The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN -

 

 

THE UNEXPECTED GUEST

PART II

 

The magnificent animal hesitated briefly but knelt down. Selena tied one bandage around the Fox’s wound and then ripped a large piece of cotton cloth to drape over his face. She then tied this bandage in the back so it would not fall and reveal his identity. Slowly, she eased the Fox’s torso upright and rolled/pushed him closer to Tornado. With both arms Selena grasped his legs and managed to pull his lower extremities onto Tornado’s back. As the Fox’s stallion carefully rose to his feet, the señorita positioned Zorro on his saddle.

Once she was certain the injured Fox was secure on his horse, Selena used the lantern’s light to try to eliminate as much evidence as she could that Zorro had ever been inside the cave. Selena de Rojas gathered up her belongings and replaced everything in her saddlebags. She then carefully guided Tornado to the cave entrance. Cielo was waiting for her at the waterfall’s edge and she quickly remounted her steed. Together the little party crept back at a snail’s pace to her hacienda.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Amontildar was pacing the stable porch waiting for Selena as she fingered her old ivory rosary beads Mon Dieu and Le Diable! Mais s’elle ne retournerais pas a bientot, ah, je m’en fou! [If my mistress does not come home soon, oh I am being foolish! Of course the Mam’selle will return to her bonne amie.” Nearly two hours had passed since her mistress had left to search for Le Renard [the Fox]. The tall Creole heard the familiar sound of Cielo’s hooves beating a steady rhythm on the hard packed dirt path leading to the de Rojas hacienda. Oui! Elle rentre chez soi. [Yes, she is home!]

“Amontildar, please get Teodores to help you bring El Zorro upstairs to the secret bedroom. Vite, vite! [Quickly but carefully!]”

Teodores passed the lantern to Amontildar and picked up El Zorro quite easily, for he was a Chumash Indian almost six and a half feet tall and weighed nearly 300 pounds. Her trusted manservant carefully brought the wounded man to a secret bedroom hidden behind the hacienda’s sala within a maze of carefully laid out twists and turns. After she dismissed Teodores, Selena and Amontildar began tending to Zorro’s head injury. "We dare not trust Dr. Avila with this secret. As you can see..."

Selena de Rojas carefully removed the bandages that she had applied to his head. "Mon Dieu!" Amontildar sighed when she saw the identity of the Fox. "Me, I cannot believe my eyes. El Zorro he really be Don Diego de la Vega,” she whispered to the Señorita.

"Neither can I my friend. Now we must quickly dress his wound and make him comfortable for the night.” Selena said in happy surprise. “ I will remain with Monsieur Le Renard for the remainder of the night. Please remember that you must never reveal what you have seen in this room."

"Mam’selle, vous can depend upon me.” Amontildar promised as she crossed her heart three times with her right hand. “But now, first you go wash your lovely face, my petite, while Amontildar, she clean up zee Fox and put some night clothes on him. Allez-vous, maintenant!” [now, go!] she chided Selena. “Den vous can return to see your beau!“

Her lifelong maidservant concentrated on checking Selena’s care of Zorro’s head wound. ”Ah, ma chere, you done well,” the Creole lady murmured aloud. As Amontildar examined the torn skin nearest the injured man’s right ear, she realized she had to surgically mend the skin or the wound would never heal properly.

“Mais cher Zorro, you do need Amontildar’s special medicine and me, I promise you dat you no feel anyting, pas de tout [nothing at all.”] She gingerly elevated Zorro’s head and coaxed him into swallowing a couple of teaspoons of her special pain elixir. When his breathing become regular and more relaxed, she fetched her sewing kit from the nightstand drawer and proceeded to close up his wound. Finally, Amontildar removed Zorro’s dirt and dried blood-encrusted clothes, bathed him and with Teodores’ aid, pulled a nightshirt over his head as gently as possible.

Satisfied with her ministrations, Amontildar picked up the lantern and returned to the kitchen where she supervised the preparation of hot soup for her mistress. I sincerely hope señorita does not get in much trouble because she has such a kind heart. God only knows what dat bête noire of a capitaine would do if he discovered that she be givin’ aid to his worst enemy, El Zorro, Amontildar sighed inwardly.

ZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Back in her room, Selena dutifully scrubbed her face and upper torso as she worried about her beloved Diego ...who was in fact, the “outlaw” known as Zorro. Sacre Coeur de Jesu, she scolded herself, you can not settle down until you see him. Mon cher, I can not bear watching you suffer. I should have shot the commandante when I had the chance to do so last night, but Glorioso had relieved her of the pistola when his men mistook her for El Zorro and had failed to return the weapon to her. Sometimes I wish I could thrash the commandante myself! Selena pushed aside these unpleasant thoughts and concentrated

on her toilette. After rapidly exchanging her filthy riding clothes for a casual dress, she hurried back to Diego’s side.

Selena was relieved that Diego’s face had regained ia measure of its normal color and his fever was breaking, for this meant that he would live. She believed implicitly in her Creole friend‘s potions and poultices would effect a rapid recovery. Despite her best intentions to remain awake, Selena closed her eyes and was asleep in a chair beside Señor de la Vega’s bed. When Amontildar checked with Señorita de Rojas an hour or so later with the hot soup, she laughed silently.

Ma petite, if you could see yourself now,” she whispered. “How lucky you two young people be to have each other!” The maidservant threw a blanket over her mistress and smiled once again as she looked down at them. Selena had fallen asleep while holding Diego’s right hand. Her duena exhaled softly. I wonder if El Zorro knows how much she loves him or should I say both the Fox and Diego de la Vega?

 

ZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Sergeant Garcia wished he had been ordered to escort Señorita de Rojas home the previous night after hearing Corporal Reyes incessantly repeat what he ate at the de Rojas hacienda early last evening. The señorita had an excellent reputation in the Pueblo de Los Angeles for serving fine food and wine. He also wished they were back in the Cuartel doing anything but searching for El Zorro in this blistering heat. The only good point regarding this expedition was the lancers were back for the second time at the Rica Luna waterfall since Peldar claimed to have shot the Fox. At least the sergeant could remove his boots and soak his sore feet in the cool refreshing water.

Garcia held up his hands in mock defeat. “No more, Corporal Reyes, I beg of you. Roast chicken, a whole one for each of you,“ the sergeant marveled and saffron rice ....ahh. You are making my stomach growl very time you tell me the story of your wonderful dinner!”

The Corporal rolled his eyes. This makes up for all the times that you tricked me into loaning you “only a peso or two!” Reyes thought as he smiled at the exasperated Garcia and smothered another laugh by covering his mouth with his hand.

“Will you please shut up Corporal!” Garcia said, “that is an order and ...”

“Sergeant Garcia, report!” the Commandante’s voice assaulted his ears.

“We found nothing, mi capitán and we have searched everywhere!” Garcia saluted as smartly as he could.

Glorioso spurred his pie-faced gelding onto the final patrol route. What a waste of time. I could be back at the Cuartel having a decent meal and waking up with an enticing bed partner rather than fruitlessly running around this dry and dusty countryside.

Mi Capitán! I have found some blood!”

“Who said that?” Glorioso asked as he narrowed his eyes.

“Lancer Peldar reporting, Commandante. I discovered this bit of black silk far back in the cave behind the waterfall. See it is full of blood!”

“So it is!” the Capitan was reenergized by this stroke of luck. “I think that we shall search every hut and hacienda in this area! And we made this discovery on Señorita de Rojas’s estate. Very interesting that she claimed not to know El Zorro was on her land. I almost hope she is truly ignorant regarding her disapproval of that outlaw’... Then he ordered, “Lancers, andelante!”

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

After Amontildar made her patient comfortable at the hacienda, Teodores followed Senorita de Rojas’s instructions to the letter. She had told him to find the hoof prints her party had made last night and erase them as best as the Indian could. She realized Commandante Glorioso was certain to find the trail she had taken home. Teodores set out an hour before sunrise to carry out her orders. He cut some branches from the scrub brush and meticulously scratched the road as his Chumash Indian grandfather had taught him. Teodores then used a trail through the rocks known only to his tribe --and the señorita -- to return home. The Indian had sworn to Don Martino he would do everything humanly possible to protect his mistress from harm and intended to honor that oath with his life if necessary.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Zorro understood vaguely that he was in a bed, a real feather stuffed bed. But how I did arrive here ...from damp cave ...someone pushing me atop Tornado. but who? He felt around his bandaged head and then probed with his fingers further down to his jaw. Dios, mi! Mask ..is.. gone! He glanced around the stone wall, which seemed so familiar yet so alien. Since his head still throbbed painfully, he was careful to keep relatively still and move only his eyes. His gaze zeroed on someone who was sitting next to his bed. SEÑORITA DE ROJAS? NO! Diego winced as he was determined to get up. The commandante is sure to come here to question de Rojas and search her hacienda. She will be imprisoned...

Selena jerked herself awake and noticed the candle next to Diego‘s bed was almost burned down to its holder. As she lit another large fresh candle, she watched silently as her patient attempted to speak. By the Blessed Mother! Her heart felt as if it were turning over in her chest.

“Señor Fox, you must rest. You, sir, are not going anywhere for quite a while,” she replied as she eased his head back onto the pillow.

“Señorita ...listen well...Capitan Glorioso will hang you ...my fault I am here.”

Selena smiled tenderly at him. “Señor, it is an honor to serve a hero. Besides, how did you think that you arrived at my door?” She arched her right eyebrow.

He briefly closed his eyes. “ How did .. you get Tornado to ...” Diego never finished the sentence for he again lost consciousness.

“Rest, mi corazon,” Selena whispered as she stood in the doorway with a small lantern. Now she had a new worry. Does Don Alejandro know that Diego is Zorro? Surely Diego will be missed at the de la Vega hacienda! But the immediate problem is Commandante Glorioso. He certainly will come calling later today...

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Don Alejandro finally lost patience with Diego’s disgusting habit of sleeping until nearly noon. Bernardo had tried to make him understand that Diego had taken a sleeping potion. Something in the mozo’s eyes bothered Don Alejandro. Well, enough is enough. We must go into the Pueblo to settle the rancho’s tally of cattle hides with the exporter. Señor Montero will only be staying in Los Angeles two more days.

Diego!” His father pounded on the door. “I am sorry to awaken you but you have to accompany me into town! Diego! BY ALL THE SAINTS!” Don Alejandro saw Jorge Paco in the patio and yelled down for him to bring the keys to Diego’s bedroom. When Don Alejandro finally unlocked the door, he received a shock. His son’s bed was empty!

Bernardo saw his master’s bedroom door was open as he was coming up the stairs with Diego’s morning hot chocolate. Dios! Now what should I do?

Diego’s father emerged from the bedroom his face flushed dark red. “Bernardo!” Don Alejandro yelled. He was so angry that he forgot his son’s mozo was deaf. He did not care and ran over to

grasp the mozo’s arm. Diego’s father spun Bernardo around. “I am going to somehow make you tell me why my son did not return home last night! He marched Bernardo back into Diego’s bedroom and closed the door.

“Now, my friend, you are not going to leave this room until we reach an understanding!” He pushed Bernardo into a chair and pointed repeatedly from Diego’s bed to Bernardo. ‘Where is Diego?” Don Alejandro folded his arms and glared at the manservant.

Bernardo was at his wit’s end. Where could his master be? Was he injured, lying somewhere unconscious, or worse, been captured by that porco Glorioso? He was sweating profusely and could no longer look at Don Alejandro’s face. Tears welled up in his eyes at the thought of Diego being captured and cruelly suffering unbearable tortures at the commandante’s hands.

Don Alejandro stood up and paced the highly polished floor of Diego’s room. He paused and glanced at Diego’s fireplace. Bernardo tried not to stare him. Don Alejandro wondered... Since returning from Spain Diego has also shown little or no interest in obtaining a wife to continue the de la Vega line. After that Diablo Monastario wounded me, Zorro saved my life. When the Fox was tending my wounds the outlaw seemed so familiar that I told Zorro if I had the courage I would have reached out and removed his mask, only to find my son Diego’s face beneath the disguise.

Think, Alejandro, he reproved himself, think. In his mind’s eye, he could see the Fox’s warm hazel eyes. The color of those eyes had haunted Alejandro since that day. Hazel eyes ... so memorable ... yet still undecipherable Then there was the time Diego told the Eagle that he valued his life over my own and Bernardo’s and when Señor Varga released him, he went to Don Alfredo for help. Zorro then appeared ahead of Don Alfredo and disappeared again once the Eagle was dead. Minutes later, Diego arrived to see how the battle turned out. By the Blessed Virgin! Now that Alejandro had seriously considered the matter of Zorro’s true identity, he had never seen El Zorro and Diego together at the same time. Diego is Zorro? Bah, but that can not be! Diego is a scholar, an artist, and a composer of music and poetry! The elder de la Vega shook his head and continued leaning closer to the fireplace, his fingers almost touching the hidden switch to the secret room.

Bernardo cringed at the sight as he crossed himself. No, please por Dios! A few inches more and then ...

Don Alejandro signed audibly and unwittingly moved his left hand to the switch. Both men felt and heard the whoosh of air that swept into the bedroom.

 

END OF CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

 

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