The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

TARGET: EL ZORRO

Zorro leapt up the stairs leading to the secret room. He was so preoccupied with Selena and their unexpected romantic encounter, when he changed into his nightshirt and looked into his bedroom mirror he saw the silk mask still lying half-fastened around his neck. Ai, yi yi! Her skin was so supple, so soft... he remembered wistfully... by Saint Teresa, I am enchanted by her!

Bernardo tapped three times on his door in their private code and Diego responded with two knocks. Entering, his mozo placed a tray with a cup of hot chocolate on his nightstand.

You are home early. Is everything all right? Bernardo signed.

Diego exhaled slowly. “Yes and ... no. I visited Señorita de Rojas tonight. and you were right, she did indeed reproach the Commandante regarding his vile behavior.”

Bernardo waved his arms. Not good, my master. I believe the capitán hates women, all women. If the Señorita continues to defy him....

“I completely agree with your excellent assessment, Bernardo. He will arrest her if he considers her ‘suggestion’ as ‘interference‘ and God only knows the limits of his cruelty. And that is precisely what I fear because Selena is very stubborn and not afraid of Glorioso.”

His master drained the cup of chocolate and looked thoughtful. “Tomorrow, Zorro will ride to all of the peons’ homes inside the de la Vega rancho that he can reach and distribute pesos to each family. I will handle the tradesmen later. But the first thing I must do is to plant an idea in my father’s head. When I awaken I shall dictate a note for Don Alejandro de la Vega.”

Bernardo smiled to himself as he went to his quarters in the servants’ wing of the de la Vega hacienda. My master has that dreamy, wonderful sparkle in his eyes now when discusses the señorita. Don Alejandro is right. It is high time for Diego to marry and have sons. Fate has apparently decided to take charge of the matters at hand. Is not young love truly glorious?

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Señorita Selena de Rojas was awake at sunrise as it painted the nearby hills a pale mauve and then gradually bathed the mountainsides with the golden light of dawn. She had dreamed endlessly throughout the night about the Masked Avenger being with her in this very room, holding her, kissing and caressing her face. Virgin Mary! ..I have never experienced such feelings before. How could Zorro’s mere gaze make my heart turn to butter? Who is he? Yet, when I was in his arms he seemed very familiar. But it was El Zorro and not Diego de la Vega who was in her bedroom last night. Selena glanced at the window. The sunlight illuminated a splash of color on the ledge. It was a single red rose, still wet from the morning’s dew. Selena deeply inhaled the flower’s scent. Mon Dieu, none of my varied suitors had ever given her roses of any color. Ah, gracias, mi caballero, mi Zorro! she daydreamed as one of her Indian maids helped her dress.

Selena hurriedly ate breakfast and announced that she was going riding and would probably not return until late afternoon. She had an idea, one that that she did not have a chance to discuss with El Zorro. Selena placed a money pouch filled with reales and pesos into her saddlebag. then she rode to the vaqueros’ quarters and told her foreman to accompany her. Enrique Romero’s eyes widened when his mistress outlined her plan.

Señorita, all of your tenants will be eternally grateful to you for your kindness.” Romero’s eyes watered from admiration.

“Gracias, but I just happened to inherit great wealth and it is a matter of honor to help those less fortunate than myself,” Selena replied softly.

She wanted to reach all of her tenants before sundown. At every clay and stone hut that she stopped, the pobrecitos were in despair wondering how they were going to escape Glorioso’s vengeance since they had little if any funds left to pay the new taxes. Many times during her excursion into the countryside, Selena donated more than the sum required to satisfy the pending taxes to each family who also needed money for food and clothing. Everywhere she went Selena was greeted with great relief and joy. The señorita also promised to send medical help to whoever needed treatment on her estate as she had done several months before. In addition, Señorita de Rojas reassured the pobrecitos that she would make certain that everyone on her lands would have enough to eat during the winter.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

El Zorro rode Tornado up to the de la Vega patio gates. Old Juan, Don Alejandro's manservant, was startled to see the Masked Avenger riding in broad daylight.

"Buenos dias, señor!” Zorro called out. I have a very important note for Don Alejandro de la Vega. Please make certain that he receives this message immediately. The Fox handed the envelope to Juan. “Adios, amigo.” He threw a brief salute to the servant and rode away towards Los Ángeles.

Juan stared at the document in his hands. Then he recovered from his shock at meeting El Zorro and called Jorge Paco, Don Alejandro’s personal servant, and gave him the message. The Fox spoke to me, Juan Lopez! I can not wait until I tell Crescencia and Manuelo about my meeting with El Zorro! I will be the envy of all the de la Vega servants! Juan chuckled delightfully to himself.

Don Alejandro de la Vega could scarcely believe Zorro risked being seen during the day. He cared not a wit if one of the commandante’s spies reported the Fox’s visit to his hacienda. If I were twenty years younger, I would challenge Glorioso to a duel. But Alejandro was now in his early sixties and his dueling days were only a pleasant memory of happier, more invigorating times. He broke the wax seal on the document and began to read it to himself.

Dear Don Alejandro:

I find myself in the unusual position of needing to ask your help. I believe that Commandante Glorioso can only be defeated if all of the dons band together and oppose him. I suggest you meet with your fellow hidalgos in secret, because the capitán has spies on his payroll. Don Alfredo Alvarez is quite willing to help you in this matter. Today I am traveling throughout the de la Vega district to give money to the pobrecitos so that they shall be able to pay the latest taxes imposed by Glorioso. I suggest that you propose this idea to Don Alfredo and a few or your mutual influential friends. Also I would ask that you and your compadres please elect a representative to send to Gobernador Luis Antonio Arguello in Monterey. Again I must stress the urgency for secrecy because the commandante has spies everywhere.

SIGNED EL ZORRO

A splendid proposal thought Don Alejandro, who was always primed for battle rather than discuss urgent civic matters over endless glasses of Jerez with the other hidalgos. Don Alejandro called for Jorge Paco to saddle a horse for him because he decided to visit Don Alfredo this very minute. Don Alfredo was certainly a kindred spirit. He would be very thrilled to become actively involved in any strategy against Glorioso. Before he left the library, he tossed the letter that Zorro had drafted into the fire. Then with great determination in his eyes, he rode as fast as he could to Don Alfredo's hacienda.

   

ZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

The man in black paused in his work to drink some cool water from his canteen but it was empty. “Fighting the commandante is hot and dusty work for both of us, my friend. Come, Tornado there is a stream nearby. We can quench our thirst there,” he said to Tornado as he guided the stallion onward. Zorro halted his mount on the edge of a clearing next to the water, checking the area for any signs of another human presence. Tornado whinnied once after he sniffed the air. We are alone, my master. Nevertheless, Zorro led Tornado cautiously through the chaparral and into the open.

He knelt down and sipped some of the cool water before refilling his canteen. The Fox had distributed most of the two hundred pesos he had brought with him living on de la Vega land and had not yet reached the pobrecitos residing on the de Rojas estates. Well, I have to try to see everyone I can regardless how long it takes tonight. Since Capitan Glorioso was already sending out his lancers to remind the peons about the ad valorem taxes, he let Tornado drink only a little while longer. He much preferred to play his usual cat-and-mouse game with the soldiers after dark.

The Masked Avenger started towards the de Rojas property when heard horses’ hooves striking the gravel road that paralleled the stream. Zorro looked around him. The countryside consisted of medium height scrub oak trees and very little else. No choice. He had to make a feint away from here and then, after he led the lancers on a merry chase, try to finish his mission of mercy. The Fox whispered instructions to Tornado and the great coal dark animal flew deeper into the brush on Señorita de Rojas’s lands.

Commandante Glorioso had stopped at the same stream to water both lancers and their horses. He remounted his chestnut stallion and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

Capitán, look! Over there!” Lancer Flores shouted.

Glorioso shifted his weight in his saddle. As he turned around, he saw Zorro galloping away from his patrol less than fifty meters downstream from their position. “Lancers, to arms, we have Zorro now! Andelante!”

No, Señor Fox you shall not escape this time. Glorioso muttered to himself, then he shouted to his men: “Do not shoot him! I want him taken alive!”

All the commandante could think of was how he would publicly humiliate Zorro by first flogging him until the Fox screamed for mercy and then hanging him. With the elimination of Zorro, he would have carte blanche to deal with the populace of Los Angeles. Not to mention he could then easily pit one don against the other.  

Glorioso continued chasing the mysterious Dark Angel until sunset. The lancers were tired and hungry and their horses were exhausted and covered with foam. Santa Maria! I am so close to trapping my nefarious foe. Surely that fantastic animal that the Masked Avenger rides is tired. He must be fatigued also.

Zorro stopped Tornado to let his horse rest because the animal‘s chest was heaving. “Easy, caballo, easy. We have done quite a day’s work, eh? If I know the commandante, he is extremely frustrated and wants nothing more than to return to the Cuartel and have a hot dinner.” He rubbed Tornado’s neck affectionately. “Come, there is a very small cave behind the Rica Luna Waterfall on Señorita de Rojas’ property. It is not far.” He did not remount Tornado and instead led him by the reins through the brush towards the waterfall. The Fox was careful to keep his head ducked below the little more than waist high vegetation. He was so hot and sweaty from the dust kicked up during their escapades today that his black clothes and boots were a dull charcoal. When he arrived at Rica Luna, Zorro wanted to leap in fully dressed. How I wish I could remove my mask and bathe my face in the cool water, he said to himself.

One of the lancers who had gotten separated from the main group spotted the Fox lurking through the bushes. Five thousand pesos! The reward for Zorro shall be all mine! Lancer Peldar could not believe his good fortune. He raised and carefully aimed his escopeta and fired.

Zorro had barely reached the edge of the waterfall when he felt a burning sensation on the right side of his head. The world flared into a brilliant white before his eyes and then he was dimly aware of a sharp pain before he slumped to the ground.

“Capitán Glorioso! I have shot Zorro! I have shot Zorro!” Peldar exclaimed.

The Commandante hastily rode out to the soldier. “Where is the outlaw? Take me to him, baboso!”

Peldar quickly led the capitán to the spot where he wounded the Fox.

Glorioso was thrilled that he would at last have a body to show the Gobernador and to the people of Los Ángeles. That would convince them their infamous hero was human after all! Zorro’s corpse would make quite a trophy hanging from the gallows he would erect in the center of the Pueblo de Los Ángeles’ marketplace. And if this lancer thought that he was going to collect the reward he was sadly mistaken.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZ

 

A short distance away, Selena was riding Thunder, her bay gelding, pleased she had distributed all of the pesos and reales to her father’s tenants. No, they are your tenants now, Selena, despite Spanish law prohibiting women from inheriting property. Well, the lands and tenants are mine until the solicitor probates my father’s will so my brother in law could assume ownership or until I marry and my husband would receive the title to father’s lands, whichever occurs first, Selena sighed resignedly. As she told Thunder to return home she thought she heard gunshots.

Mon Dieu, could there be poachers trespassing on my property?” she said aloud. Selena looked at the sun hanging low in the sky. Another hour or so and it would be dark. Then she worried it might be the capitán hunting for El Zorro. But I will not allow that porco of Spanish officer to harm the Fox! The señorita dug her heels into her horse‘s side and against all good judgment raced toward the Rica Luna waterfall with a loaded pistola in her left hand. El Zorro Glorioso will not capture you without a fight, Selena thought, this oath I swear on Don Martino de Rojas’s grave!

 

 

END OF CHAPTER F0URTEEN

 

 

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