Pacific Odyssey:

Book I

 

 

 

   

Chapter Sixteen

Decisions

 

 

She 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 Beauty.   We 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.             

Diego was elated and bowed low in thanks.  “You have no idea how much this means to me.  Thank you very much,” he said fervently.

She 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.             

“Thank you, again,” Diego said.  Vaya con Dios.”           

“Well,” 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.  Payment!  What 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.”           

“I 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.”            

“Of 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?”  

“Diego, 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.”            

As 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 amazing ease.  

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.  

At 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.”

“My 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.”

Diego 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.” 

When 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?”

Bowman 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. 

The 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 you, anyway.”   

The 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?”  

Diego 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.   

“Yes.  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 Californian.”            

Diego 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.”            

It 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.”  

“Fifty 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.   

“But 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.”  

“Ah, but my mate will probably have to get a second horse to get back in time, and there are the meals, and.…” 

“Very well, seventy-five pesos,” Bowman conceded, shaking his head sorrowfully.  

“Mister 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.”  

“You are not a bad negotiator yourself, Captain Fox.”  Bowman chuckled, even as he was counting out the money.  

“I 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.           

“Mister Bowman,” Diego asked a short while later.  “Why did you leave that decision to me?”            

“I 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, didn’t you?”            

“Yes, 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.”           

Bowman 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. 

 

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

             

At 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 Don Diego.   

The 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.  

For 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 disappearance.   As 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.

In 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.           

Bernardo 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.”

Bernardo 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 was dead. 

Gracias, 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.”            

Bernardo 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.”  

Bernardo smiled and detailed the previous night’s sortie as the masked avenger.  

“Bravo, 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.”  

Bernardo signed, pointing to the patrón’s beard. 

“Ah, the beard,” he interpreted.   “Yes, you are right, as usual.  A bearded Zorro would look very strange.  I will simply cut it off.”

Bernardo signed again.   

“There 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 change.”     

Bernardo 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.” 

 

 

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