Chapter 8

Several days later Felipe was in his room, dressing in the hurriedly made dark suit for the funeral of Gilberto de la Vega. It had only been two weeks since he agreed to the adoption and with all that had happened since then, they hadn't had time to visit their tailor in Santa Barbara so he could be measured for the proper caballero clothing that he would be required to wear. And as he had no clothes other than his usual light coloured linen trousers and shirts, Consuela had quickly altered one of Diego's dark suits that he hadn't worn for years; it wasn't a perfect fit but it was good enough for now.

He was still coming to terms with the stunning but wonderful news of the adoption and over the last week, he had asked Diego many questions about it. He wanted to know what the legal process was and how long it would take and what it meant for him as his son. Diego had smiled at the questions and they had talked at length and he had told him that the legal process might take a couple of months. It wasn't just a simple matter of having the lawyers drawing up papers to sign; they had to investigate the manner in which he was found, if there had been any attempt to search for living relatives and it also involved the church; they too had to be informed but as Diego had told him, it was just a formality and he couldn't see anything that would hinder the adoption.

There was only one concern that he had and it was about the fact that he was to be Diego's heir. It meant that the ranch would eventually become his over any other sons that Diego may have in the future and it just didn't feel right to him to inherit the large ranch and everything that went with it and besides, he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life yet. He was still interested in the law and if he did become a lawyer, he couldn't run the ranch at the same time.

The older man was surprised at first but after they had discussed it at length, they eventually agreed that if Diego didn't have any sons, then the estate would go to him. They would make it legal and if by any chance that Diego should die before any natural sons were of age, then he was to act as manager until such time they were capable of running the ranch. If any of the sons died without male heirs, then the estate would then go to Felipe and any male sons that he may have and if there were no male heirs at all, it would go to the eldest daughter.

Felipe checked the mirror one last time before he left his room and made his way to where Diego and his father were waiting for him.

As the three of them stepped out of the front door of their home and began walking towards the small family cemetery on a hill to the left of the hacienda, they were amazed by the number of people who had gathered there, waiting for them.

Don Alejandro felt a lump in his throat at the sight of all his friends coming to paying their respects to him and his family; it was something he never expected. Even Diego had to fight back a surge of pride at their friend's loyalty to them. When he had arranged with Father Benitez to have a simple but solemn service at the small family cemetery, he had not expected such a response from the people, not after the way that Gilberto had treated them so terribly.

Don Alejandro tugged on his jacket a little self-consciously and with his head held high, he lead the way to the cemetery where the crowd silently made way for them.

Alcalde de Soto moved forward and held out his hand. "You have my deepest condolences Don Alejandro." He said sincerely, his voice full of regret. He had done a lot of soul searching with the Padre in the last couple of days and he had come to realise what kind of person he was in danger of becoming and with the Padre's help he was slowly changing his attitude towards life and the people around him.

Don Alejandro nodded as he shook de Soto's hand. "Gracias Alcalde. I am honoured by your presence today." He replied before he moved inside the small enclosure with Diego and Felipe behind him.

After the sombre service, the casket containing the body of Gilberto de le Vega was lowered into the freshly dug grave beside his true mother Felicidad and baby sister Magdalena. Slowly the mourners left in small groups leaving only the three de le Vega men and Victoria, who went up to Don Alejandro and hugged him tight.

She was surprised by his trembling as he returned her embrace. "I'm so sorry Don Alejandro." She whispered.

He nodded. "Gracias Victoria." his voice hoarse.

She gave him a quick kiss on his cheek before she turned and did the same to Diego. She then moved to Felipe and gently touched his arm to gain his attention. "Come Felipe." she said kindly.

Felipe flicked a worried glance to his family and saw that Diego had his arm around his father's shoulders and was whispering something he couldn't hear.

"Felipe, I know you want to stay but they need this time to be together. Come." She gently urged the young man she had longed thought of as a younger brother.

Felipe knew she was right and allowed her to lead him back towards the hacienda but not before he glanced worriedly back to the two men. He didn't know what he should do or how to help them. He had no real experience with this kind of grief; he had been too young to fully understand the death of his parents and the only time he could relate to their sorrow was when that horrible woman arrived claiming to be his mother. He had been so happy to have his mother come for him but his illusions had been shattered by her betrayal. Diego had helped him through that terrible time and now he wanted to help him in return. He sighed, perhaps he could do more around their home to take some of the burdens off their shoulders, he thought to himself as he walked beside Victoria.

Diego's sole attention was on his father but at the same time, he was aware of Victoria moving away with Felipe and felt a moment of gratitude towards her for understanding his need to be alone with his father.

"Father." He said softly, giving all the comfort and love that single word can give.

"Oh Diego my son." Don Alejandro closed his eyes against the pain in his heart. "I betrayed your mother." His voice hoarse with his guilt.

Diego frowned, not really understanding him. "You didn't betray her father." He tried to re-assure the older man.

Don Alejandro shook his head as he awkwardly lowered himself down beside his wife's grave. "I did, don't you see. I should have been there for your birth but no, I had to go on one more campaign for Spain."

Diego knelt down beside him. "Don't think like that father, mother knew that you were a soldier and understood everything that meant and she still married you. She knew that you might be away for the birth of your children and she accepted it because she loved you. You know she did."

Don Alejandro nodded sadly. "I know but don't you see Diego, if I had come home then I would have been with her, I would've known immediately that she was having twins and then that woman would not have had the opportunity to do what she did. I should have come home the first time she wrote about her suspicions..."

"Father stop, you were doing your duty as an officer in the Spanish Army." He said as he put his around the older man's shoulders once more.

Don Alejandro shook his head. "What about my duty to my wife? Didn't she deserve my full attention especially at the birth of our first child?" he replied a little heatedly.

Diego didn't know what to say to help his father; he had never been married nor had a child so he just held him tight.

Don Alejandro leant into his son's embrace drawing all the support and love his son was so willingly giving to him. "If only I had known." He whispered, his voice full of guilt and regret.

Diego tightened his embrace and tried to console his father. "I think that at the end, Gilberto came to realise that he would have been wanted and loved if he had been raised with us." He said softly.

Don Alejandro straightened a little. "Do you think so?" he asked.

Diego nodded. "Yes I do. When Senora Inez told you the truth, he was watching you closely and I saw some hesitation and some confusion at your obvious lack of knowledge about him. I think he was having doubts about what he had been told about you. Perhaps he was not so under her control as she thought." He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts. "I believe that although he was raised on hatred and bitterness, deep down he still wanted to have a father that he could be proud of and who would be proud of him. He was like a small child, wanting his father's approval but unsure of how to get it."

Don Alejandro sat up straight as he thought about Diego's words; it made some sense to his guilt and grief stricken mind. "How did you become so wise son." He asked with some amusement. It was usually the parent giving advice to their children, not the other way round.

Diego smiled as he understood the role reversal. "From you."

Don Alejandro nodded as he squeezed Diego's arm. "Thank you." He paused for a second. "I would like some time alone now." He requested quietly. He wanted to make peace with his wife and the son he never knew he had.

"Of course." Diego replied as he rose somewhat stiffly and left him alone but not before he glanced back to see his father gently brush his fingertips against the inscription on his mother's headstone. He felt hot tears in his eyes at the intensely private moment and turned away once more, leaving his father to his grief.

Don Alejandro closed his eyes. "Forgive me querida. If I had known, I would have moved heaven and earth to return to your side for the birth of our twin boys." He said quietly.

"There's nothing to forgive my darling Alejandro." said a soft, feminine voice. "Do not grieve over what had happened in the past. You must live for the present and the future. We have another son, Diego, for you to know and love."

Don Alejandro bowed his head as tears started to flow down his face. "I will querida, I promise."