Manuela had a strong sense of self. She was five years old the first time she defied me. She stood firm with her hands on her hips laughing out “No” in that little girl voice. She completely melted my heart. I knew then that she was the designated heir to my fortune. I needed someone with a back bone to manage my empire, even if it were only a mere wisp of a girl.
Manuela was a tomboy, she learned to do everything that her brothers did – she could even out ride them. She took to wearing britches and long riding boots. I taught her how to ride side-saddle, but she took to riding astride instead. Her mother was beside herself and blamed me when at fifteen Manuela was still unwed.
She was eight years old when she showed me her true character. There was a wild stallion on the ranch. None of the vaqueros could break him. I had no choice but to order that he be put to sleep. She tried to convince me for days against it, but I knew that I could not have a wild stallion running around loose on the ranch – or out in the wilderness.
On the morning that we were going to put the stallion to sleep, she entered the stall and bullied the groomsman into allowing her to the ride the horse.
“Nina Manuela, your father gave me specific orders that you were not allowed near the animal”. “Lorenzo saddle the horse – who do you think will be running things around here after my father dies?” The groomsman was silenced into submission and stood back as he watched her mount the stallion.
Once they were outside, he had word sent to me. I nearly fainted at the sight of my daughter on the animal. But I did not yell, I did not want to scare the animal into running off with her or bucking her off. I remained calm as I praised her and the horse. Not only did she defy me, but she put herself in danger.
There was a snake, the stallion heard it and went crazy, and she was not an experienced rider. The stallion threw her off. My heart stopped beating, but she got up before I reached her. “Manuela, are you alright? I thought I was going to have a heart attack; she could have broken her neck. “I’m fine, father don’t hurt the horse, promise me – it was all my fault”. She pleaded immediately comforting the horse.
I was the one that needed comforting. I don’t know why but I gave her my word that I would not harm the animal. I sensed the verging hysteria in her voice. I also knew that she would not go into the house or have the doctor called until I gave her my word. She looked pale, as if she were in pain, but she looked as calm as I did through the experience.
She left the stallion to Lorenzo and walked into the house. Her mother heard the commotion and was waiting at the door. The minute she walked through the door; Manuela fainted in her mother’s arms. I knew then just how brave my daughter was, and that she would never allow harm to come to any defenseless creäture or living human being.
The doctor was summoned and reported a broken collarbone. We never spoke of her disobedience again. She healed quickly and from that time on spent every waking moment with the stallion; the stallion became docile. She was the only person the stallion allowed near him – she named him Mesillas, after the hacienda I bought North West of Monclova.
Manuela loved riding Mesillas early in the morning – right before sunrise; she brought along a picnic which consisted of fruit and oats. This was their private time together. Their morning adventure lasted several hours – they rode all the way to Cacho’s Mesa de Cartujanos. One particular morning Manuela chose to climb La Mesa. Mesillas never losing sight of his mistress followed her up the steep rocks. Before Manuela could react, Mesillas nudged her aside with such force that she fell to the ground. Mesillas fought off and killed the wild boar that was about to attack Manuela. From that day on I made sure that horse was treated well, and allowed to die of old age.
All of my children were healthy; they only suffered one malady, my father had it before me and I suffered with it now. We all suffered from headaches. This is why I often sequestered myself in darkness, I learned that from father. Sleep and a cold compress were required and after a few days we were back to normal. Out of all my children Manuela suffered from it the most.
Manuela was ten years old the year I chose to make a bid on slaves from Africa. She insisted on coming with me. I allowed her, even though I had reservations. When we arrived we were greeted by an inhuman sight. I could feel her fear as she gripped my hand. There was a group of African children; they were huddled together like cattle in a dirty cage. The children looked scared and malnourished – they were crying. The slave trader was about to whip them when she let go of my hand.
She ran to them, and threw her arms around them “Don’t you dare touch these children”; she implored looking at me. I was proud of my children they were benevolent and empathetic – I instilled in them at an early age that their place in life was to protect those that could not protect them-selves. This was also the day I became a hero in my daughter’s eyes, I bought them all.
Manuela was about to turn thirteen when she and her mother had a disagreement. She refused to wear a corset. Manuela was turning into a real beauty; she was filling out and needed to wear the right type of undergarments. I didn’t care what she wore over the corset; it was what she wore underneath the britches that concerned me. I heard the commotion from my study and was forced to involve myself.
“Listen here, you will obey your mother, I can’t have my daughter running around like a gypsy”. She was furious, until that moment she never had to do anything against her will. “I wish I had any other father then you” she hissed. The look on my face silenced her, it almost broke my heart – this was the first time she looked at me with fear.
“You are lucky I am your father, if you had any other father you would have been sent away to a convent, beaten and married off by now to a man you didn’t love, because I am your father we are having this discussion.” I could not believe I was having a discussion with my daughter about lady’s proper undergarments, me – Don Jose Vasquez Borrego.
She burst into tears.
“Sweet heart, don’t cry – I know it must be difficult to learn that you have to become a young woman, you can’t run around as you have.” She nodded showing me she understood.
The year Manuela turned 14 there was a raging thunder-storm, The River was rising and we had yet to cross the 300 heads of cattle. We were short manned, as the majority of the peones were assisting Fernando at Encinas. Manuela offered to help and I ordered her to stay indoors. I did not notice Manuela arrive, I looked up and there she was leading the cattle across the river. I was filled with pride, that child of mine feared nothing – not even me. I scolded her after all was said and done, she could have drowned.
Since childhood, Cristobal Jose Sanchez Navarro had a soft spot for Manuela. It started the day she was able to climb a tree faster than any of the other boys in their class. Since then he always found an excuse to be by her side. The children in class teased her about him and she would come home in tears that she was not his girlfriend. I myself hoped that one day there would be a union between the two families, for the Sanchez Navarro’s were a respectable family.
Now that they were older, Cristobal Jose began to court Manuela. This caused a predicament as Manuela was still tramping about town as a tomboy; he tried to influence her in her choice of dress. This I suspect being the reason Manuela was so against the match. Cristobal Jose was somewhat of a dandy. He was brave like any other boy, but was more fastidious in his toilet.
At an early age Cristobal Jose and his brother Manuel Francisco began helping their father Martin Sanchez Navarro administer their latifundio.
There was news that La Hacienda de San Bartolome was purchased by a criollo from Mexico City- Juan Antonio de Vidaurri. Juan Antonio came further north to be near his brother Pedro Jose, who had a hacienda west of San Buenaventura. Juan Antonio was considered to be a handsome man – *many people when describing him never failed to mention his machismo. He resembled a judge more than he did a hacendado. He was a big, tall – robust man, with a strong square chin, dispassionate eyes and distinct Basque features. He radiated courage, in a country that valued manliness highly – Vidaurri exhibited both*
One afternoon Manuela was out on a picnic with Cristoabl Jose and another childhood friend Ava Maria dela Garza – Falcon. On this occasion she was wearing her customary riding garb, an old shirt over britches. Ava Maria was dressed in the current fashion as was Cristobal Jose. They were by the stream, watering the horses when the new owner of San Bartolome arrived.
Juan Antonio de Vidaurri paid his proper respects to Ava Maria and Cristobal Jose, and asked Manuela if she could water his horse along with the others. He mistook Manuela for a peon. Manuela did not let on that he made a mistake, Cristobal Jose would have said something but she silenced him with a look. Ava Maria was having a hard time controlling her girlish laughter; Juan Antonio thought something was wrong with her. This made Manuela laugh.
They were deep in conversation over the party that was to be thrown honoring the coming nuptials of Leticia dela Garza. Manuela was not a part of the conversation, but was watering the horses. That was when Pedro Jose came looking for his brother, but first paid his respects to Dona Manuela. “Buenos dias Dona Manuela”.
Cristobal Jose and Ava Maria burst into laughter, and Juan Antonio turned bright red. Manuela calmly explained to Pedro Jose about the mix up. “Why didn’t anyone correct me?” inquired a mortified Juan Antonio.
“I would have, but she silenced me” said Cristobal Jose, trying to control his laughter. Juan Antonio was furious, he felt that the trio made a fool of him on purpose “Oh, so you don’t speak unless the lady gives you permission?” he snapped.
“Now look here, there is no need to get nasty – it was all in good fun.” Cristobal Jose was trying to regain his composure.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you; I apologize if you feel we did it on purpose, as I recall it was you that mistook me for a peon.” Manuela proceeded to sit next to Ava Maria removing her hat revealing a cascade of beautiful hair.
“You and Pedro Jose are welcome to join us for lunch.” She indicated a place for them to sit – on the blanket.
Juan Antonio was for the most part a man with a good disposition, he felt that this little girl made a fool out of him, that her friends would get a good laugh out this morning’s incident and repeat the story all over town. The best thing for Juan Antonio was to accept the invitation, but the Vidaurris were known for their false pride.
“That is most kind of you to extend an invitation, but Pedro Jose and I have things to attend to, thank you but we must decline your generous offer.” With that he mounted his horse not waiting for a response. Pedro Jose was mortified for Manuela and Juan Antonio. He paid his respects and quickly followed his brother. A week later Manuela was out with her girlfriends, they were at the dress makers picking out fabric for dresses that were to be worn at the yearly Christmas dance. The girls leaving the dress makers over heard Juan Antonio retelling last week’s faux paux. “It’s a surprise that little girl was not mistaken for a boy before, she’s very plain, then running about the country side dressed as an urchin youth hardly helps her cause – and one wonders why she’s a spinster at fifteen.”
Manuela’s friends gasped, Nicolas dela Garza – Falcon heard them and motioned for the conversation to cease. Just then Manuela’s nana called out to her “Nina Manuela, are you ready to leave?”
Manuela then stepped out into the walkway and curtsied to the gentlemen, “Yes, nana I’m coming – Good day gentlemen, I hope you have a pleasant afternoon.” She left before the group of men could regain their composure.
“See what you’ve done, she heard your insults” Nicolas finally recovered from the embarrassment of being caught in a sordid discussion between gentlemen.
“Well as far as I am concerned she had that coming for the trick she played on me” replied a justified Juan Antonio.
“She didn’t look like a little girl to me – or as plain as you described her” laughed Nicolas.
“Oh shut up” replied Juan Antonio, madder at himself for noticing how attractive the urchin youth was. He also could not get the memory of her hair out of his mind.
One afternoon we were sitting outside on the veranda after dinner. She was modeling one of her new dresses. She was playing with the folds of her skirt.
“Father, have you thought about my future?
Up until that moment I never considered her future beyond what was happening here .
“Why are you asking this?” “Leticia dela Garza was forced into an arranged marriage, I was wondering if you and mother decided when I was to marry.”
I was speechless. I remembered the vow I made to myself that I would not force my children into marriages of convenience.
“Silly child, I have no need to sell my children as I do my cattle.” Up until that moment I never considered her actually getting married and leaving me, I guess the subject needed to come up, with all the weddings taking place recently.
She jumped up and hugged me – before running off to go tell her mother. Lately the two have become closer than two peas in a pod. They bonded over the choice of materials and fabrics and all the things that go with them.
From that moment on Manuela dressed more like a lady then an urchin youth, I missed my little gypsy. Cristobal Jose did notice the change and believed it was caused by his influence. He never failed to be her escort to all the social functions, or to fill her dance card. I knew the change was caused by her meeting Juan Antonio. She was not embarrassed that he thought her a boy, but embarrassed hence forth in having him not find her attractive.
Cristobal Jose never failed to mention to all the young men of his infancy that he would indeed one day marry Manuela. Everyone believed it for years that the Vasquez Borrego’s and the Sanchez Navarro’s would be united through their marriage.
One evening Cristobal Jose came down with a cold, he was unable to escort Manuela to a dance honoring the engagement of Ava Maria to Jose Miguel Flores de Abrego. Juan Antonio de Vidaurri attended the dance. He noticed that Cristobal Jose was not in attendance. It took him weeks to get over the prank he thought Manuela played on him. He began to take an interest in her – he started to think of her constantly, who was this girl who tramped about town wearing men’s clothes? He noticed her change in attire, and knew it was because of him this excited him. The rumor circulated around town that Manuela was secretly engaged to Cristobal Jose. He needed to get to the truth; he filled in her dance card with two dances, the first and last waltz.
During the first waltz he held Manuela tighter then what was permissible.
“Sir, you are holding me too tight, please loosen your hold, people are starting to stare.”
“And do you care what people think?” Juan Antonio did not loosen his hold; he liked holding her, and imagined what it would be like to kiss her.
“Of course I do, my brother is starting to look in this direction, loosen your hold you are constantly proving to polite society that you are no gentlemen.” This last comment achieved the desired result, Juan Antonio loosened his hold. The waltz ended and Manuela went to a rather tall and distinguished looking man. What infuriated Juan Antonio was that she didn’t walk, but practically ran into the other mans arms. Manuela was not an easy person for Juan Antonio to figure out, she gave him mixed signals. She was not the type of girl to play or toss her hair –or give coy looks. The Majority of the time she ran into him she pretended he did not exist.
The man put his arm around hers and led her outside to the balcony. This incensed Juan Antonio even more, since he had yet to be introduced to Fernando Vasquez Borrego, Manuela’s brother. He did not fail to notice that Fernando was handsome and tall, he detected the close bond they had with each other. This filled him with a jealousy he could not contain. But the words stung, what did she say, that he was not a gentleman? He controlled himself and went in search of his next dancing partner. But he could not get that little girl out of his mind; he scarcely paid attention to what his dancing partner was saying.
“Who was that man you were dancing with, and why was he holding you intimately?” Demanded Fernando.
“It’s nothing, Fer – please don’t go back in there making a scene,” Manuela pleaded with her brother.
“Fine, but it better not happen again, I need to ask a favor.”
“What” Manuela was still preoccupied with Juan Antonio.
“I need you to speak to father for me – I want him to sell me Encinas.”
“I will speak to him for you, but I can’t promise anything.”
“Are you ready to go back inside?” inquired Fernando leading her back into the ballroom.
Juan Antonio was trying to pay attention to the length of time Manuela was outside, UN chaperoned, not only did her father allow her to tramp about town as a gypsy, but he also allowed her to be in the company of men without a chaperone. What kind of girl was this? Coming to these conclusions did not make matters easier; he was as attracted to her as much as before.
The next time Juan Antonio spoke to Manuela was to claim his last dance. He did not fail to notice that the man she was outside with was constantly by her side. This continued to infuriate him. “Who is that man you are intimate with?” he demanded with clenched teeth. Manuela burst out laughing.
“You’re making fun of me?”
“Yes, because it’s none of your business who I spend time with, if you will excuse me, I’ve developed a headache.” Manuela used that excuse when an exit was necessary.
Juan Antonio grabbed her before she walked away, “Is it true, that you are engaged to Cristobal Jose Sanchez Navarro?”
Manuela met his gaze, “No, I am not engaged to Cristobal Jose.”
Juan Antonio sighed with relief. Fernando had kept a close eye on his sister and immediately reached her side when he saw Juan Antonio detain her from walking away from him.
Manuela grabbed Fernando’s hand and dragged him away before a fight ensued.
“Brother please leave matters alone, I am in love with him” pleaded Manuela trying to keep the hold she had on Fernando.
Hearing this omission, Fernando ceased his struggle. “What”, he asked “Does father know?” “No, father has no idea – if you agree to say nothing I will help you convince father to sell you Encinas.”
They stood there in silence for a while. ‘What are you going to do?” asked her brother.
“What can I do,” she then proceeded to tell her brother about her first encounter with Juan Antonio de Vidaurri. Fernando agreed not utter a word to their father, and promised not to give Juan Antonio the thrashing he deserved. Fernando agreed to silence, he had ulterior motives hoping a scandal would tarnish her in my eyes.
Mean while Juan Antonio did his research and found out the name of the distinguished gentlemen Manuela seemed fond of. Juan Antonio after managed an introduction to my youngest son, they managed a cordial relationship hence forth. Fernando was good at pretending to know nothing about the unspoken feelings of his sister and the hacendado – he had his hidden agenda.
During the courtship of my daughter and that hacendado – a violent Indian attack took place in Monclova. The Indians killed seventeen peons, and captured several women and children. It was unsafe for anyone to be out, especially at night. Manuela was accustomed to taking long walks in the evenings. I normally went with her, but was in bed with one of my headaches.
Manuela went out by herself, and without a chaperone. She knew how to shoot and counted on her little handgun that I gave her for Christmas last year. During the time she left the house, word came from San Buenaventura of another Indian attack. Juan Antonio de Vidaurri and his brother Pedro Jose stopped by to give us the news, on their way to gather more men.
Juan Antonio inquired about Manuela, “Lady Manuela, has she retired for the evening?” The servants did not know how to respond, “No sir, she went out for her usual evening walk.”
“Did she go alone?” he asked in disbelief at how independent she was. “Yes sir, she went out alone, only a few minutes ago.” The servants were scared and ran to send for me.
Juan Antonio without waiting to speak with me mounted his horse and went in search of Manuela. He found her on her way back to the house; he was furious and scared that something may have happened to her. “You are not to ever leave your father’s house alone again, do you understand?” He dismounted his horse and reached for her. Manuela instantly allowed him to lift her off her feet as he held her close.
I arrived after the commotion, “What is the meaning of this – put my daughter down.” I would hear nothing about the hacendados feelings towards her until he made his intentions clear. Juan Antonio immediately put her down and Manuela dutifully stood by my side. Juan Antonio then gave me the news of the Indian attack and I quickly allowed him to take some fresh horses and men. I did not allow them to say good night, but pulled Manuela along with me back into the house.
Manuela was not the only young lady in town who had her cap set on Juan Antonio de Vidaurri. Maria Ines Fernandez de Tijerina also had her eyes on him – and she was playing for keeps. At every dance, she maneuvered a way to have as many dances as she could with Juan Antonio, since her brother was a close friend, it worked to her advantage. “You don’t mind do you Manuela, I have this next dance.” Maria Ines did not wait for a response from Manuela, but led Juan Antonio away. Now it was Manuela who experienced pangs of Jealousy. She developed a headache and before the dance was over had Fernando take her home.
Juan Antonio untangled himself from Maria Inez, went in search of Manuela before realizing his little vixen had gone home. He was at a loss about what to do next. He needed to declare himself, but had no idea how. Fernando Vasquez Borrego was polite, but never overly friendly. He knew none of her other brothers, and had not been given a proper introduction to me.
The church bazaar was holding its annual fund-raising event. All of the eligible girls of marriageable age participated. This year the auction was a picnic lunch with the young lady of the gentlemen’s choice. I did not want Manuela participating – but she insisted. Maria Dolores prepared her lunch basket. Juan Antonio and Cristobal Jose found out through the grapevine which was hers and created a bidding war. Juan Antonio won the auction and chose Manuela as his lunch companion – Maria Inez being a sore loser vowed to get even and tampered with Manuela’s lunch basket.
Juan Antonio and Manuela found a nice spot for their lunch under a tree – the conversation went smoothly. Everything was going well until Juan Antonio began eating – the food was rancid but he continued as he did not want to hurt Manuela’s feelings. Juan Antonio became ill and Manuela was mortified. The town’s gossips had a field day with the story and spread it all over town.
I knew this romance between my daughter and the hacendado was brewing, but I chose to keep myself out of it. I watched from the side lines and was riveted like everyone as to the outcome. It was like watching a novella unravel itself, only the principal character was my daughter. I was proud of my daughter, she did not wear her heart on her sleeve, but Juan Antonio did. I may have been a demanding father in certain things, but I did allow my children romantic freedom. I did not meddle in their private affairs – but I did make my displeasure known.
The game of playing hard to get lasted a few months, Cristobal Jose would not admit to himself that Manuela’s only feelings for him were like that of a sisters for a brothers. He continued to pursue her, as Maria Inez continued to pursue Juan Antonio.
It came to a halt one evening. It was during a dance, this time it was a surprise birthday party for Ava Maria. Juan Antonio had filled in Manuela’s dance card, in route to claim his dance Maria Inez stopped him midway. Before he could untangle himself, Manuela agreed to an out of turn dance with Cristobal Jose. Juan Antonio disentangled himself from Maria Inez and walked over and interrupted their waltz – in doing so laid claim on Manuela for all to see. The only obstacle now was Manuela’s father – ME.
After hearing the latest gossip the following morning, I had Juan Antonio de Vidaurri summoned to my study. It was time I dealt with that hacendado who trifled with my daughters affections. Manuela heard from idle servant’s gossip that Juan Antonio was expected and burst into my study. “Father, is it true that Juan Antonio de Vidaurri is coming here to meet with you?” I casually glanced up from my accounts
She walked back and forth trying to regain her composure. “Why?”
I looked right at her “Because of you, it’s high time we settled things.”
“Settle what things,” she tried playing coy with me.
She had no idea I even knew what was going on, she thought I did not pay attention to idle gossip. I could not stop myself from laughing; the look on her face was priceless.
“I know everything young lady, you can stop pretending.”
Manuela sat down opposite me “Father – please be nice for my sake, I am in love with him.”
“I know child, I know – I will only say what is necessary.” Martha knocked on the door informing me that Juan Antonio de Vidaurri arrived and was waiting in the parlor. “Tell him to enter and Manuela leave through the side door, and make sure you close the door.” I went back to my accounts.
I heard the knock at my door and without looking up from my ledger said “Enter”. Juan Antonio de Vidaurri was nervous; he bumped into the furniture before sitting down in the chair opposite me. I closed my ledger and looked at him for a hard minute – this made him nervous, he began fidgeting with his hands.
“I suppose you are wondering why I’ve requested a meeting with you.”
“Yes sir, I am glad that you did, I have something I have meant to discuss with you.”
“Young man I’ve had to listen to idle gossip about my daughter for months now, and you are the reason, it’s high time you own up to your intentions.”
“Sir, I am going to be bold, I am in love with your daughter.”
“Funny way you have of showing it, making my daughter the subject of gossip, and rumors.”
“That was never my intention.”
“Do you know how my daughter feels about you; have you declared yourself to her?”
“No sir, I wanted to speak with you first.”
“You wanted to speak to me first, when?”
“I am going to be honest; I was hoping we would be introduced.”
“Sir, we don’t travel in the same circles, how would that of ever come about?”
“I am an acquaintance of your youngest son; I was going to ask for his guidance.”
“Fernando, he never mentioned that he knew you, I’m finished with this idle banter.”
“The reason why I arranged for this meeting is because I have a proposition to make.” We both sat there in silence for a few minutes as I served him a brandy. This gesture of goodwill lightened the mood.
I took a sip of my brandy before continuing. “I want Manuela to be happy above all things, and for some reason she fancies herself being in love with you, I am going to be brutally honest, I am more in favor of a match with my daughter and Cristobal Jose Sanchez Navarro. Juan Antonio sat there speechless; the mention of Cristobals name forced him to drink his brandy like a shot of tequila.
The conversation between the hacendado and myself was going to be a difficult one, but I was ready to say what was on my mind. I had done my research on the hacendados character, Juan Antonio de Vidaurri was not a meek man, nor was he a complacement man. He was a man of few words – the strong and silent type. It was said that he was slow to anger and easy to appease. I chose my words carefully.
“The proposal is that I will give my consent to you marrying my daughter under two conditions.” I watched him carefully before continuing. “The first is that you live near me, so that I can keep an eye on you and the second that you allow me to raise your first two male offspring as my own, if you agree to those terms I will allow you to marry into my family providing Manuela accepts your hand.” I finished my brandy and slammed down the glass on my desk. Juan Antonio inhaled and took a deep breath before answering “May I ask why you want to raise our two first-born sons as your own?”
“As you are aware, I have three sons, one of which is married to a woman who cannot give me a grandson, the other made a match that I highly disapproved of, and the third I won’t even go into Fernando, I love all my children but I am disappointed in my sons, I want another opportunity, when I was beginning my family I was busy building my empire I feel responsible for the disappointment I feel towards my sons.”
“You are seeking atonement?”
‘Yes, you can say that – and I will also make both boys my legal heirs.”
‘I am in love with Manuela, sir I agree to your terms.”
“Wait here, I will send for Manuela.” I called for Martha.
I paced back and forth outside the study, Juan Antonio was tall, good-looking and healthy – his genes played a role in my decision; the combination between Juan Antonio and Manuela would produce healthy offspring. I also found out that Juan Antonio was a good business administrator – I could use him in helping me run my operations; I was planning on moving farther North.
I had Juan Jose scout out land north of the Rio Grande – into Nuevo Santander. I pursued communication with Don Jose de Escandon. I petitioned for a land grant.