Zorro & the Old Comandante

by

 

Eugene H. Craig

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

El Zorro was not bored in his arboreal perch high in the tree. From his hiding place, the man in black watched as, earlier, the street patrol swept by with their torches. He spotted a few passersby as well. He watched as Salvador Muñoz arrived, holding the guitar by the neck and passing through the gate. While he did not hear the conversation between the two men at the door, El Zorro had the feeling that the campaign against Margarita was still going on. He suspected that Salvador would actually gain financially by marrying Margarita, even though his own family was better off.

From the Pérez household he heard the playing of the piano - he recognized Margarita’s style - as well as the guitar playing. He knew that neither Don Sebastian nor the haughty Salvador Muñoz played any musical instruments at all. Could it possibly have been Capitán de las Fuentes?

Suddenly, the front door to the Pérez home opened and Salvador Muñoz appeared. Pérez said a few words to him on the way out, but Zorro could tell the young man was infuriated. As he neared the street gate, Muñoz paused and looked back at the house. "You pompous, over-educated aristocrat," he said aloud angrily. "I’ve had it with your condescending ways!" He left through the gate, slamming it shut.

El Zorro heard every word and it was not hard to guess what kind of impression Francisco de las Fuentes must have made on the card-playing, gambling son of Don Felix Muñoz. He must have been completely overwhelmed. No one in all of Los Angeles could possibly compete with the prince, let alone impress a Margarita who was quite taken by him. El Zorro had no regrets over this because personally he did not care for Salvador. The man’s parents were nice, but not too interested in culture or education. Salvador’s major disadvantage, Zorro thought, was that he had no interest in becoming more polished, and it was for this reason, among others, that he held no appeal to a lady like Margarita who did. He was fighting a losing battle.

It was about an hour later, and just before the midnight curfew, that Capitán de las Fuentes appeared at the open door. The door was crowded as he departed. Standing there was Margarita, who looked very happy, Señora Pérez who smiled at his kissing of her hand, and Sebastian Pérez who looked relieved that the officer was leaving.

"Come back and see us again soon, Don Francisco," Margarita called as the officer departed. He turned and bowed once again before opening the gate and departing.

El Zorro was about to leave his perch when he heard Pérez begin berating his daughter even before he closed the front door. The young man shook his head, then lightly slipped down through the branches and made his way silently along the high stone wall that ran along the street and connected to the neighbor’s home. The trees, bushes and shrubs helped conceal him and he watched the officer, who was only a block or so ahead of him, make his way slowly back to the cuartel.

When the wall came to an end, El Zorro alighted from its high perch down to the street. He made his way in the shadows thinking that he had been overly apprehensive for the officer’s safety since the escape of Enríquez. Then he noticed it ahead – a figure wrapped in a dark cloak and broad slouched hat emerging from a side street. Zorro pressed himself up against the wall before the figure could look in his direction. He was skilled at blending in with the shadows and he began to follow the stranger more closely. Zorro’s steps were Indian-like, quiet and unheard, unlike those of the man who was a few yards ahead of him. When De las Fuentes turned down a street, the figure ahead did the same. El Zorro understood at once that the officer was being followed and he drew up very close to the figure in the dark. Further ahead, the street torches provided greater visibility and if the stranger intended to shoot at the officer, he would have a silhouetted target.

Suddenly the figure halted. From inside the cloak he took out a pistol and began to raise it, pointing towards De las Fuentes. El Zorro was upon him in a moment, seizing the arm with one hand, forcing it down, and twisting the pistol out of the grip of the man with another. The man was very surprised but resisted. He aimed a blow at El Zorro’s head but missed and fell with his own momentum. With the pistol safely in his own grasp, El Zorro knelt down to subdue the man further.

Up ahead, Francisco de las Fuentes halted momentarily and looked back behind him, turning in response to an unusual sound. He had been thinking about Margarita. He didn’t much care for the Pérez family but Margarita was definitely worth the trouble. She was a flower in a garden of weeds, he thought, a star glimpsed on a cloudy night. He smiled at a thought: no wonder she could not stand Salvador Muñoz. He would just be a younger version of her father – ignorant and close-minded. No wonder she felt like a bird trapped in a cage.

The street behind him was quite dark and he did not see the two struggling dark figures in black up against the side of the road behind him. He instinctively put his hand on the hilt of his sword and listened a moment. He was not far from the cuartel and had only a few more minutes to get back before he would be in violation of the curfew himself. And that would never do. He resumed his journey towards the plaza and to the sentries on duty in front of the garrison.

When the officer was out of hearing, Zorro turned to the man and hauled him up from the ground. "It is not wise to try to assassinate the only decent comandante that Los Angeles has ever had, Señor," he told the dark figure. "And I will not allow you to harm such a man. What kind of a criminal would do that? – unless he was mad. Are you such a madman? Just who are you, Señor?"

He was just about to remove the hat from the man’s head and discover his identity, when suddenly, a nearby door opened and loud voices were heard. Three men emerged who were in a rush to be gone. "Hurry or you will be caught violating curfew," a woman’s voice called to them. They headed in his direction.

The stranger in Zorro’s grasp took advantage of the diversion, twisted out of his grasp and fled on foot. El Zorro darted around the corner and sought to follow the sound of running feet. He suddenly realized he no longer heard the man and thought he must either have found a refuge or made good his escape down one of the numerous alleyways nearby. Unwilling to be caught out on the street by the regular patrols or be seen by the approaching trio, he made his way back to the secret hiding place where Tornado waited for him. He would need to be back in town over the next several days to appraise the situation and to find out all that he could about how the search for Enríquez was going. While the army would be searching for him in the countryside, Zorro was convinced that Enríquez had never left Los Angeles. He had sworn to recover the stolen items taken from him. He had threatened to take the life of anyone who tried to get them back. And perhaps, just by accident, El Zorro lost the escaped prisoner within his very grasp.

 

*****************

 

He was riding down the wide dirt road on a sunny day and there was a parade going past him in the opposite direction. He saw a large number of people that he knew, from the king and his ministers, to several generals in the army’s high command. And mixed in with them was a herd of sheep and goats, camp followers and assorted rude people. He knew that he was going in the right direction because he could see the church in the distance, but everyone else was headed in the other direction. He attempted to hail one of his former aides, "I say there, Machado, the wedding is at the church - over there. Where is everyone going?" He even called out to the king this time. But he was ignored. Being ignored is better than being scoured, he thought. Strange, how I’ve seen all this before. And wasn’t it odd that a few of the people actually looked at him but it was more like they were looking through him.

Why is it that I always feel like Don Quixote but without my Sancho Panza?

He continued riding towards the church. It seemed deserted at first, but then he heard the voices of children. I know they are in the graveyard playing games with the dog that talks, he thought. He rode his horse up to a hitching post and dismounted in front of the church. He walked up the steps and heard a piano playing inside. He tried to open the great ironbound oak doors by pulling on them, but they would not budge. He banged on one of them with his fist, but only heard the music playing from inside. He sighed and headed back down the stairs and around the side to the back of the church where the graveyard was. The children and animals were playing, but off in another meadow. He barely noticed a long bare table in the yard. Then he saw her – his Isabel. She was standing on the back steps of the church with the man in the mask. Both turned and walked into the church and it looked more like the front of the church than it did the back. He ran up the stairs after them and he did not limp at all although he knew that he was crippled.

Inside the church it was dark with light streaming down from the glass-stained windows far above and he caught sight of all the saints looking down on him. They appeared so solemn and serene, he thought. When he looked toward the altar, he saw a great piano and someone was playing a song he did not recognize. There was no one inside the church except himself and the player. He went up to the piano and it was a woman dressed in blue silk. When he leaned over to look at her face bent over the keys, he saw that it was Isabel. She looked up at him and smiled as she had always smiled when he stood next to her and watched her hands move over the keys. He looked out over the piano and saw that they were no longer in church, but in a bright room with wrought iron covered windows. There was a woman sitting in the corner drinking tea. She did not look up.

When he turned back to Isabel, she looked up at him again, but it was no longer Isabel. It was Margarita. "Margarita," he exclaimed. "What are you doing here in church?" He looked around. "I want you to meet someone very dear to me," he told her. He looked up and saw Isabel walking toward him. She was carrying sheets of music. Without a word, she sat down at the piano and began to play. Both of them played and it was a confusion until the two separate tunes became one. He stood there listening and began to weep because he felt a great loss, although he could not explain it to himself or the fact that the two of them were there playing beautiful music together and smiling at him.

He heard knocking at a door and thought that someone was pounding on the front doors of the church and he did not want to walk to the doors and open them. He wanted to stay and talk to Isabel and Margarita. There was so much to tell them. But the pounding at the door got louder. Then someone touched his shoulder and it felt very real. He opened his eyes and sat up with a start. He gave a big sigh as he saw that he was in bed in the cuartel in the pueblo of Los Angeles and it had been just another dream. He listened and heard the knocking. It was not knocking at all, but someone hammering on something in the street outside his window. Perhaps someone was fixing a broken down cart. He blinked. It was daylight. He propped up the pillow and leaned back on it wondering what the dream meant. He put his hand up to his forehead and felt confused. Then it occurred to him. He had slept the entire night!

********************

 

The horses’ hooves pounded along the narrow dirt road early that morning as Sergeant García headed toward the furthest ranch that Joaquín Enríquez had been known to work at just a few months before. He had been to the Rodriguez rancho twenty minutes before to inquire about any sightings of the man whom some deemed a ‘madman.’ There was nothing to report.

Capitán de las Fuentes had detailed Corporal Reyes with another group of men to check by at the De la Vega hacienda and to check at yet another spot where Enríquez had been known to frequent, but their results had been no better.

García stopped by an ancient shack he spotted, but the men reported no one in the area. He did not know that the sound of approaching horses had warned the temporary inhabitant of their coming long before they reached the shack. From his lookout from amongst the rocks, Joaquín Enríquez watched the fat sergeant look around somewhat aimlessly. Enríquez had been wise not to keep any of his belongings in a place that might be easily found. He had found a hiding place among the rocks. He only stayed in the shack at night when it was cold outside and the walls provided protection, though not too much warmth, against the cool winds. He watched the soldiers talking to each other and looking out into the brush after walking along the ground as if searching for footprints. He became suspicious of how long they seemed to be lingering, but only a few minutes later, they rode off. Enríquez would have to work fast. Once the soldiers were gone, there would be a false sense of security among the rancheros and that is when he would strike.

Enríquez sat waiting among the rocks knowing that the soldiers could return at any time. They had headed south, not north and it would not be safe for him to return to the shack until they had headed back toward the pueblo of Los Angeles. He sat amongst the rocks, enjoying the sun. He chewed on a piece of dry grass and thought about his conversations with the comandante, Capitán de las Fuentes. The fellow seems a little obsessed with witches and possession, he thought. Even I don’t believe that rubbish. Everyone had his issues and I have my own as well. I wonder if his pain is as deep-seated as mine. He had never discussed his past with anyone except the officer and he was astonished to learn of De las Fuentes’ banishment by the king. That was pretty rotten, he thought, but not half so rotten as being deliberately crippled. I’ve recovered from the beatings I got, but this man is scarred for life. But then, he doesn’t get my attacks. It was odd how he felt a sense of trust in the man especially after the prince had told him what had happened to him and to his fiancée. He thought that he would never feel sympathy for anyone else, but he did for this man. I suppose I pity him because I sympathize with his plight. I suppose I like him because despite what was done to him, he never takes out his pain on others. I can’t do anything for him; I have my own troubles, my dual nature. Yet, the soldiers are out looking for me. The officer would have to do his duty and re-arrest him, but Enríquez was determined not to be taken by the soldiers. He had learned that Capitán Monastario would return and he knew that there would be a noose waiting for him once De las Fuentes departed. It would be wise to accomplish his own mission in the few days he had left before this officer’s departure. Time waited for no man.

***************************

 

Capitán Francisco de las Fuentes had almost reached the church for his daily prayers when he noticed a group of ladies lingering outside the church doors. He had seen the elder two women at church before and knew they were the "regulars." They were watching his leisurely approach and talking with each other. As he neared, all five of them curtsied low and chorused "Good morning, Your Excellency."

He doffed his hat and gave an exaggerated bow of his own. "Good morning, dear Ladies. May this good day bring a smile to your lips and happiness to your hearts." The women tittered and were titillated at his greeting.

They remained bowing until he proceeded through the church doors and, after genuflection, took up his place in the back pews. He noticed that they did not follow him into church but remained outside. It seemed like back in Spain, he thought, in the days long before his departure. He turned his thoughts elsewhere and began to pray that all the decisions he would make regarding Joaquín Enríquez would be the right ones. He wanted to give the man the chance to redeem himself and to find out what caused him to behave the way he did. He wanted to see Margarita Pérez again as well. He had thought about her all morning and was convinced that the magical way she played the piano was helping to break the evil spells cast on him by his unknown enemies. No, it was more than that – it was the playing of music by the both of them together that created the spiritual link that allowed this to happen. If he slept again this night, he would know it was a sign. He was grateful.

Quite a crowd had gathered outside the church and there was a low murmuring of voices, uncharacteristic of the daily routine of attendance. Padre Felipe had just departed from his office when the sound reached his ears and he made his way to the front of the building.

"Good morning, Padre Felipe," the crowd greeted him as he rounded the corner. Many bowed to him.

"Blessings upon you all," he replied with a smile. "My, what is going on here?"

"Haven’t you heard, Padre?" one of the elderly ladies, Señora Vidrio, asked. "His Excellency has come to church. He is here now. He comes every day."

"Which Excellency is that?" Felipe inquired.

"Why, the prince," answered another. "His Excellency, the Prince de las Fuentes."

"I did not know that there was a prince in our pueblo," he told them.

The group gathered around him all talking at once. "Padre Felipe, don’t you know that our comandante, Capitán de las Fuentes, is a prince?" asked a man, Roberto Vera. "Señor Pacheco says that he is a prince, a real Spanish prince. He says this is why Los Angeles has received justice. Is this true? Did His Majesty send him to us?"

Felipe decided to buy some time. "Let me speak with Señor Pacheco to see what he knows. Then we will see." He departed for the inn.

"He must be a prince," remarked Señora Vidrio, watching the priest cross the plaza. "Did you see how he bowed and the nice greeting he gave us? He is no common comandante, this one."

"My wife told me that he comes to church every day," Señor Vera commented. "Sometimes he stays for hours in the afternoon. He is very devout, the mark of a true prince."

"The mark of a true prince is his wisdom," another man spoke up. "Look at the judgments he rendered at the hearings. Mercy and justice – that is the mark of a true prince."

The conversation of the crowd rose to such a level that the noise even reached the ears of the worshippers inside the church. After a while, Capitán de las Fuentes, rose and departed from the church. It took him almost a half an hour to make the short walk across the plaza back to the cuartel. So many inhabitants of the pueblo greeted him and took his hand to kiss. He had to come up with a kind word for each of them. How in the name of all of the saints had they come to the conclusion that he was anyone other than the comandante?

*****************

Diego de la Vega and his father, Don Alejandro, had traveled to the pueblo in their open carriage, enjoying the warm winter sun. They were discussing the selling of cattle, the purchasing of supplies in town, and, of course, the party at the Rodriguez home that was scheduled for that evening.

Diego alighted from the carriage after his father and observed a crowd breaking up in front of the church. He thought that the crowd was fairly large for a non-Sunday event. He began to head over to find out what was going on when he heard someone call his name.

"Diego! Diego de la Vega," she called out.

Diego turned around and saw Margarita Pérez coming toward him with a smile. She was dressed in a light blue skirt with black trim and a flower-embroidered blouse.

"Margarita," he greeted her. "How are you?" He looked her over carefully. "Tell me, what is happening? Has the spring come early this year?"

She smiled up at him. "Hello, Diego." She looked down at herself a moment. "I guess I am dressing more cheerfully nowadays," she admitted. She looked around and whispered to him in a confidential voice. "If you must know the reason, it is that I have finally found the man I’ve always dreamed of."

"You have?" he affected surprise. "Now who could that be in this dusty old pueblo?"

She sighed. "Oh, Diego, don’t tease me. I really have found someone and he is more wonderful than I could ever have hoped for."

Diego looked impressed. "He must be, Margarita, to make you so happy." Then he whispered. "Can you tell me who he is?"

She smiled and lowered her voice to match his. "Well, it’s Capitán Francisco de las Fuentes," she gushed. "He’s the most wonderful man I’ve ever met and he understands me so well. He plays piano, guitar and other musical instruments. He admires my playing – he told me so himself - and we love the same composers and kinds of music. Oh, Diego, he’s so kind and well spoken. He’s traveled everywhere and is like a great scholar. He has the best manners and I could just listen to his voice for hours and never grow tired of it." She sighed again. "There’s just no one like him in all of California."

"Congratulations, Margarita," he told her sincerely. "I always knew that if you waited long enough, your patience would be rewarded."

"Thank you, Diego," she responded. "You’ve always been a good friend and I wanted you to be one of the first to know." She paused. "Francisco said yesterday he would be dining with you and your father last night. What did you think of him, Diego?"

Diego smiled. "I think I have met no finer gentleman than Don Francisco," he told her.

Margarita looked radiant at his words. "Just as I thought," she confirmed." Thank you so much, Diego. I feel that same way." She looked across the square. "Oh, I hope you’ll excuse me. I need to speak with Ismaida. Will you and your father be coming to the party tonight?"

"Yes, I will," he replied. "It is so nice to see you and, once again, congratulations." He waved as she departed. He sighed a little, happy for her and yet a little sad, too. I hope it works out for her, he thought. She is fighting against some great odds, some she probably isn’t aware of. He felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned. It was Alejandro.

"Wasn’t that Margarita Pérez?" Alejandro asked in surprise. "I have not seen her dress so colorfully in ages. Is something going on that I don’t know about?"

"Father, Margarita has told me some very good news," Diego told him.

"And what is the news, my son?"

"Margarita told me that she has met the most wonderful man and that for the first time in her life she is in love," Diego replied.

Alejandro seemed pleasantly surprised. "I take it that it is not Salvador Muñoz," he laughed. "Who is the lucky man?"

"The man she is in love with is Capitán de las Fuentes," Diego answered.

Alejandro’s expression changed from mirth to seriousness. "Little Señorita Pérez is setting her standards pretty high, Diego. I doubt whether she has much of a chance. Capitán de las Fuentes is a prince. He belongs to one of the noblest families in Spain. Noble families don’t marry just anyone."

"Father, I disagree. You know, Margarita has no idea who the capitán is. All she knows is that he is kind and loves music the same way she does. She is talented much the way he is. It would not surprise me if both of them have much to share beyond music. Besides, I think our good friend Don Francisco needs a wonderful lady to take the place of his lost love in Spain. He will probably never find anyone quite like Margarita. All things considered, with her talent and love for him, it would be a good idea for both of them. Besides, the capitán mentioned that his family is not inbred like many of the other nobles. Even the Infante Don Antonio, brother of His Majesty Carlos IV, married a commoner."

Alejandro chuckled at that. "You know, Diego, I think you are playing the matchmaker."

Diego looked over at Margarita who was speaking in an animated way with her friend, Ismaida Rodriguez. "You know, Father, I think that this particular matchmaking seems to belong to a higher realm."

******************

A clean-shaven man of medium height approached the gates of the cuartel with a pleasant expression on his face. His dress was a bit flamboyant, even for Los Angeles - a brown frock coat, an orange sash and a pale green shirt with red tie. He walked with a sure gait and kicked out, here and there, at stray stones in his path. He inquired at the entrance for a word with the comandante and was ushered into the cuartel.

Capitán de las Fuentes was seated at his desk when there was a brisk knock at the door of his office. "Enter," he responded in his deep baritone. He stood up at once when he saw a newcomer and smiled. The stranger’s eyes were friendly and there was an air of expectation.

"Capitán de las Fuentes?" the man inquired. "Your pardon, Comandante, for disturbing you."

"Not at all," the officer replied thinking he had met similar men in the theatre. "I don’t believe I have had the pleasure of meeting you.

The stranger smiled broadly at the friendly exchange and held out his hand. "I am César Rodriguez, at your service, Your Excellency. My daughter is Ismaida, a friend of Señorita Margarita Pérez of your acquaintance."

"Señorita Margarita has told me about your talented family, Señor," De las Fuentes responded.

"When I heard that you are also a musician, Comandante, I was very eager to meet you," the man continued.

Francisco de las Fuentes took the man’s hand saying, "It is I who am honored to meet the Maestro of Los Angeles. I am very impressed by what has been said about the mentor of Señorita Margarita."

"That is most kind of you, Capitán," beamed Señor Rodriguez. "Señorita Margarita is the most promising young musician I have ever met. I just wish her parents would appreciate her talent as much as I do. If she were my daughter, what I would not do to send her to Madrid."

The comandante nodded at that. "Would you care to have a seat, Señor Rodriguez?"

"Thank you, Comandante," replied Rodriguez in very good humor. "Actually, I am here to make a request of you. There is something you could do that would be very helpful to me and to a young lady of our acquaintance."

"And what is that?" asked De las Fuentes, thinking immediately of Margarita.

"I am having a fiesta at my home tonight at eight o’clock. My family and I would be greatly honored if you could attend," Don César told him. "My daughter is planning to play some music and has rehearsed with Señoritas Juanita Villa and Margarita for many weeks."

Francisco gave him a look of appreciation. "Nothing could please me more," he replied. "I can’t think of a finer reason to come than to hear these young ladies play."

"Excellente, Capitán," Rodriguez responded with enthusiasm. "Perhaps some day we could hear you play as well. We musicians make wonderful harmony together."

"I am honored," the officer nodded. "But I would need to practice because I have not played in a very long time."

"Ah, Comandante, I hear that you blew the boots off a certain Señor Pérez just last night with your playing. If that is the case, then we need to initiate you into our musical circle right away!"

"Ah, I see that your intelligence service is far more effective than the army’s," De las Fuentes commented humorously.

"Young ladies do seem much more effective at times in that regard," Don César smiled. "They do not need to wear disguises and they delight in sharing what they know."

******************

At the end of the bar, away from the customers, Señor Pacheco explained to the padre that it was the soldiers of the cuartel who told him that De las Fuentes was a prince. "I didn't make it up," he reiterated emphatically as if one reprimanded.

Felipe held up a hand. "No, no, I did not say that, Pacheco. Only I am most curious how they would have come to that conclusion."

Pacheco Ríos smiled confidently. "Padre, even if no one knew the comandante was a prince, it would not be hard to guess. Just look at him - calm, commanding, sincere - a man who knows how to give justice to everyone. Did you hear his speech about the king, the law, and the meaning of what it is to be men, even here on the Spanish frontier? Never have I heard anyone speak so eloquently before! Only a prince could talk like that. I swear."

Conchita Cortéz came up from behind the innkeeper. "You two look so serious," she observed. "I hope Señor Pacheco is not in trouble with you, Padre," she teased.

"Good afternoon, Conchita," welcomed Felipe. "No, no one is in trouble."

"Listen, Padre, just ask Conchita what she thinks of him," her employer insisted.

"Thinks of whom?" the girl looked up innocently.

"Conchita, what is your opinion of the comandante, Capitán de las Fuentes?" asked the priest.

The girl smiled. "Oh, I think he’s kind of cute," she responded.

"I don’t think the padre meant that, Conchita," the innkeeper said with a roll of his eyes.

"Let me explain, Conchita," Felipe told her. "Many people here in the pueblo think that Capitán de las Fuentes is very different, say, from Capitán Monastario. Would you agree?"

"Oh, yes," Conchita nodded her head vigorously. "Capitán Monastario is very handsome, but he’s mean. He’s also a snob. Would you believe he won’t even flirt with me? I suppose he thinks he’s better than the rest of us. Humph," she raised her shoulder, turned her chin and pouted. "He’s stingy with tips, too."

"And Capitán de las Fuentes?" asked the priest patiently.

"Well, at first I was a little scared of him because he drew his sword in the courtroom," she explained, "but he is the nicest man. He said that Benito defended my honor and that is true. He freed Benito, and that was the right thing to do. Whenever he comes to the inn, he always asks me how I am doing and tells me I have a nice smile - like spring flowers. He buys the best food and gives a very good tip. We girls almost fight each other to wait on him," she confided. "My mother says that everyone at church says he is a prince."

"Do you think he is?" Felipe pressed.

Conchita put her hand up to her chin and thought a moment. "Yes, I think he is."

"Why, Conchita?" the padre insisted. "Many men are nice and leave good tips. What makes Capitán de las Fuentes different? What makes him a prince where others are not?"

Conchita smiled. "I guess he’s a prince because he’s so dignified and wise. He treats everyone respectfully and doesn’t get mad. And the way he talks – I don’t think anyone else talks like him. He's so smart nobody can understand him - well, sometimes. But I think what makes him a prince is that he believes he must do justice for everyone- kind of like El Zorro."

"Don’t you think he has to be rich to be a prince?" asked Señor Pacheco.

"Oh, he’s probably rich," the girl told him.

"How do you know that?" the innkeeper responded, wondering how a simple waitress could ascertain that.

"He doesn’t worry about the bill or a tip. He doesn’t seem to worry about anything. So, he must be rich," she explained.

"All right, my child," Felipe concluded. "That is all I wanted to know."

After the young woman left, Señor Pacheco leaned over the counter and said in a confidential tone. "Tell me, Padre Felipe – do you think the comandante is a prince?"

Felipe looked thoughtful a moment. "You know, sometimes if everyone believes that a man is a prince, he becomes a prince for everyone. We know that, ideally, a prince will be what we want him to be. It would seem that Capitán de las Fuentes is what people expect in a prince – both in word and in deed."

*****************

Sergeant García and Reyes headed across the plaza towards the tavern for a drink. As they trudged the short distance past the well, García announced, "You know, Corporal, I am so thirsty, I could drink a keg of wine by myself."

"I’m very thirsty, too, Sergeant," responded the corporal.

García turned to the shorter man at his side. "I hope Señor Pacheco has plenty of wine because that is all that I am going to drink this afternoon."

"You must be real thirsty, Sergeant," Reyes commented.

"I am!" confirmed García. "I am really looking forward to this."

"So am I," Reyes added.

When they opened the door to the inn, Garcia had a big smile on his face. The smile suddenly faded a bit. He was surprised – and almost dismayed - to see Padre Felipe in the inn talking to Señor Pacheco. The padre looked at the sergeant casually as the two men came in through the door, but García felt uneasy. Both soldiers sat at the table. Garcia took off his hat.

Conchita Cortéz approached the table and smiled at both soldiers. "Good afternoon, Sergeant García," she greeted. "What can I order for you?"

García hesitated. He looked over his shoulder, then back at Reyes, raising his thick eyebrows. "Tea," he said.

"Tea?" Cochita responded in an amazed tone of voice. "Tea?" she repeated as if she had not understood him at all.

"Yes, tea," he replied impatiently, rolling his eyes over in the direction of the padre.

Conchita understood at once. "Oh, yes, Sergeant, tea. Do you want it plain or with sugar?"

"With sugar," he answered.

She turned toward Reyes "And what would you like, Corporal Reyes?"

"I'll have a bottle of wine," the corporal asserted.

"No you won't," Garcia told him. "You will have tea."

"But I don't want tea," Reyes told him. He looked at the girl, "I want wine."

"You will drink tea, baboso," García glared at him. "If I have to drink tea, so do you."

The girl took two orders of tea. Reyes was quiet a spell until she brought the tea, placing a cup down in front of each man. "Say, Sergeant, why do you want to drink tea? I thought you said… "

Garcia shushed him, "Quiet, baboso, don't you see Padre Felipe is here. We don't want to be drinking wine while he is here."

Reyes whispered. "But, Sergeant, Padre Felipe knows that you drink wine. Why don't you just order some?"

"Because it is not the time to order wine. I do not want to cause Padre Felipe any pain, that is all."

"How can you cause him pain?"

"Padre Felipe once told me that when he sees me drinking wine, it pains him. So, I don't want him to see me drinking wine."

"Oh," said Reyes. After sipping the tea, he commented, "You know, that’s really very nice of you, Sergeant."

García only rolled his eyes.

 

 

Chapter 15
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