The Gift








Don Ignacio and Doña Luisa Torres, together with their daughter, Elena, and her new spouse, Señor Benito Julio Sanchez, were all deeply happy regarding Moneta’s marriage to Diego. And even the normally staid and severe Don Alfredo smiled warmly at the wedding party. After all, he was Don Diego’s padrino! For his godson’s wedding, he discarded his usually somber dark brown and navy colored suits and instead wore a charming gray silk jaqueta festooned with white satin embroidered scrolls and miniature emeralds decorating the shoulders, cuffs, and down the center of the jaqueta’s back.

Father Felipe from the Franciscan mission of San Gabriel was especially pleased to perform the marriage ceremony. He had been a close friend of Diego’s mother, Bethia Elizabeth. After her untimely death in 1807, Father Felipe became the ten-year old Diego’s spiritual confident and occasional surrogate parent. Every Wednesday the friar would rise at four a.m. and, after reading his Holy Office prayers, wait for Diego arrive for their weekly chess game, which Diego invariably won.

As Diego danced with his new bride, he finally conceded that Moneta looked gloriously radiant in the shade of the palest ivory she had selected for her wedding gown. As she told him prior to the wedding, all the women of Don Cornelio’s family usually wore a black satin dress and mantilla.

“You should have seen papacito’s shocked expression when I told him that I had chosen to wear a different color! I said that the thought of wearing black on the happiest day of my life was entirely too morbid!” Moneta had told her fiancé. “But I reminded him that a red-faced bride wearing a black wedding gown would be an entirely too gaudy --besides being improper -- combination for Señora de la Vega!“

Diego chuckled. ”I can imagine. But, querida mia, your father was just trying to honor tradition. I for one am delighted with your selection!“

Don Cornelio was thrilled beyond all imagination as he watched his daughter and new son-in-law dance at their wedding reception. He briefly closed his eyes and thought. Doña Carmela, my dear late wife! Moneta chose the most charming bridal gown. She resembles you so! Her dark hair beautifully contrasts with her smooth as silk fair skin! Carmela Añia Teresa Esperon Valdez, you certainly can be proud of our daughter!

The bodice of Moneta’s ivory raw satin dress’ was tightly fitted at the waist while the skirt flared out thanks to four new silk petticoats given to her by another madrina, Doña Sylvia Gutierrez Montero. Both the dress and train were completely draped with the finest Alçenon lace and were covered with tiny ivory rosettes. Her elegant mantilla was fashioned from the same delicate lace. IF she had chosen to wear virginal white, Moneta would certainly be subjected to nothing but more scorn, because rumors were already reaching alarming proportions since Don Juan Del‘Amo, father of Don Ricardo, had quietly dissolved the engagement agreement with Don Cornelio at the end of September. Diego guided his new wife to her seat near Don Alejandro. Moneta touched her father-in law’s face and kissed his cheek.

“Well, my new daughter, what prompted that delightful display of affection?“ said Don Alejandro as he feigned surprise.

“That was a well-deserved ‘muchas gracias’ for this lovely fiesta, Don Alejandro. And another kiss for my beloved husband, for having the courage to marry me and grant his name to my child!“

Don Alejandro harrumphed. “My dearest Moneta, we are honored to have you as a cherished member of the de la Vega family!”

Diego gently wiped away the tears that threatened to trickle down his bride’s face. “Now, now, Moneta, amada, we cannot have the bride upset at her own wedding fiesta!”

Don Cornelio Esperon heartily congratulated the bride and groom and then asked his new son--in-law for permission to dance with the new Senora de la Vega. Moneta gazed lovingly at her father, who had asked her if she were as happy as she appeared to be. “Sí, papacito, I am very happy! At least now my child will have a name and a loving home!”

Don Cornelio looked deep into his daughter’s eyes. Chiquita, I have always wanted the very best for you and now” -- he cocked his head over toward his new son-in-law--you have achieved your heart’s desire!”

Diego was talking with his father when he noticed that Don Gregorio Verdugo had arrived. Although Diego had vigorously opposed inviting Don Gregorio, Don Alejandro pointed out that he and Don Gregorio had been friends for decades when they both lived in Spain.

He and his father had just greeted Don Gregorio when they saw Don Cornelio waiving for them to come over to him. He was holding tightly onto his daughter’s shoulders. Diego noticed that Moneta’s face had turned as pale as her wedding gown.

“What is wrong, dearest?“ Diego worriedly asked Moneta.

“I feel dizzy, just a little, mind you. Diego and her father together led a very stubborn bride to the nearest chair. “You look very uncomfortable, Moneta, are you sure you want to stay until the end of the fiesta? “ Diego muttered sotto voce.

“Why on earth would I want to desert the guests at my own wedding celebration?” I cannot allow a little thing like morning sickness to ruin the happiest day of my life!“ They both laughed together.

Diego leaned down to whisper in her ear how beautiful she looked and to reassert his love for her. He had just finished his little speech when he saw Ricardo del'Amo and Anna Maria enter the patio.

He waved to Bernardo to warn his father and Don Cornelio, who were discussing the depressed price of hides this season with Don Gregorio, about Don Ricardo del' Amo’s arrival.

Don Gregorio’s face became dark with anger. “Alejandro, Cornelio, I told them both not to attend this wedding!“

Don Alejandro put his hands on Gregorio’s arm. “Do not worry so! You and Anna Maria are welcome at our hacienda anytime. As for Don Ricardo, he is an entirely different matter!”

Don Gregorio nodded in agreement. “Gracias, mi viejo! I have repeatedly ordered Anna Maria to stay away from him!”

All three men watched closely as Ricardo and Anna-Maria walked through the crowd of guests toward the newly wed couple to offer their congratulations

Diego's father and Don Cornelio stood behind their children. “Now, Diego, promise me you're going to behave yourself!” Don Alejandro muttered under his breath. Diego looked down at Moneta and squeezed her hands tightly. “Not not to worry, dearest, because nothing is going to ruin our wedding fiesta!” he vowed.

“Buenos tardes.” Ricardo del'Amo said tersely to the newly married couple. Anna Maria leaned forward to kiss Moneta on her cheek. “Congratulations, she told ‘Moneta and Diego. I am very happy for the both of you!”

However, Diego noticed that her eyes were cold and devoid of all emotion. He mentally shivered. How could I have honestly believed that I loved someone as superficial and soulless as her? As for Ricardo del’Amo, the caballero wisely avoided looking at Moneta and concentrated on talking solely with Don Diego.

Moneta noticed this, and she deliberately extended her hand to Ricardo del'Amo and said, “Don Ricardo, I am so happy that you are able to attend my wedding celebration! “

Don Ricardo was about to take Moneta’s right hand and kiss it when he noticed Diego, Alejandro and Cornelio all glaring at him. He nervously dropped her hand and bowed in her direction.

No, Señora de la Vega, the pleasure is all mine.” he replied in a tone colored with sarcasm. "Come Anna Maria, I suppose we can stay long enough to have some refreshment, so I shall find a chair for you.”


The bride and groom did detect his ill humor but kept silent. Moneta could see Diego struggle for some measure of self-control. The arrogant ass! Diego thought angrily. Ricardo and Anna Maria started to walk away when Diego excused himself from his bride’s company, and suggested to Ricardo that Bernardo would bring them some refreshment in the garden where the two men could talk privately.

Before Ricardo could give him an answer, Don Diego firmly grabbed Ricardo‘s arm and half dragged him from the patio into the far side of the garden.

“You have some kind of nerve Ricardo, to appear at our nuptial fiesta, especially after what you have done to my wife. I want you to leave at once and without causing a scene!”

“Really, Diego! I am very surprised at you -- putting your faith in a female‘s imagination!”

Diego pulled del’Amo up directly against his face so that Ricardo would not misinterpret his warning. “Ricardo, if you so much as even think about contacting Moneta for any reason, I will kill you! Comprende?”

Ricardo was amazed by the transformation that love had caused in Diego. Never had he seen his former friend care more than a wit about a female. That little wanton girl Moneta had obviously told Diego about his ‘alleged ravishment ‘ of the señorita, undoubtedly a biased, one-sided account of he and Moneta’s last ride into the woods bordering the Esperons’ estates. Bitch! he silently fumed.

When Diego finally released him and he recovered his voice and wits, Ricardo could not depart without tossing a barbed remark at the newlyweds.

Well, you two deserve each other, Señor ’Dilettante’ and I am relieved to say a final goodbye to Señorita - I mean Señora Moonface! I now have my beloved Anna Maria, and we shall be married as soon as possible!”

Diego clenched his fists. ”Please take your Zorro-obsessed, immature bride-to-be with you and let neither one of you ever enter the de la Vega hacienda again!”

“You poor fool,” Ricardo said in mock sympathy. "Am I ever glad that she trapped you rather than me into marriage with the likes of her!”

“Ricardo, you are leaving NOW!” Diego’s hazel eyes were ablaze with fury. “Silencio, or I shall physically toss your miserable hide over the garden wall!” He said between clenched teeth.


Ricardo had just shredded Diego’s last iota of patience. Diego slapped him hard enough so that del’Amo’s ears rang.

“Well, well, the milquetoast Don Diego has suddenly developed some backbone and dignity after all! Who could have guessed?”

Diego responded by pinning both of del’Amo’s arms behind his back. As Ricardo struggled to free himself, Diego slammed him against the garden wall. Momentarily stunned, Ricardo slid down to the grass. As the young de la Vega was just about to tie del’Amo up with his own banda, Ricardo regained consciousness.

“I warned you to behave yourself. Ricardo. If I never see or speak to either you or Anna Maria, again, it shall be too soon!“

“Tsk, tsk, my dear Diego. The entire pueblo knows that you married poor Moneta Esperon out of pity!”

“And how would you know that? Is that the lie you told Anna Maria so that she would agree to marry you?” The young de la Vega taunted him. “Did you also tell Señorita Verdugo the lie that I still love her?”

The surprised look on del’Amo’s face told Diego that his remarks stung Ricardo’s pride.

Diego, if you release me, I would thrash you so soundly ...”

They both heard a scream, and then another one. The new bridegroom recognized the first yell as Moneta’s voice. Diego dropped the banda, but kept a tight hold on Ricardo as he half-dragged del’Amo back to the wedding fiesta. As they entered the patio, both men were astounded by what they saw.

“MONETA!” Diego yelled as he ran toward her. “Are you all right?”

Moneta was holding Anna Maria’s lavender colored mantilla tightly in her right hand. Then she threw the lovely headpiece in Señorita Verdugo’s face just as Anna Maria was getting up from the floor.

“Get up, Señorita Verdugo. You and Ricardo are leaving at once!”

“Ricardo! Where are you? Help me!” Anna Maria wailed.

Del’Amo made a futile attempt to evade Diego’s strong grip. He continued to wriggle until the young de la Vega grabbed him by his shirt collar.

“Uhhhhh...” del’Amo mumbled helplessly.

Don Diego tightened his hold on del’Amo. “On, no, Ricardo, you are staying right here with me, ganallo!

“Let me go!” Ricardo yelled, “or I shall ..”

“Exactly what will you do?” inquired the mature voice of Don Gregorio Verdugo. “Be quiet, or by all that is holy I shall retrieve the whip from my carriage and give you a taste of it!”

“Moneta,” Diego started towards her.

Don Gregorio stopped him. “Moneta is acquitting herself rather nicely.” The barest trace of a smile appeared on his face.

“But, Don Gregorio ...Moneta has obviously struck your daughter.”

“Don Diego,” Señor Verdugo said wistfully, “ as you grow older, you will learn never to interfere in ‘women’s affairs!’”

The bridegroom chuckled. “Message received and understood, Don Gregorio!”

Meanwhile, Ricardo squirmed uselessly in Diego’s grasp. Diego, I swear by all the Saints that I will never forget our little ‘garden discussion as long as I live! I shall make you pay dearly for this public humiliation! Ricardo thought acidly. “You and especially that hija, Moneta Esperon, merit special attention!”


Chapter Eight
Chapter One
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