Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-eight

 

Outside the pueblo, Minta stopped her horse.  “What is it, mi carina?” Diego asked.

“Diego, that woman, Crescencia Lopez, seemed very nice but the other one…”

Diego paused a moment, concentrating.  “Maria Louisa?  The slender girl with Crescencia?” Diego asked, his eyes clouding a bit at what he had seen in the plaza.  He had hoped that Minta had not noticed, but apparently the girl’s looks of hatred and distrust were apparent to everyone around, including his betrothed. 

“Sí, that is the one.  She looked at me as though I was something… something evil, making motions with her fingers.” 

Diego sighed.  He searched his memory for everything that he remembered about Maria Louisa.  It wasn’t much.  Not, he thought, because he couldn’t remember, but because of the inconvenience she had brought on him after he had returned from Spain.  Maria Louisa’s mother, Juanita, was a very efficient cook, as well as a pleasant person, but the daughter was almost a perfect opposite of the mother.  She was surly and lazy.  Only when he was in the room did she smile, and do her best work.  Diego had not even realized her less desirable side until he had said something to Bernardo one day and the mozo had explained to him that the girl only acted civil in his presence.  Diego remembered his bewilderment at that comment, and was embarrassed when the mute told him that the girl was infatuated with him.   He had then realized that she had often found a way out of the kitchen and into parts of the house where he was at the time.  It had made slipping out to ride as Zorro much more difficult for a while.  Diego had finally had to tell her that he was not interested in her. At the time he was afraid that he had been too abrupt and had caused her a great deal of hurt, but after time, when she had not bothered him anymore, and had not seemed to be overly upset, he had forgotten the matter.   

Diego grimaced, well aware that Minta had probably made an instant enemy.  “Minta, the girl, Maria Louisa, was once infatuated with me.  I think part of what you were seeing is her jealously.” 

“But what about the others.  What do those finger movements mean?”  Her voice was full of bewilderment and hurt.  Diego also heard an undercurrent of fear.  He ached for Minta and hoped that all of this would ease as his friends and neighbors got to know her.  He had also been aware of the finger sketches made by several others in the plaza, and he knew that their purpose was to ward off evil.  “Minta, some people do that to the gypsies and Jews, anyone who is not a Californiano.”

“What are gypsies and Jews?” Minta asked, confused.  

Diego sighed again.  With his memories only recently returned and questionably intact, this would be difficult to explain.  He wished that his mind worked faster than his tongue, then he could have explained without the use of those specific examples.  “Gypsies are people who usually do not settle in one place.  They are thought to come from a far away country, have mysterious customs and make their living stealing and using magic.  They do come from far away, some of their customs do seem mysterious, but I doubt that the latter is true except for a few.  Jews are a people whose religion is different, and therefore their customs are different as well.”  Diego paused, unwilling to go into all the particulars of either group, or of any of the myriads of other groups that had been discriminated against through the ages.  “The point is, Minta, they are unlike my people, and some individuals do not trust or like those who are different; they fear them.   There will always be those who will judge based only on one’s appearance.  I cannot stop that.  You can only reveal your inner self and those who will truly be your friends will take the time to see who you really are.”  Diego reached over and took her gloved hand.  “They will see what a wonderful person you are.” 

Minta smiled and hoped he was right.  “Thank you, Diego,” she said softly.  Still she was apprehensive about her chances of fitting into Diego’s society.  She feared the girl in the plaza.  From that one she had felt a hatred that was at once repellant and confusing to her.  Minta simply could not understand such raw and powerful feelings.  But she had to trust Diego.  Going home was not an option even if she had wanted to.  Then she remembered that Diego was a product of this people as well, so all in this world were not like the girl or some of the other women that she had seen.

“Come, querida, let us see just how fast your gelding can run,” Diego challenged, trying to lighten her mood.  

With a laugh, Minta kicked her horse into a canter and finally into a full gallop.  Although his palomino was easily capable of beating her old gelding, he only ran ahead of her for a short distance.  When they galloped over the hill overlooking the hacienda, Diego eased back into a light canter and then into a slow trot.  Side by side they rode up to the paneled gate that quickly opened up to reveal a smiling boy, one not more than half-grown. 

“Pepito!” Diego cried, genuinely glad to see the boy. 

“Patrón!” the boy said, taking each horse by its bridle.  “Welcome home, and welcome, señorita.”  He bowed to Minta.  “Don Alejandro told us only yesterday evening that you were coming home soon.”  He turned to Diego.  “He only got your letter yesterday, Don Diego.  It would seem that you almost beat the mail coach,” he added.  He turned back to Minta and stared at her in frank curiosity.  She saw nothing in the boy’s gaze that resembled hostility or fear, but after the brief stop in the plaza, she was wary of anyone’s searching stare and felt uncomfortable when he continued to gape at her.  She wondered if Diego had felt the same way on her world, then decided that most of the looks were like this boy’s, curious, somewhat puzzled, but not hostile.  Satisfied, she smiled to reassure Pepito. 

Then she thought about the other thing that seemed strange to her.  ‘Boy.’  This was a boy and there had been children in the pueblo, children of varying sizes and ages.  It seemed so very peculiar that there would be people in those stages of development.  What would it be like to have a child around, someone who had been ‘born’ and had to learn to walk or talk because they simply had not developed or grown enough to walk or talk?  What would it be like to watch the slow growth and progress of such a one?   Curious, Minta determined to talk with Pepito.  She longed to hold a baby and hoped that there were such on Diego’s hacienda.

Diego quickly dismounted and then helped Minta down from her gelding.  An older servant with longish gray hair took the horses and led them away.  His outfit, like the boy’s, was plain white cloth, not the least bit fancy like the clothes that Diego wore, or even the utilitarian riding outfit that she wore.  Diego had explained the distinction of classes to her when he had clarified Bernardo’s position to her several days ago, but she was able to see even more clearly now, just what he was talking about.  

She was aware that there were strata in the Rantiri society, but nothing like there was here.  On the Rantiri world, the classes were based more on ability…what one’s job was.  Some jobs were more important than other jobs. Hers, for instance, was considered very important and she was well respected for it.  Here it seemed to be based on birth, what family one was borne into.  The servant boy certainly seemed happy and the older man didn’t seem unhappy by any means, but she wondered how they felt about their lot in life.  So there were even more things to learn about after she had had an officially sanctioned marriage and was settled into full married life with Diego. 

As Pepito reached for the heavy wooden gate in order to open it for them, he paused.  His eyes still wide with curiosity, he asked, “Señorita, are all of your people as dark as you are?”  Then he clapped his hand over his mouth, suddenly embarrassed by his boldness. 

Minta gazed back at the dark haired boy, searching for any guile of any sort.  As before, she saw none.  “Most are, Pepito, although some are a bit lighter of skin than me.”  There were still questions in the boy’s eyes.  “And yes, most of my people have light hair and violet eyes.  But we feel the same as you do on the inside.”

“Oh, I know that, patróna, or Don Diego would not have wanted to bring you here to be his wife.”

Minta sucked in her breath in surprise.  She looked at Diego and saw his warm smile.  His eyes said, ‘I told you so.’  She turned back to Pepito.  “Gracias, Pepito,” she said. 

The boy opened the door and there stood Don Alejandro.   The older man grasped Diego in a fatherly embrace and then he gazed in her direction.  Minta had to admit that he dissembled this ‘first meeting’ very well.  He showed brief surprise, then gracious hospitality, taking her by the elbow and escorting her into the sala, pulling out a seat for her to sit down in and ordering refreshments for them all.   “This is a most delicious wine, Don Alejandro,” Minta said sincerely, understanding Diego’s pride in this product of his family’s land. 

She had been surreptitiously looking around as they had bantered and gotten acquainted.   Although it seemed primitive to her, the room, and indeed, the entire hacienda exuded a charm and elegance that reflected the graciousness of its owners.  A small fire crackled and danced in a large fireplace.  The chairs were carved and covered with rich material.  There were creamy candles set on wrought iron candlesticks.  Woven rugs of bright materials covered parts of the floor.  All was cozy and comfortable.  This was where she was going to live, she thought to herself happily. 

She heard a soft chuckle and jerked her head around to see Diego smiling at her, his eyes bright and merry.  Obviously she was not being surreptitious any more.  “Are you pleased with this house, querida?” he asked. 

She nodded.  “It is very beautiful.  And much more ornate and spacious than the home I lived in.”

“Graciás, my dear,” Don Alejandro said.  “It was the hard work and efforts of my father who provided most of this.”

“You are too modest, Father.  You have also improved what has always been a pleasant and comfortable home to this elegance.”  Diego raised his glass in a salute to his father. 

“You flatter me, my son.”  Alejandro paused, finishing off his wine.  “Shall we retire to the library where we can more comfortably discuss your future?” he suggested, a slight smile on his lips.

Diego nodded, got up and eased Minta’s chair back as she rose.  Gently, he took her hand, letting his eyes linger on her eyes, trying to convey his heart to her in a few brief moments.  He heard his father clearing his throat, and releasing her hand, he took her arm and guided her through the sala closely watched by his father. 

Diego said in protest, “Father, please, we do not need a dueña!

“Maybe, maybe not,” Alejandro teased, his eyes only partially serious.

Once inside the library, Alejandro closed that door and noted with satisfaction that Diego had had the good sense to leave a bit of space between their two chairs.  He had seen the affection and love that his son had felt for Anna Maria Verdugo, but it came nowhere close to matching what he apparently felt for this girl.  But then, he had gone through a semblance of a marriage ceremony and felt himself to be more of a husband than a suitor now.  He remembered his feelings for his departed wife, Maria Isabella, right after he had married her and understood some of his son’s feelings.  Sighing, he took a chair across from them.  “My dear,” he said, addressing Minta.  “You do realize that before you can marry Diego in a proper, sanctified ceremony, you must be baptized.”

“Baptized?” she asked, her face showing confusion at the term.

Turning to his son, he said, “Diego, you mean you did not explain what Minta would have to do when you arrived back home?”

Diego sat gazing into his wine glass.  The dark red liquid remained translucent, showing him nothing.  “Father, please forgive me, but my memory has returned mainly in visual images.  Specific details, terms, and names, especially, are still coming to me.  At first there were only vague pictures, things that seemed more like dreams than something that actually happened to me in the past.  Then, as these images connected, they made more sense.  At first, I did not even know my name.  One day, I was looking into a cup with a drink much like champurrado and I saw a face and heard a voice.  It was your face and your voice speaking to me, calling me, ‘Diego.’  I knew it was my name.  Something inside simply told me that, but I could not have explained how I knew.  At that time, though, I did not know who you were.  That came later.”  Diego finished off the wine and continued. “I saw things that happened to me as a child, but could not tell you exactly when these things happened, who all the people were that I was seeing, or whether it happened before or after another event.  I still have a little trouble with names, things that are complicated, like rituals of the Church and the like.  It is frustrating.”

“But your language skills are impeccable.”

Smiling, Diego responded.  “Yes, that is a puzzle.  That came quickly, at about the same time that I mastered the Rantiri language.  I have had no problem teaching Minta.  And when I went out the other night, it was as though a bright light had been lit in my mind.  Every aspect of that part of my life was crystal clear.”  He shrugged.   “I know that Minta needs the catechism and then the baptism, but it was not something I could verbalize to her.  It was something that was deep inside me, known, but not realized.  Am I making sense, Father?”

“I think I understand you.  I am so grateful that most of the memories have come back to you.  I had worried that when you returned, you would remember nothing of your life here.”

“Don Alejandro,” Minta said, interrupting.  “I am amazed at how quickly Diego’s mind has recovered from this.  Theoretically, such a procedure should have left nothing.  I can only surmise that his mind rebelled and was powerful enough that all of his memories and feelings that made up his personality were pushed into a little used corner of his brain, there to come out when the time was right, when something triggered a certain memory.  It has been so very wonderful seeing him emerge over the past months and seeing his will manifest itself in what he has achieved,” Minta said, looking at her husband with something akin to awe.  “But please explain this baptism,” she added, seeing Diego’s slight embarrassment at this praise.

Alejandro gazed at the couple, also in awe of his son’s incredible strength and resolve.  His admiration of the young lady sitting next to him rose as well, for he truly believed that it was her care and caring for Diego that allowed this recovery to happen so quickly.  “Not just his will, my dear, but also your caring heart,” he said to Minta.  She beamed at his praise and lowered her eyes.  

Then he turned back to Diego.  “My son, I knew it had to have been difficult, I just didn’t know how hard it was.”  He sat back, gazed into the dying fire and sighed.  “As to baptism, Minta, that is where one is made a member of the Holy Church.”  He stopped, feeling it was best at this point to not try to give the Rantiri woman more than she could handle.

“I had assumed that in order to marry Diego in his religion, I would have to join it,” Minta said. “And I am more than willing to do that.”

“But you will have to be taught the doctrines…” his voice trailed off.

“I am willing to do that as well,” Minta said.  “I am willing to do anything to stay with Diego,” she added vehemently as she gazed at her husband.  Diego squeezed her hand slightly.  She turned back to Alejandro, a slight frown taking the place of the smile.  “It will not take too long, will it, Don Alejandro?  I…I want to…I miss…Diego and I…”  Her voice trailed off and she looked down a Diego’s hand still curled around her own. 

Diego interrupted her discomfiture with a hearty, full-chested laugh.  Minta smiled softly, while Alejandro frowned. 

“This is no laughing matter, Diego,” he admonished. 

“Forgive me, Father, but it is.”  He continued to laugh, until tears rolled down his cheeks.  Minta, not able to help herself, giggled softly. 

Despite himself, Alejandro smiled briefly.  “That will be up to Padre Felipe.”

“Then we will go and see him this afternoon.  I miss my hus…I miss Diego,” Minta said with finality.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-nine
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