The Comandante of Monterey

and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo

 

by

 Eugene H. Craig

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

   

Two Spanish officers escorted their lady companions to the Gregorio Verdugo home, which was not far from the center of the town of Monterey. Anamaría Verdugo and Captain Luís del Guerro lingered behind the other couple.

 Luís felt quite relaxed as he strolled arm in arm with the elegant young woman at his side. He pointed out the evening star to her in the glow of a golden sunset. "Soon, a thousand such worlds will take its place," he mused. "The stars have never ceased to create wonder in me as I gaze at them from any place I have ever been."

"I like the night sky as well," responded Anamaría, "but usually on the patio at home where I feel safe."

"Hopefully, one day you will view them from your artist's viewpoint when the sky is clear and there is no light to mar their beauty. There is a feeling of serenity that comes with an unencumbered view of the night sky, even when surrounded by the dark forest. There, the sea breeze and the stars form a unique harmony," the captain said, coming to a halt along the street. Then he returned his gaze to his companion and looked apologetic as if he had said too much for the occasion. "Ah, but forgive me, Anamaría."

The young lady had enjoyed his observation, but feeling a little awkward at the freshness of their new friendship, she changed the subject. “Luís, I have been thinking about your question of earlier today and I may have an answer for you - the question you asked me is whether Uncle Felipe has enemies or not.”

The comandante had his arm through hers and drew even closer. It was not hard to whisper in his ear because he was barely an inch taller than she was in her heels. “I’m listening, dear,” he said.

“I talked with Melana and we think that there are two possibilities. One is a man called García. He lives here in town and most of his dealings are with Pedro Velásquez, although he has been out to Uncle Felipe’s in the past. The other is an unknown. Last night Uncle Felipe asked him to check back at García’s for his lost journal and then at the Inn where he was frequenting. I don’t know the cattlemen Uncle Felipe deals with. You will have to ask Melana about that.”

“Ask us in for a few minutes and give me a chance to do that this evening, if it will not be an imposition on either of you,” responded Luís. “The chain of events seems to be running just ahead of us and I’d like to catch up with it before the trail grow too cold to find the kind of evidence I need.”

“Luís, do you think anyone could be watching us or following us, based on what has been going on?” she asked suddenly.

“I don’t think that is an unreasonable assumption to make,” he answered carefully. “I want you to know, however, that I am vigilant and I sense no danger at the present. Our appearance at the Inn tonight served a dual purpose, one of which was meant to show that we are merely being sociable, passing our time in entertainment and pleasant conversation – for public consumption.”

"And the other purpose?" she asked mischievously.

The captain let the question pass unanswered, but gave her arm a gentle squeeze.

“Can you tell me anything at all about this afternoon?” she probed.

“Only that I arrested Señor Velásquez,” he smiled.

“Oh,” she laughed. “I heard you tell him that you would, if he kept insulting an officer of the Crown.” She was almost gleeful.

“And that officer’s new puppy,” joked Luís lightly, wanting to put his companion at ease. He could tell she was enjoying the banter and wondered if she really believed what he just told her. 

 They turned another corner and came to the Verdugo residence. Melana and Lieutenant Morales seemed to be waiting for them. In another minute they were ushered inside and down a hall to a brightly lit sitting room. The comandante asked Melana for a word with her and they sat down near the fireplace.

 Anamaría sat down with Alonso Morales near a window that overlooked the interior patio. “You know, Lieutenant, I haven’t had a chance to speak to you at all these last two days. It seems that my cousin has had all the fun.”

“That’s very kind of you Señorita, but I don’t think Melana has had all the fun. I have really enjoyed her company as well,” he replied with a sparkle in his eyes. “When I told your uncle that she must be a fascinating conversationalist, it was an understatement.”

“What sort of things must she be talking about?  Hopefully, not all those romances she reads.”

“Not at all,” Morales protested. “I’m almost amazed by the kind of literature and history she has read. She knows all the best poems and literature of Spain and other countries. She was really fascinated with the captain’s poem and told me all about the kind of art and music of the period.” He paused and looked a little embarrassed. “I must sound pretty much taken by her.”

Anamaría smiled benevolently at that. “That’s all right, Alonso – oh, may I call you that? – I can tell you that Melana loves having such a good listener as you are. Our spirits are lifted when we can talk with kindred souls.”

“You know, Señorita,” he leaned over confidentially, “both the captain and I feel that way as well.”

Anamaría was silent a few moments and looked over at Melana and Luís. “Would you care to walk out with me to the patio, Lieutenant?” she asked. “I need some fresh air.”

The army officer rose with her and they strolled out the door. She sat on a bench and gestured for him to join her. Once they sat down, she got to the point. “Could I ask you a confidential question, Alonso?”

“Yes, of course, “ the officer said quietly. “And I’ll answer the best that I can.”

“Can you tell me something about Luís  – not just what kind of officer he is, but what he is really like, well, you know, what kind of man he is?”

“That’s a complex question and I would have to give you a complex answer to be fair to the captain," the lieutenant began. "Briefly, he is one of the finest officers I have ever known – being conscientious and efficient. He really believes in good government and law and order. He tries to be the best example he can be, even if he tries too hard. The amazing thing is that, despite all the corruption and politics, he attempts to stand above it, or at least to get out of the way of the harm it does."

Alonso smiled in a contemplative way. "He’s very set in his ways about what is right and wrong and that guides him in his actions. You probably already have sensed some of this.” Morales paused a moment and looked at Luís through the window. “Now that is the part you didn’t need to hear, but I wanted to tell you anyway because, as his subordinate, I have never worked under anyone who gave credit where credit is due to the degree that he does. It takes honesty and integrity to do that.”

The lieutenant grew quiet a few moments, combing one hand through his sandy-colored hair before resuming. “As a man, he is much the same. The Army has been his life so it shapes our views and goals. He is personally courageous and generally very tolerant, more than most, I mean. However, like most of us, that tolerance only goes so far. You can strike him with your glove once or twice and he might overlook it or forgive you, but try doing it that third time and you’ve gone too far with him.”

Anamaría involuntarily gave start as she remembered the near hanging of Ricardo del Amo. "‘You've got a tiger by the tail’ - that's what a friend of mine said."

 Morales’ blue eyes met her brown ones. “I know what you are thinking - about your friend del Amo. Yes, he told me about that. It has bothered him. He felt it was the worst command decision he ever made and his pride was dealt a blow. But Luís is a man who does not wallow in this sort of thing. He moves on. He is reasonable and levelheaded. He feels that he has moved beyond the unpleasantries and that the road ahead is open.”

 Morales paused a moment before concluding, “I hope this gives you some more insight into the captain, whom I am proud to say is my friend, not just a commanding officer.”

Anamaría was silent for a few minutes after he finished. Then she asked, “Does he have a family? I don’t even know if he’s married or not.”

“Yes, he has a family in Spain –  brothers and sisters. I don’t know them. I think his parents are still alive. He’s not married now. He lost his wife a few years ago to a cholera epidemic.”

“I see,” said Anamaría in a quiet voice. “I’m sorry to hear that." She hesitated. " Did…. did her death hurt him?”

“Yes, I think he has never stopped missing her. But isn’t that true of all of us whenever we lose a loved one or family member? He came home on unexpected leave from the war. He wanted to surprise her with his good fortune, only to find she had passed away just a few days before. So, it was a shock.”

"Did they have any children?" she asked, feeling numbed by the revelation and wondering if there was any happy ending to such a sad story.

"No," the lieutenant shook his head. "There probably wasn't time. It was the war - and the war."

Anamaría looked through the window at Luís again. “I hope you don’t think I’m asking questions that are none of my business,” she said. “But I’ve seen a different side recently to a man I thought I would dislike because of the situation with Ricardo. There are many qualities of his that I've come to admire. I guess I just wanted to know more because, because I’m afraid of being disappointed in someone again….. I don’t really know how to explain it.”

Alonso leaned close, took her hand in his and said very sincerely, “I hope you won’t be offended by what I say, because it really comes from my heart, Anamaría.”

The young man gathered his thoughts and began. “I think that we sometimes become disappointed in someone else if we expect perfection in them. And none of us is perfect. We all make mistakes in our judgements or what we do on occasion. Don’t idealize a man. Accept that which is good and learn to live with everything else. You can do that if you decide that all his good qualities are worth the little bit of aggravation.”

The young officer then looked a little embarrassed because of how straightforward he had been to her. “I ask your pardon for saying this. Just don’t be disappointed by Luís’ mistakes. Take a look at the man he is overall. I think you will find that his good qualities outweigh anything else.” He released her hand slowly.

Anamaría smiled into the young lieutenant’s eyes. “You are a true friend to the captain,” she said. “I also admire that a great deal. I'm glad you are his friend, Alonso, and mine, too. You have been very honest with me and I've missed that even in my own friends. The only other person who has ever spoken to me like you is Diego de la Vega. But he lives far away in Los Angeles."

"Do you love this man?" asked Alonso.

Anamaría smiled in a wistful sort of way. "I'm very fond of him, but I don't love him. He likes me very much, I know that, but I've already told him that I consider him a brother, nothing more."

Morales looked up observing that del Guerro had risen from his seat and was looking through the window. "I think the captain is finished now. Perhaps we should go back inside."

 

 

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