Pacific Odyssey:

Book I

 

 

 

   

Chapter Nineteen  

The Punishment

 

   

“Man the capstan!” the captain roared from the poop deck at the stern of the ship as the sun approached the horizon.  Diego and most of the rest of the sailors went amidships and began turning the huge winch that raised the anchor.  As they did, they chanted a song very similar to the one that had awakened him upon his departure from California.  He shoved that unpleasant time from his memory and pushed against the pole that formed just one spoke of the capstan wheel.  Roberto worked alongside him, sweat glistening against his bare, brown back.  All of them had first been sunburned and then darkened in the constant sunlight that beat down on them each day.  Even though some of them worked below decks at times with the various specialists, such as the carpenter, sail maker, or in Diego’s case, the supercargo, all the Californianos spent time with other shipboard duties, just as they had at the beginning when they were learning the various shipboard duties.  The ship was still shorthanded and everyone had to be available to work more than one duty on the large East Indiaman.  Diego could not only keep the supercargo’s books, he could also furl or loose the sails, draw the anchor, as they were doing now, clean and caulk the decks, oil and prime the cannons, and care for the livestock.  And he felt himself expert at the catching and killing of rats.  

“Away aloft!” Beatty ordered as soon as the anchor was secured.   

Diego climbed the ratlines with his fellow sailors and prepared to loose the main topgallant sails. This, the highest of the three sails of the main mast, was his duty station besides his position of assistant supercargo.  He and three other sailors stepped back onto the even more precarious footrope and waited along the top main gallant yard for the next order.  

“Let fall!” the quartermaster, Mr. Hackley, called out and Diego and his companions released the sails, ends first, then the bunt, or middle, to be caught by the late afternoon wind.  Other sailors along other yards did the same and the ship soon resembled a huge bird floating out of the harbor, through the opening in the reef and into the glow of the westering sun.   When all the sails were secured, the sailors began climbing back down, except for Diego.  He walked the short distance of the yard to the mast and then climbed the ratlines down to the main topsail yard, the round beam that held the middle sail of the main mast.  The maintop, or watch’s seat was attached to the mast as were most of the ropes, which held sails to the various yards, the mainmast and the deck.

The perch itself was not very big, approximately six feet in diameter, with the large mast being the center point.  There were straps with which the person on watch could secure himself to the maintop, especially during minor storms.  During more serious storms, the watch’s seat was abandoned as soon as the sails were furled.  The straps were also useful for those aloft for punishment.   Diego immediately tied himself to the perch.  While he could sometimes be accused of being reckless, the young caballero had never been convicted of stupidity.  He didn’t need another example of someone falling from this height to heed the warnings.

The China Star was sailing west, but he kept looking over his shoulder to the east, in the direction of home.  So very far away and getting further, he thought, seeing the hacienda in his mind’s eye and then seeing his father, Bernardo and all of those whom he cared for in Los Angeles.  What are they doing now?  Do they think I am dead?  It would be no wonder if they did.  Ah, Father, please do not despair.  Soon you will know where I am.  Soon you will have word….   And soon I will be on my way back home.  With that last thought to bolster his spirits, Diego turned back to the west and watched the sun as it touched the horizon.  The sea and the sky turned to gold, then slowly darkened until the stars appeared above him, their density even greater, if possible, than those of the skies of his native California. 

During the night, the stars disappeared, clouds thickened and the ship passed through a small band of showers.  It was not enough to necessitate furling the sails, but enough to cause the ship to wallow heavily in the slightly higher waves.  Diego, still tied to the perch, leaned against the mainmast, getting as comfortable as he could on the rough planking.  Even though, technically, the watch was not supposed to sleep on duty, and could be punished if he was caught doing so, extended stays in the watch’s seat made it practically impossible not to.   Throughout the night, Diego dozed, awakened at times by quick rain showers and by the rough surface on which he was sitting.  Just before dawn the next morning, he awoke, stiff, sore and exhausted.   

José was grinning at him from the ratlines.  “A fine watch you make, Don Diego.”  

Diego just grunted and then grinned back.  As tired as he was, as stiff and sore as he was, there was still the full day and another night to go, so there was no reason to complain now.  Untying himself from the platform, he stood and stretched.    

“I was given permission by the watch to take your place while you go below and do whatever you need to do,” José informed him.  “Quickly, though.  The captain might become angry if he actually sees you wandering the deck.”  José laughed softly, then continued, “I do not think Captain Beatty likes you very much.  He ignores the rest of us most of the time, but you?”  José paused.  “I have not figured that one out.  What did you do to upset him?”  

Gracias, José.  I think the capitán sees me as something that he does not like,” Diego said as he stretched a little more and then stepped out on the ratlines.  

“What is that, Don Diego?”  

“He thinks I am some kind of an aristocrat . . . but I am not, am I?” Diego said and began climbing down.  He wasn’t going to waste his opportunity.  

Samuel, one of the older sailors, was the person sent to relieve him right after dinner and during the time that most of the officers were drinking their afternoon wine in the cuddy saloon.  Diego had spent much of the morning trying to stay in the scanty shade that the sails and the mast afforded him.  By dinnertime, that had practically become impossible, the sun being almost directly overhead.  “Laddie, you’d better have some water before you wander down the ratlines,” he said perusing Diego up and down, and handing him a flagon of water.  “S’pose a lobster could look a bit more broiled than ye are, but not much.”  

Diego gave a slight smile and took the offered drink.  “I must say that this is the most rest I have had since my kidnapping,” he quipped.  “But I would much rather have taken it somewhere else, say in my hacienda back in California.”

“Aye, any place rather than this.   Although it could be worse, you could be cleaning the bilge . . . again,” Samuel concurred with a slight smile.  “Be aware, though, most of the men heard what got ye up here and we’re behind ye.  That Cavanaugh is the backside of a jackass.”

Diego laughed, remembering something his father had said once.  “You insult the jackass, Samuel.”   Both men laughed softly. 

Samuel sobered quickly, though, as Diego untied himself from the watch’s station.  “Be careful of him, though, laddie.  He will make it bad for you.  You may have gotten a punishment, but not what he would have liked.  He’ll be looking to see you flogged.”  

“I will, Samuel.  Thank you for your warning.”  Diego slowly made his way down the ratlines, knowing that there was little he could do against the man’s retribution if Cavanaugh chose to target him.    

The late afternoon was better, with soft, puffy clouds rolling in and building up halfway through the afternoon.  Samuel brought him his evening meal a bit late.  It was a variety of foods that Victoria Meachem had smuggled from the captain’s table, and Diego chuckled softly at what Beatty might think about such an impropriety. 

A quick shower before dark refreshed him and soft breezes accompanied his half sleep throughout the night.  And then there were the dreams.  Sometime during the night, Diego felt himself flying along the road to the pueblo, Tornado’s mane whipping his face, the wind of their passing making his eyes water behind the mask.  The moon was full and fat before him, clouds only occasionally obscuring the light that seemed to flow like a river from the yellow orb.  They flew over an obstacle and seemed to hang in the sky forever.  Soon he was back home, suddenly in his robe, sitting in front of the fire in the library, a small glass of wine in one hand and a thin cigar in the other.  His father set up the large chessboard and they began to play.  His thoughts immediately turned to the moves of each piece.  He watched his father move a rook to take a pawn and Diego pondered the long-term implication of such a move as well as the implications of his taking the piece with his knight.  He thought and meditated.  “Diego, will you please move, or do I have time for supper?” his father asked in exasperation.  Diego simply laughed, made his decision and then moved.  In five more moves he had checkmated his father.   Bernardo poured him more wine.   

Suddenly he was thrown from his chair.  Earthquake? he asked himself.   Then, he relaxed.  No, but even if it were, everything would be all right.  He was home.  It was safe at home.  Safe and comfortable.  The small fire crackled comfortingly.  His father’s complaints about the chess game were even comforting, but his voice began to soften and fade.  Diego looked around.  He was still home, wasn’t he? Home . . . home.  The room slowly fogged, as though they were sitting on the beach in the very early morning, then it disappeared altogether.  No, do not take it away! 

Slowly Diego opened his eyes and saw the canopy of stars above him.  He heard the snapping of the sails above and below him and felt the up and down motion of the ship plowing through the ocean.  The ship creaked and waves splashed against the hull.  Reaching up, Diego wiped something wet from his face and he wondered if it had rained recently.   

He sat up and watched the stars for a while before perusing the slight activity on the deck below.  He was barely able to discern a figure walking along the quarterdeck.  Judging from the flowing robe, it had to be Mrs. Meachem.  She stood at the rail for a few minutes and then looked up at him.  Diego decided that it would be best not to respond.  She would probably not be able to see him anyway.  The watch, Josiah Barkley, the purser’s assistant, was on duty.  Diego recognized him by his exaggerated rolling walk, the result of a damaged knee.   Barkley joined Mrs. Meachem for a few minutes and they talked.  Diego was too far above them to understand what was being said, but after a short while, Mrs. Meachem went back to her cabin.  Not too long after that, Henry Cavanaugh came out on deck and took the final watch of the night.  Diego leaned back against the mast again and tried to go to sleep again.  He would have to warn her about her nightly walks on the deck.

The next morning at dawn, he was called down from his punishment by the captain.  This time he was stiff enough that he took his time climbing down.  Every muscle and joint seemed as inflexible and hard as the boards of the maintop.   Mr. Bowman kept Diego in the cabin with him all day, even going so far as to rub an aromatic oil on his aching shoulders and back.  “Diego, it would seem as though you are more toned than would be apparent from working on a ship for these past weeks.  Perhaps that would explain your prowess with the sword.”  

Diego was noncommittal.  “It is hard work running a rancho, Mr. Bowman.”  His mentor just grunted and continued rubbing.  “This ointment is very good, though.  I feel better already.  Thank you.”

“Hmm, you are welcome,” Bowman answered gently.  “But you might want to work a bit harder at keeping out of the captain’s and the mate’s way.” 

“I will do my best, but it’s a bit hard on a ship that is only thirty-five by one hundred feet.”

“Yes, it is, but try anyway.”  A knock at the cabin door interrupted their conversation and Diego put on his shirt quickly when Victoria Meachem opened the door. 

“Are you all right, Diego?” she asked, clearly concerned.   

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered, buttoning his shirt and standing. 

“Good.  I wanted to thank you for helping me back on the island.  And to apologize for what it cost you,” she said, quickly walking up to Diego and kissing him on the cheek.   

Embarrassed by her attention, Diego stammered a bit and said, “It is only what any honorable man would have done, Mrs. Meachem.”  

“I still thank you,” she said softly and left.  Mr. Bowman chuckled as Diego continued to stare at the empty doorway.

 

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 Alejandro gazed into the mirror and wondered if the disguise would fool anyone.  Perhaps at night and without the moon, he thought.  He placed the black mask against his face and tied it behind his head.  Without his beard and with his mustache darkened, he might pass.  Bernardo stood behind him, protesting with flying fingers, but the older man ignored him for the moment, instead concentrating on getting all the parts of the costume on right.  How did Diego do this so quickly? he asked himself. 

Finally he turned his attention to his son’s mozo.   “Bernardo, I appreciate you offering to do this.  But you cannot substitute alone for my son, if for no other reason than the fact that at times Zorro must be heard.”  Bernardo sighed and helped the older man on with the cape.   Together the pair walked down the stone steps to the secret cave where Tornado awaited them.  He nickered in recognition and pawed the hard floor.   

Bernardo quickly saddled and bridled the stallion.  When he had finished, Alejandro turned to mount, but stopped and gazed at the mozo.  “Bernardo, I know that Diego is alive, but when will we ever find out where he is?   Where could he be?”  Even behind the mask, the eyes held anguish and pain.   

Bernardo could only shrug and make motions like that of a bird flying away.  Then he signed his continued belief that his master was still alive, too.   

“If it were possible, I might think that a bird carried him away.  But the only conclusion that I can come to is that the kidnapers took him out of California.  He is either in Mexico or the United States,” Alejandro said.  “But why so far.  Why?”

Bernardo made more motions.  ‘So that we would spend our time looking.  Maybe the kidnapers wanted revenge, maybe they wanted to cause fear.’  

“They have succeeded, then.  Yes, Bernardo, you are right.  All of those reasons are very possible, if not probable.  But where could he be?”   

Bernardo made a motion like waves.   

“A ship?  Yes, that is possible.  He could have been taken to Mexico by boat,” Alejandro said.  Then he sighed.  “I am riding to the mission.   Perhaps I can eavesdrop on some of the novice priests and learn something interesting.”  

Bernardo made motions for the older man to be careful.  Alejandro just nodded, mounted and turned toward the entrance of the cave.  Soon the dark pair was gone and the servant was left with silence and a prayer in his heart.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

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