Comandante of Monterey
and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo
Eugene H. Craig
“Can I offer you gentleman a cigar? These are
really quite excellent,” said Felipe Verdugo after dinner.
Del Guerro really wasn’t a smoker but he took
one anyway. Morales lit his own from the fire in the fireplace and
placed the end of his to the captain’s. Del Guerro puffed a bit at his
without inhaling and watched most of it burn away in a hand held over a
crossed knee as the small group sat near the great stone fireplace in
Verdugo’s study. Morales, on the other hand relished his, drawing in
pure pleasure and leisurely blowing out rings of smoke. Every once in a
while he cast the captain’s burning cigar a look of remorse as he
watched it waste away. A real pity, Morales thought, because it’s such
a good cigar.
Neither Verdugo nor Velásquez seemed to notice because they were caught up in a discussion of the cattle trade and the problems of getting their products from inland ranchos to the coastal markets, limited though they were.
Velásquez leaned back in his chair and looked the lieutenant up and
down as if appraising him for market. “Do you know anything of the
trade, Morales?” asked Velásquez expansively. “Or is soldiering
your line exclusively?”
“I’m afraid that I’m more a consumer of
the products after the animals are dead,” smiled Morales.
Velásquez and the others laughed at that.
“Well, at least you have a sense of humor. But if you listen well, you
could learn about our concerns, the concerns that make it possible for
you to even have the saddles on your horses or the boots of your
Anamaría had been sitting quietly off to the
side with Melana most of the evening after dinner just listening to the
easy conversation of the men. She could not understand how Captain del
Guerro and Lieutenant Morales could even talk to Velásquez after their
confrontation on the patio. She decided that playing at good social
relations was a skill that both officers seemed fairly adept at and she
admired their flexibility. Maybe she could use it to her advantage as
“I don’t think that is exactly accurate, Señor
Velásquez,” she spoke up. “It is my understanding that all the
Army’s equipment still comes from Spain.”
Velásquez looked clearly irritated. “You seem
determined to oppose everything I have to say, Anamaría, whenever you
can. And what do you, a señorita, know about army ordinance?”
Luís del Guerro smiled at her and then, back at
Velásquez. “Actually, Señorita Anamaría is right, Señor. At this
time, saddle repair is the only local industry that the Army engages
besides the blacksmith. It would probably be more economically feasible
to have our equipment made locally, but that is, undoubtedly, a future
development to look forward to. In addition, the saddlemakers in Spain
would not be particularly pleased by the Army’s making such a decision
to favor local interests. As you know, the business interests are where
the political decisions are made and that is in Madrid.”
“In seeing the logic of having local industry
prosper and also saving the Crown money, perhaps you could influence
decisions, Captain del Guerro,” Velásquez mused, using the
comandante’s title for the first time. “Our voices by themselves are
nothing and the rewards could be considerable………..that is, for the
“There are other factors that you may wish to
consider – from the Army’s standpoint, Señor,” continued del
Guerro. “There are important issues such as local businesses having a
record of quality workmanship in the use of both metal and leather for
saddles, bridles and bits. Getting these high standards from Spain has
been a process over the years. There are always those who try to
shortchange the government and not appreciate the impact on the very men
who are protecting and defending them and the kingdom in the field.”
Luís had not missed the implication of Velásquez’s last statement
and he wanted to give notice that his military administration was not to
be involved in such affairs. Luís’ duty was the duty of a soldier,
not as a broker between economic interests. On the other hand, he would
not discourage colonial interests from getting into the market.
suggestion,” Luís continued, “is that you, and gentlemen like
yourselves, profit from the business tactics employed by those in Spain
– go to those in political power – right here in Monterey. You are
making an unnecessary foray into the cuartel when you can go directly to
the governor’s office. Bring samples of your craftsmanship so it may
be inspected. You would need to work closely with tanners and others
involved in the process. It would be a challenge, of course.”
Felipe Verdugo had been listening quietly for
most of the evening but perked up at the last part of this conversation.
He became enthusiastic. “I like that, Captain. It would make a lot of
sense – instead of just talking to the governor, as we have in the
past, we can actually show him what we can do. I think that we could
coordinate a number of people here into an effective enterprise. The
more who prosper, the better for all of us.”
Pedro Velásquez kept a straight face. He totally disagreed with Felipe. He wanted to be the power behind the cattle trade, any saddlery enterprise, and to be the determining voice in the economic community. What a fool Felipe was, not to seize what he could. Well, if Felipe would not, he knew who would. This comandante would be of no use to him at all, he could see that. Del Guerro had no ambitions to be an economic power broker and he might even prove to be a problem because of his damned honesty. And then there was this fool of a lieutenant that Melana was attracted to. He relished the thought of crushing all of them, including the impertinent Anamaría.
His thoughts were interrupted by Felipe, who had
noticed a smile creep across Velásquez’s face and thought that Pedro
was reacting to his own words.
“Well, what do you think of that, Pedro? We
can set up a meeting with Sánchez and Aguilera for starters, feel them
out, ask them for their ideas.”
“For starters, for starters,” mused Velásquez
as if lost in thought. He knew how to make other men’s ideas his own.
“Well, this conversation has been most fruitful. Gentlemen, I hope you
won’t mind if I retire early this evening. Much has to be done
tomorrow and an early start makes the day longer.” Everyone rose to
politely bid him good night.
“Of course, of course, Pedro,” said Felipe,
rising with his partner. Velásquez made short shrift of the social
niceties. He pulled Felipe out of the room to whisper to him in the
Velásquez had bowed and departed, Melana whispered to Anamaría, “I
thought he would never leave.”
An idea occurred to del Guerro now that the room
was empty of the two business partners. He rose and walked over to
Melana and said in a low voice. “Señorita Melana, I hope the document
you told us about has been well-hidden. You should make sure that it is
not found between now and when you can get it to us. Be sure to bring
your father’s journal as well, if you can manage it. Try to find a way
to come into the pueblo tomorrow.”
“We could visit our friend Elena Suarez,”
said Melana, “and take some sewing. I could hide the documents with
Anamaría was listening at the door as her uncle
and Velásquez spoke outside. She turned back. “He is remaining here
tonight,” she spoke softly.
Melana looked fearful again. “Oh, Anamaría.”
She looked up at Luís for guidance.
“Stay with each other tonight, if you are worried,” he suggested.
Anamaría nodded, “I was thinking the same
thing, Melana.” Then she turned to Del Guerro, “Melana has it in her
room. Perhaps we should stay in there.”
Melana whispered, “But I left it in your
room,” then remembered “out on the bed.” She looked almost
panic-stricken. “It was in a box.”
“Not to worry,” Luís cautioned. “That
which is out in the open is rarely looked at. If anyone does any
searching it will be among your books, in your personal belongings.”
“I think we will retire early, too,” said
Anamaría now in a normal tone of voice. “The days events have
exhausted us and there are plans to make for tomorrow.”
Morales looked a little sad. “I take leave of
you reluctantly, then, ladies. Hopefully our next encounter will be more
fruitful, but just as pleasant.” The young women smiled.
Melana looked up into Morales' blue eyes.
“I’m very glad we met….both of you today.”
The door opened and Felipe Verdugo re-entered
the room. He heard the last of Luís’ comments. His eyes lighted up in
appreciation of the officer’s compliments to his daughter. “Take
care, Melana, or our good captain might have you making new creations
day and night.”
Melana smiled shyly, “Oh Father, everyone needs inspiration.” Then she blushed and peeked at Morales who watched it all with his cheerful demeanor.
Del Guerro winked at Melana and turned to
Verdugo. “Don Felipe, the hour grows late and I’m afraid that
Lieutenant Morales and I still have a few duties to attend to before
retiring for the evening. Thank you so much for your hospitality and a
delightful dinner. I hope that I may return the favor someday soon.”
He bowed to Melana and then to Anamaría. “Ladies, I remain your most
As the officers took their leave, the young
women chatted among themselves. When Felipe returned to the room, he
said casually, “Well, Melana, I think we have some good friends in the
cuartel. And Anamaría, I am glad that your relations with our
comandante are now resolved for the better. I was worried a bit by old
grudges but that is all in the past. But I do need to ask you something
very important. This is serious. Have either of you seen a gray journal
in any of the rooms? Pedro says he thinks he lost one of his private
diaries here. It’s important that he find it.”
Melana asked “A gray journal? I don’t think
so. Could he have lost it at somewhere else? He travels quite a bit,
doesn’t he?” She was all innocence.
“He thinks he lost it here and has searched
his room thoroughly. I just wanted to ask to see if anyone had heard
about it or seen it.”
Anamaría kept silent as if the subject did not
interest her. “Oh, Uncle Felipe,” she interrupted. “What did
Captain del Guerro think of your birds? He seemed very interested and
you really haven’t told us about it?”
Felipe was immediately distracted and began to
tell her of how impressed he was with the comandante’s knowledge when
the door opened, and Pedro Velásquez looked in. “Sorry to interrupt,
Felipe. Any word?”
Verdugo looked up. “Ah, Pedro, no, there’s
no news. I asked. Sorry. Have you been back to the Inn or at Garcia’s?
I believe you’ve been there quite a bit lately.”
“My next stop, Felipe. Until the morning,
everyone.” Velásquez closed the door noisily.
Felipe mused a little thoughtfully. “Now,
where was I? Oh, yes. Our captain must have had some gaming birds
himself a while back. He talked about watching fights with General
Espinoza, a famous general many years back. The pits would be covered
with blood, even the general….”
“How about the puppies, Father? Did you show
him the little ones?” asked Melana. She really didn’t want to hear
about the blood. It gave her bad thoughts.
“Oh, yes. He seems to be very partial to dogs.
I think there was one in particular he liked – ah, yes, the speckled
white one with the fox ears. I’ll show you in the morning.”
“It’s late, Uncle Felipe, and Melana and I
have to get some rest. We had such a good time today that it’s tired
“Of course, girls. Get to bed now. Let me kiss
you goodnight.” Felipe was all the devoted parent. Just as they were
about to leave, he added, “And girls, don’t worry about what was
said today. Things aren’t always like they seem. I want you to know
that I love both of you a great deal.” He smiled, but it was a sad
smile. With that he sat down in front of the fireplace and watched the
fire die away.
The girls closed the door quietly and looked at each other in alarm and consternation. ‘Don’t worry’ he had said, but they did. The morning would bring new causes for alarm.