Zorro & the Old Comandante
Eugene H. Craig
The soldiers of the cuartel stood lined up in a row as if for inspection. Outside a large crowd had gathered, watching the events inside the garrison’s high stone walls. The sun was reaching toward noon now, and its warm rays bathed the subjects of the king in a soft glow in the cool air.
Enrique Monastario was irritated by all the formal pomp and circumstance accorded the departing officer. It was really overdone, he thought. This fellow must imagine himself to be some kind of prince or lord. He watched as Capitán de las Fuentes gave a heartfelt thanks to all the soldiers for their loyalty and courage. He listened as the officer recalled the nightly patrols, the hunt for him at the lake, and the constant vigilance in a time of danger. He was particularly disgusted when he heard the small man praise the personal loyalty and fidelity of Sergeant García and Corporal Reyes. Monastario only rolled his eyes at the praise for these men whom he considered bumbling idiots and fools. De las Fuentes ended by saying that he saluted them all as outstanding soldiers of the king and he wished that they never forget the gratitude of a grateful kingdom and prince. To Monastario’s consternation, the soldiers cheered the officer enthusiastically. Then, breaking all tradition, De las Fuentes embraced the sergeant – a ridiculous sight, thought Monastario – and corporal. He did not hear the officer tell them that there was something special for them at the inn. He only saw García’s curious expression when the ceremony concluded. Despite the two soldiers’ requests, he refused to allow them to accompany the officer and his wife to the Port of San Pedro. He made the refusal curtly and deliberately in front of Francisco and Margarita de las Fuentes. He made the remark that they had more important things to do than coddle Indians and Gypsies, and release criminals from jail.
Don Francisco’s temper finally boiled over. He made a decision. "Capitán Monastario, before departing this most loyal province, I would like a word with you in private." He said it courteously and politely.
Monastario nodded curiously. Even before the door closed behind them, Diego heard the words, "Men like you, Señor, do more harm to the cause of monarchy than all the Republicans combined!"
After more than a few minutes, Diego looked around and casually strolled the few yards over to the Oficina del Comandante. He went to the window and heard the last words of Francisco de las Fuentes. The words were from a poem written in praise of a reforming and well-meaning minister of the former king, Carlos IV, Manuel Godoy. Francisco intoned:
Power is not assured by violence
Nor does the horror of torture sustain it,
Nor armed troops of horse;
Where love was lacking, force is in vain.
You know this, and by your actions
You set an example. You protect
Hidden virtue and innocence. If merit
Has been overlooked, you reward it;
Under your shelter literature flourished,
You applaud zeal and pardon error,
You received the recompense for your judgments
In the inner pleasure your heart feels.
Diego knew this poem, these words, would be lost on a man like Monastario, but he respected the prince even more for the dressing-down he gave the Comandante that followed the poem. Diego left with a smile. He knew that even Enrique Monastario would be left speechless by the rebuke of such a man and a prince.
It did not seem to matter how much Enríque Monastario fumed at this parting. Over half the town accompanied the De las Fuentes entourage to the port of San Pedro. That entourage consisted of Francisco, Margarita, her mother, María, her servant, Martín, and last, but not least, Juan Muñoz. The crowd also took great pleasure in watching Salvador Muñoz escorted onto the ship of Capitán Aristotle Silva by his father and the Alcalde. Once again, they would witness the kind of justice that many longed to see and would not see again for many months to come.
As their horses cantered alongside the De las Fuentes carriage, Diego turned to his faithful servant, Bernardo. He knew what he had to say would not be overheard in the noise of the crowd.
"You know, Bernardo," the young man confessed, "I neglected to tell you the story about how the incriminating document against Sebastian Pérez was obtained by El Zorro for the trial of Salvador Muñoz."
Bernardo raised a hand from the reins and raised his eyebrows.
"Ah, so you wondering how such a miraculous document could be found?"
The mozo nodded his head. Their two mounts almost touched as the young man told him. "It seems that a certain bandit in black was headed to the business office of Señor Pérez. He was not sure what he would be looking for. When he arrived – on a hunch – he found a stranger there going through the drawers of a desk. The stranger pulled out some sheets of parchment, read them, and put them in his coat. Perhaps he was a robber, the bandit thought. Then, El Zorro revealed himself. He stopped the stranger and challenged him. When the man asked who he was, the bandit said he was El Zorro."
The mozo was definitely interested in the story. He continued to watch his young master intently. He motioned with his hand several times for his master to continue.
Finally, the young man burst into a grin and continued. "Now, what happened next? The stranger told El Zorro that he was there to protect his brother, Felix Muñoz. He told the bandit of Señor Pérez’s plan to take over the business and of his suspicions. After a long talk, it was agreed to turn the document over to El Zorro who would appear in court and show who the real plotter – and criminal – behind the scenes was."
Bernardo looked very impressed and shook his head in agreement when Diego added, "Juan Muñoz smelled a rat and wanted to find the evidence for the trial." He paused and gave the mozo a look of affection. "Like you, my friend, Juan Muñoz is a most faithful and loyal servant of his master, Prince Alfonso, or should I say, Don Francisco. Both of us could have no better a friend."
Back in Los Angeles, Sebastian learned of his wife’s decision to leave him and to go to Spain with Margarita and her new husband. He was furious. He was further incised to learn that his servant, Martín, had decided to go with them as well. But, that wasn’t the worst of the news. As he watched the crowd depart with the Comandante, Don Diego de la Vega had spotted him and rode over on horseback for a few words.
"Good afternoon, Don Sebastian," the young man had greeted him.
The businessman only grumbled a reply.
"You know, it is really too bad that you made such an unwise decision in selecting a son-in-law," Diego said conversationally.
"What do you mean by that?" Sebastian had demanded.
The young man smiled down at him from the Palomino. "Why, haven’t you heard the news? It seems that Capitán de las Fuentes is not who he appears to be."
"Ah, an imposter!" declared Sebastian triumphantly.
"Most certainly an imposter…well, in a way," Diego informed him. "It seems that the king of Spain sent Don Francisco on an extraordinary mission to the New World. He was a man in disguise, not a capitán at all."
Pérez wanted to know who Don Francisco really was.
"Why, a member of one of the richest families in Spain! Of the family of De las Fuentes y Alarcón."
Pérez’s mouth dropped open at that.
"Have you ever heard of them?" Diego teased, enjoying the moment.
"Everyone knows of that family," Sebastian said in amazement. "High nobility. I don’t believe it!"
"Well, Señor Pérez, it is true." He paused. "You know, it’s a real shame – for you, that is – that you disinherited your daughter. A real case of bad timing, I would say. Now, she is a countess and will perhaps become one of the most famous pianists in Spain with the help of her husband. And you, well, you are no longer her father, and she is no longer your daughter. Just think of the lifestyle you would have attained with such in-laws!" He paused. "Oh, how tactless of me. Well, I hope you will excuse me. I have to accompany my father to the port of San Pedro to send off the prince and his bride."
Later that afternoon, Sergeant Garcia and Corporal Reyes sat in the Posada of Los Angeles. Both of them found some free bottles of quality wine set aside for them from Capitán de las Fuentes. Both soldiers raised their mugs in a toast to the generosity of the Comandante. Señor Pacheco poured the wine himself. He told Reyes that, sad for him, it was the end of all the free wine for corporals. When the soldiers looked rather forlorn at this news, the innkeeper told them of the value of the wine they were drinking. Reyes sipped his wine, savoring every drop. Garcia downed his. He would always swill wine.
Capitán Enrique Monastario found the portrait leaning against the side of the dresser. He had not noticed it until he began unpacking his bag. He picked it up and grimaced when he saw who was in the painting. He frowned even more as he studied the man with the gold epaulets and golden sash in a general’s uniform and recognized the man who had just vacated the office of Comandante.
Later that afternoon, he had handed the portrait to Sergeant García with the words, "Get rid of this, Sergeant."
García had saluted and left, but he took the portrait to his own room and put it up on his dresser. He thought about what to do with the painting. If Capitán Monastario ever saw it in his quarters…well, García did not want to even think about it. Then, he had an idea: he would give the portrait of Capitán de las Fuentes and the countess to Don Diego de la Vega. He would tell his friend that the Comandante had accidentally left it behind. He would suggest to the don that perhaps a portrait painter in town could paint in the face of the Señorita Pérez over the face of the woman. And he would ask Don Diego that, whenever he felt down, perhaps he could look again at the portrait of the Comandante who had told him that he was a fine soldier of the king.
Sebastian Pérez was still in a state of shock about what he learned. That pompous, know-it-all of a comandante turned out to be a member of one of the most powerful noble families in Spain; a man who was a possibly a prince; a man whose power, influence, and wealth must be beyond the imagination of a man like this petty merchant. But Sebastian had disinherited Margarita and now he had no claim on her or on De las Fuentes. Even his wife and servant had left him, sailing back to Spain with Margarita.
Sebastian slowly climbed the stairs and walked past Margarita’s room. He paused and turned back. He opened the door. He went inside. Nothing of hers remained except the empty furniture; he had ordered it. Well, almost nothing remained. Up against the wall, opposite the bed, was her piano. He stared at several music sheets arranged above the ivory keys. Maria had once told him that one day he might just miss her and that piano. Sebastian sat down on the wooden bench and his hands moved across the keyboard, lightly touching the keys and listening to their sad plink.
On the wooden deck of the tall masted ship that would take them back to Spain, Francisco de las Fuentes stood on deck with his Margarita. Their arms were interlocked. Both wore heavy wool cloaks. A stiff sea breeze blew across the bows from a chilly ocean. Most of the passengers had retreated to their quarters below. Only a few remained aloft.
Juan Muñoz also watched the ship depart from the wharf and begin the long journey to the south, to Mexico. He could not hear the words exchanged between the prince and his wife. He turned and smiled at the woman standing next to him, María Pérez.
Francisco put his arm around Margarita’s waist and talked in her ear. "While I am looking forward to our return to Spain, I am also reluctantly leaving California." He paused. "I will always think of this land with much affection for here I learned much about myself and the need to act decisively to administer justice. I learned much about California and the honor of Californians – both native and Spanish." He paused. "I had only hoped to see El Zorro before we departed."
Margarita nodded. "He told you that he would appear. I looked for him as well, but never saw him. Perhaps it was too dangerous for him to come. There are soldiers at the port."
"When I last saw Don Diego, I mentioned to him the fact that I would like to offer to El Zorro a position on my staff so that he and his talents could be used for justice in Spain."
Margarita was overcome with curiosity about her best friend. "What did Diego say?"
"He told me that he was sure that El Zorro would be honored, yet, like Señor Enríquez, he most likely would prefer to remain in California to fight tyrants like Capitán Monastario. He then removed his glove and shook my hand most sincerely. That act left me with a most distinct impression."
"Do you think anyone will ever discover who El Zorro really is?" asked the young woman.
"I believe that I now know who he is," Francisco told her mildly. "A man of incredible courage and honor, but one who no one would ever suspect."
"Why, who could he be?" she asked in surprise. "No one I know could ever match the courage and skill of El Zorro."
"It is only a suspicion," Francisco confessed, "but I will keep it to myself. I would not reveal the identity of such a man – for the sake of his safety as well as for the well-being of others. I will only say that I am grateful to all his acts of kindness and loyalty despite our differences."
"What differences could you two possibly have?" Margarita smiled. "After all, both of you are heroes to me."
Her husband smiled. "I am a monarchist who despises the monarchy, and he is a republican who does all that he can to uphold the justice of the king’s laws," he answered.
"Oh, but then you two do have much in common," she pointed out, "for each of you try to uphold that which is the most just in law as well as in moral teachings."
"As a matter of fact, it was El Zorro who suggested the punishment for Salvador Muñoz," he told her. He watched the surprise on her face. "El Zorro told me that perhaps it would be best to give Salvador a taste of his own medicine. It did not take much imagination to understand what that entailed. Most importantly, this solution would save his family’s self-esteem and honor. I had to find a way to do just this, not only for the sake of Don Felix, but for my man, Juan Muñoz. I have much to be grateful for – and from this man known as an outlaw." Both of them laughed quietly at that designation.
There was a rustle of a dress and María Pérez came up on them. "Now just what are you two doves chatting about all this time?" she asked.
"Oh, we’re just enjoying the sea breeze, Mother," Margarita smiled, winking at Francisco. "And what have you been thinking about as you watch the waves glide by?"
María Pérez smiled. "Our first visit to Spain. It’s like a dream come true." Actually, she had been thinking, just momentarily, about a man who paced a now empty sala in a modest home not far from the plaza of the pueblo of Los Angeles. She had no regrets.
Juan Muñoz joined the trio. "They say that in leaving a good port, one should make a wish," he told the group. "The sailors told me it is for good luck."
Francisco and María smiled at this superstition, but Margarita closed her eyes and intoned "I make a wish."
"What are you wishing for, Margarita?" asked her mother.
"For Zorro to appear, Mother," the young woman answered. "Now, what do you wish for, Francisco?"
He closed his eyes and said solemnly, in his deep baritone, "For the wish of my darling wife, Margarita, to come true." He opened his eyes and winked at the others.
And far out on a coastal road, a rider in black watched a Spanish ship sail southward. When he reached a high bluff up over the sea, he paused, waiting for the ship that he knew would soon pass by, for Spanish ships always hugged the coastline. When at last the ship appeared, men on board and their passengers noted a silhouetted figure that stood out on the high rocks. The strong breeze that blew past him carried the salty smell of the sea, whipped the cape he wore behind him like a banner, and made the man appear larger than life.
There was a general waving of hands, hats and scarves. Francisco de las Fuentes waved his hat, Margarita her scarf, and María her kerchief. Crewmen climbed the rigging to get a better view of the legendary hero. It was a scene they would remember for the rest of their lives and tell their children about.
As for El Zorro, he reared his black stallion again and again, giving a final farewell with a wave of his hand before turning and disappearing into the wooded surroundings. Already he would be needed again in Los Angeles to further the cause of justice that he served so well.