The soft rays of the morning light fell across Victoria's bed, as her eyes slowly opened and she stretched out her arms, to release the tension from her tired body. She gave a slight yawn as she slowly sat up, and stretched out her arms in front of her, and gently rubbed her eyes.
As she dropped her hands into her lap, she glanced down and saw the ring upon her hand that Diego had given her last night, softly sparkling in the daylight. She lifted her hand and held it just a few inches from her face, as she eyed the ring intently and smiled. She sighed as she pressed her hands to her chest, and closed her eyes.
'Surely this was just a dream!' she thought, as the image of Diego placing the ring on her finger and asking her to marry him, drifted through her mind. She opened her eyes, and gazed at the ring again. 'No this was no dream!' She brought her hand to her lips, and tenderly kissed the ring. "Oh Diego...I love you!" she whispered to herself.
Victoria sighed, as she rose from her bed, and dressed for the busy day ahead. Before she left her room, she slid the ring from her finger, and carefully placed it in a small drawer in her jewelry case, and closed it. Like Zorro's identity, this too would be a secret, until the time was right.
Maria had just finished serving breakfast to Alejandro and his young guests, and had just returned to the kitchen, when moments later, Diego casually strolled in, dressed in his daily caballero attire, and wearing the usual pleasant expression upon his face. He briefly glanced over at Alejandro, and noticed the examining look on his face, as he walked into the room. As Alejandro, Michaela, and Sully began eating their breakfast, Diego ignored his father's close vigilance, and proceeded to amiably greet the young couple, and his father.
"Buenos dias everyone!" responded Diego. He walked over, and seated himself beside Alejandro and smiled.
Considering the recent turn of events that had transpired between Victoria and himself, Diego inherently suppressed the overwhelming urge to break the joyous news to his father, for it was Zorro who had gone to see Victoria last night, not Diego.
In a way, he was relieved that she had finally discovered that he was Zorro. He felt that the mask had stood between them far too long, and it was time that he showed his true feelings for her, without the mask. He was also glad that she loved him now as Diego, the real man behind the mask, and that she wanted to marry him, and not the legend. Yet, it was still the mask, that was leaving a small but significant gap between Diego, and his father.
He felt that telling his father about his "other life," may be more difficult than it was with Victoria. At least she had put together some clues as to his identity, and figured them out. Diego doubted however, that his father was as observant or intuitive as Victoria. Yet when they were in the tavern, he briefly noticed his father gazing at him, with a consenting look of wonderment upon his face. It was as if Alejandro was actually seeing him, for the very first time.
It wasn't just a casual glance. He was actually looking at Diego... his son... with a sense of love and pride, that would have caused any other son to be taken aback with modesty, had their father looked at them that way. Deep inside, Diego was awed that his father was looking at him with a newfound pride and joy, that had not been there before. However instead of a modest smile of acknowledgement, he again masked his own feeling of pride that was stirring inside him, and casually smiled back at Alejandro, and returned to his work as did Alejandro.
At first Diego thought that maybe it was due to the epidemic, and emotions running high. But as he went about his daily routine task of caring for the patients, and helping doctor Hernandez, Alejandro noticed that there was more to Diego than just his books, music, or arts. He noticed as he watched him being so attentive to the patients, seeing to their every needs, and helping doctor Hernandez dispense the medicine, that Diego had an inner strength and deep compassion, that made Alejandro truly feel proud that this warmhearted, generous, young caballero was his son. It wasn't that Alejandro lacked pride in Diego. He was always proud of him in his own de la Vega way. It was just that in the past, he was so used to seeing his overly studious son with his nose in a book, painting, or fooling around with one of those 'pointless experiments,' that Alejandro often wondered if he was capable, of doing anything else.
The only other time he had observed Diego in a different light, was the day he first brought Felipe to the hacienda, to live with them. He had always known that Diego had a special affinity for children; the way he played with them, and affectionately patted a child on the head, as he greeted them. The moment Felipe came to the hacienda, Alejandro could tell that was the happiest day of Diego's life. He even noticed the look of guilt in Diego's eyes, as he prepared to leave for school in Spain. He could tell that he felt anxious, about leaving Felipe for such a long period of time. He knew his father would take excellent care of Felipe while he was away, yet he hated being so far, from either of them.
Despite his heavy curriculum, Diego always made it point to inquire about Felipe's welfare, in every letter he wrote to his father. And of course Alejandro would write back, and give Diego a full report. It was obvious, that his son truly loved Felipe, as if he was his very own. For that matter, Alejandro did too. It was this sensitivity and compassion, that made Alejandro feel that Diego, had the potential to become a wonderful father.
Felipe picked up the porcelain coffee pot and china cup and saucer, and stepped over beside Diego, and placed the cup and saucer in front of him. He smiled at Diego in silent relief, over his friend's cheerfulness, and then carefully poured his patron's morning coffee.
Diego looked up at Felipe with a discerning look in his eyes, and smiled.
"Muchas Gracias Felipe!" he replied warmly.
Felipe nodded and smiled. He walked over, and set the porcelain coffee pot upon the oak buffet, stood beside it, and released a small sigh. He had a feeling that whatever differences that Diego and Victoria were having the day before, it was obvious that it had been resolved, and hopefully they would be back together again. Alejandro too noticed the change in Diego's disposition, and looked at him attentively, and smiled. Michaela and Sully nodded in acknowledgement and smiled also.
"Well Diego..." began Alejandro casually. "You seem to be in a good mood this morning."
Diego took a drink of his coffee, and smiled at his father.
"Gracias. I'm feeling much better this morning, father. It's amazing what a good night's sleep can do for a body!" he replied, as he gazed earnestly at Alejandro. Diego looked thoughtfully at Alejandro, and hoped that one day, this small yet significant gap that had come between them, would soon come to a close, and that he would be able to tell him the good news about he and Victoria, and about Zorro. Meanwhile, he would just have to wait. He took another drink of his coffee, and patted his mouth with the linen napkin.
Alejandro had thought that maybe this morning, he would ask Diego what was troubling him last night. However, considering he was in such a good humor, he thought it best just to leave it be, and share in his son's pleasantness. He wondered however, if it had something to do with Victoria, or if it was something much deeper. Whatever had upset him the day before, it was evident that it had been resolved on its own. He only wished that he had talked to him about it.
For some time now, Alejandro had been having this gnawing feeling, that there was something that Diego had been wanting to tell him. Last night he tried giving him the opportunity, but it was obvious that Diego wasn't ready to confide him just yet. Alejandro hoped, that it would be soon. For the moment, he was just glad that Diego was back to his old self, and this at least, was a comfort to him.
Alejandro nodded in agreement and smiled.
"I'm glad that you're feeling better Diego. You're right about getting a good night's sleep, I don't think I have slept this well in weeks. Everything has been so stressful lately, what with this epidemic and all." He paused and gazed thoughtfully at Sully and Michaela.
"Señor and Señora Sully, I trust you slept well last night." He commented amiably.
Michaela took a drink of her juice, and dabbed her mouth with the linen napkin, and smiled at Alejandro.
"Oh yes, Señor de la Vega. Sully and I appreciate you and Diego, inviting us to stay at your lovely hacienda. It was very kind of you, to let us stay here. Muchas Gracias." She added amiably.
"Gracias Señor de la Vega." Added Sully earnestly and smiled.
"De nada! Think nothing of it! It was the least we could do, after what you have done for us. Without your help, I fear we would have lost our battle, with the influenza. Doctor Hernandez's supply of quinine was beginning to run low, plus many of the herbs that he was using, seemed to just temporarily halt the symptoms of the influenza, but they did not completely cure it." He paused and looked at her somberly, and shook his head and sighed. "Sadly, many people have died before you arrived, due to this cruel epidemic." He stated remorsefully.
Alejandro sat back in his chair, and reflected upon the people who had died. He reached into his pocket, and retrieved his handkerchief, and gently wiped away the tears that welled in his eyes, as the faces of the ones who had died, flashed in his mind. He momentarily cleared his throat, and blinked. An anxious look shadowed Diego's features, as he looked at Alejandro with concern. He reached over, and put a reassuring hand upon his shoulder.
"Are you all right father?" he asked, with a compassionate tone to his voice.
Alejandro looked over at Diego, and managed a slight smile. He could see the worry in Diego's eyes, and slightly nodded in assurance.
"Gracias Diego, I am fine." He slightly smiled. He looked at Sully and Michaela solemnly.
"Please forgive me Señora and Señor. We have all been through a very terrible ordeal, during these past several weeks. First our young servant boy Felipe, almost died because of the influenza...'´ he glanced over at Felipe and then back to Sully and Michaela. "If it hadn't been for doctor Hernandez, we would have lost him! Thank goodness we caught the disease in time, as doctor Hernandez pointed out. After we started giving him the quinine, he began to recover almost immediately." He nodded reflectively.
Diego smiled warmly at Felipe, and nodded also. He looked earnestly at Sully and Michaela.
"Yes, Felipe was desperately ill, and we weren't sure if he was going to live. Father's right, the minute Dr. Hernandez gave us the quinine for Felipe, his fever soon broke, and within a few weeks, he began to get well. We were grateful, that Dr. Hernandez had that medicine, otherwise I feel we would have lost Felipe." Diego sighed wistfully. He looked at Michaela and smiled. "As you can see, he has completely recovered." He remarked. Diego glanced at Felipe with a smug look, and smiled. "I guess you could say, he's back to his old self again." He slightly chuckled winking at Felipe.
Felipe slightly blushed, and smiled.
Michaela nodded in agreement, as she looked at Diego and Alejandro.
"Yes, there is a lot to be said for the importance of medicine. Many of us would not be here, if we had not had access to the right medicine. I too once got the influenza, and would have died, if it hadn't been for the quinine, and an herb that Sully had found, that the Indians used. The combination of the herb, and the quinine, saved my life!" she replied, looking at Sully reflectively.
Alejandro looked at Michaela earnestly, and nodded. "Sí, that is true! You were truly lucky Señora! Thank goodness there was enough medicine, to help save your life. However, we were not so lucky!" he stated resolutely.
"Just when we thought that everything was getting back to normal, that's when the epidemic began! First just a few people, and soon everyone began to get sick. Señorita Escalante, God Bless her, turned her tavern over to doctor Hernandez, so that he would have a place to take care of all the people, who came down with the influenza. Diego, Felipe, and I have stayed at the tavern to help out, along with Padre Benitez, and several volunteers, who were lucky enough not to contract the disease, have helped out as well. In fact, last night was our first time back home, since you have been here." Remarked Alejandro decidedly. As he looked at Michaela, his eyes seemed to brighten, and he managed a smile.
"I have a feeling Señora Sully, that now you are here, with you and doctor Hernandez helping our people, this epidemic will soon be over!"
Michaela slightly blushed, and smiled.
"Gracias Señor de la Vega. Although I have only known doctor Hernandez for just a short time, I must say that in the time that I have worked with him, I can truly say as one doctor to another, that I have only the deepest respect, and admiration for him. He appears to be extremely dedicated, and I feel he is a man of vision as well." She responded insightfully.
Alejandro smiled. "De nada Señora! Oh yes, Señora and Señor, you may call me Alejandro. Since you will be staying here, there is no need to be so formal. If there is anything you need, feel free to ask. And you are right about doctor Hernandez, he is a very dedicated doctor! He has saved many lives in this pueblo, and he is always open to new ideas, and new procedures. In fact, he informed me, that he has some new medical journals that he has ordered from Monterey, that you may be interested in. I'm sure, he would be glad to show you." He remarked earnestly.
"Gracias for your hospitality Alejandro. Oh yes, you and Diego may call me Michaela. I would be glad to see doctor Hernandez's journals. I'm sure he takes as much pride in his journals, as I do mine!" She stated thoughtfully, and smiled. "Alejandro I would just like to say that Sully and I, are fortunate to have found such kind and generous people, as you and your son. Not to mention Señorita Escalante, and doctor Hernandez. Especially, doctor Hernandez. If it hadn't been for him, I doubt that your Alcalde, would have ever accepted the fact, that I was a doctor. I must admit, he was a bit skeptical." She remarked decidedly.
Diego smiled ruefully. "Skeptical, is putting it mildly. However, do not take it personally Michaela. Our Alcalde is like that, with all newcomers to the pueblo. He tends to welcome visitors with a sword and armed guards, instead of with a smile and a handshake!" he responded sardonically.
"Now Diego..." Alejandro slightly admonished. "You'll have to admit that a woman doctor is rather unheard of, in this territory. True there are some women in this territory who are practicing midwives, but they are by no means doctors! Even in Santa Barbara and Monterey, all the doctors are men. However, like my son, I tend to be more open-minded about these things, than our Alcalde. I would welcome a woman doctor any day, providing she had the proper training, and credentials. I remember seeing quite a few women assisting doctors, and giving aid to the soldiers during the war, so I see no reason, why they cannot become doctors as well." He stated decisively.
Michaela looked at Sully, and smiled. She was surprised, yet grateful that doctor Hernandez had accepted her so readily, yet she was even more amazed, that Alejandro accepted her as well. He was definitely as much of a man of vision, as doctor Hernandez. She looked at him modestly, and smiled.
"Gracias Alejandro! I hope someday that the women in this territory, have the opportunity and good fortune, to become doctors if they decide to do so! My good fortune came about, because my father was a doctor, and he led me in the direction that I wanted to follow. It was very hard at first, but I was determined to succeed. With my father's confidence and faith in me, I feel that in a big way, he was responsible for me, pursuing my career, and becoming the kind of doctor, I wanted to be. I only wish that he had been alive, to see me become a doctor." She said sighing wistfully, as a somber look, briefly shadowed her face. Sully put a reassuring arm around her shoulders, and tenderly kissed her cheek. She slightly blushed, and looked at him and smiled.
Alejandro shook his head sympathetically, and looked at Michaela.
"I'm terribly sorry Michaela. I know how you must miss him. The death of a loved one, is very hard to bear. I know how you must feel. Diego's mother, my Dona Elena Felicidad, God rest her soul, died when he was just a young boy, so I had to be both mother and father to him. It was hard for both of us, and it seemed that time passed so slowly, but we managed to get on with our lives. Luckily, Diego and I were always close. Even before Elena died, we were a very close family. I guess her death, brought us even closer together. There are times even now, when I still dream of her. As I am sure, Diego does too!" Replied Alejandro, as he looked at Diego thoughtfully.
Diego slighty nodded, and looked at Alejandro wistfully. If his father only knew, that he had seen a vision of his mother last night. Yet he still wasn't sure if it was a dream, or if she had actually appeared before him. However, during his brief moment of despair, he wasn't quite sure of anything. All he knew, was what his mother had told him, to trust his heart, and have faith in Victoria. Diego did, and in the end she was right.
There was moment of silence, as everyone meditated upon what had been said, and reflected upon their past, and pondered their futures. But mostly, it was what lay ahead that seemed to be on their minds, and what would be the outcome. Their reveries were briefly interrupted as they looked up, and saw Maria entering with Diego's breakfast, and setting it before him.
"Muchas Gracias, Maria." Acknowledged Diego smiling.
"De nada, Don Diego." Responded Maria cheerfully. "Is there anything else, I can get for you señor?" she asked.
"Gracias, no Maria. This will be enough. As always, it looks delicious!" he commented smiling.
"Gracias Don Diego!" replied Maria smiling.
Diego smiled, and nodded. "De nada!"
Maria gave a slight nod to Diego and the others, and returned to her kitchen.
Diego took a few bites of his breakfast and wiped his mouth, and slightly sighed. He look thoughtfully at Alejandro, and then at Michaela and Sully.
"There's something I need to say to all of you, this morning." Diego stated earnestly. He looked solemnly at Sully and Michaela, and then at his father.
"What is it Diego?" Alejandro queried sitting back in his chair, with an intense look on his face. 'Maybe this is the moment of truth.' He thought as he crossed his arms, and eyed Diego. Michaela and Sully eyed him attentively.
The look on Michaela and Sully's, face didn't bother him half as much as the look, on his father's face. They were looking at him more out of interest, whereas the look on his father's face was...piercing. Diego felt his heart skip a beat, as the weight of his father's stare, seem to close in on him. Fortunately he was used to this close scrutiny his father often gave him, when Alejandro thought that he was going to say something, of great importance. Diego put his fist to his mouth as he cleared his throat, to hide the smirk that threatened his lips. He looked upon his "audience" with a seriousness, that made even his father become somewhat taken aback, as he prepared to make his confession.
"I must apologize for my rude behavior last night. It was completely inexcusable! Again I apologize Michaela and Sully and to you father." He replied regretfully. He looked earnestly at Michaela and Sully, and then at his father.
Michaela gazed compassionately at Diego and smiled.
"We accept your apology Diego. However, I sensed that there was something troubling you last night. If there is anything I can do to help, I would be more than happy to listen." She briefly paused, and looked at Diego thoughtfully. "Sometimes it's better if you talk about it than to keep it inside. She added sympathetically, as she looked at Diego with concern.
"Michaela's right." Replied Sully earnestly. "Whenever Michaela or myself have a problem, we always talk about it. Even if it's just a minor one, we still discuss it. Once it's out in the open, you feel better, just having talked about it." He and Michaela looked at one another and smiled.
Diego took a sip of his coffee, wiped his mouth, and sighed. He briefly gazed at Michaela, and looked at her, with mild astonishment. He was somewhat taken aback, at the thought of her even suggesting that he would consider sharing his innermost thoughts, with someone that he had only known, for just a few hours. Maybe the fact that she was a doctor, and she felt compelled to lend some words of consolation, or understanding to help ease the distress, that he had been feeling last night. Of course, that was before he had seen Victoria, and the vision of his mother. Now that Victoria knew he was Zorro, and he had promised his love and life to her, the only thing that concerned him now, was telling his father.
He wondered if it really would be as difficult, telling his father that he was Zorro, than it had been with Victoria. 'come to think of it...' thought Diego. 'Victoria had already known I was Zorro.' Which was in some small way, a relief to him. But how was he going to approach his father on the subject, and what would his reaction be, when he told him. He knew his father would be overjoyed about he and Victoria getting married, but would he be as excited, about him being Zorro. Diego could only speculate on the idea. As far as he was concerned, the proverbial pendulum could swing either way.
He slightly blinked and sighed, as he cleared his mind of this weighty decision. 'I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.' Thought Diego, as he shoved it back in his mind. He quickly centered his attention on the subject at hand, as he looked at Michaela discernibly.
"I appreciate your concern Señora, but I am quite capable of handling my personal affairs on my own!" Diego responded somewhat abruptly.
Alejandro's eyes narrowed as he flashed a stern look at Diego.
"Diego!" he admonished critically.
Diego's back slightly stiffened, as Alejandro's sharp tone pierced him like a saber. He felt his face become flushed, as he glanced over and saw the harsh look on his father's face, as he stared back at him in disbelief. Alejandro knew that it wasn't like Diego to speak in such a tone to a lady; and to be so careless, that was inexcusable! He flashed a disapproving look at Diego, and shook his head.
Diego slowly rose from his seat and straightened his jacket, as he gazed apologetically at Sully and Michaela. As he looked at them, he noticed that even they were somewhat surprised, by his curt tone of voice. Diego noticed a small glint of anger, mirroring in Sully's eyes as he looked at him. He looked compassionately at Michaela, as he prepared to make his apology.
"Please forgive me Señora! It was not my intention to be rude. I deeply apologize for my sharp tone. Again I sincerely appreciate your concern for my feelings, but you must understand that there are certain things that are very personal, and private to me that I would rather not discuss. I would rather handle them, on my own." Responded Diego earnestly.
Michaela compassionately gazed back at Diego, as she peered steadily into his eyes.
"Please forgive me Señor, I did not mean to imply that I was prying into your personal affairs. I was merely offering my help. I apologize, if I was out of place." She stated resolutely.
Diego briefly felt his face become slightly flushed, as Michaela gazed back him. An overwhelming feeling of humility suddenly flowed through him, as he looked into her eyes. 'For such a learned woman, she certainly has a way of making you feel humble.' Thought Diego.
He walked over and took Michaela's hand, and lightly kissed the back, as he looked at her apologetically, and smiled.
"No Señora, you were not being 'out of place' as you say. You were merely being kind and considerate, and I was being stubborn and foolish! I sincerely apologize for my behavior. Please forgive me Señora and Señor! As for your offer to help Señora, mere words, cannot express the gratitude that we feel, for the help that you have already given doctor Hernandez and our people. If you had not come here and brought this valuable medicine, I fear this epidemic, would have devastated our pueblo. Con permiso Señora, but thank God you arrived just in time. We will be forever in your debt!"
Diego placed his hand upon Michaela's shoulder, and gazed into her eyes, and looked at her with a feeling of deep admiration, and respect. A soft blush graced her features as she peered into his deep blue eyes. She knew by the look in his eyes, that he was sincere in his apology, and appreciation for her help, and she smiled in her own appreciation, to his remark. Yet there was something else she saw, as she looked into his eyes. A sudden flash of recognition awakened her memory, as the image of a certain man dressed in black briefly materialized in her mind. Why she would suddenly think of him, she wasn't sure. Yet something told her that this man in black, this...'what did he call himself...this Zorro,' was in some way, connected to Diego. She didn't know how, but she had a feeling that she would eventually find out.
Michaela slightly blinked from her revelation, and smiled amiably at Diego. Diego warmly returned her smile and then looked at Felipe.
"Felipe, go tell Miguel to saddle the horses. We will be going to the tavern very soon. Oh and you will be going as well. Victoria may need some help in the kitchen today." He gave Felipe a quick wink, and smiled. Felipe smiled and nodded, then quickly headed out the door.