• books and publication news

The Condesa of M.: excerpt


Since the week of her birth, María Victoria Cervantes y Gazoponda had received from her father the Conde of Michoácuaro presents both fine and delighting. The slender gold chain and narrow cross for her christening. Many trinkets and dolls. The portrait of the little Green Virgin. Teresa, as maid and companion. Gowns cut in Madrid’s latest fashion–which was to say, Versailles’–to elaborate the charms of her lean figure. And a flower garden, and perfumes, and the palomino stallion Ballano who lent her the wind’s freedom. Most prized were the books, books by the hundreds, sources of thought and solace, shipped to the rancho from distant presses. The conde knew little of the contents of these books. Of what concern to him, no harm in books, if they pleased María Victoria she must have as many books as she wished.

Her most important gift came from Teresa. At first blood she brought María Victoria to the lagoon in the volcano’s cone, to take part in the movement of the waters.

The years passed. Her father gave María Victoria time. Still, she must wed. At the rancho, Santa Rita de Taratzingán, the edge of Tierra caliente, she had met all the marriageable men of the region; none pleased her. As did no one over the two half-years, seasons of balls, teas, fiestas, soirées, spent with Mercedes her aunt in Mexico City, four days from the rancho.

Two seasons, five proposals, none accepted. Her father, Tía Mercedes at his side, spoke to her. “My child, you must choose.”

“Between The Boor and The Fat One? Between Stammer and Limp? Or Don Pulque-Breath, or Lieutenant No-Soul?”

“Victoria.” Tía Mercedes’ smile weighed down the air. “You’re nearly seventeen. Do you plan to remain a spinster?”

María Victoria, a bit too tall, a touch too slight, her nose bent a degree to the left, her chestnut hair too waved for the fashion, shook her head. Marriage was inevitable, she being the only child of the Conde de Michoácuaro; property must have its continuity. Why, why had her mother the sainted tiny beautiful Josefina, second condesa of Michoácuaro, died giving her birth? Why had her father never remarried and conceived a son? Answers would be found only in the balanced mind of God. Meanwhile, duty to the land and its people, the hacienda and its outbuildings, the grand house on the tree-lined avenue in the City of Mexico, these would be hers; but must not be hers alone. “I will marry. One day.”A boast, she knew. They would not let her wait. “When I’m ready.”

“What, pine for love? Don’t be a fool.” Agostín turned to his sister. “Mercedes, you’ve let her hear too much gossip.”

For Mercedes, gossip, the sharper the better, lent the season some intrigue. But she passed on none of the stories; facing her second half-century, she’d come to realize her contemporaries were not her friends. A tall thin woman, she believed she could see great distances. She raised her eyebrows to her brother. “My mouth is closed to gossip.”

“Then too many false amorous stories.”

María Victoria interrupted: “Papa, I’m not interested in love.”

“In what, then?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.” Though in part she did. “I would like to return to Santa Rita.” Where the ceremony at the volcano’s waters awaited her.

“To marry a simpleton from the provinces? One of those de la Nigrucinos? My child–“

“Never.” She chuckled.

Mercedes and Agostín conferred. It had to be a gachupín, imported stock from Spain, pure blood. In the new world he would manage and enlarge the fortune of the family. There were such young men; one would come. Mercedes must write to Madrid, to distant cousins and acquaintances. Information would cross the water, Agostín and Mercedes would choose, make the offer, in months it would be settled.

Gonzalo, third son of María Victoria’s mother’s sister’s huband’s second cousin, once an army officer with no taste for distant wars, at thirty-two a mercantile administrator of proven ability, came from Toledo to Santa Rita for María Victoria. A fine couple, all agreed–she near as tall as he, and slender, her grey eyes sparkling; he a time-weathered man, a sharp nose, curling hair already grey, angular cheekbones rising to gentle eyes.

She feared his arrival. Weeks of turmoil: to be linked a lifetime to this stranger. But her fear mattered only to her. They were wed, María Victoria and Gonzalo.

In the first days she came to respect him; in weeks to care for him, cherish him; and soon to love him with all in her soul that was alive. For years she took full pleasure from his esteem and desire, he her orbit, she his focus. Pleasure, and more: generous Gonzalo, Gonzalo as indulgence, Gonzalo her best friend.