The Gift






OCTOBER 12, 1821


Bernardo needed two of the de la Vegas’ young Indian servants to remove Don Diego from Moneta Esperon’s bedside after he asked Don Cornelio why he was so distraught over Moneta’s fainting spell. The stricken look on his future father-in-law’s face spoke volumes. The young de la Vega belatedly realized that Don Cornelio had been crying.

Diego knelt down at her side and tightly held Moneta’s fevered hands to his lips. Por favor, he ardently prayed, My God, what in Your Most Holy Name is wrong with my betrothed? Doubts regarding this arranged marriage filled his thoughts ... it is as if Father and daughter share some terrible secret. But before he could ask Don Cornelio any further questions, Bernardo and the other de la Vega servants insisted that Diego meet his father in the patio. Once there, his father busied himself with pouring both Diego and himself glasses of Jerez.

Diego cocked an eyebrow. “Presently, I am not in the mood to celebrate--Father, please tell me what ails Señorita Esperon, or I shall again ask Don Cornelio!”

Don Alejandro pulled Diego toward the garden. “BE QUIET, DIEGO! I do not want the servants to hear!”

His son broke loose from his father’s grasp. “Then I think that you had better tell me the truth!”

“I said to lower your voice! “ Then his father said in a more gentle tone, “por favor, I think that you had better sit down. “

‘”No, I am not going to sit down! Are you going to tell me now?” Diego asked his father. A horrible thought suddenly struck him. “Father .. Moneta, she is not going to die, is she?“

His father sighed audibly. “Diego ... do you remember Ricardo del'Amo?”

“What does Ricardo del'Amo have to do with Moneta... “ Diego stopped talking when he saw the sympathy overlaid with grief in his father’s eyes.

Diego, her previous fiance ---Ricardo del‘Amo--- he is the one who ... abused Moneta.” Don Alejandro whispered to him.

[The sweet little girl that always wanted me to be her El Cid, her hero! Innocent, wide-eyed Moneta, the only who truly understood how much the loss of my mother in my childhood traumatized me since she also lost her own madre in childbirth! Now to suffer the humiliation of having your trust and your person violated by your own fiancé! That animal--” he thought to himself.

Then Diego shouted “’ABUSED‘? POR DIOS, HE ASSAULTED HER! I SHALL KILL HIM! I shall ...”

Alejandro grasped Diego’s shoulders. “Please, Diego, calm yourself! This situation calls for clear thinking! Drink some more Jerez,” his father said as he poured two more glasses. “And I order you to drink all of it! Diego, I just cannot understand Don Ricardo! How could he do this horrible thing to Moneta?”

“When you are as shallow and unprincipled as Ricardo Del’Amo, such an unspeakable act would be as easy as breathing.“ Diego muttered sullenly. “SANTA MARIA! My dear Moneta!” He added, his voice choking.

“You have every right to be upset, Diego! But now you have a fiancée’s feelings and health to consider! Worry about Ricardo later!”

“You ... do not have to be concerned, my father. Ricardo is just not worth killing.” Diego ceased pacing up and down the patio. Finally, he sat down, held his head in his hands and allowed tears to tumble nakedly down his face.

“That is good to hear, my son. If it is any comfort to you I wanted to horsewhip him myself! Now Diego, since circumstances have changed, ah, regarding her suitability as a bride for you, I shall most certainly understand if you wish to void the marriage contract.”

Diego suddenly raised his head. “I appreciate your desire to protect my feelings, especially after the debacle with Anna Maria.“ A grim look of determination replaced the soul wrenching but self-pitying tears shed just moments before. “If you will excuse me, father, there are things that I must do now!“

“Eh? Where are you going?”

“Why to see my fiancée!”

“Wait, Diego, please. After you visit Moneta, come to the library where we can decide what is best for everyone in this.... predicament. Do not act out of pity, my son. That is all I ask.”

“Of course not, father,“ Diego said over his shoulder as he bounded up the stairs to the guestroom.

When Bernardo came downstairs a little while later, he signed to Don Alejandro: “Diego told me that Ricardo del’Amo hurt Señorita Esperon?’’

“Sí, Bernardo. That subject is closed for discussion -- for now. Please fetch Don Cornelio and tell him to meet me in the library. “According to Diego, we now have a wedding fiesta to plan rather quickly!”

Despite the anger and despair filled atmosphere, Bernardo smiled to himself. “Fear not, my beloved masters, God wounds all heels and heals all wounds!”




Diego gazed down at the pale face of Moneta Esperon. No wonder she acted so nervous in the garden earlier today! he quietly thought, to be used and then discarded as if you did not matter even as a person must be the worst form of torture. Dear sweet Moneta, I promise that I will do everything I can to make your future life as Señora de la Vega as good as I can possibly make it! I swear this before the Blessed Virgin!

He bent to kiss the now peacefully resting Moneta. Diego wearily straightened his broad shoulders, muscled from years of rigorous fencing, and walked toward the door. “Come, Bernardo, Crescencia can take excellent care of Moneta while we speak with Dr. Perez.” He bounded impatiently downstairs; desperate to know how long it would take for her to fully recover. As he entered the library his father motioned for him to take a seat across from Dr. Perez.

“Of course, you do understand Don Diego“ -- Dr. Perez said as he nodded to both Dons Alejandro and Cornelio-- “that her recovery will largely depend upon herself - her will to live, and your attitude towards her! “

“Exactly what do you mean Doctor?“ Don Diego stiffly asked, certain that he was not happy with the strange tone of this conversation.

Don Alejandro turned to his son and said quietly. “Diego, most men would not accept the fact that their fiancée had become pregnant before their marriage, especially if the child were not his. At the very least, her family would send her away in disgrace to live out her days in a nunnery.“

“Your father is correct, Diego,” Dr. Perez nodded his agreement. The physician looked into Diego's eyes and saw the fierce resolve there. “However I do not believe that is the case regarding Moneta and Don Diego. She has a very strong will to live and ..”

“Her betrothed shall always take excellent care of her!“ Don Diego exclaimed and then directed his gaze from Dr. Perez, to his father and finally to Don Cornelio.

“Buenos tardes, señores. I shall return tomorrow to see Señorita Esperon before midday. And, Diego, as I had already told Dons Alejandro and Cornelio, she must have total and complete bed rest for the next two weeks!” Dr. Perez said.

Don Cornelio put his arms around Diego shoulders. “I know that you will take excellent care of Moneta. She deserves the very best husband and in my eyes, you are one of the finest young men I have ever known!”

“Gracias,” Don Diego. “When Moneta accepted my proposal of marriage I assumed full responsibility for her welfare.”

“Well spoken, Diego!” said Don Alejandro. He noted the concern and love glittering in his son’s hazel eyes. “Cornelio, would you excuse us for a while?” 

“Certainly, mi viejo! Con permiso, Alejandro, Diego.” Cornelio said.

“Por favor, accompany me to the library, Diego.”

“Sí, father.”

It was Don Alejandro who now paced the library floor. “Diego, I must seriously consider the consequences to the family name and honor if you are determined to fulfill the marriage contract with Señorita Moneta!”

Diego’s eyebrows rose. “None of this sordid affair is Moneta’s fault. And, father, believe me when I say that I am worried about the family honor.”

Alejandro sighed. “I compliment you on your principles, my son, Still, Diego, Ricardo has proven not to be a rational man!”

Diego nodded in agreement. ”Should Ricardo make a public nuisance of himself, I promise you that I shall deal with him properly!” He rose to embrace his father. “IF necessary, I shall publicly acknowledge Moneta’s baby to be mine, although I am quite aware how this may adversely affect our family’s honor and reputation. After all, are we de la Vegas, gente de razon and caballeros of the highest rank, and we always do the honorable thing!”

Don Alejandro looked at his son with the utmost pride. “I ... am very proud of you, my son. A lesser man would have tossed out the marriage contract if his fiancée.... ah.. is discovered not to be a virgin...“

“Father, you shall see, everything will work out. Con permiso. I must check on Moneta!“ Diego sat down in a side chair to remain beside his fiancee for the rest of the night. Periodically he would caress Moneta’s fevered forehead with a cold cloth. He felt ashamed that he ever complained to her about Anna Maria ’s icy dismissal of his love. “That accursed ill-begotten ganallo, Ricardo del'Amo! Ricardo, I promise to the Lord God above, that somehow, somewhere you will pay for your crime!” He whispered into the soft candlelit air. Then Diego took Senorita Moneta’s delicate hands into his own and bowed his head to pray.




Dons Alejandro and Cornelio had decided to have an intimate marriage fiesta, inviting only a few close friends from the hacendados in Los Angeles and Monterrey. Diego had suggested that their wedding be celebrated on November 3, three weeks from the announced betrothal or almost six weeks before this year’s opening traditional Christmas celebrations. These celebrations, or Posadas, always commenced on December 16 of each year. Since the de la Vega family usually had an elaborate nacimiento (a live staging of the Christ Child’s birth), both Cornelio and Alejandro felt Diego’s and Moneta’s wedding should be smaller in scale than usual, but as properly festive as possible. But Diego insisted on a “public” ceremony, he did not want to marry Moneta in secret.

Don Cornelio remained somewhat unconvinced. “All of Los Angeles knows about my daughter’s pregnancy--”

Both de la Vega men looked up from Don Cornelio’s draft of Diego and Moneta’s wedding contract.

“As I once explained to my son, Cornelio, a gentleman does not pay attention to gossip!”

“Don Cornelio, besides the fact that I love her, Moneta deserves as fine a wedding as our padrinos and madrinas can produce, eh?” Diego said mischievously.

His father-in-law-to-be beamed at Diego. “Gracias, my son, gracias!”




The nuptial day of Don Diego de la Vega and Senorita Moneta Munoz Esperon was bright and sunny, although it was rather too cold for Moneta’s taste. Unfortunately, she awoke with an extremely upset stomach, and her fair skin looked even paler due to loss of sleep and appetite.

Her madrina, Doña Luisa Elisa Farino Torres, told her that she was just experiencing a bad case of nerves, but the two women knew the real cause of her unease. By Moneta’s calculations, she was almost two months pregnant.

Doña Luisa patted her mantilla into place. “There, there. My daughter, everything will be fine. And to answer to your unspoken question, no, your ‘condition’ is not obvious.”

Moneta hung her head. “Gracias, Madrina Luisa. “It is just--”

“Child, nothing either Diego or you can say or do will stop those estupido loose tongues in this pueblo. Be thankful that you are not marrying that porco, Ricardo del’Amo!”

Moneta smiled. “You know that I have loved Diego since childhood and I believe him when he says he is not marrying me out of pity.”

“Don Diego is a true caballero, a man of the highest sense of honor; and besides that, my dearest Moneta, he loves you.”

Moneta adjusted the orange blossoms in her hair, which symbolize chastity and purity -- and as far as Moneta and her family were concerned --she had every right to wear these flowers. Doña Luisa placed her bridal bouquet of the same flowers in addition to some white and pink roses in her hands. And, as her final advice to her godchild, Moneta, Doña Luisa offered a special prayer for a joyful, long and fruitful union for the bride and groom.



Don Diego was more nervous than he thought he would be on his wedding day. He tried to fasten his collar tie himself several times but gave up when Bernardo took pity on him and finished the job. According to traditional custom, Diego was wearing a tucked white shirt, which was richly embroidered in silver, white and gray thread sewn by his fiancee, Moneta Esperon.

His mozo grinned and signed to Diego [My friend, you look exceedingly handsome today! I hope that the both of you will be very happy together!]

"Gracias, my dearest best friend. I know that we shall."

[You do realize how much your life will change, eh?] Bernardo’s eyes glinted with merriment.

“Sí, and for the best. Come now, it is time for our journey to the wedding. Are you certain my bow is proper?”

Bernardo placed his hands on his hips in mock severity and arched his eyebrows.

Diego rolled his eyes. “Never mind! Father, I trust that Don Alfredo, my padrino has done a wonderful job in staging the wedding?”

His father slapped Diego on his back. “Spoken like a typical nervous groom!” He stepped back from Diego to admire his clothes.

His son’s wedding suit, which was a deep teal blue in color, was embellished with tiny pearls and Austrian crystals, with the lapels of the jaqueta edged in silver thread. The same pattern was repeated along both sides of his pantalones.

Diego smiled tightly “No, actually, I am beyond being nervous; I am truly petrified!"

"That is only natural. Ay yi, yi! The wedding music has already begun! And here comes Moneta now. "

Don Diego could not believe how beautiful Moneta appeared to be this morning. “So the old wives’ tale was true; pregnancy gave her an air of serene, sweet maturity,” he said to himself. Her entire being glowed, she radiated love. Love for me! he marveled. Somehow I know that when I reveal my alter ego to her, Moneta will understand far better than the immature Anna Maria ever would or could.

Don Cornelio leaned over to him and remarked, “Is she all that you expected her to be Don Diego? "

"She is everything that I want in a woman and more. Moneta is perfection itself.“ He replied, unable to take his eyes from her veiled face.

Father Felipe began the wedding by making the traditional sign of the cross over the groom’s head. Diego responded by kissing the cross. Then the priest blessed Moneta and she also kissed the cross. This act represented the couple’s vow of allegiance to each other.

Don Diego’s padrino, Don Alfredo, gave thirteen gold coins (arras) to the couple. The groom placed the white satin pouch containing the arras, to Father Felipe, who blessed them. Diego held the coins until it was time to offer them to Moneta to symbolize her sacred place as mistress of his household.

Dona Luisa then approached Diego and Moneta, first draping Diego with an elegantly and intricately decorated pink silk and satin cape in the shape of a rosary, the lasso, and then she looped it over the bride’s shoulders. They wore this symbol of their eternal unity until the end of the wedding, when Moneta received it as a memento of her special day.

For their vows, Diego pledged to be Moneta’s principal source of strength, protection nourishment and direction. Moneta promised to give him obedience, pleasure and consolation in times of sorrow.

“By the Power vested in me by the Holy Trinity, I now pronounce you man and wife!“ Father Felipe glanced up from the Sacred Sacrament of Matrimony Chapter of the jewel encrusted and leather bound Holy Missal, which was so weighty that it took two altar boys to hold the book for Father Felipe.

“Señor Diego de la Vega y de la Cruz, you may now kiss the bride!”

With great precision and care, Diego parted the mantilla from Moneta’s face and bent down to begin the personal celebration of his marriage. Only much, much later, when she lay in the arms of the man she had vowed to wed since childhood, did she remember how especially tender his wonderful hazel eyes were as he kissed her for the first time as his wife.



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