Diego could not believe his eyes and ears. Blessed
Virgin...help me to be strong ... I can not let those poor men suffer
such terrible pain. I cannot! He returned to his bride and whispered
to Selena. “This is something that I must do, querida mia.”
She began to protest but she saw the indomitable will in
his bearing and kissed him deeply. “A man must do what a man has to
do,” Selena heard herself saying as if from a great distance. “I
shall not leave your side, Diego!” Blessed Mother of God, help him!
she fervently prayed.
“Whatever did I do to deserve such an amazing
woman?” he said as he bent down to kiss her forehead. Diego then
stepped away from her embrace and faced the Commandante.
“Your Excellency, Visconde de Estrada,” Diego stood
ramrod straight as he formally addressed the commandante, “I cannot in
good conscience permit you to torture and possibly kill these men,
especially when there are viable solutions to this problem that you have
failed to consider.”
Something intangible in the caballero’s voice caught
de Estrada’s attention. He stopped popping his whip in mid-stroke.
“What do you propose, Don Diego?”
“Simply this. Either accept my payment of the Tiñteros’
taxes or allow me to take their places at the whipping post.”
De Estrada looked around the nearly deserted plaza.
Thanks to that tailor’s shouting regarding José’s decision to
return Señores Ballarias and Guiterrez’s money to them, the Visconde
was not only going to have a chance to feed his bloodlust but also have
a much coveted audience while he did so. And now de la Vega, one of
my most bitter enemies, offers himself to me? Surely, Dios has greatly
favored me this day.
Like Selena and Diego, Don Alfredo Alvarez had also
remained in town to make certain that none of his tenants would
be imprisoned or brutalized by this madman. When he spied Don
Alejandro’s son rushing back towards the plaza, he knew trouble was
afoot. And now, his worst fears were confirmed. He also could see the
blood lust in the Commandante’s eyes. But had Diego lost his mind? Don
Alfredo cringed visibly as he heard Diego’s foolish proposal. No
slight against your honor, my boy, but you would not be able to
withstand that torture either. Don Alfredo worriedly thought. He
way to where Señora de la Vega was standing and stood
next to help her maintain her composure should Diego continue to
foolishly confront Glorioso.
“Surely Diego realizes that de Estrada is a cruel and
evil man, Señora? is this action necessary?” Don Alfredo asked her.
“To Diego it is very important, Don Alfredo.” She
De Estrada waved his free hand at Garcia. “Sergeant
Garcia, release José Tiñtero. Don Diego, you are positive you are
willing to submit to my authority?” Glorioso could not believe that de
la Vega was so stupid to suffer public humiliation on behalf of péons!
“Si, I will.” Selena’s husband responded loudly and
clearly for everyone in the suddenly repopulated plaza to hear. He
paused to look again at his wife and was rewarded with a look full of
nothing but love and encouragement in her eyes.
“Dieu vous bénissez, Diego!” [God
bless you!] he heard her say. Diego turned around to face de
Estrada. “I am ready for you, Visconde.”
“Very well, Sergeant Garcia relieve Don Diego of his chaqueta
Diego held up his hands. “That will not be necessary,
sergeant.” The caballero slowly removed his clothes and handed
them to Selena. “Visconde, I am your prisoner.”
“B-but Commandante, he is a caballero! You can
not be serious!”
“Bind him to the whipping post!” de Estrada angrily
ordered. “Do as I say!”
Don Alfredo grasped Selena’s hand. To his amazement,
the new Señora de la Vega was quite calm and kept her gaze firmly on
Señor Ballarias once again became de Estrada’s most
vocal gadfly, angrily shouting to everyone within earshot that de
Estrada was about to horsewhip a caballero, and not just any caballero,
but Don Diego de la Vega.
“No! We must stop the Visconde!” Ballarias yelled.
“Señores, are you with me?”
The crowd’s mood grew uglier as it increased in size.
Many male voices in the plaza hurled insults at de Estrada. Some debris
was thrown in his direction, but did not strike him. Both Diego and
Selena feared that the Visconde would order the lancers to open fire on
Suddenly Glorioso whirled around to warn them. “Señores
and Señoras! Hear
me well! Don Diego has agreed to receive the Tiñteros
brothers’ full sentence of twenty lashes,” Glorioso paused to look
meaningfully at Selena de la Vega, “and should anyone in the plaza
utter one word of protest I shall add another lash to the sentence for
each spoken word? Claro?” No one spoke.
“Excellente. Sergeant you will keep count for me,”
Glorioso said in a pleased tone.
“Si.” Garcia walked up to his dear friend and
apologized. “Por favor, forgive me, my friend,” Garcia said as he
watched two lancers bind him to the whipping post. “‘Here, Don Diego
bite down on this. Please!” The sergeant pleaded.
Diego nodded and replied before opening his mouth to
grasp the bit of leather, “there is nothing to forgive sergeant.”
“Step away Sergeant so I can execute the sentence.”
Glorioso flicked the bullwhip against Diego’s feet to see if he would
flinch, but the caballero remained silent. Oh, my fine young hidalgo,
you will be screaming for mercy by the fifth lash!
The Visconde reared his arm and twisted his wrist at the
last second so that it would land --hard -- across Diego’s entire bare
“Whack! Whack! Whack!” Glorioso landed three strokes
in rapid succession. Diego remained standing perfectly still with his
head held high against the post.
“I am impressed; Señor de la Vega,” Glorioso
taunted. “You are very stoic!” He twirled the long metal studded
lash before lying on the whip until beads of sweat appeared on his upper
WHACK, WHACK and WHACK!”
Oh, by my faith! He felt his back muscles spasm. Diego
bit as hard as he could into the leather. DIOS! THE PAIN! No, I will
not give that animal the satisfaction of shuddering or crying out. I
WILL NOT! BY SAINT TERESA OF AVILA I SHAN’T! I SHAN’T”
His tormentor waited. Glorioso was now curious why the “weakling” de la Vega failed to so much as even moan during his flogging. Thirteen more strokes to go. Anger and frustration dominated Glorioso now. He redoubled his efforts to force Diego to reveal that he was in agony as Sergeant Garcia counted another three strokes.
Diego closed his eyes. Never had he experienced pain
such as this! The whip seemed to brand itself deeper and
Several of the peons in the crowd fainted at the
sickening sound and cruel sight of a whip ripping into bare flesh.
Selena, like Diego, constantly invoked Heaven to keep them both strong.
“Eight, nine, ten, eleven!” Garcia dutifully called
the count in a strangled voice. Finally, Garcia stepped in front of
Diego. “Por favor! Don Diego is a caballero! He has had enough!“
De Estrada walked up to Diego and asked sarcastically,
“Well, de la Vega? Had enough?”
Diego managed to look the Commandante directly in his
face. His steely gaze engaged the Visconde’s own hostile look. Diego
then shook his head. No.
“Very well. Peldar. Hand me the cat-o-nine tails!
Now!” Glorioso yelled. “Quickly, lancer, quickly!”
Diego felt his resolve slipping, despite his fervent
praying. De Estrada is baiting you, Diego... concentrate, man. Think
of Our Savior’s suffering while he was being flogged. O Dios and
Blessed Virgin, not a cat-o-nine tails whip! The caballero knew
from witnessing disciplinary scourgings aboard the vessel returning him
home to California what terrible tissue damage a ‘cat’ could do to a
As the first lash sliced into his flesh, his trapezeius
muscles visibly spasmed. He bit down even harder on the leather scrap
Sergeant Garcia had given him. Gracias a Dios for small favors
and for friends such as Garcia, Diego sighed inwardly. Dear St.
Teresa of Avila, I solemnly ... promise to make a novena to you... he
wrestled with the white hot tongues of fire that he felt as the cat o
nine tails burn more gashes into his shoulders... please, O Patron
Saint of Spain, intercede on my behalf before ... the throne of the
Creator ... so I may not faint.
Doña de la Vega persisted in staring directly at
Diego’s mutilated back, forcing herself not to flinch as each horrible
stroke struck him. She knew Diego was struggling not to lose
consciousness, so she prayed quietly, Our Lady of Prompt Succor,
please sustain Diego in his hour of suffering. Selena
A small movement to his right distracted Don Alfredo. A
péon next to him knelt down, removed his sombrero, bowed his head and
wordlessly moved his lips in prayer. Curious, he scanned the remainder
of the plaza, and to his surprise, péons and merchants followed suit.
Several of the hidalgos, Cornelius Esperón, Alfredo’s nephew
Stefano, and Sebastián del Oro bowed their heads, refusing to watch the
Visconde’s gory spectacle. Even the dour Don Carlos crossed himself
and Don Alfredo heard him quietly begin mumbling words of encouragement
Señor Tomás Ballarias made a concerted effort as he
walked through the plaza to prevent the crowd from shouting anything in
order not to provoke de Estrada further. His dark eyes searched the
crowd and everywhere he looked, he saw people bore anguished looks on
their faces. DIOS! At least, no one is saying a word. That is one small
way we can thank Don Diego for his sacrifice. The tailor mused as he
also fell to his knees. He fervently resolved to topple Visconde de
Estrada, Juan Ramon Glorioso. Ballarias then determined to enlist the
aid of the rest of vendors who participated in the Fiesta the Day of the
Dead. Together they would work to remove de Estrada from power, the
sooner the better!
“Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen!” Garcia’s
gravelly basso voice echoed throughout the plaza.
The pain now became excruciating as Diego realized that
de Estrada was deliberately angling his blows so that the new stripes
fell directly on the older wounds. De Estrada was doing his best to scar
his back deeply. Think of how those two sick old men would have
suffered had the Commandante whipped them, he reminded himself. Focus,
man, keep focused on the pain and you will walk away from this
punishment under your own power. If possible, Glorioso laid on the
cat even harder than the bullwhip. Diego groaned to himself as he
mentally counting the last four strokes.
“Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty!“ Sergeant
Garcia shouted and then again stood between the Visconde and his poor
friend languishing at the whipping post. “The sentence has been
carried out, Your Excellency!”
Glorioso tossed aside the ‘cat’ in utter disgust.
“Very well, Sergeant Garcia. Disperse the crowd and then you may
release the prisoner!” Who would have thought de la Vega, of all
men, could remain conscious? I flogged him as hard as I could! Bah!
Don Alfredo nearly wept at his best friend Don
Alejandro’s only son’s display of courage. I myself shall
describe Diego’s stoic bravery to his father. He
Don Alfredo subdued his personal loathing of Glorioso as
he walked with his arm around Selena’s waist. He forced himself to
calmly speak to the Visconde despite the fact that he was ready to
murder the man.
“Your Excellency, my men and I shall take care of Don
Diego, he said in a voice that brooked no opposition.
The Visconde waved his assent with revulsion. “Garcia!
Remove him from my sight immediamente!”
But the sergeant had already released Diego and gently
wrapped a blanket around him. Tears formed in Garcia’s eyes for his
valiant friend who remained silent while he was being whipped. Garcia
had always had the greatest respect for Diego and now the good sergeant
would forever praise the name of Diego de la Vega to everyone in the
Señores Ballarias and Guiterrez were openly weeping, as
were many in the plaza, at the horrible sight of torn skin and bloody
gashes that crisscrossed Don Diego’s back. Tomás Ballarias spoke to
“Doña de la Vega,” he muttered into Selena’s ear,
“we shall avenge your husband’s suffering this very day!”
Ballarias then raised his voice so no one could misunderstand his
“Señores, hear me, por favor,” Ballarias shouted,
as he began his rant against Glorioso, “it is time for the people to
END OF CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE