MORE TROUBLE ON THE HORIZON
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.
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
did the capitán do then, Señor Barbossa?” Teresa Soto breathlessly
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
little late for that thought, eh Barbossa?” Teresa sardonically
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 ...”
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!”
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!
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
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.
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
tribes viewed death as a continuation of life. Life was literally a
dream and only in death did they become truly awake.
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.
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
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].
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.
[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
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.
Garcia, call out the lancers for special duty!” Glorioso yelled as he
stepped archly down his office’s steps.
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.
do you know why the capitán has called out the lancers for special
guard duty on the day of this Fiesta?" whispered Corporal Reyes.
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.
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!
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
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.
are you questioning my orders, Sergeant? And why would such a decision
be unwise?” Capitán Glorioso replied in a curious tone.
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.
Reyes nodded in agreement. "Si, commandante. And the shopkeepers
need the fiesta money to live on for an entire year.”
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!"
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! 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.
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.”
townspeople's murmurs grew louder and surlier. One of the tradesmen, Tomás
Ballarias, stepped forward and demanded to know why the fiesta had been
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.
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!“
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 ...
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.
pardon, Don Carlos, but what is happening in the plaza?” Don Stefano
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 quietly replied, "Sí, do you want me to fetch him?"
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.
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.
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.
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!
OF CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE