The Comandante of Monterey

and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo

 

by

 Eugene H. Craig

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

It was mid-morning when Captain Luís del Guerro knocked on the door to the Gregorio Verdugo household near the plaza of Monterey. He was ushered inside by a pleasant woman servant who asked him to have a seat while she announced him to the family. He removed his hat and gloves, placing them on a table next to the chair. He had hardly settled in the chair before he heard a pair of running feet and saw Melana Verdugo almost out of breath as she stopped at the door.

He stood up and began to greet her when she rushed at him and threw her arms around his neck. "Oh, Captain del Guerro, thank you, thank you!"

The comandante was quite taken by surprise, but it was a pleasant surprise. He put his hands on her waist to steady her. He had never seen her so, well, enthusiastic. "My dear," he asked humorously, "what have I done to deserve this?"

Melana gave him a kiss on the cheek before pulling back and gazing at him in admiration. "Oh, Captain, you saved Father's life last night. You saved everybody! You're my hero!"

Luís cleared his throat. "Well, I didn't do it all by myself, Señorita. There were several soldiers present as well as Lieutenant Morales."

Melana laughed, "Oh, you! Father got here early and told us all about what happened." Then she took his hand. "Come out to the patio. We're having a late breakfast. Have you eaten yet?"

Felipe Verdugo met the officer and his daughter at the entrance to the interior patio. He took the man's hand, shaking it energetically. "Welcome, Captain del Guerro. Won't you join us for a bite to eat?" He looked behind the officer. "Where is Lieutenant Morales? I've never seen you without your aide."

"Lieutenant Morales offers his apologies for being late. He said he had to make an important detour before joining me here. I trust you will forgive him."

Melana gave del Guerro a winning smile. "Forgiven," she said. She looked around her. "But where did Anamaría go? She was here just a moment ago."

"The Señorita said she would be right back," said the woman servant, bringing in some steaming cups of chocolate and a platter of fresh fruit. "She asked that the Señor Comandante please wait until she returns." Del Guerro nodded to her in response.

"I don't know what that's all about, Melana," said Don Felipe. "Let's have a seat, shall we?" He turned to the comandante. "You must be exhausted today, Captain, after last night. Me, I couldn't sleep much. I had to check up on my little girl. Anamaría told us that you told her to keep Melana here in town and safe. Thank you so much."

Luís sipped the hot chocolate, then put the cup down. "I'm pleased to report that all the major principles are behind bars. I don't think there is anything more for any of you to fear, but if you have any trepidations, I am more than willing to assign a few soldiers to guard your home until you feel more secure."

"I don't think that will be necessary, Captain, but thank you for your kind offer. When you told me that García would be put in chains, nothing could make me feel better."

"Just out of curiosity, Don Felipe,” del Guerro asked casually, “could you tell me what happened in your room yesterday?  And what of the dead chicken buried out behind the barn, not to mention your missing servants?"

"Oh, that," the small man waved his arm. "My two servants are away attending to some sick children. The chicken was killed and half eaten by a bobcat. I found it torn up and buried it. That same bobcat attacked Mina, my dog, the mother of Fella, and wounded her severely. I found her inside the barn in bad condition. I carried her up to my room to bind the wounds with strips torn from my bed sheet. Then I carried her into town. We stayed at the doctor's all day long. He told me that she will live to have more puppies. It will take a while, though. I was greatly relieved. She had lost a lot of blood."

"And how is little Fella doing, Captain?" asked Melana. "He must have missed his papa all the time you were gone."

Luís smiled. "He was waiting there very patiently for me on the bed. I must have fallen asleep when my head hit the pillow. When I woke up this morning, he had burrowed under the blanket and was curled up next to me. I've already put him on guard duty," he joked.

He looked up and saw Anamaría coming in from the hall. He rose to greet her. "Señorita Anamaría," he smiled taking her proffered hand.

She smiled in return, "Comandante." She looked around. "Where is Lieutenant Morales?"

"Oh, he's coming soon," Melana spoke up. "Don't worry."

"Uncle Felipe told us about what happened after you left here last night, Captain," Anamaría said, turning to del Guerro and meeting his eyes. She seemed to be searching for something and he wasn't sure why. "You really went above and beyond the call of duty for our family."

Before the Captain could reply, the servant announced the arrival of Lieutenant Morales. "This is the gentleman who carried out the ambush last night," the comandante said to her.

Lieutenant Morales stepped onto the patio and greeted everyone. Before he could be offered a chair, he walked up to Felipe Verdugo. "I'm sorry to be so late, Señores, Ladies. Could I possibly have a private word with you, Señor? It's very important." He turned to the captain and gave him a hard look. Del Guerro nodded in a knowing way.

"Of course, Lieutenant, of course. Please come with me to the study."

Melana looked puzzled, but del Guerro winked at Anamaría.

Anamaría pursed her lips a moment and seemed to remember something she had to do.

"Captain, may I have a private word with you over by the fountain. It will only take a few moments."

"Certainly, Señorita," answered the captain. She took his arm in hers and led the way to a stone fountain on the far side of the patio. It was decorated with the images of flowers and birds and there was a bench that went all the way around it. The branches of two shade trees hung over the walkway and gave a sense of privacy to the setting.

She sat down and patted the bench next to her. "Please sit down," she asked. She seemed nervous, thought Luís. He sat very close to her and gently placed a hand on hers. She looked down at his hand and seemed pleased. Then she looked up into his eyes. "Do you remember the day we first met, Luís?"

"How could I forget," he smiled. "The two most gracious ladies of Monterey sat in their carriage and watched the comandante fall off his horse."

She tried not to smile at that, but didn’t succeed very well. "Do you remember how you got yourself in that situation, Luís?"

The captain's face became more serious. He wasn't sure why she was asking him and he thought her intent was sincere. "There were two gentlemen who had made a bet on being able to spear the straw man. One of them was making a very poor showing. I offered to show him how it was done."

"That's right," she said placing her other hand on top of his.  “Luís, you won the contest, but you walked away without collecting the prize."

Then, unexpectedly, her eyes filled with tears. She had not meant for it to happen, but it did. Luís felt an emotion of great intensity radiating from her. It hit him like grapeshot, then rolled on. He felt a responding emotion of his own welling up from deep inside his chest. It came from within his heart. He gave her a very tender look. "What was the prize, Anamaría?" he asked in a soft voice she barely recognized.

A tear glided down one cheek. "My kerchief," she whispered and opened her hand to give it to him.

 Luís took the kerchief and took a deep breath, smelling the jasmine scent that was her scent, the scent that he always remembered. He carefully folded it, and dried her tears with it.

"I can't accept your kerchief, Anamaría," he said, gazing into her misty eyes. He saw her shocked reaction, then her eyes searching his, searching his face, not understanding what he was saying.

"What?" she asked in a weak voice, hardly believing her ears. "What did you say?"

"I can't accept your kerchief, Anamaría,” Luís repeated, “unless the lady comes with the prize." He caressed her cheek with the tips of his fingers. Then he took her in his arms and kissed her very tenderly on the mouth.

Her arms fastened around his chest. "Do you really want the lady, too, Luís?" she whispered in his ear.

"It would make me the happiest man in Monterey if she did," he responded.

"Oh, Luís, are you asking me to marry you knowing that I love Señor Zorro, too?"

The comandante of Monterey held her close. "We all love other people for many reasons," he said. "I could ask the same question of you. Would you really want to marry me knowing that I will always love Carmen, my dead wife? Or my parents? Or the King for that fact?"

Anamaría smiled through her tears, her cheek resting on his shoulder. "Then it really doesn't matter, does it Luís? And you still want to marry me?"

"Yes, darling, I do." He kissed her again. "Shall I formalize the proposal?"

Anamaría pulled back and looked at him in astonishment. "Do you mean to put it in writing?" Then she saw the twinkle in his eye.

"No, Anamaría. I mean like this." Luís del Guerro released her, then knelt on one knee before her and asked for her hand in marriage.

From across the patio, Melana watched the unfolding scene with wide eyes as the comandante of Monterey and her cousin kissed very tenderly after he got up off his knee. She jumped up and hastened to her father's study just as the door opened and Lieutenant Morales came out. She ran right up to him.

"Oh, Alonso! Oh, Father, Father! Captain del Guerro just proposed to Anamaría out on the patio."

"He did?" Felipe Verdugo exclaimed, looking at Morales in surprise. "Are you sure, daughter?"

"Oh, yes. They talked, he kissed her, she cried, they kissed, and then he went down on his knee to her, holding her hands. I just know he asked her."

"Well, what did she say?"

"Oh, I know she said 'yes.' You should have seen them. Oh, Father, isn't it wonderful? I knew it was going to happen."

"Looks like the Verdugos will have to plan on a double marriage, Don Felipe," said Lieutenant Alonso Morales with a smile.

"A double marriage?" Melana asked. Then she realized what he was saying and she looked at Alonso in surprise. "Is that why you've been talking to Father?"

"Yes, Melana. I was going to ask you next." He pulled a ring out of his sleeve and held it out. "This is why I was late."

"Oh, Alonso," Melana exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck. "I do, I do. And I'm not going to cry about it either."

 

 

THE END

 

 

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