Book II: China
of the Long Journey Home
what does executed mean?” Martha Ann asked.
on earth are you asking that, darling?” Victoria asked in return.
is a word I heard Sir William use.”
It means that someone was killed.
Usually it is for something wicked that they did,” Victoria
wasn’t sure she liked this conversation.
you said the ‘Opium Bandit’ wasn’t wicked,” Martha Ann said.
There were tears in her eyes.
“Why would someone kill the ‘Opium Bandit’ if he wasn’t
breath caught in her throat. No!
Diego can’t have been caught!
Not after all this! “What
do you mean? Just
what did Sir William say?”
man said that some prince executed the ‘Opium Bandit.’”
he say anything else, sweetheart?” Victoria asked.
Mama. Sir William told me
to leave. And he didn’t
say it very nice either.”
Victoria thought. Oh,
Diego, I had so hoped that you would be able to make it home, she
lamented. Well, there is
only one thing to do then. She
squared her shoulders and raised her chin.
looked at her daughter. “Oh,
nothing, darling. It is
just that we are going to have to take a little voyage to keep a
promise.” She paused for
a brief moment. “I can
understand your sadness, I am sad, too.
Sometimes even good people do things that other people think is
wrong. That is probably why
the prince killed the ‘Opium Bandit.’ ”
Ann sniffed and wiped her hand across her nose. Even while she felt sadness at the death of the dark
stranger, she thought about Mama’s words.
They were going to take another voyage.
She liked that. “What
one that I made to Mr. Bowman before he died,” Victoria answered,
taking Martha Ann’s hand and squeezing it gently.
Her little girl had a puzzled look.
“You remember that shell that I let you look at?”
Martha Ann nodded. “It
belonged to Diego and we are going to make sure that it and the rest of
Diego’s things get back to his father.”
That’s a long way away, isn’t it?”
it is.” Victoria motioned
to the servant who had been cleaning up after tea.
“You stay here and play with Ling Yu, my darling.”
Turning she left the room and went to the smoking room where Sir
William was conversing with several merchants.
The smoke from their pipes and cigars hung heavy in the room and
made Victoria’s eyes burn slightly.
William looked at her in surprise and then stood up. “Ah, Mrs. Meachem, to what do I owe this visit?”
want to book passage on a ship that will take me to California.”
eyes widened in surprise and he took the cigar out of his mouth before
it dropped out. “What . .
. whatever for?” he finally stammered.
Then he cleared his throat, taking total control again.
“Why do you wish to go to a territory of our country’s
made a promise to the supercargo of the China Star and I intend
on keeping my word,” she answered.
I would make sure that his assistant’s father got word of his death.
I also gave my word that I would get the young man’s effects
back to his family as well,” Victoria stated with much more bravado
then she felt.
heavens, Madam, surely you cannot be serious!”
course I am serious. I have
the means to keep the promise that I made and I do keep my promises.”
Meachem, the best thing for you to do is to go back to England where you
can live comfortably on your inheritance,” Sir William stated, drawing
on his cigar.
live uncomfortably with my conscience,” Victoria retorted.
was only an indentured, conscripted sailor.
You can send the effects on a ship heading that way.”
dead man was, but Mr. Bowman wasn’t and I made my promise to him.
Sending the effects on a ship going toward California is not
going to fulfill that promise. Diego’s things will never reach there unless I make sure
they do. And Diego’s
father will never know what happened to his son,” Victoria stated.
“Do you have children?”
you could never understand.”
what about the family of your late husband, God rest his soul?” Sir
William countered. “If
you go gallivanting off to the Americas, how will they know of his
do know and trust some of those going back to England on the next ship
and I am assured that they will get the word to Thomas’ parents.
As soon as I have finished this task, I will return home,” she
sighed. “When do you wish
to go? It might be
difficult getting passage on a ship that will go to the Spanish
soon as something is available,” she said.
“And it doesn’t have to be British.”
think you are very foolish, but it is your money. I assume that you are taking your daughter with you?” he
sighed lustily, exhaling a plume of cigar smoke. “Taking the effects of an indentured sailor to his family
half way around the world.” He
shook his head in exasperation. “Forgive
me, Mrs. Meachem, but you have more money then good sense.”
Sir William, but I also have a conscience devoid of guilt, too,” she
said. “Thank you and good
day, gentlemen.” Victoria
turned and left the room. She
was pleased at how well that went, but at the same time afraid.
Afraid of the future, afraid of the decision she had made.
Was she being foolish, she asked herself?
brief halt a short distance from the main road was called shortly after
the sun rose. One of the
guards walked the perimeter of the camp while the rest ate a cold
how long will it take us to get to the inlet?” Diego asked.
day and a half,” the captain answered.
“We should be there some time tomorrow afternoon or evening.
Shortly we will leave the main road and then we should not have
to worry as much about an ambush.”
captain was as good as his word. They
rode through fields where workers bent over bushes harvesting tea
leaves, through narrow passes between rocky pinnacles and through more
rolling hills and valley, cultivated with numerous farms.
Naked children played in front of farm houses cared for by their
aged grandmothers, while chickens and ducks roamed, eating grass, the
winnowings of rice, and any insect that moved within their range of
though Diego was dressed the same as the captain and the guards, it was
still obvious by his height and features that he was European.
He drew curious stares but no comments.
Most of the people they passed were too busy trying to raise
enough to feed their families.
evening, they shared a farmer’s house with a family of eight.
Diego fell asleep to the soft notes of a Chinese lullaby as the
mother sang to her baby. In his dreams he heard his own mother’s voice singing
softly in his ear. Then
distinctly, he heard, “Do you remember what I told you before I
left?” He heard
himself answer, “yes.” Her
soft voice sounded very close. “Then
do not forget. I am proud
of you, Diego, more than I ever was when I died. And I will always be near you.
Do not forget….”
not forget,” Diego murmured as he rolled over on his good side.
seemed like a moment later, the caballero felt a hand on his
shoulder, shaking him awake.
“It is time for us to go,” Zhaou Haifang said softly.
blinked in the dimness, trying hard to remember the wispy tendrils of
the fog-like appearance of his mother in his dreams. He paused in wonder, recalling her visit to him on the China
Star. He pondered the
reason for this visitation, but felt comfort in the dream.
journey was uneventful as they continued toward the coastal inlet.
Hills turned to level pains where rice fields sparkled in the
sunlight. Diego smelled the
tang of the ocean and felt his heart beating harder in anticipation.
Forcing himself to calm down, he watched ahead for the first
signs of the end of this part of his trek.
came just after noontime. The
small troupe rode over the last hill and was met by the almost blinding
reflection from the vast expanse of the confluence of the ocean and the
river that led to Canton.
they were at the shore, where the captain of a medium-sized junk awaited
them. Dismounting, they
approached the ship. The
guards began unloading the chests.
ship is ready?” the captain asked, wondering remotely where his scouts
were. “We are a bit
earlier than we expected to be.”
come aboard, come aboard,” the man said, smiling and bowing.
nudged Diego’s alarm centers. “Captain,”
is something wrong,” the warrior leader murmured. Pivoting, he ordered, “Mount quickly, it is an ambush!”
jerked his horse around and mounted from the right side, urging the
animal into a gallop even before he was fully in the saddle. Musket balls whizzed past his ear. He and the doctor reached a small stand of trees near the
crest of the small hill at the same time.
Turning, Diego saw, to his dismay, the captain and the two
guardsmen near the shore exchanging fire with the men on the junk.
The body of one of their attackers lay floating in the river, but
two of their horses lay on the ground, one writhing and screaming in
turned to the doctor. “Do
you have a pistol?” he asked, pulling his own out of the holster on
but I am not good at using it,”
it to me then and stay here with the horses,” Diego ordered.
your injury….” the physician began.
will not sit back here while those men are taking balls meant for me,”
Diego said tersely. He took
the pistol from the doctor’s saddle and checked it. He noticed in
satisfaction that it was already loaded.
Surveying the terrain, he saw that there was no chance of being
able to sneak up on foot.
another horse rode into the stand of trees and stopped short.
Diego’s pistol was cocked, but he didn’t fire.
It was the other scout. “Ambush,”
Diego said. “How many
pistols do you have?”
Give me yours,” he said.
We will each have two weapons.
And the two of us will have a better chance against those men,”
Spanish Prince. You stay here,” the Chinese warrior said, calling him
by the title that had embarrassed him greatly the past few days.
you coming with me or staying here and arguing with the wind?” Diego
soldier stared slack jawed while Diego surveyed the road behind them and
the road to the ship. The
assassins wouldn’t have seen the scout’s arrival.
Musket fire periodically sounded.
do you plan on doing?” the scout asked.
They aren’t expecting you and I don’t think they expect me to
do anything either. They
saw my injury,” Diego answered. “As
soon as most of them have fired and are reloading, we will rush down,
you on the right flank and me on the left. Hopefully we can disable several before they have a chance to
man looked only slight dubious before he nodded.
his sling slightly, Diego was able to hold his reins in his left hand.
This was a well-trained horse, responding to voice and leg
commands as well as the reins. He
hoped that under duress, the horse would continue to do so.
He cocked one pistol and listened to the musket fire, also
watching from the comparative safety of the stand of trees.
“Now!” he called out as he kicked his horse into a run.
Diego heard the guard doing the same.
As a marauder rose up in surprise, Diego aimed and fired. The man rose up clutching his chest and then fell to the deck
of the ship. Another
attacker screamed in pain.
tossed the spent pistol aside and pulled the other from his belt.
The horse continued unerringly toward the shore.
The captain and one guard stormed up the gangplank, hurling
epitaphs toward the ancestors of those on board.
Diego fired again and heard a cry of pain.
Jerking the horse to a stop near the outcropping of rocks that
the captain and his guards had just vacated, Diego leaped off.
A ball whizzed just over his head.
Too close for comfort! He thought as he ducked lower
behind the rock that suddenly seemed much too small to hide him.
On the ground next to him was the second guard, his hand clutched
to one leg, where blood was seeping between his fingers and onto the
midday sun gazed down hotly over the men as Alejandro outlined his idea.
“But Alejandro,” Don Alfredo complained, “What is going to
make this plan work where the others failed?
There are just too many of these men.”
there are not, Alfredo. At
least I do not think so. I
have talked to some of those who witnessed the raids, the burnings, the
robberies,” Alejandro began.
that is the point, my friend, there were no witnesses.
There never are.”
are hardly any, but there have been some, Alfredo, and always, the
witness has said that there are just a few, no more than six men,”
Alejandro insisted. “And
these raids are never carried out at the same time.”
There were only a dozen men sitting on their horses in the middle
of a large pasture. “But
if we work in groups, with only the twelve of us knowing the plans of
the others, there is less chance of these thrice accursed
revolutionaries knowing them.”
men looked at one another and nodded.
“And we will only use trusted men, vaqueros who have
been with our ranchos for a long time,” Don Ramon stated.
Ramon. If we can thwart
them now, they will have to come up with something different, and if our
men, our trusted vaqueros and servants are able to work together
in this way, just think how well they will work, if a call ever comes
out to band together against a really large force.”
Alejandro smiled his assurances to each of his friends.
“We will be more ready for whatever these men think of next.”
about the small rancheros?” Don Alfredo asked.
them fend for themselves, just as we are going to do,” Don Carlos
if we are able to defend ourselves with our own men, the bandits will
probably begin to strike against those less capable of defending
themselves,” Don Alfredo said.
are right, Alfredo,” Alejandro mused.
“We cannot protect ourselves and let our weaker neighbors
suffer.” He rubbed his
chin in thought.
if we have our men periodically patrol these smaller ranchos?”
Ramon Santillo suggested. “We
can draw lots amongst ourselves and then inform our men on the day that
they are to ride in these areas.”
surely we cannot keep all of these activities secret. And what about the pueblo?” another asked.
rubbed his chin again. “No,
you are right. Occasionally
someone is going to say something and the wrong person will hear it. But I think if we are careful, we can succeed in frustrating
the efforts of these evil men for the most part.”
He paused. “As to
the pueblo, let us see how our plan works.
If it is successful, then we can inform the acting comandante that
he can concentrate more of his patrols near the pueblo.
And I would assume that Zorro would figure out what we are doing
and work accordingly.”
is doing nothing,” Don Carlos spat out.
“He is ineffectual and less than useless.”
welled up in his chest and Alejandro opened his mouth for a quick
Carlos,” Don Ramon said. “It was Zorro who killed the bandit that
broke into my rancho grande last month.
My new bride said that he saved her from death . . . or worse.”
that night well, Alejandro said nothing for a moment. The men remembered similar incidences of the past months.
And then, when the rancheros had quieted down, he said,
“Zorro is only a man, one man. We must do our part. Just
as we have done for years during times of hardship, we have worked
harder than ever to overcome. We
did not wait for someone to come along and succor us then, and we cannot
do so now. Zorro is a great
man, but we have to be equally great.”
To his relief, the other men agreed, and even the taciturn Don
Carlos finally nodded. “Very
well, we will try this plan. And
later we can meet again to plan further strategy,” Alejandro said.
He felt deep satisfaction as the men made specific plans.