The Gift

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 17

SORROW AND GRIEF

DECEMBER 7, 1821

DE LA VEGA HACIENDA

 

Don Alejandro stopped Jorge Paco’s horse and told him to ride back to bring the soldiers to the scene. After Jorge departed, Alejandro desperately tried to pull Zorro away from the stricken Moneta de la Vega. Don Alejandro whispered: "Señor Fox! Diego, the soldiers are directly behind us! You must leave now! We shall take care of Senora de la Vega. Now go! " he whispered frantically. But the Fox remained immobile, grasping Moneta tightly in his arms as if he could will her awake to tell her that everything would be fine.

Zorro shook his head. “NO! I promised Don Diego that I would protect her from that ganallo Ricardo del’Amo!” I cannot leave her! Father, do not ask me to leave her again! Moneta ... Moneta!”

Moneta tried to murmur something but she felt as if she had suddenly become a puppet, with an outside force manipulating her movements, her speech, and her thoughts. A fiery hot wall of pain prevented her from recognizing her surroundings. She lay helpless in someone’s arms ... wait the voice.. Seemed familiar, repeatedly calling her name....

“Z-Zorro,” she gasped, “Ricardo.. shot me.. Bernardo ..Where is he?” then she lapsed into unconsciousness.

“Moneta!” The Fox groaned as she closed her eyes.

“No, my son, I shall see you very soon at home. Leave now! ANDALE! PRONTO!“ Somehow, Alejandro de le Vega pushed him away toward Tornado. The elder de la Vega helped him into the saddle and slapped the black stallion‘s rear end.

Zorro ran Tornado as far away from the wreckage as he could knowing that he was close to breaking down. But he somehow managed to restrain himself from crying until he heard the soldiers’ bugle sound at the top of the hill. The Fox bent down over Tornado’s neck and wept unashamedly as he turned his horse toward home. Just as he began to spur Tornado into a full gallop he realized that he did not see Bernardo anywhere! [Oh, by all the Saints!] Regardless of the consequences, Zorro circled around and returned to the scene of Ricardo’s awful revenge. He dismounted from Tornado and watched helplessly as the soldiers began to examine the bloody ambush site.

Sergeant Garcia surveyed the scene before him. "Madre di Dios! What happened here? Why it is Moneta de Vega! But who could have attacked her, Don Alejandro? "

Jorge Paco spoke up. “It was my master, Don Ricardo, Sergeant Garcia! He swore that he would have his revenge on the de la Vegas. I came to look for Dons Alejandro and Diego to warn them of my master’s evil plans!“

“Sergeant Garcia!“ Don Alejandro exclaimed. We need to get Doña Moneta to the doctor. I have already sent word for him to meet me at my hacienda. And --“ he hesitated --Bernardo! Where is he?”

Corporal Reyes cried out “OVER HERE, Don Alejandro! I found Bernardo. I am afraid that he is dead, Sergeant Garcia!“

[Oh no, not the little one]! A now thoroughly shocked Sergeant Garcia mumbled to himself as he went over to the carriage. He helped Corporal Reyes remove Don Diego's mozo from under the carriage seat and laid him down next to Doña Moneta.

Sergeant Garcia listened to Bernardo’s chest, shaking his head sadly, he ordered Reyes, Lugo, Valdez and the others to place Doña Moneta in the rear of the backboard very carefully. Then Reyes tenderly covered her up. Lugo and Valdez hurriedly pulled a blanket over Bernard's face and then Garcia turned around his soldiers and raced toward the de le Vega hacienda.

 

[[[[ZZZZZ]]]]]

 

Zorro had seen enough. He spurred Tornado on toward the secret cave as if he were possessed. His faithful mount sensed his master’s urgency and seemed to transport him home quicker than a flash of a lightening bolt. He halted the black stallion outside the de la Vegas’ gate. Zorro burst through the gate and yelled out:

“Oyez! Atencion in the de la Vega hacienda! Atencion! This is El Zorro speaking! Por favor! Everyone wake up! esta una emergencia! “

Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, a bleary eyed Crescencia opened the door to the sala and held out a lantern before her.

“AAYI! It is Señor Zorro!” she exclaimed. [Oh, by the Three Marias! He is even more handsome in person]! Cresencia said to herself. Then she somehow managed to work up her courage to speak to him! ’”W-What can we do for you, Señor?’

“Don Alejandro and Sergeant Garcia are on their way here shortly with Doña Moneta and Bernardo! Both of them have been shot! Dr. Perez will arrive shortly. so go and prepare beds for them in the sala! Hurry!”

“At once, Señor Fox! Gracias!’

Satisfied that everyone would obey his orders to the letter, the Fox turned Tornado toward the secret cave. He took care of Tornado as quickly as he could and then bounded upstairs to change clothes.

‘I should have never allowed them to travel without my protection. It is my entire fault that they were attacked. Moneta, mi preciosa! Bernardo ...my best friend..Oh, my God, Corporal Reyes said that he was dead! he thought angrily. So help me by the Holy Trinity, I shall hunt down Ricardo like a dog! He suddenly heard frantic voices in the patio and ran downstairs.

“Crescencia, w-what in the world.... Diego sputtered.

“Don Diego, I have been calling for you! Did you not hear, Zorro said that Don Alejandro is bringing Doña Moneta and Bernardo home. Don Diego .” She began to cry. “Someone has shot them both!”

“SANTA MARIA!” Diego yelled. “Have you begun making up beds?”

She began crying. “Oh, sí! Poor Doña Moneta and Bernardo.”

“Crescencia, please save your tears!” He briefly squeezed her arm. “If I forget to thank you later for all of your help, I shall say it now. Muchas Gracias, Señora Crescencia!” His voice broke and this time, he allowed the tears to flow unchecked.

Minutes later, Don Alejandro arrived and shouted for help. They had just finished arranging beds for Moneta and Bernardo when Dr. Perez arrived to treat Dona Moneta and Bernardo’s gunshot wounds.

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

I cannot believe my good luck! Ricardo smiled grimly to himself. If that foolish Bernardo had not thrown himself in front of Doña Moneta, he would have had a much cleaner shot. Bernardo’s unexpected bravery threw off his aim, but he was certain he got her with his second weapon. He had waited at the crossroads just outside the Pueblo de los Angeles just long enough to learn that his intended victims were dead! MONETA DE LA VEGA AND BERNARDO ARE BOTH DEAD!

MONETA DE LA VEGA AND BERNARDO ARE DEAD!! DEAD!! How Don Diego will reproach himself for not being able to protect them both from me! Yet his mind screamed at the injustice that seemed to plague Ricardo regarding his ’mistreatment’ by the de la Vegas. “I will not rest until I have eliminated Alejandro and Diego de la Vega, Zorro or no Zorro!”

As for Jorge Paco, I shall deal with him at my leisure. he thought bitterly. Ricardo del’Amo returned to his hacienda just over an hour past sundown. Odd, the only lighting visible was in the sala. Anna Maria never retires before nine o’clock.

His father’s scolding voice greeted him, “You have the gall to return here! My...son... trust me that I am sick at heart to have such a monster who masquerades as my son, who pretends to be a man!

“Be careful, old man,” Ricardo said quietly. “I would think that such a distinguished hidalgo named del’Amo would want to protect his family’s name and honor by spending time and money to keep his son from serving a long prison term! I have returned to take Anna Maria with me to Argentina.“ he lied, knowing that his father had usually believed his lies that Ricardo had told him for almost twenty-five years. There was no reason for his father not to believe him now.

Don Juan del’Amo blocked his way. “She is safe with her cousin and uncle in Monterey, you coward! Wife beater!” Veins protruded from Don Juan’s thick neck.

“Take this packet and I never want to see you again for the short time that I have left to live!”

“Bueno.” His son counted the gold but frowned deeply. “Only 4,000 pesos!”

“That, my dear Ricardo, is all the money you will ever receive from me! All of the remainder of my property, my hacienda, my import/export business, cattle, I have placed in trust for my future grandson. YOU shall receive NOTHING ELSE from me! You have almost half an hour before Governor Ramirez's soldiers arrive to arrest you for violating your parole!“

Ricardo laughed hysterically. “I am to be arrested for violating my parole! No, father, as I told you since the trial, I am not going to serve any time in prison!”

The younger del’ Amo sat down and lit up a cubano. “My dearest father, you have always underestimated me. I have done something far more important than disobeying Judge Vasca’s orders!”

Don Juan trembled at the sarcasm and coldness in his son’s voice.

Ricardo was still grinning. “Too shy to inquire, eh? Well, I met Doña Moneta de la Vega and Diego’s mozo, on their way home from a shopping trip. For some odd reason, they were not pleased to see me in the slightest sense of the word!” Ricardo paused briefly. “Where was I? Oh. yes ...”

“What did you do?” Don Juan hated to ask this question, but he had to know

His son propped up his feet on one of the patio tables. “Well,” Ricardo said quietly, you will hear the fantastic news shortly. Moneta de la Vega and Bernardo, Diego’s manservant are dead!”

Don Juan felt his heart leap into his throat. “H-How do you know ?”

“Come now, father, surely even you can figure this out. I killed them, of course! And now I intend to remove the remainder of de la Vega clan from the face of this earth!” Don Ricardo laughed manically.

His father removed a pistola from his banda. “I almost wish that you would do something foolish to make me shoot you. GET OUT!”

Ricardo spun on his heels and never looked back.

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Earlier, Dr. Perez had explained to Diego, Alejandro and Cornelio that the musket balls had deeply grazed Doña Moneta’s left optic nerve. He emphasized that the angle at which the pistol was fired was extremely important. Moneta had regained consciousness long enough to tell Don Alejandro and Sergeant Garcia that when Ricardo appeared almost directly in front of her and fired his pistols, Bernardo threw himself across the carriage, desperately trying to shield her from musket shot.

By performing this at of heroism, Bernardo had drastically altered the trajectory of the musket ball. Thus the shot grazed the optic nerve in her left eye rather than ending up imbedding itself behind the eyeball. Only time would tell if there were permanent damage to her vision. However, she was now comatose because when the pistola ball struck her, the impact threw Moneta from her seat and she hit her head on the side of the carriage in the fall. Dr. Perez stressed to Diego that his wife might awaken tomorrow or Moneta could remain unconscious for quite a while, perhaps for the rest of her life. Diego felt as if his soul had been ripped from his body. Life without Moneta would be sheer hell because he would never gain seek the warmth, strength and compassion of a woman’s love.

Don Diego sat alone in the tiny de la Vega chapel in the rear of their hacienda praying to the Blessed Virgin and again to his personal favorite saint, St. Teresa of Avila. Diego had privately decided to go ahead and pray a special novena to the patron saint of the blind, St. Raphael the Archangel, who could intercede with God for those suffering from diseases of the eyes. The young de la Vega recited this prayer:

“Glorious Saint Raphael, great prince of the Heavenly Court, you are illustrious for your gifts of wisdom and grace. You are a guide of those who journey by land or sea, consoler of the afflicted, and refuge of sinners, I beg you, assist me in all my needs and in all the sufferings of this life, as once you helped the young Tobias on his travels. Because you are the medicine of God, I humbly pray you to heal the infirmities of the body of Doña Moneta de la Vega y Esperon, particularly, heal her blindness, and all other infirmities of her eyes. And grant her the great grace of purity to prepare her to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.

St. Raphael, one of the glorious seven Archangels who stand before the throne of Him who lives and reigns, ANGEL OF HEALTH, the Lord has filled your hand with balm from Heaven to soothe or cure Doña Moneta de la Vega y Esperon’s pain. AMEN.”

And his poor brave Bernardo lay in the sala with a pistola ball lodged next to his heart. Dr. Perez had requested a specialist from San Gabriel to assist him in the delicate surgery that needed to be performed to save Bernardo’s life. Diego scratched at the stubble on his face and again choked back tears. Bernardo would never allow him to miss a night of shaving. What a sight I must be! The unshed tears again poured from his bloodshot eyes.

“Diego.“ His father knelt beside him.

”Sí?“ His son pushed himself from his knees and sat down on a pew. “Oh, my apologies, father, I did not realize it was you.’

“Drink this entire cup of tea and in a little while you shall eat some chicken broth.” Alejandro watched sadly as Diego forced the hot liquid down his throat.

“Gracias, I needed that.”

“Diego, I realize that is perhaps the darkest hour you have ever experienced, but God shall give you whatever strength you need to survive. I shall return in five minutes with the broth.“

Too numbed by anguish to argue, Diego nodded weakly. When Don Alejandro returned with some food he discovered his son sound asleep in his pew.

“Rest well Diego, for you shall need all of your vigor to find that Bastardo del’Amo and courage to accept whatever fate the Creator decides for Moneta and Bernardo!” His father whispered as he tossed a blanket over his son.

 

[[[[[[[[ZZZZ]]]]]]]]]

 

Moneta opened her eyes the third morning after Ricardo del’Amo shot her and Bernardo. She vainly tried to raise her head, but it was heavily bandaged and throbbed incessantly. When she called for Diego, Crescencia quickly told Don Alejandro, who dragged a still half-asleep Diego back to the sala.

She cried out for Diego to tell him how Bernardo had covered her body with his when he saw Ricardo pull out his guns. “Where is Bernardo? Diego, is he well?” Greatly fatigued by this effort to talk, she closed her eyes again.

Her husband and his father traded worried looks. “Querida," Diego whispered into her ear, “Bernardo is better. Now take this medicine so you can sleep.”

“G-gracias, my beloved ...she mumbled after Diego gave her a teaspoon of some more pain medication.

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Dr Perez called everyone together that afternoon to introduce the surgeon who would operate on Bernardo the next day. Dr. Manuel Poncé de Salvador was a former physician to His Spanish Majesty, King Ferdinand VII. He was visiting his cousin, Dr. Perez, on a two-year tour of Spain‘s colonies in the New World. Dr Perez immediately told Dr. de Salvador who jumped at the chance to operate on Bernardo. “Senores, I will allow Don de Salvador to explain his technique to you!

‘’Buenas tardes, Honorable Señores. I discovered a new procedure for sedating patients, using judicious amounts of chloroform. This greatly alleviates the intense pain and shock patients suffer while undergoing serious surgeries as the patients are asleep during the entire procedure.” Dr. de Salvador told Don Diego and his father. I have had enormous success in saving patients who would --- and often did-- die from the shock of undergoing an operation!”

“Dr. de Salvador, what are Bernardo’s chances, with or without surgery?” Don Diego inquired.

“Well, without surgery, I am 100% certain that he will die a slow, agonizing death. With surgery, I personally give him a forty to forty-five per cent chance of survival. I await your decision.“

All three hidalgos nodded “Sí!”

“Then, con permiso, senores, I must retire for the evening to prepare for tomorrow’s surgery.”

Don Diego said to his father and to Don Cornelio, “I am returning to the chapel ‘to pray for Bernardo until dinner and after dinner I shall stay with Moneta for the remainder of the night.”

[[[zzzz]]]]

 

Dr. Perez and his Master Associate, Enrique Ferrara, assisted Dr. de Salvador in the operation. No one was allowed in the sala, which served as the makeshift operating theater, because Dr. Salvador firmly believed that germs caused infections, and he had Señor Ferrara scrub down the wooden operation table and clean all surgical instruments with alcohol.

Bernardo’s surgery began promptly at seven a.m. and lasted nearly three and half-hours. When it was over, Dr. Perez sent for Don Diego and Don Alejandro. Dr. de Salvador smiled. “I successfully removed the pistola ball. By the Grace of God, it had not pierced the pericardium, or the lining around the heart. Bernardo will recover fully!”

Don Diego hugged his father. “Let us go and tell Moneta, my son!’

Diego shook his head. “First, I believe that I have someone very important to thank.” He left the gentlemen in the library and went to the chapel.

 

[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Jorge Paco, the de la Vega’s new Indian servant, was the first to hear the frantic knocking on the hacienda’s patio gate.

“Don Juan, padrone!” Jorge exclaimed, “How can I serve you? It is almost dawn, and everyone is still asleep!”

“By all the Santos, who is here at this hour?” Don Alejandro angrily demanded as he came downstairs. ‘”Why Don Juan, you are the last person I expected--”

“Please, Alejandro, I came to warn you, especially Diego and Moneta. I have just disinherited my son, and I have sent Anna-Maria back to Monterrey after Ricardo -- abused her. Alejandro, Ricardo shall not rest until he has killed all of you de la Vegas. He admitted shooting Doña Moneta and Bernardo! He has become a raving lunatic! “I-I--” the sobbing Don Juan collapsed on a patio chair.

“It is difficult to watch your son grow to into someone -- something so twisted and so unlike yourself, Juan. Stay with us for a while, por favor!” Alejandro told his friend. He looked up at Diego who was standing on the balcony and nodded curtly.

Diego had been watching and overheard their conversation from his balcony. He silently waved to his father and ran into the secret room. It was time for the Masked Avenger to ride.

 

 

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