by Karla Gregory
Several weeks have gone by since Diego’s return from Spain. As Don Alejandro makes one of his regular visits to the resting place of Isabella de la Vega, Diego goes with him as he had always done in the years before he went to the university. His thoughts return to the time when his mother made such a difference in his young life, and how that difference now plays out in his life.
This story was a result of a couple of questions: What could have Diego’s mother instilled in him as a child that helped him become the fox? And: What went into making the child that grew into the man that is Zorro? These questions gave me a lot to think about. This story is my attempt to answer these questions.
The Resting Place
It was a beautiful spot, chosen with care. The hilltop overlooked the whole of the hacienda which was in the distance and the vista that was the de la Vega rancho. Several large trees gave a welcome shade to this restful and quiet place. The green grass and abundant wild flowers that grew this time of the year were pleasing to the eye. Diego stood beside his father as they both regarded this, the resting place of Isabella de la Vega. It was the first time in the few weeks since his return from Spain that he had visited this place to pay his respects. The two men stood together in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. After a time, Diego slipped his left arm around Don Alejandro’s waist, and, after the briefest of moments, his father put his right arm around Diego’s waist and pulled Diego closer. Their relationship had not been the best since Diego’s return, but this they both shared; the ache in their hearts over the loss of Isabella, faithful wife and loving mother. Don Alejandro had continued to come here while Diego was in Spain and during those times he had come alone to visit the grave of his wife. He found comfort in having Diego with him now. After a time, he withdrew his arm and said a final prayer. As he crossed himself, Diego mirrored his action. He turned to go.
“Father,” said Diego. “I would like to remain a while longer. Please go ahead. I will be along later.” Don Alejandro nodded in understanding and with a final pat on Diego’s shoulder he walked over to where his horse was tied. Diego watched as he mounted and rode slowly away. He knew how much his father still missed his wife though she had been gone these many years. He missed her too. He rubbed his forehead as he thought to himself that if his mother was still here, then it would be easier for his father to cope with the disappointment which he felt in his son. Isabella might not know why her son had come back from Spain seemingly so changed, but she would have been able to make things right between him and his father. His mother had always seemed to know just what to do. Besides, (and he smiled to himself) his mother, he was quite sure, would have already discovered his secret. It was she, after all, who had first told him about foxes. And it was she, who during that same time, opened his heart to the greater world around him. Diego leaned up against one of the trees and let his thoughts return to that time in his life when his mother had planted her seeds of who he was to become.
It had been a bright, sunny morning when the carriage that Diego was driving pulled up in the plaza of the pueblo. The eleven year old boy handled the mules well and his mother complemented him on it. Isabella de la Vega was proud of her young son. Although he was mischievous and prone to disappear at inopportune times, he was a good boy and she loved him very much. As she stepped down from the carriage, she noticed with satisfaction that the market place was filled with merchants there to sell their wares. Sometimes, depending on the weather and other things, there were not very many merchants to choose from. But today promised to be a good day. She enjoyed shopping and often left the servants at the hacienda once Diego had grown old enough to drive the carriage. It made him feel important to drive his mother to the pueblo.
She gave Diego the bag to carry in which she would put her purchases. He was distracted by all the activity going on, but dutifully followed behind her as she made her selections. Diego had hoped to find some of his friends from the other ranchos here today, but he could see none of them in the plaza. He was a little disappointed. He and his friends usually found something interesting to do while their mothers shopped. Just down from the tavern, Isabella stopped to look over some bolts of cloth that were displayed.
Diego leaned up against the post of the merchant’s stall and looked around. Suddenly, he heard a voice raised in anger further across the plaza as Don Cesár Medina stood with his hands on his hips facing a group of peons who were trying to load a wagon with large bags of grain. Don Cesár had a whip in his hand which he cracked over the heads of the peons causing them to cower, and some even dropped their bags. This made Don Cesár more upset and more vocal. His whip began to find the backs of some of the peons.
Diego did not know what to think. He did not like seeing the peons being whipped, but his father had taught him that each Don in the pueblo was to be honored and obeyed just as he, Don Alejandro, expected to be obeyed. He looked to his mother to see her reaction. The look in her eyes was one he had never seen before. Her eyes seemed to smolder. He had seen her angry before, even at him, but never like this. Without looking at him, she said, “Diego, come with me,” as she walked over to Don Cesár.
Don Cesár towered over Isabella, but she did not seem to be in anyway diminished. Diego was astonished to see the sweet smile on his mother’s face as she addressed Don Cesár. No trace of her former anger could be seen. “Buenas Dias, Don Cesár. My, it is a hot day today is it not?” she said as she fanned herself with a kerchief. “You seem to have a lot of grain to be moved today. I trust it is because your rancho is doing well and you need the grain to feed your stock?”
Don Cesár greeted Isabella with all the deference due to the wife of Don Alejandro de la Vega, bowing and taking her hand. “Ah, Señora Isabella. It is so good to see you. Yes, my rancho is doing well and I am in need of this grain to feed the additional cattle and horses I am raising this year. Nothing is too good for them. Someday I hope to match your husband in the quality of his herds.”
Isabella smiled back at him then affected a small frown. “It is one thing to match him in cattle and horses, Señor, but I am afraid your servants will not compare so well.”
“What do you mean, Señora Isabella?” he asked. “I have as many, or possibly even more peons and vaqueros working on my rancho than does your husband. We are equal in that respect.”
“Oh no, Don Cesár, I am afraid you are not,” she said, shaking her head. “Why, just look at them.” Here she pointed to the peons who were still cowering and struggling with the large sacks of grain. “They do not care to keep themselves clean and do not even hold their heads up as they do their work. My husband’s peons look nothing like that.” She sniffed just slightly, but kept a charming smile on her face as she said with just the least bit of condescension in her voice, “I believe you have a long way to go to match my husband in the quality of his servants.” Don Cesár just stood there looking at Isabella. “Perhaps if you let them rest for a few moments and have a drink of water they may improve? Diego, come here, please.”
Diego walked up to stand beside his mother and Don Cesár. Don Cesár looked like a mountain to him. “Here, give me your bag,” said his mother taking it from him. “I want you to go to the well and draw a bucket of water to bring to these peons. With your permission, of course?” she said turning to Don Cesár. Don Cesár found that he could not withstand Isabella’s charming smile and nodded for the boy to go and get the water. When Diego returned with the water he found his mother directing the peons to sit in the shade and rest for a moment. “Diego, you will serve the water, please?”
Diego handed the dipper of water to the first peon who grabbed it from him and drank greedily. As he drank, the peon’s eyes met Diego’s. It was as if the man was peering down deep inside of him. Then a smile broke out on the peon’s face and Diego could not help but smile in return. The peon thanked him for the water and even ventured to touch Diego on the arm. Diego found that he was moved by that simple gesture. He went from man to man until all had drank their fill. The looks of gratitude and the low murmurs of “Gracias, gracias,” that they gave him burned themselves into his consciousness. He looked at his mother as he served them, and she smiled back and nodded to him. It was as if they were sharing his experience. But then as he looked at the peons again, another thought came to him. The workers on his father’s rancho never looked like these men. They did not have a lot of things, but they had their dignity and pride in their work. It was something he just took for granted. He had not thought much about it before. He saw now that it was not so everywhere.
“There now,” his mother said to the peons when they had all had a drink. “You are looking better already. It is time to get back to work now, come on. If I may make a suggestion, try two men to each bag. I think you will find it much easier.” She stepped back and gestured for Diego to follow her.
“Gracias, gracias,” said the peons over and over as they got up to start loading the wagon again. With two men per bag, the wagon was soon loaded. Don Cesár stood silently with his arms crossed.
Isabella turned brightly to the man and said, “Well, it has been good seeing you again, Don Cesár. Do please come to the hacienda whenever you can and bring Doña Maria with you. Then you and Alejandro can talk of your herds of cattle and horses and the quality of your servants at length. You will please excuse us now? We need to finish our marketing and return to the rancho. Adios, Señor.”
Don Cesár bowed and said, “Adios, Señora Isabella. We will be happy to come to your hacienda one evening. I will ask Maria.” He bowed again.
Diego looked over his shoulder as they walked away to see the big don standing with his hands on his hips watching them leave. Don Cesár looked like a man who was not sure that he knew what had just happened to him. “Mama,” Diego began, but was interrupted.
“Not now, Diego,” his mother said in a low voice. “We will talk about it when we leave to go home.” They quickly finished their shopping and soon Diego was driving them back to the hacienda.
Table of Contents