Comandante of Monterey
and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo
Eugene H. Craig
“We have a visitor,” remarked Captain Luís
del Guerro as the four riders came around the curve in the road at the
edge of the Verdugo ranch. He spotted the lone black horse tied up
outside the residence at once.
Melana Verdugo stared at the distant horse and
looked worried. “That is Señor Velásquez’s horse, Captain del
Guerro. What should we do?”
“Act as if nothing is out of the ordinary.
We’ve been out on a pleasant excursion.”
A few minutes later, the two Verdugo cousins
entered the patio, laughing and chatting on the arms of the army
officers as if they had not a care in the world. When they opened the
door they saw a tense Felipe Verdugo and his visitor, a tall corpulent
man, in the middle of what must have been an argument.
To his surprise, Felipe Verdugo saw his niece
Anamaría with her arm through Luís’ as if they were very old
friends. Melana held Alonso Morales’ hand, laughing as if they had
been joking together.
“Oh, Father, we have had the most splendid
time this afternoon. You should have come with us.”
Don Felipe took the comment in stride although
he remembered Anamaría’s unspoken desire not to have him come along.
“I thought you girls would have been back sooner, but it is good to
see that you have enjoyed yourself so much.” He introduced the
comandante of Monterey and his aide to his visitor.
“Captain del Guerro, this is my associate,
Pedro Velásquez.” Velásquez nodded in a haughty manner, but made no
effort to speak.
“A pleasure, Señor,” responded Luís
politely. He continued as if Velásquez did not exist. “Don Felipe,
your daughter and Señorita Anamaría have a keen eye for nature and we
had a fine time inspecting the artists’ viewpoint. It is as impressive
as she described.”
The heavy-set man who was Pedro Velásquez
frowned as he watched the young man who was introduced as Lieutenant
Morales turn and whisper something to Melana. She giggled and gave the
officer a familiar squeeze. Little could Velásquez imagine that this
was pure drama intended for his consumption. Nevertheless he could not
resist commenting, “I see that you have a new friend, Melana, who
seems to amuse you a great deal.”
“That is so true, Don Pedro. Alonso is just so
sweet and witty…and very handsome, don’t you think?”
Morales’ smile reached his eyes and he held
her hand in his. “Ah, dear Melana, I am just a frail weed in the
garden next to your beauty and talent. You should have seen this
artist’s eye for detail and hear her plans for her next painting, Señor!”
Don Felipe beamed at this praise for his daughter.
Velásquez, on the other hand, frowned at this
lively banter, his eyes drilling into Morales who was giving all this
lavish attention to Melana. He pursed his lips, ready for an unsavory
Captain del Guerro watched all of this with a
pleasant smile on his face and turned slightly towards Velásquez to
view him better. “Don’t be too modest, Morales. You know the old
saying ‘Talent attracts
talent’.” Luís was rewarded by Velásquez’s reddening face.
Anamaría decided to outdo them all:
“Oh, how true, Luís. But my favorite saying is ‘Who can
resist a military man?’ They’re just so efficient and brave, not to
mention adventurous and dashing. My, I’m almost running out of
words….” Luís took all the comments in stride as if he expected
nothing less from her, including sarcasm, but her familiar use of his
Christian name was unexpected.
Verdugo’s business partner was practically
beside himself. It seemed to him that his own out-of-shape figure, his
thinning, tufted hair and double chin were being held up to ridicule and
comparison to the trim, smartly uniformed figures opposite him. If Pedro
Velásquez had been less jealous and more observant, he would have
noticed the expression of amazement that crossed Don Felipe’s face at
this astonishing exchange. Nevertheless, Felipe recovered himself
sufficiently to comment, “I’m glad to see that you gentlemen have
captured the hearts of the Verdugo household. My compliments, Señores.”
Velazquez finally found his tongue. His anger
was controlled, though not his jealousy. “The military serves the
Crown, Melana, but military men come and they go. Their lives are
neither stable nor secure. Civilian life is best suited for those who
wish to live comfortably and well. Of course, you gentlemen, ” he
paused over the word as if not wishing to apply it to the officers,
“will disagree as you must, but these young ladies are too naïve to
Anamaría laughed at Velásquez, much to his
chagrin. “I could not disagree more, Señor,” she said with a
gesture, ignoring her uncle’s attempts to intervene and end the rising
conflict. “Stability and security? What do these words mean and for
whom? Perhaps for old age, but we young people are always ready to
explore new worlds and enjoy the challenge that life brings us – with
all its ups and downs. We do so with optimism and confidence, just as
Uncle Felipe says we should. And comfort and security comes with the
man, not with being tied down to the idea by itself.” She gave him her
most disarming smile.
Del Guerro was pleased at how well she took on a
man like Velásquez who could be intimidating, even to other men. She
countered Velásquez’s stuffy paternalism with ease, even though Luís’
own views were fairly conservative as well. Outwardly, he patted her
arm, more in admiration than approval, enjoying her enthusiasm and gave
Velásquez a look of amused condescension.
“Ah hum,” Felipe Verdugo cleared his throat
loudly. “It seems everyone has their own point of view which they are
determined to adhere to. Let us change the subject, shall we?”
“I think we need to get to the point,
Felipe,” growled Velásquez. “We have a problem that we need to
settle and perhaps you gentlemen, and ladies, will excuse us.”
“Certainly,” replied Luís. “We had not
meant to intrude upon your visitor, Don Felipe. My apologies.” He
turned towards the young women. “You
ladies did mention something of interest…” he noted Velásquez’s
eyes grow interested and his body tense, “I believe you said you had
Velásquez relaxed again and stared at Felipe
intensely. Felipe ignored his guest momentarily and suddenly suggested
that the officers stay for dinner. Velásquez looked displeased at this
and turned away in disgust.
“I’ll let the cook know we will be having
two extra guests, Father,” said Melana.
“Will that be three, Pedro?” asked Felipe,
turning back to Velásquez. “There are so many interesting things to
discuss when the table is full.”
Pedro Velásquez did not relish spending the
evening competing with the officers but he wanted to keep an eye on
Melana and the fair-haired Morales. “Make it three, Felipe.”
“I’ll be right back,” said Melana. She
turned to Luís. “Captain del Guerro, I can bring down my sketches and
some small water colors I did. We can look at them in the garden.”
Melana left to inform the cook and made her way
up the stairs. She was tense because of the way Velásquez looked at her
and his hatred of Morales was apparent. She gathered her materials and
checked on her hiding place for the journal. It was still there, hidden
at the bottom of her jewelry box that contained knickknacks, rings, and
assorted necklaces. She put it back in the bottom of her chest of
drawers. She gathered her materials and left her room. She began to
descend the stairs when she heard a movement down the hall.
“Melana, wait!” commanded a voice that she
recognized as Velásquez’s. She turned around a forced a smile on her
face. “Yes, is everything all right, Señor Velásquez?”
Velásquez stood in the hallway, towering like
an unwelcome shadow, suspicious and wary. “What do you have there?“
When she showed him the sketches, he dismissed them. “I need to talk
to you,” he said forcibly.
smile disappeared from Melana’s face. “What is wrong, Señor?” she
“For starters, stop calling me ‘Señor’,” he said in a curt, irritated tone. “What ever happened to ‘Pedro’?”
“Your pardon, Don Pedro, I have only addressed
you as ‘Don Pedro,’ nothing more.”
Velásquez seemed to gain control over his
irritation and forced his own smile. “Won’t you let me change that,
Melana? We have been friends a long time and our families are quite
close. Not like that soldier boy who is a stranger, but who flirts well.
Beware a handsome face and one that makes pretty promises. A man like
that is out after only one thing, and it’s not your honor.”
Melana was shocked by his suggestion and flushed
deeply. She did not for a minute doubt that Lieutenant Morales was
anything but a gentleman. “I hope you will excuse me, Señor, but I
have guests waiting for me,” she said in a strained voice, eager to
flee to the garden. “Of course, you are a friend, but that is all.”
“I hope to make it more than that, Melana,”
she heard his voice as she turned her back and hurried down the stairs.
Luís was the first to notice her distressed
look and the tears in her eyes as she came out onto the patio. She
stopped and looked for Anamaría. He went up to her at once. “What is
wrong, Señorita Melana?”
She put her pictures on the table, sat down, and
cried. He handed her a handkerchief that he plucked out of the side of
his scarlet sash. She took it and covered her eyes, as if the cloth by
itself could stop her tears. The comandante put his hands on her
shoulders and squeezed them gently. “You’ll be all right, it’s all
right, dear,” he told her reassuringly.
Alonso Morales and Anamaría, who were chatting
about the garden and its design, rushed over from the far side of the
patio. Morales knelt at her side. “What did Velásquez say to you that
made you cry, Señorita Melana?” Morales was concerned and angry.
Anamaría put her arms around her cousin.
Melana recovered after she had a good cry.
“It’s, it’s all right now,” she sniffed. She looked at Morales,
“Oh, Alonso,” then, looked up at del Guerro. “Oh, Captain, it’s
all my worse fears.” And the tears began again.
“What did that demon say to you?” demanded
Anamaría. While Melana related the story between sobs, del Guerro
gestured Morales aside.
“Lieutenant, we may be able to use this, if
you get my meaning. Tactics supporting a general strategy.”
“I understand, Captain. This would seem to be
a side act to the main performance.”
“Yes, we have to keep our major objective in
sight. And, Lieutenant, continue to play your role well.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Morales in a low voice,
adding to del Guerro’s surprise, “and I don’t need to play at
it.” He turned back to Melana as she looked up and around, as if
seeking him out.
The door to the patio opened and Felipe Verdugo
stepped out the door with Velásquez following him. They were talking.
Verdugo stopped short. “What’s this? Melana, why are you crying?”
Captain Luís del Guerro stepped forward
aggressively at their appearance, “Your pardon, Don Felipe, but I have
a few things to say to Señor Velásquez.”
Felipe stepped aside in surprise and the captain
turned his anger on his pudgy guest. “You, Señor, are no gentleman.
Your manners are crude and your insinuations to Señorita Melana are as
unwelcome as they are presumptuous.”
Velásquez opened his mouth to reply and began
to step forward, but the comandante’s withering attack stopped him in
his tracks. “Silence!” he ordered. “You will hear me out! I will
not tolerate any one making charges against one of my officers and I
especially will not tolerate any slander regarding his honor or his
relations with Señorita Melana. I warn you, Señor, in all
seriousness,” he paused and repeated forcefully, “I warn you.” He
tapped the hilt of his saber for emphasis.
The outburst from the usually composed and
mild-mannered captain shocked those present. Lieutenant Alonso Morales
rose up off his knee from next to Melana. He approached Velásquez who
had begun to sputter in defense.
“And I, Señor, have something to say to you
as well.” Velásquez noted that Morales’ fists were clenched. “You
seem to think that you have some proprietary rights over Señorita
Melana and her life, who she chooses to have as friends or relations.
You are greatly mistaken. And if you ever question either her honor or
mine again, I will see to it that it will be the last time you do so.”
“What is this, then, Pedro?” demanded Felipe
Verdugo who was shocked by the officers’ outbursts. “I think you
have some explaining to do!”
Velásquez looked unsure of himself a moment,
thrown off balance by the frontal assault of the officers. Then an
expression of innocence formed on his face, though his crafty eyes
darted from person to person and at last settled on Verdugo. “There
must be some mistake, Felipe, some misunderstanding. I’m not sure what
this is all about.”
Both officers snorted in disbelief. Melana
looked stunned by the smoothness of the lie. Anamaría was outraged. Her
fists clenched. She was so angry that she lost all the words that had
formed on the tip of her tongue.
But Felipe was conciliatory. “What happened?
We need to get to the bottom of this.” He turned to his daughter.
“Tell me, dear,” he encouraged her. Melana shook her head.
“There is no doubt what the bottom of this is,” retorted Morales hotly.
“The lieutenant is obviously over-reacting to
something which is none of his business,” interjected Velásquez
smoothly. “It must have something to do with a comment I made to
Melana, warning her about his familiarity with her upon a first meeting.
I meant no harm, Felipe, merely to warn a young girl about a man who is
obviously attracted to her ………and possibly to her family’s
Morales’ sword was halfway out of its scabbard
when he felt del Guerro’s restraining hand upon his arm. “At ease,
Lieutenant!” he murmured in the younger man’s ear.
Del Guerro caught on at once to Velásquez’s
masterful manipulation and redirection of the conversation. Despite the
emotions present, he was determined to keep the focus of the issue where
it belonged. But he would do it with courtesy and a tempering of his
words. Alienating Don Felipe would cost them all the territory he had
gained so far.
It was a restrained and diplomatic comandante of
Monterey who spoke to the master of the house: “Don Felipe, please
permit me to say that I believe what your daughter told us, despite the
fact that Velásquez implies his comments were innocent. I assure you,
Señor, that they were not.” He paused, understanding both the gravity
of the situation as well as of Velásquez’s long-standing business
relationship with Verdugo. “It is quite possible that Señor Velásquez
has his own agenda as well.”
“You are out of line, Captain,” retorted Velásquez
in a superior tone. “You are merely guessing without any facts. Your
defense of your officer is admirable and your courtesy is eloquent for
all to see, but that changes nothing.” He turned towards Verdugo.
“But you are right about one thing, Felipe. I am concerned about
Melana’s welfare and her future. I do not see either any harm in
protecting her from strangers or from her own naivete.”
Anamaría finally found her tongue. She had
decided a long time ago that laughter was a good tool of attack and she
laughed at Velásquez’s words. He turned an angry face towards her in
response. “Uncle Felipe, I agree with Luís, who is impartial,” she
said, deliberately using his first name to let her uncle know that she
now considered the comandante of Monterey more than just a military man
or visitor. “I think Señor Velásquez is using his friendship with
you. Surely you can see that.”
To her surprise, Felipe Verdugo became tense at
this. “Now it is you who are out of line, Anamaría. Pedro has been a
friend for more years than you have been upon this Earth. We all have
our misunderstandings at times, but nothing but God above will dissolve
our friendship.” Velásquez looked positively smug at that comment.
Felipe turned to del Guerro. He tried his best
to be diplomatic to the man he genuinely liked and respected.
“Captain, thank you for your courtesy and diplomacy in this unpleasant
situation, but I really think you are wrong. My daughter is a sensitive
and over-imaginative girl. You yourself have noted this with her
preoccupation for romantic books and scenes. Pedro could not be more
concerned for her welfare than I myself. He is like a good uncle to
Melana’s mouth dropped open at the injustice
of his words and her eyes filled with tears again. She shook her head.
Anamaría was the very picture of outrage.
paused, taking in a wide spectrum of feelings he did not feel adequate
enough to deal with all at once. He did not like confrontation or raw
emotion. “I also appreciate the concern you are showing for any
possible slight to Melana’s sensitivities that you believe to have
taken place. I am assured by your sense of honor, and yours, too,
Lieutenant Morales. I believe that your concerns are genuine. However, I
do not believe that they reflect reality. Let us drop this for the
present, shall we? We all need time for reflection and to gain control
of our emotions. Let us not end such a fine day on such a sour note.”
Velásquez looked triumphant and self-satisfied
at Felipe’s words. He could always count on Felipe to ease the way,
smooth out the rough spots and avoid the worse. Velásquez was the lion
and Verdugo the lamb, he thought.
Del Guerro felt like bowing out of dinner at
this point, but decided a change in tactics might be more beneficial in
the long run. Besides, he wanted to keep an eye on Velásquez the rest
of the evening to try to find out more about him, to appraise him
further. He could see that Felipe was trying to keep everyone’s good
will and that might just serve a good purpose. Luís’ agile mind
wanted to pursue the war on many fronts, probing the enemy, seeking out
strengths and weaknesses. He would compromise for now.
“As you wish, Don Felipe. I only hope that our
concerns will prove to be of naught. However, I do prefer to err on the
side of honor. Be assured, nevertheless, that both of us stand firm in
our defense of this young lady and we will not stand down until the
facts play themselves out otherwise.” He looked Velásquez straight in
the eye as he said this and paused for emphasis.
Then he changed the subject. “Señorita Melana did tell me you
have some fighting cocks and dogs, both of which interest me a great
deal. Animals have a strange way of bringing men together, don’t you
Don Felipe looked relieved and smiled at this
opening. “Oh, they are not just of great interest to me, Captain. They
are my passion. Yes, such sport brings men of diverse interests together
and I would be very pleased to show you my birds. Shall we go down to
the stables?” He gestured to a gate at the back of the garden and
motioned for the men to follow him. “Just this morning I purchased a
new bird and it is a fine specimen. Come along, Pedro. Even you have not
yet seen this bird.”
As Felipe gestured his guests out ahead of him,
he turned to Melana and Anamaria. “Go inside and wash away your tears,
daughter. Everything will turn out fine, I’m sure. We can discuss this
later.” He smiled and Anamaría thought that somehow his smile looked
rather false. She felt great disappointment in her uncle. He looked weak
and conciliatory in comparison to the others. She was still angry.
“Let’s go inside Melana,” she said to her
cousin as the men departed. “I’ll let you wear my green dress for
dinner, the one you like.” She tried to think about what she wanted to
do later as they went up the stairs together. As they entered Anamaría’s
room, Melana sat down in a chair.
“Oh, Anamaría, I really don’t care about
the dress. I don’t want you to leave my side, ever. I don’t want to
be in the house anywhere alone when he’s here. Now, I’m
“Let’s think about that later, Melana. I
want you to wear my green dress. Wear it for Alonso. Let’s put on some
nice jewelry, too. What do you think?”
Melana smiled inspite of her tears. “Yes,” she said in a more determined voice. “I’ll do it for Alonso and I’ll only talk to him….oh, and to Captain del Guerro, too.” She looked up at her cousin. “You know, Anamaría, I really like the captain now that we’re getting to know him. He is a real gentleman. Did you notice how he would not back down from what he said about me? And Alonso, did you notice that he even tried to draw his sword…?”
Anamaría nodded, thinking of the comandante.
“Well, I wouldn’t expect him to do otherwise, Melana. He took a
stand and will defend it.” She paused. “Yes, he’s a bit different
from what I thought before.”
Melana nodded. “And Father. I’m so angry
about his trying to make it look like I was lying. I still can’t
believe he would say those things about me. Why is he against me? I’m
“I don’t know Melana, I just don’t know.” She shook her head. “Let’s talk about this later tonight.”