pulled a strand of light brown hair away from her mouth and tucked it
behind her ear. “I hope
you’ll forgive me, gentlemen,” she said, panting slightly, as though
she had been running. “But
I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with Reverend Baxter.
I was so afraid I would miss you.
You see, I think I might have something that could help.” She handed Diego a small note.
He glanced at it and then looked back at the woman for an
explanation. “It’s a
letter of introduction to the captain of the Baltimore
are both from the same town in Massachusetts and knew each other as
children. He usually stops
by to pay his respects and deliver letters from my family whenever he
comes to the islands,” she explained.
“I believe that I
heard him say he was leaving this evening or tomorrow morning for Yerba
Buena and then around the horn. He
professes to be a Congregationalist, but his religion, I think, is
American dollars or gold. For
the right price I think he would take a packet to the devil himself.
My husband, the reverend, does not approve of him, but he does
keep me in touch with my family,” she said with a slight smile.
“I hope this helps.
was elated and bowed low in thanks.
“You have no idea how much this means to me. Thank you very much,” he said fervently.
smiled. “I will pray for your success.
No parent should have to wonder what has happened to a child,”
she said, kindly. “I must
return to the mission now. It
is almost time for me to teach my reading class.
you, again,” Diego said. “Vaya
said Diego cheerfully, as the woman walked out of sight down a little
path through the tangle of jungle.
Finally his father would know where he was and would be somewhat
comforted. “Shall we pay
a visit to James Fox of the Baltimore
Beauty and see what he can do for us.”
He began walking toward the main harbor and then stopped in mid
stride, turning back toward Bowman.
will I use? His
thoughts suddenly raced in panic. This
was something he had not thought of.
“But I don’t have any money to pay him.”
know that, Diego, but I never saw that as a problem. I’m good for a down payment.” Bowman offered.
“Perhaps a promissory note could be enclosed, that is, if your
father would be willing.”
course he would, once he sees from whom the packet came,” Diego
assured him, then his voice softened with emotion.
“How can I ever repay you for what you have done?”
your companionship is thanks enough.
And I was a father too, once, a long time ago.”
Bowman said, equally overcome with emotion.
After a moment’s silence, he cleared his throat and then
slapped his assistant on the shoulder.
“Let’s go and see what we can negotiate.”
they walked down the road leading to the main harbor, Diego gazed in
wonder at the numbers of ships anchored just inside the reef. Large barques bobbed gently up and down next to brigantine
merchant ships. Schooners
of various sizes sat like graceful ducks on the placid blue waters.
Among all these were the tiny outriggers, dwarfed by their
foreign counterparts, but not daunted by them.
The natives paddled among the comparatively huge ships with
Diego realized that
his mentor was not next to him just as Bowman called out.
“Wait a minute, Diego. I
am not as young as I once was, and my legs are almost worn down to
stumps trying to keep up with that long-legged stride of yours,”
Bowman complained in a good-natured tone of voice.
the sound of his mentor’s protest, Diego stopped, worry crossing his
features. He heard
Bowman’s somewhat labored breathing and he quickly walked back to him,
waiting while the supercargo’s breathing returned to normal.
Then they walked slowly down the hill.
“I am sorry, Mister Bowman.
I didn’t mean to be so inconsiderate.”
boy, you weren’t being inconsiderate, you are just anxious.
And it is perfectly understandable.
I just happen to be too fat and old for all this walking,”
Bowman countered. “Besides,
that ship isn’t going to leave until this evening at the earliest, and
by that time your packet will safely be in the hands of Capt. Fox.”
chuckled mentally at the name. An
appropriate messenger for Zorro, he thought wryly.
Aloud he said, “Yes, I remember about the tides, Mister Bowman.
It’s just hard to be patient.
I wish one of the albatrosses could carry it to Father.
Then he would know so much sooner.”
they had been rowed the short distance to the Baltimore Beauty, they found the captain to be very busy, overseeing
the loading of supplies. Finally
he paused for a moment, and turning to the pair, quipped, “One of you
wouldn’t be a supercargo and want to hire on, would you?”
glanced at Diego, but gave no outward indication of the promise he had
been forced to make to the captain. “We both are, but I am happy where
I am. You will have to ask
my assistant what he thinks about the offer,” Bowman told the man.
implication of Capt. Fox’s offer wasn’t lost on Diego.
If it weren’t for Bowman, he would have jumped ship in an
instant. He looked at
Bowman in open surprise. His
master was actually willing to risk jail in order for him to return
home. His emotions tore at
him and indecision reigned for a brief moment, but only for a moment. Father, I am sorry, but I must honor my commitment to this
man, he thought. Surely
at Singapore, or in Canton…. Diego
brought himself back to the present. “Captain Fox, I could not, without losing honor, leave
the service of Mister Bowman. Thank
captain shook his head and sighed.
“Well, if you are not here to take up employ on this lovely
brig, then what can I do for you gents?”
came right to the point. “I
need to get this packet to my father in Los Angeles.
It is my understanding that you are going to make a stop in Yerba
Buena?” he asked.
I will probably stop at San Diego on my way south toward the Horn
as well,” was the reply. “It
must be very important to trust an American with a message to a Spanish
wasn’t going to go into the whole story with this man.
“He needs to know that I am safe.
He has no idea where I am.”
was at this point that Bowman took over negotiations. He knew Diego would negotiate with his emotions and might end
up costing his father much more than was needed.
“Captain Fox, my young assistant has assured me that his father
will be able to pay a certain amount of money upon receipt of this
letter. It would seem to me
that fifty pesos would be a reasonable sum to expect.”
pesos, Mister Bowman, would barely cover the cost of making a
side trip like that. Los
Angeles, you said? That’s
about a day’s ride on a fast horse, sir.
That is two day’s delay,” Fox protested.
you will be buying hides and tallow, Captain.
You will be making a great profit anyway,” Bowman countered.
“Your messenger can deliver the letter and get back well before
you leave San Diego.”
but my mate will probably have to get a second horse to get back in
time, and there are the meals, and.…”
well, seventy-five pesos,” Bowman conceded, shaking his head
Bowman, you are very good at this game of bargaining.”
Fox saw the anxious look on the face of the young assistant and
he sighed. “Very well,
but only if you can front ten pounds right now.”
are not a bad negotiator yourself, Captain Fox.” Bowman chuckled, even as he was counting out the money.
will have my first mate deliver the letter personally.”
Turning to Diego, Captain Fox smiled.
“On my word of honor, it will get to your father.”
“Thank you, Captain Fox,” Diego said, his
voice filled with gratitude. He wrote a note to that effect, with
apologies to his father and added it to what was already in the pouch.
He sealed it and handed it to the captain, who in turn admonished
the purser to place it in safekeeping in his cabin. Diego heaved a great sigh of relief. Barring a disaster at sea, he was confident his father would
get the packet. After
shaking hands with the captain, the men went back ashore to enjoy the
rest of the day.
Bowman,” Diego asked a short while later.
“Why did you leave that decision to me?”
told you, Diego, that you are like a son to me. Wouldn’t a father want his son to be happy?”
Bowman asked with great emotion.
Then realization dawned and he looked hard at Diego.
“You knew about the promise the captain exacted from me,
I did. You cannot imagine
the thoughts running through my mind when I realized that I could return
home on Capt. Fox’s ship. But
be aware, even if I hadn’t overheard the conversation, I would not
have jumped ship, because I had already guessed what ramifications that
would have for you,” Diego explained.
“And a son would never do anything to cause hurt to a
father,” he added with a smile. “I
also have a general idea that just helping me send the packet might not
make the captain happy. I
am grateful to be able to let my father know what is going on.
I can find other opportunities later, when there will be no
repercussions for you.” Both
men looked at each other in silence for a few seconds, then Diego
laughed and said, “Now perhaps we should see what this pueblo
has to offer.”
was thoughtful, as well as grateful.
He knew how desperately Diego wanted to go home, and what it was
costing him to stay with the China
Star. Ah, Diego, I hope
that you do not regret making this decision, he
thought, feeling a flash of foreboding.
about the same time that Captain James Fox was sailing away from the
Sandwich Islands, Bernardo was riding through the hills at a slow
cantor. The night air felt
good against his sweaty body and he regretted having to slow the great
stallion down. However, the
night had been long and the horse had galloped for miles, eluding
banditos, who were most likely a part of the gang that had kidnapped
mozo smiled. Through
his diligence, he had learned of another attempt against a hacendado. This time
the plan had been less subtle. The
gang of banditos had planned on burning Don Nacho’s holdings.
It had been a simple matter for the manservant to take gunpowder
and fashion makeshift explosive devices.
As a bandito was
rushing in to set the stables on fire, Bernardo, in the guise of Zorro,
had set off the homemade bombs. The
explosions woke all in the hacienda and the Torres vaqueros
had chased the banditos away.
Unfortunately, some of the arsonists saw
Bernardo ride away and chased him through the hills.
It was only the great speed and stamina of the black stallion
that had kept him from capture. All
in all, though, the servant was well pleased with this night’s
activities. As he rode into
the cave and pulled off the hat and mask, though, his self-satisfied
smile turned into a frown.
the thousandth time, Bernardo wished there was something he could do for
Don Alejandro. All
the hacendado had done since
the kidnapping of his son was to ride the hills, searching, or sit at
home and brood. Don
Alejandro hadn’t eaten or slept well since Don Diego’s
Bernardo brushed Tornado, he thought of what else he could do for Don
Alejandro and finally came to the conclusion that any change could only
come from within the older man. There
was nothing else he could do to make Don Alejandro feel better or to
give him hope.
the library, a very weary Alejandro de la Vega had come to the
conclusion that he could not find out about Diego on his own.
He could only look to God to handle what he, Bernardo and most of
Los Angeles had been unable to do.
Ai! What am I
doing? I am letting all my friends down while I mope and languish
over Diego. This cannot
continue. Cristofori, my
old friend was murdered just last week and what was I doing?
Riding the same hills that I have ridden more than a dozen times
since Diego’s kidnapping. The
old man rubbed his chin. God
forgive me for my self-pity and my self-indulgence.
I have spurned my friends; I have hidden away from everyone.
The only time Alejandro met with any caballeros,
it had been for them to render sympathetic words and he couldn’t
stand that, especially when they had dared to suggest that Diego was
dead. Somehow the old hacendado
could not believe his son had been murdered.
In his heart, he felt he would know if Diego was dead.
came in with breakfast and Don Alejandro looked up at him as he handed
him the tray. The mozo appeared
exhausted. Was he out as
Zorro? the old man thought. Seeing no one else in the room, he
asked, “Bernardo, do you think Diego is dead as many of the other hacendados
seem to think?” he asked. “I
want you to answer with what you feel in your heart and not what you
want me to hear.”
didn’t hesitate. The
manservant had already pondered that question, and the conclusion was
always the same. Immediately
he shook his head. He most
certainly didn’t feel his patrón
Bernardo. I have felt that
way myself,” Alejandro said. “Now,
after breakfast, I want pen and ink.
It is time for a meeting of the dons.
This terrorism has to stop.”
brightened. This was more
like the normal Alejandro, the take-charge man.
He nodded and left to get the needed supplies. When he came back and laid them on the desk in the sala,
Don Alejandro was eating. The
older man looked appreciatively at Bernardo.
“Besides, Diego would not want me to sit around and worry about
him. He would want us to
take action and let the terrorists know that we will not be
intimidated,” he said softly. Then
he gazed into the tired, but happy countenance of the servant.
“You have been out as Zorro haven’t you?”
Bernardo nodded. “You would have to say nothing else. That alone would tell me that you believe Diego will return.
That he is alive.”
smiled and detailed the previous night’s sortie as the masked avenger.
Bernardo! I should have
known that you would go ahead and do something like that.
It makes me even more ashamed of my wallowing in this pit of
misery I have dug for myself. I
just want you to be careful. I
do not think I would be able to stand it if anything happened to you,
too,” Alejandro admonished the mozo.
Bernardo signed his understanding.
“And I am going to relieve you occasionally.
I cannot allow you to wear yourself down protecting Diego.”
signed, pointing to the patrón’s beard.
the beard,” he interpreted.
“Yes, you are right, as usual.
A bearded Zorro would look very strange.
I will simply cut it off.”
is an explanation that would be fitting to the mood I have been
entertaining lately.” Alejandro
gazed pensively at his food for a several minutes before he said
anything. “When my dear
Isabella died, God rest her soul, I would see myself in the looking
glass and always, always I would see her next to me.
Anywhere I looked- in the pond, in the glass of wine, in the
bright reflections of a window- I saw myself, bearded, smiling, and she
was there by my side. Finally
in desperation and grief, I cut the beard off.
Only then did the manifestations cease.
After a time the pain eased and I began to grow the beard
again.” He sighed. “Many
of my friends were here during that time and would understand the
nodded in understanding, then he signed.
“Yes, I will shave now, wait a day or two and then call a
meeting of the dons. In
the meantime, you will rest and I will ride as Zorro.”
“Yes, I know Diego is alive. For now we need to keep Zorro alive. Alive until Diego returns.” The old man stared out of the sala window for several moments. The silence was only broken by the distant harsh calls of the mountain jays. Finally with a lusty sigh, Alejandro picked up his spoon to resume eating. “But I wish I knew where Diego was. I miss him so much.”