Los Angeles," Felipe informed the other man.  "Almost directly across the plaza from Victoria's tavern.  He's going to start construction next month."

     Diego shut his eyes as he absorbed this information.  A new hostelry in town would surely take away business from his wife's establishment.  But there was more than enough commerce for the two inns to share.

      It concerned Diego that she worried about the tavern as much as she did.  She didn't need its income anymore and she left its day-to-day operation now to Mendoza.  The soldier had retired his commission two years earlier and Victoria had  immediately hired him as her manager.  But Diego still knew her reaction to this news wasn't going to be pleasant.

     The men had reached the hacienda , entering the courtyard via a side entrance. Victoria and Ana Maria were sitting close together on a bench with the younger woman whispering in the older woman's ear.  They sprang apart guiltily at their husbands' approach.

     "I'll just have Maria fetch those skirts for you," stated Victoria, trying to sound as normal as possible.  "I can't believe I need them let out again so soon."

     Diego knew that his wife's skirts had not been the topic the two women had been discussing so intimately.  The pretty pink blush on Victoria's cheeks gave away the fact that something quite different had been the subject of the cozy talk.  He was sure he didn't want to know what it had been but knew he would unwillingly find out anyway.

     "Oh, it's no problem," announced Ana Maria, breaking into his thoughts.  She wore a slightly amused grin on her lips.  "I had to let mine out three times when I was carrying Jaime."

     Felipe's expression matched that of his wife's, as he had a very good idea of the women's topic of discussion.  He bent down to pick up his son, who was sitting on the tiled floor watching his twin cousins attempting to spin a wooden top.  Jaime tried to squirm away as his father planted a kiss on his forehead.

    "Are Alfonso and Digo still out?" inquired Diego after he had glanced around and didn't see the older two boys.

    Victoria and Ana Maria looked at each other and both shrugged.  "I guess so," Victoria answered.  "They should be back soon.  It's almost time for supper."

    "They'll come back when they get hungry enough," assured Felipe.  "I know I always did."

     Any concern for the boys was shunted aside as Don Alejandro ambled into the courtyard.  "Hola," he greeted them boisterously.  It did his old heart a world of good to see all of his family gathered together.  It hadn't been that long ago he had given up on having any grandchildren besides Felipe.  Now he had a whole hacienda full.  The old don kept praying fervently though that this coming child of Diego and Victoria's was a girl.   He loved his grandsons but. . .  A niña pequeña like the one he and Felicidad had lost, would make up for so much.

     "Everyone is staying for supper?" he asked in way that made it sound more like a command.  The old caballero grinned broadly as he was reassured that Felipe, Ana Maria, and their children were doing just that.

     Diego winced as the news that Felipe had related to him earlier now tumbled from his father's lips.  "Mendoza was telling me all about it," Don Alejandro was saying.  "Right across the plaza, can you believe it?"

     "Believe what, Father?" queried Victoria.

     "An Americano is going to build a new hotel in that empty space between the bank and the old general store," declared the elderly don.

     "Another inn?" his daughter-in-law echoed.  She tried to keep the anger and fear out of her voice but failed miserably.  She shot an unnerving glance at her husband that plainly read, why didn't you tell me?'.

     "Si," confirmed Don Alejandro.  "Señor Williams plans to start building next month."

     Nobody said anything for a few minutes as they all digested this bit of information.  Ana Maria sent a sympathetic glance Victoria's way.  Fortunately the tension was broken by the arrival of Alfonso and Digo.

     "Where have you boys been?" scolded Victoria, taking out some of her anger on the unsuspecting lads.  "It's almost time for supper."

     "Sorry, Mama," said Alfonso contritely.  "We didn't mean to be late."  His cousin nodded in agreement.

    "Well, no harm done," Don Alejandro said, trying to diffuse the situation.  "Muchachos, go wash up."

     The boys started to march into the hacienda but Diego spied mud on their boots.  He halted their progress by stepping in front of them.  "Alfonso," he said sternly, "did you go down by the river?"

      His son threw a quick glance at his cousin and Diego could see the guilt on both their young faces.

     "We didn't mean too, Tio Diego," piped up his namesake.   "We just wanted to see the quick. . ."

     The younger Diego's explanation was interrupted by a sharp elbow to his ribs by Alfonso.  "We just wanted to see it real quick," he fibbed, trying to cover up his cousin's bluntness.  "We're sorry, Papa."

     "Alfonso," said his father, shaking his head.  "You need to understand the danger.  The river has been near flooding all winter.  It's not a safe place to play."

     "We won't go there again, I promise," vowed the youngster.  He tried to look as angelic as possible, causing the elder Diego to suppress a chuckle.

     "And to make sure you keep that promise," Diego said, becoming serious again,  "you won't be able to ride your pony for a week."

     "Papa! No, please!"  Alfonso was heartbroken by this prospect.   He barely noticed as his cousin also received the same punishment from his parents.

     "I'm sorry, Alfonso," said Diego.  "I told you to stay away from the river and you disobeyed me.  You have to be punished."

     "We're really sorry," stated the younger Diego.  "We won't do it again.  Not even to go visit. . ."

     Once again the boy's speech was disrupted by Alfonso who kicked him in the shin.  The older boy shot the younger one a silencing glance.

     Fortunately the elder Diego had stopped listening and had moved out of the boys' way.   "Go wash your hands.  If you're late for supper, you'll be in even more trouble.  But not from me, from Maria."

    He smiled as he said this, a grin cause by the scared looks on the lads' faces.  They hustled off to go do as they were bid.

     Diego's mirth disappeared, however, as he turned and saw his wife.  The expression on her face foretold he was going to be in trouble himself later that evening once their guests were gone and the children tucked in for the night.
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     Ana Maria sat at her vanity table, brushing her long black curls.  She had changed into her nightgown while Felipe tucked their boys into their beds.  Felipe stood in the bedroom doorway after completing his task.  He smiled appreciatively at the sight of his beautiful wife.

     He came up behind her and began to massage her shoulders and neck.  Ana spent a few hours a couple days a week helping out her mother, Leonora Ortega Mendoza, the pueblo's seamstress.  That morning had been one of those days and the time spent hunched over sewing the fine seams made her muscles sore.  Felipe did what he could to help make her feel better.  Plus he just enjoyed touching her whenever he could.

    "Hmm, that feels good," Ana Maria purred as he gently kneaded her shoulders.  She set down the hairbrush and leaned her head back to look up at her husband.  "Did I tell you about Ricardo and Roberto?"

    Felipe shook his head.

     "Ricardo got a ribbon for being the best speller in his class," declared his wife, her voice full of pride of her adopted brother.  "And of course Roberto couldn't be outdone, so he earned a ribbon too."

     "I imagine Mendoza was very excited," Felipe said with a smile.  "He dotes on those boys."

     Ana Maria laughed.  "Like you don't spoil yours," she said teasingly.  Felipe had moved his hands from her shoulders to her arms and in a motion that was no accident, his fingers grazed along the sides of her breasts.  She shut her eyes and moaned at the unexpected caress.  "I've been thinking, we should have another baby."

     Felipe eyed her curiously.  "What brought this on?" he asked.

     "Oh, seeing Victoria pregnant," explained Ana, "and little Jaime is getting so big.  He's nearly two already.  And. . ." she added somewhat despondently, "he starting to wean himself."

     Felipe knelt down beside her chair and leaned close to her ear.  "What were you and Victoria whispering about when Diego and I came back from the vineyards?"

     Ana Maria turned so she could speak directly into his ear.  Felipe chuckled at first, then his eyes grew big.

     "You mean. . .   They've never. . .?" he managed to choke out as he stood upright.  Felipe glanced down at his wife.  "I mean. . .  We do that all the time."

     "I know."

     "Do you think she'll try it?"

     "I don't know," replied his wife with a shrug.  "She was upset with him about the boys."  She gazed up at him with a look in her dark brown eyes he knew very well.

    "Are you sure you want another baby so soon?" asked Felipe, trying not to think of the surprise his adopted father might receive that night.  He himself would love another child.  But he did worry about having too many babies too soon.  Diego had told him long ago that childbirth took a heavy toll on women.

     Felipe wanted to make sure his Ana was around for a very long time.  "I mean, you are still nursing," he pointed out.  "You probably can't even get pregnant yet."

     Ana Maria rose from the vanity bench to press herself up against her husband.  "I know," she said with a wicked grin.  "I thought maybe we could just practice a little."  She lifted her head and kissed him on the mouth.

     "How did I get so lucky?" he asked once he could breath again.  Not waiting for a response, he began to kiss her neck.

     "I don't know," whispered Ana.  "Maybe the same way I did.  I love you, querido."

      Somehow, Ana Maria's nightdress slid down into a puddle of white onto the floor before Felipe carried her over to their bed.  "I love you too, querida," he murmured before kissing her once again.
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'THE DEATH OF INNOCENCE" CHAPTER FOUR