The Mystery of the Hacienda de la Lago


by Patricia Crumpler







Tusivo was the most appalling human being Zorro had ever encountered.   This made him a villain Zorro was desperate to bring to justice.  After following Tusivo's evil band for two days, Zorro still had not caught up.  There were four of them, including Geronimo Tusivo.  On noon of the third day, outside of San Diego, Zorro tracked them to a dilapidated hacienda where he saw their horses tethered.  Dismounting, Zorro carefully, silently approached the run-down hacienda.  The house was a brooding mansion of an earlier Spanish style. As he made his way through the arched gate, he heard a woman scream.  Quickly he opened the door and waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the gloom.  Again he heard the woman cry out; he headed for the sound.  Peeking around a doorway, he saw a woman being roughly held by Geronimo Tusivo, and two of his men were holding down a struggling fair-haired man.  Tusivo put a dagger to the woman's throat and yelled into her face,  "Where is the treasure.  Tell me!"

She tried to pull away.  "Seņor!  There is no treasure, I tell you.   Please leave us be."

"I lived near here as a boy, and I know there is one.  Everyone knows.  I have heard the tales, but I don't believe them.  That is said to try to scare folks away.  Zorro foiled our plans in Los Angeles, so I have returned to recoup our losses here.  If you value your life, tell me, woman!" hissed Tusivo.

"Do not touch her again!  You defile her with the air you breathe, heathen peasant!" cried the fair-haired man.

"Perhaps you should tell me then, eh?"  Tusivo turned his attention to the man, which allowed Zorro to come behind the brigand unseen in the gloom.

"If there was a treasure, Seņor, do you think we would still be here?  Do you think we would be dressed like this?" stated the woman bitterly.

"We shall see.  We are capable of finding it ourselves without your help. And since we are resolved to do this job alone, we have no more need of you," said Tusivo humorlessly.

"Do as you must," said the woman with a sigh.

"No!  Keep your filthy hands off of her!"  yelled the man.

"Do as he says, Seņor," stated a new voice.

The point of steel in his back made Tusivo drop the dagger.  He stepped forward, then slowly turned.

"You!  Again!  Do you never give up?  This time I will finish you," said Tusivo between clenched teeth.  He shouted to the other men, who drew their swords.

Within a moment, Zorro had disarmed the first ruffian's attack, flipped the sword up, caught it, and tossed it to the fair haired man who had broken free from his bondage. The fighting was quick but furious, and after a few minutes, all of the criminals were wounded.  The three scoundrels were routed, carrying their grievously injured Tusivo. 

"You fight well, Seņor," commented Zorro.  "I assume from the scars upon your cheek, you have seen many competitions?"

"No.  I have earned these from fencing with my Uncle Simon.  When I reached a certain level of expertise, he required that we not use a mask.  Permit me, Seņor, I am Carlos de la Lago."  He extended his hand.  He walked to the woman and took her hand tenderly.  "The lady is Clara de la Lago. This unhappy shell is my ancestral home."  He indicated of the dilapidated domicile with noticeable sarcasm.   "And you, Seņor," pointing to the black mask and garments, "that is a most interesting manner of dress.  Certainly there is most interesting explanation."

Zorro extended his hand in greeting, observing the genteel manner of the couple, which was completely at odds with the surroundings.

"I am El Zorro.  I wish my identity to remain a secret, a most interesting reason, I assure you, but a secret nonetheless.  I have been tracking these men for their crimes.  Now, hopefully, Tusivo will not be participating in his evilness for some time.  I will leave you, now.  Buenos Dias."  He tipped his hat and left the house.

He quickly made his way to where Tornado waited.  He brought his legs down on the black horse's flanks and the horse bounded away.  Scarcely an hour later, Tornado stumbled and fell without warning, throwing his rider to the ground.  Tornado lay there, the whites of his eyes rolling indicating to Zorro the potential seriousness of the injury.  Tenderly Zorro patted his compadre and spoke gently to him.  The horse carefully moved to right himself.  Zorro saw the pock in the ground that had caused his horse to falter.  Upon closer examination Zorro saw the extent of his stallion's injury.  The horse needed treatment and a safe place to rest for the night.  Immediately, Zorro thought of the old hacienda.  He removed clothes from the saddlebags and assumed the identity of gentleman Don Diego de la Vega.  With the greatest care Diego led the injured horse back to the neglected residence.  He knocked, and, having time while he waited for his knock to be answered, he saw that at night the crumbling mansion was even more foreboding..  His knock remained unanswered, so he moved to the back of the hacienda.  The back door was opened at his call and he saw a middle-aged woman who held up her hand indicating he was to wait.  Within a minute, he saw Clara de la Lago.

"Yes?" answered the young woman.  "What do you want?"

"I am a Diego de la Vega, a traveler," began Diego, "my horse has been injured.  May I put up in your barn to see to him?"

"Who is there?" asked Carlos de la Lago, glaring at the visitor.   "What do you want?"

"Carlos, he is a stranger with an injured horse. We can not turn him away. As we have so recently learned some strangers are good," said Clara.

"Come in," she said to Diego.  "I am Clara and he is Carlos.   This is the Hacienda de la Lago.  You are welcome to stay, but..."

"Yes, you can stay, if you really want to," said Carlos with a mirthless smile.  "You certainly must be a stranger, if you are asking for shelter here, or maybe you think you can locate our treasure," he said with a loud sniff.

"I know of no treasure, but I would appreciate the shelter for my horse.  I am afraid his leg is badly damaged."

"Carlos, look at the horse," the woman said firmly.

He nodded and waved to Diego to follow him.  The barn was in even worse repair than the big home.  Carlos could see Diego looking at the decay all about and offered an explanation.

"I was very small when a tragedy befell this happy home.  Almost everyone I loved left and there has been no one to keep the home up.  The four of us, Uncle Simon, Clara, Iris, our only servant, and I live in the small rooms which had been servant's quarters.  We never go into the main house.  It has been closed off for many years now, and is filled with many bad memories.  I expect you will be on your way soon.  You will want to be on your way, Seņor.  Believe me."

Diego noticed a sadness, a despair, beyond the explanation he had just heard.  He had seen it in the face of Clara, as well.  There was tension, thick tension that permeated the whole estate.

"Your mount is hurt badly, Seņor.  I hope he can recover," Carlos said shaking his head with genuine sympathy.  "And I can guarantee no farrier will come out here.  It has been a long time since this barn has seen such an animal.  I will do what I can to assist.  What a shame."

They wrapped Tornado's leg with bandages and rubbed him down, after carefully cleaning out his hooves.  Clara came to the barn to check on them.

"You should not be out here, Clara," admonished Carlos.

"I will be all right.  I am not alone," she said.

"Just the same, do not come here.  It is not safe," he said in a gentler tone.

Clara looked at him with a glance that Diego read as a reprimand.  She explained casually.  "Carlos is afraid the roof will cave in or something worse."  

"Something worse," Carlos said flatly.

"Seņor," Clara said with the elegance of a Spanish lady, "Will you join us for supper?"

"Thank you, I will," Diego answered.

Dinner was served on a table that had seen a finer time.  The dinnerware was chipped, but exhibited its once-proud beauty.  The linens were patched, but clean and pressed.  The food was humble, tortillas, fruit, and a small amount of meat.  It was filling and Diego was grateful, for he had only had the crumbs of what Bernardo had packed the day before.  Uncle Simon, a bent and wizened old man, made his appearance as if from nowhere.  He was uncordial, almost gruff to the visitor.  There was little affection between the old man and the couple.  The serving woman, Iris, as Diego soon noticed, was mute.  He saw how easily she communicated with Clara, and commented on the coincidence to his own manservant.  During the meal, Carlos offered to enlighten Diego on the history of the Hacienda de la Lago.

"When we were five years old, we lived in this big house with many of our relatives and servants.  It was a happy home.  Our mother and father, Alberto and Yolanda de la Lago, loved each other very much, and we knew only joy and contentment.  We do not know exactly what happened, but our father, a man of letters and education--"

"Excuse me, but who is the 'we' in this history, Carlos?" asked Diego.

"Clara and I," he answered. 

"You have known each other since you were five?" Diego asked, reluctant to break into the narrative.

"We are twins!" said Clara.

Uncle Simon humphed as if coughing up something which stuck in his throat.

"Oh!  Forgive me," explained Diego.  "I thought you were a married couple. I do not see a resemblance, and...  Well, one should not make assumptions."

The far away look in Clara's eyes, and the newly forged anger in Carlos' face explained the despair and utter sadness Diego had noticed in the barn. These two people loved each other, but were constrained by the mores of human society.  They would forever be entangled with each other's lives, but forever unable to fulfill their needs and dreams.  Diego also noticed the gleam of contentment in Uncle Simon's face.

"Please, continue," asked Diego.

"Yes, do continue Carlos," Clara said in a sweet, supportive voice.

Carlos, responding, restarted the story.

"My father, a peace-loving, gentle man, was accused of killing my mother in a fit of rage inside that accursed hacienda.  He denied it to the end, but none believed his innocence.  Before his trial, in which he was sure to have been found guilty, he died.  His heart gave out.  It did not spare us, however, and we have been shunned ever since.  All the relatives save Uncle Simon returned to Spain, and they took all of the servants except Iris, who was quite young at the time, but stayed on to take care of us."

The look on Iris' face showed the ire of someone rejected. Rejected for her handicap, undesired by those who had abandoned the unhappy children. She did not need to speak to communicate her feelings.

Carlos continued.  "The house is mine by law, but it is now almost a ruin, as you can see.  When we were small my father spoke of a treasure, but if there is a treasure, we have not found it in all these years."

Uncle Simon spoke for the first time.  "There is no treasure.  I have been through this house for twenty years, there is nothing of any value here. Only dust and blood," he croaked, not raising his eyes from his meal.

Carlos and Clara glanced resignedly at each other.  Carlos continued.  "We rent the lands to farmers which gives us enough income to meet the taxes each year and to purchase what we can not grow ourselves.  Except for that contact, no one speaks to us or will have anything to do with us.  Oh, except for the treasure-hunters who call on us occasionally.  They usually do not stay very long."

"Why have you stayed here?" asked Diego plainly.  "This land is valuable. There are many who would buy it, and repair the hacienda.  You could go where you wanted, back to Spain, perhaps."

Uncle Simon seemed to have a recurrence of his throat malady.  Diego saw him turn red, and the creases in his face deepened.

"I would not sell this place, Seņor de la Vega.  I could not do that," said Carlos.

Diego saw Clara looking down at the table lost in thought.

"Perhaps there is something I can do to help in the house while my horse recovers," offered Diego.

"No.  We would not permit a guest to work.  We have not had a guest for twenty years, Seņor.  You may stay as long as you need, or are able," said Carlos.

"I thank you for that.  Where would you like me to stay?"  Diego asked.

Clara and Carlos looked at each other for an answer.  They both shook their heads for want of a reply.

"I think the barn would be best, Seņor.  I apologize for the mean accommodations," stated Carlos.

"Not at all, I am grateful for the fine hospitality you have shown me," said Diego with genuine gratitude.

As night progressed, Diego raked new hay in the stall next to Tornado.  It had been a long two days, but he had not realized how very tired he had become. A deep sleep came easily this night.  It was a terrible, unearthly wailing which awakened him.  He had never heard such a dolorous sound like that before, it sounded like someone or something in an unspeakable amount of pain or sadness.  A bone-numbing chill made him shudder, as all the hairs along the back of his neck stood on end.  As quickly as he could, he put on his clothes.  Venturing outside, he detected a faint, pale glow, coming from one of the windows on the second story of the shunned hacienda.  He made his way into the darkened house through a broken window.  Inside, a thick layer of dust covered everything.  Faint tracks through the dusty covering showed where legions of rats had made their home in the mansion.

The keening sound began anew, sending another chill down the length of Diego's body.  The otherworldly sound was coming from the upper story.  Diego was drawn up the wide staircase towards the sound that seemed to resonate within him in a voice of infinite suffering.  As Diego drew near the thick oaken door from behind which  the wailing was coming , where he noticed that no rat tracks ventured near the doorway.  As suddenly as it had begun, the eerie moaning stopped.  Throwing the door open, he was confronted with a large, but disused library.  Books of various sizes and shapes were strewn about.  The library must have once been the jewel of the entire mansion.  A large marble fireplace against the wall was now draped in wispy cobwebs. On either side of the massive mantelpiece, stood two large portraits of a beautiful man and woman.  Diego immediately noticed the resemblance between the portraits and Carlos.  He assumed they must be Alberto and Yolanda de la Lago.  Opposite the hearth stood a dark, full-length mirror.  As he stood in front of the mirror he saw it reflect the pale, luminous figure of a woman.  Terrified, Diego whirled around to face the apparition.  The mournful wailing began with renewed intensity, as the ghostly figure stretched out its arms to Diego as if in supplication.

Fearing for his very soul, he ran headlong from the library.  As he rushed towards the staircase, another wraith-like vision appeared at the landing, this one of a well-dressed man.  Attempting to halt his break-neck flight from the library, Diego twisted his body away from the pleading figure of the specter.  His foot slipped in the dust and he went sprawling head-first over the railing.  Just as he was about to land upon the hard floor beneath, he seemed to feel cold, almost intangible hands holding him, cushioning his fall.  Then he knew no more.

The next morning, his two hosts found him inside the mystery-shrouded hacienda.

"Seņor!  Seņor de la Vega!" called Carlos. 

Diego sat up.  Clara came in with a wet cloth.  "Come, we must leave immediately," said Carlos emphatically.   "Hurry."

Back in the former servants quarters that served the de la Lago's as their home, Diego sat with a cloth to his head.  He reached for some buttered bread and ate it slowly.  Coffee was put before him and he eagerly sipped it.

"Why did you go into the library?" asked Carlos sternly.  "It is not safe."

Uncle Simon approached the table.  When he heard what Carlos said to Diego, he turned white with fear.

"I thought I heard Clara crying.  I saw..." began Diego.

"I know what you heard, I know what you saw," said Uncle Simon.

"We have heard it too, Seņor.  Now you see why we never go into that house," explained Clara.

"But why do you keep it, then?  Would it not be better just to...."

"No!" said Uncle Simon.

Carlos and Clara looked at him with a mixture of pity and disgust.

"Uncle is convinced we must never sell this house, and because of our debt to him, I keep the house, even as it is," said Carlos.  "But Uncle will not go into the rooms at all.  He was attacked by the spirit many years ago."

"Has the spirit hurt you, or Clara?" asked Diego.

"No, and we will not give it a chance, either.  We have heard it for years," stated Carlos firmly.

"But," said Diego slowly, thinking.  "It didn't hurt me.  I do not know how long I was there at the bottom of the stairs.  Perhaps it does not want to inflict injury, perhaps."

Uncle Simon stood up suddenly and bent over into Diego's face.  He pulled back a shock of gray hair on his temple where an ugly scar was exposed.   "It pushed me down the library steps.  I was lucky I did not die.  Do not tell me it does not wish to cause injury.  It does," he said in a rage.

Clara added, "If Uncle Simon had died, I do not know who would have been here to care for us."

The look Clara gave to Simon was not one of gratitude.  Something told Diego that the twins' childhood had been one of learning, but it had not been a loving one, perhaps this was part of the bond between the brother and sister.

"Please stay, Seņor de la Vega.  It has been a long time since we have had company our own age.  If you are afraid, we will understand, and we will do the best we can for your beautiful horse," said Carlos.

"I will stay, thank you, but you must call me Diego, and I insist on helping you in any way I am able.  Sí?"

Carlos, Clara and Iris nodded and smiled.  Simon stomped onto the back porch.

The next evening, after the others had gone to bed, Diego went back into the haunted mansion.  Once more following the wailing into the library, he faced the age-darkened mirror.  Before him, drawn in the dust as if by some unseen finger, was a Z.

"Ah, you know my secret, yes?" said Diego, with a humor even he thought odd under such circumstances.  "At least you won't tell it!" he added. "What is it you want from me?"

The specter of the woman appeared and held out her arms as if pleading for him to help.

"How can I help you?" asked Diego.

Now the shimmering form of the man appeared.  Neither ghost spoke.  The silence in the library was fraught with tension.  Diego felt a chill spread throughout his body.  How could he help these spirits, who seemed unable to communicate?  What did these apparitions want?

"Diego, are you in here?"  Carlos appeared, pale and nervous in the doorway.

Carlos saw the apparitions.

"Diego!  Look!  We must leave.  There are ... spirits!   Demons!"

"Do not fear, Carlos, come here.  I do not think they mean us any harm." Diego motioned him near.

"What do they want?" asked Carlos with trepidation.

"They want to lead us to the treasure!" Clara exclaimed from the doorway.

Carlos shouted, "Clara, you must leave!"

Diego held up his hand.  "No, look at them, I think Clara is right."

The ghosts had ceased their keening.  They raised their arms again, no longer pleading, but seeming to indicate the library.  The figure of the woman moved towards the fireplace.  Clara followed.

"So, where is the treasure?" whispered Carlos.

Diego bent down and picked up one of the books lying on the floor.

"It is all around you," he said, "here."  Diego gently handed the tome to Carlos.  "Othello?  What sort of book is this?"

Diego smiled.  "Shakespeare.  It is one of the all-time classics, a very old and valuable edition.  What you see here around you is probably the finest collection of classical literature on the coast.  It must be worth a great fortune to collectors and libraries."

"Look!" exclaimed Clara.

She held a loose brick that she had pulled from the fireplace.  The brick was hollow, and contained a small packet of papers.  "She told me where to find it!"  Clara beamed.

"Wait!  That is mine!" screamed Uncle Simon from the open doorway, a pistol in each hand.  "I have waited twenty years for what is rightfully mine!  Alberto took the only woman I could ever love, and he paid for that crime with his life!  For all these years I have stayed here, living in ignominy just so I could claim Alberto's other treasure.  I have made sure his child suffered the same dismal fate I have been consigned to for all these years.  Now the treasure has been found and I can be done with you all and get that which I deserve."

Diego realized his sword was in the barn. As Uncle Simon leveled the pistol at Carlos, the phantoms flared and rushed at Uncle Simon, who began screaming and fired blindly at the rushing ghosts.  He ran out of the library, firing the other pistol, and waving the guns at the angry ghosts.  As he rushed toward the railing of the stairs, he began to topple.  The specters flowed around him, clutching and pulling at him.  The railing snapped, and he fell to the hard, floor below.  No invisible hands slowed his fall.  When the men returned Clara had read many of the papers.

"There was no monetary treasure, you understand," said Diego.

"We always knew that," said Clara.

"The books are invaluable, these are books not found here in California. They are a treasure beyond price.  But this paper should be most valuable to you, Carlos and Clara.  Look."

Carlos read aloud, "This is to certify that Don Alberto de la Lago, and his wife, Doņa Yolanda hereby adopt a boy of six months the illegitimate son of Sedalia Hernandez, handmaid, and Eduardo de la Lago.  Also adopted is a girl, three months from Conception Vaca, and father, unnamed soldier."

Carlos and Clara looked at each other with complete understanding.

Carlos said, "Eduardo de la Lago was my father's youngest brother, and a bit of a rogue.  He left for Spain before I was born, I understand.  Clara."

"We need to go back to the library."  Clara stated and walked towards that room.

In the loft, Clara searched for another book.  She came to a small book, unlike the other massive volumes.  The young woman immediately began reading.  Carlos and Diego watched her face and knew she had gained more information.  Once again sitting in the back rooms she told them this was her mother's diary.  She could not explain why it was in the library or how she knew it was there.  It told of Uncle Simon's advances to Yolanda and his threats if she did not return his affections.   Yolanda had ignored him, and she did not tell Alberto because she knew he would react.  Simon told her he would fix it so he would be the heir, and they could marry.

The description of the adoption of her nephew and the other unwanted baby girl was written, also.  Her last entry told of her fear of Simon because he had become obsessed by a treasure he did not understand, and her final refusal to him had created a death threat.  It was clear what had happened. Simon had set a scenario of betrayal and murder by his innocent brother.  All of these years the spirits of Yolanda and Alberto had been waiting for the truth. 

The next morning, the four people cleared the dust and age from the old dining room to enjoy their breakfast. There was no sign of the spirits.

"They have gone and can rest in peace," said Carlos.

"What are your plans?" asked Diego.

"We will go to Spain, free of guilt or immorality.  I may sell part of the land, but the hacienda I will keep," said Carlos.

With Tornado well enough to make the trip, Diego started for Los Angeles.

"Keep safe," said Clara.

"Stay away from old mansions," said Carlos, displaying his new, happier personality.  "And, by the way, since tomorrow is All Hallows Eve, you should beware of spirits!"

"I do not think I am so afraid of spirits anymore," said Diego as he headed Tornado down the road.  As Zorro he said to himself,   "And they know my secret!"



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