Book III: The Journey Home
Ramirez watched the San Pedro harbor come into view with eager anticipation. Finally all the little parts of this debacle would be taken care of, anything linking this campaign to him would be eliminated. And this time, he would personally oversee it.
Turning, Ramirez walked back to his cabin and gathered his belongings together. He had not brought much, several changes of clothing and money to care for his needs. And his pistol. He would pay off Patterson when the job was done; he would pay him permanently, thus eliminating another link.
Back on deck, he watched the anchor being
dropped and a boat lowered over the side.
He handed his two valises to a sailor and climbed down the rope
ladder to the boat now bobbing gently next to the larger vessel.
Several other passengers climbed down after him and soon the
sailors were rowing them to the shore.
San Pedro was small, a dingy backwater harbor, here only because of the booming business in hides and tallow. The smell of both was muted, but still evident, drifting heavily on the air. Ramirez wrinkled his nose, imagining just how horrible it would be if it were the season of the slaughter.Quickly, Ramirez found a carriage for hire and had soon left the harbor town behind. The horse trotted along at a ground-eating clip and the Mexican administrado gazed around him in interest, taking in the hills and fields, the vineyards and orange groves. He saw cattle grazing, mingling with horses. Occasionally he saw vaqueros riding in the distance.
Despite some areas that seemed barren and rocky,
Ramirez saw that this was a very fertile land.
Perhaps there was some promise here after all. Perhaps there was a place for him in this northern Mexican
territory where distrust and fear had been so liberally sown.
He smiled softly and leaned back, letting the tattoo of the
horse’s hooves and the rocking of the carriage lull him to sleep.
He didn’t really care for traveling on ships and he had not
rested well on his trip up the coast from Mexico, but it was a faster
and safer mode of travel than traveling by coach all the way from Mexico
City. Ramirez laughed.
Richard Patterson insisted on making the overland trip.
He wondered just how the man had made it to Mexico from England.
No matter, he thought. I will be here for four or five days before my dear
friend, Jorge comes, and perhaps another day after that before the
Englishman arrives. And in
no more than a week everything will be taken care of.
It was not long before the carriage pulled up in
front of the posada. “Is
this the only place where one can get a room in this pueblo? he
“Sí, Señor,” the driver
Ramirez stepped down and studied his
surroundings. The inn faced
the cuartel across a fairly large plaza that was less squalid
than the one in San Pedro. The
cochero pulled out his bags and set them on the step in front of
the tavern door. He gazed expectantly at Ramirez.
With a slight smile, the Mexican official pulled out two pesos
and handed them to him. Then
he reached to open the door. Before
he could open it, though, someone stepped around him and opened the door
for him. “Do you
need any help, señor?” the white haired man inquired.
“No, thank you, señor, opening the door was more than enough help, gracias,” Ramirez replied with a smile.
“I would be happy to buy you some
refreshment,” the older man said.
“I have come a long way.
I am here on business from Mexico City,” Ramirez said.
He saw a flicker of distrust cross the man’s features, but he
chose to ignore it. “Hides
and tallow are in great demand in the southern countries.”
The Californiano’s features quickly lost the distrust
and showed curiosity instead.
“But it is not the season, señor.”
“Perhaps not, but it is a good thing to meet
and discuss business with prospective buyers, is it not?” Ramirez
“Sí, you are right. Excuse my rudeness.”
“But you were not rude, Señor….”
“De la Vega, Alejandro de la Vega,” the older man quickly responded. “And you?”
Ramirez struggled to school his emotions and
keep them from the other man. So
this is the leader of the hacendados, he thought.
This is one of Señor Patterson’s victims.
Aloud, he said, “I am José Rodrigo.”
“Welcome to La Reina de Los Angeles. I hope that your visit is pleasant and profitable,” Alejandro said with a smile.
“I am sure it will be,” Ramirez answered,
feeling that it would, indeed, be a profitable visit, but not the way
that the old man was thinking.
A somewhat short, balding man scurried up to him
and bowed. “Welcome to
Los Angeles, señor,” he said.
He dried his hands on the large apron he was wearing and Ramirez
assumed this was the innkeeper. “Are
you spending the night, señor?” the man asked him.
“Sí, several, in fact,” Ramirez
“Would you sign the register, por favor?” the innkeeper asked, going behind the counter and pulling out a large leather-bound ledger.
Nodding, Ramirez took the proffered pen and dipped it in the ink well. Quickly, he signed his counterfeit name.
“Thank you, Señor Rodrigo. How long do you plan on being here?”
“Probably a week,” Ramirez answered.
The innkeeper scurried around the counter and
took the two bags. “Please
follow me, señor,” the innkeeper said, starting up the steps.
“Señor Rodrigo, when you put your
things away did you want to take refreshment with me?” Alejandro
repeated his offer. He
studied the man carefully, wondering if he could find out anything about
the revolutionary conspiracy from this traveler from Mexico.
“Perhaps after I have rested. Maybe tomorrow?”
“Sí, it would be my pleasure,”
Ramirez was soon alone in his room. He surveyed the small area with a critical eye, noting that although it was not large, it was clean and comfortable. With a contented sigh, he lay down and was soon asleep.
Standing at the rail the next morning, Diego
watched the sunrise in eager anticipation.
The early morning sun bathed the port in shades of orange and
red, giving it an almost ethereal glow.
Diego smelled the faint tang of juniper and orange blossoms and
felt his soul’s excitement trying to surge to the surface.
He breathed deeply and silently thanked the santos for
bringing him this far.
“It is beautiful, Diego, very beautiful, in a dry sort of way,” Carlos said. The Filipino was standing on one side and George was on the other.
“Is this your home, Don Diego?” George
asked, forgetting himself and speaking English.
The boy berated himself and reverted to Spanish.
He felt some of his master’s excitement and was excited
himself, and that made him forget the words that he wanted to say. “Is this California?”
This is California. My
home is two day’s ride from here.
You will get to see how large and grand my country is as we
travel to my father’s hacienda.”
“It is so . . . so big,” George stammered.
“Yes, and beautiful.
And we can speak English for a while if you are having
trouble,” Diego said.
“Thank you, Don Diego,” George said
couldn’t understand why it was so hard for him to remember the words
of his master’s language, but it happened at times and Don Diego was
quick to switch to English until he remembered.
“Do not worry about it, my friend. This is too wonderful a day to worry about which language we speak,” Diego said, deciding that the only thing that would make the day better would be if he could disembark immediately.
Bernardo walked to the harbor to see what ships
had arrived. There was one
ship bobbing in the water. Even
though this was not an English ship, Bernardo felt the urge to wait and
see who was on it. Perhaps
there would be another packet, sent by Don Diego through a sympathetic
courier. The ship was
called the Isadore, he heard someone say, and had actually
slipped into the harbor as the sun was setting the day before.
Cargo was already being loaded on one small boat while passengers
were climbing down to another. Bernardo squinted, but couldn’t make out more than the
number of passengers. There
appeared to be six or seven.
He was pushed back by peons waiting to
unload the cargo when it reached the shore, so it became hard to see the
boat as it approached. Finally,
though, he determined that one passenger was a priest, two were an older
couple and there was a boy among the group.
With a sigh, Bernardo didn’t see his patrón among the
passengers, but he waited anyway, not having anything else to do.
He was amused when one of the passengers, a bearded man, jumped
out of the front of the boat before it reached dry land and threw the
rope to a waiting peon. Water
washed around his boots, a small amount splashing on his trousers. He seemed to be as tall as Don Diego, but was slightly darker
skinned and his hair was a shade lighter, with an almost reddish tint to
it. The boy said something,
but it was in another language, English, he thought, and the mozo
couldn’t understand. The
man replied, his laugh floating on the slight breeze to his ears.
The laugh even sounded like Don Diego’s.
Bernardo shook his head. He had to get control of his emotions. He was now hearing his patrón everywhere. With a sigh, he again began to turn away, but couldn’t quite force himself to. The Englishman helped the older woman ashore and then the older man and the priest. He simply picked up the boy and set him on the dry ground. The boy gazed around him in rapture, chattering excitedly in English. A younger man stepped out of the boat on his own and then walked into town, at first awkwardly and then with more assurance, brushing past the crowd of peons and merchants who had gathered. When the priest was beyond the tidemark, he knelt and crossed himself. The bearded Englishman then did something that confused Bernardo. He, too, knelt, then gently touched the sandy soil; picking up a handful and letting it slide slowly through his fingers. With great solemnity he then made the sign of the cross and unhurriedly stood up, gazing around him, as though trying to drink in every sight and sound of the harbor and the pueblo before him.
The inquisitive Bernardo moved closer, as close as the crowd would let him, and he began seeing more and more resemblance to Don Diego. Following as the man and the boy made their way toward the street market, he saw with amusement that both had to take time to regain their land legs. The boy was apparently the man’s son or servant, because he tagged along close to the Englishman, chattering and asking questions incessantly. The man answered good-naturedly. The walk was Don Diego’s; the voice seemed like Don Diego’s. Bernardo almost sobbed aloud in his anguish. It is not fair! It is not fair that one so much like Don Diego could be here taunting me. He kept trying to leave but was unable to turn away from this man who was so like his kidnapped master.
As he watched, he began to see even more similarities between the newcomer and Don Diego, and though Bernardo knew how useless this endeavor was, he still felt impelled to stay and watch this man from the Philippines a little longer. The man had the same natural cat-like grace that his patrón had, and he flashed the same quick smile when he conversed with the boy. His heart ached fiercely; he wished this familiar seeming stranger were his patrón, his friend, and not just someone enough like him to renew the old pain.
The boy finally spoke some Spanish, but it was obvious that Spanish wasn’t the boy’s first language and most of the time they spoke in English. Bernardo saw a paradox in that, because the newcomer was dressed much as a local caballero would be dressed. He had on a simply decorated, but very expensive looking pair of calzoneros, with a deep red banda, and a plain white shirt with only a small amount of ruffles and lace. The black, still damp boots looked to have had much wear.
It was when the man turned towards him while looking at clothing for the boy, that Bernardo gasped. The man, despite the beard, despite the darker skin, and lighter hair, could be a relative of his patrón. Santa Maria, it cannot be. It simply cannot be! Like a magnet he was now drawn to this pair; he had to get closer to this Englishman. He had to. Could it be? Pushing through the people crowded at the shore, Bernardo came closer. When he was within ten feet, the English speaking caballero became aware of his approach and looked up. Their eyes locked, the Englishman’s, no, that was no Englishman, Bernardo thought, his heart constricting, that is Don Diego! His master’s eyes widened in shock, and he dropped what he was looking at. Then Don Diego’s mouth formed the word, “Bernardo.” A great smile broke out on his face, and he said in an excited voice, “Bernardo!”
In three steps, the man reached Bernardo and the mozo found himself in the grasp of his master, his friend. Not able to help himself, he felt tears trickling down his cheeks. Don Diego, too, was emotional, his eyes misty and full of gratitude. “Praise the Saints, I am home,” he said with a joyous laugh. Now Bernardo understood his patrón’s strange actions when he disembarked from the ship.
The boy stood close by, moved by the reunion. Bernardo made some motions that George could not understand and a frown creased his master’s face. Turning to George, Diego said, “I know that I was going to have the sailors unload my baggage, but I feel the need to oversee that operation. Some of what Prince Qing Kang Zhu sent me is very valuable.” Diego motioned for him and Bernardo to follow, and the trio returned to the Isadore. As they were being rowed back to the ship, Diego introduced George and Bernardo to each other, pointing out to George that Bernardo could neither speak nor hear. When they reached the ship, Diego said, “George, I want you to take charge of the transfer of everything except the chests. I will be right back to help you. There is something that I must discuss with Bernardo right now, and need to do it where it’s less distracting.” Diego drew Bernardo aside to talk privately in the cuddy saloon, which was now empty.
“Bernardo, tell me, how is Father?” was his immediate question. “And did you receive the packet I sent?” Bernardo indicated that Don Alejandro was well and deeply involved in fighting the conspirators, and, yes, they had received the packet. With rapid finger motions, which Diego followed closely, Bernardo informed his patrón that Don Alejandro would be ecstatic to find Diego safely home so soon. They had thought that it might be two years or more.
“So he figured out about the indenture,” Diego said soberly. The mozo nodded. Diego was puzzled. “Then why are you here now?”
Bernardo signed of his run in with the revolutionaries and their attempted ambush of the hacendados.
Diego eyes widened in shock. “Do you mean that Father was hurt, too? I assumed that Jorge and his followers might still be operating, but was hoping otherwise,” he continued in a serious tone. “But he is all right now?” Bernardo nodded, reassuring his master. “My fears are real,” Diego added, his voice barely above a whisper.