The Promise



Gail Manfre








“Call out the names of the péons, Corporal Mendoza.” Glorioso quietly ordered while he carefully examined his nails. This should be most amusing to watch! I will not only make a commission from the pittance of money collected from the péons, I shall also receive kickbacks from ship capitáns from selling them new crewmembers and from “leasing’” peons as workers for the mine owners. He malevolently grinned to himself. Oh, and not to mention the pleasure I shall experience today from baptizing my new prize, the whipping post, with blood from peons who can not pay their taxes!

Corporal Mendoza checked off each of the péons’ names in proper order. “Pedro Alvarez?” he called out the first name. “Your tax this year is two silver reales. Alvarez shuffled to the table and grinned as he dug into his tattered change purse, but the péon was not fast enough for the commandante’s taste.

“Hurry up, idioso! I suppose that you do not have the money, eh? In that case, you will serve---“ Visconde Estrada began, pleased because it appeared his first victim had so easily fallen into his more than eager hands, “ six months at hard labor, and ..”

“No, no mi commandante!” the péon interrupted him, “I mean Your Excellency. Here is my tax money. Dos reales?” Pedro Alvarez smiled again at both Mendoza and Glorioso. “Buenos dias, Your Excellency.”

By all the Saints, the Visconde thought, that péon actually had the money to pay his taxes. De Estrada perused a list of names of habitual delinquent tax payers he had composed for his quick reference. There! Prior to this recent levy, Alvarez paid only a portion of his taxes and “worked off” the balance doing three to six months of chores for the Cuartel, since Alvarez was too old to fetch a decent price on either a chain gang or a ship’s crew. Strange, but perhaps Alvarez will prove to be the exception.

Mendoza checked off another name. "Juan Anderos, step forward! You are to pay to silver reales and three centavos." The corporal announced calmly.

Visconde de Estrada placed his bullwhip down next to the péon’s hand with a loud thud. Poor Anderos dropped his money pouch on the ground and nearly fainted from shock.

“Well, péon! Speak when you are spoken to! “Do you pr do you not have your tax money?” de Estrada barked at Señor Anderos.

"Oh, sí, Your Excellency! Here is my money." Corporal Mendoza counted the correct sum and marked “paid” in the tax collection ledger on the desk. Anderos then performed his crude version of a bow to the Visconde and disappeared into the crowd.

“Gracias," muttered Corporal Mendoza, looking askance at Sergeant Garcia. The good sergeant was silently mumbling prayers of thanks to the Virgin, as each péon who came forward today had the money to pay his taxes. Never had Corporal Mendoza or Sergeant Garcia seen péons happy on tax collection day! It was almost too good to be true, perhaps even a miracle, but the Sergeant kept praying that the péons’ good luck would last for the rest of the day. He truly did not want to see anyone endure a flogging at the cruel hands of Glorioso.

The next péon‘s name on the list was Tomás Barrero. Mendoza called out his name and the amount of taxes owed: one silver reale. Barrero also paid without a single word to the corporal and bowed respectfully towards His Excellency before beating a hasty retreat home to his hut on the outskirts of the pueblo.

Visconde de Estrada now suspected something was truly amiss, because when he researched the pueblo’s tax records for the past decade in his quest to fashion new avenues to make money, Tomás Barrero was one of the péons who never had any money to pay his regular taxes. Since Barrero was over fifty, the previous commandante, Monastario, allowed the péon to “work off” his taxes by working for Don Alfredo as a house servant. Don Alfredo actually paid Barrero’s tax and this arrangement was beneficial to all concerned. Very strange, he thought, that this péon now had money for his taxes, especially the day after important festival such as such as the day of the dead. It would simply defy logic if all of the péons were able to pay their taxes. Ah, but the day is young yet and there are more than two hundred names on the tax rolls. Patience, Visconde, patience.

Corporal Mendoza continued checking off the names of the péons who paid their taxes on time, until he came to the name of "Ramon Gonzales." After he had called out the name Ramon Gonzales several more times and the péon failed to appear, Visconde de Estrada issued a warrant for his arrest. Si, things are looking much better. The Visconde gloated silently.

Six more péons, Hector Huerta, Juan Ibarra, Rafael Marianno, Enriqué Martinez, Jaime Ramiro and Julio Tenago also failed at appear to pay their taxes, or were noted by Sergeant Garcia to be locked inside a jail cell for being drunk and disorderly during the Day of the Dead fiesta. At least I will have a half dozen able-bodied men to send to the port of San Pedro or to copper mines in Arizona! De Estrada then chuckled aloud as he sentenced all of these péons to twenty lashes and 6 months hard labor at his discretion. Around noon, Mendoza Garcia announced the last names on the tax rolls, the brothers José and Miguel Tiñtero.

The corporal checked the tax rolls as the two péons slowly sauntered forward. “José, you are to pay one peso and Miguel owes one peso and two silver reales in taxes. “

José and Miguel kept their eyes on the ground. “Well?” The Visconde asked briskly, hoping against hope that at last he was going to enjoy this day after all. “Babosos! I do not like to be kept waiting!“

The Tiñteros looked sheepish. “Señor, we ...spent all of our tax money at the Day of the Dead fiesta, Your Excellency.”

This was a stroke of luck. Glorioso cracked his whip in the air just to frighten them. “So, Señores, and I use that term quite loosely, you are saying that you cannot pay your taxes, correct?”

"Sí, your Excellency."  The forty-something year old brothers suddenly knelt before him.

"Please spare us, Commandante!" Miguel, the eldest brother pleaded.  "We can get some more money in a few days.  Everyone in Los Angeles knows that we have been very ill and unable to work very much."

“SILENCIO, DOGS!“ the Visconde yelled directly into their faces.

Diego watched with mounting horror as he realized what the Visconde was planning. His hazel eyes darted from the chagrined Tiñtero brothers to the sadistic Glorioso caressing his whip as if it were a lover. I have to do something! He reached again into his chaqueta’s money pocket. There were ten one peso silver coins and a half dozen ten peso coins.     "Commandante Glorioso, I mean, Your Excellency, Visconde de Estrada.  Con permiso, may I offer to pay the Tinteros' taxes for them?  After all, they are my father's tenants and the Spanish government does need every peso it can get, does it not?" Diego asked politely.

Miguel Tiñtero raised his head. “Gracias, Don Diego, but no. It was our fault we wasted the tax money on wine. We should pay the penalty, right José?”

José agreed. “Si, Don Diego.” Then José hung his head again; “it is my entire fault Don Diego. I .... convinced Miguel to waste every last centavo on wine. You know much ... I love vino.” he added despondently, deeply ashamed he could not face his patron.

"Señores, por favor, do you realize what you are saying?  I do not think so," Diego argued.  "Miguel, you have a bad heart and consumption.  And you, José, have recently recovered from the fever.  Much as you both hate to admit it, you are no longer young men.  I ask you to reconsider."

De Estrada casually walked up the the brothers.  He had to make himself appear sympathetic to their situation, if only to curry some sort of favor from the crowd.  "Don Diego speaks wisely, señores.  What is your answer?"

Roberto Ballarias, the pueblo's tailor and Hernan Guiterrez, Ballarias's assistant, also stepped forward to help the Tiñteros.

"Your Excellency, por favor, uno memento," begged Ballarias.  Señor Guiterrez and I can pay the Tiñteros' taxes.  Sí, they were unwise to spend all of their money at the festival, but they are péons and certainly far less educated then the Visconde."

Glorioso, willing to continue his charade of concern for a little while longer, nodded his head. “That is true, señores, but what are you proposing ?”

Both tailors handed the tax amount due to Corporal Mendoza who wrote a receipt for the paid taxes and handed it to Señor Ballarias.

Inwardly, Visconde de Estrada was fuming. He had been deprived of some much-anticipated diversion and angrily struck his bullwhip against the top of his high boots. Temper, temper, mi capitán. Your breeding and comportment is much more refined than men such as these could never have! Proceed cautiously, things may yet work out for the better.

"Corporal Mendoza, return everything to my office and when you have completed that task report back to me here in the plaza!” De Estrada said angrily as he threw on his plumed bicorn and marched towards the cuartel.

“By your command, Your Excellency!” the corporal saluted obediently.

José and Miguel remained silent while the lancers retrieved the furniture and revenue books from the plaza and returned everything to the Cuartel. Slowly, the townspeople dispersed and went their respective ways. Diego and Selena remained behind to speak with the obviously happy but repentant Tiñtero brothers.

“Señores perhaps this time you have finally learned your lesson?” Diego tempered his sarcasm somewhat with a little humor. “You two realize the commandante was looking for any reason -- any excuse to flog a péon?”

Both brothers kept their eyes downcast. “Sí, and gracias for your help, Don Diego. We will not waste our tax money again!”

“Remember today gentlemen, how close you came to be beaten like animals. You are most fortunate to have wonderful friends such as Señores Ballarias and Guiterrez.”

Selena de la Vega opened her drawstring purse and gave two pesos each to the brothers. “Use this money to purchase food for your families, señores.”

“Gracias, Señora de la Vega! May the Virgin bless you with many sons!” exclaimed José.

Merci beaucoup,” Selena replied sincerely as she watched the brothers back away, bowing repeatedly to the couple. “Diego, there go a pair of basically decent men, one of whom has suffered from consumption since birth and the other, physically and emotionally drained from caring his entire life for his sibling, has sought his solace in alcohol.” she added in low tones meant for his ears only.

Selena looked up and noticed the mental malaise in Diego’s eyes and grasped his arm before he helped her into the carriage.

Mon coeur, qu’est-ce qu’il y’a? Le Capitaine? [ Beloved, is the capitaine still bothering you?]

Diego sighed heavily in answering her. “Si, beloved, the Tiñteros were just the type of victims Glorioso finds such pleasure in torturing.” His brow furrowed as he ruminated over the commandante’s all too obvious delight of having some people -- no, péons -- Diego reminded himself -- to publicly maltreat on his cherished whipping post. “The moral degenerate masquerading as the Commandante of the Pueblo of Los Angeles, our twisted Glorioso,” he continued, “His Excellency certainly did not want anyone to pay the Tiñtero brothers’ taxes for them. De Estrada is even more sadistic than I ever imagined him to be.”

“Si,” Selena agreed. “I also saw the bloodlust haunting his face. He truly desired to flog anyone to satisfy his mad urge to inflict pain.”

Her husband sighed again. “Zorro will have to accelerate his campaign to shut down La Casa.

Selena leaned on his shoulder. “Yes, it appears that Bernardo’s opinion of the capitán’s mental condition was right. Glorioso has crossed the fine delicate line between eccentricity and insanity.”

The caballero whistled for the two horses pulling their carriage to begin heading for home.

“Don Diego! Don Diego! Please come back, Don Diego!” Señor Guiterrez was shouting. “Por favor, hurry!” Guiterrez was panting breathlessly when he reached their carriage. “Don Diego....”

Diego reversed the carriage at once. “Señor Guiterrez, calm yourself! What has happened?” The young de la Vega asked worriedly. "Tell me!”

“The commandante, patron. After the lancers returned to the Cuartel, the Tiñteros changed their minds abut accepting our money to pay their taxes, and spoke with Glorioso--”

“Say no more, Señor; I believe I know what will occur now.“ Diego leapt down from the carriage and looked up at his wife. “Madre de Dios! What could have changed their minds! This is folly, sheer folly!“ He told Selena. “Stay here, querida--”

“Mais, non!” Selena exclaimed as she insisted Diego helped her step down from the carriage. “My place is beside you, my husband!”

“Don Diego!” Ballarias said desperately, wringing his hands as he spoke, “Please hurry! See, the lancers are tying José Tiñtero to the whipping post now!”

Diego’s long limbs easily covered the distance from their carriage to the center of the plaza, where de Estrada stood, eager to administer corporal punishment. The horrible sight of an ill and helpless péon’s stick-thin limbs tied to the whipping post moved Diego to pity ... and action.

“No, Your Excellency, you can not. They both will probably die under the lash!” Diego pleaded with the Visconde with all his heart. “Show mercy to the poor, I beg of you!” Diego reiterated, but any further protest was halted by the menacing look on Glorioso‘s face.

Glorioso rasped out his answer. “The law is the law, Don Diego.” he coldly replied. The Tiñteros have declined Señores’ Ballarias and Guiterrez’s generous offer. Therefore, their tax bill is still unpaid and is immediately delinquent.”

De Estrada repeatedly flexed his right arm and the whip cracked in the still air as if it alive, sensing that it was soon going to draw human blood. He turned toward José, whose bare back beckoned to him like some obscene canvas upon which he was about to paint with his whip, providing unbelievable strokes of pain.

"Because you are no longer young men, you both will receive only ten lashes each. Sergeant Garcia, step aside while I execute sentence upon José Tiñtero!”





Chapter Twenty-nine
Chapter One
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