As the night passed, Alicia lay wide awake, thinking about the second part of Padre Romo’s news. It was something about Tío Salvador and taxes. Mama never talked about Tío Salvador. Why pay attention to the ancient family stories? The fun, memorable stories Mama told included exciting events and ended with Papa and the brothers saving shipwrecked sailors from a Spanish galleon. Mama liked to tell about them being rewarded with a grant to Rancho Refugio and becoming the heroes of the Pueblo.
How did the stories begin? Where did Tío Salvador fit into the family? The Padre said Tío Salvador worked for the Governor, assigned to tax collections, an important man.
“Clara, are you still awake? I can’t get to sleep.” Alicia dared to whisper to her sister in the sleeping loft. “Is Tío Salvador an important man?” She was sure she would get yelled at for waking Clara, but Alicia could not contain her curiosity. “Should I worry about Tío coming to visit Rancho Refugio? I remember nothing about him. Do you?” At first, Clara said nothing.
“I hate to be the one to tell you, but we are in more trouble than you can imagine.” Clara lay curled up in a ball. “Do you remember Mama telling us about the feud she had with her cousin, Marie Therese Duran in Monterey?”
“No, I don’t remember that. Tell me.”
“Mama said that the Duran family, Mama’s cousins, always looked down on the Ortegas, suspecting Papa stole gold from that sunken Spanish galleon.” Clara covered her face and muffled her words. “Our Papa!” Alicia moved closer, not remembering their last actual conversation without an argument.
“We don’t have any gold. I remember Papa and his brothers would make jokes and toasts to Spanish gold at the Fiestas. ‘A el oro de España’,” Alicia said.
“Those old toasts may not have been just a joke. Mama’s cousin, Maria Theresa, married this man, Salvador Tenorio. Some say Tenorio is an old pirate who bought his position with the Governor.” Clara sat up and shook a finger in Alicia’s face. “Even worse, Uncle Salvador is not even Mexican, but Spanish.”
“But Padre Romo said the Governor of the territory is sending Tío Salvador here to do something about taxes,” Alicia said.
“Padre Romo may be the one person who knows the complete story.” Clara glared at Alicia. “And he is not likely to tell it.”
”I’m confused, what are we supposed to do?” Too many problems piled up on top of one another in Alicia’s mind. First, Mama and Papa claimed the new baby was their own. Then there was the news that Tío Salvador planned to come to Refugio to collect back taxes. Now Captain Harris was openly courting Clara. Finally, Alicia was sure Nina ran off to be with the trapper.
“You should have been nicer to Harris, stupid girl. Only he could help us.” Clara staggered to her feet and shoved Alicia’s shoulder. “What if he does not come back? What will I do?”
“Clara, he doesn’t want to help us. Harris just wants the land for himself.” Alicia fought back tears. “He wants to lie about all those dock records.”
“Oh? Are you telling me that the Ortegas never lie about anything? It’s a lie that Mama is having a baby, at her age. That is no miracle.” Clara’s voice was loud and mean. “And that stupid Indian Nina, she’s going to cause us trouble. I’ll make sure the Padre beats her. Papa should have done that long ago.”
“No! They can’t. Nina has done nothing wrong. She belongs here with us.” Alicia could only fix one problem at a time.
“Just tell me this, little sister. If your friend Nina is so innocent, where is she now?” Clara turned her back and dropped back onto the sleeping mat.
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