Pacific Odyssey:

Book I

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One 

Determination Borne of Suffering

 

 

That evening, Diego stood in front of Captain Beatty’s desk.  This time he was alone.  He stood ramrod straight even though it caused muscles to protest. 

Beatty leaned back in his seat and studied the man in front of him.  He could not totally understand him.  De la Vega had the aristocratic bearing and confidence that so irritated him, but there was something else, too, something that he could not put his finger on.  The man in front of him was not a pompous ass as was Cavanaugh or most of the idle rich aristocrats that he had had the distinct bad pleasure to cross paths with before.  He had been surprised when de la Vega had taken Stephen’s punishment, and yet on later reflection he realized that the Spaniard’s actions should not have been so unexpected.  Many of the men already trusted de la Vega and looked up to him.  While keeping his highborn bearing, the Spaniard had quickly fit in with the rest of the men, putting them at ease, making them comfortable in his presence.   Often now, the men asked him to write their letters home for them, to play tunes on the guitar during the soft evening hours before curfew, for advice or simply to talk.  And it wasn’t just the other Californians who were drawn to de la Vega; the English sailors seemed to feel the same way. 

Cavanaugh’s little display and his consequent punishment of de la Vega would most assuredly add to the Spaniard’s list of supporters, followers or sympathizers.  Damn that Cavanaugh! Beatty thought.   He had to cow the Spaniard somehow, break him into submission. This aristocratic pup would not be singing his highborn tunes very long if he could help it.  Beatty smiled slightly as he thought of the one thing that he had over de la Vega, the one thing that would break the man.  He had been told of the Spaniard’s delivery of a letter during their stop on the Sandwich Islands.  After that information came, Beatty had been very glad that he had threatened Bowman as he had.  He probably had not gone far enough, but regardless, de la Vega had returned to the ship at the appointed time.  The letter undoubtedly had been sent to his family, a plea for help.  Beatty knew that de la Vega was homesick, wanting nothing more than to return to his homeland. 

Gazing at the sailor in front of him, Beatty smiled slyly.  I have you, my fine aristocrat.  I have you chained to my service as tightly as a plantation slave is bound to his servitude.  Most of the highborn that he knew were soft, the life of luxury making them weak, but he had seen that such was not the case with this man.  De la Vega had shown physical prowess and an inner determination from the first day of his indenture.  In any other man he would have admired that, and may have nurtured it, but in de la Vega, no, he could not.  Not in any aristocrat, not in anyone who represented the class of people that had crushed his father, the son of an ambitious, hard working middle class merchant, and sent his family to the squalor of Pudding Lane, to try unsuccessfully to rebuild their fortunes.  I will see you at the end of your servitude, my fine young knight.  I will see you leave my employ a broken man.  And I will laugh.  Because I will be the one with the wealth, while all you will have is a bent body, calloused hands and a will drowned in the rigors of life at sea!  Yes, Beatty knew what de la Vega would ask him, knew it as he knew the sun would rise.   Most of those pressed into service who came from highborn families did. 

Beatty put his hands together as though in the attitude of prayer, but he was not praying, he was anticipating this conversation, reveling in it already, feeling the joy of conquest before he had even fought.  Looking over his steepled hands, he said, “De la Vega, I think I have not made something clear.  I am going to do that now.”  Beatty paused for effect.  The Spaniard said nothing, but the captain saw hope in the young man’s eyes, a hope that de la Vega could not entirely mask.  His little act of ‘compassion’ on deck had caught the sailor off guard, confused him, made the Californian think that his captain might be willing to listen and to respond charitably.   “I am the captain and my word and will is law on this ship.  You submit to me.  You answer to me.  Every action you make, every word you utter is with my leave.  As far as you are concerned, I am your god.  You answer to me and I answer to God above.  Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Captain Beatty,” Diego said, resisting the urge to salute.  He paused, wondering if he should even bring up his proposal.  This session didn’t seem to be going very well.  Then he decided that there just wouldn’t be a good time.  “May I have permission to ask a question?”

“No, because I know what that question is and what my answer is.”  Again Beatty paused.  “I bought the indenture of you and eleven other men.  The company paid for the services of twelve men and expects two years of service from each.  One is already dead.  Therefore it is imperative that I get my full measure of work from each one of you who are left.  No amount of pleading to write home to papa for money, no amount of promissory amounts of money, nothing at all will cause me to change my mind or my expectations of you men. 

“You have no more rights than a plantation slave. The only difference is that your slavery ends in two years, provided that you give me satisfactory service during that time.  And, de la Vega, you had better give me satisfactory service.  Each time you interfere with the administration of my duties or even those of any of my officers, you will add an extra month of servitude to your indenture.  You have already added three months.  Do you understand what I am saying?  Do I make myself clear, sailor?” 

There was a spark of anger in the hazel eyes, but then the spark quickly died, defeat filling their depths.  “Perfectly, sir.” 

Beatty wanted to laugh right now, right here in the man’s face, but there was a certain amount of decorum to be kept.  In his mind, though, he was laughing hysterically, fully enjoying the impact of his words on this Spanish aristocrat.  This session was so invigorating.  It was a good precursor to his meeting with Cavanaugh.  This had, indeed, turned out to be a good day.  “You can go now and do not cross me again, or there may be ten men filling the service of twelve.” 

Without a word, Diego turned on his heel and left, the pain of his back forgotten in the pain that resided deep in his soul.  As he returned to his cabin, the evening bells sounded, calling the men to their suppers, but he was not hungry and he continued to Mr. Bowman’s cabin.  Without saying a word, Diego lay down on the pallet he and Mr. Bowman had prepared earlier in the afternoon.  He was careful not to lie directly on his injured back, but even so, his abraded muscles sent pain-filled messages to his brain, which he chose to ignore.  

“I presume that the captain refused your request,” Bowman said quietly.  

“Yes, in fact I didn’t even have a chance to ask.   He anticipated my question,” Diego said evenly. 

Bowman sighed.  “I am sorry, Diego.  I truly am.”

“I know, Mr. Bowman,” Diego said, gingerly turning his body to face the wall. 

Bowman got up and walked toward the door.  “Do you want me to bring you something for supper?” 

“No, thank you.”  

Again, Bowman sighed and then left the room, quietly closing the cabin door behind him.  He was thankful now that he had talked the young man into bunking with him that first day.  At least Diego had his privacy during this difficult time. 

When he came back, he could see that Diego had been up during his absence.  The lantern was lit, several wadded up sheets of paper lay in the little wastebasket and the lid was left off of the inkbottle.  However, his assistant was back in the same position that he had been before, lying with his face to the wall.  Several soft moans told the supercargo that Diego was asleep, but it was a restless one.  Bowman checked Diego’s skin and felt it warm to the touch.  A slight fever.  There was nothing to be done about it right now, so he prepared himself for bed.  He set the bottle of laudanum on the writing table, feeling that sometime in the night Diego might need a small dose, then put the stopper back in the inkbottle and blew out the lantern, walking in the stygian blackness to his bed with the surety of one who had done it for a millennium.   Sleep came after a great deal of thought, but it, too, was a restless sleep.

“Oh, Bernardo, why can he not understand?”  A voice came out of the darkness and into Bowman’s troubled sleep.  He bolted upright in his bed.  The voice was distinct, like someone having a conversation right there in the cabin.  A slight amount of moonlight filtered into the gallery window showing no one other than Diego still lying on the pallet under his hammock. 

“Family?  No, no family, Bernardo, not while Zorro is needed.”  There was another pause.  “The people . . . they are my family.  Needed….  Always needed.” 

Bowman realized that the voice was speaking Spanish and in the same instant, also realized that it was Diego.  “Diego?” he asked softly.  

Diego moaned and drew up his legs closer to his body.  “Bernardo!  No, Bernardo, do not leave me.  No!”  His hand stretched out, the fingers gesturing, beckoning to someone, the manservant Bernardo, Bowman assumed, the one Diego had told him about.  The voice was plaintive with the hint of a sobbing breath at the end of the sentence.   The supercargo then realized that Diego was dreaming and dreaming intensely.  This was the first time he had ever heard his protégé talking in his sleep.  There was a short while when the only sound was their breathing and Bowman lay down again, thinking that the dreams were over.

“I am sorry, Father.  I truly am.” There was a pause.  “Father, please understand, I must do this.  It is for your protection that I do this,” Diego said, his voice at once pleading and determined.  He cried out softly, something unintelligible this time, moaned and reached in front of him with one hand, fingers outstretched, almost as he had before.   This time, it seemed a gesture of supplication.  The pleading in his assistant’s voice almost broke the old man’s heart.  Bowman was confused.  Diego had spoken so lovingly about his father. He slid out of bed and approached Diego’s pallet.  

As he crouched down beside the makeshift bed, Diego began to cry, softly, his shoulders shaking in some kind of terrible grief.  “Mother, make Father understand.  I do this to protect him.”  A pause, the sobbing intake of breath.  “I want him to be proud of me.  I want you both to be proud of me.”  Another pause and the quiet sobbing suddenly stopped.  “You are?”  There was a soft laugh, one of happiness.  The laughter continued for a minute, then it ceased and Diego began to breathe more evenly.  In the pale moonlight, Bowman saw a smile on the face of his assistant and he smiled in turn.  “Yes, he is proud, too?  Gracias, Mamá, gracias.”  There was more soft laughter.  Bowman wondered if he should wake his assistant, to pull him out of what now seemed pleasant.  Then the gentle laughter died. “Tell him I will return home.  Soon. Tell him that, please.”  Several tears rolled down Diego’s cheek.  “No!  Mother do not leave.  Please, do not leave me here.”  Now Bowman truly did feel his heart breaking.  Diego’s next sentence was a murmured declaration. “I am a caballero.”   Then the room was quiet.  Diego took a normal breath, turned over and cried out in pain as his injured back touched the hardness of the floor even through the pallet.  

His eyes flew open, blinked and then focused on his master’s concerned face.  “Mr. Bowman.”

“You were crying out in your sleep-- dreaming, Diego.  I was concerned and came over to see if I could do something.”  Bowman got up and lit the small lantern.  The soft glow sent the darkness into the corners of the room.  “It would not do to waken any of the other officers, especially those more friendly to the captain.”

“I was talking in my sleep?” Diego asked, his look one of embarrassment and of anxiety.  He sat up, wincing.

He remembers this dream, Bowman thought.  “Yes, but it was mostly unintelligible.  Something about your mother, I think,” the old man said evasively.  

Diego visibly relaxed, reached up and wiped away the tears with his sleeve.  “I am sorry that I awakened you, Mr. Bowman.   And for my emotions,” he said.  

“There is no need to be sorry for anything, Diego.  I still find that I occasionally cry for my lost wife and child in my sleep.  It is nothing to be ashamed of.”

Diego nodded, gratitude in his eyes.  He started to lie back down. 

“Wait, Diego.  Let me put more of the ointment on your back and then I want you to take a small dose of laudanum.  It will help you sleep better,” Bowman said.  He applied the ointment over Diego’s back, taking care not to rub too hard.  He was pleased that there was only slight evidence of infection.  With care Diego would heal quickly.  He handed the young man a spoon and the bottle.  “Just try a spoonful for tonight, since it is late.”

Diego nodded and grimaced as he took the medicine.  Then he handed the bottle and spoon back.  “Thank you,” he choked out.  The stuff had a vile taste. 

Bowman set the bottle on the table.  “Are you feeling better?” he inquired, wanting to ask more, but not willing to intrude on his assistant’s private past.  Diego had told him a great deal about his father, but little about his mother, only saying that she had died when he was fairly young.  And then there was the reference to Zorro.  What of that? Bowman had heard of the ‘champion/bandit of the people’ during their time in San Diego and the stories had intrigued him.  A California Robin of Locksley, he thought with a slight smile.  He wondered at Diego’s connection with the bandit, other than the fact that they were from the same pueblo.

Diego looked at him curiously, and Bowman realized that he had let his thoughts show more then he wished.  “I was remembering my own mother,” he said, realizing that he was not entirely lying.  When Diego had called out to his mother, Bowman remembered, with fondness the woman who had taught him the rudiments of reading.  She had also instilled in him the desire to learn even more so he could get ahead in the world.  What would she think to know that all his learning had gotten him on a cargo ship in the middle of the Pacific with a kidnapped Spanish national and a mercurial captain?  He laughed.   Then he elaborated his thoughts for Diego.  

Diego didn’t laugh.  He looked solemnly at him and said, “Perhaps that was one of her intents, Mr. Bowman.” 

“What?” 

“It is hard to explain how I feel right now.”  Diego paused as though trying to find the right words.  “I was told that God places people in the paths of others in order to help them.  Perhaps your mother wanted you here to help the ‘kidnapped Spanish national’,” he elaborated.  Then he glanced at the floor.  “Even when she was alive, my mother was an angel.  I do not doubt that she is a real one now, and looking after me.   It was she who inhabited my dreams tonight.  I can only feel that she might be helping me by placing people in my path to aide me.”  His voice lowered even more, to the point that Bowman had to strain to hear him.  “You are one of those people.”  Then he looked up and smiled.  There was an almost boyish look on Diego’s face.  “Maybe our mothers are working together.” 

Bowman paused.  Why not?  Why wouldn’t his mother recruit all the help she could to help and protect her son?  “Somehow, Diego, I feel the rightness of what you have said.” 

Diego yawned.  “I think that the medicine is working.  Con permiso?  

Bowman nodded, blew out the flame in the lantern and then made his way to his bed.  This time sleep came quickly.  

Even though he was tired, Diego lay awake staring at the slight glow that came through the gallery window.   He remembered the vestiges of his dream, especially the assurances that his parents were proud of him.  During his first days as Zorro that had seemed so very important.  Apparently that was still a matter of importance to him.  He remembered asking his mother to reassure his father.  That was when she left.  He sighed.  It had seemed so real.  She had seemed so close to him.  He had almost felt her hand touching his forehead, moving a stray lock of hair, something she had done all the time when he was little.  

Then Diego reflected on his conversation with Beatty earlier in the day.  The Californiano was determined that he would not stay indentured for the more than two years that Beatty had pronounced.  Even though he had been prepared to use Zorro as the means of his escape, he had not formed any concrete plans.  It had almost been an intuitive thing, the making of the costume.  And in the days since they had left the Sandwich Islands, Diego had still hoped that he could obtain his freedom by more conventional means, mainly by persuasion or even the promise of an exorbitant sum.  But the captain’s ultimatum had dashed any hope for that.  It was now time for Zorro.  Now, with the information that he had gleaned during the voyage and the costume that had been made on the Sandwich Islands, he had most of what he needed to begin his campaign for freedom.  Then he paused.  Whereas before he had only been thinking of his own indenture, he now thought of the other ten men.  Most of them felt the same way that he did.  Most of them wanted to go home, too.  Was not Zorro for the people?  Ranchero and peon alike?  

If he were going to make the effort to scare the captain into releasing him from his indenture, he would do the same for his fellow Californianos.  Yes, he thought eagerly, this could prove interesting.  All he needed was a mask and a bandanna and then the fox would ‘ride’ again.  Diego smiled.   He was almost eager to begin his campaign of persuasion against the captain.  There was still a long distance between here and Singapore.  Much could happen during that time.  Very much.   He closed his eyes and this time sleep came quickly.  

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-two
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