Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

The Gathering Storm

             

“By the Saints,” Diego heard Carlos shout in surprise.  Remotely, he heard other exclamations, but he had too much to concentrate on at the moment.  What was extremely easy with two hands was much more difficult with one, and Diego was regretting his reckless leap from the watch’s seat.  His feet kept his descent steady, though, and he quickly regained the confidence of one who climbed up and down the rigging often.  Swinging gently into the ratlines, Diego let go of the rope and began climbing the rest of the way down. 

Two bemused sailors met him at the mainsail yard.  One looked to be about ten years Diego’s senior, the second a young man, very thin and barely out of his teens.  “Señor, the first mate sent us up to help you,” the older sailor said.  He and his companion watched as Diego slowly but steadily negotiated the yard and continued climbing down the ratlines.  The younger sailor reached over once to catch his arm when Diego’s foot slipped slightly, but the older man waved him off.  Diego smiled reassuringly to both of them before continuing his descent.   “It would seem that you do not need it, señor.  You have apparently spent time in the rigging before,” the sailor said.

,” Diego replied briefly, concentrating on his climb.  Eight feet off the deck, he let go, dropping down lightly in front of the first mate.  The sailors followed him, the older man laughing softly, then they returned to their duties.             

Santa Maria!” Carlos exclaimed, rushing up to him.  The Filipino was still in a state of shock and stood gaping wide-eyed at his roommate as Diego brushed himself off.  

“You could have been killed trying such a stunt, señor,” the first mate said sternly.  His face was pale, Diego noticed, testament to his anxiety at seeing a passenger in the watch’s seat, no doubt.   “The watch’s seat is only for those who work on this ship, not for the passengers,” he fussed, but his eyes had a puzzled look, as though he was trying to figure out how a mere passenger could be so agile in the ratlines of a rocking ship and with only one good arm.   There was admiration in the man’s eyes as well.

Diego felt sorry for the mate, but he could not help his euphoric mood.  Before, he could not feel but a small amount of joy at his journey home, no matter how much he wanted to.  Now he couldn’t feel the least bit unhappy about anything.  Laughing, despite the mate’s tongue-lashing, Diego explained, “Señor, please, many pardons for startling you.  You are right, I could have been killed, but I was not ‘trying such a stunt.’  I have been in the rigging many times working the sails and being on watch.  I was a conscripted sailor on a British ship on my voyage west.  However, I do promise to give you fair warning the next time I get the urge to climb.”  

The mate gaped at him without saying anything for a moment.  Señor, but your arm….”  His sentence died.   Finally, as Diego continued to stand before the two men grinning, and as other passengers gathered, the mate regained his composure and said, “You still took a terrible risk.”  

Sí, I will admit that coming down was much harder then going up.  I appreciate your concern, señor.            

“Did you spend the whole night up there?” Carlos asked incredulously, looking up at the distant watch’s seat and shuddering.             

“Part of it,” Diego answered simply.  They both returned to the cabin, where the caballero cleaned up for breakfast.  The bowl of fresh water was cool and refreshing as he splashed it on his face, neck and chest.  

While Diego was shaving, Carlos sat on a chest and watched his roommate.  He saw something that he had not seen before.  He saw happiness and contentment.  Not just the fleeting kind that had occasionally manifested itself, but something that was much deeper.  “Whatever possessed you to do that, my friend?” Carlos finally asked. 

“I couldn’t sleep and had the urge to climb to the watch’s seat.”  He patted his face dry and pulled on a clean shirt.   

“But Diego, when you were on the China Star, you had the use of both arms.  You could have been killed up there!”

Diego laughed heartily.  “Not only do you sound like the captain’s mate, I suppose that now you also sound like your mother,” he teased.  Carlos helped him tie his banda. 

Carlos laughed along with him.  “Well, you could have.”

“Yes, I could and it was a foolish thing to do.  But it was something that I felt compelled to do.”   Diego adjusted his sling.  He looked in the small polished metal mirror hanging on the wall as he combed his hair.  When he finished he turned to the younger man.  “It does not bother me anymore, Carlos.  I have no idea why I felt so oppressed before.  I felt as though I could never go home, even though the ship is sailing east.  Now I feel free.  Now I know it’s happening.  It is really happening.”   Carlos’ grin matched that of his friend.            

Word of Diego’s nighttime sojourn aloft on the watch’s perch had reached all the passengers by the time breakfast was served.  He had kept tight-lipped about his kidnapping and time on the China Star, and had allowed his fellow passengers to assume that the trip to China had been for pleasure or business. Suddenly Diego was being plied with questions about his trip west, which, for the most part, he now didn’t mind answering.            

“Poor Alejandro,” was Doña Maria’s only comment at the end of his quick synopsis.  Diego nodded, quickly eating a few bites of corned beef before the next question.  Then he paused, wondering, as he often had, how his father had been faring since his kidnapping.

 

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Alejandro ascended the stone steps slowly.  He was tired, deathly tired.  He stopped halfway up and gazed down at the black costume that graced his body, a body that was still strong and virile for its age, but one that was not invincible.  It was a body that was feeling the effects of the past weeks.  Even though younger than me, how did Diego do this, day after day? he thought.  His knees ached, his head ached, his heart ached.  It had been months since that blessed message from Diego.  One message in months!  

The old man continued up the stairs and set the lantern down on the little table that Bernardo had put in the secret room off of his bedroom so very long ago, when he first took his son’s place as the masked bandit, Zorro.  Opening a little drawer, he pulled out a letter, the letter.  The one that the Americano had brought him from Diego.  It was worn and creased.  Some of the words were already beginning to fade from wear.  Even though he knew its contents by heart, he laid it next to the lantern to look at it as he changed out of the costume.  Then, as he hung the cape on a peg, Alejandro felt a tap on his shoulder.  He jumped slightly, but turned to see the concerned face of his son’s mozo.  “Ah, Bernardo, you startled me, but then I should be more attentive.”  

Bernardo shook his head and his fingers began moving.

“Wait, Bernardo.  Come closer to the light and talk more slowly.  You know that I am not as good at this as Diego is,” Alejandro said.  

Standing near the lantern, the servant began again.  Alejandro knew it was important and paid close attention.  “You heard something in the pueblo this evening?  You were behind the stable?  It was about the meeting tonight?  Alejandro ‘translated’ wanting to make sure he understood correctly.  Bernardo nodded and continued.  As the mozo explained, Alejandro drew in his breath in horror.  He knew that there was something afoot.  He had heard the rumors of an all out attack on the pueblo, plans to burn and plunder the town, but he had dismissed those as unreasonable, even a ruse to keep everyone on edge and fearful.   

There was going to be an attack, but not on the pueblo.  It was an attack on those meeting tonight at the Rancho Torres.  While such meetings had been taking place periodically since Diego’s kidnapping, no one had tried to disrupt the gatherings.  The revolutionaries’ tactics had been to make lightning raids against individual landowners and their families.  And recently, there had been almost no attacks at all.  

Even with the lull and seeming return to peace, several of Alejandro’s friends had already sold their lands and left for Spain, Mexico or for the areas around Yerba Buena, which seemed more tranquil and much safer.   Alejandro had tried to inquire as to the buyer of those properties, and the name had been the same, Juan Miguel Brazas Cadrille, a name totally unknown to him.  It was someone that was not from around here, whose name could not even be attached to any family’s name in Monterey or San Diego.  Alejandro knew of a Cadrille near San Diego, but about the time of his inquiry, that man had been murdered and his great house burned to the ground.  No one person in the family had been left alive.  He wondered who this Cadrille was.

That incident had also occurred during the recent lull in the terrorism around Los Angeles, a time when those who were optimistic said that Zorro and the group of hacendados had discouraged the outlaws and banditos; and those who were more cautious felt that the band of evil men was only taking a moment to figure different tactics and pull in new followers.   

Alejandro was among the proponents of the latter belief.   The lull had come after Bernardo had discovered the plans for a raid on the Rancho Torres a few weeks ago.  Alejandro, disguised as Zorro, had led many of his friends to the rescue, killing several of the revolutionaries, wounding others, but they had been unable to capture any, to everyone’s extreme frustration.  The old man knew that they had only retreated to lick their wounds and think of new ways to terrorize the people of the area.  Ai! And I thought the Eagle and his brood were insidious.  These are like the sun in August, they are relentless, continually beating down those who only want peace to work their lands and raise their families.  

Alejandro’s mind returned to this new landowner, Cadrille.   That he was amassing great tracts of developed land with its attendant buildings, vineyards and even, in some cases, herds of cattle were evident.   Everyone had hoped that he was a fair minded and friendly neighbor, but there was something that bothered Alejandro about this Cadrille.   Up until now, the old don had hoped that he was just being overly cautious.  He had even sent an invitation through the agent of the land purchases for this Cadrille to attend the gathering.  He had hoped that meeting his new neighbor would set his mind at ease.  But he could no longer entertain such thoughts, not after Bernardo’s report.   

Alejandro had just been out as Zorro checking to see if there was activity near the pueblo and Don Nacho’s hacienda.  Now he was ready to change and attend the meeting himself.   Now as he watched Bernardo continuing to sign, he realized that there would be no rest tonight.  “It is so simple!  So perfectly simple!” he exclaimed.  Bernardo cautioned him to be quieter.  The walls were not soundproof.  “What better way to put the ultimate fear into the people, what better way to crush the power of the landowners then to hit them at a meeting?  Especially when most of the people are feeling confident that the bandits had left the area for good?  And to think that most have assumed that these assassins would not attack the Rancho Torres again, since they have never hit the same family or rancho twice.”  Alejandro paused, and rubbed at his bare chin.  Ai, I miss my beard!  But for Diego, for Zorro….    

“Ah, Bernardo, I think this Cadrille is a front for the revolutionaries.  I think that whoever he is will not be there at the meeting except to attack.  I think that if they succeed tonight, there will be nothing to stop their spread throughout the whole of southern California.  Those of the old families that are still alive will join those who have already sold their lands and left Los Angeles.  And I think it will take two Zorro’s this time.”    

“Bernardo, prepare a note.  Deliver it as you did the night that Monastario almost uncovered the secret of Zorro.  Make sure that the lancers are following you.  Do whatever you must to get them to follow you to the Torres ranch.”  

Bernardo pointed to his patrón’s father and signed an inquiry. 

“I will be riding to the Torres’ hacienda.  I really am not sure exactly what I will do when we get there.  That will come later,” Alejandro said, tying on the cape and grabbing the hat.

The servant took Alejandro’s arm and shook his head.  When he had the don’s full attention, Bernardo signed, ‘No, you need to go as Don Alejandro.  I will bring the lancers in time.’  

“But….”  

Bernardo shook his head again and signed again.  ‘It will be too strange if you do not show up at the meeting.  You are one of the leaders.’  

Alejandro sighed.  Bernardo was right.  But this was so critical.  Finally he nodded.  “Yes, as much as I hate to admit it, you are right.  But just to be on the safe side, let me write a note to be delivered separately. I will have Benito take it.  He should arrive about the time that you do.”  

Bernardo nodded and signed that he would go down to the cave and ready Tornado.   “We must hurry, Bernardo.”  The mozo nodded and turned to the pegs that held his costume, the one he had altered to fit his shorter, stockier frame.  Soon Bernardo had gone down to the cave where he resaddled the stallion.  

Alejandro quickly wrote a message and called for the head vaquero.  Soon Benito was standing in the older man’s room, his hat in his hands, his eyes anxious.  “Benito, you must saddle Princessa.  She is the fastest horse we have.  Take this message to the cuartel.  I do not think Sergeant Garcia will be there because he will be at the meeting at the Torres hacienda, but give this to whoever is in charge right away.  It is a matter of life and death.”

“The bandits, patrón?” Benito asked. 

, Benito.  I have been given information that makes me believe that the Torres rancho will be attacked tonight.”  

“Then you are not going, Don Alejandro?” Benito asked, tucking the letter into a pocket of his vest.  

“But I am.  I have to.”  Alejandro pulled on a clean chaqueta even as he spoke.  “If you hurry, there will be no need to fret.”  Benito took the hint and with a quick tilt of his head, left the room.  As Alejandro strode down the stairs, still mindful of his stiff knees, he heard the vaquero riding away.   Soon he, too, was on his way.

The first stars were coming out just as he rode up in front of the Torres casa grande.  As a servant held his horse while he dismounted, Alejandro wanted to tell him of the danger, have him gather the servants and arm them, but he had no idea who might be involved with the conspirators. That was the problem during these past months of terror.  Except for the brief respite of the past couple of months, there had been no faces behind these heinous crimes, the acts of wanton violence.  That was what made all of this so fearful.  A ghost could be doing these acts for all anyone knew. 

Gracias,” was all he said, instead, allowing the servant to take the horse to the stables.  He walked through the open gate that another servant opened for him and entered the small patio.  Another servant opened the sala door.   

Alejandro gazed at each servant, trying to assess his loyalty, trying to discern guile.  But he could see nothing.  Don Nacho was by the door to greet him.   “Welcome, my friend, welcome,” Nacho said brightly.  “Have you heard anything from Diego?”  It was almost a ritual question.  

“No, Nacho.  I have not.”  

“But soon, you will hear soon,” Nacho said.  “We only await Señor Cadrille and  Sebastian and then we will be ready to begin the meeting.”

Alejandro looked around, wondering how he could discreetly warn his friend.  He must be blunt.  “May I see you privately for a moment, Nacho?”

“Of course, Alejandro.”  

They stepped into the library; no one else was there. “Nacho, my friend, this meeting is a trap.  One of my servants overheard a conversation in the pueblo and told me.”

 

Chapter Six
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