Zorro & the Old Comandante

by

 

Eugene H. Craig

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

Don Alejandro de la Vega asked his son to accompany him to the comandante’s office to give him some information about Enríquez. He met Señor Rodriguez on his way out of the cuartel.

"César, how good to see you," Alejandro greeted him. "I trust nothing distressful brings you to the cuartel?"

"This is the first time I can say that I come to the cuartel for a happy purpose, Alejandro," replied Rodriguez. "I wanted to make sure the comandante received an invitation to our party tonight. It seems that my daughter is very eager to have him there and we would not want to disappoint her or her friends who know of the good capitán’s appreciation of music. Ismaida tells me that the capitán is quite accomplished and plays violin, piano, guitar, and other instruments."

Alejandro was impressed. "I had no idea that Capitán de las Fuentes was a musician," he told Don César. "I know him as a scholar of much erudition."

"Why does that not surprise me?" César mused. "I have just come from a most enlightening visit with our comandante. We spoke of all sorts of musical styles and developments - from Dittersdorf to Bontiempo, and from Brunetti to Pleyel. I could not look at him and imagine him as anything less than a colleague at the Royal Academy of Music. Capitán de las Fuentes is delightful, a most delightful man."

"It seems that our comandante is a man of many talents," added Diego. "We are also looking forward to your fiesta and to the young ladies’ presentation."

"There is much to prepare for. I hope you will forgive my not lingering for long. We can speak of this at the fiesta. I look forward to seeing you this evening," César smiled and departed in the same brisk way that he had come.

Alejandro knocked at the door of the Oficina del Comandante and both men were admitted by De las Fuentes himself. When learning of their concerns about Joaquín Enríquez, the captain asked them to be seated.

"You seem to have a number of visitors today, Comandante," Diego remarked. "I hope we will not keep you from siesta today."

"Not at all, Don Diego," the captain told him. "As a matter of fact, I slept very well last night. Now, I understand you have some concerns about Señor Enríquez?"

Alejandro leaned forward. "One of my vaqueros told me that he thought he saw Señor Enríquez only yesterday evening, Your Excellency. It was near the shallow gully just outside of the pueblo off the El Camino. He said he only got a glimpse of him and it was getting dark so he could not be sure. There is much brush in the area. We thought that any information would be of help."

"That is correct," replied De las Fuentes. "Sergeant García and Corporal Reyes are in charge of units now inspecting all the known former worksites and living quarters of Señor Enríquez. It is reasonable to assume that he may seek refuge in familiar places. I have given orders that Señor Enríquez not be hurt if at all possible."

There was a sudden knock at the door and all three men turned toward the sound.

"Enter," the capitán ordered.

A soldier appeared. "Begging your pardon, Comandante, but there is a young lady here to see you. She says it is most urgent."

"With your permission?" De las Fuentes asked. His two guests nodded. "Please see her in," he requested.

A moment later Margarita Pérez burst into his office. All three men rose to their feet. She saw the De la Vegas in a mist and turned towards the comandante. He came from behind his desk at once. Her distress was acute.

"Margarita?" Francisco asked in surprise. "What is wrong, Señorita?" He moved towards her in alarm. She seemed almost ready to collapse.

When he reached her, she suddenly threw her arms around his neck and burst into tears. She cried as if her heart would break.

Francisco de las Fuentes put his arms around her and let her cry until she was ready to compose herself. "It’s all right, dear," he told her. "Cry all you need to."

There was no sound in the room except for her weeping and the sorrowful sounds that accompanied it. Diego and Alejandro exchanged glances at both her distress as well as the familiarity she showed toward the officer. The captain did not actually adopt a neutral stance himself, thought Alejandro. De las Fuentes’ expression only showed his disquiet for her anguish.

After a few minutes, she seemed to realize that there were others in the room. The tears continued to stream down her face but she began to compose herself. She looked up into Francisco’s face and saw his eyes were only for her. "I am so sorry," she whispered. "I did not mean to embarrass you in front of others."

"You do not embarrass me, Margarita," he told her. "You can never embarrass those who love you. I am greatly concerned at your grief. Would you please have a seat? Tell me what has occurred that has so broken your heart."

She sat down at his desk and accepted her kerchief that he took from his sash. She tried to dry her tears but they kept coming. She took several breaths in an effort to control her emotions. "My father sold the piano and had it removed while I was gone this morning," she wept. "He is doing this to punish me for refusing to marry Salvador Muñoz."

Francisco de las Fuentes knelt at her side, although it was painful for him to do so, and took one of her hands into his. "When did you discover this?"

"Just now," she explained, her chest still heaving in her dismay. "My father told me that he can no longer afford to have a piano in the house. He claims that it needs repair for having gone out of tune. When he discovered the cost, he decided that he had more important things to spend his money on. When I told him that that is not true, that there was nothing wrong with the piano last night when we played, he got angry and began shouting. I just ran out of the house. You know it’s not true, don’t you, Francisco? You know that what he said is a lie."

De las Fuentes brow furrowed as he listened to her story. "I can only say that in my estimation there was nothing wrong with the piano last night, just as you say. Tell me this, Margarita, was the piano yours or your father’s?"

She sniffed. "Father got it from Grandmother’s inheritance. It’s been in my mother’s family a very long time."

The comandante seemed to remember his other visitors. He stood up slowly and looked at the De la Vegas. "Your pardon, Señores," he said. "But do you know of anyone who might have purchased such a piano?"

Alejandro spoke up at once. "The fastest way to sell a piano without too much concern for a discerning buyer would be to contact Señor Cárdenas, the owner of the General Store. It’s just across the plaza from the cuartel. If he did not buy it himself, he may know who might have. Pianos do not have a big market here in Los Angeles, but he could certainly find someone who could tune it and care for it."

Diego stood up and approached Margarita. "Margarita, with your permission, I would like to make some inquiries about this."

Margarita looked up at her friend with grateful eyes. "Sí, Diego. Thank you so much." Her eyes were still wet with tears.

"I’d like to go now, if everyone will excuse me," Diego said, bowing and departing with haste.

"I too, will make some inquiries, Señorita Pérez," Alejandro added, also rising.

De las Fuentes came over to him and escorted him to the door. They exchanged a few quiet words and then the comandante closed the door.

Margarita was twisting the kerchief in her hands. She looked up at Francisco as he came back to her. "Francisco, why does my father hate me so much? I already told him that I will never marry Salvador Muñoz. Not only do we have nothing in common, I do not like him at all." He took her hands in his and she saw that his eyes were full of sympathy for her. "Am I so wrong about this?"

"No, Margarita, you are not wrong. One should never marry someone that one does not wish to. One should marry – one should marry one’s destiny." He smiled as if at his own statement. "Now I want you to go to your friend’s – to Ismaida’s home. Wash your face, dear, and tell your friend all that has happened. This will help you unburden yourself. And do not worry too much. You have good friends who will be helping you find the balance."

"The balance?" she queried. "What is the balance, Francisco?"

"It is something that I am seeking myself," he answered wistfully. There was a heavy step on the porch outside and a knock at the door. "But let us speak of this later. I see that Sergeant García has returned from his patrol." He paused. "Margarita, dear," he said, looking deeply into her eyes, "be faithful to your convictions and not to the desires of others. This is a hard lesson I have learned in my life. We pay a heavy price for our allegiance to truth, but in the end, the only thing that matters is our own conscience. If we can live with the decisions we have made, and hopefully they are the ones that God ordains, then we have found the essence of peace. From peace we build higher, better things."

She gazed into his eyes, not wanting to leave them. She swallowed hard. "I think I understand," she told him. "Without our friends and those we care for, it would be much harder to pay such a price. Thank you for being the one who has helped me, Francisco."

He did not know what else to say. He took her hand, caressed it, then kissed it. He then opened the door for her and she left with a smile. It was strange how all his encounters with her seemed to leave something special with him - and his with her. He looked up at the sergeant who saluted him while watching the departing señorita. "Come in, Sergeant. Let us hear your report."

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

 

It was late in the afternoon when Sebastian Pérez leisurely strolled up to the door of his house. He was feeling very pleased with himself because he had just implemented his next step to pressure Margarita and that was getting rid of the piano. He had pulled it off while she was out of the house early that morning and, therefore, avoided a big scene during its removal. The workmen had hauled it off and he had a small table put up against the wall where the piano had been. He had more plans for the evening party at the Rodriguez’s and those plans would permanently deal with the problem of the comandante’s friendship as well.

He opened the door and closed it, putting his hat up on a wall hook. He thought to pour himself a drink when he was distracted by the strains of some familiar sounds. Where was it coming from? With a jerk he looked up and realized that piano music was coming from upstairs. It was more than just familiar; it was as if nothing had changed at all. Merry tunes filled the air as he climbed the stairs in a fury.

Near the top of the stairs he encountered María who had heard him come in the front door. "What is the meaning of this?" he demanded as she continued to descend the stairs. He followed her down.

At the bottom of the stairs was the elderly servant, Martín. He looked up at Pérez. "I believe that I can explain, Don Sebastian," he said. The master of the house came within a few steps of the servant as the mistress took her place beside the servant.

"Well?" demanded Pérez.

"Just this afternoon, about an hour ago, a man came by the house with the very piano you sold earlier today. He said that it had been cleaned and tuned. He said that the piano was a gift for Señorita Margarita from an admirer," Martín told him.

"And who is her admirer?" Sebastian queried, surprised at such a designation.

"I do not know, Señor," the man replied. "Only that it was a gift. Several workmen took the piano upstairs while the señorita was out." He paused. "Oh, yes, there was also a package for her that arrived as well."

"What kind of package? What was it?"

"When I gave the package to the señorita, I also informed her that a gift had arrived and been placed in her room. When I handed her the package, she took it and went upstairs. A few minutes later I heard her call me and ask me to help her open it. I did so. When we unwrapped it, we found sheets and sheets of music."

"Music?" frowned Sebastian. His fumed in agitation

"Sí, Señor," continued Martín. "Señorita Margarita was so surprised and pleased in finding the piano in her room. She turned to me and told me that many of the songs were quite new, ones that she had not heard before or did not have. She spread the music sheets about and began practicing at once. I do not believe that she has stopped since she got home."

Pérez turned on his wife. He was furious. "Did you have anything to do with this?"

María looked up at him. "I did not know anything about this. Someone has sent a special gift for Margarita." She looked at Martín who nodded.

"Well, I’ll just have to get rid of it again," Sebastian declared.

"You got rid of the piano when it was yours. You sold it," she replied, balling her fists so that they would not appear to tremble. "Someone else bought it and now has given it as a gift to Margarita. It is now her piano." When her husband began to sputter, she added. "Someone must have known that you got rid of it and who would know that?"

Sebastian was quiet a moment. He thought of Salvador. Maybe the young man had decided to purchase it and coax Margarita into thinking better of him. It was a good way to look generous and tolerant at the same time. "Well, maybe this isn’t such a bad idea…" he said. He continued down the stairs and turned to servant. "I’ll have my usual drink now, Martín." He went into the sala only slightly distracted by the music from above. "As soon as I marry her off, the piano will be gone for good," he commented to María.

"You might like it at first," María told him, "but after a while, you might just miss it."

He snorted, "That’s unlikely." He pulled a gold watch out of his waistcoat and looked at it. "It won’t be long before this affair at Don César’s. Salvador will meet us there. His parents will also be in attendance. I have a surprise planned for them and I hope that it will make all of us very pleased." He smiled.

María turned away and left the room. She began to wring her hands again. She looked up the stairs towards her daughter’s room and the sounds of joyful music. She took a deep breath. Their ordeals were far from over and she dreaded the evening event as she began to dread every wakening day since her daughter turned down Salvador Muñoz’s proposal.

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

Angel Ledesma hurried through the gates of the cuartel. He was eager to see the comandante. No sooner had he got to the porch of the comandante’s office, than he heard someone calling his name.

"Angel! Angel Ledesma!" shouted Tomás Robello. He waited impatiently for the shorter vaquero to come to the cell where he was confined. "Where have you been? What has taken you so long? I’ve been in this jail for three days now."

"Hello, Tomás," replied Ledesma. "I’ve been working very hard to pay off my debt to the comandante. That is why you have not seen me."

"Well, when are you going to get me out of here?" demanded Robello.

"Well, Tomás, first I have to pay my fines. My wife gave me some money but she was mad at me about the fight," Angel told him. "I told her that I needed fifty-four pesos to loan you to get out, but that was a big mistake."

"What do you mean ‘a big mistake’?" demanded Robello.

"She started hitting me with her wet dishrag," Angel explained. "She yelled that I would not get a single centavo from her to bail you out with. She said she was tired of all my money going to pay for you. She said that you are a worthless leech. I said, ‘But he’s my best friend.’ Then she said ‘With friends like that, you don’t need enemies.’"

"That old hen," fumed Robello. "How can I get out of here?"

"I don’t know, Tomás," Ledesma told him. "But the comandante had a good idea."

"Oh, and what was that?" asked Robello sarcastically. "To join the army?"

"Oh, no," Ledesma smiled. "Nothing so bad. Why, he said that you could learn a new trade while in jail. You could sweep the cuartel, whitewash the buildings, mend harnesses, bridles and saddles. He said you would even learn to like the food here."

Robello’s mouth hung open for a moment before he let loose a dozen epithets that ended with a howl of "I demand JUSTICE!"

Angel Ledesma didn’t bat an eye when Robello finished. "Oh, I forgot, Tomás. The comandante also said maybe you needed a wife. I told him that was probably a good idea. Then you would save money like me and wouldn’t drink so much." With that statement he turned on his heel and headed back toward the comandante’s office.

"With friends like you, Angel," shouted Robello, "I don’t need enemies!"

 

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

 

That afternoon Sergeant Garcia and Corporal Reyes returned from their patrols in the countryside. It was a break for lunch before they set out on a final patrol for the late afternoon. That evening, the nightly patrols would resume. García had received the report from Capitán de las Fuentes that the fugitive Enríquez had been seen the night before at the edge of town and so his troops had searched the area. They had not discovered anything of note since the search of the abandoned shack the day before.

Both men were standing outside the cuartel enjoying the sun when García heaved a sigh of contentment. "You know, Corporal, even though we cannot find the prisoner, there does not seem to be too much danger. None of the caballeros reported anything unusual. Everything seems very peaceful. As a matter of fact, I was just thinking about how the tavern must be missing our business."

Reyes nodded. "I kept thinking about that, too. But, standing here is almost as nice."

García was puzzled a moment. "Why do you think that, Corporal?"

"Well, Sergeant, even though we don’t have wine, there is nice music to listen to."

García nodded absently listening. "Yes." Then he perked up. "That’s it. I knew there was something strange."

Now it was Reyes’ turn to look puzzled. "Strange?" he asked.

"Yes, Corporal, strange." He looked around. "Where is that music coming from?"

"From inside the cuartel, Sergeant," the corporal pointed out.

García accosted one of the sentries. "Private Marino, do you hear music?"

"Oh, sí, Sergeant," replied the soldier. "It has been going on most of the afternoon."

"Well, where is it coming from?" asked García impatiently.

"From inside the cuartel, Sergeant," Marino replied nonchalantly.

"I know that, stupid," García told him. "Who can be playing such music?"

The soldier shrugged. "I don’t know, Sergeant. I’m on duty, but the music is very nice to listen to. It helps pass the time."

Both García and Reyes entered the gates of the cuartel and began to look around. Their footsteps took them right up to the office of the comandante. The music was coming from inside the office.

García knocked on the door. "Comandante? Oh, Comandante?" When there was no answer he opened the door to the office cautiously and peeked in. No one was in the office. He gestured for Reyes to follow him.

Both men followed the sound of a violin playing. It was coming from the private quarters of the captain. García and Reyes looked at each other.

Reyes took the few steps up to the comandante’s door. "It’s coming from inside the capitán’s room," he said.

García sighed. "I know that, baboso." He followed the corporal up the stairs. Both men listened but Reyes found himself quite squashed up against the door by García’s bulk.

The music came to an end and there was silence. Reyes looked up at García as the big man leaned over to listen more carefully.

Capitán de las Fuentes opened the door of his quarters to step out into the office when two soldiers came crashing through the entrance and tumbled to the floor. He stepped back with alacrity. He could see that the corporal got the worse of it with the sergeant falling on top of him.

As both soldiers scrambled to their feet, he asked "What is going on here, Sergeant, Corporal?"

"Begging your pardon, Capitán," García hastened to apologize as he painfully rose from the floor. "Was that you making the music, Comandante?"

De las Fuentes smiled. "Ah, so you were listening to my concert." He turned and walked over to the chest of drawers upon which had been placed three objects. The two soldiers followed him. He retrieved his violin and bow, presenting them as one might a holy relic. "This is what you heard."

Both García and Reyes nodded looking over the instrument with interest. "The music was very beautiful, Comandante," Reyes said.

"I have not practiced in a very long time," the officer told them, "but lately I have been feeling that I should." With that he took the violin up on his left shoulder, tucked the chin rest comfortably, raised the stick with its horsehair ribbon, and played for them. The long bow tripped over the strings and the song was lively, giving full expression to the use of strings and horsehair rod. When he finished, he asked, "Do you know this piece?" Both soldiers were very impressed but shook their heads. "Ah," Francisco replied. "Just a few excerpts from Beethoven's Violin Concerto, the Allegro." He paused a moment and took up the violin again. "Perhaps you know this selection?" He played an even longer time with much passion and tenderness. When he finished, he smiled, lowering the bow. "Ah, do you know the composer?"

Both soldiers shook their heads.

"Not even Mozart?" De las Fuentes seemed puzzled. "Well, perhaps you are acquainted with music of a more recent vintage. After all, many people consider Mozart old-fashioned. How about this?" And he played some more. This time he played dramatically and with great flourishes. After he finished, he gave them a look of expectation. All he saw were some embarrassed smiles and eyes that avoided his. He sighed a little. "Those were some pieces made famous by that diabolically talented virtuoso, Niccoló Paganini - especially the Larghetto from Sonata One in A Major and the Allegretto mottegiando from Sonata Four," he explained. "I thought everyone knew about him." He paused. "Have you not heard of these musicians or their music at all?"

Reyes shook his head. "I am sorry, Comandante, I have never heard this music before."

When the officer expressed his surprise, García explained, "I am sorry, Comandante, but I do not know this music either. But it is very beautiful. I have heard the names of Beethoven and Mozart before, but I do not know the music."

"Ah," replied the captain, shaking his head in dismay. "Do you not know any music at all?"

"Well, I like to sing," began García. Reyes nodded his head enthusiastically.

"Excellent," responded Francisco in approval. "And what kind of songs do you sing? Perhaps some lyrics from the operettas?"

"I sing army songs, Capitán," the big man told him. "Marching songs and amusing songs about drinking at the taverns. I know lots of songs - about men missing their sweethearts and burros smarter than their masters. "

"The sergeant knows many funny songs, too," Reyes added, "especially about a comandante who…." He winced as the sergeant deliberately stepped on his foot.

De las Fuentes smiled knowingly at that, but turned back toward the chest-of-drawers and replaced his violin and bow. "Perhaps you can sing for me some time," he commented.

"Why, sí, Comandante," García responded with enthusiasm. He then noticed something. "Begging your pardon, Capitán, but who is that?" asked the sergeant pointing at the third object on the top of the chest of drawers. "Is that your wife?"

The officer turned back towards the object and picked it up. It was a painting of two people. The most striking object in the painting was a beautiful woman with a bewitching smile in an expensive dress and jewelry seated in a chair. The small bearded man standing next to her in the painting had a very pleasant smile of contentment on his face. He gazed at it a few moments. "No, Sergeant," he replied. "She was a very dear friend of mine in Spain."

"She looks like a princess," the sergeant remarked. "And you look just like a general, Comandante."

"She is a countess," De las Fuentes said. He cleared his throat. "Now what can I do for you, Sergeant?" He placed the painting back on top of the chest and turned back to the two soldiers.

"I was going to make a report, Capitán," García began.

"Why don’t we conduct this business out in the office," the officer pointed to the door. "I also have some further instructions for you regarding the whereabouts of Señor Enríquez which we need to discuss."

It was a good half an hour later when Reyes and García left the office. Both men pulled on their gauntlets and began to leave the porch when Reyes paused. "You know, Sergeant, I keep on thinking about the comandante and how he played the music. It was very beautiful. I never knew he could play a violin."

García came to a halt. "I did not know it either. You know, Corporal, princes can do many things – they are princes, they know much about the wonders of the world and they can even be musicians or doctors. That is probably why they are princes." He began to walk towards the gates of the cuartel again.

Reyes hurried to catch up to him. "Say, Sergeant, you know, it might be something else, too."

"Might be what?" the big man asked impatiently.

"Well, I was thinking that when people play music like that, they must be very happy because the music is so beautiful."

García looked thoughtful a moment. "That is true. They must be happy."

"Well, if people who make music are happy, then the comandante must be happy. What do you think he is happy about? We have not caught the prisoner, but he is still happy."

"Hmm, you are right about that," García mused. "Maybe he’s in love. People in love make beautiful music."

Reyes looked doubtful. "Who would he be in love with, Sergeant? With the woman in the portrait?"

"Perhaps," García replied. Then his eyes grew wide. "I know who it is! It is Señorita Pérez. The comandante goes to see her every day. She plays music and so does he. She gave him her kerchief and he keeps it in his sash." García looked very pleased with himself. "Of course, the comandante does not speak of these things. Perhaps it is a secret."

Reyes looked pensive a moment. "Perhaps." He noticed García had a big smile on his face. "We’ll have to remember not to tell anyone if it’s a secret."

"Let’s go to the tavern for a quick drink before we head back out on patrol, Corporal. It gets quite thirsty out on the road."

With that, the two soldiers headed toward Señor Pacheco’s inn and tavern.

 

 

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