Señor Hector was taken aback by Don Alejandro's fierceness. It took him a minute to answer him. "The other men in the cells with me," he explained. "I do not know who they were."
He was totally unprepared for the swiftness and anger of the ranchers response to his reply.
"The cattle thieves!" several of them shouted while others yelled, "They have escaped!"
"Let's go after them!" Don Alejandro suggested loudly.
Others voiced their agreement as many of them went rushing for the tavern door. Don Alejandro waved them on. Then he turned to seek out his son.
Diego had been helping Victoria straighten up things, setting tables back upright and moving the smaller hunks of plaster. They had stopped when the others had started to leave.
"Come on, Diego," his father said. "Let's go."
Diego did not want to go chasing around after the thieves. He knew that the posse would not have much hope of finding them. Plus he wanted to go home and check what had occurred there
"Maybe one of us should go back to the hacienda," Diego suggested. "We don't know what has happened there. Someone may need. . ."
"All right, go ahead," Don Alejandro interrupted angrily. He shook head in disgust. "My only son," he muttered as he walked away.
Diego watched his father leave to join the rest of the posse. He did not realize Victoria was studying his tortured expression.
"Why do you let your father think you are a coward?" she asked him suddenly.
Diego came out of his reverie and turned sharply to look at her. "What do you mean?" he tried to question her casually.
"What I mean is that no coward would risk his life to save someone else's, like you just did for me," she said. "And you have done other things as well that prove you are braver than you let people think."
She looked at him speculatively. Diego attempted to act like he had not heard her.
"I really should go and check things at the hacienda," he said. "Will you be all right here?"
Victoria nodded, wondering why he changed the subject. "Yes, Diego," she added.
She went back to work, setting the tavern back to rights. He turned and left then, glancing over his shoulder at her. It had been a close call, he shuddered, in more ways than one.
Diego could see the cloud of dust the posse were making as they chased the rustlers as he rode home. He made the ride there as quickly as he could.
He rushed into the house when he finally arrived. Inspecting the hacienda for damages, he saw that they were very minor. A few broken pieces of crockery, books tumbled off the shelves and a few frazzled servants was all he found.
"Where is Felipe?" he quizzed them. None of them seemed to know.
Diego stood in the library for a moment. Then he snapped his fingers. "The cave," he muttered under his breath.
He waited until the servants had left before he went over to the fireplace. Double checking to make sure the coast was still clear, he touched the panel that opened the secret doorway.
It only swung open a little way then stopped. Diego pushed the spot again, causing it to close. Then he tried it again. It still came open just a crack. Curious, Diego peered into the hole. He saw that it was blocked with chunks of debris from the tunnel ceiling.
"Felipe," he called out, now quite worried.
He tried to push the panel but it would not budge. Diego stepped away from the fireplace, his mind working furiously. Then he rushed out of the hacienda through the front door.
A short while later, Diego had circled around the house to the hidden entrance to the secret cave. He stepped on the lever that revealed the entrance and went in. Climbing over several large rocks, he made his way through the tunnel to the main room. There he stopped and surveyed the damage. Rocks and dust had fallen from the ceiling, breaking quite a few of the glass beakers on his lab table and spilling others. Other than that, the quake had caused little trouble.
Toronado greeted Diego with a high whinny. Diego walked up to him and tried to calm the agitated stallion.
"You're all right, boy," he said, patting the horse's black neck after he had done a quick examination of the animal. "Where's Felipe, hmm?"
Expecting no answer, he wandered away to search the cave more thoroughly. He noticed several large rocks blocking the hacienda tunnel exit. Then he saw a booted foot lying just beyond it.
"Felipe!" he shouted as he rushed across the cave.
Diego had to step over rocks that were in his way. Felipe was lying face down and Diego knelt beside the still unconscious young man. Diego brushed off the dust and small stones that had accumulated on his back. He checked Felipe's neck for a pulse and was extremely relieved when he felt the strong beat beneath his fingers.
"Felipe," he repeated, gently shaking his son's shoulder. He did not want to move him until he could determine the extent of Felipe's injuries. Diego then noticed the deep gash on the side of Felipe's forehead. The bleeding had slowed down somewhat, but it still looked bad.
That would need to be stitched up, Diego thought. His dilemma now was how to get Felipe out of the cave safely and undetected. And also coming up with a plausible explanation for his injuries. For beside the cut, it was very obvious that he had a serious concussion. Diego pondered what to do until Felipe began to stir.
Felipe moaned loudly as he tried to roll over onto his back. He stopped part of the way over and brought his hands up to his head.
"Wait, Felipe, don't move," Diego cautioned. "You have a very severe head injury. Here, let me help you. Slowly. . ."
Felipe opened his eyes a little as Diego helped him move onto his side and then onto his back. Then Felipe clutched in panic onto Diego's arm when he opened his eyelids all the way.
"What's the matter, Felipe?" Diego inquired worriedly, noting the youth's frantic expression and terrified breathing. "Felipe, what's wrong? Calm down."
Felipe weakly waved his hand in front of his face several times. But Diego did not understand what he was trying to signify.
"Does your head hurt?" asked Diego.
Felipe gave a little nod, then winced at the intense pain the slight movement caused. He brought his hands to his head again, closing his eyes.
"I'm sorry," Diego apologized. "I do not think you are injured anywhere else. Just lie still while I clear out the tunnel."
He gave Felipe's hand a squeeze which the youth returned weakly. Diego got up to his feet and went to move the rocks that were blocking the fireplace panel. He had decided that would be the best way to get Felipe out of the cave, being the most direct and closest route.
After he had accomplished that task, Diego went back to where Felipe was lying with his eyes still shut. Diego grasped his hand again.
"Felipe," he said. "I am going to try and carry you. But I need you to stand for a moment. Do you think you can do that?"
The younger man's eyes flew open upon Diego's return. But Diego still did not understand the panic he saw in them.
"Squeeze my hand when you are ready," Diego said.
Felipe did squeeze his hand then. And then he did something that left Diego in a state of delighted shock.
"Dee. . .Dee-a-go," the young man uttered slowly.
Diego quickly knelt down beside his son again. His jaw had dropped in disbelief.
"Felipe, you said my name," he said still stunned. "Can you say it again?"
"D-Diego," Felipe pronounced it more clearly this time, although his voice was hoarse from the years of disuse. Then he spoke more. "Wh-What h-happened?"
Diego was beyond speech himself at that moment. Tears of joy welled up in his eyes. When he did not answer right away, Felipe grasped his hand again.
"Oh, I'm all right, Felipe," Diego finally said. "It's just. . . I'm just a little overwhelmed. You can speak again. It must have been the blow you received during the earthquake."
They both grinned at each other for a moment. The day they had both been hoping for had finally arrived. Then Felipe spoke again, this time though, shattering their happy dream.
"D-Dark," he said huskily, waving his hand in front of his face again. "It's d-dark."
"Yes, we are in the cave," Diego said, misunderstanding him. "Come on, let's get you out of here."
Felipe grabbed his arms as he attempted to lift him up. "N-No," he said. "D-Diego, I c-can. . .cannot see."
"What are you talking about?" Diego questioned. He watched again as Felipe passed his hand over his unblinking eyes. Then it hit him.
"Dios mio," Diego whispered.
"You are blind."
Z Z Z
After Felipe's startling revelation had sunk in, Diego worked quickly. He had gotten Felipe out of the cave and into his own bed. Diego had sent a servant to fetch Doctor Hernandez immediately, knowing the good doctor was probably very busy.
And indeed, it was a couple of hours before Doctor Hernandez arrived at the de la Vega hacienda. He was very weary but he was still extremely efficient at his work. The doctor was just finishing sewing up the cut on Felipe's head.
"How did this happen?" he asked of Diego as he cut the thread..
"He was outside," Diego explained, using the same story he had told the servants. "A piece of the stable roof fell during the quake and hit his head. Doctor," he added in a quieter voice. He led the man away from the bed so they would not be overheard by the servant in the room.
"He cannot see," Diego told him plainly.
"It must have occurred when the roof tile hit his head," the doctor came to the same conclusion that Diego had. "It might be only a temporary condition."
He went over and leaned toward the resting Felipe. He opened his eyes with his fingers, examining them.
"His pupils are dilating normally," he said. He placed a hand on Diego's shoulder. "I do not know what to tell you, Don Diego," he said. "The best thing for him right now is to rest. Perhaps when his concussion clears up, so will his eyesight. If not. . ."
He did not finish as he shrugged his shoulders. Diego got angry then.
"What are you saying, Doctor?" he inquired. "There must be something you can do."
"The human brain is a very fragile thing, Don Diego," the doctor explained tiredly. "The boy is already a deaf-mute because of a major trauma. I had thought when you first brought him to me all those years ago that he would have recovered his hearing and speech in time. But it obvious now that he never will."
Diego interrupted him. "And you think this blindness will turn out the same way?"
"That is very possible," Doctor Hernandez said. He had finished wrapping cotton gauze around Felipe's head, covering the stitches. Then he packed his instruments back into his bag.
He was about to take his leave, when Don Alejandro came striding into the room.
"What is going on here?" he demanded to know. "Has someone been hurt?"
Diego and Doctor Hernanadez quickly filled him in about all that had occurred to the young man now sleeping in his bed. Don Alejandro's reaction was about the same as Diego's had been.
"Oh dear God," he muttered. "What else can happened to that poor boy. First his home and parents, then his hearing and speech. And now this."
Diego put a reassuring hand on his father's shoulder. "Doctor Hernanadez thinks it might only be a temporary condition. We will just have to pray that will be the case," Diego said optimistically.
"You're right," Don Alejandro agreed. He looked over at the young man in the bed. "Let's hope you are right."
They left Felipe's bedroom so he could rest as the doctor ordered. Doctor Hernandez took his leave, having other patients to attend to. The de la Vegas watched him leave, then closed the hacienda door.
Diego turned to his father. "Did you recapture those rustlers?" he asked. He had forgotten about them until that moment.
Don Alejandro shook his head. "No, Diego," he said. "They got away again. We are going to go after them tomorrow morning, so be ready at dawn."
"No, Father," Diego replied firmly. "I think I should be here for Felipe. He will need me."
His father shook his head once more. "Very well," he acquiesced. He turned and left the foyer, leaving Diego there alone.
The next morning brought no change in Felipe's condition. It did bring visitors however. A very concerned Victoria and a very upset Ana Maria descended on the hacienda together. They had heard of Felipe's injuries and came as soon as they could.
It was hard to keep anything a secret in a small pueblo like Los Angeles. Well, almost anything, thought Diego with a smile. He could think of a secret or two they had missed.
"How is he? Can I see him?" Ana Maria asked nervously.
"He will be all right," Diego reassured her. "He has a concussion and a cut that needed stitching. But. . . Why don't you wait in the library and I will see if he is awake."
The ladies went to wait as Diego went to Felipe's room. He found the young man lying on his bed, his eyes open. But there tears streaming down his face.
"Felipe, give it time," Diego said, rushing to his side. "It will not happen overnight." He patted his arm. "I have something that will cheer you up. Ana Maria is waiting in the library to see you."
Diego was totally unprepared for Felipe's
reaction to that bit of news. "No," the youth croaked out angrily.
"T-Tell her. . .t-tell her to g-go away."
Z Z Z