When the two lads reached the river, they saw that it had nearly overrun its banks. The roar of the water was almost deafening.
"Madre de Dios," muttered Digo under his breath as he stared at the swollen stream.
"Señor Maldonado?" Alfonso called out as they cautiously approached the man's shabby hovel. "Maybe he has moved to higher ground," he suggested when they received no answer.
"Maybe," agreed his cousin. The boys stared at the muddy water for several minutes as they both thought about what they should do. They were worried about their friend, but also didn't want to risk getting in trouble with their parents again.
"Let's go," said Alfonso suddenly. "He must have moved. . ." He cut off his words when he saw the old man emerge from behind the hut.
"Alfonso, Digo," Maldonado shouted in a surprised voice. "What are you doing here?"
"We came to visit you, sir," replied Alfonso. "It stopped raining so we wanted. . ."
Once again the muchacho interrupted himself as he felt a raindrop on his nose. Alfonso turned to look at Digo in dismay. Now they would have to leave before they could spend anytime with Señor Maldonado.
The old man kept a grin from creeping across his wrinkled face as he realized the boys's dilemma. "It's only a little sprinkle," he reassured them. Then he pointed up at the sky. "Look," he instructed, "there are patches of blue sky just right over there. It will stop soon."
The cousins glanced up and then at each other. Happy smiles erupted on their young faces. "Alright," said Alfonso. "But we cannot stay long."
Maldonado walked to the blanket that served
as a door to his hut and pushed it aside. Alejandro and Digo nearly
skipped inside as the rain started to fall a little harder. The old
man chuckled to himself as he disappeared into the gloomy darkness inside
Z Z Z
Back at the hacienda, the adults spent a pleasant afternoon catching up on the latest news and gossip. They played with Alejandro, Francisco, and Jaime when the boys had awoke from their naps. Diego and Felipe engaged in a game of chess which the younger man eventually won.
None of them realized how late it had become until a flash of lightening brightened the library's interior.
The "Dios mio" interjected by Don Alejandro as he jumped to his feet was nearly drowned out by the loud clap of thunder that followed soon after the lightening strike.
Victoria immediately roused herself from the drowsy state she had allowed herself to drift into as the others had conversed around her. "Alfonso and Digo," she cried out worriedly. "They haven't returned yet, have they?" She struggled to rise from the settee with much difficulty.
Diego rushed to her side to assist her to her feet. "I'll check the kitchen," he offered in what he hoped was a reassuring tone. "Those two rascals are probably spoiling their supper with treats they have charmed out of Maria."
As Diego strode to the other end of the hacienda, he was fuming inside. How dare Alfonso disobey him by not returning in a hour? Granted, he himself had lost track of time, but at least three hours had passed. The boys should have known to return as soon as the rain worsened and as the sky darkened. Diego was thinking that perhaps two weeks without his pony would teach his son to heed his instructions more carefully.
"Maria," he called out as he entered the kitchen. A quick glance around the room told his that his disobedient son and grandson were not present.
The housekeeper stood near the cooking fire and looked up as Diego stopped in the archway. "Dinner will be ready in half an hour, Patrón," she remarked before returning to her work.
"Bueno, Maria," replied Diego. "You haven't seen Alfonso and Digo recently, have you?"
"No Patrón," the housekeeper answered. "Not since earlier this afternoon."
"Gracias," said Diego through tight lips. He spun on his heel and made his way back to the library. On the way there, he thought that maybe a month of no pony and no fencing lessons might make a better impression on his miscreant offspring.
Diego stopped in his tracks. When had this stern disciplinarian taken over his mind? His father had never been this harsh with him. But then, he had almost never disobeyed his parents. The few times he did, he had make sure they never found out about it. He had been quite adept at keeping secrets from a young age.
Another rumble of thunder shook the hacienda and the rain was pelting down noisily on the tiled roof. A horrible thought sliced through Diego's thoughts. What if the boys were in danger? The storm was a strong one and he imagined the lads were scared. Perhaps they had sought shelter until the rain and thunder passed.
Diego quickly walked to the library where the others were still gathered. Pasting a false smile on his face, he entered the room.
"Maria says dinner will be ready in half an hour," he announced.
"Were the boys. . ." Victoria started to ask before she was cut off by more thunder.
"Don't worry, querida." Diego placed a reassuring hand on his wife's shoulder. "Everything is fine."
Victoria looked at him with an expression on her face that told him she didn't quite believe him. "I think I will just go see to the guest rooms," she stated. She turned to face Ana Maria and Felipe. "I think you should plan on staying the night."
"Gracias, Victoria," said Ana Maria. "I would hate to have had to go home in such terrible weather. Let me help you."
The other woman nodded and the two women left the library. Diego turned to his father and son, the fake cheerfulness he had worn for the women gone from his countenance.
"The boys are still out there," he declared.
"But I thought you said. . ." began Don Alejandro before realizing that his son had lied in front of the women.
"It's been at least three hours," remarked Felipe anxiously. "They could be anywhere."
Diego nodded. "I think we should split up our search."
"I think you're right, Diego," said his father. "Let's go."
"Father, I don't think you. . ." Diego started to say as he did not think the elder de la Vega should be out in the bad weather.
"I'm going," interrupted the old don. "Those boys are as much my responsibility as they are yours."
Diego sighed, realizing that he was not going to change his father's mind. "Very well," he relented. "You can check all the servants' cottages and the bunkhouse."
Don Alejandro started to protest but quickly closed his mouth. The look on his son's face told him that would be no more argument on the matter.
The elder de la Vega men started out of the room to get their jackets when Felipe grabbed Diego's arm. "What are we going to tell our wives?" he inquired. "We just can't leave without telling them the truth, Diego."
Diego glared at his oldest son for a second, then his shoulders sagged in defeat. "I know, Felipe," he acquiesced. "But how can I tell Victoria? She's nearly eight months pregnant. I don't want her to worry anymore than she already does."
"She'll worry more when her son doesn't show up for his supper and her husband disappears," remarked Don Alejandro. "Not to mention how furious she'll be at you for ‘protecting' her."
Diego knew his father was right. But again, there was no time for discussion. "We need to find the boys. Now." He didn't have to add ‘before it was too late' as that phrase was already going through the minds of the other two men. Diego strode out of the room as another bolt of lightening lit up the hacienda.
Felipe and his grandfather glanced at each
other for a second before following after Diego.
Z Z Z
About an hour later, it felt to Diego that he was soaked to his bones. The rain was relentless and to make conditions worse, the wind was gusting hard. Both he and Toronado were shivering from its effects. He had had to relight his lantern so many times, he had lost count.
Diego had searched the vineyards, especially the winery that was currently under construction. He looked beneath every board and brick, or so it seemed. There had been no sign of his son and grandson ever have been near the place.
He sighed before remounting the big black stallion. There was only one place left to search and it was the one place that Diego feared he would find the two lost boys. Although in what condition, he didn't want to contemplate. Nudging Toronado softly with his heels, he swung the horse away from the half-completed building and toward what he knew must be the close-to-flooding banks of the Porciuncula River.
The wind was howling by the time he approached the once gentle stream. Diego's heart nearly skipped a beat as he gazed upon the roaring, rushing water. Madre de Dios, he prayed silently, don't let Alfonso and Digo be caught up in that muddy torrent of water.
Diego urged Toronado forward and they patrolled the north side of the river. He strained his ears, hopeful to hear cries of help over the roar of the stream.
Suddenly, Toronado began whinnying wildly and reared backward. Just as Diego lifted his lantern to see what was causing the animal to spook, the flame was blown out by a strong gust.
"Dammit," he muttered under his breath as he dismounted. Fumbling through his jacket pocket, he found the matches he had barely managed to keep dry. His efforts to light the lantern again were hampered by Toronado's nervous twitches and his icy cold fingers but finally a small flame began to flicker.
Diego lifted the light high but saw nothing on the path in front of him that would cause the Andalusian to panic. An idea came to him then. Opening one of his saddlebags, he took out a rock he kept there for just this purpose and tossed it about three meters ahead in the middle of the trail. It slowly sank, confirming Diego's suspicion that it was quicksand.
"Good boy," he said as he patted Toronado's
neck. Taking the reins, he led the horse off the path, intending
to go around the deadly hazard.
Z Z Z
About at the same time that Diego had left the winery, Don Alejandro blustered through the front doors of the hacienda, dripping wet and desolate. It took him and one of the male servants to push the doors closed as the wind was blowing so hard against it.
"Father, where have you been?" asked Victoria, coming into the foyer after hearing the disturbance the old don's entrance had caused. "Maria's been holding supper for almost an hour. Where are Alfonso and Digo? I've been worried sick. I thought Diego said that. . ."
Her father-in-law shook his head as he removed his soaked outer garments. "Alfonso and Digo haven't returned yet?"
"No," said Victoria, placing a hand on the bulge of her stomach. "What is going on?"
Don Alejandro decided it was time his daughter-in-law knew the truth. "The boys never came back this afternoon. We've been out looking for them. I've ruled out the barns, bunkhouse, and the cottages."
Victoria collapsed into one of the dining room chairs. "What do you mean they never came back?" she asked in a horrified whisper. "Diego said everything was fine," she added weakly. "Are you saying he lied to me?"
The old don hung his head. He knew this was going to happen. He wouldn't want to be in his son's shoes whenever he came home. "He didn't want you to worry," Don Alejandro said.
Ana Maria came into the room. "I got Jaime settled in for the night," she declared brightly. Her face became sober though as she saw those of Victoria and Don Alejandro. "What happened?" she asked.
He had no choice but to tell his granddaughter-in-law that her eldest son was missing and that her husband was out looking for him. "I'm sure the muchachos found shelter somewhere," he finished, hoping to reassure the distressed women.
"Why didn't they tell us?" queried Ana Maria a bit hysterically. "Why did they. . ." Whatever she had been about to say was lost as Victoria unsuccessfully tried to stifle a groan..
"Are you alright, Victoria?" inquired the old don.
"Si," she replied, rising to her feet albeit with some effort. "I'll tell Maria to hold Diego's and Felipe's suppers for them until they get back. Father, you need to change out of those wet things and get warm. You don't want to catch another cold, do you?"
"Victoria, are you sure you're. . ."Ana Maria began, her voice full of concern. She knew the other woman well enough to know that when Victoria became bossy, she was covering up how she really felt.
"Por favor," snapped the older
woman. "I'm fine. Just worried, that's all." She
started walking toward the kitchen, leaving Ana Maria and Don Alejandro
looking at each other. The old don shrugged then went to go change
his damp clothes, as his daughter-in-law had commanded.
Z Z Z
Diego debated for several minutes whether to continue searching or to go home. The rain storm was abating slightly but it was still a pitch black night. The oil for his lantern was almost gone, it certainly would not hold out until dawn.
But, he reasoned, if he went back to the hacienda empty-handed, he would not be able to rest. Then there was the specter of Victoria's fury looming over his head. It was not going to be pleasant explaining his actions to her.
Diego figured he could escape the full brunt of his wife's anger if he brought the boys home safely. But of course, that wasn't only reason why he wanted to find his son and grandson.
Eyeing the lantern oil again, he reckoned he had enough to make it back to the hacienda, if he was where he thought he was. It was so dark he couldn't be entirely sure of his location though. He wondered if Felipe or his father had already found the boys and they were warm and dry and that everyone was now concerned about his whereabouts.
Toronado stumbled a little as they rode up a rocky hill. Diego lifted the dimming light higher so they could see the stones that littered the ground before them. Then he was almost thrown from the saddle as the Andalusian came to an abrupt halt. Peering in the darkness, Diego saw that they were at the edge of a small cliff. He started to lean down to pat the stallion's neck once again when he noticed something flickering down below him. The sound of rushing water told Diego that he was very near the river. What on earth could it be? he thought. He dismounted and crept as close to the edge of the embankment as he dared.
Diego could just make out the outline of a small building. This was de la Vega land and he couldn't remember such a structure in this area before. If he was where he thought he was, of course.
An odd noise made him realize that the wind had died down somewhat. Cold fear gripped his heart as he realized the sounds were coming from the shack.
It sounded like the shrieking of two young
Z Z Z
"THE DEATH OF INNOCENCE" CHAPTER SIX