Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nine 

Answers but More Questions

 

 

As the days passed, sightings of sea birds became more numerous, and Diego, with the captain’s permission, had taken to spending more time in the watch’s seat.  One morning, even though the sun was shining brightly enough to bring tears to his eyes, Diego spotted a dark spot to the southeast that indicated they were approaching land.  Pulling his hand down from in front of his face, Diego leaned over and called his discovery down to the helmsman.  

Soon he was climbing down through the ratlines.  “Thank you for your report, Señor de la Vega,” the helmsman, Torizan said.  “It is about time we made landfall.”

Diego knew exactly what the sailor was talking about.  Even the water was stale by now.  But he ignored that in his excitement.  “Sandwich Islands?” he asked.

Sí, that is what it is,” Señor Torizan replied.  

Diego grinned.  Bueno, and after that only a few more weeks until the beautiful shores of home appear on the horizon,” declared Diego. 

“If the winds and our luck hold out.”

Early that afternoon, the Isadore anchored just beyond the reef of a peaceful harbor, the same one, Diego noted, that the China Star put in to.  Soon natives paddled out to greet the ship and were clambering aboard with their trade goods. Diego recognized Maleakeanu and his daughter paddling close to the ship.  

Aloha, Maleakeanu,” Diego called out.   The native gazed at him in bewilderment, not recognizing the young man.  Laughing, Diego pulled off his boots and climbed on the railing, quickly executing a fairly smooth dive into the ocean near the native’s canoe.  Maleakeanu’s daughter clapped her hands in recognition and her father shouted a hearty, ‘Aloha’, reaching out to help the young caballero on board the small craft. 

As before, Diego gently kissed her hand.  Signing, the islander indicated the difference in ships.  Also signing, Diego explained that he was going home.  He then indicated his desire to barter for some fruit.  Maleakaleanu gathered a basket while his daughter paddled close to the ship.  Both men clambered up the rope ladder and were soon standing on deck. 

The capitán gazed at Diego and sighed.  “I suppose there is a story behind this escapade, too, Señor de la Vega?”  

, Capitán Valdez,” Diego said with a grin.  He quickly bartered and paid for enough fruit to give to Carlos and George.  He tried to temper his euphoria, but it seemed a useless endeavor.  It was as though the Sandwich Isles was a benchmark of his return.  After these islands there would only be another three or four weeks and then he would be home.  Home!! 

With silent deliberation, Diego also realized that these islands had been a benchmark on his outward journey as well.  Then they had represented a severing of hope, a building of the quiet desperation that had finally climaxed in China.  Even though Diego still felt that making it home would not end his trials, even though he felt the tingling of great danger ahead of him, he could not shake the sense of near euphoria that gripped him now.  Danger or not, he would at least be home. 

Biting into a particularly ripe fruit, Diego felt the warm sticky juices run down his chin.  Throwing gentility to the winds, he finished the fruit, and then wiped his chin with his sleeve.  Turning, he saw George doing the same thing.   “Excuse me, but I am going to take a moment to change and then I plan on going ashore,” Diego told his companions. 

Carlos just laughed.  “Very well, Diego, we will be waiting.” 

Soon the trio was sitting in Maleakeanu’s canoe, swiftly skimming toward the shore.  The heady smell of green growing things pulled at Diego and, although it was a lush green smell and not the drier air of his homeland, it was still heady to the homesick caballero.  As they walked along the row of beachfront establishments, Diego looked with a new eye.  He was not a servant, he was not assistant supercargo, he was simply an observer, someone passing through without worries or cares.  

The trio ate in a small tavern and walked some more along the beach.  The warmth of the sun-heated sand felt good and Diego took off his low cut boots to enjoy the moment even more.  Even though it was grittier and of a darker, almost black color as opposed to the sands on the beaches near his home, it felt soothing and also tied him a little closer to his homecoming.  That and the heady scent of flowers raised his sense of well being even higher. 

“Don Diego!” a voice called out behind him, jerking the young man from his languid torpor.  

Diego turned toward the voice and saw someone he had never expected to see, at least not in this place, “Roberto!” 

“The saints be praised!  You survived the storm,” Roberto cried out as he caught up with the small group.   Carlos and George both had questions in their eyes. 

,” was all Diego could say. 

“I prayed for your survival, but held so little hope,” Roberto said.  “But how?” 

Diego thought furiously, trying to come up with some kind of reasonable explanation.  “It was Zorro,” he finally said. 

“Zorro?” Roberto asked, excited.

, Zorro pulled me on board a boat,” Diego elaborated.

“Ai, Zorro would do that,” Roberto said with a grin.  “But did he say how he came to be on the China Star? 

Diego remembered what Victoria had told him.  “He said the angels took him to help us,” Diego responded, wishing he didn’t have to play on the young man’s faith and superstitions.  

“And what happened to him?” Roberto asked.  

“After saving me, he simply vanished,” Diego stated evenly, trying hard to give explanations without telling more out and out lies.  

“Vanished?” Roberto asked, his face falling in sorrow.  “You mean he drowned?”

“No,” Diego said quickly.  “He simply vanished.”  And, Diego thought, that was true to a point.  During the storm there had been no Zorro.  There was only one lost and desperate Californiano trying to stay alive, and it was only by the grace of God that he had succeeded.  Diego felt a bit of remorse at deceiving Roberto this way, but there was nothing else he could to about it.  If he could run into one of his shipmates here on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there was a distinct possibility that they might meet again in California.  And Zorro’s work was not done. Diego was positive of that.  

During the conversation, Carlos had listened with growing bewilderment.  Finally, his curiosity could stand no more.  “Who is Zorro?” he asked.   

“He is the protector of the people and serves them against unjust laws and administrados,” Roberto replied promptly.  “He fights better than any soldier, is wily like his namesake and can disappear like smoke.” 

Carlos looked a bit skeptical and puzzled.  “Is he a government official?” he asked.  

Roberto laughed.  “No, Señor.  Government officials curse him and call him an outlaw.  There is a reward for his capture or death.  No one knows the face behind the mask.” 

“Mask?” Carlos repeated.   He glanced at Diego, but his roommate was looking at Roberto and his face gave him no clues.  

Sí, Señor,” responded Roberto.  “He wears clothes of blackest night, because that is when he usually rides.  Even his horse is black.  His mask covers his features; his cape makes him look like a huge bird of prey.  No one knows who he is.” 

Black cape, black outfit, Carlos mused.  Then he remembered the night he had watched Diego practicing his fencing on the poop deck. There was no cape, but he could envision that lithe form enshrouded in a cape.  He remembered the wonder of his roommate’s graceful moves, the deadly glint of moonlight on the cold steel blade.  Carlos remembered and suddenly realized just who this Zorro really was. 

“A disguised person can do many things that, say you or I could not do, Carlos.  Anonymity allows much,” Diego interjected, seeing the thoughtful look on his friend’s face and wondering about it.  

“But bandits and murderers wear masks,” Carlos protested.  

“Zorro is not a bandit or a murderer.  He helps the people.  He only shows himself when someone is in trouble,” Roberto replied, his voice strong with emotion.  “As he did on the China Star.

Carlos glanced at Diego, who simply nodded.  Grinning, Carlos threw up his hands and said, “I concede.  This Zorro is no common man.”  And he felt for a surety that such was so.  And this secret explained a little of the reason for his roommate’s reticence to talk about certain things.  There had been gaps in his story of his journeys.  It also explained his feeling that sometimes Carlos was dealing with two people instead of just one when he was around Diego.   Carlos thought back to the first days of their voyage across the Pacific and the metamorphosis that had taken place within his friend.  He realized that he had only seen a small portion of the inner turmoil within Diego de la Vega/Zorro.   While he still had many unanswered questions for Diego, some that might never be answered, Carlos found himself looking at his friend with new eyes.   Gone was any hint of suspicion.  Now he only wondered at the existence of this Zorro.  How did it come to be?  Why?   How long?  How did Diego choose this disguise? 

Diego pondered the delicate tightrope he had just walked with Roberto, but also wondered how the other man had been able to get this far east so quickly.  He had been sure that Senhor Batisto was going to follow through on his request but that he would find his shipmates and send them home so quickly was astonishing.  

“Roberto, how did you come to be here?” he asked. 

“Oh, the same way you did, Don Diego.  Señora Meachem arranged for my trip back to California.  She did help you, didn’t she?” 

Diego hid his astonishment behind a slight smile.  “I was helped by the Portuguese Trade Commissioner, Roberto, but I am so glad that you are going home, too.”  

Sí, and Immanuel is on the ship with me, but he had to work loading cargo.  He will be excited to hear that you are alive, Don Diego.  We will have to take a coach from Monterey, but still, it is a miracle to be going home now.”  The peon paused.  “There were times when I never thought to see my homeland again.”

“Yes, I felt the same way,” Diego said with a sigh. 

“Come, let us celebrate this joyous occasion with some wine,” Carlos interjected happily.  Diego grinned and motioned for George to join them.  

 

 

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

 

 

One evening east of the Sandwich Islands, Carlos and Diego were leaning against the rail, gazing at stars that seemed bright and close enough to touch. 

“I have been wanting to ask you some questions about this mysterious El Zorro, Diego.  Was he really on board the China Star? 

, or someone just like him,” Diego answered, knowing that being too evasive with his roommate would only result in more questions and possibly conjecture.  Carlos was very bright and Diego did not doubt that he could put clues together and somehow come up with uncomfortably-close-to-the-truth conclusions.  

“But how could he do that, Diego?” Carlos pressed.  “Could there have been Heavenly intervention?”

“There was Heavenly intervention, all right,” Diego answered, his conviction sure.  “But exactly how extensive I cannot even venture a guess.”  

“Where does this protector of the people reside?” Carlos asked, heading into a different line of questioning.  “When he is not helping Spanish nationals on board English ships, that is.”

Diego laughed and rubbed his chin, which was just beginning to show the makings of a new beard.  It had been Diego’s contention that if the revolutionaries were still operating, he would be quickly recognized when he returned home.  And Diego did not wish for his kidnappers to have any kind of advantage over him.  He wanted to be able to gather information before the bandits had any inkling of his arrival back in California.  He returned to Carlos’ question.  “He mainly operates near Los Angeles, although he has been seen in Monterey, Santa Barbara and north of San Diego.”

“You are also from Los Angeles, so you would know a great deal about Zorro.” 

“Sí,” Diego admitted.  “Although no one truly knows El Zorro.” 

“No one but El Zorro himself,” Carlos commented.  He felt Diego’s eyes on him, but didn’t respond.  “So no one knows just who this elusive bandit could be?”  

“No, although there have been many guesses,” was Diego’s response. 

“I can imagine,” Carlos said with a laugh.  “Has anyone accused you?” 

There was a pause.  “A couple of times,” Diego finally answered.  

“I imagine that was rather flattering.” 

Diego chuckled softly.  “It was somewhat, but it was also discomforting. There is a price on El Zorro’s head.  With capture there would be the absolute certainty of a public hanging for treason.”

“That is true,” admitted Carlos.  “And just where did this bandit come from?  How did he get his start?”

Laughing, Diego said, “Carlos, my friend, you are insatiably curious.” 

“This Zorro is an interesting subject.  I want to know more about him.”

Diego obliged, giving facts as a simple observer might give.  Every time Diego gave a few facts, Carlos asked for more, until the tale was long enough for the last bells of the night to sound.  Even in their cabin, Carlos asked questions until Diego threw up his hands in exasperation.  “Carlos!  My friend, I do not live with the bandit.  Please, no more questions.  I have told you all I know.”  

Sí, Diego.  Gracias.  Carlos smiled in the dimness of their room, knowing the real truth of the statement.  He felt that even as detached as Diego’s explanations were, the Filipino had learned a great deal about his friend and his admiration had grown tremendously in the several hours of their conversation. 

 

 

 

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