A Matter of Time

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

But Capitán Ruiz was seemingly tireless.  The patrols continued….

Crane lowered the point of the sword and stepped back.  Bernardo made a motion with his free hand, indicating a question.  Grabbing a towel from the top rail of Tornado’s stall, Lee wiped his face, then shook his head.  

“I am just not in it today,” he said in now, almost fluent Spanish.  He handed the manservant his sword and then walked to the small stream where he quenched his thirst. 

The mozo studied the young American and waited until he turned back to face him.  Then he signed another question.   

“I know Ruiz is still looking for me.  The man is obsessed!” Crane said irritably.  “But after three weeks, these rock walls are about to drive me crazy.  There has to be something I can do.  Anything!”

Bernardo signed that Crane could get something from the de la Vega’s extensive library.  

“I can speak the language, perhaps I can read Spanish, but that’s not the answer, Bernardo,” Crane replied tersely.  “And don’t suggest that I have another midnight chat with Don Alejandro or groom the horse, or even watch the stars in the secret canyon.”  He began to pace.   

Bernardo made no more suggestions; in fact he did nothing at all but watch the young man in his nervous motions.  In the three weeks that the captain had been with them he had learned remarkably fast.  Once he had recovered from his injuries, Crane had exhibited almost boundless energy and an insatiable thirst to learn, first the language and then swordplay.  Only the previous night Don Diego had begun to give the Americano riding lessons, although it was obvious that Señor Crane was not going to be quite as adept on horseback as he was with his other studies.

“I know we are near the ocean.”

Bernardo nodded and then signed to him again.  He was aware of Crane’s interest in the wreck of the Orbe de Oro and felt it could become a dangerous fascination.

“Yes, I know diving that deeply would be dangerous!  To you, maybe.  Regardless, I just want to swim, explore, do something different!  I can body surf at night!  Do you think Ruiz will be patrolling the beach?”

Bernardo shook his head frenziedly and then nodded.

“No, I have to get out, either with or without your help.  And my belongings.  The timepiece.”

“What about the timepiece?” Diego asked pleasantly from the stairs.  He was dressed in a dark blue suit with black embroidery shot with silver thread.  He was carrying a bundle of clothes in his arms.  “Here,” he said, handing the bundle the Americano.  “You are going out tonight, Lee.”  He turned to Bernardo.  “Saddle a horse for the captain.”  He turned back to Crane.  “Riding in the dark is not good practice, but it is better than riding in circles near the secret cave.”  He grinned at Lee who smiled back.  Thankfully, the matter of Crane’s belongings was headed off for the moment.  Trying to get into the cuartel had not only been frustrating, but impossible of late.   He wasn’t sure what he was going to do about that problem.

“Sorry, but at least Seaview had room to pace if I got bored, which I do not recall ever happening,” Lee said sheepishly.

“You said you wanted to visit the ocean?”

Lee nodded.  “I am especially interested in the site where the Orbe de Oro sank.”

“We will have to ride a little north to avoid Capitán Ruiz’s heaviest patrols, but there is a spot where one can remain fairly well hidden if patrols do come.  It is also the beach nearest the supposed site of the shipwreck, even if it is not a particularly good area to swim.” 

“Again, Diego, I am a submariner and a certified diver.”  He paused at the hacendado’s puzzled look.  “In other words, I can swim quite well.  Look, I would like more of a challenge than trying to keep from going insane underground.  Would there be a boat there to take out far enough to reach the site of the wreck?”

“Not this trip, my friend.  I know how eager you are to try your hand at finding the shipwreck, but we need to take this in small increments, especially since we have to work at night for the present.  We are riding tonight simply to scout the area, to help you with your riding skills and to keep you from going loco.”  Diego knew how the young sea captain felt.  They were much alike, he and Lee Crane.  Except in the Americano’s case, Lee had the added anxiety of being bereft of everything with which he was familiar.  Despite Ruiz’s obsessive drive to find his escaped prisoner and capture or kill Zorro, Diego would take Lee to the ocean.  The main thing that worried him was the young American’s lack of riding skills.  There had been almost no opportunity to teach him and when he did, Crane seemed to distrust his mount. 

With time he would become better—Diego checked himself.  Time.  He realized that was the other issue.  Lee was chafing at his inability to change his situation.  By now, Diego would have been able to recognize several of Lee’s shipmates by the American’s very vivid descriptions, especially that of his mentor, Admiral Harriman Nelson.  He knew that it also chafed Crane that succor from his friends had not arrived. 

And while Lee Crane knew logically that such rescue was remote, still the hope was there.  Indeed, the hope had to remain, Diego thought.  The hacendado remembered Lee’s sketch of his submarine and the smaller one that it carried within her belly.  He was astonished that such a creation could ever exist and that a group of over a hundred men could actually live in and run such a mechanical marvel.  It was no wonder that the captain had finally run out of patience with his rocky confinement.  Compared to what he was used to, the secret cave was dark, dreary and uninteresting to say the least.   “Those should fit you, even though you are a bit more slender than I.”

Crane retired to a dark corner of the cave and changed.  He realized that this outfit was not a duplication of Diego’s Zorro outfit but it was another one of the young don’s darker outfits.  The little bit of decoration along the sides of the pants was black almost blending with the dark brown of the material.  The buttons were of a darkened bone or ivory and didn’t shine in the tiny bit of light available.  Lee was grateful to his new friend and mindful of the risk Diego was taking in leading him outside of the safety of the cave.  But still, he had to do something. 

“Remember my instructions about horses, Lee,” Diego admonished as they walked toward the entrance of the cave and then through it.  Tornado, already saddled and ready, followed docilely as though he were a dog, rather than a horse.

“Yes, I remember,” Crane replied, having heard the same thing during his ONI training. 

Bernardo appeared out of the darkness leading a horse. 

“Let us go to the beach then,” Diego said cheerfully. 

“You’re taking Tornado?”

“Yes.  By now, Tornado has sired black foals in several of the local herds.  A black horse is not so rare as it used to be.  In fact, in order to keep suspicion from falling close to home, we took him to a few more distant ranches and let him have his fun,” Diego explained with a grin.  Lee chuckled softly.  “And if we are stopped, you are one of my vaqueros and you are taking me to the site where several steers have been slaughtered.  Your language skills have improved to the point where none of the lancers would even dream that you are the same man who was incarcerated only a few short weeks ago.”

“I hope not.”  Lee paused and then mounted his horse.  When he had done so, he felt a twinge of guilt at his insistence on this dangerous excursion.  If it were only himself, he wouldn’t be the least bit worried.  “Diego, if you think this is too dangerous….”

“For me, no.  I worry about you, my friend.  I wouldn’t want you to be recaptured.”   Diego mounted Tornado.  “No, Lee, I think all will be well.  There has to be a time to venture out and to test your new skills.”

At first the ride was difficult for Lee.  It was hard enough trusting something that could bite or kick or run off with him on the narrow, rocky trails, but under Diego’s patient tutelage, he relaxed and got used to the feel of the animal under his legs.  Apparently Bernardo had chosen well.  While Crane could feel the muscular power of the gelding, the horse had a placid enough temperament to be patient with him.  Beside him Tornado pranced periodically, but his horse, which had not been named, walked normally. 

Finally, they reached a more open trail, or roadway.  Lee still couldn’t see a great deal around him.  The moon was almost ready to set, being a bit more than first quarter, but Diego had probably planned it this way. 

“Come, my friend, it is time to ride.  Urge your mount into a trot,” Diego admonished, only having to nudge Tornado slightly with his heels to get a response. 

Lee had to coax his mount a bit less subtly.  His nudge was more of a kick and finally the gelding broke into a steady and easy trot.  A bit more urging and the animal caught up with Diego and Tornado.

“Good.  We will keep the pace steady along here.  This is a well-traveled and smooth road.  Tornado will alert me if there is any danger.”  They rode in silence for a while longer.  “You are doing quite well, Lee.”

“Thanks, but it is a bit disconcerting not being able to see everything around you.”

“And you can do this in a metal-encased machine that plies through the ocean?” Diego asked pointedly.   He had wondered about that, but had not yet asked.

Lee chuckled.  “Touché.   But yes, we have detection devices that let us know what is ahead, behind and all around us.  Most of the time those devices work quite well.”

“All right, consider your mount’s abilities as your detection devices.  A horse can do unexpected things because its eyes see differently than ours do, their senses of smell and hearing are more acute than ours, and because a horse has the instincts of a prey animal. Still, you can feel subtle differences that tell you to be more careful, or to watch the area more carefully.”

Lee nodded, but said nothing, concentrating on what he was doing.  It wasn’t long before the booming of the surf sounded more loudly ahead of them and he felt his excitement build.  Apparently his horse felt that excitement as well because it began to prance about and then it galloped toward the beach. 

They dismounted just beyond the tide line and Diego tethered the gelding behind an outcropping of rocks.  With Tornado he simply tied the reins and laid them on the saddle so the horse wouldn’t step on them, and left him to forage. 

Crane surveyed the shore with the aide of the lowering moon and then stripped off his boots, socks, trousers and shirt, leaving himself clad only in the brief underwear of his former time and place.  Diego cocked an eyebrow, but said nothing.  He was only glad they were alone, or his American friend could be arrested for indecent exposure.   Then he remembered the times as a youth when he snuck down to a remote pond to skinny dip and he chuckled.  Diego pulled off his own boots and socks, but only rolled up the legs of his trousers before he waded into the surf. 

“I am going to see how strong the current is and how quickly the shoreline drops away,” Lee said, feeling the adrenalin pumping as strongly through his body as the waves that were wrapping around his ankles.  He turned and quickly dove into the surf.  For a short time he was buffeted by the incoming waves and then he was able to get back into the rhythm of the sea and made steady progress out from the beach.  Lee felt the currents tug at him and the cool water invigorate him with each stroke.  The ocean seemed to be caressing his body and he felt good in a way that he had not felt since his forced separation from Seaview.  Crane paused and looked back at the shore; surprised at the distance he had swum.  As best as he could make out by the light of the moon, he had to have easily made several hundred feet in that short time.  It delighted him and he could only attribute his sustained stamina to the fencing lessons.   Lee waved to Diego and then floated in the moonlight as his breathing quickly returned to normal. 

Crane was determined to swim at least that distance more, but first he wanted to get an estimate of the distance to the bottom.  Taking a deep breath, he dove downward, wishing he had a mask to help him see better.  The water was astonishingly clear even in the moonlight and he could vaguely see the darkness that indicated the bottom.  He touched the bottom with his fingers and then gazed around him.  Bottom life was even more abundant than he remembered and realized, of course, that there was hardly any human incursion during this time.  That both saddened and exhilarated him.  Sad because of all the damage that had been done by the time the admiral had created his phenomenal research vessel and exhilaration because of the opportunities that he might have to explore before Nelson was able to figure out where he was.   If, of course, Ruiz would let up on the search. 

His lungs beginning to protest, Lee pushed from the bottom and rose quickly to the surface.  Several breaths and he continued his swim further out from the shore.   Another few hundred feet and Crane dove for the bottom again, marveling at the life that he saw swimming in the moonlight.  He was astonished at the sleek, lithe bodies that seemed to come almost close enough for him to touch.  Then he realized that they were sea otters!   Distant clicks and whistles gave evidence of whales or dolphins or both.  As he got closer to the bottom, the light faded dramatically and he felt the tickle of kelp curling around his legs and body.   Finally he felt the bottom and because he could see almost nothing, he almost immediately rose back to the surface.   From the time and speed of his ascent, Lee judged that the bottom had to have been around forty or fifty feet.  

Again floating on the surface, he let his breathing return to normal and then he swam leisurely back to the shore, the strokes steady and sure.  When he waded up on shore, he saw Diego sitting on the rocks nearby, watching, a large grin on his face.  As he shook the water from his hair, Lee returned the smile and reached for his clothes.  They weren’t there.  Puzzled, he glanced back at Diego and saw that the hacendado had a bundle at his feet. 

“I thought it would be better to be as discreet as possible, just in case a patrol passed nearby,” his friend told him when he was closer.  “Tornado seemed nervous a little while ago and I couldn’t tell if someone was nearby or not.”

“Thanks, Diego, I guess that was rather careless of me.”

“No matter.  Was it a good swim?”

“Wonderful.  It would only have been better if it had been during daylight.  I can’t believe I saw otters and heard whales that close to shore.  Amazing!” 

“You do not see or hear those things during your time?” Diego asked, curious.

“Not that easily.  More men, more hunting and more pollution—dirt and waste—in the water.”  Crane quickly pulled on his clothing and walked with Diego to where the horses awaited them.   The ride back was without incident.  After washing the salt off and changing in the cave, Lee lay down to rest and almost immediately fell asleep. 

Diego quietly walked up the stone steps and saw Bernardo waiting for him in the small secret room just on the other side of his bedroom wall.  The mozo motioned to him. 

“Yes, the Americano had his swim.  I was surprised how far he went, how long he was out there and how good it made him feel.  He is asleep right now.”  He paused, not exactly sure how to say what was on his mind.  “I believe that Ruiz is sending patrols near the coast, though.”  Bernardo gazed at him in alarm.   “I didn’t see or hear them directly, but Tornado was nervous.  It could have been someone else.   If Capitán Crane wants to go out again, we will simply have to be more careful.”  Bernardo indicated that they should tell the Americano so that he would not risk going out again.  Diego shook his head.  “No, not right now.   I more or less hinted that there might have been someone out there.   I could not be sure what was there.  I did see hoof prints when we crossed the coastal road on the way back to the hacienda, but it was hard to tell if they were fresh in the moonlight.”  He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly.  “Bernardo, you have to remember, this is a man who has been torn from everything he knows and thrown into a place that is totally strange to him.  He has done very well, but still he is bereft.  The ocean gave him something of that lost life back.  I could not do anything to deny him such a tiny pleasure unless it is absolutely necessary.”

So it was that almost a week later, Crane felt the urge to go out again.  It appeared that Ruiz was easing back on his patrols and this time, Diego prepared a more detailed story in case they did come across a patrol.   While the young hacendado watched in the light of the waxing moon, Lee Crane swam and cavorted like the dolphins that came close to investigate.  Diego was so entranced that he almost missed the warning that Tornado was giving him.  In the distance he heard the sound of military tack and knew that a patrol had chosen this night to check out the ocean highway.  

 

 

 

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