Pacific Odyssey:

Book II: China

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six 

Betrayal

 

 

 

“Was that not magnificent, Father?”  Enrique asked.          

Diego was flushed with embarrassment as well as exertion. He got a towel from a rack and wiped the perspiration from his face and neck.  “I am sorry to have become so carried away, Administrado.  I was trying to convince your son of the benefits and splendor of fencing.”          

“It would seem you have, Senhor de la Vega,” the envoy said, seeing the intense pleasure on Enrique’s face.  “My son, go and tell the cook to prepare for one more at the table tonight.”  

Enrique nodded.  “Will we be able to practice more tonight?”

Diego looked at Senhor Batisto and when the envoy nodded, said, “Sim, Enrique.  We can practice later.”  The boy smiled and ran from the room. 

“I am Paulo Maria Pedro Batisto.  I have heard only a small amount of your story, most of it rumors, Señor de la Vega,” Batisto said by way of introduction when they were alone. “I would like to hear it from your lips.  Then I can know best how to help you.” 

Heartened by the envoy’s interest and friendly manner, Diego began telling of his kidnapping and indenture, only giving the pertinent details of his story. 

“You do realize that the Portuguese carry the same types of cargo, señor.  I would have to insist, if I was able to book you passage on a Portuguese ship, that you would not do the same thing to Portuguese cargo,” Batisto said with a smile.  

Diego smiled as well, encouraged by Batisto’s words.  “I promise to leave your country’s cargo in the hold no matter what it is.”  He paused almost afraid to ask the question that was uppermost in his mind.  “Can you help me?”

“It may be delicate in these times of increased competition and tension, but I do not see why we would not be able to slip you on board a Portuguese ship heading to the Philippines at least, then you can board a ship heading east.  You have, after all, provided a service to our country, even if that was not your original intent.”  Batisto was calculating even as he spoke.   “I daresay, though, we need to do this quickly and as quietly as possible.  While I do not answer to the British envoy, he is very powerful with many spies and a great deal of money.  He is like a fighting dog in the pit when his ire is aroused and I suspect that he is not happy about the loss of his cargo.”  At Diego’s chagrined look, he added.  “It is the state of this trade war.  Eventually, Sir William will make money elsewhere and this incident will fade from his memory.”  

Enrique burst into the room.  “I told the cook, Father.  Can we practice some more?” 

“Yes, yes, you two carry on,” Batisto said.  “And Diego, perhaps when I have time, we can have a small fencing match this evening.  At one time I was considered fairly good with a blade.  And I will begin to make arrangements for your passage home.  It may take a few days to find a suitable ship, though.”   

Obrigado, Administrado.”  Joy filled Diego’s heart.  At last!! 

“Young man, someone is looking after you.   I might as well help them along.  So think nothing of it,” the envoy said jauntily as he left.           

“Thank you for your praise, Enrique,” Diego told the boy when they were alone. 

“Oh, but Don Diego, you fence so well,” replied Enrique.  “Where did you learn?” 

“In Spain.  At the university in Madrid,” Diego told him as he showed the boy another stance.           

Senhor de la Vega, why does Miguel hate you so much?” Enrique asked, having noticed the man’s dark looks whenever he passed the room.           

“First of all, call me Diego, and secondly, I was unaware that it was that obvious to anyone else but me,” he admitted.  “I am really not sure, to tell you the truth.”  He pondered a minute.  “Perhaps it is the way I feel about the opium trade, and before you ask, I think that it is an abomination.  But I am not going to hold anyone else in judgment over his or her views.”  Diego smiled at the boy.  “But enough gloomy talk.  Let’s work on the stances and then we will see how you wield the blade.”   

Together they practiced the footwork for parrying and then for the thrusts and parries.  Finally Diego handed Enrique a practice foil and they practiced on the practice dummy.    By the time they were ready to wash up for supper, Diego felt that the envoy’s son had progressed to practice bouts with him.  “Very well done, Enrique.  You have a talent that should be developed.”  Enrique flushed with pleasure.           

While he was changing for supper, Diego had to admit the boy was actually pleasant to work with.  He sighed as he wondered thought about how long it would be before he was able to board a ship heading east, and then he chided himself on his impatience.  After all, he had just spent weeks at sea.  A few more days would not be of consequence.  

The dinner was pleasant with the talk alternating between Spanish and Portuguese.  There were only the three of them, do Santos having sent his apologies sometime earlier in the afternoon.  For his part, Diego was not sorry that the assistant to the envoy was unable to join them.  Enrique plied him with innumerable questions about his kidnapping and his life at sea, while Senhor Batisto asked about his home in California. The two men discussed the virtues of their respective wines and foods, each claiming the sweeter wine.  While Enrique looked increasingly bored, the men also talked about growing seasons, cattle and horses.  It seemed ironic to the young Californiano that he would be eagerly discussing topics that he had avoided after his return from Spain.

 Diego relished the taste of the food, some of the best that had passed over his tongue since he had been kidnapped.   Diego left almost feeling too somnolent to practice with Enrique.   Later, Diego tried only semi-successfully to sleep on the mattress.  It was so soft after weeks of sleeping in hammocks and on pallets that he was unused to it, but finally he drifted off into a fitful sleep.  He woke up once with the impression that something dire was going to happen, but it was no more than a vague uneasy feeling and soon he fell back to sleep.          

The next day, he and Enrique worked out a great deal of the morning.  When Miguel do Santos saw them practicing together before lunch, he admitted sourly that the man was an excellent teacher.  He was doing things with the boy he couldn’t even begin to do.  In alarm, he realized the boy was becoming attached to the Californiano and the old man was, as well.  Miguel do Santos decided he needed to go see the British very soon, this morning in fact.  Perhaps they would feel very generous, so soon after the destruction of their precious cargo and their ship.            

In the middle of the afternoon, Diego insisted that he and Enrique take a break, jokingly telling the boy that he had worn him out.  Enrique went down to the kitchen to order some refreshment for them both, but stopped when he heard Miguel do Santos talking to one of the servants.  “You make sure the fencing instructor stays in the residence for one hour and then go and tell him that the envoy wants to see him out in the plaza,” do Santos explained.  “Tell him to wait there for the envoy’s arrival.  When the British come to take him to their prison, he will not be in a position to take refuge here or anywhere else.  Do you understand?”  Santos handed the servant some coins.           

“Yes, sir,” the servant said, emphatically, bowing and pocketing the money.  

Nodding in satisfaction, do Santos left, passing Enrique, who had flattened himself into a darkened doorway.  As soon as he was sure that no one was near, Enrique left as well, straight to Diego, anxious to tell him what had he had heard.            

Diego appeared outwardly calm about it.  Enrique was beside himself with rage.  “Don’t just sit there, Diego,” he blustered.  “We need to do something.  I will go to father and have do Santos arrested.”

“You forget, your father left for business at lunch,” Diego said evenly. 

“Then what are we going to do?”           

“We need to plan a little,” Diego said soothingly.  “And then I will do something.” Damn that insufferable, opportunistic pig! he thought, not the least bit calm inside.  He felt his rage building, his thoughts on what he would do with do Santos if the man was in front of him right now.   Diego began pacing, his long stride taking him from one end of the room to the other.  Calm down, he told himself.  There had to be a way to salvage this situation. The journey east was so close now; he couldn’t be delayed from going home.   He continued pacing, his mind in a turmoil.   Why?  Why, by all that is holy, did this have to happen, when I was so close? Diego thought to himself. 

“I know a lot of rooms that no one else is aware of.  You can hide and I can tell do Santos and Father that you left to explore the city,” Enrique suggested.

Diego thought and then dismissed the idea.  “That would be too risky.   There might be spies here in the house itself.  No, there must be something else.”  Diego paced some more.  He could only think of one thing . . . to leave the city and hide in the countryside for a short while.  Stopping and looking at Enrique, he asked,   “Which direction would one need to go in order to get to a wooded area, and do you have any horses here?”  From a window, Enrique showed Diego a general direction that would take him out of the city quickly and to a more remote area. 

“I will let my father know what happened when he comes home.  He will take care of Senhor,” Enrique said angrily.  “I am sure that you can sneak back here after dark,” Enrique told Diego.  “We have several riding horses and some carriage horses. Come with me, quickly.”  Diego made him wait a moment while he gathered his costume and bundled it so that is would be small enough to fit in a saddlebag.  The sword was grabbed from its hook as he walked out the door. 

“Why do you take those things with you?  You will be back here by morning,” Enrique inquired.  

“I hope you are right, Enrique, but one can never know,” Diego answered pragmatically.  “Whether it was one day or two, Diego still felt uncomfortable leaving his costume where anyone could do what they wished with it.  He followed the boy down little used corridors and stairs to a stable, where he picked out a sturdy looking animal.  It appeared to be part Arabian and part Andalusian and was a dark gray color.  The eyes showed interest and intelligence.           

“That is Father’s best horse.  He will take you to the countryside quickly.”

“Then I should take another one,” Diego said, looking over the rest of the animals. 

“No, Father won’t mind.  And you will be back tonight anyway.”  Enrique was worried.  The preparations had taken almost half an hour.  That didn’t leave Diego much time to get out of the city and into the countryside.  “But we need to hurry.”  

“We?” Diego asked, looking around from saddling the horse to see Enrique doing the same thing with another one.  

“I am going with you, Diego.  There is little time and I can take you by the fastest way,” Enrique argued. 

“No, it is not safe.”  

“You do not know the city.  I do.  You may easily get lost,” Enrique insisted.  “I have been living here for almost three years.”             

Diego sighed, knowing that the boy’s arguments were correct.   “Just as long as you turn around and go back immediately after we get to the outskirts of Canton.” 

“I will come back by the more well traveled streets, the wider avenues that were built for us foreigners.” 

“Good.  I do not wish for anything to happen to you, Enrique.   You will also take a trusted servant to accompany us.” 

“But that will take too long, Diego.  We must go now!”  Enrique was almost dancing, he was so anxious.           

“Of that I insist.  I will not allow you to ride back alone.”  Diego continued to finish saddling and bridling his horse, then turned to wait.  

Enrique saw that Diego would not back down on that point.  “Alright, I will be right back.”  He ran back up the stairs and within minutes was rushing back down, an older Chinese man right behind him.  In the meantime, Diego had saddled and bridled a third horse.  The man bowed and mounted the proffered animal. 

They set out slowly at first, because of narrow streets and great numbers of people.  Diego wondered that they didn’t trample anybody, but he, Enrique and the servant managed, after what seemed an excruciatingly long time, to reach a gate that was standing open to the countryside.  “This road should take you to a more remote part of the countryside, Diego,” the boy told him.  

Diego sighed, nodded and then gazed meaningfully at Enrique. “You have acted as a true caballero, Enrique.  Obrigado.”  Wheeling his horse around, Diego set it into a gallop.  

Enrique watched his instructor for a while and then turned to go back to his home.  He would be very, very anxious to see his father this evening.

 

                                ==================================

 

Alejandro sat in the sala studying the fire, watching the flames flicker and dance.   Forgotten was the half-filled glass of wine near his elbow.  All other lights had been extinguished in the room and the shadows cavorted above his head.  He needed to go out as Zorro.  It had been over two weeks and it was the time just after the gathering and slaughter of the cattle.  Already Sergeant Garcia had arrested several vaqueros for drunken brawling and with silver coins still jingling in many pockets, there were bound to be incidents, some much less innocent than fights in the plaza.  

And this was the perfect opportunity for those accursed revolutionaries to act.  They could do much while the good sergeant and his troops were busy breaking up the activities of celebrating vaqueros or patrolling for rustlers who also liked to strike during this season.   

Alejandro glanced at the shadow dancers above him and he sighed, scrubbing his hand across his face.  He had recently heard complaints that Zorro hadn’t been riding as he ought against the bandits, or the rustlers or the rowdy vaqueros.  Santa Maria! Alejandro thought, do they think that Zorro is immortal or some kind of mythological Greek god?   He frowned, angry at the attitudes of the people.  Don’t they know that Zorro is just a man? My son, my lost son, Alejandro despaired.  Then there were those who said Zorro was sick or hurt and they uttered quick prayers for their dark angel.  Heaven knows he had prayed enough for ‘Zorro.’  Alejandro felt the tears fighting to surface, the prickly heat of emotion, and he blinked hard.  Suddenly Bernardo stood in front of him, his fingers flying, his face showing extreme agitation.  

“Slow down, Bernardo, I cannot understand what you are saying,” he admonished.  

‘Barmaid Maria!’ the mozo signed.  

“What about Maria?  Did something happen to her?” Alejandro asked, concerned at the intensity of emotion on the servant’s face. 

Nodding, Bernardo continued.  ‘They took her.’ 

“Who?  The revolutionaries?”

 

Bernardo shook his head.  Vaqueros!  I heard one say they were taking her to Don Ramon’s north pasture.  There is a camp there.’ 

“How many?” Alejandro asked, standing, knowing that this night Zorro must ride. 

Bernardo shrugged, then held up four fingers.  

“You think maybe four men?”  Alejandro was appalled.  “I think this calls for both of us.” 

Within a short time two black clad riders were racing through an equally dark night, Tornado running with the sure knowledge of experience.  Bernardo followed closely behind.  In an hour the pair had arrived close to the campsite and dismounted.  Bernardo tied his gelding far enough away to avoid being heard by the vaqueros.   Tornado followed a short distance and then stopped at Alejandro’s hand signal.  

Bernardo slipped from boulder to tree to shrub, grateful for the few clouds that hid he and Don Alejandro.  They sneaked up one on either side of the camp.  In the light of the fire, they saw Maria struggling with two men who were trying to tear off her clothes, while two others watched and laughed and drank wine. 

Alejandro felt the heat of his anger rising but he controlled it, dwelling only on what needed to be done to save the girl.  He saw Bernardo signal that he was ready.  Silently, Alejandro drew out his sword and then pulled out his pistol.  At that moment, Maria jerked away and the old don saw his opportunity.  Leaping into the firelight, he slashed at the nearest vaquero, while at the same time firing his pistol, hitting the second man in the shoulder.  Both men screamed, backing away from him.  Quickly, Maria gathered the shreds of her blouse across her bosom and ran out of the camp.  

Pivoting to face the other two men, Alejandro saw that they were lying face down on the ground.  Bernardo stood over them grinning, a club in his hand.  Alejandro grinned back and motioned for the mozo to leave before anyone saw him.   The two injured vaqueros writhed on the ground, oblivious to anything around them.  

The old don stepped back into the shadows, even as he heard Maria’s voice behind him.  Señor Zorro, is it safe?”  Alejandro heard Maria approach him.  “Oh, señor, thank you!”  

Maria stood close enough to the substitute Zorro for him to feel the heat of her body.  He also felt her shivering and glanced down to see that there was not even enough fabric left from her blouse to cover her chest.  Alejandro could feel the heat rising in his cheeks and he glanced away.   You silly old man, he thought, pushing away the unbidden feelings that the sight of the half naked girl had awakened in him.  Ai!  I am old enough to be her father! he reminded himself.  He undid the cords of his cape and slid it off, gently putting it around her shoulders. 

Maria pulled it tightly around herself and her shivering subsided.  Gracias, Señor Zorro,” she whispered, gratitude heavy in her voice. 

He smiled and nodded, not wanting to speak any more than necessary.  Then he gently guided her to Tornado, who was waiting patiently.  Alejandro picked her up and placed her in the stallion’s saddle, swinging up behind her.  Maria shifted to get comfortable, ending up huddled against his chest, even as the don eased Tornado into a trot. 

They soon reached the pueblo and Alejandro helped Maria to the ground and escorted her to the back of the tavern, where she lived in a small room next to the kitchen.  She stood on the tavern steps and smiled at him.  “Here is your cape, Señor Zorro,” Maria said coyly and began pulling off the black silken cape.  

“Oh, no, no,” Alejandro blurted, and then trying to match his son’s voice, added, “No, señorita, you keep it.”  

Maria smiled.  Gracias, señor,” she said, lowering her eyes for a moment.  Suddenly she stepped forward and kissed him on the cheek.  She looked puzzled and then smiled again and turning, slipped into the little room off the kitchen.  

As the door clicked shut, Alejandro touched his cheek, turned and strode back to Tornado.  He mounted and rode home, where Bernardo met him in the secret cave.  

The mozo signed a query to him. 

“Yes, I got Maria Crespo home safely, but I am too old for this, Bernardo!  Young, nubile señoritas sitting on Diego’s lap are one thing, but sitting on my lap is another.”  He shook his head while Bernardo tried, unsuccessfully, to hide his laughter.   “Laugh all you wish,” Alejandro retorted and then, watching the servant, began to see the humor of the situation.  A slight smile played on his lips.  “The barmaid is quite comely, but I am old enough to be a grandfather, not a lover.” 

Bernardo signed again and Alejandro scowled.  “Yes, she tried, the shameless wench!”  Bernardo laughed silently, holding his sides when they began to ache.  Alejandro waved his hand in mock dismissal and turned to go up the stone steps.  “If you are going to stand there and laugh, I am going to bed.”  

   

 

 

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