The Gift

 

 

 

CHAPTER 15 - TEMPORARY FREED0M

December 4 1821

MONTERREY

Governor Geraldo Joaquin Isidro y Ramirez dismissed Don Juan’s request that his son, Ricardo del’Amo, be allowed to return home to San Francisco pending the appeal of Ricardo’s sentence to six months in the Los Angeles cuartel. “These are quite serious charges,” the Governor said as he read them aloud: “contempt of court, assault upon officers of court, bribery of a witness and defamation of an important citizen’s character, specifically, that of Don Diego de la Vega y de la Cruz. In fact, Señor del‘Amo, I am extremely shocked that Judge Vasca gave your son such a lenient sentence! Speaking as a former Magistrado, I personally would have ordered Don Ricardo to serve a term of at least 10 years!

“Sí, sí, Your Excellency. I am all too aware of Ricardo’s criminal behavior and ... of his extremely scandalous conduct with the ladies!”

“I do not mean to criticize Señor del’Amo, but Ricardo needed a much firmer hand at an earlier stage in his youth!” Governor Ramirez said in his most disapproving tone.

“Believe me, I have sincerely tried.” Señor del'Amo’s face twisted in pain. “Unfortunately, Ricardo has always felt that there should never be any limits or restrictions on his behavior. But I am discussing the present, Your Excellency.

“To be perfectly frank, Don Juan, I am extremely reluctant to release him to your custody since YOU tried to bribe Judge Vasca!”

“An action of a desperate father! DIOS! The things that I have done for my son; the large amounts of fines which I have paid to keep him out of prison!” Don Juan del’Amo said as he slowly sat down in a nearby chair. “In all honesty Governor, after witnessing his behavior during the trial in Los Angeles I wanted to flog Ricardo myself and then toss him into a dark and bottomless pit! Judge Vasca was too lenient with him. However, I believe that if Ricardo is remanded to my custody, I can obtain the ... help he needs!”

Governor Ramirez shrugged his shoulders. “I will grant temporary parole only if Ricardo stays outside Los Angeles, away from the de le Vegas, and that you remain with him. My second condition is that your son will be under 24 hour-armed guard! I shall examine the trial record and will give you my decision whether or not I shall reverse Judge Vasca’s decision to sentence Ricardo to a very lengthy prison term within a fortnight. As you know, because of his defiance of Judge Vasca’s sentence, the King’s Magistrate can incarcerate him for twenty years. Therefore, I cannot promise you much hope in voiding his decision. Good day, Señor del’Amo!”

“Gracias, Your Excellency,” said Don Juan as he bowed to the Governor before leaving his office.

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

SAN Gabriel

TWO DAYS LATER

“I was completely humiliated, father!” Ricardo complained to Don Juan about his public flogging in the Pueblo de Los Angeles. Ricardo and his father were having some afternoon coffee in a small hacienda they had rented near San Gabriel and were discussing Ricardo’s appeal of his prison sentence.

“SILENCIO!” Don Juan ordered. “Whatever in the name of the Holy Trinity has possessed you, my son!? Accusing Don Diego as being the author of those posters! Absurd!’

“But do not you see, father! In Diego’s twisted mind, he believes that he is a better caballero than I am! When Anna Maria refused to marry him, he could not believe that she would reject the exquisite honor of becoming his wife. Poor Diego, always third in Anna Maria’s affections, behind Zorro and myself, of course! Because he could not legally have her, Diego became obsessed with Anna Maria. He told me so in the de la Vega garden at their wedding reception and he threatened me if I decided to marry Anna Maria as planned.”

Don Juan frowned in disbelief. “Ricardo I am sorry, I just cannot believe that Diego would behave in such a disgraceful manner. Don Alejandro raised Diego quite strictly and there is no history of ... instability in the de la Vega family.”

Ricardo balled his fists. “Father, are you saying that the de la Vegas’ bloodline is better than ours is?” he testily asked.

“RICARDO! Mind your tone of voice with me, my young hot head! If you can calm yourself, you may continue with your story! And just where does Zorro fit into this little melodrama?“

The younger del’Amo sighed as he thought, Oh, father, one day I shall prove to you that the de la Vegas are beneath our family’s contempt. Instead he said aloud. As everyone knows, El Zorro has never forgiven me for impersonating him. And Diego seems to have some sort of relationship with Zorro; remember; Zorro saved Don Alejandro from that insane Comandante Monasterio. Thus, it was easy for Diego to persuade Zorro to help him post those horrible lies about me.”

“How very convenient to have El Zorro at your beck and call!” His father said sarcastically.

“Father, I will not stand here and be mocked! Why do decent people defend that effeminate dandy, Diego?”

“Ricardo,” Don Juan’s face reddened. “I will listen to your story, such as it is, but only if you address me with the proper respect!”  

It was becoming increasingly difficult for the young del’Amo to contain his fury. “I can handle my father,” Ricardo said to himself as he poured his father some more coffee, “but Diego and Moneta de la Vega must be dealt with first!

Ricardo continued with his story. “Diego and Zorro’s timing was perfect! Just as the trial began, Zorro claims he is the author! Of course Diego’s handwriting did not match that on the posters because HE did not write them. El Zorro wrote the posters! And everyone in Los Angeles is counting on me to challenge Zorro to another duel, since the Fox has publicly questioned my integrity.”

“Which you will certainly do to restore your honor,” the elder del’Amo said with a trace of disbelief in his voice.

“Not unless Zorro duels with me in public, which I shall demand after this trial brouhaha has calmed down! But do you not see? Diego is counting on Zorro to kill me in our duel and then he will be free to pursue Anna Maria! He can overcome any obstacle with Zorro’s help!”

“And Doña Moneta will be content to allow her new husband Diego to have shall we say, an extremely personal relationship with his former fiancée?”

“Of course! However, both Diego and Zorro will soon learn that it will not be so easy to best me in this unavoidable duel!“ Ricardo laughed hysterically.

Don Juan cringed inwardly as he looked into his son’s ebony eyes. He saw nothing but cold fires of rage and despair that had burned away all of the humanity in these windows to his soul.

“Ricardo, it deeply pains me to say this, but I believe that you require care and rest that I cannot provide for you ...”

Suddenly his son exclaimed “You ... you do not believe anything that I have told you!”

“No, I do not.”

“My beloved father,” Ricardo hissed, “I will never serve any jail term! NEVER!”

Don Juan stood up. He was a big man and he towered over his six-foot tall son. “Ricardo, as your father, I order you to obey me in this matter! But I warn you, the Governor has told me that there may be little hope of you avoiding prison!”

Don Juan also saw intense hatred and contempt etched into every line on Ricardo’s face. [Why had I not noticed this dramatic change in my son’s personality earlier? he thought worriedly. I shall try one more time to get Ricardo to listen to reason].

My dear son,” Don Juan began, “what has turned you against the de le Vegas and especially, caused you to hate me?”

“My affairs concerning the de la Vegas are highly persona!” Ricardo laughed bitterly. “You call me your ‘dear son’! Therein lies the joke, father. You never wanted me in your hacienda after mother’s last illness when I was ten years old. You sent me away to Spain, away from my mother!” When I returned home just before she died, she told me she had never loved me!”

Ricardo’s father was shocked by the venom in his son’s voice and his face paled visibly. “You do not understand, Ricardo. Your mother was very, very ill. Doña Cecelia was slowly ...losing her mind”

“YOU LIE!” The young del’Amo roared. You turned her against me by making her believe all those impossible stories about my abusing women!”

Don Juan rose and struck his son - hard - across his mouth. “Enough of this! One more disrespectful word and I will order Lieutenant Aldebara to return you to the cuartel in Los Angeles! There someone will definitely force you to control your impulses!”

Ricardo looked away from his father. “Father, you taught me that money, if spent properly, can solve all problems! Everyone has his or her own price.“ His son rambled on, oblivious to Don Juan’s warning.

“Sí,” his father admitted. “Guilty as charged. But I have now learned that I was wrong about that subject.”

“Tell me, father, why have you not secured me a comfortable position with the family’s exporting business?“

Don Juan was astounded. “Ricardo you have repeatedly told me that ‘a gentleman of your breeding does not concern himself with the dirty little details‘ of any sort of commerce. Of course, upon my death you shall inherit everything!”

Ricardo said nothing and stared into space.

“My son ... listen to me, please! I know that I have been less than a perfect father. I am doing everything in my power to help you avoid jail. Ricardo?“ Alarmed by Ricardo’s silence, Don Juan stepped away from his son. His eyes were riveted to Ricardo’s face. Don Juan felt as if he were talking to a statue.

“All of my life ...“ Ricardo whispered, “you have never shown the remotest concern regarding my affairs.” He straightened his shoulders. “I shall need a larger source of income. It may interest you to know that I am married to Señorita Anna Maria Verdugo. She will be joining me here tomorrow.” he acidly replied.

“Anna Maria Verdugo? Have you gone mad! That woman still pines for the Fox!”

“On the contrary she now loves me and only me and despises El Zorro!”

Don Juan and Ricardo were too involved in their argument to hear Anna Maria come into the hacienda. She only heard the very last two minutes of their heated conversation, but what she heard truly alarmed her. Oh, Blessed Mother, I cannot believe that my hero, Zorro, would “conspire” with Diego against Ricardo. The Fox is a gentleman of the highest caliber. As for Diego ..sweet Diego.. he does not have a spiteful bone in his body!” What is wrong with Ricardo? Perhaps he has fallen ill! In time, I shall grow to truly love Ricardo and give him all of the sons I possibly can. BUT I SHALL NEVER STOP LOVING EL ZORRO!

She put on her prettiest smile, which she wore like a shield. Now more than ever Anna Maria needed to protect herself from the emotional conflict that was festering in her soul over the questionable paternity of Moneta’s baby and her own hasty decision to marry Ricardo.

“Anna Maria! When did you arrive, querida?

“Just now, Ricardo,” she said as she handed her hat and gloves to one of their Indian servants.

He kissed her deeply. [How I have missed you!]! he whispered. I apologize for the crudeness of this house, dearest. Soon I will be free and then we can move to San Francisco--”

“But,” Don Juan said, dismayed by the cold look on her face, “I thought the both of you would live at the Verdugo hacienda -- is that not what you told me, Ricardo! You insisted upon ’not following tradition’ and instead desired to remain in Monterey. Now you must give me time until I can have our ancestral estate in San Francisco prepared for a new chatelaine. You, my dear, to transform it into a home --complete with a nursery of course!” He hoped his voice sounded polite, as he was unsure at just how much Anna Maria had overheard.

Anna Maria met her father-in-law’s less than approving gaze. “My father disinherited me. He wanted me to marry Don Diego, and I will not be told whom I can or can not marry!”

“Very well, Señora del’Amo. What is done, is done. You will discover that I live in the present. I have enormous hope for both of you in the future! Welcome to the family!” He gave her a lukewarm embrace. “Ricardo, I must journey to the dock at San Pedro since I am expecting some supplies for our home in San Francisco. Don Juan paused momentarily to kiss the new Señora del’Amo’s hand and then departed.

“Oh, Ricardo, do you have any good news regarding your appeal?” Anna Maria asked excitedly.

“Well, I am here and not in Comandante Garcia’s cuartel! Come here, Anna Maria and let us make up for lost time!”

“Ricardo, dearest, Don Juan dislikes me. Please tell me why!”

Querida, I have other, sweeter things to discuss and do ..”

But Anna Marie broke free from his embrace. “Por favor, Ricardo! I do not want to begin my marriage knowing that my father-in-law hates me!”

“Nonsense!” Ricardo laughed but his tone was devoid of humor. He began nuzzling her neck. “All right,” he murmured between kissing her lips and then her throat. “Father believes that you still love El Zorro!“

Anna Maria opened her dark eyes and stared into his. “No longer, for I am Señora Anna Maria del’Amo y Verdugo. Let the Fox have the love of the peons! I need and have the man whom I shall present with many sons --- Don Ricardo del’Amo!”

Ricardo bit one of her earlobes in response. “As I said earlier, we have other and much sweeter things do!”

Once Anna Maria felt his mouth cover hers, she could not agree more.

 

[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Diego spoke to his mozo only when he was certain that both of them were away from the other servants. “I have just learned some distressing news from Sergeant Garcia while I was having some wine with him in the tavern yesterday afternoon. Governor Ramirez has released Ricardo del’Amo into his father’s custody!”

Bernardo shook his head in disgust. He mimed to his master, It appears that once again Don Ricardo might evade justice!”

Diego puffed on his newly lit cubano. “Not necessarily. Governor Ramirez is like Judge Vasca. The man cannot be bribed. I think that Señor del’Amo is in for quite a rude awakening this time.”

Bernardo mimed “Let us hope that justice will be properly served this time, eh?”

His master nodded. “Do not worry. Zorro will now be keeping an even closer eye on Señor del‘Amo, starting tonight!”

 

[[[ZZZZ]]]

 

Don Juan del'Amo told the driver to push the horses pulling the weekly Los Angeles carreta to Monterrey harder, even if the poor animals dropped dead from exhaustion. I must see Governor Ramirez as soon as possible, he anxiously thought, Ricardo is now completely insane and deep in my heart I know he intends to exact a painful revenge on Diego and Moneta de la Vega. When he finally arrived at the Governor’s office, he was told that His Excellency was ‘indisposed. ‘

“SANTA MARIA!” Don Juan bellowed. “I MUST see His Excellency now! It is a matter of life and death!”

Finally, after half an hour of demanding to see Governor Ramirez, His Excellency himself appeared in the foyer of his office.

“What’s this all about, Don Juan?” He demanded. “ I am a sick man this morning and need my rest!”

“Your Excellency, I beg of you, revoke Ricardo’s parole immediately!” Don Juan collapsed into a chair. “Por favor, could I have some brandy, I ...”

“Of course.” His Excellency told a servant to bring some refreshment immediately. “Now tell me exactly what has happened that has caused this change of heart regarding your son!”

He listened to Don Juan relate his son’s ‘reasons’ for his recent criminal behavior with mounting alarm. The elder del’Amo was shaking both from rage and fear when he finished giving the Governor all the sordid details of his meeting with Ricardo.

“Gracias, Don Juan. You have done a most difficult thing both for the sake of your son and for the welfare of the people of California.“ By one o’clock that afternoon Governor had written a decree which revoked the younger del' Amo’s parole. His Excellency also sent some soldiers from his personal guard to accompany the dozen or so lancers he detached from the Monterrey garrison to arrest Don Ricardo.

Geraldo Ramirez sighed deeply. “I hope that your son does not resist arrest, Don Juan, because my soldiers have instructions to use any type of force to capture him.”

“Gracias, Your Excellency! But it does not matter. The son I loved and tried to raise to become a decent caballero is dead to me!“

 

 

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