Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

What Goes Around, Comes Around

 

 

Nacho’s eyes widened in shock.  “After all this time, they are still here?  Even after Miguel’s trip to Mexico, they are still here?” 

“Yes, they are still here, Nacho,” replied Alejandro.  “And you heard Miguel’s account.  The Mexican government denied everything. These men have only been waiting, or they have been elsewhere doing their evil work.  I think the murder of Ramon Cadrille in San Diego was also their doing.  They have spread their influence and terror.” 

“We must tell Sergeant Garcia!  He must send for the lancers!” 

“Not Sergeant Garcia.  At least not right now.  He is unable to hide his feelings or much else for that matter.  We have been very lucky that he has kept Diego’s information to himself this long,” Alejandro said.  “No, we must discreetly and quickly warn and arm our most trusted friends and be ready for whatever comes.  I sent a vaquero to the cuartel for help.  We can only pray that he is in time.  And that perhaps Zorro hears of this as well.”

, my friend, although in the past months, we have been more effective than Zorro,” Nacho said.

“Nacho, we cannot expect Zorro to fight all of our battles for us,” Alejandro said quickly, replying to what had been voiced around the pueblo at times since Diego’s kidnapping. 

Nacho nodded and then on the pretext of showing off a new brood mare, he pulled his close friends, one and two at a time to the stable, where he warned them.  Some, those still afraid from previous raids, already carried pistols, swords or knives.  Don Nacho was able to give a few others weapons. 

Alejandro returned to the casa grande, and as he figured, the new neighbor had not shown up.  Although he had hoped otherwise, the old don felt that this buyer was only a name, a front for the revolutionaries activities.  “Let us begin the meeting,” he announced.  “We can wait no longer.”  As though on cue, a large rock crashed through the window, shattering a vase along with whatever sense of security some of the guests might have entertained. 

Shots began pouring through the now gaping window and shouts resembling those of hordes of demons pierced the darkness.  “There are hundreds,” a tremulous voice cried out.  

“No!” Alejandro called over the hubbub.  “No, they want us to think that, but there aren’t.  Blow out the candles!  Someone douse the fire!  Quickly!” Alejandro ordered. 

His companions complied and within moments the sala as plunged in darkness.  “Nacho, my friend, take four men upstairs and shoot any of the assassins that you can see.”  He turned to the shadowy forms of the others, but before he could say anything Sergeant Garcia’s voice rang out, decisive and strong.

“Don Alejandro, you direct fire on that side of the room.  I will on this.”

Shots still came fast, but the shouting had faltered.  The men inside listened for shots and fired at the flashes.  There were many and only sporadically did the hacendados hear a scream of pain or death.  There are many! Alejandro thought as he fired.  Upstairs he heard a cry of pain.  Nacho! he thought, bringing his mind back to his task.  The alcalde handed him a loaded musket as he handed off his spent one to Rudolfo.  The exchange of gunfire continued for what seemed an eternity.  Alejandro prayed silently for succor from the pueblo.  He thought furiously.   The moon!  When would the moon rise? Not until later, it was a waning moon.  

A bullet smacked into the window frame next to his hand sending splinters flying.  Alejandro felt the sting of one in his cheek.  If I could only see!  He aimed in the direction he last saw a flash.  A hand reached in the shattered window and grasped the barrel of his musket, jerking it out of his grasp.  He held on, trying to keep possession of the weapon, but to his horror he found himself being pulled out of the window.  Letting go of the musket, Alejandro flailed out with his fist and felt it connect with something hard, but somewhat fleshy at the same time, as though he had punched someone in the jaw.  At the same time, he felt hands grabbing at his chaqueta, pulling him back inside the room.  

A burning pain at the side of his neck elicited a sharp cry, quickly bitten off.  More pain slid down his arm and he fell back onto the floor of the sala.  He grasped his wounded arm and felt sticky wetness. 

“Are you all right, Don Alejandro?” Sergeant Garcia asked.

“Yes . . . yes, I think so,” he stammered.  Suddenly a barrage of shots came from outside and everyone ducked.  But it soon became apparent that the balls were not directed toward those besieged in the house, but at their assailants. 

Alejandro breathed a sigh of relief when he heard Corporal Reyes’ voice calling for the surrender of the attackers.   Then Reyes called out toward the house, “Sergeant Garcia!  Are you all right?”

, we are.  Is it secure?”  

, Sergeant,” replied Reyes from the patio.

“Light candles,” Garcia ordered. 

Alejandro blinked at the sudden illumination, weak though it was.  He saw broken glass and other debris of the battle everywhere.  

“Don Alejandro!” Garcia cried out, his eyes wide in fright.

Alejandro gazed at the large man, puzzled, then he began to stand up.  Or rather, he tried to.  Dizziness washed over him and he sat back down.  Don Alfredo rushed to his side.  “My friend, you are hurt!” 

“Hurt?  Me?” Alejandro looked down at himself and saw spattered blood on the ripped sleeve of his left arm.  His neck burned and when he looked back up, he felt something trickling down his chest.  

Alfredo undid his chaqueta and pulled it off gently, easing the sleeve over his wounded arm. Alejandro saw the long knife cut running down the outside of his upper arm, fresh blood oozing through the torn cloth of his shirt. Alejandro prayed thanks to his patron saint, realizing just how close he had come to death.  The razor sharp knife had sliced through two layers of clothing before reaching his skin.  He would also have to thank the unseen benefactor who had pulled him back inside the room as well.   Alfredo began applying a compress just below his throat while another hacendado, Don Tomas was wrapping linens around his arm.  

Gracias, my friends.”  He looked up at Sergeant Garcia, standing with his hat in his hands, looking sad and dejected.  Corporal Reyes stood next to him, looking equally woeful.  “I am not in the grave yet.  These are scratches, easily healed.”  Garcia visibly brightened.  “Tell me, Sergeant. How many of these assassins were captured or killed?” Alejandro asked. 

“Only eight were killed, Don Alejandro.  We weren’t able to capture any.  They took all of their wounded with them.  I am sorry.”  

Alejandro sighed in exasperation.  It would have been a very good thing to have one of these revolutionaries to question.  The inability to capture any of them was what made them so fearful. These evil men really were like ghosts, unknown faces haunting their dreams and attacking their peace.  Alejandro sighed.  Well, at least now people know they can be killed, he thought, with a tiny sense of satisfaction.  “Were any of the dead men that you knew?” he asked. 

“No, Don Alejandro, but then it is too dark to tell for sure,” Reyes answered.

 

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A commotion outside the Captain’s mess interrupted the conversation at the breakfast table.  There was a crashing of dishes, followed by the angry shouts of one of the crew, and then Diego was astonished to hear a high voice speaking English.  It sounded very much like a boy’s voice.  Rushing outside, he saw the cabin boy, the same one who had shown him his room the first day, being beaten with a rope.  The boy was whimpering and pleading in English for the cook to stop.  Incensed, Diego dashed over and grabbed the rope from the man.  “You have made your point, señor. You can stop now,” he told the enraged man.           

“How dare you interfere in my business,” the cook shouted, his fiery rage unabated.  “This stupid English pig is not able do anything right.”

“Of course not, when he is afraid of being beaten every time he makes a mistake,” Diego said calmly.  He looked at the boy, whose tears had made dirty streaks down his ruddy cheeks.  “My friend, are you hurt?” he asked the boy in English.  

The boy’s eyes widened in shock and he stammered a bit before answering.  “I . . . I’m all right, sir.  I just dropped the dishes.  I really didn’t mean to, sir,” he hiccupped in his agitation.  “I really didn’t mean to.  I d . . . don’t mean to make mistakes in Spanish either, but I have trouble learning,” he babbled.  

Diego stopped him with a motion of his hand.  “It is all right, lad.  You can calm down now.”  By this time the captain and the other passengers had left their breakfasts and were witnessing the scene.           

“You know, Don Diego, I have not quite figured you out,” the captain said with a hint of wry humor.  “First, you are so silent that I think you might be one of those Indian monks, then you frighten my first mate to death by spending the night in the watch’s seat and then you interfere with the duties of my cook.  Although, in the case of the latter, I can understand the reason you did.  The punishment seems a bit harsh for the crime, even for this hard-headed Englishman.”          

Capitán, he is just a boy,” Diego said softly.  “He is just a confused, scared English boy on a Spanish ship, probably not of his free will.  I empathize, because I was just a confused, bewildered Californiano on an English ship and it was certainly not of my own free will,” he added.  “How much is the boy’s indenture?”  The captain gave him a figure.  Diego nodded.  “I am good for the sum, but I hope you will take some of the amount in kind.  I would prefer to keep a little bit of the currency I have free for when I arrive in San Diego.”

“Very well, Señor de la Vega,” Captain Vallejo said and they shook hands on the deal.  “Come by the purser’s office later this morning and we will draw up the papers.”

Young George didn’t understand the whole conversation, but he got the idea that the tall passenger had just bought his indenture.  He wasn’t sure if that was good fortune or not, but anything was better than getting beaten and kicked around by the Spanish cook.  And besides, this man could speak the King’s English.  He was brought back to the present when the man asked him his name.  “George Bowman, sir,” he replied as smartly as he could and then was confused when the man acted upset.  There was nothing unusual about his name.           

When Diego heard the boy give him his name, he felt as though a horse had kicked him in the chest.  Carlos saw his shocked look and grabbed his arm.  Taking a deep breath, Diego softly asked, “Are you named after somebody in particular, son?”           

“Yes, sir, my great-Uncle George, who is an officer on a big merchant ship,” the boy announced proudly.  “We saw him in Liverpool when his ship came into port to be dry docked last year.  That’s when I decided to sign on as a cabin boy.  I wanted to sail on a big ship like his.  Uncle George is the supercargo on a big East Indiaman.  You should have seen her, sir, she was beautiful.”           

“I did see her, George,” Diego said quietly.  “I served on the China Star under your uncle from San Diego almost to Canton.  I knew there was something about you that reminded me of someone.”  Before the boy could ask any more questions, he beckoned him to the cabin for privacy.  The other passengers had watched the exchange, but were mostly unaware of what Diego and the boy were talking about.           

“George, sit down,” Diego said, motioning toward a chest near his bed.  The boy did as he was bid.  Diego hated giving the boy news of his uncle’s death, but it was something that had to be done.  “George, your uncle is dead.  He had a heart attack several days out from Canton.”  Young George looked stricken for a moment, gazing into Diego’s face to make sure he had heard rightly.  Then he began crying, great heavy sobs that seemed too big for the small boy. 

Diego got up and walked over to George, pulling the child to him, enveloping him with his good arm.   The boy wept against his new master’s chest, not caring at the moment of the impropriety of the action.  His uncle had been his hero, the man he most dreamed of being like and now his uncle, like his dream of sailing, was dead.   

“Was he good to you, sir?” George asked, finally, pulling away from Diego and sitting next to him.  Diego handed him a handkerchief and the boy blew his nose.            

“He was as good to me as my own father, George,” Diego told him.  “He is the one who taught me English.  I didn’t know but a little of your language when I was indentured on your uncle’s ship.”

George was incredulous. “You were indentured, like me?” he asked.            

“Yes, I was shanghaied,” Diego said.  “Your uncle in a small way has helped me to get home.   I intend to send you home to your family, as soon as we get to California and I can get passage for you to London or Liverpool.”           

“Oh, thank you, sir, my mother will be so happy!” George cried joyfully.  “I am sure she is very worried about me.  After I went to sea, we were chased and captured by a Spanish warship.   All I have dreamed about since then is going home.”           

“Yes, George, I understand.  I understand perfectly,” Diego said softly.

 

 

 

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