The Gift









As Moneta was thanking some of her guests for attending her wedding Anna Maria cast a critical eye over Señora de la Vega’s choice of attire. A wicked grin suddenly began animating her features. Hmm, well, there has been some gossip about Moneta’s rushed engagement and wedding. And I would like to needle her! I always believed her to be very snobby and aloof. Whatever does Diego find attractive about her? Her eyes are too widely spaced from her nose, her feet are at least twice the size of my own dainty ones. Oh, my! The new Señora de la Vega is wearing...ivory? What boldness! And that style is way out of fashion! She thought tartly. Then Anna Maria noticed that Ricardo and Diego practically ran from the reception into the garden, each man wearing a grim look on his face.

“Señora de la Vega, may we talk .. privately?” Anna Maria asked as politely as she could.

Moneta frowned slightly. Well, Diego asked me to be pleasant to this ... human viper and I want no trouble on this happiest day of my life! Doña Moneta said to herself. After coolly appraising Anna Maria’s lovely lavender mantilla and dress, she finally responded to Señorita Verdugo’s request. “I do not think I can leave my guests!”

Anna Maria grinned. “Señora, oh perhaps I should call you Moneta, it is just a woman-to-woman talk!”

Moneta hesitated briefly. Anna Maria and are only the barest of acquaintances, not friends. And I know about her unusual sense of ‘humor’. What harm could come from just talking with her? Surely neither Ricardo nor Anna Maria would condescend to disrupting such a happy occasion. She thought innocently.

“Very well, I suppose I can use a rest from greeting all of those people.”

“Bueno, Moneta!” Anna Maria touched Moneta’s arm and led her into a quiet corner of the patio.

“How can I help you, Señorita Verdugo? “

“You look rather pale, Moneta! I do hope that you are not ill! I understand that that you have been.... Ah.... Under the weather. Something about a stomach disorder.” Anna Maria smiled, showing all of her white teeth

Moneta briefly closed her eyes and prayed for divine help - or for Diego to magically appear and save her from this odious woman!

“Señorita Verdugo,” Señora de la Vega icily replied, “my health is none of your business!”

“Come now, Señora de le Vega! Anna Maria said sarcastically. “Everyone in Los Angeles knows that Diego is marrying you because he feels sorry for you!“ She repeated the lie Ricardo had told her.

Moneta was thoroughly shocked. “Indeed! This may surprise you, Señorita Verdugo, but I care not a wit for your opinion! Considering your abominable taste in men, choosing Ricardo del’Amo --- well, what can I say! Only a female without common sense would settle for a third rate man such as he!”

Señorita Verdugo was stunned by Doña Moneta’s hurtful remarks. “How dare you say such things regarding my dear Ricardo! He is gracious, kind, and has been the model caballero especially since you were the one who broke your engagement with him!”

Anna Maria roughly pushed Moneta aside. The hem of Moneta’s lovely wedding dress caught on one of Anna Maria’s shoes. When the bride tried to untangle the gown from it, a large section ripped from the left side of the bodice’s waist to the hem.

Doña Moneta began to pull Anna Maria towards the patio door. “Señorita Verdugo, please allow me to escort you from this fiesta!”

“NO! “ Anna Maria stomped her foot.

‘Very well.” Moneta reached out and slapped her face as hard as she could. Before Anna Maria could try again to get a better hold of Moneta’s dress, she leaned down and grasped Anna Maria’s ornate lavender colored mantilla. Moneta yanked as hard as she could and was rewarded with both the mantilla and some tufts of Señorita Verdugo’s black hair hanging from hand.




Diego hurriedly pushed Ricardo as rapidly as possible back to his wedding fiesta. The two men were greeted by the pleasant image --at least Diego thought so --- of Anna Maria laying sprawled on the patio floor, looking up at Moneta in total surprise. Perhaps Anna Maria will finally learn some manners, but I doubt it! he chuckled to himself.

“CRACK!”” Just as Diego started walking toward Moneta, Anna Maria managed to get up again and aimed her right fist at Moneta. But Señora de la Vega backhanded Anna Maria ---hard --across Señorita Verdugo’s face. “ I have had enough of you, Señorita!” Moneta stood over her tormentor. “Leave before I throw you out myself!”

Diego shoved Ricardo over to his father and Don Cornelio. “Moneta, are you certain that you are all right? DIOS!” He looked her over thoroughly. “Oh, Moneta, your lovely wedding gown is ruined!”

Don Gregorio Verdugo was livid over his daughter’s peevish behavior. He had discreetly followed the two women and overheard the sarcasm and nastiness in Anna Maria’s voice as she taunted Moneta about the origin of her “stomach malady.“ When the fight began, he allowed Doña Moneta to defend herself until Diego returned.

“That will be quite enough!” Don Gregorio shouted. “Brava, Señora de la Vega,“ he muttered sotto voce, “my daughter, you richly deserved that humiliation!” He

Unceremoniously yanked Anna Maria away and ordered her to return to their carriage. Finally Don Gregorio focused his attention on Señor del‘Amo.

“AND YOU, Don Ricardo, you are responsible for bringing Anna Maria here against my wishes! You shall publicly apologize for both of your boorish and tasteless disruption of the de la Vegas’ wedding feast! “

“To a señorita for whom I have no respect, I think not!” Ricardo lurched backwards as Don Diego launched himself at del’Amo. If it were not for the efforts of the de la Vegas’ former caporal, Benito Sanchez, and several of Don Alejandro’s friends, Don Diego would have strangled Ricardo.

Don Alejandro separated his son and Don Ricardo. “ENOUGH! Ricardo, you are the most disrespectful caballero I know! You have not only dishonored my family, and me but you have also insulted Spanish womanhood! I think that I speak for everyone here that you should be held responsible for your actions!”

There were murmurs of agreement among the de la Vegas’ wedding guests. Don Alfredo Alvarez and Don Torres approached Ricardo. “You are no longer welcome here, Señor del’Amo!”

“Are you all right? Diego said in a low but tight voice, as he drew Moneta close to him so that she could rest her head against his broad shoulders. “Ah, querida mia, please no tears on your wedding day! Everything will turn out for the best, I promise!”

No one noticed in the brouhaha that Bernardo had run back into the stables to fetch Sergeant Garcia.

“What is going on here?” Sgt. Garcia’s rough baritone demanded, as he waddled into the patio with a bug eyed Corporal Reyes.

Don Alejandro related to the Acting Comandante how Anna Maria goaded Doña Moneta into a fight. Diego then told the good sergeant the couple was not officially invited to his wedding.

Sgt. Garcia frowned at Don Ricardo. “Don Alejandro, I can jail Señor Ricardo on charge of disturbing the peace--”

“Just you try and do it, Sergeant Garcia!” Don Ricardo defiantly told the Acting Comandante.

The sergeant wagged his finger at him. “Do not threaten me, Señor del’Amo! Although this charge requires the payment of a small fine, striking an Officer of the Court can cost you 500 pesos and twenty lashes at the whipping post!

Don Ricardo threw up his hands. “Very well, Sergeant Garcia. If I pay the fine -- just how much is it?”

“Fifty pesos, Señor.”

“Here you are, ‘Acting Comandante!’ Am I free to go?” Ricardo said testily as he threw the coins at Garcia‘s boots.

The Sergeant’s face reddened. “Por favor, Don Ricardo, kindly hand me the money!” he said sternly.

Don Diego abruptly left Moneta with her father and pushed his way past the Sergeant and Corporal Reyes.

“Señor,” the young de la Vega’s voice was cold and biting, “you heard Comandante Garcia! Pick up the coins and give them to him!”

Ricardo snorted angrily. “I will NOT!”

Diego pretended to turn away. “POW!” He whirled to this right and caught del’Amo completely off guard. Down went Don Ricardo.

A suffocating silence blanketed the patio. Suddenly, Benito and Elena Sanchez burst into applause. “Ole!” Benito shouted, and everyone began yelling “Bueno! Ole!” to a startled Don Diego.

Don Ricardo retrieved the money as Corporal Reyes helped him up.

“Señor del'Amo, I advise you to heed Don Diego’s warning -- stay away from Don Diego and Doña Moneta!“

Diego’s smoldering hazel eyes burned their gaze into Don Ricardo’s own black and reptilian looking ones. “Remember if you as much as look at my wife again, I shall kill you!” He told del’Amo quietly.  

Ricardo hastily grabbed hat, gloves and saber and ran for the patio gate. However, he could not resist a parting shot. “ I happily take my leave of all of you and your boring and pathetic lives!” He winked at Anna Maria, who casually drew her fan across her right cheek. Don Ricardo laughingly acknowledged her message of love and stomped from the de la Vegas’ patio.

“Once again, my dear Alejandro and Cornelio, I deeply regret the pain my caused by daughter’s uncouth conduct.” Don Gregorio said. He took Moneta’s right hand and kissed it. Your servant, Senora de la Vega.”

“Uno momento, Don Gregorio,” Don Diego said, “Anna Maria is not an inherently bad or cruel person. She needs to keep better company than the likes of Ricardo del'Amo. You have no idea how devious and crafty he really is! “

“I certainly realize that now,“ said Don Gregorio sadly. “Do not worry Don Diego and Doña Moneta, I shall make certain that Anna Maria does not bother you again. Con permiso, adios!”

All Don Gregorio could think about while riding home was how he was going to prevent Anna Maria from seeing Ricardo del'Amo again! His one true dream was that Diego would ask Anna Maria to marry his daughter. Don Gregorio’s fondest wish now lay broken in a thousand pieces, as if someone had tossed a stone through his mirror of dreams. His most revered wish was that the most influential family in Northern California, the Verdugo's of Monterrey, would be united by marriage to the wealthiest family in all of California, the de la Vegas.

He half propelled his recalcitrant daughter into a chair. “How dare you defy my orders never to see that filthy del’ Amo again, and to make matters worse, you appear, uninvited, at Diego’s and Moneta’s wedding fiesta, on that scoundrel Ricardo del’Amo’s arm. I afraid, young lady, that I am going to take some drastic measures regarding this disgraceful behavior! Never forget that you are a Verdugo!”

Anna Maria turned her herd away and closed her eyes. Finally, she did not care to remain in his presence any longer. Anna Maria leapt up from her seat and started to leave the sala. ‘Father, I will not listen to another word, I ....“

“BE SILENT!” her father yelled as he again forced her to sit down. “Now, young lady, you are going to listen to what your father has to say, or I shall turn you over on my knee and give you a well-earned spanking!”

Anna Maria nodded silently listened to his tirade for what seemed like hours, all the while desperately hoping that Ricardo would keep his promise and take her away from her father’s house.  

“You say that you won’t listen to me? “Very well, young lady, you will be completely disinherited and forced into a convent IF you continue seeing del’Amo against my express orders!

Anna Maria was astounded. You cannot do that!”

“Watch me, my dear daughter! I have never made an idle threat in my life!”

She finally bowed her head, but she did not cry, “I simply cannot believe that a father would treat his only child in such a manner! After all, Doña Moneta is a ..”


ANNA MARIA remained motionless. (Late tonight I shall send my personal maid, Serena Chavez, to bring Ricardo to me!) Her secret romantic dreams of having a lavish and splendid wedding, of making a great important social coup by marrying into the wealthy de la Vega family were forever extinguished by her stubbornness to ‘save herself’ for El Zorro. Both marital prizes were now beyond her grasp. [And I have no one to blame but myself.]


Chapter Nine
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