Ricardo- A Conversation Under the Trees
By Eugene H. Craig
another wonderful short story by Eugene. Here he delves into the
character that we have loved to hate, Ricardo del Amo.
The sparrows darted around the fragrant honeysuckle that spilled over the high walls of the hacienda and finally alighted onto the tall tree branches that hung majestically over the patio with its brilliantly colored flowers in clay vases and a profusion of plants with their hues of green and grays. Their chattering barely interrupted the scene in the garden beneath them.
Down below the shady arbors, Anamaría Verdugo sat at the wrought-iron table on the patio at her father’s hacienda. She wore a dress of soft pink checks that happened, at that moment, to match the flush in her cheeks. She was shaking her head in exasperation and frustration. One of her guests, Ricardo del Amo, had just departed in his typical overly dramatic fashion, despite her entreaties for him not to go. He was up to no-good again, she declared aloud.
Sitting across the table from her was another young man, Don Diego de la Vega from Los Angeles. He was dressed in a brown ranchero outfit - long, studded, brown trousers, an off-white blouse, a black necktie, the short, floral-decorated jacket, and a wide red sash wrapped around his waist. Diego was an old family friend and Anamaría felt a kinship in talking to him about their mutual concerns over the impetuous and reckless behavior of Del Amo.
Diego had an amused smile on his face as he listened to her express her disgust with the man's most recent childish antics. Diego could not help it, but he gazed at her with unmistakable affection. The simple fact was that he was in love with her. But it was an affection that she only tolerated out of their friendship. The truth of the matter was that she was in love with someone else, not with him. That 'someone else' was El Zorro.
After sipping from her glass of juice she looked over at the young don. "Tell me, Diego," she asked. "How could a nice man like you ever have a friend like Ricardo? He’s just so, well, incorrigible."
Diego looked pensive a moment. "It’s not a very long explanation," he told her. "But you may find it boring."
She gave a short laugh. "I don’t think that any explanation could fail to enlighten me. Really, where did you two meet? Was it long ago?"
Diego put his own glass down and leaned back in the wicker chair and smiled as several memories began to flood into his mind. He chuckled. "I’ve known Ricardo since we were children," he told her. "He is no different now from what he was then. That is why nothing that he does ever surprises me." He paused a moment and held up a hand. "Except that with this visit to Monterey, he’s gotten himself into the most serious trouble that he’s ever been in. He’s never had a rope around his neck before."
"If it was not for El Zorro, he’d be out of trouble permanently," she observed seriously. "It’s almost unbelievable that he never seems to learn anything from lessons like that. I almost wish that the comandante had clapped him in jail from the very beginning."
Diego nodded. "Ricardo certainly profited from the capitán's generosity of giving him the choice of either a jail sentence or a fine. However, I think the comandante will never again make such an offer." He paused and said in an amused tone of voice, "I must point out that Ricardo now avoids going anywhere near the cuartel. If looks could kill, he would die instantly if Capitán del Guerro ever spotted him."
Anamaría smiled at that but her tone was determined. "Be that as it may, I will never speak to that comandante again as long as I live after what he tried to do."
Diego gave her a wise look. "'Never' is a very long time, Anamaría," he pointed out. "My father always told me never to say ‘never.’"
Anamaría sighed audibly in a way that told him that she did not want to hear a little moral lecture. "You still haven’t told me how you two met," she insisted.
"It really wasn’t by choice," he told her. "Ricardo is the son of a very important business associate of my father. Our families were very close in Spain. But Ricardo is the black sheep of his family."
"Now that I believe," she agreed. "But he seems fairly driven to prove that he’s better than anyone else, even better than El Zorro."
Diego concurred. "His father is very accomplished and Ricardo has spent his life trying to outdo him. Of course, he’s an absolute failure in everything except for his ability to spend money, get in trouble, and in sports competitions. As I remember it, he excels in sports quite well. He was the best in knife fighting and archery. It would not surprise me if he has applied himself in many other areas as well. Sports is something that never interested his father – Don Ramón was too much devoted to matters of business."
"Do you think that Ricardo also excels with the blade?" she asked apprehensively. "I don't like this idea of his to challenge El Zorro to a duel - and for what? Vanity, pure and simple!"
Diego was solemn. "I don’t know the answer to that, Anamaría. If he believes that he is going to do battle with El Zorro, then he most certainly has to be accomplished. If it is one thing I have learned about Ricardo, it is never to underestimate how well he can do the things that he sets his mind to - but only when he sets his mind to it."
"If he would only temper his ambitions to guitar playing or singing and riding, that would be enough," she observed. She leaned forward, picked up the pitcher and poured Diego and herself more juice, before sitting back in the chair. For several moments she looked pensive, then, unexpectedly, she smiled mischievously. "You know, this may be the very opportunity we have looked for to see Ricardo get cut down to size. I was not joking when I said that I hoped that El Zorro would cut off his nose. His ego is just out of control."
Diego crossed his leg and thought a moment. "I remember that I was always at the brunt of his practical jokes. He is a few years older than I am and found it amusing to always pick on me in order to beat me. My father once caught him alone and told him that only a coward would pick on a much younger child. Ricardo was so chastened that he went around picking on boys bigger than himself in order to prove that he was not a coward. Needless to say, he had to learn hard lessons. But those lessons did not include the use of common sense, only how to find ways to beat everybody no matter how underhanded."
Anamaría shook her head. "He sounds obsessed with having to be a winner."
"I would say you are right," he told her. "It may be worse than that since it could mean he is now putting his life at stake senselessly."
Anamaría doubted that. "El Zorro has more honor than Ricardo. He would not take Ricardo’s life, no matter how much he is provoked. But I cannot say the same for Ricardo. I think it’s just one more reason I have come to the conclusion that I really don’t care very much for him at all."
"I cannot help but agree with your conclusion, Anamaría," Diego sighed, "but sometimes we keep friendships with people that we don’t care for just to keep up our social appearances and relationships. My father knows Ricardo is incorrigible, but he values his friendship with Don Ramón too much. That means putting up with a child like Ricardo. My father once told me that he hoped that as Ricardo grows older, he would attain some wisdom. I replied to him that Ricardo may grow older, but that he never grows up. My father told me that that was the best assessment that he had ever heard – but to keep it to myself."
"Why would your father say that?" she asked in surprise. "It’s so true."
"Yes, but you see Ricardo is the apple of his father’s eye and the father will brook no criticism of his first born - not even from his wife, Doña Carlota, who tried to warn him against such an indulgence. Sad to say, she was ignored. Like many men who had life rough at the same age, Don Ramón sees himself living his life over again through the life of his son. He showers Ricardo with all the things that he would have liked to have had for himself – clothes, money, the finest horses, and social contacts that reach into the Court of Spain - you know, friends in 'high places.' On top of this add one final flaw – the inability to see that such a son could do anything really wrong. Ricardo has never been disciplined."
"It is really a shame that his father did not give him a dose of the most important qualities that a man can have," she declared.
"And what are those, Anamaría?" Diego was very interested.
"Humility and a willingness to admit that he is wrong. I think that I could forgive just about anyone if they ever showed me that they had these qualities," she explained.
Diego gave a thoughtful look. "Hmm, it would appear that, by that criteria, Ricardo will never again be in your good graces. You set very high standards, Anamaría."
"Yes, I do, Diego," she replied as if challenged. Then she softened her tone. "But then, you don’t have anything to worry about in that regard. You and your father are always perfect gentlemen."
"I take that as a great compliment," Diego responded, bowing a little from the waist, even though he sat at the table.
Anamaría added, "You know, Diego, I think these qualities apply to all of us, not just to you men. I’ll be the first to admit that I was taken in a bit by Ricardo’s flattery on our trip from San Francisco to Monterey. It has helped make me more wary of pretty words and compliments."
"I hope that you don’t think that I’ve ever been insincere," he responded.
"No, Diego, I don’t doubt your sincerity. But sometimes when men flatter a girl, they do it a bit too obviously."
"Sometimes obvious flattery can be sincere, Anamaría. For example, if you a wearing a pretty dress or your smile lifts the spirits, it should not be misconstrued to mean anything other than our most sincere observation."
"I suppose that can be true, Diego, but Ricardo never says anything without seeking some kind of payoff. Many men do compliment women because they like to have something positive to say, but Ricardo thinks it means you have to be forever in his debt. And God help the man or woman who can best him."
Diego could not agree more. "You know, Anamaría, I think the best thing that we can hope for is that there will be someone, somewhere, who will get the last laugh. I only hope that it will happen to Ricardo - and more than once."
Anamaría nodded. "Nothing would please me more. Ricardo is such a jerk."