The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

 

MORE TROUBLE ON THE HORIZON

 

 

The main bartender at La Casa de Hospitalidad related to Señora Soto the details of Don Diego de la Vega’s visit to see Capitán Glorioso. When she heard what the caballero said to the commandante, she laughed hysterically. Gomez Barbossa, the bartender, added that he had never seen the capitán so frightened in his life.

Barbossa continued, “Don Alfredo, his nephew Don Stefano, Don Roberto and Don Carlos were also here yesterday when the young de la Vega made it clear that the commandante deliberately went to see Señorita de Rojas, knowing she was alone in her hacienda. To quote Don Carlos, ‘a true Grandee gentlemen would never think of doing such a thing! We will be certain, commandante, to inform our friends regarding your conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman! Dons Roberto and Alfredo then told Glorioso they were going to report him to Governor Pablo Vicente de Sola ‘immediamente!’”

“What did the capitán do then, Señor Barbossa?” Teresa Soto breathlessly inquired.

“Capitán Glorioso, he ...” Barbossa laughed until his sides began hurting, “him, his face turn red, very red. Then he ran back upstairs where the maid in charge heard our brave commandante swear his revenge on de la Vega if he hears any unfavorable gossip about his visit to the de Rojas’s hacienda.”

“A little late for that thought, eh Barbossa?” Teresa sardonically observed.

The camarero grinned “Of course. By the day of the up coming Los Muertos fiesta, Capitán Glorioso’s reputation, and not the Señorita‘s, I mean, Doña de la Vega’s good name, will be ...”

“As black as stable yard mud,” Teresa finished the sentence for him. “Muchas gracias, camarero,” she said, giving him a peso for the valuable [at least to her] information. “Well, well,” Teresa said aloud, “the capitán was obviously not thinking clearly as far as Selena de la Vega is concerned!” And Teresa was determined to destroy him anyway that she could. Commandante, I know that I have to work in this foul business if I want to eat, but somehow I shall have my vengeance upon you for murdering my daughter. I swear this by the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Guadalupe!”

Señora Soto took extra care with her makeup before she walked slowly downstairs to La Casa’s kitchen to eat some empanadas de rosbif. I must find a way to tell El Zorro about my daughter’s murder, and Conchetta Reyes, who was the first of three girls to end up in early graves! she shrugged inwardly. But the Fox has probably heard this news. Well, then, I can surely think of other ways to help Zorro get rid of this murderer. And if my efforts cost me my life, so is it!

 

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The commandante observed the péons and trades people setting up their booths to sell their native crafts and imported wares for the pueblo’s annual celebration of the Dia de Los Muertos [Day of the Dead]. He knew quite well how popular this fiesta was to the indigenous people of Alta California, having spent most of his military career in Mexico. He considered the amount of revenue generated from this annual fiesta which flowed into both Mexico City and the Spanish

Royal Tax Collector’s personal coffers. Don Christophe Ricardo Castile y Gomez, the Spanish Crown’s Finance Minister of Mexico, always charged a fee applicable to all fiesta goers more than 20 years ago. In addition, vendors who wanted to sell their goods at the Los Muertos Fiesta had to pay a special registration fee so Don Christophe could issue licenses for that purpose. To be sure! Don Christophe’s defunct plan gave him an idea. It was too late to impose a license fee, so he would collect an attendance fee from everyone or he would cancel the fiesta! Too bad that the matters of state were going to interfere with an ancient Indian superstitious custom. All the more reason to intimidate these péons. After all, a military officer of the King of Spain can not permit foolish local customs to interfere with Crown business! he gloated to himself.

 

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The Dia de Los Muertos ritual was probably first celebrated nearly three millennia ago. More than three hundred years ago, in 1519, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now known as Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a rite that seemed to mock death. Most of the

Meso-American tribes viewed death as a continuation of life. Life was literally a dream and only in death did they become truly awake.

However, the Spanish with their religious manifest destiny, decried the Indians celebrations honoring the dead to be barbaric and pagan. From Mexico north and west to Baja California [which from the late 18th century included Los Angeles], the indigenous peoples used human skulls as trophies during their “Day of the Dead” month-long annual celebrations. These Mesoamerican civilizations believed that their dead ancestors came back to visit their loved ones during this time. Pre-Hispanic people also believed duality to be dynamic and, unlike Western Civilization, never separated death from pain, or wealth from poverty. The Day of the Dead” was originally celebrated in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, approximately on August 1.

Despite or rather because the Spanish Church tried to obliterate what they considered to be a ghoulish custom, Indians from California, Arizona and Mexico tenaciously clung to their heritage. In order to appease them and

cement their conversion to Catholicism, their Spanish masters moved the dates of this celebration to October 30th through November 2nd. Thus a pagan fiesta was adjusted to coincide with the Catholic Feast Days of All Saints [November 1] and All Souls Day [November 2].

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

The marketplace in the Pueblo de Los Angeles was filled with Indians selling alfenique, a concoction used to make candy in the shapes of skulls, fruits and other religious figures, both native and Christian. Wooden altars were scattered throughout the plaza, all of these structures were covered with skull candy and lighted candles. Each skull bore the name of the deceased ancestor and was usually consumed by the departed souls’ relatives.

Everyone [except the upper classes] wore calacas; wooden skull masks and danced in the marketplace from sunset to sunrise for four days, October 30th through November 2. The Indians would sing songs and compose poetry about the dead. Offerings of alfenique, atole, an ancient drink made from corn meal, water and flavored with citrus fruits, and pollo con mole, chicken with a thick sauce made from chilies, sesame seeds, herbs, spices and chocolate filled every available table.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Perfect. Commandante Juan Ramon Glorioso, Visconde de Estrada, thought as he surveyed the gaiety taking place around him. The pueblo’s marketplace was choked with people of every economic class. But the capitán’s utter disdain was concentrated on the Indians and the mestizos [mixed blood] peons. Time for these dogs to perform their civic duty and pay the admission fees. Glorioso adjusted his snugly fitted dress uniform so that he could comfortably sit while he observed the fee collections personally. He placed a plumed bicorn military hat on his head to impress the populace as befitting his rank.

“Sergeant Garcia, call out the lancers for special duty!” Glorioso yelled as he stepped archly down his office’s steps.

Corporal Reyes and Sergeant Garcia watched nervously in the garrison’s yard as the lancers quickly formed ranks as per Glorioso’s orders. The sergeant hurried the men into their assigned places before the commandante could yell at him for what Glorioso called his usual “sloppy execution” of his orders.

"Sergeant, do you know why the capitán has called out the lancers for special guard duty on the day of this Fiesta?" whispered Corporal Reyes.

But Garcia was just as puzzled as Corporal Reyes was. "No, but the capitán will scream his reason to us soon enough,” he whispered back to Reyes. “Hush, here he comes now! Lancers, atención!" Garcia again did his best imitation of a person “holding in” his rather prominent stomach and rigidly saluted Glorioso.

The Visconde swaggered up to the line of soldiers that guarded the Cuartel of the Pueblo de Los Angeles and privately cringed as he performed a quick visual inspection of the scruffy troops, Troops? Soldiers? These men are an insult to the honor of the Spanish Army. I shall be enormously pleased to leave this strange place of gross ineptitude!

"Sergeant Garcia,” the Visconde said frostily, “I recently discovered during my research of the Pueblo's tax records that in past years, an attendance fee regarding the celebration of this fiesta was charged by the officer in command of this cuartel. I have decided to reinstate this levy immediately. All péons coming to the Day of the Dead Fiesta will have to pay an attendance fee of 2 reales per person. Merchants will pay one peso each, caballeros and dons two pesos each. No exceptions."

“What attendance fee? I have never heard of such a fee, Capitán.“ He held up his hands. “These people are so poor, Your Excellency. This fiesta means quite a lot to everyone in Los Angeles. Breaking up their fiesta would make you very unpopular." Sergeant Garcia pleaded with his superior officer. As if you were not already unpopular enough. The sergeant grumbled to himself.

"Oh, are you questioning my orders, Sergeant? And why would such a decision be unwise?” Capitán Glorioso replied in a curious tone.

Garcia and Corporal Reyes were completely astonished by the capitán's remark. "Commandante, this is the biggest event of the year in the péons’ lives! These poor people have been celebrating this Fiesta for a long time and they have so little to look forward to in their miserable lives!" said Sergeant Garcia.

Corporal Reyes nodded in agreement. "Si, commandante. And the shopkeepers need the fiesta money to live on for an entire year.”

Visconde de Estrada fingered the bullwhip that by now the two lancers thought of as one of his personal appendages and not simply as an object. “Of course, I have no real intention of not allowing this Fiesta to proceed, Sergeant Garcia, provided that the people comply with the laws of the pueblo," he replied nonchalantly, "I just follow orders as a good officer of the king is a honor bound to do so. Therefore, I repeat, carry out my order!"

Seeing the stern look in his eyes, Garcia reluctantly relented. “Si, Your Excellency! Come on Reyes; let us lancers become even more unpopular than we already are,” he grumbled sotto voce to the corporal.

“Atencion! Atencion! Please everybody listen!“ Garcia shouted as loud as he could as the armed lancers began to wade through the thick crowds, shoving shopkeepers and peons away from the vendors’ stalls.

“Today, the Visconde de Estrada, Juan Ramon Glorioso, has decided to commence collection of a Fiesta Attendance Fee. Everyone please line up where the lancers show you.”

The townspeople's murmurs grew louder and surlier. One of the tradesmen, Tomás Ballarias, stepped forward and demanded to know why the fiesta had been halted.

“Por favor, Capitán, this celebration brings quite a bit of revenue into Los Angeles! What is this nonsense about an ‘attendance fee’”? Señor Ballarias asked, his anger increasing with every word he spoke.

Glorioso smiled. “Excellent thinking, Señor Ballarias. But my orders are to reinstate the lapsed fee collections starting today. That is the only explanation I am willing to provide you. Presidente Pablo de Sola’s orders are not to be considered ‘nonsense.’ His orders must be followed to the letter!“

 

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Don Stefano was escorting a young señorita named Carmela Maria de Bolivar to the opening of the Day of the Dead Fiesta. Since his uncle Don Alfredo’s admonition not to patronize La Casa, and, not wanting another personal visit from El Zorro, he had reluctantly decided to amend his ways and concentrate on finding a suitable young lady to marry. If only Don Alfredo had not threatened to disinherit me, which he can do since Tio Alfredo is the executor of my father’s estate ... Don Stefano thought disgustedly. Ah, well ...

The young couple, accompanied by Señorita de Bolivar’s dueña, had just arrived in the Plaza when they saw the soldiers directing everyone in the crowd towards Capitán Glorioso. The Visconde, who was sitting in a leather armchair behind a large table, tapped his long fingers on a tax collections book, impatiently waiting for the lancers to finish gathering the crowd before him. Don Stefano noticed his uncle’s old friend, Don Carlos, looking quite irritated at Glorioso.

"Your pardon, Don Carlos, but what is happening in the plaza?” Don Stefano asked.

Don Carlos scowled deeply. "It seems my young caballero, that the Commandante has decided to levy an attendance fee for everyone who wishes to visit the Day of the Dead Fiesta. This is most unusual and frankly, quite absurd!” The elder Grandée slapped his riding gloves impatiently against his legs. “Did Don Alfredo come to the fiesta, Don Stefano?"

Don Stefano quietly replied, "Sí, do you want me to fetch him?"

"That won't be necessary, gracias, Don Stefano. I will find him myself and together we shall protest this ridiculous assessment! Con permiso, I shall speak with you later.“ With a curt bow to the young couple, Don Carlos jostled his way through the crowd, heading directly for the church where most of the dons’ horses were stabled.

While Don Carlos searched for his uncle, Don Stefano noticed the mood of the crowd becoming more and more unruly. Nearly everyone in the plaza was loudly complaining about the Visconde’s announcement of charging a festival attendance fee.

“We will not pay such a fee!” Tomás Ballarias yelled again. Two reales represent a lot of money to most people, especially the pobrecitos! My friends and fellow merchants, please join me in refusal to pay this outrageous levy!” the tailor continued to goad the crowd.

Garcia pleaded with the citizens of the pueblo to cooperate. “Por favor, Señores and Señoritas, you do not want to upset the Commandante! He is capable of meting out harsh punishment!” But the noise from the crowd grew louder and louder as Garcia noted to his sorrow. If only Don Diego were here, he could reason with the people and handle that equally difficult sourpuss Don Carlos!

 

END OF CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

 

 

 

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