Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three 

Homeward Bound

 

Diego leaned against the rail of the ship as she sailed down the coast of Luzon and into Manila Bay.  The breeze tugged at his hair, capriciously blowing it one way and then another.  In some places the jungle came right to the shoreline, in other places land had been cleared for small fishing villages.  Naked babies splashed in the shallow waters carefully supervised by parents working on fishing nets.  They sailed past a church in front of which a priest was teaching a small group of children dressed in white shirts and pants.  It reminded Diego of home and he listened to the ebb and flow of the children’s rote responses.  The catechism, he thought happily, letting the familiarity of the scene fill his heart.  

“I don’t think I have ever seen green this intense,” Victoria said.  

Diego jerked around, startled.  “And I thought I was stealthy!”

“An elephant could have snuck up on you, Diego,” she said with a laugh.  Martha Ann watched the scenes in front of her with rapt attention.  “Are you thinking of your homeland?” Victoria asked. 

“Yes.”

“I am thinking how good it will be to go home, too.”

“I am curious about something.”  When she nodded, Diego continued.  “I had thought that you were coming to Asia to live.” 

“I was, but only because Thomas was coming.  I wasn’t totally sure about living in a place where foreigners weren’t welcome, especially with a five-year-old child,” Victoria began.  “And while it is very beautiful in this part of the world, now that Thomas is dead I am eager to return home and not just because of the businesses my family owns.”  She looked at Diego.  “But you know all about that.”  He just smiled.   “London is said to be dirty, crowded and boisterous, but I love every nook and cranny of her streets and docks.”  They stood silently and watched the shore go by.  “We will be docking soon.”  Another pause.  “We will be saying good-bye soon.” 

“Yes.”

“I will miss the talks that we had, few though they were.  You were very busy during our trip,” she said.  Her voice sounded sad.

“I will miss those talks, too.  The trip to California will be boring,” Diego agreed.  He felt a touch of sadness.

“I would think after all the excitement you have had, you would welcome a bit of boredom.”

Diego laughed.  “I suppose I will probably store up enough relaxation and boredom to last a lifetime.” 

“You will continue your crusade when you get home?” 

“Yes,” he said.  “It has become too hard to just quit what I began two years ago.  Especially when there is still so much injustice and inequality.”

“Yes, I can imagine that it would be difficult to see such things and not doing anything about it,” Victoria concurred, then she looked up, gazing deeply into his eyes.  “Please be careful, Diego de la Vega.  Those revolutionaries who kidnapped you may still be active.  They sound so very dangerous.”

Diego frowned.  That thought had occurred to him as well.  It agitated him knowing that such may be the case and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.  He smiled to reassure her.  “I will do my best.”  He took her hand, lifted it to his lips, pressing gently.  “And I hope good fortune follows you on your journey home and beyond,” he murmured.

“Thank you, Diego,” she said softly.  “Do not be surprised if I someday come and visit you.”

“I would welcome that, Victoria.  There is always a place for you in my father’s hacienda.”

 

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

 

When Diego disembarked in Manila, he was informed that he had only a very short time to get to the next ship.  He worried about his baggage, but found that Captain Fortuna had already taken care of his belongings.  Sailors carted his chests to the Isadora even as he and Fortuna walked along the docks to the Spanish ship’s berth.  While his possessions were being loaded on the ship, Diego shook hands with the Portuguese captain.  Captain Fortuna gave a courtesy salute to the captain of the Spanish ship, and the serious-looking Spaniard returned the salute.             

“I hope that your future voyages go more smoothly than this one, Capitán,” Diego told him.  “You have been very gracious about the incident on your ship and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you.”           

“It was a stroke of good fortune, senhor,” Fortuna said amiably.  “That man was robbing me blind.  Seriously, Diego, you rendered a great service to me.  Apparently that British supercargo taught you well, I have not had manifests that detailed in almost a year.  Are you sure you would not like to sign on?” he asked, laughing.  Diego laughed with him and emphatically shook his head.

Señor, are you coming aboard or not?” the Spanish captain called out from the deck of the Isadora. “We are ready to sail and I will leave you on the dock if you do not come aboard now!”

Diego ran up the gangplank and advised the captain of his name.  He was informed to wait for the purser to find him later for the passage money.   The sailors were already at the capstan raising the anchor and the gangplank was quickly pulled on board.  A cabin boy, who strangely looked like someone he once knew, showed him the room where his possessions had been stowed. 

The cabin was built for two passengers, and his companion had already settled in and was sitting on one of the fold down beds regarding him steadily, a smile on his face and curiosity burning in his blue-gray eyes.  “You must be the one the captain was shouting at,” he said with a smile.  “Not a good start with our illustrious liege, I’m afraid.  I am Carlos de Clavo, my father is an administrado here in Manila.  I am heading to Mexico City to attend the university there.”           

“Diego de la Vega, and I am going home to Los Angeles,” he pronounced with finality.  The words had a wonderful ring to them.            

“And what in the world did you do to your arm, Señor de la Vega?” the insatiably curious Carlos asked.          

“I got into a little trouble in China and was parted from my horse rather roughly.  I only have another two weeks and it should be healed enough to get out of this sling,” Diego explained good-naturedly, for what he felt must be the twentieth time.  “And, by the way, just call me Diego.”           

“China?  It sounds to me as though you have had a few adventures recently,” Carlos said with a smile.  “You must relate them to me some evening.  In the meantime, let me help you move some of these heavy chests aside.  You were very fortunate to have arrived when you did.  The only reason the ship was still here was because of some problems stowing cargo.  And please, just call me Carlos.”  

Diego nodded.  “I am grateful, Carlos.  If I had been forced to wait even another hour, I would have gone mad.  You cannot imagine how much I have looked forward to getting home.  I have been away too long.”  The two men worked together and soon Diego’s possessions were in order.  “I will deal with my clothes later.  That I believe I can do one-handed,” Diego told his roommate. A knock at the cabin door caused them both to turn.  “Enter,” Diego said, immediately echoed by Carlos.            

A middle-aged man came in and motioned to Diego.  “You are Diego de la Vega?” he asked.  Diego nodded.  “I am here to secure your passage money.”           

Diego pulled the packet out of his chaqueta and handed it to the man.  “Am I to assume that you are the purser?”           

, but what is this?” the man looked at Diego in bewilderment after perusing the contents of the packet.  Diego went over and looked over the man’s shoulder at the papers in his hand.  Not only was the passage money from the last ship returned to the packet, but a note as well.  The purser looked at Diego curiously.  “You took over as supercargo and purser?”  Diego nodded again, looking at the note in shocked disbelief.  It was a thank you from Captain Fortuna for his help and an explanation as to why the passage money had been returned.  How the captain had managed to get that into his packet, he had no idea.  He had kept it on his person most of the time or in the supercargo’s cabin and office, which was locked when he wasn’t in there.  Diego smiled.  Apparently Fortuna had a key to that cabin as well.            

Diego couldn’t believe his good fortune.  He felt he might need some funds after he made it back to San Diego.   Even though there was extra money after his passage on the Isadora was paid, this little windfall would make things much more comfortable for him.  Taking the extra money and the note, he gave the rest of the packet to the purser.  Gracias, señor, for your honesty,” Diego said.  The man bowed slightly and left.           

Carlos whistled in awe.  “Diego, you do get around.  Supercargo and purser?” he asked.

“I temporarily replaced a dishonest supercargo,” Diego said cryptically.  “And, please, I would prefer that you not discuss this with anyone.  I just want a quiet voyage for a change.  It seems that every time I have boarded or even been near a ship, someone has tried to kill me or something else equally drastic.”           

Carlos was a very curious young man and saw in the enigmatic Diego a mystery to be solved.  How did he get to China, where did he learn to be a cargo master, what was his background?  A million questions came to mind, but Carlos could be patient when he wanted to and would wait until his roommate was ready to tell him.  He ran his hand through his jet-black hair, something he always did when he was contemplating a problem to solve. 

For his part, Diego could almost hear the questions running through the young man’s mind.  But he suddenly felt drained, as though he had lived ten lifetimes in only months.  Then he felt cold irony drifting through his mind; he had lived several lifetimes since that fateful day in the pueblo when he was kidnapped and jerked away from everything that was precious to him.  Within his heart Diego felt a hint of joy but at the same time there was a depression that lay like a heavy blanket over any sense of well being that he should be experiencing.  Letting down the bed from the wall, he spread a blanket and lay down for a short nap before dinner.  He felt Carlo’s eyes on him. Turning, Diego gazed at his roommate.  “I promise, my curious friend, I will relate some of my adventures to you.  I am just a bit tired now,” he reassured him with a smile.   The caballero was soon asleep and Carlos was left with thoughts that ran like squirrels in his mind.

Later, just before the evening meal, Carlos put his hand on his roommate’s shoulder to wake him.  Diego jerked and shot out of the bed with a speed that astonished the young Filipino.  Before he could take a breath, Carlos felt the edge of Diego’s fist resting lightly against his throat just above his Adam’s apple.  The younger man didn’t doubt the deadly intent of the move, but was impressed with Diego’s control.  “Please, Diego.  It is only me, Carlos.  I was just waking you up for supper.” 

For a few seconds, Diego gazed suspiciously into Carlos’ eyes before pulling his fist away.  Then he ran his hand through his hair and sighed.  “I am sorry, Carlos.  I did not mean to frighten you.  You . . . you startled me.”

“I will get the first mate to awaken you next time,” Carlos joked, trying to ease the tension that seemed to flow in waves from his roommate. 

Diego sat down on the edge of his bed, sighing again.  He looked at his hand and then laid it in his lap.  “Thank you, but I think that I would rather eat here tonight, if someone could bring me supper.” 

“My friend, are you feeling all right?” Carlos asked, concern heavy in his voice.  

Diego said nothing for a moment and then laid his hand on his roommate’s shoulder.  “Yes, I am still nervous.  It is hard for me to believe that I am finally heading home,” he said with a slight smile. 

“I understand.  I will have someone bring you something.  If there is something especially good on the captain’s table, I will bring it myself,” Carlos said, grinning broadly. 

Diego chuckled.  Gracias, Carlos, I really appreciate that.”   As Carlos left, Diego laid down again, pondering.  What is the matter with me? I almost hurt Carlos.  Why did I do that?  He remembered Martinez and wondered if the British influence could possibly reach this far from Canton.  But his roommate seemed genuine.  I am going home.  I should be happy.  But he was not.  He could not shake off the mood of impending doom, the melancholy that had haunted him off and on throughout his odyssey.  Ah, he sighed, it will lift as the ship gets further on its journey toward California.

But it didn’t, not entirely.  Diego took his meals in his cabin until, on the third day out from Manila, Carlos practically dragged him to the cuddy saloon.    There he was introduced to the other passengers.  One was an older aristocrat who was returning to Spain, Don Esteban Contreras, and his wife, Doña Maria.  The other passengers were a priest returning from China, Father Juan Miguel and an older man, a retired soldier traveling to Mexico to live with his son.  He greeted each graciously, with a smile.  Inwardly, Diego was glad there were so few.            

The captain began the conversation and then sat back, nursing his glass of wine while several sailors brought in the food.  It was a combination of Filipino dishes and Spanish cuisine, as had been the case with the previous meals.  Diego sat quietly, eating the food and sipping from his glass of wine, trying to place where it came from.  He enjoyed the ebb and flow of his native language as the other passengers talked, but didn’t join in the conversation.  Monterey, he thought.  The wine was from Monterey.  A small shiver of excitement ran through his body, almost like the wine was connecting him to his homeland and drawing him.  

Señor de la Vega.” 

Diego looked up and saw that Doña Maria was speaking to him. 

“My apologies, señora.  My mind was elsewhere.”

“That was obvious, señor.  And where was it?” she asked, laughing. 

Diego smiled.  Doña Maria’s happiness was infectious and Diego found himself being drawn into it.  “I was identifying the origin of this wine.” 

“And did you?” she asked. 

“I believe so, Doña Maria.  It is from Monterey,” Diego declared. 

“Bravo, Señor de la Vega.  You are correct,” the captain said.   

“Señor de la Vega, may I ask you a question?” Doña Maria quickly interjected.  Diego was getting the feeling that she had a question that had been waiting impatiently to be asked for some time.  

“Of course, Señora,” Diego answered. 

 “What is your destination?” Like Carlos, she was intensely curious about this quiet young man who probably had not put ten words together throughout the entire meal.  In fact she had been curious about him from the time he had boarded and young Señor de Clavo had informed them about his roommate.

“The Pueblo de Los Angeles in California,” he said simply. 

“I hate to be presumptuous, but would you be related to Alejandro de la Vega?” she queried.            

Sí, Doña Maria,” he answered, puzzled, wondering how she knew his father.  “He is my father.”           

“I knew it!  You do not have the same build as your father, but there is something about you that reminds me of him,” she was bubbly in her reminiscing.  “Alejandro was a rival for my affections with dear Esteban.  I am originally from Santa Barbara, and Alejandro and I met there when he was doing business for his father,” she continued.  “He was so sweet, but I am afraid that I had no desire to be a provincial girl and besides, Esteban swept me off my feet.”  She laughed at the memories that the conversation had conjured up.  “How is your father?”           

Diego couldn’t help himself.  He laughed at the description of his father as ‘sweet.’  “Thank you for the compliment, Doña Maria,” Diego said.  “Father was fine the last time I saw him, which, of course, was too long ago.  Maybe you and Don Esteban could visit our hacienda before you continue on to Spain?”           

Dona Maria was ecstatic, as that would be one more acquaintance to visit when they arrived in California.  “Of course, Diego, we would be thrilled to visit.  Thank you for the invitation.”  She leaned over and hugged her husband, who murmured his thanks.  Diego wondered how this shy and inhibited man could have beaten his father for anyone’s affections.  However, the caballero decided that fate had other plans for his father and himself.            

When the cabin boy came in to clear away dishes, Diego stared at him, still feeling that there was something familiar about the boy, just as he had felt when he had first come on board.

 

 

 

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