A few months later Alfonso Escalante was declared missing, probably deceased. It did not happen overnight, which is why it did not affect Victoria as dramatically as the loss of her mother. Although she still used Diego’s handkerchief from time to time.
On her 16th birthday, the young caballero had a special gift for her. In the morning he came with Felipe and Alejandro and invited her to a picnic. But to her surprise, Diego stayed behind in the tavern while his father led her to a carriage waiting outside. During a delicious second breakfast in the company of a cheerful boy and a man who had recently replaced her father’s place in her life more and more, Victoria could not restrain her curiosity about what Diego was up to. But the conspirators gave her no clue.
Before they approached the pueblo on their way back, the older Don blindfolded her. When they stopped and she wanted to get off the carriage, she felt a grip of strong hands around her waist that helped her get out. “Don’t peek!” She would recognize Diego’s voice everywhere.
The young caballero set her on the ground and turned her around several times so that she completely lost her orientation, to the delight of several onlookers. He finally stopped her and set her in front of him. The girl felt his wide chest just behind her back and his hot breath on her neck.
“I hope you enjoy the surprise,” he whispered, untying her blindfold. He added louder, “Happy birthday!”
The girl blinked because the sun blinded her for a moment. She stood in the plaza in front of the inn. For a moment she saw nothing new. But then her gaze went up. Next to the usual inscription that had been there for years, there was a new one. Both made up the name “Tavern Victoria”.
Victoria was pleasantly surprised and squeaked with joy. Diego embraced her from behind. “You really earned it. I thought that this birthday is a good opportunity to renovate the facade.”
The girl turned in his arms and gave him a big hug. “It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Did you do it all by yourself?”
At the mention of food, Felipe licked his lips so that everyone would see it. “Yes, Felipe, something sweet also includes apple pie. The whole pie is just for you.”
At the sight of the boy running in jumps to the tavern everyone laughed. It is not known who enjoyed it more – Victoria with a gift or Felipe with a cake.
Many people visited the inn throughout the day. Everyone gave the girl warm wishes and a few of her friends from the mission school brought small gifts. Even the coachman had a card and presents for her from her brothers who did not forget about this special occasion. After long and full “Happy birthday to you” songs in the afternoon and evening, Victoria was tired but also very happy.
Thanks to the surprise from the de la Vegas, she felt that this was truly her tavern. Not her parents’, not her brothers’, not even her family’s. Her own.
“Senorita Victoria Escalante – the tavern owner.”
It sounded really proud and very comfortable. It suited her.
xxx Zorro xxx
“Buenos dias, what can I do for you?” she asked with a smile.
“Buenos dias, Victoria. If you are very busy, we just ask for lemonade. But I will be grateful if you find a moment and sit with us.” The old caballero’s face was serious and concerned.
It was early and there was not too much of a crowd, so she sat down next to Felipe. “Don Alejandro, you look worried. Did something happen?”
The boy nodded and the man explained, “I had a quarrel with Diego again. He is prepared enough and he has reached the age at which I intended to send him to study in Spain. If he wants to be at the beginning of the academic year, he should get on the ship next week or next month. But the problem is, he doesn’t want to.”
Victoria was surprised. “Why? He always dreamed that he would go study in Madrid, learn to fence at master level, literature, engineering, medicine … What happened?”
Alejandro looked her straight in the eye. “You have happened. You and Felipe. Diego doesn’t want to admit it out loud, but he feels responsible for the two of you. He prefers to give up his dreams rather than you.”
Felipe started gesturing. He pointed at himself, put his hand to his lips as if speaking, shook his head and raised his hands upside down in a gesture of helplessness.
The caballero translated, “I tried to talk him out of it, as did Felipe. He’ll only be gone for four years. I can take care of tutoring Felipe during this time without a problem. You are doing great with running the tavern, and in case of a crisis, you can always count on me. But nothing reaches Diego. He insisted and refuses to discuss it any further.”
The old Don took her hand into his and clasped it gently. “Victoria, maybe you can talk to him. Please.”
The tavern owner squeezed his hand back and took the challenge with a brooding, “Of course I will. With all due respect to you, but are all young men as stupid as they are stubborn? My brothers, Diego …” She turned to Felipe. “I hope that you will be smarter than they are when you are older.” The boy eagerly nodded.
“Thank you, you are my last hope.”
xxx Zorro xxx
Rational arguments did not change Diego’s mind. Even said by Victoria. Alejandro and Felipe followed the conversation or rather a heated argument like a theatre performance. Nobody dared to interfere when two strong temperaments clashed on stage – Escalante’s and de la Vega’s.
In the end, the girl took her friend by the arm and led him to the library with a short, “Excuse us for a moment.”
The old Don and the boy gaped in shock and disbelief as a few minutes later the raised voices died down, and a terrified Diego ran across the living room towards his room. They turned their heads to the direction where the young man had gone. The characteristic noises of someone bustling about could be heard. They turned their heads to the library. Senorita Escalante returned to the living room a moment later and dusted invisible dust off her hands.
She didn’t say a word but leaned against the wall. Don Alejandro started asking for an explanation of his son’s unexpected behaviour, but was interrupted by a short, “Give him 15 minutes and you’ll see for yourself.”
The old caballero and Felipe were waiting impatiently and excitedly in relative silence and they wondered what exactly Victoria had said to her friend. The only noises were rummaging sounds coming from his bedchamber.
After a quarter of an hour Diego appeared in the room with a packed suitcase in his hand. Although it must be admitted that he usually was a neat and tidy caballero, this time he apparently packed in a hurry because one of his ties dragged behind the suitcase unnoticed by him.
“Is that enough?” he asked with worry.
Victoria walked around him, looking at the suitcase. “You forgot the sword,” she said after the inspection with an unreadable expression. Diego gulped and thought that a poker face was a family tradition of the Escalantes.
He ran back to his room and came back again with the sword. “And now?”
The girl tilted her head. “Well, now it is good. Don’t forget that your ship leaves in a week. And now you can go back to your room and arrange your things so that they are not crumpled when you get to Spain.”
When Diego returned to the bedchamber to repack, his father regained his voice “Victoria, what was it? What did you say to him? This is amazing! We’ve been trying for a month without results, and it took you only 10 minutes!”
She shrugged and focused her attention on examining her nails. But after a moment she threw off the mask of indifference and smiled playfully with a twinkle in her eyes.
“No big deal. I threatened not to speak a word to him until he graduated. And he would not be allowed to enter the tavern. He knows I am stubborn enough that this is not a bluff. I gave him 15 minutes to pack, or I’m beginning right now. And I started to countdown. I think it worked. ”
Alejandro slapped his thighs with both hands. “It definitely worked. Victoria, I’m in your debt. My boy was truly terrified.”
xxx Zorro xxx
When the day of departure arrived, Diego came to the pueblo early in the morning. He wanted to say goodbye to Victoria without any witnesses. He found her in the kitchen and asked her to take a walk with him to the back of the building. They sauntered in silence as the young man gathered his thoughts.
“I still feel guilty about leaving you here alone. Four years is a very long time.”
The girl stopped and turned to face him. “I’m not alone, I have Don Alejandro, Felipe and a few other friendly people. And during your studies, you will certainly be busy enough that you will not notice when you come back with a diploma.”
Diego was still thoughtful and her assurances did not make him feel better. He kept thinking about the promises he made to her father, which he sincerely wanted to keep.
He took her both hands in his and asked very seriously, “Victoria, please, promise me that you will not risk yourself and with every, even the slightest problem, you will turn to my father. I will not forgive myself if something happens to you.”
She smiled. “Of course I will. And I promise not to get mixed up in any problems. I’m not like my crazy brothers, after all.” Her friend finally cheered up a little.
They stood close, holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes. Time for them seemed to stop. She was the first to break this comfortable silence. “I will miss you. You haven’t left yet, and I am already waiting for your return.”
Diego placed her hands on his chest and covered them with his own. With his other hand, he embraced her waist and pulled her closer. “I will miss you more. I will write so that you do not forget about me.”
At the moment, their hidden emotions were dangerously close to becoming visible. The caballero leaned forward with the intention of kissing her lips, something he had dreamed of and longed for. Victoria licked them unknowingly.
The slamming of the door in the neighbouring building brought back the consciousness of what he was going to do. He changed his target spot and placed a very brotherly kiss on her forehead, then hugged her tightly.
The tension also left the girl at that moment. She could feel his galloping heart under her hands and his uneven breath on her hair. Her own heart had a similar rhythm.
“How could I forget my best friend?” she murmured into his chest.
They stood there until their pulse calmed down, and secret feelings were well masked again. Then she took a step back and with a hearty smile wished him, “Vaja con Dios, Diego. And come back safely.”
He answered her with the same cordiality. “Thank you, adios.”
Picture of Victoria comes from www.newworldzorro.com
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 1 Echos of revolution
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 2 Wounded man and compassion
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 3 Death of Isabella Escalante
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 4 Return of the male Escalantes
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 5 The funeral
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 6 Absence and the first promise
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 7 Escape is discovered & the second promise
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 8 Hard beginnings
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 9 News about the family
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 10 Birthday’s present & goodbye to a friend
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 11 Return and Zorro
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 12 The Devil’s Fortress
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 13 The funniest mistakes