The Gift

 

 

 

CHAPTER 21 --THE POSADA

DE LA VEGA HACIENDA

DECEMBER 22, 1821

Bernardo had almost fully recovered from his gunshot wound a couple of days before the de la Vegas’ annual Posada held on Christmas Eve. Although he wanted to help the other servants prepare the decorations and the refreshment, both Diego and Moneta insisted that he rest. But no one was more excited to attend this year’s Posada than Bernardo because he intended to ask Maria Valletta, the head housekeeper of the del'Amo hacienda in Monterey, to be his wife! Bernardo only told one person regarding his plans and that was his friend and master, Diego, whom he trusted more than anyone else was in the world. How he managed to keep his engagement secret for the past six months was beyond Diego's understanding, for Diego truly understood how much hacienda servants could gossip!

Don Joaquin Alvarez and his wife, Doña Gloria Fages Alvarez y Ramon; his daughter, Maria Alonda, and his newborn son, Carlo Alfredo Ramon, were invited to the Posada. However, Joaquin decided that he would have more fun participating in the Nativity Play of the Posada by helping the children in the staging of their procession to the de la Vegas’ Nacimiento, rather than just watching it. Joaquin told his friend that this was the least that Diego he could do for him since Joaquin ‘was wounded in the line of duty’ on his behalf.

“Diego, you should have been here while Zorro was dueling with Senor del'Amo. He had no idea that I was impersonating you. That is because, of course, I am such a consummate actor! " Joaquin bragged as he puffed out his chest.

Moneta giggled to herself and then asked Joaquin’s wife, Doña Gloria, “Is he always this pompous?”

“Oh, sí! This is a mild stretching of the truth, for tonight, Doña Moneta, he is among amigos y familia! When Joaquin and his entourage are entertaining His Excellency, the Governor of California, that is when one can observe some genuine ‘hamming‘...I mean acting!”

Both women chuckled behind their silk fans.

But Don Alejandro agreed wholeheartedly with Don Joaquin‘s assessment of his performance. “Diego, Ricardo gave no indication that he was not speaking with you in person. He is to be commended for doing a superb job. "I raise my glass of Jerez to you, Don Joaquin!“

"Salud! Exactly so!" said Don Diego. “I also propose a toast to the brave and generous El Zorro, the Fox. It was good of Señor Zorro to make certain that I traveled safely past San Gabriel -- and Don Ricardo -- to meet with his father, Don Juan in Monterrey. Thanks to the Fox, we were able to see the Governor! As you know I was en route back to our hacienda when my father’s courier told me that Zorro had defeated del’Amo and Sergeant had imprisoned him in Los Angeles.”

“Praise God that both the Governor and Judge Vasca agreed with you and Don Juan del’Amo regarding Don Ricardo‘s mental instability, my son. I was particularly happy when the Governor ordered Don Ricardo to serve his sentence in a special facility in Mexico City!”

Don Joaquin joined in the salute to the Dark Knight. "Viva El Zorro!” He looked meaningfully at his childhood friend. “You know something, Diego, if I were Zorro, I would have slit Don Ricardo's throat.”

"But you do not understand Señor Zorro, Don Joaquin.” Don Alejandro explained. “He is a man of great honor and courage. I would not have expected anything less. If he had killed Ricardo it would have been murder!” The elder de la Vega stated in a tone that brooked no opposition.

Diego silently observed his father for several long moments before offering his opinion. “Absolutely true! He said with the greatest fervor. “If Zorro had killed Ricardo it would have been an execution. The good people of California have always believed that the Fox would do the right thing. Besides Zorro realized that eliminating Ricardo del’Amo was not worth losing both his honor and his eternal soul!”

Doña Moneta looked up at her husband with love radiating from her coffee brown eyes. “Joaquin, as everyone knows, El Zorro is indeed a man of the highest honor!”

Don Joaquin shrugged. “Señoras y Señores, I concede defeat! El Zorro is truly a man of the greatest integrity! Then, I propose another toast to the Fox: “Peace and long life to him! VIVA EL ZORRO!”

Everyone raised his or her glasses of Jerez high in the air. “VIVA EL ZORRO, SALUD!”

“Now, Moneta, Joaquin informs me that you tried to strike Ricardo? Is this true?” Diego asked in feigned revulsion.

“Of course I did, querido mio! That raton was about to hit your father and ended up wounding poor Joaquin! After all, I am Moneta Munoz de la Vega y Esperon and I despise bullies!”

Don Diego silently returned her statement with a gaze that promised a very private and delightful celebration when they were alone.

“Your perdon.“ Doña Moneta’s personal servant, Angelina Torres, said as she entered the patio. “Señora de la Vega, it is time for your final dress fitting."

Moneta nodded “Sí, Angelina, I am coming. “Señores, I have this one last chance to try on my brand new frock, which I had especially made for our Posada this year. My how time flies! Christmas Eve is the day after tomorrow!”

“Of course, my dearest,“ said Don Diego as he bent down to kiss her hand. "I am counting the minutes and seconds until later tonight."

“Well, señores, Doña Moneta is not the only one who has things to prepare for our fiesta. Besides, these later hours are strictly for young people! Con permiso.“ Don Alejandro bid everyone good night and gradually everyone else drifted off to bed.

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

DECEMBER 24, 1821

ESTA NOCHE ES NOCHE-BUENA. Y NO ES NOCHE DE DORMIR

[THIS NIGHT IS THE GOODNIGHT; THEREFORE, IT IS NOT MEANT FOR SLEEP].

The Posada, or Christmas fiesta, began as a Roman Catholic tradition in 16th century Spain and was introduced in 1587 to the Indians in Mexico by missionaries. This fiesta commemorates the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for a place to stay so that the Virgin Mary could give birth to the Christ Child. Posadas officially begin on December 16th, and continue through Christmas Eve, for a total of nine nights, said number representing the nine months the Blessed Virgin carried Jesus in her womb.

The de la Vegas annually built a Nacimiento, which is a recreation of the Nativity scene. Most of their Christmas decorations for the Nativity scene were made of clay and often filled two or three of the hacienda’s rooms. The de la Vegas’ statues of the Holy Family, the Three Magi, angels and the remainder of the other figures were over a century old, as Don Alejandro’s father had the statues made in Seville in 1708.

Crescencia and her household staff decorated all of the corridors and walls of the de la Vegas’ hacienda with evergreens and lamps. Great swags of white, gold and silver satin and silk were also hung with pine sprigs everywhere, from the rear entrance to the hacienda stables to the patio gates. She interwove imported tiny silver bells with the staircase cloth of gold decorations. In the warm soft glow from their hacienda fashioned candles, the bells shone like stars in natural moonlight. Moneta and Crescencia also ordered the servants to hang the de la Cruz heirloom tapestries in the sala. Don Alejandro’s mother-in-law, Alicia Rosa Castile y de la Cruz, gave him and Doña Bethia, Diego’s mother, a pair of silk tapestries, one depicting the Nativity and the other showing the angels announcing the Christ Child’s birth to the shepherds in Bethlehem.

On Christmas Eve, which is also known as La Noche Buena, “the Good Night,” the most important Posada occurs. An image of the Infant Jesus is placed in the nacimiento manger. This year the youngest child of Don Joaquin and Doña Gloria, little Carlo Ramon Alvarez, would play the Christ child. The two local people who carry the Infant Jesus and place him in the manger are called the godparents.

At dusk, Don Joaquin ordered the Posada procession to commence. He had a large group of children dressed as angels lead the procession. Everyone participating in the Posada carried lit candles. As is customary, the boys and girls in the procession were richly dressed in their silver and golden satin angel costumes, with plumes of white feathers. Their clothes were festooned with diamonds and pearls, and they wore fine white satin shoes embroidered in gold.

Other children carried statues of Mary and Joseph, which were borne on a litter decorated with sprigs of pine, followed by more children dressed as angels. The remainder of the children of Los Angeles came next, then the adult population, and finally, the musicians.

However, the patio gate of the de la Vega hacienda were locked to prevent the Holy Family’s and the pilgrims’ entry. Everyone in the Procession began begging for lodging for the Holy Family. Don Joaquin instructed them to sing these verses:

 

En el nombre del Cielo

Os pido posada

Pues no puede andar;

Mi esposa amada.

 

[In the name of Heaven

I ask you for lodging,

Because She cannot walk,

My beloved Wife.]

And the de la Vegas, led by Diego’s strong baritone, responded in song:

Aqui no es mesón,

Sigan adelante.

Yo no puedo abrir

No sea algún tunante.

[This is no inn,

keep on going.

I will not open the door.

in case you are a truant!]

 

The pilgrims kept singing more verses along this theme, and finally, one of the children called out to Don Diego:

“Señor and Señora de la Vega! I know you would open your door more quickly if the person asking for shelter were EL ZORRO!”

The crowd roared with laughter, and several minutes passed before everyone regained their composure. Finally, Don Diego and Doña Moneta chorused:

Entren, Santos Peregrinos,

Reciban este rincón;

On de esta pobre morada,

Sí no de mi corazón.

[Enter Holy Pilgrims

Accept this dwelling]

Not of this humble house,

But of my heart.]

 

Then they both flung open the patio gate, and all the ”pilgrims” entered the hacienda. Don Alejandro, Don Diego, and Doña Moneta distributed aquinaldos, or bags filled with cookies, candies, and special toys to each child. However to the children, the highlight of the posada was a dance held after the arrival of the baby Jesus - when Don Joaquin and Doña Gloria placed their baby in the crib.

Moneta squeezed Diego’s hand. “Soon,” she whispered, “we shall fill the crib in our room with our own son!”

Her handsome caballero laughed. “You can count on that, mi preciosa! However, are you aware that I shall not be content to fill the crib only once?” The merry look in his hazel eyes deepened into desire and Moneta blushed.

“How can a wife dare refuse such a wonderful request from her esposo amado?” she teasingly replied. He kissed the top of her head and whispered. “Señora de la Vega, the night is still young, and ...”

Both Don Alejandro and Don Cornelio discreetly [or so they thought] cleared their throats. “Ah, Diego, it is time for you and your wife to initiate the dancing portion of our Posada. Soon it will be time for Midnight High Mass, and you know how impatient the children are to break their Christmas pinatas!” Don Alejandro noted.

“Gracias, father, I had not forgotten. I was unavoidably detained..”

Don Cornelio and all three de la Vegas laughed heartily.

“You know, Diego, I have but one regret.” Don Alejandro said, fighting back tears as he held up his hand so that he could finish his statement. “Your mother, Doña Bethia Elizabeth should be here tonight to participate in our family’s happiness!”

Diego and Moneta traded wistful looks. “As should also my wife, Doña Carmela,” Don Cornelio quietly replied.

“But, father, Don Cornelio, you forget! They are and always shall be with us in spirit,” Diego said firmly.

‘”Amen.” Don Cornelio, Don Alejandro and Moneta chorused.

Diego ordered the musicians to commence playing as he danced the opening song with Moneta. After they finished dancing, he told everyone that he had a very important announcement.

Atencion! Everyone, please listen. I am very happy to announce that my mozo, Bernardo, has asked the lovely Maria Valletta, of the del’Amo hacienda, to be his wife! Please join me in congratulating the lucky couple!"

Both Bernardo and Maria were very embarrassed, but tears of joy shown in their eyes. He thanked the de la Vegas for his employment and friendship over the years as Diego translated his sign language for their guests.

Don Alejandro was stunned. He had no idea that Bernardo was romantically involved with anyone. When he was able to pull Bernardo aside, he whispered to Bernardo, [this is rather sudden, is it not?]

Diego's mozo shook his head. [No, Don Alejandro], he signed with his hands, I had been courting Senorita Valletta for the past year.]“

“BY ALL THE SANTOS!” Don Alejandro exclaimed. “Why am I always the last one to know when something important happens around here? Never mind I wish the both of you eternal happiness!”

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

The adults continued to dance far into the night while the children contented themselves with breaking open the pinatas, which of course, were filled with candies and toys. Everyone enjoyed the fantastic food the de la Vegas always prepared for their Posadas. Their guests were served bunuelos, which were very thin fried pastries covered with sugar; tamales, colacion, a mixture of different candies, and ponche, fruit punch.

At 11:30 p.m., Jorge Paco and several other of the de la Vega servants began ringing bells to summon everyone to attend Midnight High Mass. The de la Vegas retired to their private chapel with a few invited guests who were able to fit inside the small church. A large number of the townspeople remained behind the hacienda where Don Alejandro ordered a tent constructed so that Father Felipe’s assistant, Fray Luis, could say Mass for them.

After the Mass, the Diego and Moneta said goodbye to the townspeople and gathered in the hacienda for dinner with Don Alejandro, Don Cornelio, Bernardo, his fiancée, Maria, Don Alfredo Alvarez, and his son, Joaquin, with his own wife and two children. Diego and Moneta also invited Don Nacho and Doña Luisa Torres, Don Benito his wife, Doña Elena, to partake of their traditional Christmas dinner. This meal was also known as Pavo Trufado de la Navidad, a Christmas turkey served with truffles. Don Diego again led the singing of Christmas carols until the wee hours of the morning.

Moneta yawned broadly. "I am very tired Diego, do you think that we can delay opening our presents until after attending Christmas Day Mass in our chapel?“

Diego held her face in his hands. “Are you feeling all right, querida mia?"

"It has been a long time since I have attended such an elaborate Posada! I am simply tired!”

"Of course. I shall join you in bed as soon as possible."

 

[[[[ ZZZZ]]]]

 

As soon as Moneta left, Don Alejandro poured two very small glasses of Jerez for them. "Diego," asked his father, " one thing that you mentioned several weeks ago and never explained to me was that Zorro found a certain document in Don Ricardo’s rented hacienda. I am curious. What type of document was it?"

Diego frowned. " It was an affidavit stating that Ricardo was the biological father of Moneta’s child. He intended to claim the child as his own if the child were male as a hijo naturale and then only when the male child reached the age of thirty-five!

Don Alejandro was incredulous. "And Don Ricardo, if he had continued at his former rate of squandering his father’s fortune, would have been exhausted the estate’s funds long before then.

“Exactly so, father.” Diego glumly replied.

“I wish I could say that I am surprised by anything that Ricardo del’Amo does, but this.... I am revolted by the evil in his soul!” Don Alejandro yawned again. “Time for me to retire. He threw his arms around his son and said “ Feliz Navidad!"

Diego grinned. " Yes, father, and Feliz Navidad to you also!"

 

 

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