The Comandante of Monterey

and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo

 

by

 Eugene H. Craig

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

“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.

 Finally, 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 uniform.”

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 well. 

“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 local community.”

“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.

 “My 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.”  He beamed.

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 hall.

 After 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 our materials.”

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.”

Del Guerro nodded. “As am I, Señorita Melana. You made the afternoon memorable in more ways than one. Your keen eye for detail in your painting is very impressive and I can more appreciate the care you take in studying the land and its formations.”

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 devoted servant.”

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 us out.”

“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.

 

 

 

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