Chapter Twenty- four
Moneta’s dark eyes sparkled with joy at the
prospects of the upcoming wedding and her voice lilted musically as she
guided Minta around the plaza and into various shops.
“Minta, there are so many things to be done in three short
weeks, but first we must buy the material for your wedding dress.”
With her hand resting lightly behind Minta’s elbow, Moneta
guided the Rantiri woman into a shop that was small in size, but large
in the amount of goods piled from the floor to the ceiling.
Part of one wall was devoted to material of all types.
A short man, thin to the point of being gaunt,
approached them. His steel
gray hair lay in waves all over his head, thick like the beard that
bobbed when he talked. “Ah,
señora, señorita, what can I help you with?”
“Briago, you know very well what we are here
for. News travels through
this pueblo like the tide to the shore.
It is fast, powerful and inevitable.
We are here to pick out the material for a wedding dress,”
Moneta said with a laugh.
“Ah, Doña Moneta, you know it never pays to
assume anything in this business,” the merchant said with a smile.
“Perhaps, Señor Juarez, but you know
you are the only merchant who deals in the finest silks and satins,”
“That is true,” Juarez said, undisguised
pride in his voice. He
turned to the wall with stacks of material and pulled down a bolt of
black satin. “Our
best,” Señor Juarez announced.
It had a soft luster like that of the rarest black pearl.
Minta touched it, marveling at the smoothness of the luxurious
Moneta looked at Minta, and then at the
material, then she looked up at the merchant, fixing him with a hard
stare. “Briago, even you
can tell that this will not work. It
is too close to the skin color of the bride.”
“Ah, but señora, this is the customary
wedding material,” he protested.
Minta just gazed at the two Californianos without saying
anything. She had learned
quickly that even Bernardo was more astute at this game of trade than
“Maybe customary, señor, but not
written on stone tablets,” Moneta retorted.
She gazed at the stack of satins and pondered.
Minta saw, near the top, a bolt of material of
deep sky blue. “Moneta,
is there any kind of taboo against the wearing of certain colors?” she
“No taboo, Minta, black is just the customary
color for a bride to wear. However,
there have been so many influences in the past twelve years that I do
not think that any becoming color would be refused.
She followed Minta’s gaze.
“And I believe that on you that color would be most
becoming.” She pointed to the blue fabric.
“That one, Briago.”
Soon the bolt of material was sitting on the
counter and Moneta held the end against Minta’s chest.
“Ah,” she murmured. “That
will be beautiful, Minta. It
will take Diego’s breath away.”
“Do you think?” Minta asked, excitement
know, my dear. He will love
it,” Moneta replied. Turning
to the merchant, she said, “Briago, send the entire bolt to my hacienda.”
The next stop was to the shop of a cobbler where
Minta’s narrow feet were measured and the softest and finest leather
selected for her wedding shoes. Visits to other shops followed and by
the time the two women had finished their shopping and the items had
been loaded into the back of their carriage, the pueblo knew that
this was going to be the wedding of the decade. Gossips spoke in
whispers, the older members of the community remembered a time of
happiness and then sorrow, guilt and shame, and they nodded their
As they left, Moneta turned to Minta and said; “Now the real work begins.”
Father Felipe sat on Diego’s bed, while the
younger man gazed at him from the chair.
After four days in the mission, the priest was pleased with
Diego’s progress. “My
son, I have been told that the wedding plans are going very well.”
“Yes, Padre, they are. Marcos says that the seamstresses have already begun working
on Minta’s dress and my new outfit.
I also hear that the children are doing well in their catechism
and will be ready for their baptisms just before the wedding,” Diego
said, drumming absently on the arm of the chair. He
still tired easily, but his need for rest had diminished a great deal in
the past two days. At times
now, he felt closed in, bored and out of touch.
He wanted to be out in the hills, feeling the sun and the wind on
his cheeks. He wanted to be
at home with his children. He
wanted to be in the sala planning the fiesta with his
father. He wanted to walk
with Minta among the roses that grew along the patio wall, to have a
moment alone with her. Sighing,
Diego brought himself back to what Father Felipe was saying.
“. . . and you realize that there will be many
adjustments to be made,” the priest said.
Diego asked, puzzled. Then
he realized what the padre was saying.
“Oh, yes, Alejandro and Maria Isabella will have many
adjustments to make,” he agreed.
“As will Minta.”
“And you will, also,” Father Felipe added.
“Me?” Diego asked, puzzled.
“My son, you have lived the life of a bachelor
for so many years, with your father and your dear little girl the only
other people in the house, other than servants,” the priest said.
“And now you are doubling your household.”
Diego gazed at the crucifix on the opposite
wall. He wondered what
changes had already been made. The
twins had been living on the hacienda for a week now.
Little Minta seemed the same, if not a bit happier for having
them there. During everyone’s visits there was nothing to indicate any
problems. Diego hoped that
things were not being hidden from him.
Regardless, the adjustments would have to be made; Minta and the
twins were here and had every intention of staying.
Soon all links with Rantir would be broken.
Then a bit of anxiety entered his heart. Surely they would feel they could adjust enough.
Certainly they would not change their minds and leave!
Pushing that thought from his mind, he then
wondered how the twins would accept his authority.
He sighed. “Yes, Padre,
it will be necessary for all of us to make adjustments.”
“And I will presume that you will establish
the twins as hijos naturales,” Father Felipe added.
Of course! he thought.
“I had not thought of that, but yes, of course, I will.”
“Good, they are your children, after all,”
the priest replied with a smile.
Diego stood up and buttoned his vest over his
still sore stomach. Smiling,
he said, “It is hard to believe that just a week ago, I had no idea I
had any other children.”
“Do you remember me saying that everything
would be all right?” the older man asked.
“Yes, and I thought eight years ago, that you
might have meant my marriage to Conchita,” Diego said solemnly.
“Maybe I did, at least in part, my son.
But the road to ‘everything being all right’ is lined with
hard work and some disappointments. We only pray that the hardest disappointments are behind you."
Diego said nothing, pondering the words that had just been spoken. As he left to meet Marcos del Bosque in the vestry, he nodded his agreement.
Private Pablo Ramirez mounted his bay and rode
out of the cuartel, his thoughts on the evening before him.
His destination was a hut near the edge of the pueblo, its
occupant a woman who knew how to turn a hard day into a pleasurable
night. At the tavern, he
bought two bottles of wine. Stopping
at a stall near the edge of the plaza, he bought a shawl of the deepest,
darkest blue. Maria Louisa
would surely like this gift. The
peso he received back in change would be appreciated by the señorita
As he rode toward her little house about a
quarter mile from the edge of the pueblo, he sighed.
Although she was often moody and sometimes bad tempered, he still
loved her. And although she
was well beyond marriageable age, he still wanted her for his wife. Ever since he had first seen her almost a year ago, when she
had come to the pueblo from Monterey, he had determined to marry
her. So far his efforts had
been in vain. It was as
though there was something in her life she had to accomplish first, but
even she didn’t seem to know what it was.
He did know that she had been badly treated when
she was younger. Exactly
how, she wouldn’t tell him. That
she still nursed a great resentment toward those who had wronged her was
very evident. His
affections only partially assuaged her resentment and he longed for
Maria to tell him who had so badly hurt her.
He ached for her and wished he could avenge that hurt and purge
the hatred from her soul.
As he rode up to her little house, he also added
the wish to provide her with something better than the rough one room,
one-windowed adobe. The
roof was a mixture of rounded pottery shingles and branches, and even
that was an improvement, one that he had made several months ago to keep
Maria from being rained on inside her house.
The sill of the single window was crumbling, while the curtain
covering it was dingy and threadbare.
The whitewash on the outside was no more than a memory.
Maria pushed aside the tattered blanket covering
the doorway and blinked as the late evening sun hit her eyes. Pablo could tell that Maria had experienced a bad day.
Her eyes looked puffy and red from crying, her lips were held in
a thin, tight line. She
looked angry, angrier than he had ever seen her.
Dismounting, Pablo attempted to hand her the shawl, but Maria
turned and reentered the hovel, letting the blanket flap close in his
He paused in surprise, and then pushed his way
past the musty covering. In
the dimness, he saw her sitting on a stool in the corner, her head
bowed. Putting the shawl on a rickety table, he crossed the room and
squatted down in front of her. “Maria,”
he said. “What is it?
What is wrong, querida?”
She sat silent, avoiding his eyes. A single tear slipped down her dusty cheek.
“Please, my darling, tell me. I love you. If
there is any way I can help you, please tell me,” he implored her.
He saw her eyes squeeze shut and another tear trickle down her
he pleaded, gently laying his hand on hers.
Finally she looked at him.
“She is back,” Maria whispered, almost inaudible.
“Who?” he asked, alarm growing in his chest.
There was a long silence.
Maria looked back at the ground.
The silence grew until it filled Pablo’s heart with deep
despair. He wanted to hold
the woman in front of him, wanted to plead with her, make her tell him
what had hurt her so very much. But
he knew from experience that there was nothing that would force her to
talk to him until she was ready. The
silence grew, as did the shadows in the room.
“The demon,” she eventually said, her voice
“Demon?” he asked, confused, not expecting
that kind of an answer.
Finally, “Yes, the demon who appeared and then disappeared
almost thirteen years ago. I
thought we had chased her back to Hell.
But she is back.”
“Who is she?” Pablo asked.
“The black witch who almost married Don
Diego,” Maria said.
“Are you talking about the foreign woman?”
is a demon. She ruined my
life. That is why I have
been in Monterey for the past eleven years.
I could not live here any more after I tried to save Don Diego
and send her back to her evil master,” Maria explained.
“Even my mother conspired to send me away.”
Pablo laid his hands on hers and then enveloped
them, her thin fingers in the safe cocoon of his strong ones. “Tell me about it,” he coaxed, his voice low and
And she did. She
told him about the demon’s six fingers, the abduction of Zorro, Don
Diego’s turning against her, and her mother ordering her to leave the
de la Vega hacienda. She
poured out her soul; she spread her emotions all over the room.
He felt battered by the intensity of her feelings.
Pablo wanted to take her in his arms, hold her tight and comfort
her. As she spoke, he began
seeing the foreign woman in a different light.
Now she seemed a sinister presence, rather than a curiosity.
He saw the stranger’s subtle effects on those around her, the
underlying subterfuge in her quick and ready smile.
He saw something strange about her violet eyes, light hair and
her dark skin. Pablo
shivered, feeling Maria’s fear, her anger and her determination to
protect the people from this demon and her spawn.
He also felt some of Maria’s anger against Don
Diego de la Vega. Pablo
wondered if there was something else, something that she was unwilling
to divulge yet. He chose to
wait until she was ready to tell him the rest.
In the meantime, he would continue to love her, and comfort her.
“Maria, what can we do?”
“We can get rid of her. Take her away from
here,” Maria hissed.
“Kidnap her?” Pablo asked, incredulous.
“No, take her away.
Send her satanic influence away from this pueblo,” Maria
replied. She looked at him intently.
There was a fire in her eyes; a fierce fire flamed by her hate. “How much do you love me?” she asked suddenly.
Pablo was taken aback.
“You know I love you. I
have asked you to marry me. What
more can I do to show you my love?”
“Help me get rid of the witch!” she spat
“Where did she come from?” he asked,
wondering which country she could have come from.
Do you not understand what I am saying?”
Pablo was silent.
“She came with a horde of demons thirteen
years ago. They took El
Zorro, but he soon escaped. Then
when everyone thought they were gone for good, she came.”
Maria Louisa then detailed her meeting with the dark woman.
As she spoke, Pablo shivered, visualizing the scenes that Maria
was painting. He felt the
same horror and righteous hatred that this woman he loved had felt as a
girl. He began to feel the
indignation of not being believed, except by a few.
“Padre Felipe was taken in by her
devilish charms. He even
went through the motions of baptizing her.
Somehow she withstood the power of the Holy Water.”
When Maria Louisa was finished, Pablo shuddered, staring into the
dark corners of the hut. The
sun sat on the horizon, its orange glow accenting the mood he was now
“What do you think she wants?” he asked.
“Don Diego first and then anyone else she can
entice,” Maria said. “Help
me rid the pueblo of her. Please,
Pablo. Do this for me.”
Pablo watched the sun fall behind the western
horizon. He envisioned it
falling into the sea, making it boil like a witch’s cauldron.
“Yes,” he heard himself say.
“Yes, I will help you. What
do we do?”
“If no one objects during the reading of the second bans, then we take her far away and exorcise the devil from her.” Maria Louisa gazed at him, her eyes bright with desire. Then she broke into a smile, the first he had seen in days and Pablo felt her desire transfer to him. Finally she came to him and put her arms around his waist. He bent down and kissed her, long and deep, and he felt satisfied.