STIRRING THE POT
Diego and Selena had decided on a
whim to attend the annual Dia de Los Muertos Fiesta in the Pueblo
de Los Ángeles. They had spent nearly all of the past week or so in
conjugal bliss, which surprised Diego endlessly. Selena de la Vega de
Rojas was a woman who actually enjoyed the physical aspects of
marriage and was eager to please her bridegroom. Gracias a Dios, he
was blessed with a wife who was kind, attractive, passionate and
intelligent. Many of the señoritas in his past that literally threw
themselves into his arms were, and here Diego was being charitable,
Yet Diego had discovered despite
Selena’s obvious conviviality, his bride was actually very shy and
sensitive. The new Señora de la Vega loved to socialize and attract all
the masculine attention at a fiesta, but when they were alone, she
became charmingly demure. Her modesty, even in their intimate moments,
both surprised and delighted him.
Wherever the newly married couple
went in the Pueblo’s marketplace, every shopkeeper and péon they
encountered were especially attentive to Salina. Diego had secretly been
afraid that when they finally ventured in public, Selena would be
subjected to everything from hushed whisperings to hostility or complete
social ostracism. By now, everyone in Pueblo had heard the story
regarding Commandante Glorioso’s foul behavior during his visit to the
Rojas Hacienda. As they strolled among the vendors’ stalls, Señor
Ballarias, a tailor and the owner of the only fabric shop in Los Ångeles,
rushed to greet them.
"Bienvenidos, Don Diego and Doña
Selena de la Vega. I am glad, Doña Selena, that you are not seriously
hurt by the commandante." He glanced up Don Diego, who cocked his
head in surprise and frowned slightly that the merchant broached this
delicate matter. Selena felt him tighten his grip on her hand,
reassuring her that he would handle this difficulty if necessary. But
Selena gave her husband a soothing look that said Señor Ballarias is
a true friend.
pardon, Don Diego. Por favor, be assured that no one in the pueblo
believes the Señora is to be blamed in this matter. The people know
what kind of man Capitán Glorioso really is,” Ballarias reached for
Selena’s hand, and Doña de la Vega graciously obliged. As the
merchant kissed the back of her hand, he turned to face Don Diego.
“Perhaps I should explain myself, Señor, Ballarias volunteered.
Intrigued yet slightly bothered by
Señor Ballarias’s overly friendly behavior, Diego replied, “Ciertamente.”
“Doña Veronica Martino, Señora
Selena’s mother, knew my parents in Madrid. My mother, Señora Mañuela,
was Doña Veronica’s favorite seamstress. After my parents died from
old age, I wanted to come to Alta California to start my own fabric and
design shop. You see, Don Diego, your beloved wife’s mother sponsored
my family and me and gave me the capital to establish my business here
in Los Ångeles. So anything Doña Selena wants, it is hers for the
replied, blushing furiously. "I did fancy some of the Alçenon lace
you have just received from Madrid, via Paris."
Señor Ballarias smiled. "Ah, sí,
I know the material you want, but I only have six yards left. I shall
wrap up the bolt at once and have it sent to you mañana, Doña
Don Diego reached into his chaqueta
to pay for the lace, but Señor Ballarias told him that he could not
accept Don Diego’s money.
“Consider this as a small wedding
present.” Ballarias bowed to them.
At every stall they visited, Diego
repeatedly heard stories from festival attendees how Selena helped them
weather a harsh winter, loss of crops or death of the family breadwinner
with her generosity since she arrived in Los Ångeles over a year ago.
He realized just how much he had to learn about his bride and Diego’s
heart overflowed with love.
She was puzzled when he suddenly
guided her away from the bustle of the fiesta and into a nearly deserted
alleyway. “Diego is everything all--?”
Her caballero pressed his
lips to hers and when he released her mouth, his eyes were filled with
tears. “Oh, Selena, my beloved Selena!”
“Diego! What is wrong? Please
“Mi corazon! I had no
idea. It serves me right for believing the ugly gossip regarding you. I
did not know that many times when Zorro was either unavailable or busy
with another problem in the pueblo, it was YOU who provided food,
clothing, shelter and money to anyone and everyone for almost a year.
You caused me many a sleepless night wondering who was the
people’s ‘other angel!’” Diego cupped her face in his large
hands and then crushed her against him again.
“Oh, Diego, this time you did
alarm me!” She was right, for he felt her heart pounding in her chest
and she suddenly grew very pale. “Feel dizzy...”
Immediately he sat Selena down, for
she began shaking. Diego held her gently but firmly in his embrace until
Selena’s body relaxed somewhat. Feeling better?” he whispered as he
gazed into her smoky gray eyes. “The color is beginning to return to
“Yes, better,” she laid her
head against his shoulder and sighed.
Diego called out to a little muchacho
who happened to be passing by them and asked the child to bring a large
cup of cool water for the señora. When the boy returned, the caballero
tossed a couple of pesos to the astonished lad.
“Drink all of the water, beloved,
slowly,” he said as he held the cup of the refreshing liquid to her
“Aahh, Diego this tastes
marvelous,” his bride replied as she pulled him closer to her. “Mon
coeur, I am content enough to sit here forever in your arms.” Selena
would have closed her eyes and taken a nap in the middle of the plaza if
she had not jumped at the commotion they both heard coming from the
other side of the marketplace.
“I wonder what is the problem?”
he said, never taking his eyes from her still pale complexion.
She moved her head a little from
his shoulder and groaned, “Diego, soldiers are stopping the
Diego’s jaw tightened. “You are
my main concern, querida. We shall rest here until I am
satisfied that you are strong enough to return to the carriage!’
“There is no
other place I would rather be, Diego,” she leaned her body against his
strong shoulder, “but I am hungry.“
He grasped her chin firmly in his
left hand. “Hmm. All right. One of the vendors will have some of your
favorite tapas. Are you sure you are ready to walk?” Diego
asked as he helped her up.
Selena’s head cleared. “Si, the
water was wonderful. Perhaps I should have eaten more for breakfast than
a tortilla and some hot chocolate ...”
“NO! WE PROTEST! WE WILL NOT PAY
THIS FEE!” Many voices shouted. “THIS IS NOT FAIR! WE WILL NOT
The newlyweds turned around at
hearing the festival goers‘ shouting grow louder. Diego saw Corporal
Reyes was directing people into two lines and his first thought Reyes
was collecting the special inventory and livestock two days early.
No, Glorioso can not be that stupid to interrupt or possibly cancel the
fiesta! Or can he? “Come Selena, I must see what trouble the
commandante has planned now, and you are certain ...”
“Si, querido. I am feeling
better. Indeed let us see what our malevolent madman has done to create
this rather noisy situation,” Selena said firmly as she entwined her
arm with his and together they marched toward the center of the plaza.
Diego found Garcia trying to calm
down Señor Ballarias who was disputing Glorioso’s right to levy an
“Buenos dias, Sergeant. “Why
has the fiesta music stopped?” Diego politely inquired.
“Oh, hello, Don Diego,” Garcia
said as he removed his hat and bowed to Selena. “You are looking very
nice today, Señora de la Vega!”
“Sergeant Garcia, the Commandante
wants you to hurry up and start gathering the new attendance fee for the
Day of the Dead Festival,” Corporal Reyes told him. When Garcia moved,
Reyes saw Selena.
Señora! May I?” Reyes shifted
his escopeta to his other hand. He reached down and kissed the
back of her right hand. “So pleasant to see you again Señora de la
“Gracias, Corporal you are so
sweet and have the manners of a gentleman!”
Poor Reyes was so entranced that he
forgot to release her hand.
“Garcia! Reyes! Where are you
two? I am ready to record collection of the festival attendance fees!”
Commandante Glorioso froze into rigid attention when he saw Don Diego
and Doña Selena. “Your pardon, Señor and Señora de la Vega.
“Sergeant Garcia and Corporal Reyes return to your posts. Don
Diego,” he asked in a neutral tone of voice, “since you both are
fiesta goers, would you follow me, por favor?“
Diego felt Selena’s body began
shaking, and he encircled his waist with one of his arms to reassure
her. “Exactly what is the problem, Commandante?” His query was
frigid but sharp, and this further annoyed Glorioso.
Glorioso adjusted the high collar
of starched white linen and frowned at Diego. “Señor, I am acting in
the official capacity of a tax collector for the King of Spain. You will
show me the proper respect as His Majesty Ferdinand VII’s legate and
address me by my proper title, Visconde de Estrada!”
“Of course,” Diego said amiably
as he casually reached into his vest pocket and lit a cigar with his
free hand The caballero glared down at Glorioso and said, “Visconde
de Estrada, no one here remembers any commandante in the past
charging an admission fee. Most unusual.” De la Vega took a
long drag on his Cuban puro and casually blew circles of blue
smoke in the Visconde’s direction.
“Agreed, Don Diego.” said a
clear crisp, masculine voice from behind Glorioso. Don Carlos stepped
between Diego and the Visconde. When the elder don spoke his voice
dripped with disapproval and disdain.
“Visconde de Estrada, I have
lived in this pueblo for over thirty years and I can state unequivocally
no one has ever charged the members of this community an ‘attendance
fee,’” the Grandee said in precise, measured tones.
Glorioso struggled mightily to
control his temper. “Are you insinuating I am a liar, señor?” the
Visconde’s face darkened with anger.
Don Carlos drew himself to his full
height. “I believe that my statement is self-explanatory, sir!”
Señor Ballarias now rejoined the
conversation and he and nearly all of the pueblo merchants echoed Don
“Don Diego, all of the péons and
a good number of the merchants can not afford this fee. You know how
much the people of this pueblo depend on this fiesta to earn enough
money for food and supplies for the winter!”
Ballarias edged himself closer to
the Visconde, who responded by raising his left hand. The lancers
rapidly encircled de Estrada to protect him.
Don Diego held out his hand to stop
Ballarias from doing anything foolish. “My friend, you can not win an
argument against an escopeta.” The caballero motioned
for the tailor to keep quiet.
“Tell your soldiers to lower
their weapons,” Don Diego said in a calm tone that belied the stern
look on his face, “por favor, Your Excellency. The people will not
give you any trouble.”
Young de la Vega crossed his arms
and glared down at Glorioso. Well, commandante, was the message
the Visconde read in Diego’s fierce look, are you prepared to kill
dons as well as péons over such a small amount of money? Are
you? The two men were locked a test of wills. The commandante’s
men still had their weapons aimed at Señor Ballarias and Don Diego
refused to move an inch. No one in the plaza dared to breathe in the
tense, emotion charged atmosphere. Selena felt Diego tighten his grip on
her as she momentarily closed her eyes and prayed that Glorioso would
listen to her husband’s advice.
Finally, Glorioso broke the
impasse. “The attendance fee must be paid, Señor de la Vega.”
“Order the lancers to lower their
weapons and then we will discuss the matter,” Diego angrily retorted.
Don Alfredo arrived just then and positioned himself next to Don Diego
and Don Carlos.
“Si, Your Excellency, unless you
wish to murder innocent bystanders!” Don Alfredo irately pointed out.
In his peripheral vision, Glorioso
could see the péons and merchants arming themselves with hoes, shovels
sticks and rocks. The crowd began closing around the lancers. These
dons must be suffering from sunstroke! There is no other rational
explanation for their concern for this.... rabble. He muttered to
himself. The Visconde’s face burned from barely contained rage.
“You dare to give me orders?”
He replied incredulously. “By all the Saints! This situation is
intolerable! I ...”
“Visconde!” Diego said loudly.
“You have as a clear choice here, allow your common sense to make the
correct decision, or permit your anger to force you to make a move you
will forever regret!”
Once again I underestimated you Don
Diego, but for the last time, I swear it! Glorioso
thought dourly as he scanned the crowd for any signs of weakness. He saw
only eyes full of hatred and disgust. Curse him, de la Vega is right.
Better to swallow my pride now than later.
“Lancers, withdraw at once!”
When the soldiers were slow to move, the Visconde waved his bullwhip in
the air. Don Diego and the other hidalgos retreated and the
crowd’s mood softened.
“Let the fiesta continue!” the
Visconde shouted, “and the attendance fee will be collected,” he
paused to gauge Diego’s reaction, “but not until next year!”
Don Diego then walked away without
a glance at His Excellency with his arms wrapped protectively around
Selena. Glorioso watched the happy pair in moody silence, and did not
know what infuriated him more, having lost the verbal skirmish this day
or losing Selena to that pitiful imitation of a caballero, Diego
de la Vega. Selena de la Vega, Selena de la Vega. One day, Don Diego,
what you possess and cherish will be mine, I swear it! The Visconde
later grumbled bitterly in the privacy of his quarters.
END OF CHAPTER 26