The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

 

ZORRO'S STRATEGY

 

 

"Señores, por favor, please settle down so we can begin the meeting!" announced Don Alejandro. I have asked everyone here tonight on behalf of the citizens of Los Angeles. This is a critical time for everyone in the community, and as the pueblo’s leaders, Don Alfredo and I have decided to coordinate our efforts to eliminate Commandante Glorioso with ... a señor who is also important member of this community.” Don Alejandro said as he clasped his hands behind his back and turned away from his friends. “This is why I have asked you, señores, to meet with ...”

As Bernardo held open the library door, Zorro slipped quietly into the room. "To meet with me, señores. Gracias, Don Alejandro, for agreeing to have this meeting in your hacienda and gracias to everyone for coming,” he warmly hailed the dons. “I am afraid, señores, that I require the help of everyone in

this room. Commandante Glorioso has recently imprisoned and tortured many of our citizens because of his own personal hatred of the lower classes. In addition, señores, I have proof that the capitán has also murdered three innocent young women who worked for him in the posada." Total shocked silence reigned in the de la Vega library as the Fox revealed this news.

Don Alfredo stood up and exclaimed, "What exactly do you propose, Señor Zorro? I for one believe we should take immediate action against the capitán."

“Here, here, Don Alfredo,” seconded Don Nacho Torres. “We are with you, Señor Zorro!”

“Gracias, Don Nacho, and an excellent idea, Don Alfredo, but as with all revolutions, solid plans must be made to obtain the desired objectives," replied Zorro in a firm voice. “First, the local dons must select a representative to send to Governor Pablo de Sola. I suggest that whomever you send to Monterey do not commit your strategy to paper. Your representative must memorize our plans and repeat them in person only to the governor himself."

"I am in complete agreement, El Zorro," said Don Alejandro. "May I present my recommendation to the señores for this committee's representative?"

Don Cornelio, Don Alfredo and his nephew, Don Stefano, nodded their heads. Don Carlos Caudillo said nothing and sat in his seat wearing his customary glum expression.

"Of course, Alejandro, you always have excellent advice." added Don Alfredo.

Don Alejandro continued, “The person whom I have selected to send to Monterey is my mozo, Jorge Paco. Now, before some of you object to the idea of an Indian as our official envoy to Governor de Sola, let me state for the record, I would trust Jorge with my life! That is all I have to say."

“Your mozo, Don Alejandro?” Don Carlos finally spoke up in an incredulous tone.

The elder de la Vega whirled around angrily. “Don Carlos! Are we not gentlemen, and such, better than Capitán Glorioso?” After all, it was his enormous greed as well as his racial prejudice that has resulted in the chaos we are experiencing today!”

Don Alfredo confronted Don Carlos. “Alejandro is correct, Don Carlos.”

“Besides,” Diego’s father said crisply, “no one would suspect an Indian to be the hidalgos’ emissary to Monterey. “Jorge Paco will leave later tonight and use paths to Monterey that only he and his people know!”

El Zorro walked throughout the room, looking at each don in the eye. “Excellent thinking. Gracias, Don Alejandro. Secondly,” the Dark Avenger resumed outlining his plan, “I am going to speak with the Alcalde of Los Angeles later night to persuade him to help control the people of our pueblo so they will not take any action against the Commandante until either I or Don Alejandro give the signal. I also propose that Don Alejandro revive his ‘citizens’ army’ he had raised against the Eagle, Señor Varga." The Fox exhaled audibly as some of the older dons muttered among themselves.

“Si, señores, I am suggesting a carefully organized protest against the military authority in Los Angeles. If there any objections to my proposals, please so indicate now. There must be no dissention in our ranks,” the Fox added somberly, "for we must present a united front against Commandante Glorioso.“

“You mean a revolt, do you not?” asked Don Cornelius somberly.

When no one raised a hand or said a word, El Zorro continued to speak. “No, Don Cornelio, there is no one disloyal to Spanish rule in this hacienda, like the Eagle!" the Fox replied in a strong voice. “The purpose of this army is to control access to the city of Los Angeles. Don Cornelio and his vaqueros will block all roads leading and exiting the pueblo. Dons’ Alejandro and Alfredo will be in charge of leading the péons and merchants in besieging the Cuartel. This is the broad outline of my plan. I welcome your suggestions and support, señores.”

Don Alejendro stepped forward and announced to the entire room: "I hereby pledge my life, my son Diego’s life and all of the resources at my command to overthrowing Capitán Glorioso." He placed one hand on Don Carlos's shoulder in the other hand on El Zorro's shoulder. “Are we all agreed that we must support the Fox’s plans?"

Don Alfredo again asked for permission to speak. "Señores, I make the same pledge as Don Alejandro and I urge everyone in the room to do so. Yes, lives may be lost in our struggle against tyranny, but if we do not remove Glorioso, while informing Gobernador Sola regarding our intentions, we shall lose both our lives and our freedom."

Everyone in the room applauded Don Alfredo’s speech. Don Alejandro asked for a vote regarding El Zorro's proposal and to the Fox's relief, his proposal was unanimously excepted. "Gracias, señores, for your vote of confidence. I shall take my leave of you and permit Don Alejandro and Don Alfredo to finalize their plans for our protest to take place in forty-eight hours."

As El Zorro exited the room, Don Alejandro asked him to stay for a few minutes so that he could speak with him in private. "Let us go into the sala Señor Fox."

The outlaw gave the old don a quizzical look. “Señor...?”

Don Alejandro was not usually at a loss for words but here he was alone again with El Zorro. No, the Fox is my son, Diego. And I do not know what to say! May the Saints give me strength! he swallowed and realized his throat was dry. “May I offer you some brandy, Señor?”

“Gracias, no. For me, time grows short, Don Alejandro. I must ride to see the Alcalde. Adios!” Zorro touched his left hand to his hat’s brim and then bounded into the patio and out into the invigorating November air.

“Oh, sí, I had forgotten ...Vaya con Dios, El Zorro.” Don Alejandro whispered. Know that my prayers are always with you.” The old man’s words were uttered both with paternal pride and concern. My dearest Bethia, there is much I have to discuss with you when I finally retire to bed later tonight...

ZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

As Zorro and Tornado returned home in a long, circuitous route, he fought back tears of joy at hearing his father’s praise for his actions as Diego. Ah, to no longer be considered a wastrel, a ne'er’ do well and a sloth! But seriously, I still feel that I can not yet reveal my secret to my father. Yet, Don Alejandro is certainly no fool for I could have sworn he knows I am Zorro. His eyes...no, I must be mistaken. Perhaps, once I have driven Glorioso and his house of ill repute from Los Angeles, I can tell him. We shall see ...

When he and Tornado trotted into the cave, Bernardo was waiting for him with some hot food for him to eat. His mozo saw several tears trickle down Diego’s face as he donned his caballero‘s clothes.

What is it, my master? Your eyes, your face are wet! Bernardo worriedly signed as poured some wine for Diego.

“They are tears of happiness, my friend. Allow me to eat and later I shall tell you about Zorro’s meeting with Don Alejandro.” Although the mute had overheard what had transpired in the library, Bernardo joyously clasped his hands and thanked God. Dios mi, gracias for the three wonderful people in my life, Don Alejandro, Don Diego and Doña Selena de la Vega.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Throughout the next evening the Fox remain troubled by Don Alejandro’s atypical behavior when he was in the sala with his father. Dios mi, there can be only explanation... father knows ... somehow he knows! However, my personal problems must remain secondary because I have to consider the needs of the unfortunate souls jailed in Glorioso’s cuartel. He shivered, but not long enough for his steed, Tornado, to notice. The stallion thundered on into the night, his mind totally focused on carrying El Zorro quickly and safely to his destination. The Man in Black was deep in thought when suddenly Tornado snorted as he halted in the alley behind the Alcalde’s home.

“W-what in the name of the Virgin?” The Fox was jolted back to the present by his steed’s sudden lack of movement. His faithful friend had stopped in an alleyway directly behind the Alcalde’s residence.

“Ah, gracias, my friend; I am glad someone is paying attention!” he praised his friend as he alighted from the saddle with a practiced, graceful ease. Hazel eyes rapidly examined the surroundings, searching the shadows first for any hint of danger, then beyond the alleyway out into the street. Over there, someone is coming this way. “How many, Tornado?” Zorro whispered to his mount. The charcoal hued animal softly pawed the ground once. One, but who, a lancer or some Angelino trying to evade the lancers searching for curfew fugitives? the Fox wondered.

The flip-flop of a man‘s sandals echoed through the plaza. Eight thirty o’clock in the evening and all is well!” the town crier announced. “Eight thirty o’clock in the evening and all is well!”

Zorro chuckled to himself. Well, an outlaw can never be too cautious. Then he hid Tornado deeper into the alley’s shadows and searched the alcalde’s modest home for the welcome entrance of an open window. There on the second floor, was his invitation, and luck would have it, a window with a balcony. El Zorro unfurled his whip and quickly wrapped it around the balustrade. In one quick move, he climbed up the wall and easily vaulted over the balcony. After listening carefully for any sound inside the bedroom, slipped through the window. As El Zorro crept toward the hallway, he heard a pair of male voices outside the bedroom door. The Dark Avenger dropped to the floor and crawled underneath the Alcalde's bed.

"Juan, please call a meeting of as many of the regidores you can notify as soon as possible. Take extra care in contacting the other señores because the Commandante's soldiers will be patrolling the streets to enforce his curfew. I do not want anyone else in pueblo to end up in Glorioso's jail. Now, Vaya con Dios!" said Alcalde Baltazar. The alcalde then opened his bedroom door and walked inside. He suddenly felt as if he were not alone in the room. Ridiculous, my friend, there is no one here. Glorioso’s mad behavior even has me unusually nervous. Baltazar noticed the open window and irritably stalked over to the balcony to close it. When he turned around he saw a tall dark figure standing before him.

"El Zorro! You made you way safely through the lancers’ patrols. Bienvenidos, señor!” exclaimed the alcalde.

"I do try to keep my appointments," the Fox dryly replied, "but I did have a bit of difficulty getting here. How many péons has the commandante imprisoned?"

Baltazar frowned deeply. "The cuartel is nearly full of prisoners. However, I am especially concerned about Señor Ballarias, since he has been the most outspoken opponent of the commandante. A few péons have been released from the cuartel, and these men have reported to me that Glorioso is cruelly torturing Señor Ballarias. He has neither been given food nor drink for the past two days. Señor Zorro, I can barely restrain the people from attacking the cuartel. And you know what would happen if they were to face Glorioso's well-equipped lancers; they would all be massacred." The alcalde spread his hands in a gesture of defeat.

"I am very sorry to hear about Señor Ballarias, alcalde.” And this news will infuriate Selena and worry her endlessly. The Fox mused as he continued his talk with the Alcalde, “Earlier this evening, I met with Don Alejandro and he

Cornelio, Carlos, Nacho and all the other dons in the area are united with me in this cause.” El Zorro edged closer to Baltazar and dropped his voice to a

whisper. “It is critical to the success of this revolt that the people of Los Angeles refrain from any contact with the lancers. They must not take any action which might further provoke the Commandante.”

Señor Baltazar smiled wanly. “Ah, of course, El Zorro, you have a plan. I am eager to hear it. And I have dispatched my mozo, Juan, to convene an informal gathering of the regidores...”

Si,” the Fox replied wryly, “I know, for I was eavesdropping on your conversation, Alcalde. I wish I could stay for this meeting but as I explained

to Don Alejandro, I believe there is very time left before Capitán Glorioso does something so despicable the people of Los Angeles will result in open rebellion and become Glorioso’s latest murder victims if they act alone.”

Zorro rubbed his chin in thought. “Beginning tomorrow afternoon, please ask all of the merchants not to open their shops and tell the péons to avoid the marketplace entirely on Friday. Capitán Glorioso will naturally become curious regarding this alteration in the pueblo’s routine. If we can lure Glorioso away from his men, we can capture him and hold him until Governor de Sola’s arrival.”

Baltazar was impressed. “You have contacted the Gobernador?

“The less details you know regarding that phase of our plans, the better, Alcalde. Who knows, the Commandante may be plotting to arrest you on a some false crime. I can not take that risk.” El Zorro’s forceful gaze swept over Baltazar face as the alcalde met the Fox’s stare.

“And after his insane flogging of Don Diego, I agree, Señor Fox. Of course, I shall do whatever you require of me. The regidores and I will organize and monitor the people.” replied Baltazar. Suddenly, the alcalde chuckled.

“Why do you laugh, alcalde?” a bemused Zorro inquired.

“It seems that everyone in Los Angeles must now forego the skin of the lion and put on the guise of the Fox,“ Baltazar wittily observed.

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Zorro reflected on his conversation with the alcalde as Tornado galloped toward the secret cave, where food and other creature comforts awaited

rider’s fatigue from their ride. Selena had earlier asked Diego’s mozo about his master’s usual arrival time from a night mission because she wanted to prepare hot soup and tortillas for him when he returned.

“Sometimes the ...” Selena hesitated, not at all confident about her interpretations of Bernardo’s unique method of visual communication. “Repeat that, por favor.”

The mute brushed his hands together, meaning, ‘allow me to begin again.’ The mozo placed his index fingers behind his ears as he narrowed his eyes into slits. Bernardo finished his demonstration by rapidly moving his head back and forth and sniffing the air.

“’Fox!’ Of course! How clever of you, Bernardo. Please continue, for obviously I have a lot to learn!” Selena’s eyes were luminous with excitement.

He pulled a pocket watch from his vest and dramatically shrugged his shoulders. Then he pointed to her, meaning, now do you understand?

Si, you never know when Zorro shall return home, and you often wait up for him. Oh, my,” Selena gasped, looking at a very familiar figure in black behind Bernardo, “Zorro!”

Tornado’s neighing startled the Fox’s bride. When Selena reached up for him, her beloved was beaming at her with one of his brilliant smiles. “What are the two of you doing still awake? It must be almost ten o’clock!” Zorro laughed. He tossed aside his mask and beckoned her into his open arms. “Mmm. “Buenos noches, Señora de la Vega.” Diego murmured. “Does your husband know that you are entertaining a ‘dangerous outlaw‘ under his very own roof?”

Selena sighed contentedly. “I shall not tell him if you do not! And I propose ...” Diego’s beloved abruptly stopped talking and he felt her body begin to shake.

“Diego....weak ... dizzy again..” In less than two minutes the caballero rushed upstairs and placed her in their bed. “Bernardo, wake up father and bring him to me. I want him to write a note to Dr. Avila for you to take to him at once. Hurry!”

His wife’s complexion was as white as it had been on the first day of the Day of the Dead fiesta. Diego rung out the facecloth he had soaked in the basin of cool water Amontildar had earlier provided for him and placed it over her forehead. Despite Amontildar‘s objections, Diego had insisted on caring for Selena himself.

What could possibly be wrong with my Selena? Surely it is not the dreaded mountain fever? Too early in the season for that malady to strike, he thought as anxiously awaited Dr. Avila’s arrival.

 

END OF CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

 

 

 

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