Book III: The Journey Home
This is from the episode, An Affair of Honor, wherein Zorro tells Avila, "I still seem to be here, Seńor." Seems very appropriate here, too.
Diego is finally on his way home. Now his euphoria is only tempered by his fears as to what he will find when he gets there. Will the terrorists still be plaguing the citizens of California? Will his father still be alive? Bernardo? His friends? And if the terrorists are still there, what can one man do to vanquish them? Ah, but this one man is Zorro!!
Sail Away Home
Without even turning around, the sound of
chanting told Diego that the sailors were at the capstan raising the
anchor. It felt strange,
standing idly by as others did work he had done for seemingly so long.
Soon the clanking and rattling ended and he heard the words
‘away aloft!’ in Portuguese. Leaning
against the rail, Diego saw sailors scrambling up the ratlines to their
duty stations. That, too,
was strange, hearing familiar English words spoken in Portuguese.
Diego gazed around at the quarterdeck, the forecastle and the masts, and realized in astonishment that this ship was an East Indiaman. He had been so excited upon boarding that he had not even noticed that fact.
“Bom dia, Senhor de la Vega. Impressive, isn’t she?” a voice from behind him asked. Part of the greeting was in Portuguese and part was in Spanish. The Spanish was impeccable. Diego turned and saw a slender, middle-aged man, with a well-trimmed beard and mustache. The man’s light blue eyes gazed intently into his. “Welcome aboard The Gossamer Princess, Senhor de la Vega. I am Capităo Juan Vasco Fortuna. Later when the ship is out to sea, I can show you around. She is a grand ship, despite her heaviness in the water. And if you feel neglected, please be patient. This past year we have not had many passengers.”
“I know about these ships,” Diego said, looking back up at the sailors climbing to their duty stations among the sails. Fortuna was watching them as well. “My duty station was in the middle of the topgallant yard,” he said quietly, pointing.
“What?” Fortuna asked, staring in amazement at his passenger.
“I served on an East Indiaman.”
“A British East Indiaman.
The China Star,” Diego said, giving the name in English.
“Ah, the damaged ship in the harbor?”
Fortuna watched the men above and seeing that
they were in position, bellowed, “Loose sails!”
Then he turned back to his passenger.
“And how did a Spanish citizen manage that, if I may ask?”
Diego smiled wistfully. “I was shanghaied.”
“Sinto muito!” Fortuna exclaimed, his voice sympathetic. “I am very sorry. That must have been a harrowing experience on board a British ship. I have heard rumors of their treatment of sailors. But you seem to have been privileged to have several well-placed benefactors. A packet arrived during the night with funds for your journey to Manila.”
“I think that sailors are the pretty much the same everywhere, Capităo. I was not too badly treated,” Diego said, as he watched the sailors scurry down from the ratlines after loosing the sail. “And yes, I was very fortunate. And I am most grateful.”
“Por favor, Senhor de la Vega, as soon as we are away, please join me and my other officers and the other passengers for breakfast. I would like to hear of your adventures crossing the ocean.”
Suddenly Diego felt an overwhelming fatigue. It was as though now that he was safely on his way, all of the tension and anxiety had washed away, leaving him feeling drained. “Please forgive me. I am very tired. It was a long journey to Canton and we got in very late last night. But I would be happy to join you at dinner if the invitation is still open.”
“Of course, senhor. I will have the cabin boy wake you in time to prepare,” Fortuna said. “Let me have someone show you to your cabin now.”
“Obrigado, Capităo,” Diego
said with a slight bow.
His cabin was about the same size as the one he
had shared with Mr. Bowman and almost in the same part of the ship,
except aft instead of port. There
was a gallery window, now showing him a view of the dwindling harbor.
Instead of a small bed, such as Mr. Bowman had, there was a
hammock hanging in the back corner.
Diego noted several hooks in the ceiling for more hammocks. Apparently this ship was equipped to carry more passengers
than was the China Star. His three chests were sitting next to
each other in the middle of the room, and his sword was hanging on a
hook. Opening up his saddlebag, he pulled out his personal belongings,
including his shaving supplies. Despite
his fatigue and the fact that it would be easier to keep the beard,
Diego was eager to get rid of the itchy almost two-week’s growth.
The beard had served its purpose and he was ready to begin
feeling a bit awkward shaving one-handed, Diego nevertheless soon had
the clean-shaven look that he was used to.
After putting away his personal things in a
small wardrobe, Diego managed to climb in to the ‘bed’ with only a
bit more difficulty than usual. He
found, however, that he could not get into a comfortable position.
The heavy hemp material constricted his shoulder, causing twinges
of pain. Finally Diego
climbed out, took the blanket and laid it on the floor, using his
saddlebag, with the costume as a pillow.
Soon he was lulled to sleep by the rocking motion of the ship.
“Senhor. Senhor de la Vega,” a young voice called to him, bringing Diego out of his sleep. He opened his eyes to find a young man gazing down at him, snickering. “May I ask what is so funny?” Diego asked amiably, sitting up. He felt that his Portuguese left a great deal to be desired, but the boy seemed to understand him. Thankfully, there had been Portuguese students at the university in Madrid, at least enough to give him a smattering of the language. The fact that the two languages were so similar also helped. “And besides, I thought this room had a door on it,” he added, pointing.
“Senhor, if you wanted to learn how to use the hammock, all you had to do was ask someone to help you, instead of sleeping on the floor,” the cabin boy said with a smile. “As for the door, I did tap on it, but you were very soundly asleep.”
“Why, you impudent scamp,” Diego laughed. “I know very well how to use a hammock, when I have two good hands. But it happens to be very difficult to get comfortable in one when you have an injured shoulder.” He supplemented his Portuguese with hand signs.
The boy’s demeanor was suddenly more penitent. “Senhor, you should have asked for a hanging cot, or a pallet or extra blankets to make the floor more comfortable. How did you hurt your shoulder?” Both the statement and question were made in one breath.
“Statement number one: everyone was busy. Question number two: I was dumped from my horse awkwardly and hurt my shoulder.” Gazing out the window, Diego was able to tell that it was probably around noon.
“Oh, I am very sorry to hear that,” the boy said in a solemn voice.
“De nada,” Diego said. “It is mainly an inconvenience right now. Tell me your name, meu amigo.”
“Amaro, senhor,” the boy answered.
“By the way, may I assume that you came to inform me of dinner?” Diego inquired of the boy.
“Sim, senhor, I was told to let you know that the captain’s mess is open, if you would care to join Capităo Fortuna,” Amaro told him.
“Obrigado, Amaro,” Diego said. “Please inform the captain that I will be along shortly.”
And I left fresh water in your wash basin.”
“Obrigado.” The boy left, and Diego straightened himself out as best as he could. Although it took a little longer, he managed to change shirts and wash his face. It was at this time that he could have really used Bernardo’s help, and he found himself wondering what the manservant was doing right now. Maybe the captain would be able to spare the services of young Amaro for a short time each day.
Diego made his way into the captain’s mess,
where he saw not only the captain, but also several other men who were
already halfway through their dinner.
A little girl turned and stared at him. Diego’s jaw dropped. “Martha Ann,” he breathed.
“Diego!” the little girl cried out, jumping
down from her chair and running over to him where she hugged him
tightly. He hugged her
Victoria turned and gaped at him for a few
seconds before saying anything. “Diego!
I thought you were dead! When
you escaped to the countryside and Sir William said you had been
“No, I am very much alive,” Diego said, effectively cutting off any possible reference to the ‘Opium Bandit,’ especially if any of these men spoke English. Martha Ann pranced to the table and climbed back up on her chair. Diego was left wondering how Victoria knew about his alter ego.
Victoria understood immediately. “I am so glad.”
“As am I,” Diego said with a laugh. The entire conversation had taken place in English, and to Diego’s relief, the captain and the rest of his men looked slightly confused.
“It would seem that you three know each
other,” Fortuna said, smiling. “Come
sit down, senhor,” Fortuna said, pointing to an empty chair.
He turned to Victoria, and spoke to her in French.
“And now, madam, we will all be able to understand each
other.” Diego translated
as he sat down. Most of the
language at the table was in Portuguese, but was liberally sprinkled
with closely related Spanish words, intermingled with French and
English. Diego felt that no
Ambassadors' convention could be better represented by the
array of tongues spoken at this dining table.
“How do you two know each other?” Fortuna asked when Diego
“Mrs. Meachem was a passenger on the China Star,” Diego answered. He saw one of the officers sitting across the table gazing at him carefully through narrowed eyes. Somehow, Diego didn’t think that the man was simply curious. The caballero spooned what was left of the food onto his plate.
“Senhor de la Vega, I trust you had a restful nap?” Fortuna asked as he was eating.
“Sim, Capităo,” Diego said. “But I will need to have the hammock removed. Until my shoulder is healed, I am unable to use it.”
Fortuna expressed his sympathy for the injury.
“How did it happen?”
“I had a fall from a horse,” Diego explained without going into detail. “Would there be a possibility of using Amaro for a short while each day? Only to do a few of those things which are most difficult to do one-handed.”
The dour-faced man across from him protested. “First of all that boy is too busy to be used anywhere else,” the man said heatedly. “And second of all, Senhor de la Vega, the payment for your passage barely covered the cost of the cabin and certainly did not include frills such as servants.” The man was a small individual with nervous hands that he couldn’t seem to keep still, running them constantly through his lank, sandy hair.
Diego knew for a fact that the payment packet that had been given to the captain before he boarded had more than enough money to cover any extra amenities. Having been the recipient of Qing Kang Zhu’s generosity in other ways, he knew that His Highness would be no slacker in the payment of his passage. However, not anticipating this problem, Diego didn’t have a copy of the payment record. He smelled a rat, and it certainly wasn’t in the bilge. Having heard of pursers who tried to put a little extra money in their pockets at the expense of ship owners or paying passengers, he knew he would have to be careful and try to bluff his way through this. It occurred to him that in this case, the captain could be in on the swindle, too.
“Qual é o nome do senhor?” Diego asked coolly, looking directly into the eyes of the purser.
“Francisco Martinez,” came the answer.
“Senhor Martinez, let me inform you that I have a letter from His Imperial Highness, Qing Kang Zhu, detailing everything pertinent to my passage, including the amount of money he put out for passage on two ships, one from Canton to Manila and the other from Manila to San Diego. That money, I was informed, also included meals and other sundry items. Knowing His Highness as I do, he was most generous. Senhor Batisto was merely a go-between. Do I need to go and get my copy of the itemized list of expenditures?” he asked in a low voice.
Martinez gaped at him for a moment, seemingly shocked at having been opposed. Then the purser paled as he realized the magnitude of his mistake. His quest for the contents of Diego’s passage money had made him less than discreet. “Nâo, Senhor de la Vega,” Martinez stammered. “Perhaps I just had trouble reading it, you know how the Chinese are about paper work.”
“No, Senhor Martinez, I am unaware of problems with Chinese records. Perhaps you should bring the list and I can help you decipher it,” Diego challenged him, calling his bluff.
“Oh, I am sure I just made an honest mistake, there is no need for that,” Martinez said. He was sweating now and continually running his hand through his hair.
Hook, line and sinker, Diego thought with grim humor, using an old sailor’s analogy he had heard on the China Star. Victoria and Martha Ann had listened to the verbal contest with interest but very little comprehension.
The captain had been a silent spectator during all of this, but finally spoke up. “Senhor Martinez, I would like to see this packet myself. Would you go with him, Senhor Stamos and help him find it?” Fortuna said coldly. “And you had better find it, Martinez.” The men left quickly. The captain turned to Diego. “Senhor de la Vega, I am truly sorry about this.”
“I appreciate your concern. I have no wish for anything to keep me from reaching my home in California, and I do know for a fact that His Highness sent enough to get me back home to Los Angeles,” Diego told the captain. “In fact, I suspect that he was most generous, and there is more than just the minimal payment of the passage.”
When the men came back, the list did indeed show ample payment made, although to Diego’s trained eye, it looked very much like some changes in amounts had already been made, and he said as much, as he counted out the money in the packet.
“I have money that can supplement your fare if needed, Diego,” Victoria said, realizing that he was counting his passage money.
“Thank you, Mrs. Meachem, but there is more
than enough here for my entire passage across the Pacific,” Diego
said, pointedly fixing his gaze onto Senhor Martinez.
The purser/cargo master shot him a look of fiery hatred. “Someone at the Portuguese Trade Commission must have made the changes. I did not,” he protested.
Captain Fortuna looked at the list silently and then glared at Martinez. “I will inspect all of the manifests first thing tomorrow. They will be in order or you will be hanging from the yardarm, senhor. I would look at them now, but my other duties will keep me busy throughout the remainder of the day.”
He looked back at Diego. “Senhor, my most humble apologies for this terrible mistake,” he emphasized the word mistake. “You may certainly have use of the boy for part of the day. When would be most convenient?” he asked.
“I am sure the cook has great need of him before and after mealtimes, and I have no desire to cause him more work than he already has,” Diego said thoughtfully. “Whenever Amaro’s most pressing duties on ship are done, I will be most grateful for his help. Obviously, I have the most flexible schedule.”
“You are very kind, senhor,” the captain said. “Stamos, make sure Rico knows to send Amaro to Senhor de la Vega after the boy is finished with his duties in the galley.” The captain took his leave and went out on deck. Victoria and Martha Ann followed close behind. Martinez left shortly thereafter, piercing Diego with another look of pure hatred.
“You have made an extremely dangerous enemy, Senhor de la Vega. I would watch my back most carefully,” one of the other men told the caballero. Diego just nodded and finished his now cold dinner silently. Then he too, got up and excused himself, feeling that Captain Fortuna must be desperate indeed, to have to hire such a one as Martinez to be his purser and cargo master.