"Felipe, why?" Diego could not understand his son's reluctance. "She is worried about you. I thought you cared for her."
Felipe rolled away from Diego, facing the wall. His eyes were shut now as he wiped away the tears.
"I d-do," he whispered huskily. "Th-That is why."
"Felipe." Diego tried for several minutes to persuade his son to change his mind but to no avail. Felipe remained adamant in his refusal to let Ana Maria see him.
Diego gave up, but not without a parting shot as he left to rejoin the women.
"I think you are right not to let Ana Maria see you," he said, "as long as you are feeling sorry for yourself."
Diego turned to go then but came to a halt as the floor beneath his feet shook slightly for several seconds. Felipe groaned as he tried to sit up but the severe pain in his head caused him to lie back down again quickly.
"D-Diego," he said in a weak, frightened voice.
"I'm here." Diego went back over to the bed and grasped Felipe's hand, letting him know of his presence. "Everything is all right. Just a little aftershock."
Felipe sighed with relief. Diego squeezed his hand then let it go.
"Rest now," Diego said. "I am going to check on your visitors."
Felipe closed his eyes as Diego left the room. When Diego reached the library, Victoria and Ana Maria were kneeling on the floor, picking up the pieces of a broken vase.
"There is no need for you to do that," Diego said as he entered the room. "One of the servants can. . ."
"It's all right, Diego," said Victoria, getting to her feet. "We have it all picked up".
She held the shards of the blue and white vase in her hand. He held out his own hand to take them from her. Then he glance sympathetically at Ana Maria who had also risen to her feet. For the time being he had decided not to tell her the truth. Hopefully Felipe would change his mind soon.
"Felipe is sleeping," he told the anxious young woman. "The doctor said he really needs his rest."
"I understand, Don Diego," Ana Maria said, biting her lip nervously.
"I know you wanted to see him," said Diego. "Perhaps tomorrow."
Victoria put her hand on Ana Maria's arm. "Why don't you wait for me in the wagon. I wish to have a private word with Don Diego."
Ana Maria nodded her agreement and went outside, leaving the older couple alone.
"Is it true what I have heard? That Felipe is blind?" Victoria asked concernedly. "I did not want to say anything in front of Ana Maria. She is upset enough as it is."
Diego nodded. "Yes, he is unable to see at the moment," he replied. "But we are praying it will be only temporary. Doctor Hernandez seems to think so but. . ."
"I will pray also," Victoria said solemnly. She placed her small hand on Diego's arm. "Please let me know it there is anything else I can do."
Diego could think of several things she could do for him. But he merely nodded again, saying, "Gracias, I will, Victoria."
He escorted her to the door as she took her leave.
"Tell Ana Maria not to worry," Diego told her, looking at the forlorn señorita waiting in the wagon.
Victoria glanced at her also. "I think that will be hard for her not to," she replied with a smile. "He is her hero, after all."
She walked through the hacienda gate and
then climbed up into the wagon seat beside Ana Maria. Diego watched
from the steps as they drove away heading for the pueblo. He sighed,
then went back inside.
Z Z Z
Two days had passed since the destructive earthquake had hit. The Los Angelenos had done their best to clean up the damage caused by the tremor, despite the area being rocked by several aftershocks. These however, remained minor and the people, becoming used to them, largely ignored them.
Diego was very reluctant to leave Felipe's side. The young man's depressed state of mind and continued refusal to let Ana Maria visit him concerned him greatly. The young lady called at the hacienda everyday and was getting more worried and more suspicious with each rebuff.
That particular afternoon, Diego was at the newspaper office. The 'Guardian' was going to be a special four page edition that week, filled with reports of the earthquake. Also to be featured was the capture and subsequent escape of the cattle rustlers..
Diego and the typesetter were working on the format of the paper when Ana Maria burst into the office. Desperately she sought out Diego.
"Don Diego, why didn't you tell me?" she demanded. "Felipe is blind, isn't he?"
Diego led her out of the printing room and into a small alcove where his desk was located. He picked up a white cloth to wipe the ink off his hands. He made her sit down in his chair as he related the events that led to Felipe's blindness, omitting any mention of the cave and Felipe's restored speech. He also did not say anything again about the young man's refusal of her visits.
"That is why he does not want me to see him, isn't it," Ana Maria guessed the truth anyway. Tears began to well up in her lovely brown eyes. "He did not want me to know."
"I have been trying to persuade him to change his mind about this," Diego said. "But so far. . ."
He shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of futility. Ana Maria stood up, wiping the tears from her eyes.
"Well, I am not going to give up," she stated determinedly. "Adios, Don Diego."
"Adios," he replied as she left the office. He started to head back to the printing room when he was interrupted once more, this time by Don Alejandro.
"Have you heard the news?" he questioned his son as he strode in the room.
Diego shook his head, not having a clue as to what his father was alluding.
"The cattle rustlers had struck again," Don Alejandro stated, shaking his head. "The sheer audacity. . ."
"I would have thought they would be long gone by now," mused Diego. "Are you positive it is the same men as before?"
"Yes, Diego," replied his father impatiently. "They took fifty head from the Valverdes estate without leaving behind a trace. We are getting up another posse to hunt them down."
He looked askance at his son. "I do not suppose you will be joining us," he said somewhat sarcastically.
Diego had to sigh, knowing he was about to disappoint his father yet again.
"I really need to get this edition of the paper out," he stated. "Then I want to check on Felipe."
"Very well," said Don Alejandro a bit contritely. "You are right, one of us should keep an eye on him. Adios."
He turned then to leave the 'Guardian' office.
Diego watched as his father strode forcefully into the plaza to join his
friends. He spun on his heels and flung the ink-covered cloth across the
room in frustration. Diego stood there for a moment trying to calm
himself down. Then he returned to the printing room where the typesetter
was waiting for him.
Z Z Z
Later that evening, a tired and dusty Don Alejandro returned to the hacienda. His already bad mood was made even fouler when Diego did not join him for dinner. A dinner which was somewhat cold and unappetizing due to having to wait for his arrival. Don Alejandro ate quickly and then went to find his son.
He did not have to search long, for he discovered Diego in Felipe's room. Wearing a worried expression, Diego was sitting in a chair next to the bed where Felipe appeared to be asleep.
"How is he?" Don Alejandro asked quietly upon entering the room.
Diego glanced up at his father for a moment then back at the youth lying under the thin blanket.
"There had been no change," he replied. He turned in his chair to look up at Don Alejandro again.
"It's not so much his blindness that concerns me," Diego said. "It's this state of depression he is in. I do not believe he will recover his sight until his attitude improves."
"You could be right, Diego," his father agreed. He then contemplated the young man in question for a moment. "But if you will recall, we had hopes of his hearing and speech being restored to him also."
Both Diego and Don Alejandro remembered back to the time nearly fifteen years earlier when Diego had brought the bewildered six year old Felipe to the hacienda. Diego had realized on the trip home that the young orphaned boy was deaf and mute. Felipe had clung to Diego for quite awhile and that was when the two of them had developed their special rapport.
Between them they had devised the gestures and hand movements of their sign language. So when Diego left for the university in Spain three years later, Felipe could communicate that way as well as being able to read lips. Diego now knew that Felipe had regained his hearing just before he went away and had kept it hidden until Diego had returned from Europe.
Father and son now both glanced at the object of their thoughts. Don Alejandro spoke, breaking their silence.
"Let's just pray he will be able to see again. Otherwise I do not know what kind of a life he had to look forward to."
Diego noticed that Felipe was stirring in the bed and rose from his seat. He did not want the youth to hear any more negative thoughts. He lead his father from the room and at the same time, changed the subject.
"So, how goes the search for the rustlers?" he asked when they left the room. Soon they were walking down the hallway leading to the foyer. "Have they been recaptured?"
"No, they have not," replied Don Alejandro a bit testily. "We picked up their trail near the box canyon. But we lost it there too."
"Too bad," Diego commiserated.
"Is that all you have to say?" questioned Don Alejandro. "Diego, we have to get our cattle to market next week. How do you propose we do that if these rustlers steal half our herd?"
He shook his head wearily. "Well, I am off to bed. We are going out after them again at dawn."
"Buenos noches, Father," Diego called after him as his father headed toward his bedroom.
Diego stood in the middle of the foyer. He could see the fireplace in the library, knowing what lay behind it. He also knew that Zorro could probably find the cattle thieves before dawn without too much trouble. But he had the suspicion that Felipe had not been asleep when he and his father were in the young man's room. And Diego was worried about what Felipe might do in his depressed state.
Surely his son was more important than a few head of cattle, he thought. Besides, he rationalized, the people of the pueblo had to learn not to be so dependent on Zorro. He did not intend to play the masked hero forever.
He turned on his heel and headed back to
Z Z Z
The next morning Diego went to the newspaper office for a little while. Then at noon, he headed for the tavern for lunch. Since most of the men were out after the escaped prisoners, there were not many customers there that day. Diego was just sitting down at an empty table when Victoria emerged from the kitchen to wait on him.
"Diego, what are you doing here?" she said, slightly surprised. "I would have thought you would be out chasing the bandits with your father."
Diego thought she looked rather fetching that day, attired in a new black skirt and a new print blouse made by Señora Ortega. Diego gazed at her appreciatively for a minute before he answered her.
"No, I have other commitments to attend to today," was his reply.
A worried frown marred Victoria's lovely features then. "Of course," she said. "I had forgotten about Felipe. Has there been any change in his condition?"
"No," Diego shook his head sadly. "No change."
He then ordered his lunch, a steaming bowl of Victoria's speciality, albondigas soup. While he was waiting for Victoria to return with his order, several caballeros came into the tavern. Seeing Diego sitting alone at his table, they came over to greet him.
"Hola, Don Diego," said Don Eduardo Delgado, one of the group.
Diego greeted all of them and invited them to sit with him. "How goes the search?" he asked when they were settled in their seats.
Before anyone had a chance to answer his question, Victoria arrived at the table, bringing Diego his soup and a loaf of freshly baked bread. She took the other caballeros' lunch orders then left. Finally, Don Eduardo brought Diego up to date.
"The search goes poorly, I am sad to say, Don Diego," he said. "The thieves made off with another fifty head this morning, this time from Don Roberto."
"Si," Don Roberto added. "And not only that, they shot at my foreman, Paco, when he caught them red-handed." He waved away Diego's concern at this piece of information. "Nothing serious, Don Diego. Just a flesh wound in his arm. He will be all right."
The conversation came to an abrupt end then as Victoria brought the other gentlemen's lunches to them. They all attacked their meals hungrily. Diego ate a couple of spoonfuls of his delicious soup, not really tasting it though, as he was lost deep in thought.
It was one thing when just a few cows were stolen, he reasoned. But it was quite another when innocent ranch hands were being shot at just for protecting their herds. It looked like Zorro would be needed after all.
He swallowed another mouthful of his lunch then made his excuses to his table companions. He made to leave the tavern, running into Ana Maria as she entered the building, carrying a basket.
"Oh, Don Diego, I am glad I bumped into you," she said. Then realizing what she had just said, laughed a little and smiled. "Well not literally, of course."
Diego had to smile too as she continued. "How is Felipe doing today?" she asked nervously, dreading the answer. She closed her eyes when she heard the one she did not want to hear.
"He is the same," replied Diego gently, seeing her anguish.
Then an idea struck him. He had left one of the servants to keep an eye on Felipe while he had gone to the pueblo. And now, who knew how long he would be out chasing after the rustlers. Diego put his hand on the young woman's shoulder.
"Ana Maria," he began, "could you do me a favor?"
She started to answer but Diego continued on before she could say anything.
"I have to go to Santa Paula," he explained. "And I need someone to be with Felipe while I am gone. Would you like to go sit with him? With your mother's permission, of course," he added, seeing her slight hesitation at the offer.
Ana Maria's beautiful smile was the only
answer he needed.
Z Z Z