Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine

 

Father Felipe sat on one side of the sacristy watching the worshippers walk into the church for Mass.  After the early morning hours spent reading and meditating over the scriptures, he enjoyed the morning Mass as a sort of culmination to his studies and prayers.  The Mass, itself, was a kind of spiritual renewal for him, as well.  His vestments rustled softly as he shifted in the chair.  The Indian men, women and children filed in sedately, even the babies’ cries were subdued and muted as if they knew what was going on and where they were.  Who knows, Father Felipe thought meditatively, maybe they do.  A few vaqueros and a sprinkling of hacendados and their families also entered.  As the worshippers walked up the aisles and found a pew, they knelt, genuflected and then eased onto the wooden benches. 

The priest also noted the presence of Alejandro de la Vega, his son, Diego, and a young woman of very dark skin.  Her interest in everything around her was obvious.  Indeed, she was literally gaping at the artifacts, paintings and statuary.  This told him very clearly that not only was she not from around here, but that she was not a member of the Mother Church.

So the rumors are correct, Father Felipe thought, that young de la Vega found himself a foreign woman while in San Diego.  As he rose to begin the Mass, Father Felipe kept wondering how the son of the wealthiest and most influential man in the community could have lost his heart to one who was most likely the only non-Catholic in the entire length of Spanish California. 

Because the priest was bewildered by the paradox before him, the Mass was conducted mostly out of habit, without much conscious thought.  Father Felipe’s gaze kept returning to the couple sitting about four rows from the front.  He noticed that the young lady was attracting attention from a great many of her fellow worshippers as well.  And he could see why.  The rumors had flown on the wings of many ‘birds’ telling him about the strange and unusual señorita who had come on the arm of Don Diego.  Indeed she was very different than his other parishioners.  Somehow, though, Father Felipe did not see her differences as anything ominous or evil.  Amazingly, she seemed oblivious to the stares of others, instead concentrating on what he was doing or on the church itself.  Occasionally, Diego leaned over and gave the girl whispered instructions and she watched carefully for cues as to what she should do next.  

Various other things became apparent to him as the Mass progressed.  First, the girl was deeply in love with Diego, and he with her.  Second, she was genuinely interested in learning about the Holy Mother Church.  Whether due to her interest in Diego or on her own account, he couldn’t tell.  And, he told himself, it really doesn’t matter.  God loves all who come into His kingdom, no matter what their original reason.  She didn’t know Latin, but she seemed to be a very fast learner, quickly picking up some of the words of the liturgy.  Once or twice, when her eyes rested on his, he saw warmth and genuine openness. 

Father Felipe determined to meet this young lady as soon as Mass was over, but then, he thought, That is probably the intention the de la Vegas had in coming to Mass here, rather then going to the little family chapel on their rancho.

He couldn’t help but think it was about time for Diego to marry and have a family.  While the young caballero had been genuinely interested and totally involved in the quest to help Don Ignacio Torres two years earlier, Father Felipe firmly believed that Diego had entirely too much time on his hands.  A family would give this young man more to think about than books and guitars, the priest thought. 

Father Felipe had almost finished saying the Mass before realizing just how much of the service he had accomplished without thinking about it.  Chagrined, he silently apologized to God for his inattentiveness.  He gave the benediction and then briefly talked to the worshippers as they began leaving the church.  When most had gone, the two young lovers were still sitting on their seats, holding hands.  Don Alejandro was lighting a candle, but approached him when he finished. 

“Padre Felipe?” the older man asked.

“Yes, Alejandro, my son?  Are you here to discuss the arrangement of marriage between your son and the young lady?” he asked. 

Alejandro blinked and looked at the priest in surprise before nodding. 

“Even if I had not been told, it was extremely apparent that your son and the señorita are very much in love with one another.”

“But she is not a member of the Church, Padre,” Alejandro said, quite obviously discomfited by the admission. 

“That, too, was obvious, but her interest in learning also seems genuine.  She will need the catechism and then the baptism, and then I will happily perform the marriage vows for them.” 

“Graciás, Padre.  She is most eager to learn and be baptized,” Alejandro stated. 

“Her love is indeed strong, then,” Father Felipe said with a chuckle.  Alejandro smiled at the priest’s small joke. 

“Bring Diego and his fiancé to the sacristy.  There we can talk.”

Alejandro nodded, and turning, motioned to the couple.  Soon the small group was seated around a table.  After Alejandro had introduced Minta, a young initiate served them wine and then left.  Father Felipe began chatting amiably with the young couple, and then he began asking Minta questions.  He came to several conclusions during their visit.  While he felt that there was no evil intent in this young lady, he also felt there were things being left out of her story.  He got the same feeling from Diego.  They were extremely vague about how they met and she was extremely evasive about her homeland.  Over the years of his shepherding, Father Felipe had learned many things.  One of those was the fact that married couples, even newlyweds very much in love, behaved toward each other in ways that were different than couples that were courting, or even betrothed or engaged.   He was rather disturbed by the fact that these two acted like more like the former than the latter.  He could not put a finger on his uncertainties, they acted perfectly natural, and they didn’t get too demonstrative with one another.  There was nothing that they said that pointed to that fact, either, but he felt it nonetheless.

Surely Diego knows better than to proceed in this relationship without the wedding vows, he told himself. Of course he does!  The priest decided not to pursue his deductions for the present, choosing to see what would happen during Minta’s lessons.  It was probably the imaginings of an overzealous spiritual leader.  Father Felipe felt a genuine liking for the lovely dark-skinned foreign girl.  There was an innocence that was refreshing, a warmth that was sincere and desire that was unfeigned.  A strange feeling came over him as he finished speaking with them.  A strong feeling, as though something was sitting on his shoulder and whispering in his ear.  “My children,” he said, with conviction.  “Calm your fears over the future.  All will be well.”  As the trio drove away in their carriage, the priest again felt a sense of happiness for the couple, but with a curious sense of foreboding mingled in with it.

“What did you think of your first Mass?” Diego asked as they drove away from the mission.  He sat next to Minta, holding her hand, in the brotherly sort of way that his father expected of them during this time.  He wondered just why, after all his years of training and religious upbringing he felt that his marriage on the spaceship was so real.  He knew the Church’s teachings about marriage, but he couldn’t help the fact that he truly felt married to this woman by his side and that all he was doing now was a formal charade to make it ‘right’ in the eyes of those here in California.   

“Padre Felipe seems very kind and gentle, Diego.  I like him very much.  I think I will enjoy learning from him.  I enjoyed the Mass as well.  I could feel something, I am not sure what.  Maybe it was the feelings that the other people seemed to have for each other, and for their religion.  I wish I understood more,” she said, longingly. 

“You will, in time, my dear,” Alejandro interjected, pleased at her willingness to adapt.

“Yes, but what does…” Minta began asking questions.  All the way home the two men answered to the best of their ability while Bernardo sat up front in the driver’s seat trying in vain to keep the grin from his face.

 

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Within a few days Minta had settled into her new life as though born to it.  She asked innumerable questions of everyone in the hacienda about all aspects of life from every strata of society.  She watched everything that went on around her with the curiosity of a child.  She soaked in the catechism like a sponge, only asking questions about specific points of the ceremonies and rituals, never questioning the doctrines themselves.  While he himself had never considered questioning the tenets of his religion, Diego wondered at the adaptability of one from another planet.  He mentioned that to her.

“Diego, mi amor, the whole Rantiri society is built around selflessness and service.  Remember the points of Rantiri law that I recited to you?”

Diego nodded.  Each member of her society existed to benefit the whole.  Individuals were never to bring intentional hurt or harm to another member.  He remembered the discussion following her recitation of that last point, especially in light of his kidnapping. 

“What could be more beautiful to a Rantiri than the account of one who gave his life for everyone else in the world?  And who existed only to teach and serve all of his fellow human beings?” she asked.   Diego had to agree.

Her riding improved equally as fast and a good portion of their time together was spent on horseback.  Bernardo became a very willing chaperone, following discreetly behind, to keep up the pretense of an engagement.  He was acutely aware, though, of their feelings toward each other, those that were distinctly not that of a courting couple and he was equally aware that both felt very much married, despite the tenets of the Holy Mother Church. 

A week and a half after their ‘arrival’ in Los Angeles, the trio rode into the pueblo.  Minta needed a larger wardrobe than one riding outfit and two casual, everyday dresses.  Diego walked around the stalls, and into the shops with her as she felt the material of the more fancy dresses.  When she reluctantly turned away from a bolt of exquisitely beautiful blue brocade and silk material, Diego gazed at it thoughtfully.  Motioning to the shopkeeper, he asked, “How much material do you think it would take to make an evening gown for my fiancé?” 

The shopkeeper held up the fingers of one hand.  “There will need to be extra for the layers of the skirt and sleeves, Don Diego,” he said.  Diego soon had a large package under his arm.  Minta had, in the meantime, slipped out of the shop and was looking at shawls in a nearby stall.  An older peon woman sitting next to the stall, her pottery sitting invitingly on a colorful blanket, stared at Minta’s back, then spit into the dust and making signs to ward off evil.  Diego gazed at his fiancé quickly, but seeing her moving to the opposite side of the stall, apparently oblivious to the actions of the pottery maker, he approached the old woman.  Señora,” he said quietly.  “If you feel that there is anything wrong with my fiancé, keep your feelings to yourself.  I will not tolerate one such as the Señorita Minta being treated in such a manner.  Especially since there is less guile in her heart than there is in yours.”  Diego struggled to curb his irritation, not wanting Minta to have the slightest indication that there was anything amiss. 

The old woman gazed sharply at him before lowering her eyes.  “Sí, patrón,” she said demurely.      

Looking back toward the stall, Diego noticed another woman staring fearfully, but saw that Minta was not paying attention to her, entranced with the beauty of a delicately woven cream-colored shawl.  He tried smiling at the girl in reassurance and was pleased to see her relax a bit.  Diego paid for Minta’s choice and then guided her to a tiny house off the plaza, where a widowed mother made her living sewing for the wealthy hacendados.  

“Draviña, I wish for you to make an evening gown for my fiancé.  Would you be able to do that, say, within a week?” he asked.  Minta turned to him in surprise.  Draviña looked Minta over from head to toe, nodded and then came over to see the material he had bought.  As Minta gasped in surprise at the contents of his package, the seamstress gathered her measuring tapes and bid Minta to stand in the little bit of light that came through the small window. 

“I believe I can, Don Diego, but you must leave your fiancé here with me for a while.  Go sit with your friends in the tavern.  When I am finished, I will send the señorita to you, then I will begin.  You are in luck.  I have no other pressing jobs right now,” she said with a chuckle. 

“I will not be far away, querida,” he said, kissing her gloved hand gently.  She nodded and watched him go. 

“Forgive me for my boldness, señorita, but you are not exactly what the people in the pueblo expected when Don Diego finally found himself a wife,” Draviña said as she squatted on the ground to measure the length of the skirt. 

Minta found this woman’s candid comment to be refreshing in this society where those considered of a lower class were considerably more careful with their words, usually electing to say only what was necessary and almost never giving their opinions. “And Diego is not exactly what my people would consider for an ideal husband,” she answered with a slight chuckle.  Dravina laughed with her. 

A rag-clad brown skinned boy peered into the doorway, his eyes wide with curiosity.  He appeared to be very young, perhaps the same age as the four-year-old son of one of the de la Vega vaqueros.  He stared for a moment, his thumb in his mouth, sucking on it. He pulled it out with a slight popping noise and asked, “Mamá, is this the bruha that Angelina told us about?” 

Draviña stiffened, as did Minta.  “Mio chico, this is Don Diego’s fiancé.  She is no bruha.  Angelina is a necia chismosa and you must ignore gossiping fools such as her.” The seamstress continued to measure as though the subject had been the state of the weather.  The little boy continued to stare, his thumb now firmly ensconced in his mouth.  Minta felt extremely self-conscious and wished she could leave and find Diego.  She had hoped that the gossip, fearful looks, the gestures, spitting and the hateful stares would end, but while they had subsided somewhat, they had not totally gone away.  She sighed.  Diego was right; some things take more time than others. 

“Do not mind the talk of my little Manuel.  He hears the women chattering like magpies in the plaza and then brings it to me.  It is just talk; it blows in the wind and is gone, señorita.”

“Graciás, señora,” Minta answered, reassured by the words and tone of the seamstress. 

                            

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 Diego did not go directly to the tavern.  He first stopped in the shop of the jewelry maker.  The man looked up as the young caballero stepped out of the glare of the sun.  “Ah, what can I do for you, Don Diego?” he asked, a knowing look on his face. 

“I would like to have two rings made, Señor Montego.  One for my fiancé and one for myself,” Diego answered. 

“Gold or silver?” 

“Gold.  I want the señorita’s to have a single jewel, not a large one, but a diamond if you have such.  I would like mine without a jewel.  I want both engraved on the inside with the word, ‘Eternidad.

“Sí, Don Diego.  Leave me the sizes and I can probably have them done in about two weeks,” Montego said.  Diego left a string that he had surreptitiously used to get a ring size from Minta’s finger, along with a small pouch of silver coins.  He hoped that he had measured correctly; it had been hard to get the string around her finger during her siesta the day before.

In the tavern he noted Sgt. Garcia sitting with Corporal Reyes at a table near the door.  When they had noticed him, the rotund sergeant grinned broadly and motioned to him.  As he usually did, Diego sauntered over and sat down.  “Ah, sergeant, how are you doing today?” he asked, noting the empty wine bottle on the table.  He caught the eye of the bar maid, Maria, and motioned for another bottle of wine.  She smiled and turned away.  It was a game that was played out often and all the participants understood the scene well. 

“Very well, Don Diego.  And how is the education of the lovely señorita coming?” 

“That is going very well, also,” Diego responded.  “I believe that the baptism will be soon.”

“And then the marriage.  Ah, I can just imagine the magnificent fiesta that your father will host.”

Diego laughed.  “Yes, I can just imagine it too.” 

“I am still curious as to where you found such an unusual señorita, Don Diego,” Garcia said, stating directly the same thing that many other people had said to themselves or in whispers to their friends.   

“I met her in my travels and we fell in love.  It is as simple as that,” Diego responded casually, although he felt somewhat uneasy about this line of questioning. 

“But you know, it is a strange coincidence…” Garcia began and then trailed off.

“What, sergeant?” Diego responded, wishing his friend would get off of this track, but knowing if he didn’t respond, the sergeant would state his theory anyway. 

“I was thinking…and it is just a coincidence, after all, but the thought occurred to me, that this girl matches the descriptions that some of El Diablo’s men gave of the demons who captured Zorro.”

Diego almost choked on his wine.  He stared at the sergeant, doing his best to resist the temptation to look around the room and see if anyone had heard Garcia’s offhanded remark.  That is all we need now, he thought in chagrin.  Hoping that his shock hadn’t registered, he tried to compose himself quickly, all the while thinking of the most appropriate response.

 

Chapter Thirty
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