2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

 

 

The Comandante of Monterey

and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo

 

by

 Eugene H. Craig

 

 

 

I am so thrilled when I can add more stories by other authors to my website, and Eugene's stories are terrific.   He has created characters filled with a life of their own, memorable and remarkable.  It is indeed a pleasure to add these stories here for all to read. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Several weeks passed since the incident at the cuartel and finally Ricardo del Amo departed from Monterey, leaving in his wake a bevy of accomplished as well as unfulfilled practical jokes. Despite his brush with death, he revealed a thorough lack of appreciation for the repercussions of his actions. Don Ricardo was only interested in results and if one joke failed, he soon plotted the implementation of another. All his schemes meant to embarrass his old, but wary friend, Diego, had backfired, and he left Monterey with a certain sense of frustration. Never one to view life pessimistically, though, he planned for a new round of similar misdeeds on friends in San Francisco upon his return that would, undoubtedly, prove more successful.

The new comandante of the Monterey garrison, Captain Luís del Guerro, was glad to see the back of del Amo. In his opinion, he had put up with, once too often, the jokester's pranks and lack of respect for authority. He had made a major mistake, he admitted even to himself, on his decision to hang the miscreant instead of humiliating him, as he deserved. Del Amo could have been put in the stocks for public exhibit as a bad example or expelled from Monterey just as effectively. Unfortunately, el Zorro had shown up not only to rescue the man, but had slapped del Guerro down to size on the misuse of his authority as well. This was a sobering experience for a man as conscientious of his position as the comandante.

Upon reflection, the captain mulled that his initial decision had been wrong because it was based on his anger rather than a more measured and sober analysis of the problem. There had been more appropriate means by which to deal with del Amo, including lengthy jail confinement. Ah, but how exact a science is the wisdom of hindsight! Del Guerro was determined that there would be no more blights on his record and that he would work hard to remove the ones that the del Amo incidents had left. He promised himself that he would never again let his anger get the better of him. His command was a new one and he needed the goodwill and respect of the pueblo to be seen as an effective leader.

The outcome of the del Amo incidents had left many inhabitants in Monterey concerned with the character of the new comandante. Amused by the dirty trick played on him by del Amo in public concerning the straw man target and, learning of Zorro’s visit to the cuartel to stop the hanging, many questioned his abilities as garrison commander. The idea of humiliating the usual pompous military officials delighted many people, considering the past record of most of them. So, del Guerro had his work cut out.

But, almost from the moment of del Amo’s departure, there were new actions that boded well for the comandante. For example, he had quickly dealt with a pair of thieves who had robbed Mendoza, the storekeeper. Walking out of the cuartel in the late morning, he had crossed the plaza to begin a pattern of making social rounds to the shops and businesses as a way of becoming better known to the owners and townspeople. He was only a few steps away from the store when the miscreants dashed out the front door with their loot, pistols in hand. They practically ran del Guerro over and, startled by his unexpected appearance, didn’t even take time to take a shot at him in their haste to make a getaway, which they did on foot. But they were forced to escape in the opposite direction from their original intention.

 Del Guerro drew his saber and immediately gave chase, alerting the soldiers at the gates of the cuartel with his shouts. Amidst the screams of the customers and the storekeeper, it was almost a miracle they understood the situation so quickly.  Del Guerro’s presence had prevented the thieves from getting to their horses, tied up around the corner, and so they were eager to make a loop down a side street to get back to them. One of the two paused long enough to take a shot at the captain, but his aim was poor. Finding their way blocked, the thieves then attempted to retrace their steps but by then, it was too late and the soldiers cut them off in both directions. Foolishly, they reloaded their pistols and thought to force their way out of the situation rather than surrender. This action resulted in a short but dramatic shootout in town and the sole survivor was captured. It was an action that met with universal approval and congratulations for the new comandante. Many townspeople witnessed del Guerro’s prompt reaction and pursuit, the rallying of the soldiers, and triumph over the violators of law and order – all for the sake of a small merchant.

Then, there was the case of his finding, almost as dramatically, the small son of the blacksmith, Sánchez, who ran away from home into the surrounding countryside – a countryside dark, wooded, and full of bears, mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, wolves and who knows what kinds of spirits and demons. In the rocky and wooded hills, the boy, Juanito, had fallen into a narrow crevice and probably would have died had not del Guerro pushed his investigation into high gear, organizing civilians and soldiers into search parties, personally leading the teams day and night until the boy was found.

 Juanito’s return was met with many tears of relief. Del Guerro advised the regretful father not to admonish the boy too severely. The next day, he politely accepted a gift of a cross and an arrangement of colorful flowers and ribbons from the weeping and grateful mother who kissed his hands and continued to praise his efforts for weeks thereafter. He put these mementos on a table under the window in his office to remind everyone, and himself, of his duty and of his success. They were even better than his medals for valor. Well, almost.

In addition, his habit of frequenting the tavern for dinner and entertainment, as was customary for good public relations, showed the locals that he was approachable and sociable. The innkeeper was more than happy with the steady business from the cuartel and the fact that the officer, now somewhat of a local hero, kept customers lingering for more drinks as they enjoyed a relaxed atmosphere and vied to ingratiate themselves with the comandante. Del Guerro maintained a patient and calm dignity throughout these proceedings, leaving no doubt as to whom their protector was in Monterey.

 Finally, Captain del Guerro began to impress the dons and local businessmen with his seriousness and professionalism by calling upon them and making known his interest in their concerns for their lives and property. Here was no passive comandante who waited for events to overtake him, but instead, a proactive garrison commander who gave the impression of constant vigilance. Prior to his appointment, the townspeople had come to expect little from the comandante’s office other than graft and indifference.

Yet, despite these good deeds and a growing appreciation of his dedication to his office, Luís del Guerro found he had not been able to make much headway in redeeming himself in the eyes of an important personality in Monterey. This was the niece of an important ranchero, Don Felipe Verdugo, and her name was Anamaría Verdugo, arguably the most beautiful and charming young woman in the pueblo – and a friend of the incorrigible prankster Ricardo del Amo whom del Guerro had almost hanged.

At a reception held in his honor by Don Felipe, Luís found the young woman polite, but cool. Standing at the side of her uncle, she also congratulated him on his successes, but she uncharacteristically would not meet his eyes, looking instead past his shoulder as if concerned with other matters. When he approached her after the formalities and began to speak, she excused herself right away, turning to her cousin, Melana, taking her by the arm and leaving the room. Felipe Verdugo watched from afar and could only give a look of puzzled bewilderment at what he saw. Luís bowed diplomatically as Melana looked back at him over her shoulder, blushing with embarrassment, as she was hurried off. Yes, this was going to be a challenge.

The following Sunday found Luís del Guerro at mass at the mission. Like other prominent members of the community, he occupied the first pew. Uncharacteristically, he made a late appearance after the Verdugo family had taken their places. He moved into his spot as the congregation prepared to kneel. Anamaría, who sat near the end, did not notice his silent approach until she rose to kneel in prayer. She was startled by his sudden appearance and swayed, off balance momentarily. He caught her and gently helped her down, whispering an apology. She murmured, “Gracías, Comandante,” and gave him a sideward glance as he likewise knelt.

After prayers and the priest’s words of wisdom to the faithful, she listened to his baritone as he joined in “Áve María” and admitted to herself that he sang surprisingly well. He did not linger afterwards for social niceties. Nevertheless, as everyone left the mission and exchanged a few polite words with the priest, Padre Ignacio gave the garrison commander a few special words of praise for his heroism in the case of Mendoza and the boy, Juanito.

Luís del Guerro was the epitome of humility. “Thank you for your kind words, Father, but I was only doing my duty. I could do no less for anyone else.” Don Felipe was not the only subject of the King finding himself nodding in approval at these words. Anamaría only watched and listened in silence.

 

 

 

Next Chapter
Zorro Page
Main Page