After the horses had rested, Alejandro and
Bernardo mounted and continued. By
mid afternoon, they had lost the trail altogether, but Alejandro kept
pushing on; searching in the same direction the tracks had been going
before they had disappeared.
As they rode along, Alejandro willed the westering sun to stand
still so he could search for as long as he needed.
He and Bernardo checked any arroyos and valleys that could
be hiding places for the kidnappers, but in his heart, the patrón
did not feel the bandits would be hiding.
He felt as though there was a specific destination in mind for
his son. If only I knew
what it was! the old man mentally cried.
By early evening and with the late day sun directly in their
eyes, the two men reached El Camino Real, the King’s Highway.
Here they saw many tracks, of horses, carts, carriages and
wagons, all jumbled and blurred together.
It was impossible to tell if any were those they had been
“They couldn’t have been using the El Camino
Real,” Alejandro declared. “We
have to check each side to see where they crossed the road.”
Bernardo just shrugged, but checked one side of the road, while
Alejandro checked the other. This
continued until dark, when Alejandro dejectedly called the search to a
halt. As they were closer
to Los Angeles than they were to a way station or mission, they rode
back to the pueblo and took a room at the inn.
Although tired beyond measure, Alejandro lay awake in the bed
contemplating just where Diego could be, and what those hell spawned
devils were doing to him. Finally,
he fell into a fitful sleep, filled with dreams of his son.
Dreams where Diego was calling to him, but Alejandro was unable
to answer or to get to him.
The next day, they progressed further, but still found nothing that indicated a cart leaving the El Camino Real. At supper, they reached the halfway point between Los Angeles and San Diego. They entered the way station’s inn, ate the meal in silence and took a room. Before retiring, however, Alejandro asked the innkeeper if he had seen several men with a cart.
“Señor, you could be talking about
half the traffic on the highway,” the man answered.
“Sí, señor, you speak truly,” Alejandro conceded, but he gave him Diego’s description anyway. The innkeeper shook his head but assured the older man that he would keep an eye open for his son. Alejandro slowly trudged up the stairs, Bernardo following.
“How could horsemen and a cart with an unconscious passenger simply be missed or unnoticed?” Alejandro said in exasperation. “Surely someone had to have observed something.”
Bernardo looked thoughtful.
If Don Diego was incapacitated throughout the journey to wherever
the kidnappers were going, that would keep him from trying an escape and
if the men had hidden Don Diego in some way he wouldn’t be noticed.
He signed his theory to Don Alejandro.
‘What if Don Diego had been drugged?’ he added.
That made a great deal of sense to him.
“Then they could keep him hidden and compliant all the way to
Mexico.” Given the
direction of the tracks before they had lost them, that was the only
assumption that Alejandro could make.
While California was a large colony, making the search difficult,
it would be virtually impossible to look for Diego in Mexico.
The political climate was tenuous, from what he had heard, and
the southern colony huge. Even
so, Alejandro thought, they could not keep his son drugged forever.
And the kidnappers would need to get supplies before they reached
Mexico. He would go
directly to San Diego. That
would be the logical place for these kidnappers to supply for the long
journey through the desert country north of Mexico City.
He conveyed his beliefs to Bernardo, who simply
nodded. The mozo
just didn’t know what to think anymore.
The next morning they set off down the El Camino Real, only
pausing to inquire of people who owned carts large enough to carry a
full grown man hidden under their goods.
It was very late in the evening when they finally rode into San
Diego. Even the post siesta
crowds had dissipated. After
getting a room at the inn, Alejandro asked the sleepy-eyed innkeeper
about Diego, only getting a curt shake of the head as an answer.
The next day Alejandro walked to the presidio
where he requested audience with the comandante. Capitán Diaz greeted them warmly.
“Señor de la Vega, welcome to San Diego.
What can I do for you?”
Alejandro dispensed with formalities and came
right to the point. “Capitán
Diaz, almost four days ago, my son was kidnapped from Los Angeles,”
“I am so sorry, Don Alejandro. Do you know who kidnapped your son?” He paused. “You are here, therefore you must have some idea of the identity of whoever kidnapped your son.”
“There have been terrorists in our area.
They have murdered some of our citizens.
I think it was they who did this,” Alejandro said and then told
the entire story.
“We have had some similar depredations here, but not to the
extent that you have suffered in your area.
And I have not seen or heard of anyone or any group that might
arouse suspicions.” Again,
Diaz paused, steepling his hands. “However,
I will most assuredly keep an eye open for your son.
Please describe him for me.”
Alejandro complied, giving as detailed a description of Diego as he could.
“No, there has been no one fitting that description in San Diego that I know of, although that does not mean that he has not been here. We have not even had anything unusual happen recently, except for the docking of the British ship last week,” Diaz said, trying to lighten the mood in the room. Seeing that he failed miserably, he continued, “Again, Don Alejandro, I will watch carefully and send you word if I find him or if there is any word of your son, Diego.”
“Gracias, comandante,” Alejandro said
dejectedly. “Please do
that for me. He is my only
son. He is all I have
“Of course I will, señor. Be aware, however, I strongly doubt that these men would have
actually ventured into San Diego. If
they were going south, they would have gone into the countryside before
reaching the pueblo.”
Alejandro shook hands with the comandante
and walked out to the parade ground where Bernardo was waiting. The sky seemed to echo his mood.
While he was in Diaz’ office, the skies had darkened to a dull
gray and by the time they were riding out of the pueblo to look
for any evidence of Diego, the clouds opened and it began raining, a
steady, heavy rain that dashed any hopes of finding any more clues.
“Let us go home, Bernardo,” Alejandro said
in a heavy voice. “There
is nothing we can accomplish here.”
Tapping the caballero on the arm, he
signed, ‘Don Diego will get away and come back home.’
Alejandro nodded as the rain ran off the brim of
his hat, sometimes splashing in his face.
They rode back to the tavern and when the rain had ceased, they
began the journey back to Los Angeles, stopping by every way station and
mission on the way home to leave Diego’s description.
For several days after their return home, Alejandro sat morosely in front of the fire, seeing not the flames, but his son. Crescencia could not entice him to eat more than a few bites at a time. He simply did not have any appetite. Oh, Diego, my son! Where are you? What have they done to you? were the questions that rolled round and round in his mind. He began to wonder if Diego would be able to escape. He wondered if his son would ever return. He wondered and occasionally he felt the tears of bitterness slide down his weathered cheeks and into his beard. Then he would chide himself. Of course, Diego would be able to escape eventually. He knew his son’s determination, the fire of his spirit. But it was the not knowing, the uncertainty. Where was he, he repeated over and over again? Finally the old man went into the small family chapel near the casa grande and prayed and lit a candle for his son’s safety and his quick return.
But after two weeks, he became ever more moody
and morose. Everywhere
Alejandro looked he was reminded of Diego.
The books in the library reminded him of the discussions they
sometimes had of Homer, Cervantes or Shakespeare, the sala reminded
him of the chess games they had played, games that he almost invariably
lost, but that he fiercely missed now.
Diego’s palomino was released into the north pasture, Diego’s
room shut up. Alejandro
looked into the mirror in the mornings and saw his son reflected at
various stages of growth. Or
he would see himself, his own reflection an indictment of his
ineptitude, of his inability to see the kidnapping coming and to prevent
it. If only I could have
been with Diego, if only…….
During these times of self reproach and
recriminations, Bernardo would remind him that the kidnappers were
determined and the patrón would have been dead had he gone with
his son. That would have left no one here for the young man when
he did finally return. And
he continued to remind Don Alejandro that Don Diego would come home. He would return.
“But when?” Alejandro asked.
‘Only God knows the answer to that
question,’ Bernardo signed in answer.
Alejandro could only nod, thankful for the day
Diego had chosen Bernardo to be his servant.
The man was astute beyond measure and seemed able to ascertain
just when he needed some word of consolation or encouragement.
Alejandro wasn’t sure what he would have done without the mozo.
But despite all this, at times, Alejandro felt a
quiet kind of despair developing, something hard that grew in his chest,
that threatened to choke him, and with it a restlessness that he could
not contain. The hacendado
began riding in the hills, looking for his son returning home, searching
for signs of the men who did this to him and Diego.
He could not stay long in the house that had become horribly,
almost eerily quiet.
During this time, the winery in San Fernando
mysteriously burned to the ground, and in San Pedro a warehouse was
looted, with many goods just recently brought from Spain, stolen.
With a well-used rag, Bernardo rubbed the saddle
once more, despite the fact that it had not one speck of dirt or dust on
it. Tornado nickered from
his little stall. Laying
the saddle down, the mozo walked over to the stallion and rubbed
his nose. The horse didn’t have any dirt on him either, having been
curried several times a day for the past, almost two weeks. The servant had spent any free time he had in the secret
Even as he had searched, however, the mozo
felt that it was futile. He
felt that he and Don Alejandro had been right about Don Diego’s
destination when they had traveled to San Diego.
This was not like the kidnapping of little Marguerita.
Don Diego was not close at hand, to be rescued by someone who was
able to put the clues together. Neither
would this be resolved in a short time.
But how could you search for someone in such a place as
California with so many hills and mountains.
There were so many ways a person could be taken.
Marguerita had been taken by Indians, but would the kidnapers try
the same thing twice? No.
They would not. They
would try to commit a crime that would not be traced by Zorro. They would have no idea that by kidnapping Don Diego, they
would not have to worry about Zorro.
That also meant that there were no local persons involved. There was no one to trace, as had been the case in the little
girl’s kidnapping. Otherwise
they would not have killed the stableman or the others.
But where would they hide Don Diego?
And for how long? Would
they eventually kill him? But
if so, why did they not kill him before?
Right now that was the servant’s small link to hope.
He firmly believed that they had no intention of killing him.
Bernardo remembered the storekeeper in the pueblo
earlier in the day. “Where
is Zorro? Why is Zorro not
looking for Don Diego?” the man had asked.
He had heard Sergeant Garcia wondering the same thing in the
tavern a few days ago. Such
questions were on the tongues of many people.
Only he and Don Alejandro knew why Zorro had not been out.
But shouldn’t he be protecting Don Diego’s secret for the
time when he comes back. But
will he? Or do they plan to kill him after a certain time, after Don
Alejandro had expended all of his energies looking for him? his mind
nagged, not giving him peace. The
same questions kept rolling through his mind incessantly, always
demanding answers that he couldn’t come up with.
All he had was hope.
And Don Alejandro, after his initial optimism,
was taking Don Diego’s kidnapping hard, asking himself the same
questions that Bernardo had been hearing in his mind, but coming up with
recriminating answers to beat himself with.
The mozo wished there was something he could do for the patrón
but he had said all that he could say.
Bernardo could only pray to the Holy Mother to help both the
father and the son. Don
Alejandro had begun spending every waking moment in the saddle roaming
the hills, or in the pueblo talking to Sergeant Garcia.
He wasn’t eating, sleeping or doing anything to take care of
himself. Don Alejandro would soon be dead and there would be no
one for Don Diego to return home to.
And he will be back, Bernardo thought, determination
building again. He will
and I must be Zorro until he does.
Patting the stallion one last time on the nose,
Bernardo turned and ran up the stone steps toward Don Diego’s room.
In the tiny alcove just before the secret door, the mozo
pulled down the black outfit that he had used on occasion, and quickly
put it on. Pulling down the
sword in its scabbard, he fastened it around his waistline, a waistline
that had shrunk a bit in the past week.
Turning the round door handle, Bernardo rushed into his
master’s room. It was too
quiet, too empty and in the last days had begun to take on the mustiness
of a room that was not being used.
Ignoring all that he made his way through the
late day dimness and found a piece of charcoal in the fireplace.
Rushing back to the secret room where a lantern lit the interior,
Bernardo used a tiny mirror and drew on a mustache that slightly
resembled Don Diego’s. The
mozo smiled ruefully at himself in the mirror.
He would never take Don Diego’s place, but perhaps, he could do
some small part to protect his master’s legacy until the rightful
With the preparations done, Bernardo ran back
down the steps and then proceeded to saddle Tornado.
The stallion pawed with one foot, but was otherwise quiet.
When the servant had finished bridling and saddling the ebony
horse, he mounted. With
assurance borne of experience, Tornado snorted and pushed through the
brush barricade into the crisp clear night. Bernardo touched his heels to the stallion’s flanks
and they sped toward the pueblo.
would simply make appearances, let the people know that their hero was
still riding for them.
And then he would pray, pray again that his
master and friend was safe and would return home quickly.