The Gift







Don Alejandro had just entered the courtroom after attending a meeting with the family’s business agent in San Pedro to renegotiate cattle hides’ prices. He was able to obtain a much higher sales price “thanks to the excellent quality of the de la Vegas’ product.“ Diego’s father smiled slightly to himself and thought, In the name of the Holy Trinity, I trust that the trial went well as my business trip did! As he turned his horse, Salamanca, onto the main street in Los Angeles, he both saw and heard a mob of people milling about the Posada, which was serving as a temporary courtroom.

“SANTIAGO!” Don Alejandro shouted as he dismounted from his horse. “Let me through!” He yelled as he attempted to push his way through the maddened throng of bystanders. “I AM DON ALEJANDRO DE LA VEGA!” Somehow, the white haired don made it inside the Posada door. Pandemonium reigned in the courtroom. People were pushing each other and shouting both insults and praises at Don Diego and Doña Moneta. “SANTA MARIA! IS THIS IS A COURTROOM OF LAW OR THE FISH MARKET IN SAN PEDRO!” Don Alejandro exclaimed angrily.

“Look,” said one of the marketplace vendors, Señor Marcos Pico. “There is Don Alejandro, father of Don Diego! “De la Vega! Are the rumors true!” Señor Pico did not have time to finish his question nor did Don Alejandro have a chance to answer his query because Private Lugo rushed past them with a squad of heavily armed soldiers.

A newly arrived lancer helped push away a raving mad Ricardo del‘Amo from a bewildered but determined Sergeant Garcia. The angry caballero tried to confront Moneta de la Vega but he could not force his way past Sergeant Garcia.

“No, Don Ricardo! I told you a couple of weeks ago that you will no longer bother Doña Moneta!” Sergeant Garcia said as he enveloped del’Amo in a bone-crushing hug. Ricardo yelled as he pointed to Moneta and then to Diego, “you are responsible for all of my troubles! Lying about the paternity of your child! Why, of course the baby is Diego’s! That is why he had to marry you to protect HIS honor!“

Never one to shirk his duty, Don Alejandro joined Benito and a couple of his men to protect Moneta from the rest of the courtroom crowd. The spectators had heard del'Amo remarks and quickly parroted his lies.
“So, Don Diego is the father! said one man.

“What took him so long to marry her?” a woman said who was standing next to Doña Luisa and Elena.

“SILENCIO! You are not even fit to wash her clothes!” Elena angrily said as she stepped between Doña Moneta and Señorita Avalon.

Moneta refused to cry and confronted some of the spectators. “My husband is blameless in this matter! It is Señor del’Amo who has lied to everyone!“

The crowd swelled again toward Sergeant Garcia who momentarily lost his balance in the crush of people. Somehow Ricardo wriggled free and lunged after Diego. His fist grazed Diego's shoulder just as Don Alejandro, Benito and his men arrived to fetch Doña Moneta. Diego shoved his former friend away from Moneta directly into Sergeant Garcia’s bear like grasp. Garcia then dragged Don Ricardo back to his seat.

Judge Vasca was fuming - he had always had maintained absolute control in his courtroom! BY ALL THE SANTOS, he thought, Señor del'Amo started this unfortunate incident, but I'm going to finish it!

The judge motioned to his personal adjutant, Lt. Gonzales, to bring Ricardo del'Amo, Don Diego de la Vega, together with their respective attorneys, into his chambers for a private discussion.

“Moneta,’ Don Alejandro said anxiously, are you uninjured?”

“Sí! I-I am just fatigued. All of this noise!”

"How dare you interrupt my court proceedings! " said Judge Vasca to Ricardo del'Amo after all the parties involved in the lawsuit, including Señorita Colon, Sergeant Garcia and two lancers filed into the Posada’s private room in the rear. “This time, my impetuous caballero, you will be spending the entire Christmas season in the cuartel.”

Diego whispered to Don Alejandro “Sorry to welcome you home in this manner, father.” Don Diego said as he poured Moneta some water.

Ricardo's face turned purple with rage. “Can you not see, Your Honor, that Sergeant Garcia will say whatever the de la Vegas want him to say! "

“Bribery of a witness is a most serious accusation!” said Judge Vasca. “Corporal Reyes, and Lancer Lugo, I order you to stand behind Señor del’Amo at all times while he is in my courtroom! If you do not conduct yourself in the proper manner befitting a young hidalgo, I will use more forceful and painful methods to control you Señor! Now remain silent!”

Señor de Sevilla bowed to Judge Vasca. “Con permiso, Your Excellency, I would like to hear more regarding Señorita Colon’s earlier testimony!”

“Of course. But I again warn anyone, whether it be hidalgo or peon, who even whimpers out of turn will regret ever entering my courtroom, understood?“

“Sí!” everyone present chorused.

“Bueno. Now I shall reconvene the trial back in the courtroom immediately!”

Lieutenant Gonzales announced. “The trial in Judge Luis Vasca’s courtroom is now in session!”

“Sergeant Garcia please continue your testimony,” ordered the judge.

“Sí, Your Honor! Señorita Colon did indeed steal money from the de la Vega household. I myself, together with Dons Diego and Alejandro, saw her do it! I therefore arrested her and wanted to place her in the cuartel, but Don Diego graciously suggested that she remain in their custody at his father’s hacienda.”

The Judge looked at the defendant. “Is the Sergeant’s statement true, Don Diego?”

Young de la Vega nodded in agreement. “Sí, Mariana needed money to feed her brother’s three orphaned children. She only stole to help her family Judge Vasca!”

“So, young lady, is that the same reason why you accepted money from Don Juan del’Amo?”

Mariana sighed miserably. “Excellency, my brother, he is.. no good. He takes the money, which I earned from working for the de la Vegas, well, he spends it all and wants me to get even more. Since I must feed and clothe his children .. Your Excellency, I took Don Juan’s money.. I am guilty.”

Judge Vasca’s voice softened somewhat. “I will dispose of your case tomorrow; for now I shall return you to the custody of the de la Vegas! As for YOU TWO, especially you, Don Juan, when I am finished with both of you, you will be fortunate to be permitted to--”

“Excellency, your pardon, but what about my client’s reputation? We are prepared to show beyond all doubt that Diego de la Vega is innocent!” said Señor Posedar.

Don Ricardo’s attorney spoke up. “Judge Vasca I was assured by both of my clients that they could prove their accusations against Diego de la Vega--”

The Judge held up his hands. “I have heard enough! I sincerely doubt that you can prove anything this point, counsel for the plaintiff. “ Judge Luis Vasca grimly surveyed the courtroom. “The very next person who dares to create a scene in my presence shall become personally familiar with the whipping post! For now, the matter of Señorita Colon is temporarily closed! Please continue with your presentation of your case, Señor Posedar!“

“Your Honor” said Señor Posedar. “I call Diego de la Vega to testify on his own behalf.”

Don Diego took the witness stand, rigidly holding his long, lean and muscular six foot three frame erect. His purposely cast his gaze towards Ricardo del’Amo and enjoyed watching that shallow and pitiful excuse of a man squirm from the fury searing in Diego’s hazel eyes.

“Señor Diego de la Vega y de la Cruz. I have one question for you at this time. “Did you write these avisos and then post them in the Pueblo of Los Angeles during the past several weeks?”

 “Absolutely not!”

His attorney nodded. “Bueno. I have nothing further at this time!”

Judge Vasca was puzzled. “That was your entire case, counselor?”

“Oh, no, Your Honor. I would like to offer my worthy opponent the right to cross-examine Señor de la Vega now. Then I can rebut Señor de Sevilla’s remarks.”

“Due to the rather unusual nature of this case, I shall allow it. Commence, counsel for plaintiff.”

“Don Diego, is it not true that you and Señor del'Amo, were and still are rivals in love?”

“Objection, Judge Vasca! Irrelevant!”

The Judge stroked his beard before replying “Overruled. The witness will answer the query.”

Diego stared straight into de Sevilla’s eyes. “Sí, I WAS a former suitor, as was he, for the hand of Señorita Verdugo.”

“Only was, Señor de la Vega? Do you not still harbor some.... amorous feelings towards her?”

“Allow me to make myself perfectly clear. I am now very happily married to the former Señorita Moneta Esperon!”

De Sevilla scowled at Don Diego. “Come now, Señor! Was not jealousy your motive in writing those lies about Don Ricardo? Are you not convinced that he is the father of her baby? And, when he came to your wedding to offer his congratulations, you assaulted him without provocation?“

“Señor de Sevilla. I emphatically did not write those posters nor am I jealous that Ricardo del’Amo is now Anna Maria Verdugo’s husband. For the record, he came to my –our” Diego looked past del’Amo’s attorney to find Moneta’s smiling face—“wedding and made vulgar remarks regarding my wife’s reputation! Yes, I threatened the plaintiff with bodily harm if he ever returned to my hacienda again!“ Diego’s passionate answers to de Sevilla’s barbed questions drew applause from several of the courtroom spectators.

“ORDER! I WILL HAVE ORDER!” Judge Vasca repeatedly banged his gold plated gavel on his desk. “Counsel for the plaintiff, is this the conclusion of your case?”

“Not quite. I request that my client come forward while Señor de le Vega remains under oath.”

“Make it so, counsel.”

“Señor del’Amo would you tell the Court what Don Diego told you at his wedding?”

Señor Posedar started to object but the judge waved him back down.

“Don Diego was furious that I was to finally have Anna Maria as my bride and not he. He threatened to ruin my reputation in any way possible if I married the Señorita. And Don Diego referred to Dona Moneta’s baby as his! I have a witness who heard him!” Ricardo said.

Anna Maria sat up straight in her courtroom seat. Strange, that Ricardo never mentioned that to me. His rivalry with Diego is so intense that he would always tell me when he even suspected Diego was insulting him! she thought as she bit her lip in confusion.

“Thank you, Don Ricardo. Counsel for the plaintiff rests our case.”

“Redirect, Señor Posedar?” Judge Vasca asked.

“Gracias. Don Diego, did you publicly admit to being the father of the child in question?”

“Sí,” he calmly replied as everyone in the courtroom began to loudly criticize him.

Ricardo laughed uproariously. “I finally have you, Diego, right where I want you!” he told his attorney.

“Hold your tongue, Señor Del’Amo!” the judge warned him again.

“I admitted that the baby was mine for adoption purposes. As you well know under Spanish law, I can choose whether or not to declare the child, if it is a male, as my rightful heir. I have brought with me a copy of my will with the appropriate revisions. You will note therein that I adopted the unborn child, regardless of its sex, on October 13, 1821, the day we announced our formal betrothal. Therefore, the ‘child in question’ is legally mine. And for the record, Honorable Judge Vasca, I am not the blood father of ‘the child.”

“Excellente. One other query, Don Diego is this your handwriting?” asked Señor Posedar.

His client looked at the poster carefully. “Most certainly not!”

“Oh, Señor de la Vega, would you please, in the presence of Judge Vasca, write out the message on the first poster as I dictate it to you?“ Diego wrote down what his lawyer said.

“Your Honor, I can now prove that Don Diego is not the author of any of the three notices. I beg Your Honor to inspect all of the posters and then compare them with my client’s handwriting. Señor Posedar grinned after he examined Diego’s handwriting before he gave the sample to the Judge.

Judge Vasca’s face flushed burgundy as peered over the top of his spectacles. “Most interesting, counsel for defense. “Don Diego, you are excused from your oath.”

“Ladies and gentlemen of Los Angeles I am ready to render my verdict. Please rise, Señor de le Vega.” He paused as he watched Doña Moneta move beside her husband. Shouting, screaming and all other sorts of mischief were certain to erupt when he announced his decision.

“A reputation is an intangible thing. However, it is far more precious than any of our other possessions except for our divine souls. Even when a person’s integrity is slightly faulted, that individual may never recover from the harm done to him or her regardless of the apparent innocence of the remark.” Judge Vasca smiled warmly at the defendant. “The handwriting on these exhibits is definitely not that of Don Diego. Therefore, I dismiss all charges against said defendant!”

“Bravo,” Señor and Señora Diego de la Vega,” Benito yelled.

“ORDER, ORDER! Everyone please sit down!” shouted Judge Vasca. “I have one short but important announcement to make, now return to your seats!”

Lieutenant Gonzales and his lancers rapidly restored order.

“Bueno. Señor and Señora de la Vega, this Court wishes to apologize to you for the inconvenience and humiliation you endured as a result of this frivolous lawsuit. On a more personal note, I wish to commend you, Don Diego for having the courage to adopt Doña Moneta‘s child, despite the potential and real damage to your family‘s honor. You are a true caballero and a wonderful credit to the hidalgo class.”

Judge Vasca sighed wearily. “Lieutenant Gonzales, dismiss the spectators. And now, plaintiffs, defendant and their counsel, meet me in my chambers, pronto!”



Chapter Fourteen
Chapter One
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