The Promise



Gail Manfre











The worsening pain in her back forced Maria Suarez to drastically slow down her pace.  At least the kind Sergeant Garcia had defied the Capitan’s orders and let her have some bread and water, but they both knew that she would never live to complete her journey to the Mission.  I know.... will try ... reach Don Diego de la Vega.  Such a kind man ... warm eyes... he will help me... she finally decided. Maria swallowed some of the cool well water from Garcia’s canteen and dragged her aching body once again down the Camino Real.  

She pulled the tattered remnants of her blouse together and wrapped a thin shawl around her. Despite the fever that racked her body she shivered in the now cool to her skin night air. Maria began walking the well-trodden dirt path that led to the de la Vega hacienda. The young señora had only gone a few paces when she stumbled and fell unconscious to the ground.





A large wagon drew up to the edge of the Camino Real just outside the pueblo’s limits.  Its driver whispered to the horses to be quiet as two pair of eyes searched the darkening  countryside.  

“Señorita, I do not see her, but Maria’s friend Ariana said she saw Señora Suarez being escorted out of town less than an hour ago,” a young male voice whispered.

“Patience, Jacinto, Ariana is usually right.” the Chumash Indian’s mistress cautioned. We had better find Maria before the coyotes decide to have the poor senorita for supper!  The lady bit her lower lip, wondering what she would do if she were alone on the Camino Real, thirsty, starved and beaten almost to death.

“Jacinto,“ the lady suddenly thought aloud, “is not the de la Vega estate the closest one to Los Angeles?” If I were Maria Suarez that would be the only possible decision she could make.”  

“Sí, Señorita!” Jacinto happily responded. “We will find her soon, señorita, we will!”

Tres bien, then drive on in that direction.  If I were Maria, Jacinto, that is where --STOP!”  the lady shouted suddenly.  Jacinto pulled hard back on the reins.  

Jacinto looked at the spot in the road where the Señorita pointed.  He bolted from the wagon and reached the unconscious Señora Suarez first.  His mistress ordered him to put Maria into their cart while the lady used some cut brush that she had brought with her to erase their footprints and the wheel marks in the dirt.  

The señorita who had set out to rescue Maria Suarez knew that this poor young woman was dying.  All the kind lady could do was to make the señora’s last hours on this earth as comfortable as possible. She bathed Maria’s hot forehead with cool cloths while waiting for Jacinto to return with Dr. Avila from the Pueblo. The pobrecita was delirious and moaning something about reaching Don Diego de la Vega. Yes, she soothingly told Maria, Don Diego is very kind [and handsome and gallant] the senorita mentally told herself as she placed Maria into a soft clean bed in the little room.  Such a virile man; his hands, large, elegantly shaped but gentle --or the señorita at least imagined Diego would be gentle if  he were ever to hold her in his arms.






Tornado ran as fast as he could until he was a dark blur in the dusk. Zorro knew that Maria Suarez would be in terrible pain and he wanted to reach her as soon as possible.  He halted Tornado at the beginning of the path leading into Los Angeles and raised himself up in the saddle to scour the Camino Real. How odd, I should be able to see someone moving around. She can not have traveled very far.  Maria must be somewhere close by. Zorro dismounted and strained his eyes to examine the road closely.  How I wish for even a little more light!  the Fox muttered to himself as he looked up at the moonless sky.

He walked back and forth along the Camino Real but found nothing. Then he had an idea. “Tornado, go down the road, boy, and see if you can smell anything unusual!”

The horse shook his mane in acknowledgment and trotted off back in the direction for home.  

What? Where in the name of Heaven is Tornado going?  The Fox stood with his hands on his hips and shrugged.  

His magnificent horse paused briefly and sniffed the air. Tornado’s hoof struck something soft in the road to his right. The horse continued to sniff around the object, for indeed, it was a piece of woman’s clothing.  He whinnied for his master.  

Zorro ran to his side.  “Tornado! You found is Maria’s shawl!”  He bent down and could barely see that the road had been swept to hide... who or what? he wondered.  The Fox carefully searched the ground again for a little while and he was just about to give up when he saw half-erased markings, which appeared to be wagon wheel grooves.  This road leads to Don Martino de Rojas’ hacienda, Zorro thought to himself.  

“This is a mystery, my friend and I do not like mysteries not of my making.  Ho, Tornado!  Head for the de Rojas’s hacienda !”




Dr. Avila entered Señorita Selena de Rojas’s bedroom and was surprised to see her not only out of bed but also looking quite healthy.  

“Selena,” her old friend began, “I do not understand.  Jacinto said that you were gravely ill!  And where is your father?”  

She smiled wanly. “Dr. Avila the emergency is real.  You must take a sacred oath never to reveal what you are about to see.”   Selena crossed her arms as she waited for his answer.

The physician returned her smile.  “Of course, Selena.  Now who among your household is in such distress to warrant a nocturnal visit from your favorite doctor?“  

“Bueno.“  She walked to her rosewood-inlaid armoire and pressed a hidden button. A low whishing noise emerged from the open space behind the piece of furniture.  Selena took a candle from her dueña, Amontildar, and motioned for Dr. Avila to follow her into the passageway. The three of them walked through winding turns before Selena stopped before what appeared to be another solid wall.  Amontildar stepped forward and grasped the solitary iron rung imbedded in the stone.  The wall slid back, revealing a small room with a dresser, two beds and two chairs.  In the left corner one of the beds was occupied.

“Señora Maria Suarez, formerly ‘employed’ by Capitán Glorioso.  Help her, Dr. Avila if you can.  Amontildar and I have done the best we could.”

Dr. Avila bent down and checked her pulse. He sighed heavily and when he turned to speak with Señorita Selena his eyes were brimming with tears.  “Lo siento mucho, señorita, but the young lady has departed from this life.”

“Will you prepare the death certificate doctor?  I shall bury her here.  And I have one more difficult thing to ask of you,” Selena’s gray eyes darkened with unshed tears for the criminal waste of a human life. “At least she will suffer no more.“ Señorita de Rojas remarked quietly. while gazing at the  pathetically thin form that  was Maria Suarez.  

“Name it, Selena, and it shall be done,”  the physician replied with sincere admiration.  

“Por favor, let me have the death certificate and do not say anything about this. I have recently learned that her husband is dead and she has no other relatives. I shall provide for her six children. As far you are concerned you came here to treat me for indigestion.”  

Dr. Avila looked puzzled by her statements. “But how did you learn of Señor Suarez’s death?”  

“A few pesos distributed wisely, here and there.” was Selena‘s cryptic answer.“  

The physician kissed her goodbye. “I understand Señorita de Rojas. You are a brave woman to defy the Commandante!”  

“El Zorro can not do everything and be everywhere.” she said quietly.  “And that is the trouble with the local dons.  They want the Fox to fight all of their battles for them.  If I were a don, I would...”

“But you are not, Señorita Selena. You are a generous and kind young lady, not a caballero.  Please, for your own sake, remember that. Buenos noches.”  

“Gracias, Dr. Avila.” Well, I can only hope to meet El Zorro some day ... soon.  I shall send word to Father Felipe about Maria Suarez. He will probably tell the Dark Angel about Glorioso’s latest crime.  Selena said to herself as she yawned.

“Mistress, you want I should prepare la juenesse [young lady] for her final resting-place?  Me, I dress her in a nice silk dress, oui?”  

Mais certainement, Amontildar.”  

“Ah, de pale green one, eh?”  

Selena nodded absentmindedly.  “Oui, I have learned to trust your taste.”  

“Then you be ready for bed? Mais, ma chere you done all Le Bon Dieu could expect you to do!”

“Not just yet, I have to write a letter to Father Felipe to come as soon as possible to secretly perform Maria’s burial service here and also I shall enclose funds for the proper care of her children.  Father Felipe will give them a decent place to live and enormous amounts of loving care.”  

“Tres bien.  Me, I get Jacinto and his friends to bury the pobrecita?”  

“Again you are always one step ahead of me, Amontildar,” Selena nodded. Then she sat at her desk for over an hour composing the important letter to Father Felipe. By the time Amontildar returned to help Selena change into her nightclothes for bed, Selena had lain down on her bed and fallen asleep.

“May all of your dreams be happy ones, chere,” her maidservant whispered before closing the bedroom door.




I was correct.  Someone brought Maria Suarez to the de Rojas hacienda. But Don de Rojas in not due arrive home from Santa Barbara for another two days.  Then it could not be... Hushed voices dissolved Zorro’s reverie.   A group of men were emerging from the rear of the hacienda and were carrying a shrouded bundle.  A body, he guessed. Señora Suarez’s body!  

Quick, Tornado, hide!”  Horse and rider ducked behind a large bush less than ten feet from the gravediggers.   

“Hurry, Jacinto! I am tired from driving all night! Now the señorita says I have to bury this pobrecita! Ai!”

Be quiet, Jose! We must bury her deep in the ground and then in the morning plant those new rose bushes our mistress ordered from Monterey.”  

The Fox remained hidden until they were finished.  After a half-hour or so, he emerged from his hiding place and quickly used a small shovel Selena‘s men  had left behind to dig into the mound.  There! A piece of tattered cloth clung to the shovel.  Yes, the material matched the fragment of shawl Tornado had discovered earlier in the road. Zorro rapidly repaired the hole he made. With a mystified but admiring look at the de Rojas’s hacienda, he mounted his horse, turned Tornado around and sped home.




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