Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-four 

Climax

 

 

Looking at Diego, who had hidden the pistol behind him, Patterson said, “You have a choice, de la Vega . . . run and save yourself or wait and die with your father.  But either way, your father will die.”   Patterson gazed surreptitiously toward the outer gate. 

Diego knew the Englishman was waiting until the last possible moment before making his escape.  “There’s a third choice, señor,” Diego murmured, his eyes cold.  In the space of a heartbeat, he raised the pistol and fired.  The ball was unerring and precise and Patterson fell back into the straw, his hands clutching at his chest, the fingers twitching spasmodically. 

Carlos rushed to stop the deadly fire along the powder trail, even as Diego rushed toward his father, but the straw had already caught fire.  The explosion was inevitable. 

“Carlos, get everyone in the hacienda!  Quickly!” Diego shouted, grabbing up the sword lying by the assassin’s body.  “Now!!” he added, when he saw slight hesitation on Carlos and Garcia’s part.  With an energy bolstered by fear, Diego slashed at and jerked apart the ropes binding his father. 

“Diego, my son.  Run.  Go with the others.  Please!” Alejandro begged, his eyes filled with despair.  

“No, Father.  I will not leave you,” Diego replied tersely.  Then he grinned as he pulled the last rope away from his father.  “We will do this together.” 

The fire was intensifying, the powder only a few seconds from the keg.  Diego dropped the sword and grabbed his father by his shirt, pulling him far back into a stall away from the kegs, one that was filled almost to the rafters with fresh straw.   He shoved his father beneath the straw as the keg exploded with a deafening roar.  The force of the explosion threw Diego on top of his father, eliciting a cry of pain from the elder de la Vega, a cry that was only barely heard by his son as the stable roof collapsed on top of them, sending them both into merciful unconsciousness. 

From the doorway leading into the hacienda, Carlos watched in horror as the stable roof fell on the two men.  Crescencia screamed, “Don Alejandro, Don Diego!”  Sergeant Garcia pushed the younger man out of the way and rushed out of the hacienda, everyone else just after him.  The Filipino noticed that the collapse of the stable had put the fire out and he made that observation out loud. 

Sí,” Garcia replied.  “Now quickly, everyone help me pull away the debris.”  Garcia found a beam and slowly moved it to one side, Crescencia and the other servants furiously removed broken adobe, straw and smaller pieces of wood.  Everyone worked together, almost shoulder to shoulder.  The pile of rubble quickly lowered, then suddenly Garcia cried out, “Here, under here!”  He had another beam on his shoulder and was pointing at the inert form of Diego, partially covered with straw and broken adobe.  Carlos, and with him, Benito, who had, only moments before, arrived from his search for the caballero, jumped in, first pulling out Diego and then pushing away the straw and finding Alejandro. 

Crescencia pushed the men aside and checked out both de la Vegas to see if they were still alive.  She looked up with a relieved smile.  “They are alive,” she sighed. 

“By the Saints!” Garcia cried.  “They were laying under a beam that was propped against that wall,” he said, pointing to the only part of the stable still standing.  “The walls and beams fell in such a way that Don Diego and Don Alejandro were not crushed. It was as though they were in a cave and cushioned by the straw.” 

“You men can discuss miracles later.  Carefully carry them into the sala, so I can check them over for injuries,” Crescencia ordered.  The men quickly did her bidding and soon Diego was resting on the cleared off table, while Alejandro was laid on blankets in the entranceway.   

Carlos examined Diego while Crescencia checked Alejandro.  “Yes, you are right, Sergeant,” he finally said after finding no broken bones, only cuts, scrapes and bruises and a somewhat large lump above one ear.   He looked over at the older man.  “Did Don Alejandro fare as well?” 

Sí, Don Carlos, I think that Don Alejandro is going to be fine,” Crescencia said, not looking up from her patient.  

Alejandro began moaning and he slowly opened his eyes.  “Diego,” he murmured, then cried out.  Crescencia was cleaning the injured shoulder with Benito’s help.  “Diego, please, how is Diego?” he asked, his eyes searching all within his line of vision.  He tried to sit up, but the woman restrained him with a gentle hand.  

“Don Diego is fine, Don Alejandro,” She reassured him.  At his questioning gaze, she continued, “I promise.  He is unconscious, but nothing is broken.  I believe he will be all right, patron.  The saints and the Holy Mother are looking after that boy of yours!” 

Alejandro nodded and relaxed, gritting his teeth at the pain her ministrations caused him.  When she finished, Crescencia held a large spoon filled with medicine in front of his face.  Alejandro shook his head, knowing what it most likely was.  “No, I want to wait for Diego to wake up. I want to properly greet him.”

“Don Alejandro, you need to rest.  Don Diego needs to rest.  He will get the same thing you are getting.  There will be many of us to watch over both of you and to make sure your reunion takes place.”  

“But….” 

“No, you take this.  That dear boy will be here when you awaken.  I promise that on the grave of my own dear mother,” she insisted.  

Alejandro was feeling a great deal of pain, but more than that he saw her sincerity.  Diego would certainly be here when he awoke.  And from what he had seen, Diego needed the rest even more than he did.  The hacendado doubted the laudanum was necessary in Diego’s case, but he knew it wouldn’t hurt.  He swallowed Crescencia’s offering, grimacing at the taste and then let Benito and Juan half carry and half lead him to his room.  As he left the room he gazed lovingly at his son, who still lay quietly on the cleared table.  

As soon as Don Alejandro was gone, Crescencia went over to Don Diego.  She saw a slight flickering of pain cross his features and she checked him over carefully, making sure that there was nothing that Don Diego’s young friend had missed.  The pounding of young feet caused her to look up and Crescencia saw the young English boy, George running into the sala. The boy stopped by the table and gazed at Don Diego, and then at her, his face mirroring the anxiety of the others.  “Ai,” she said.  “He is all right.  Nothing serious.”  The boy sighed audibly in relief.  

Crescencia noted the bruise on his cheek along with the lump on his head, and the cuts and scrapes, and suddenly realized that the beard was not natural.  She paused, wondering and then remembered Don Alejandro telling her of his subterfuge in taking the place of the accursed Patterson.  Turning to Pepito, she ordered, “Before we put Don Diego to bed, we are going to get this thing off.  It is not necessary and I’ll not have him waking up early from his sleep, scratching and itching.  Go and get a wash basin and have Juanita fill it with hot water.”   Crescencia continued giving orders to everyone around her, including young George.  Then she turned to Bernardo, who, like George, had been hovering close to his master.  “You….”  She began, signing to Bernardo, while she spoke.  “Go upstairs and get a clean nightshirt for the young patron.  Have his bed ready for him.” 

Bernardo wanted to stay with his friend, but he saw that not only was the housekeeper serious, but that Don Diego would be well cared for in his absence.  He nodded and left.  Crescencia turned to Carlos and one of the few remaining servants.  “When I finish taking care of our young adventurer, you are going to carry him to his room.” 

Carlos could only nod.  He, like the rest, saw no need to argue with the older woman.  Like his mother in times of need, Crescencia had taken over and not even a priest could supercede her orders.  

While she was administering to him, Diego began to stir, moaning softly.  Crescencia shook her head at the bruises that were showing on his face. “Oh, my poor boy!  Such a battle with those revolutionaries,” she murmured, having heard of his capture from Don Alejandro.   “And so brave.  No one can say you are not brave.  Not even Zorro can boast of more bravery than my young caballero.”  Her fingers lightly pushed aside the unruly hair, and she felt the tears hot in the corners of her eyes.  Blinking, she chided herself.  There is too much to do, I cannot indulge in tears.  

“From what he told me, it was,” replied Carlos, feeling the irony of the servant’s words. 

Diego slowly opened his eyes and gazed at Crescencia, his eyes vacant at first, and then he noticed Carlos.  He looked puzzled for a moment and then more lucid.  “I am home?” he asked.  

, Diego, you are home,” Carlos said, laying his hand lightly on his friend’s shoulder. 

“Father?”

“Your father is fine.  He is upstairs, sleeping off Crescencia’s medicine,” Carlos said with a smile. 

“And you will soon be doing the same thing, my fine young hacendado,” said Crescencia, her tone brooking no argument.   “How do you feel, Don Diego?” 

Diego pondered her question, trying to figure out the messages his body was telling him.  Exhaustion made it hard to think, but finally he determined that there was only a headache along with the pain of bruises and scrapes and sore, stiff muscles.  “I am fine,” he finally said.

“Good.  You lay here and rest and soon you will be in your own bed where you can sleep without interruption,” she said, gently removing the last of the false beard.  

Diego smiled and then sighed, closing his eyes.  Crescencia finished cleaning the worst of his cuts and then woke him enough to give him a dose of laudanum.  She ordered Carlos and Manuel to carry Diego upstairs to his room.  Bernardo met them at the door, motioning toward the bed and when Diego was comfortable, the mozo signed for them both to leave.   Manuel complied, but Carlos just shook his head.  “No,” he said, signing at the same time.  “I would like to help you.  I may not have known him for long, but he and I have become very close.  I count Diego like a brother.”  Bernardo gazed at the young colonial for a brief moment and then nodded and turned back to his master. 

Carlos helped the servant remove the trail worn clothing.  Suddenly Bernardo stopped, gazing in horror at the scars on his master’s back.  They were not deep, but they were obvious reminders of Don Diego’s servitude.  He looked up at Carlos for explanation. 

“Diego told me that he had been flogged once,” Carlos said simply.  Bernardo gazed at him with a puzzled look, as though he didn’t understand.  

“I not only know Diego’s secret, I know yours, too.  You can hear as well as I can.”  He paused and then gazed down at the sleeping man.  “It is hard to keep such secrets as Diego’s, especially on a small ship.” He paused again and then looked meaningfully into Bernardo’s eyes.  “Do not worry, my friend, I will never reveal Diego’s secret.” 

Bernardo looked deeply into the young man’s eyes and then signed his thanks.  Gently he took a damp cloth and washed his friend’s back and chest, his face and neck, even though Crescencia had already cleaned his cuts and scrapes.  Carlos helped him put on the nightshirt and soon Diego was resting comfortably in the bed he had not slept in for six months.  Then the two men took turns watching him through the day.  

Shortly after sunset, Alejandro came into the room, at first simply gazing at his son, but then taking Diego’s hand and holding it tight for a few moments.   He looked over at George, who was taking a turn watching the young Californiano.  “Has he awakened?” 

“No, patrón, he has slept all through the day.” 

Alejandro nodded and looked his son over.  “Does he have any injuries?”

Said George, “No, Don Alejandro.  The doctor was here earlier and said that the only thing other than some cuts and bruises was a bump on the head.”  The boy paused, looked from Diego to the older man and continued, “He did not get much sleep since we came to California.  He is very tired.”

“Good.  That is very good.”  Alejandro knew the boy could not even begin to understand the extent of Diego’s exhaustion. 

At that moment Crescencia entered the room, a bowl of stew in her hands.  “Ai, Don Alejandro!  What are you doing out of bed?” 

“Checking on my son,” he answered testily, releasing Diego’s hand.  

“Ah, patrón, do you not even trust us to care for your son?” she asked, in mock exasperation.  Then her voice became serious.  “Don Alejandro, Don Diego seems to be fine.  He is just taking a long nap.  But you have a wound to worry about.  You must return to your bed.  Your supper is waiting there for you.”

Taking one last look at Crescencia, he asked, “You will tell me when Diego awakens?” 

Sí, patrón one of us will tell you,” she reassured him. Alejandro slowly walked out of the room and back to his own. 

Crescencia looked at the boy.  “You look tired, too, muchacho.  Go rest in that chair.”  George looked at her gratefully and did just that.

Crescencia stood by the bed and gazed thoughtfully at the young man sleeping so peacefully on the bed.  His own bed, finally, she thought.  In his own room, in his own land.   She shook her head, unable to bring herself to wake him just to give him a few bites of stew.  She gazed at the boy already asleep in the chair near the fireplace.  George had run errands for her all day, but had continually checked in on Don Diego.  She smiled at the memory of ordering Don Diego’s new friend, Don Carlos, to the guest room to sleep.  And Bernardo.  Poor Bernardo had fallen asleep in a patio chair when she had ordered him to bed.  All three had dark circles of worry and exhaustion under their eyes, but had been concerned more about the man laying here on the bed.  

And Don Diego.  She thought of him as a boy, right after he had lost his mother.  She had comforted the confused and hurt young man when his own father had been unable to.  Crescencia wondered who had comforted him during the horrific time across the ocean.  She thought of George and Don Carlos and was content.  There were people placed by God to help this dear man.  Setting the stew on the table, she reached over and brushed an errant lock of hair off his forehead.  His hair had grown longer, giving him an almost boyish look.  She bent down and kissed him lightly on the cheek.  She loved this boy almost as much as she loved her own grown sons.  He was a fine, courageous man.  She had known it even when others had scorned his gentle, peace-loving ways after he returned from Spain.  And he had proven his courage in the past months.  No one would scorn him now, she thought with a soft snort of motherly pride.  Crescencia turned and slipped quietly out of the room.  

In the dark hours of the morning, Diego awoke.  Every muscle in his body ached.  There was a small candle on his dressing table and by it he saw George asleep in a chair by the fire.  Next to his bed, he saw a bowl of stew.  Reaching over, he felt no warmth on the pottery, but right now, it didn’t matter.  His stomach was growling so ferociously that he could eat it in any condition. 

Diego watched George murmur and twitch in his sleep and wondered just how long he had slept.  At least a day, the darkness and his stiff body attested.  He very vaguely remembered Crescencia giving him something, probably laudanum, but he did not now feel its effects.  He still felt tired, but not groggy. 

Father!  Diego remembered his father tied to the post in the stable yard.  He remembered the keg of powder and the explosion.  How is Father? he wondered.    He put down the stew and stiffly swung out of bed.  Carefully, Diego opened the wardrobe, not wanting the squeaking of the doors to awaken George.  His robe hung there just as it had that morning he took it off seemingly so long ago.  He slipped it on and gazed at the boy again.  As on the ship, George was sleeping soundly.  With careful deliberation, Diego pushed the spot on the mantle place and felt the cool air from the secret room as the door opened.  He slipped through, going down the stairs and then up others to the entrance to his father’s room.  Through the peephole, Diego could see that Father was alone.  He opened the secret door and slipped inside the room, padding quietly to his father’s bedside. 

Diego could see the injured shoulder, the bandages gleaming whitely in the soft dimness of the room.   He heard his father’s even deep breaths, which indicated normal sleep.  Carefully, he reached over and lightly touched his father’s hand.  I am home, Diego thought, his heart filled with almost overwhelming gratitude.  He smiled as he turned away, content that his father was all right. 

“Diego?” came a soft voice.  Diego turned back.  “Diego, is it you?” Alejandro asked, his eyes brimming with tears.  “My son, do not go away.  Stay with me.”

Happily, Diego obeyed, sitting on the edge of his father’s bed.  When Alejandro tried to sit up, Diego helped him.  Alejandro’s hand touched his.  “My son, please light a candle.  I must see you.  I have to see your face.” 

Diego found the candle on the dresser and lit it with a taper from the fireplace.  As he sat back down, placing the candle on the small bed stand, Alejandro gazed at him, staring at his face, as a dying man in the desert would gaze at a cup of water.  His fingers touched Diego’s lightly, then enveloped his son’s hand in a tight grasp.  Suddenly, he leaned toward Diego and wrapped his good arm around his son and wept openly, his tears staining Diego’s robe.  “Oh, Diego!  Diego, my son, you are finally home.  You are home!” 

And as Diego embraced his father, mindful of the injured shoulder, he murmured, “Yes, Father, I am home.  I am finally and truly home.”  His voice trembled, overcome with emotion, but his heart sang, I AM HOME!

 

 

The End of the Odyssey

 

 

  

 

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